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

Kissinger: I think we’re going to get the SALT thing, Mr. President.

Nixon: How’d you get along with Dobrynin?2

Kissinger: Well, I decided to follow—I mean, I did exactly what you told me.3

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Kissinger: To sum it up, I said, [unclear]—I said to him, “What about the summit? We’ve been to—you must be suffering from a mis—” I said, “You must suffer from a misapprehension. The summit must reflect mutual interests, or it isn’t worth doing. So, we’ve talked to you about it for a year. There’s no sense—your Foreign Minister4 said, ‘Let’s not have fencing matches.’ We seem to be having a fencing match, so the President has said he’s got to make—he’s making his plans. When you are ready to have a summit, you let us know, but don’t come to me unless you are ready to set a date, and announce it quickly.” He said: “Oh no, no, we are planning on it. September, of course, we’re planning on it.” I said: “Well, it’s all right. You, you come to us when you are ready.” He said: “Oh, we are not insistent on protocol.” Well, so we left it at that, then.

[Page 463]

Nixon: [unclear].

Kissinger: Then I, I have worked out a—

Nixon: Your feeling there is that they want the summit [unclear] but that they don’t want to announce it for a couple of months—

Kissinger: Well, they don’t want to announce it for two reasons. One, they want to show that Brezhnev negotiated this thing—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: —and he just took over. Second, they’re thugs, and they always try to pick up some loose change along the way.

Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Kissinger: And they just ran up against the wrong guy.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: You just didn’t give them any loose change.

[Omitted here is discussion of Germany, printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 193.]

Kissinger: And thirdly, I mentioned SALT.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I said, “Frankly the President wonders whether if we can’t work this out, if there is any sense of having any further talks.”

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: Absolutely.

Kissinger: —I said, “Here is the fact: you are asking us to tear down what we’ve built as the first step of a negotiation. How can the President go to the Congress, leaving aside his convictions, and say the Russians are dealing with us in good faith? We’re doing this.” So, I said, “Either, you take out that sentence,5 or we’ll put in a sentence in the President’s reply saying we disagree with it, in which case it’s pointless. Also, we must have another sentence in that, your letter, that says—” They had said they will discuss simultaneously the freezing. I said, “You can’t just discuss it, you have to agree to it, the limit on freezing of offensive weapons.”6 Now, that second sentence, he agreed [Page 464] to immediately.7 He said, “We’re willing to conclude that.” On taking out the Moscow one, he said he had to refer to Moscow, but he thinks he has an answer by the end of this week. And—

Nixon: Do you want to stay [unclear] to work on it?

Kissinger: No, I said, “Also, the President wants to announce it, if we exchange these letters.” So we could announce that probably. I—I—he was really chastened. I didn’t joke with him this time. I said, “Mr. Ambassador, this, this and this.” And, I think we’re going to get it.

Nixon: Well—

Kissinger: And I think we should then announce it—

Nixon: [unclear] How would it be? Who initiated the letter? He did, or—

Kissinger: No, the way it would go is you initiate the letter. The first letter is yours, and it’s a fairly short one.

Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: They come back with a fairly lengthy one—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —of details. You lay out all the principles.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: They reply, and then you write a very short confirming letter saying you accept their reply—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —and you’re instructing your Ambassador to proceed immediately.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: But it’s clear that you initiated it.

Nixon: Yeah. Good. Although, how the hell are we going to get that across to the—Rogers and Smith? It’s time we get all this done. I’m not worried too much about it. We’ll just do it, but—

Kissinger: Well, what you could say, Mr. President—

Nixon: Yeah—

Kissinger: —and this has a great advantage that Rogers is gone—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: You could say Dobrynin came back—

Nixon: And said he’d [unclear]—

[Page 465]

Kissinger: —and said they were ready to make some progress, that time was of the essence.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: So, you were torn, but you told me—

Nixon: Yeah. That’s right.

Kissinger: —in Rogers’s absence to write—to give him this very short letter. You—the first letter of yours has a lot of flowery words, but is rather short.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: They came back with the other. You concluded that he won’t like it, but it’s a—they’ll just have to swallow—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Kissinger: Well, Smith is getting what he wants.

Nixon: That’s right. He’s just isn’t getting as much credit as he wants. He’ll get enough.

Kissinger: Well, he’ll get the credit for having—you can build him up—

Nixon: I’ll—I’ll say that this is—

Kissinger: Grew out—

Nixon: —due to our negotiators, and so forth.

[Omitted here is discussion of Vietnam.]

Kissinger: Then, if things break right, we can have the SALT either next week or the week after.

Nixon: I’d prefer to have it next week.

Kissinger: Well, I would, too. [unclear]—

Nixon: Yeah, while Rogers is gone.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Well, when he gets back I’ll simply say, “Look, something’s going on here. I—a leak.” You know, he won’t leak it.

Kissinger: No, but by the time he gets it—what may happen, Mr. President, is that we’ll get it so late next week that we can’t announce it next week anymore and have to announce it the first or second day he’s back.

Nixon: Well, maybe when he comes in [unclear] rather than trying to have it done long distance while he’s out of the country. It may have a problem, too. Anyway, I don’t think we’ll probably be confronted with the problem. My guess is that Dobrynin will take a little time.

Kissinger: Well, I think it’s so close. They are either going to do it now or not.

Nixon: Yeah.

[Page 466]

Kissinger: There’s no more in it.

Nixon: Yeah, yeah. Except, the really—the key point is whether or not they are willing to take out the sentence with regard to Washington only.

Kissinger: Right. They will be.

Nixon: They will be?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: But, he wasn’t—he didn’t have any authority to concede that, though?

Kissinger: No. But, I just cannot conceive them challenging you directly, particularly—even though I didn’t say so to him, since they know we can screw up the Berlin negotiations to a fare-thee-well.

Nixon: That’s right. We will.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT, printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 193.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 489–17. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Kissinger entered at 3:56 p.m. as Ehrlichman and Shultz were leaving. The conversation ended at 4:12 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. Kissinger met with Dobrynin at noon. According to an April 26 memorandum of conversation, prepared by Kissinger, he made the following comments about SALT: “I told Dobrynin that the President had carefully studied the draft reply of the Soviet Government. I said from our point of view there were two major problems with it. Point one was it only offered to discuss the idea of a freeze, not to conclude it. This I did not consider a concession since they were already obligated to discuss offensive limitation under the SALT agreement. Secondly, we could not accept any exchange that we would confine the ABM deployments to Washington and Moscow, this had to be settled during the negotiations.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 5 [Part 1]) The memorandum of conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 192.
  3. There is a tape recording of a conversation from 11:46 a.m. to 12:07 p.m. between Kissinger and Nixon about Kissinger’s upcoming meeting with Dobrynin. The discussion of what Kissinger should say to Dobrynin is similar to what Kissinger describes in this conversation. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 489–5). A portion of this conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 191.
  4. Andrei Gromyko.
  5. The sentence in question refers to an agreement that limited ABM systems to NCA defense; see Document 149.
  6. At their noon meeting, Kissinger read Dobrynin a note from Nixon that presented three main points: 1) the United States was prepared to negotiate on priority basis an ABM agreement; 2) the United States wanted an understanding on a freeze on offensive weapons completed simultaneously with an ABM agreement; 3) the United States agreed that an initial agreement should include an obligation to seek a permanent limitation of offensive strategic weapons. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 497, President’s Trip Files, Exchange of Notes Between Dobrynin and Kissinger, Vol. 1)
  7. Reference is to the second point in Nixon’s note that Kissinger read to Dobrynin at their noon meeting.