59. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is conversation unrelated to Southern Africa.]

Nixon: I’ve been thinking about that Rhodesian chrome thing. Your thought is to call in Byrd? You’re going to do it in a week?

Kissinger: Yes. I wanted directions from you. I don’t oppose doing it with you as well as him. My concern is if it gets out that the White House [unclear]—I mean on the substantive stuff, protect the position.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: A fight would turn into an absolutely unbelievable foreign policy scandal and they would be hacking away at us for months. I just wonder if we couldn’t get word to Byrd. The fact of the matter is this, is that the sanctions are coming out of the British Parliament, but we’ll know early in November. They’re also close to a deal, as Heath told you.

Nixon: Hmmm.

Kissinger: I think those—with either one these circumstances the sanctions would last if [unclear]anyway. If the British renew the sanctions and if the deal goes through then, the Byrd Amendment would become relevant. And then we could, we could do it.

Nixon: Is there a reason or do we want to give it a reason? I mean we need these votes in the U.N.

Kissinger: Well, we can do both. We can keep this U.N. vote and then sanctions are coming up anyway at about the same time.

Nixon: Yeah. Now—

Kissinger: That would give you about six weeks—

Nixon: Fine. Now, having said that let me—

Kissinger: That, I don’t mind.

Nixon: Let me—let me get one thing across on my attitude towards the whole African problem, the South African problem, because I think we’ve got to get State turned around on this thing and that means, particularly, Newsom. Of course, my attitude is that I know that State in the past has had this African policy and for two reasons. Forget all the goddamn principles. One is because they are concerned about the posi[Page 149]tion of the United States among the new African countries; that’s your point. The other point that they’re concerned about is the domestic American political situation. They’re afraid of it.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Fine. All right. My view has come down to this, my view is: one, that the domestic American political situation should be completely taken out of their feeling on this. I make that decision and this position is not to be made on that basis. For your information I consider it to be detrimental to American political positions—

Kissinger: I agree.

Nixon: —to go this way. You don’t gain any votes from the blacks who give a shit what happens to Zambia. You get it from the others. You see my point?

Kissinger: Absolutely.

Nixon: The second point is: On the other one, I do not believe that it is worth our while to do something for the Africans that’s against the British or somebody else. The third thing is that it’s in the interest of the Africans, and I have said the same thing—I did say the same thing to Sukarno in 1953—for us to guide them in the direction of solving their own internal problems and get their eyes the hell off of the problems far away. It does no favor to the Africans for us to play their game. For another reason, for the Africans to come in and see the President of the United States, as they did the other day, and to waste their time and my time for 40 minutes talking about the problems that didn’t affect their own countries is an indication of the problem. Now, I want this understood. I think this policy—this is not my policy and I just got to get it out. Now, shall I do that by bringing them all into a meeting to tell them that? No, that’ll all leak all over the government, but that wouldn’t bother me either. But I think we’ve got to understand it. Now, I—we have the South African problem—

Kissinger: Let me get Irwin in. Let me get, uh—the trouble is that without strong leadership over there you shouldn’t have to do it, because they’ll leak it. They don’t mind cutting you up.

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: And while I agree with you that the Negroes don’t help us any it doesn’t do—we don’t gain anything by making anything [unclear]—

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: —over this issue what we’re doing—

Nixon: No. They’re looking for a right, for a reason to [unclear].

Kissinger: Well, you could call Newsom in.

Nixon: How the hell would Newsom want it dealt with?

[Page 150]

Kissinger: Well, gosh, if it would help, too. [unclear] Let me try it and then if it doesn’t work we shouldn’t [unclear] you’ve got too much relying on it.

Nixon: Sure. The point, though, on this: I just want—this is my policy. I thought everybody understood it was.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And they come out and make a goddamn announcement2 on this thing, and the Byrd Amendment. Now they should have consulted with me on that goddamned thing—

Kissinger: Mr. President, the worst of it is that they did consult you. They were told you wouldn’t do it—

Nixon: Well, were they told?

Kissinger: Of course, that’s how the paper arose to you. They—

Nixon: But did you pass it on to them? I know—

Kissinger: Well, I passed it on and more.

Nixon: Get [unclear] to deal with it.

Kissinger: It went back and forth between couriers because I didn’t want them to—

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: —leak it. But the way this came up is they wanted the White House to be in the clear.

Nixon: That’s right. I said “no” on it.

Kissinger: I said, “I cannot do this without the President’s approval.” I then wrote that memo to you on which you wrote these strong words.3 I think I’m trying to say that, Mr. President, orders are to stay the hell out of this one.

Nixon: Hmmm.

Kissinger: And then they put out the word that State is for it and the White House is against it.

Nixon: Do they have a story to that effect?

Kissinger: That’s right. I told this to Hugh Scott and to a lot of other people. Then Rogers called Hugh Scott and said, “No, everybody’s against it.” And, uh—

Nixon: Why don’t you get the word to them down there or then I can do it. I just—I’d hate to—I’m going to be busy today, but I don’t want this to fall between stools and for us to really irritate the conservatives when we don’t have to.

Kissinger: The other—

[Page 151]

Nixon: They’re going to be irritated by Taiwan, they’re going to be irritated by this.

Kissinger: I’ll call Byrd. Incidentally, all the news stories today say that this actually helps the U.N. vote.

Nixon: I know this.

[Omitted here is conversation unrelated to Rhodesia.]

Nixon: I know and the reason I suggest you call [Byrd].

Kissinger: I’ll call on the basis—

Nixon: You see, basically, Byrd is my friend, a very close one, and we’d appreciate it if he stands with us. You know all that, Henry. The whole purpose of this, we just, we can’t tell you, but [unclear]—

Kissinger: Is that the Virginia Byrd?

Nixon: Oh, sure.

Kissinger: Oh yeah. I know, I know him very well. I can handle him, but he, uh—besides, he’ll keep a secret [unclear].

Nixon: I’d rather if you did it. [unclear] He’s [unclear]. Christ, I think we need Byrd on this.

Kissinger: Of course.

Nixon: [unclear] very good friend. So, this is Harry Byrd [unclear]. Well, the point is, you can say, “We’ve got to tell you this in confidence. We’ve got some good news on the [unclear] and the British and the President told Hugh [Scott] that you will not—you will back him. Regardless of what the settlement is we’ll back him, but this is going to take about six weeks. If it does not go, I will publicly back his amendment.”

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: And the other thing and it’s considering the fact that we could need two or three votes from the blacks on the Taiwan thing.

Kissinger: Let me get him right away. I think—

Nixon: Fine.

Kissinger: I know him quite well.

Nixon: Right. Sure. Just say that we have appreciated his great support and everything and that I—that as a matter of fact, you can just say: “I want to tell you privately that the President was, frankly, very disturbed when the statement was made by Scott.”4 Because you can say, “I—and please don’t put this out because we don’t want to have a public fight about it, but I know that the President has told me. He says ‘I think the Byrd Amendment is the right approach here,’ but that you can’t do it and he’ll have to deal with it.” He’ll understand.

[Page 152]

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: And if he doesn’t then, by God, that’s—we may just change the signals and support the goddamn thing.

Kissinger: I think it will go through without our formal support, but we can just—if we get out of the way. [unclear] From the middle of November on I think we’re in pretty good shape provided.

Nixon: Oh. Then, then, then, then, but I mean—

Kissinger: Oh, you mean now?

Nixon: I’m afraid right now they may bring it up still. Oh, that’s when he may withdraw it. Okay. Good luck, though.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Executive Office Building, Conversation 283–15. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. The exchange is part of a larger conversation, 8:28–9:05 a.m.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. Document 56.
  4. Not further identified.