150. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and the Assistant to the President (Haldeman)1

Kissinger: Hello, Mr. President.

Haldeman: Who won?2

[Page 453]

Kissinger: It was a draw. To sum it up, Mr. President, they’ve, to all practical purposes, given in on this SALT thing. They’ve come back with a letter from Kosygin, and they’re willing to have the exchange of letters published. Up to now, they wanted it secret. There’s still one point, which I will raise in a minute. On the summit, they reaffirmed the invitation, and they want it in September. I mean, they agreed with us that it should be in September. They do not want an announcement now. And, they say there has to be some progress in Berlin;3 they can never explain it to the Politburo. And I—when he said that, I blew my top. I mean, deliberately. I said “Now,” I said, “you’re making a terrible mistake.” I said, “If we have a goal, then the President, who never plays for little stakes, would recognize that it has to fit into this framework. If you’re trying to hold him up with Berlin as a means to get to the summit, you don’t understand him. I’m not even sure if he’ll let me continue talking to you on Berlin under these circumstances.” I thought this—

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: This was the only way of doing it, because we really cannot promise to be able to deliver on Berlin.

Nixon: No.

[Omitted here is discussion related to Germany, printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 190.]

Kissinger: Then he started explaining, “Oh, they’re enthusiastic. Don’t you realize what a tremendous thing it is for us, the first American President in the Soviet Union? That we had 4 new members in the Politburo. I tried.” He said, “You have only one man to convince; I had to talk to all 15.”

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: He said, “To sell this was almost impossible.” That I even believe, because on this one they have yielded 98 percent. They’ve practically accepted our position on the SALT. They’re—they’re giving us a hell of a lot more than—

Nixon: What is left? Well, let’s look at where we start from here. What about the SALT position? What’s—

Kissinger: [unclear]—

Nixon: What is the timing?

Kissinger: Well, that we can settle next week. We could publish the exchange of letters within a week.

[Page 454]

Nixon: Maybe it’s better to publish the exchange of letters than have a press conference. That’s what my view is.

Kissinger: Well, now, the only point is this, Mr. President: what they want, the only disputed point—there are some other nitpicks, which I’ll explain to you in a minute—but the disputed point is on the limitation, Moscow against Washington, which will drive Scoop Jackson right up a wall4

Nixon: Hell, that’s true.

Kissinger: And, on the other hand, Dobrynin says that it is almost impossible to explain to their military that we can protect our missiles, and they have to protect their population. Well, I told him, “Well, they have 500 missiles protected by their Moscow system.”

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Well, he denies that. So, what I could propose to him on Monday5 is that they take out that one sentence which limits it to that, and that we throw that to the negotiators, with the understanding that if they can’t settle it, we’ll just have to yield. If that’s what you want. I think if they freeze their offensive weapons, that’s the big thing. If they freeze their offensive weapons, which they’ve agreed to do in this, then we can be—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —then we can agree to this. Then we can agree to this.

If they don’t freeze their offensive weapons, it’s too dangerous.

Nixon: Um-hmm. Well, let—let me ask you this: the main thing is, the question right now, is the timing, you know. Something sometimes becomes more important.

Kissinger: Well, we can get this done within a week—well, if we accept this letter.

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: The trouble with accepting this letter is that we just beat the bureaucracy silly to move from the Washington position to the Safeguard position, and for us suddenly to reverse ourselves—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

[Page 455]

Kissinger: —is gonna—so, they have to make it possible—they have to give us three or four weeks.

Nixon: Why don’t you get back to him now then in terms of let’s just leave that to the negotiators.

Kissinger: My suggestion to him would be: let’s leave that to the negotiators.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: With that one—

Kissinger: And I’ll give him a private undertaking that—

Nixon: That’s right—

Kissinger: —after a few weeks, you’ll look at this.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: I’ll say, “If they agree to have this freeze on January 1st, then we’ll agree to the NCA—”

Nixon: Yeah, but don’t—but, do not indicate what the situation is on, on the other. That’s something that we will privately undertake.

Kissinger: That’s right—

Nixon: I don’t want anything in the public statement.

Kissinger: Exactly.

Nixon: Not that in the public statement, right?

Kissinger: Exactly. And I’ll tell him—

Nixon: Why don’t you—why don’t you get back to him now, though, as time is of the essence here now? We’ve got to, you understand. We have a—we have a problem in terms of—

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: —what benefit it is. Look, let me put it this way: all this is a bunch of shit, as you know. It’s not worth a damn. But the point is that in terms of our public relations, we can use something like this at this time. I—

Kissinger: Right—

Nixon: —don’t want to have anything wrong for public relations reasons, but I don’t want to horse around and put it out three weeks from now when it doesn’t make a goddamn bit of difference.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: See my point?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: And so, I—you can work the thing out fine.

Kissinger: All right. I’ll call—

Nixon: How could you—?

[Page 456]

Kissinger: I’ll call him. I said I’d talk to him—

Nixon: You could call him, and say, “All right, we’ve talked about it,” and that I suggested a formula. Why don’t you put it that way?

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: That we’ll have here—that I suggested a formula, whereby we’d move to a private undertaking on this, and keep it out of the—let’s—don’t get specific in terms of the Moscow–Washington thing.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: We’ll have an answer right away. Now, how would it work, though, in the terms of the exchange of letters, and so forth? How do we—how do we explain that to everybody?

Kissinger: Bill [Rogers] is lucky they are in the city next week—

Nixon: Yeah. I’d just say that he’s—

Kissinger: So, you just decided—

Nixon: I just decided—

Kissinger: —that you had to make some sort—

Nixon: I’ll—I’ll say Dobrynin came back.

Kissinger: If you said Dobrynin came back, and you decided this was a good time, your instinct told you to make a move—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: —and that—

Nixon: That’s right. See, I think it’s good to make the move while he is out of the city for that. That’s the reason—that’s another reason I had in mind. Now, it’s that then we don’t have all the crapping around about Smith and all the rest. Just say I made the move and this is it. We’ve got this arrangement with Dobrynin, and, you know, that—we’ll just say that I made a contact and we got the deal. That’s it.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Your—you—your thought is that what—an exchange of letters is the deal, that’s all—?

Kissinger: Well, that’s what they want now, but they’re willing to make it public, so it’s the same as a new—

Nixon: Hmm. How do we exchange the statements? The simultaneous statements might be that [unclear].

Kissinger: They probably have to go back again.

Nixon: I see. Well—

Kissinger: Now, I can’t guarantee you. Usually, they meet on Thursdays—whether they can settle it that quickly, but I think they probably can.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. [unclear] Well, understand, I understand if they can’t.

[Page 457]

Kissinger: But I’ll call him this afternoon.

Nixon: But he is—My point is that this is now one of those things where time is important to us, for other reasons, and where it doesn’t appear we’re over-anxious. After all, we can call him back and say, “We discussed it, the President wants it, this is the compromise, and let’s get it done.”

Haldeman: In some ways, the week after next might do us more good than next week.

Nixon: All right. All right, Henry

Kissinger: That we can almost certainly do—

Nixon: But don’t—don’t suggest a delay. It will take long enough. Haldeman: Yeah.

Nixon: My view is that I’d still call him back. I see that doesn’t denote any eagerness, does it? As you said when you came in, and brought it into me, we talked it over—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: —and I said, “Well, why not this?” You know, you can just say—

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: —you can say, “You want to submit that to him? Here’s the deal.”

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: It’s up to you.

Kissinger: That sounds good.

Nixon: Another thing, though, that Bob, I’d like to get—Well, I’d like to get it done while Rogers is gone if we can.6

Haldeman: He’ll be gone for 2 weeks.

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: See, he’ll be gone for 2 weeks, Mr. President, and, and if he has any—I think he’s got the authority to settle this. And …

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: And we can …

Nixon: Good. Well, except—

Kissinger: The way we do it—

Nixon: Except—except to take the Moscow thing—the Washington thing out. He probably doesn’t have the authority to do that, but he may have. It depends. We’ll work on it. Fair enough?

[Page 458]

Kissinger: I think he can take it out if I give him the assurance that after they—

Nixon: Give him the assurance—

Kissinger: —after they—

Nixon: You—

Kissinger: That they’ll win on it.

Nixon: You—you can—you just give him a private assurance that [unclear]—

Kissinger: I’ll just tell him the facts. I’ll tell him we’ve just shifted our position—

Nixon: Yeah, you just tell him, then you can tell him what the message is. Well, you talked to the President; he’s got my assurance.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: That’s—that’s it.

Kissinger: But I’ll want from him an assurance, because you’ll need that, I think, in time that they will stop building on January 1st. This year—

Nixon: Oh, yeah. Is that in there?

Kissinger: No. All they agree in here is that they’ll stop building, but they didn’t give the date.

Nixon: All right. Fine. And what we do is to have the negotiators work this out in Vienna.

Kissinger: In Vienna.

Nixon: And then, we agree to a time. And a summit—

Kissinger: [unclear] Oh, that will be agreed to. They’ll settle that then fairly quickly.

Nixon: What do you have to talk about at the summit?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: What do you have left to talk about?

Kissinger: Oh, at the summit? Oh, the final agreement on this. And that won’t be all straightened out. It will be signed at the summit.

Nixon: I see.

Kissinger: And we’ll have—

Nixon: I—you see what I mean, Henry? I think we’ve got to have something that will come out of that, you know [unclear]—

Kissinger: I’ll fix that. I’ll guarantee you that it won’t be settled before. You see, once we get this exchange done, Mr. President—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —the next thing, the next move you can make—

Nixon: Yeah?

[Page 459]

Kissinger: —is to separate out the accidental issue—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: —and get that agreement signed this summer. They’ve already offered it.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: That you can get done in 4 weeks.

Nixon: Well, you feel then that they came out about like you expected then, right?

Kissinger: Yeah, I thought, they’re—they’re a cool bunch. I thought, they are dying to get you to Moscow, Mr. President, and I think it would be a mistake for us to promise them a Berlin agreement. In fact, what I’m inclined to say, when I see him, is to say, “Your reaction was just what I predicted.” That you just make no commitments until then, when they are ready for the summit. I said, “You think you’re doing the President a favor about the summit, you’re absolutely wrong—”

Nixon: That’s right—

Kissinger: “—we’re not going to pay any price for the summit. We make agreements in our mutual interests or not at all.” But they want you there. About that there’s no doubt. Because as soon as I got tough—

Nixon: Yeah.

Haldeman: The sooner—

Kissinger: Because as soon as I got tough, he started pulling back. He said, “No, no, no, you misunderstood. You have to tell the President we are renewing the invitation. September is an excellent time. It’s a good time, still good weather—”

Nixon: Yeah, but when do they—when do they want to announce it?

Kissinger: Well, then I said, “Look, we would like to make the announcement four months ahead of time. That’s what we always do with state visits. He said, “Well, two months is a little better.” I think they have a massive problem of getting their government to [unclear].

Nixon: Make it three months.

Kissinger: And I think they really want it. They probably may need some progress on Berlin. But I think—I’m seeing Bahr this weekend,7 and I think they know there’ll be progress on Berlin, and they’re using this to—

Nixon: Um-hmm [unclear]. So it came out pretty well? Didn’t it?

[Page 460]

Kissinger: Well, I think this one, I think the SALT agreement, Mr. President—

Nixon: Without China—without China, they aren’t going to [unclear]—

Kissinger: The SALT agreement is going to drive Berlin.

Nixon: Let me tell you something: without China, they never would have agreed to the SALT.

Kissinger: Because this—

Nixon: Yeah—?

Kissinger: [unclear] SALT—I don’t plague you with it. What they started with—

Nixon: I know. And a hell of a long way.

Kissinger: This is 90 percent of what we—

Nixon: Can I—but I just say I think you are absolutely right. Make the private commitment, like we did with the other. All right, leave Washington and New York out of it—leave Washington and Moscow out of it. We’ll just work out an agreement on that at the proper time. Is that what we do?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Provided they agree to the freeze on January 1st.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: But he can put that date in, can’t he? What the hell, you’ve got to have a date in it.

Kissinger: He can’t put it in the letter.

Nixon: Huh?

Kissinger: It has to be negotiated.

Nixon: The date of January 1st?

Kissinger: Of the freeze.

Nixon: Oh, I see. But you want to have a private understanding—?

Kissinger: I want him to agree. We—we promised him we’ll yield on this—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and, we want them to promise—

Nixon: Yeah—

Kissinger: [unclear]—that what I had originally proposed—

Nixon: Right. And that when we agree to the summit, we will set that date.

Kissinger: Right. But, but otherwise [unclear]—

Nixon: Good. What is your feeling about [unclear]—

Kissinger: This will be completely your initiative.

[Page 461]

Nixon: Right. Ok. Oh, I know, I know. And I think it’s good to do it while [unclear]—

Kissinger: Oh, Bill.

Nixon: —while Rogers is gone and everything. In other words, let’s—we’ve got the perfect reason. I just—I don’t know. Should we say [unclear]? No. I called him in. Is that what we do? Is that what we say? We’ve got the letter? I sent a letter? I mean, you see what I mean? You’ve got to figure out how—

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: We could say that Dobrynin called me—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —when Rogers was gone—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and that he wanted me to know that his government is eager—

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: —to have a new approach.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah—

Kissinger: You then said that you were going to gamble and—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —write the letter and [unclear] do that.

Nixon: That’s right. [unclear] they—and they’re—and that they were ready to consider a new approach by their [unclear] wrote and suggested this exchange of letters, and he’s agreed to it. Fair enough? Ok. Good luck at Woodstock.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 487–21. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Haldeman from 2:52 to 3:36 p.m.; Kissinger entered the Oval Office at 3:20 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed specifically for this volume.
  2. See Document 149.
  3. Talks about the status of Berlin began in March 1970 among the Four Powers and ultimately led to the Four Power Agreement, also known as the Quadripartite Agreement, of September 1971.
  4. On March 29 Sonnenfeldt sent Kissinger a memorandum in which he summarized Jackson’s proposal about SALT made that day on the Senate floor: “1) the US would immediately halt the deployment of MM III missiles with their MIRV warheads; 2) the Soviet Union would immediately halt the deployment of new ICBM launchers and missiles including those now under construction; 3) both countries would retain freedom to assure the survivability of their strategic land-based force so long as they did not add to their offensive potential; 4) neither side would deploy a population defending ABM.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–007, Verification Panel Meeting SALT 4/9/71)
  5. April 26.
  6. Haldeman recalled that “the P wants to announce this [exchange of letters about SALT] quickly while Rogers is away, and his idea is to do it next week instead of the press conference. My idea is to wait until the following week, when Rogers will still be gone and we can do it out of California.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
  7. Kissinger left at 8:30 p.m. for Woodstock, Vermont to attend the weekend-long Bilderberg Conference. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) The Bilderberg Conference is an annual meeting of a private group of about 120 of the world’s wealthiest and most influential people.