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49. Conversation Among President Nixon, his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Sisco)1

Nixon: After Bill went back to—went over to Paris, you know, left after seeing the Egyptian—after I saw the Egyptian,2 and Bill took off for Paris,3 and the—Henry went to New York, and the Egyptian, Sadat, sent [10 seconds not declassified] a message to me4 that he would like for his fellow—what’s his name?

Kissinger: Ismail.

Sisco: Ismail

Nixon: Ismail to talk to Henry. So, I said, “Fine, talk. Talk in complete confidence,” and so forth and so on. Henry had a long, long, long talk with him.5 And Henry has already, I guess—

Sisco: Yes, he’s filled me in—

Nixon: Now, they want to talk again. To be perfectly frank with you, I don’t know what—I haven’t followed it closely enough to know whether it means a damn thing, or whether it’s worth doing. As you know, in both our Sino—China and Soviet initiatives, and, also, for that matter, the goddamn North Vietnamese, though, we have—people have kind of gotten used to this business of trying to work in—not only in public—in other words, two courses: a parallel course. I mean, where the one where we work publicly and through formal channels, and another through informal channels. It seems to me that it’s worth a try. Now, it will only work, however, if you are totally in the game. In other words, you—you’ve—I’ve seen your strategy; I think it’s exactly right, and, but you’re totally in the game in the sense that Henry will inform you when he’s going over there to do this. I would not want you, however—it just isn’t going to be healthy to have him go in—

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Sisco: Sure.

Nixon: —any further than that. You know what I mean? I’m not trying to [unclear]—

Sisco: I understand.

Nixon: And if it works, fine. Then, everybody’s going to get the credit. We’re not looking for any big grandstand play here. But I don’t—I don’t have much confidence in having worked with these people. But, on the other hand, I feel that we’ve got to go the extra mile with the goddamn Egyptians, and they seem to put a great deal of, shall we say, stake, or emphasis, on the fact that they ought to have something.

Sisco: Right.

Nixon: A—something, some direct communication with the President, as others have had, to see if there’s—if the logjam can be broken. And, I think that’s basically it. Henry, do you want to add anything to that? Have I stated the case—?

Kissinger: Well, Joe and I have been talking for months, and as it—I asked him to prepare a paper6 before he knew this, as I told you.

Nixon: Right, right.

Kissinger: And, actually, the strategy he recommended—

Nixon: It’s the same.

Nixon: —is exactly what you are—

Nixon: The same; that’s correct. I saw it. Exactly—

Kissinger: —what you are saying.

Sisco: Right.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: But I just want you to be sure. I want you to know that if it isn’t any—the question is—there’s no question of trying to have—to undercut your negotiating strategy.

Sisco: Oh, no.

Nixon: The main thing is to get it done.

Sisco: That’s right.

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Nixon: Now, I don’t know whether or not—maybe you’ll do it; maybe not. And, also, we may have to speak with two voices. You may have to take one voice, and he may have to take another voice. But, the main thing is that you and Henry have got to speak in total confidence with each other, and then forget that you’ve talked.

Sisco: I think the extra voice—

Nixon: Is that all right?

Sisco: —is fine with me. And I think the extra mile is worth it, Mr. President, for only one reason: I don’t think we have—we’re going to be able to solve this thing in the foreseeable future.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Sisco: It’s as you say, the game is up. But, to the extent to which we are involved as a government, in a credible way, and certainly Henry being involved, and they [the Egyptians] having this feeling that they need that we’re in direct communication with the President on this matter. This, psychologically, Mr. President, is one of the—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Sisco: —most important deterrents in area. Now, this fellow [Sadat] knows that if he exercises the military option, he’s going to get clobbered.

Nixon: [exhales] Yeah.

Sisco: But, the element of irrationality is going up. But, to the extent to which Henry can keep the leash on—I don’t give a damn if it’s for eight months, Henry; that means you’re bulwarking the cease-fire.

Nixon: That’s right.

Sisco: That’s the reason for this strategy.

Nixon: You’ve got to give them the hope. It’s really a—frankly, let’s face it: you’ve really got to make them think that there’s some motion; that something is going on; that we’re really doing our best with the Israelis. Now, we all know the Israelis are just impossible. I mean, we have two impossibles—

Sisco: Yes.

Nixon: —and the Israelis have not given a goddamn inch.

Sisco: We’re getting closer to their election, too, Mr. President.

Nixon: Well, yeah, but they’re always close to an election. Then, they’ll be closer to ours. See, that’s always the excuse they’ve taken.

Sisco: What you’re saying—

Nixon: It’s either—it’s either our election, or theirs.

Sisco: [laughs]

Nixon: And, I don’t—I’m not suggesting I have the answer to it, but on the other hand, we—I think Henry’s, if—I want you just to hold [Page 147]their hand as much as you can, and let him do it in his—when would you see them, if you see them again, Henry?

Kissinger: Middle of May.

Nixon: Where would you see them? In Europe someplace—?

Kissinger: That’s still being debated.

Nixon: It depends on whether you’re traveling. You’d have to have another reason to go.

Kissinger: I’d have to have another reason to go—

Nixon: And, you know, that’s fine.

Sisco: And you know, Henry, they’re lousy at this business of leaks.

Nixon: Oh!

Sisco: It’s worse in the Arab world than anywhere else—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Sisco: —in any other area that I can think of. Operating with the Chinese, you were able to keep—

Nixon: That’s right.

Sisco: —the channels. These people will just open their mouths, largely because of the fact that words have become a substitute for action. Thank God for that.

Nixon: Yeah. That’s good.

Sisco: So you’re [unclear]—

Nixon: Let me say this—let me say this: Joe, remember the time you and I talked in the Lincoln Room? There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. I want you to know that I have great confidence in your skill in this area, given what you’ve done, and what you’ve gone through. And I have confidence, naturally, in Henry. But I want—and I don’t want any of this feeling of State fighting the White House. That’s crap.

Sisco: I’ve never had this feeling, as Henry [unclear]—

Nixon: We have made a lot of yardage in certain areas, and if you and Henry can just work, work together, and I know in any event if something leaks out, why, then we’ll just say whether you’re out, I’ll tell, tell Bill or anybody that’s [unclear] over there and these people want to see him. And we saw ‘em. I mean, there’s—there’s no problem with that. No problem. We can’t be—we can’t be in any position, if it leaks out, to deny it.

Kissinger: Oh, no. No, no, no.

Nixon: Yeah. But we—but, on the other hand, don’t volunteer anything. Fair enough?

Kissinger: And we’re in a pretty good position right now on—

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Nixon: [unclear]—

Kissinger: We’ve—we’ve handled what—

Nixon: If you would sort of work to try to develop something, so that Henry can have piece of paper that you can work from.

Sisco: Henry, I can feed you some concrete—

Nixon: And also—

[Unclear exchange]

Nixon: General—general—particularly in the general principle area, Henry, I think that Joe can get some [unclear]—

Kissinger: I’d be very grateful, and I’d love to work—

Nixon: The general—I think the principle area, and then, the—I mean, if you’ve got—you’ve started the same thing. Let’s get some general principles and [unclear]—

Kissinger: Once—I mean, now that you’ve explained the strategy to Joe—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —and he and I can meet, and—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: ‘Cause he has a very fertile imagination—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: —and he spends much more time on it.

Nixon: What I would like to suggest, Joe, is that, just on occasion, that you just, if you don’t mind, pop over here, and so that we can just—and it can be done. And I’d suggest, Henry, that you meet him over in the Map Room—

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: —so it isn’t a case where it looks as if something big is—or, maybe, you should meet in your office. I don’t care.

Kissinger: Actually, it’s easiest in my office.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: We can always drum up some excuse.

Nixon: All right, then you come over [unclear]—

Kissinger: I mean, we have a lot of current business.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation No. 895–24. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Sisco and Kissinger in the Oval Office between 4:31 and 4:41 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editors transcribed the portion printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. Hafiz Ismail. See Document 26.
  3. Secretary Rogers traveled to Paris on February 24 to attend a conference on Vietnam.
  4. See Document 3.
  5. See Document 28.
  6. Kissinger is apparently referring to Sisco’s strategy paper of February 7. In the paper, Sisco wrote that “undertaking a parallel completely secret second track would offer more hope that some progress could be made or at least help keep the problem manageable.” He added: “U.S. contacts could be established here with the Israelis in the first instance and subsequently with the Egyptians, their purpose being to culminate in direct, unpublicized Egypt-Israeli contacts on the detailed terms of a final rather than an interim Egyptian-Israeli settlement.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 130, Country Files, Middle East, Saunders Memoranda—Sensitive, Egypt/Hafez Ismail, 1973)