135. Conversation Between Secretary of State Rogers and President Nixon1

Nixon: I’m not ready to tell you, but I’ve been doing a little thinking about the SALT thing, and I’m—I want to, before they go back on March 15th, it may be that I may want to either say something or write a letter or something else, [unclear] to have some outcome [unclear]. Let me put it this way: I think the—I’m not as bearish about this as some who are willing to do something. I’m inclined to think that right now they want to do something. Now, let me say on that, for your information, I [unclear]. I want to talk, I want to think about it for a while. I just wanted to tell you about it now. It would have to be before March 15th, if anything I’ve said here that—but I would like to do it in terms of a, where, if I do it, here, where you inform [unclear] to tell [Gerard]Smith but on a, on a absolutely—I don’t believe him, I don’t have any confidence in him, basically, as a—and particularly his shop,2 naturally. And, now, understand, I think he does as well as he can, considering the people that are there.

But I—But I, I feel that—I feel that he looks at this thing [unclear]but, as anybody who would be involved in long negotiations, are personally, sometimes in miniscule terms. And also that, he just has too much of a tendency sometimes, he doesn’t want to fight with his own people.

Rogers: Hmm.

Nixon: Now, this is a big play, you know, when you really come down to it, if there’s any agreement with the Russians, this might be it, you know, the ABM and something else. But if we do it, I think we’ve got to get the credit here. I don’t believe it should be in Vienna. You know what I mean?

Rogers: Sure.

Nixon: So give some thought to that, but I sense he—I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I would particularly suggest that we, we ought to keep that very closely held to ourselves, you know.

[Page 410]

Rogers: I was asking Bob Haldeman the other day, what you—I felt, sort of, basically, my own feeling is that if we could get an agreement which became effective at the end of this year. By “effective,” I mean “signed.” It would be effective some time this year or the beginning of the next, and as long as it didn’t cause us to have—be at any, be at any disadvantage, as long as we have—

Nixon: Right.

Rogers: As long as we have, we have the opportunity to develop all the things we would develop anyway.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Rogers: And really stop the things that we probably would stop anyway—

Nixon: Well, I’m on the same track. I’ve been thinking a lot about it. I’ve told Haig and Kissinger [unclear] the steps that I can think of, and yourself, and now we really have studied it, and—but I think something could come of it. I think something might come of it, because I think maybe they could use something, too. What the hell?

Rogers: It’s just a matter of saving some money. That’s all [unclear].

Nixon: Say that we do.

Rogers: Well, I’ve been thinking along the same line. As a matter of fact, I—

Nixon: But also, it could be an enormously good thing to have if we could get something said or done, or at least some indications of progress this spring, well, which would take the heat off some of this press thing, too [unclear].

Rogers: Well, I think—I really—I don’t think Mr. Brezhnev [unclear] these people left out. I think what we should—

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: [unclear] the damn television and, incidentally, they’re absolutely right. [unclear] I didn’t—I don’t look at it, but I read it and I know how horrible it is. Bill, the whole trouble is, I think you can’t blame Mel [Laird]. You can’t. The whole damned Defense Department is PR crazy.

Rogers: Hmm.

Nixon: And I—I personally think he felt, I would have been a lot more tough on this end. Let ‘em squeal. Let ‘em squeal. You—look, look at Woody Hayes after a football game.

Rogers: Yeah.

[Page 411]

Nixon: Vince Lombardi—whenever he lost a game, he wouldn’t let anybody in for 30 minutes. Ted Williams?3

Rogers: Of course.

Nixon: You know, he never lets the press in after the foot—the baseball players lose a game for a half hour. Oh hell, this is war.

Rogers: Well—

Nixon: And, so, the press squeals at Ted Williams. And most of the people say he’s right. What do you think?

Rogers: Sure.

Nixon: I tell you, God, I just think we’re just going crazy to get ourselves beat over the head, bloodied. I talked to Moorer afterwards, after you had, and I said, now [unclear]. And he’s good. He said, “Now, I’m going to do everything I can.” And he will. Jesus, you’re absolutely right. In a war, you’d never let a guy talk to the press after he’d been in a battle, would you?

Rogers: No.

Nixon: When he’s shell shocked?

Rogers: What we used to do is, afterwards, we took them—

[unclear exchange]

Rogers: [unclear] when I was in the—

Nixon: Naval Intelligence?

Rogers: Yeah. And what we used to do is, when we were ready, then we would let them go and talk to the press. You see, we didn’t do it under orders, we just did it—

Nixon: Yeah.

Rogers: It made sense. I mean, that was the choice we had to make. So, we didn’t—and we didn’t—we just didn’t go out and talk to the press until we were ready.

Nixon: Look, on the—on the SALT thing, let us—let us develop our own strategy. Let, let Smith continue to work on table support. We must do better, ‘cause it has to be done that way. Well, I’ll see you.

Rogers: All right, Mr. President.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 460–25. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Rogers from 5:15 to 5:45 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. Reference is to ACDA.
  3. Hayes was the head football coach at The Ohio State University. Lombardi was the long-time head coach of the National Football League Green Bay Packers and later the Washington Redskins. Williams played for the Boston Red Sox and was later manager of the Washington Senators.