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

Haig: I think a SALT agreement would be a substantial move—

Nixon: Well, well, but we’ll have that soon, if we’re going to get a SALT agreement. That—I agree, I agree. If we get that, and we announce it, and if we—that’s a, that would be a [unclear]—

Haldeman: It will confuse them. It isn’t gonna—it isn’t going to undo your Vietnam thing—

Nixon: But it is—the point is, it’ll confuse them just like China—Haldeman: China did.

Nixon: —but it will not have the impact that’s needed. The American people—we polled all this and so forth. It’s too complicated. Intelligent people, it will confuse the hell out of them. We—but we must not ever confuse ourselves by thinking that that’s the way that folks are.

[unclear exchange]

Haldeman: [unclear] as far as the people are concerned with the whole China thing.

[Page 469]

Nixon: China—not a bit.

Haldeman: [unclear]—

Nixon: Public opinion is for China, and—

Haldeman: It might be in the intelligence community.

Nixon: Yeah.

Haldeman: As it did with the libs. And, for the long haul, it will make a lot of difference. [unclear]—

Nixon: It will make a tremendous difference in the long haul. But, you see—and the same on SALTSALT will have more impact in China due to the fact that it will deal with ABM, and the rest. But, on the other hand, have you looked over the press conferences recently?

Haldeman: Yes, sir.

Nixon: In 6 months, shit, we didn’t have any questions on SALT. I had to drag it in.

Haldeman: That’s right.

Nixon: And these guys out here are reflecting, because they’re not dumb, but they’re reflecting like folks that we’ve seen.

Haldeman: There are keen intellectual columnists—

Nixon: That’s right—

Haldeman: —who are concerned about SALT [unclear]—

Nixon: The people—the people that Henry sees—

Haldeman: —and know it’s a hell of a [unclear]—

Nixon: —are obsessed with SALT, and the rest. I—we all know, you and I know, it’s the most important goddamn thing. It’s more important than whether we have eternal aid to Vietnam, or combat troops, or anything else. But you see, Al, in terms of the kind of clowns we’re dealing with in the Congress, it just doesn’t, doesn’t have any time to sit. It’ll help. It’ll help. But what do you—what we do, on that one, we can appraise it. If my judgment is wrong we can embrace it. I can damn well assure you, in terms of—we’ll have a chance to appraise it, because if we announce it next week, and it must be—incidentally, if we’re going to do it, as I put in a note to you today, we’re going to do it. It has to be done Wednesday2 of next week, or then put it off two weeks. Now, there’s a reason for that: there’s a critical vote in the House3 on Wednesday. And, and otherwise, we should let it go two weeks. Screw it. I mean, there’s no real reason to—no reason to get it out any sooner. We might as well drag it along and go through all the process, and [Page 470] inform all the Embassies and talk to all the columnists, and all that bull-shit. By Friday—but, otherwise, get it out on Wednesday. Thursday’s too late—Thursday or Friday. So, that’s, that’s where we have it there. To do us any good in Congress, you see, I would rather have SALT come out two weeks later to affect the Senate vote. But you see these things wash out. All of a sudden they’re forgotten. So, we either have to do it Wednesday or just fart around, which we probably will do, and not do anything about it, and let it get screwed up in Vienna. You know it will be. It probably will be. Now, it could be ready next week, of course, if he [Dobrynin] comes back with some kind of an answer.

Haig: If he has an answer.

Nixon: If he has an answer. If he doesn’t have an answer—it probably isn’t going to be ready anyway for two weeks, so it’s probably a moot question. Now, what could happen, what could have an effect. I will agree—I will agree what could have an effect is an announcement of a summit with the Russians. That would have an effect on this whole thing. However, they aren’t ready to do much else—

Haig: They’re not—

Nixon: —and we’re not going to press them for an announcement.

They’re—we’ve told them already, “When you’re ready, you tell us.” Now, they’ll tell us. If they should come in, unexpectedly, and say, “Look, we’d like to go forward with an announcement, and so forth”—because we’re not going to ask; no more, no more; we can’t appear anxious—that could have a very dramatic effect. See, that’s the kind of announcement, though. And that’s what an announcement will be with the Chinese—of a meeting, you understand, as distinctive from—well, that the President will receive the table tennis team when it comes over, and we’re going to release some more items for trade with China. See? These—so, here’s the things that will happen. The SALT thing can have a little blip effect on the Congress for a day or two, so if we can get ready for Wednesday, go Wednesday. If not, hold it for two weeks, and we’ll do it then. Then the summit thing, if something comes on that it could have an effect. It could be the big play in early June, if they’re ready to announce it. But if not, then let it go. Then, we might only have only one bow left, at this time, in the political field, and that’s the meeting with Thieu and the combat troop thing.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT, portions of which are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 197; and ibid., volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 204.]

Nixon: The other things—SALT—will help [with] some sophisticated people. It’ll help, too, on the—to send our guys into battle. It’d be the at end of the game.

[Page 471]

Haldeman: [unclear]

Nixon: Hmm.

Haldeman: We shall get it all right, then.

Nixon: Well, they’ll, they’ll then, they’ll—

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: They’d have one hell of a time voting against ABM if we said we got an agreement, provided that, but then the sons-of-bitches won’t have a problem—

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Nixon: The only other thing coming up is SALT. SALT isn’t enough. I know that.

Haig: No—

Nixon: SALT is not enough, because it is not, you see, too directly enough related to Vietnam. A summit would be enough, because people would think that you’d, at the summit, you might talk about Vietnam. See?

Haldeman: The summit—summit—people understand a summit.

Nixon: Sure.

Haldeman: People don’t understand SALT.

Nixon: SALT is way over their heads. They haven’t the slightest idea what SALT is. It’s too goddamned complicated.

Haig: Of course, the China thing, I think, has the greatest impact.

Nixon: It has an impact. But there, they’re going to need [unclear exchange]. But the China thing, the China thing, which—a china—an open meeting by a Presidential emissary, or actually a Presidential visit. You see, the difficulty with our whole China thing, though, is that there we have the Russian game. We can’t announce that, that, “Well, there will be a Presidential visit to China.” First, there can’t be a Presidential visit to China as along as they’re supporting South Vietnam—North Vietnam. So that’s the deal. It’s got to be a straight cold turkey deal on that. Second, we don’t want to throw the China thing, until we get the Russian thing, one way or the other. Because, once you do that, you knock off the Russian summit. And the Russian summit is more important. It may be that we don’t want it, but my point is you’ve got to play, you’ve got to let both strings play out a bit.

Haldeman: The Russian summit is more important substantively. It sure isn’t more important, I don’t think, in public drama in this country.

Nixon: Could be.

Haldeman: We get more out of China, [unclear]

Haig: The China thing, I think, means more in terms of the war in Southeast Asia—

[Page 472]

Nixon: To the postwar order?

Haig: Yes, sir.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT, a portion of which is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 204.]

Nixon: No question about it. It is the right position. It is responsible. And I’m going to continue to take it, you understand. And I—but don’t think it won’t have an enormous effect on the Congressional problem if you announce a summit with the Russians. It’ll have an enormous effect. You could then take—you could take those bastards to task for undercutting the President when he’s about to do this. You tell them this story [unclear]. “You’re going to look awful bad, taking the President on, blah, blah, blah.” Scare ‘em.

Haig: That’s right.

Nixon: That’s it. But when you don’t—but we don’t have the card to play yet. See?

Haig: Right.

Nixon: I’ve got this Brooke5 coming down, for example. Well, I’ll jackass him around a little, but, in fact, we may, by that time—that’s next week—we may have a summit. I mean the SALT thing. SALT will come off to him—

Haig: Oh, it will mean a great deal—

Nixon: —[unclear]—

Haldeman: Turn—turn him off.

Nixon: The SALT and MIRV thing. But, in any event, he—he’ll understand it, too. He’s smart enough to understand it.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT, a portion of which is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 197.]

Haig: You know, I think your problems in the Senate, sir, are really your intellectual people.

Nixon: Yeah.

Haig: And SALT does mean something to these men. These are—these are the leaders that are impressed by that.

Nixon: That’s true. [unclear]

Haig: I think the popular problem we’re having now is dialectic, as it was last year. It’s a—the swing is a little higher, but it’s gonna recede the same way. So, we have to hold these, these real conscientious [Page 473] doves that are in the Senate. And I think the SALT would mean a hell of a lot to those people. I really do.

Nixon: But, we’re going to—let me tell you, what we’re going to play it like, though. We’re going to have a hell of a time explaining it to Rogers, but that’s all right. I’ll do it. I’m just going to tell him that Dobrynin came in with a message. I’m not going to tell him I saw him. [unclear] they wanted to—if this works out. It may not. Dobrynin may come in with that National Command Authority again, and I’m just going to turn it down. To hell with it. Don’t you agree?

Haig: I think—I read—I was encouraged by what Semenov said yesterday. I think what he was saying was, in effect, they will take the Moscow package; you can have ABM anyplace you want it; but, you’ll have a ceiling on the number of missiles.

Nixon: No, I got the impression that the National Command was his concern.

Haig: No, I think they were talking about their own.

Nixon: Oh.

Haig: It could be either, but I think they’re going to come back to it.

Nixon: Well, on the other hand, why does Semenov tell it to that asshole Smith? I mean, Henry’s always so jealous of his channel, and I—and there are good reasons for it6

Haig: Well, I think the reasons for that are just as simple, sir. To the degree they can keep you from getting the credit, they’re going to do it. They don’t want you to be reelected—not one goddamn bit.

Nixon: That’s right, too. So, they may want to have it come from Smith, and all the rest.

Haig: That’s right, sir.

Nixon: Well, that won’t happen. They don’t know how much I control it—

Haig: No, well, that’s it. If we—that’s the other reason why we have to move before then: the summit.

[Page 474]

Nixon: That’s the reason, too, that they may be moving with the summit venture too late.

Haig: [Joseph] Kraft is back in town, and he’s said that everyone he’s talked to in the Soviet Union said that you’re too tough. They don’t want to deal with you. They want to get another man in.

Nixon: What’s that? Did he write that or the Post has written it?

Haig: He hasn’t written it. I got this from the cocktail circuit.

Nixon: Well good. Of course, he’s a little—Of course, he knows that. Well, he’s one of them.

Haig: [laughing] Exactly—

Nixon: For Christ’s sakes. Of course. And he knows goddamn well I’m too tough. In this last two weeks is the first instance I’ve heard of that. This last month, they’re showing it again. And they—this really must rub it. They’re having their problems.

Haig: Right. I think actually, sir, you’ve got everything postured just beautifully in timing it, with the exception of this Senate—

Nixon: Yeah?

Haig: —Senate problem, which is where we have a short fuse on it. But, the other things are ideal.

Nixon: You just have to have something when it comes off.

Haig: They want a summit. I think they don’t want us to move with the Chinese. We can’t—that’s the other reason why we can’t move too quickly with the Chinese—

Nixon: Oh, now that’s—you understand, I’m not saying we’re going to move to the Chinese or the Russians. And on ABM, I’ll delay that goddamn thing ‘til hell freezes over, if necessary. But I do say that we have to do something—

Haig: We have to get it—

Nixon: —tangible on Vietnam. And since we don’t have—if we can’t do it with regard to the draftee thing, then we’ll have to move the Thieu thing up to the 8th. That’ll work, and that’s good enough. It’s the best we got. It’ll help.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT, a portion of which is printed in Document 197, Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 197.]

Nixon: If we can get the SALT thing, that will set a warmer climate for the Thieu visit and everything else that comes among the intellectuals. I agree with that.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT, a portion of which is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 197.]

[Page 475]

Nixon: Second, on SALT, if we can’t do it Wednesday, then I don’t care.

Haig: It will take time, though—

Nixon: There’s no timing problem on SALT.

Haig: Yes.

Nixon: We’ll do it on our own, deliver it at that time, and, if it suits our purpose to wait two weeks, wait two weeks. See? There’s no—nothing in it for us to go the balance of that week that I can see. Now, on—

Haldeman: You know, Wednesday you’re not doing much in the morning.

Nixon: Yeah.

Haldeman: For TV, you ought to do it Tuesday night.

Nixon: Well, hell, if at all, we could get the word out earlier than that. There are ways to hold them.

Haig: If that doesn’t turn then, then the—that influences your timing and your—

Nixon: With China?

Haig: —the agreement with China.

Nixon: Sure.

Haig: It’s that simple.

Nixon: Absolutely. We do have another card to play. That’s the—

Haig: Yes, sir.

Nixon: That’s the beauty of our situation today, which we haven’t had before, and the Russians don’t know this. And assuming the Chinese mean what they say, we just ought to accept the goddamn deal in the Senate, in a way that it helps with the—we hope—the prize it would be. Well, we see our problems developing, but don’t move it. Move it in a way so that we think what we will do, make all the plays on our domestic thing. Now, the idea of—I’d much prefer, myself—I’d prefer to have the Thieu visit later in June. Press on the SALT a little. Don’t assume that SALT will buy us the time we need. It will not.

Haig: No.

Nixon: SALT will help if it comes. But, you—we either have to have a summit announcement with the Russians, or an announcement of some kind of a visit with the Chinese, a public announcement of progress on the Chinese front, a significant thing. I don’t mean the trade crap. Or, we have to have the meeting with Thieu by the 10th of June. See what I mean? There’s our problem. So, if one of those three come off, fine. SALT alone will not build it. I’ve analyzed the whole thing—

[Page 476]

Haig: Yeah, I think if you end up with SALT, then you end up with the Thieu meeting. It’s going to be tight, because it’s going to be tough. But you’re going to have right on your side. Then, when you follow that with a summit or—and a high-level Chinese meeting—one or the other, or perhaps both if we do it very well, I think we’ve got it—

Haldeman: Created enough for a loop then—

Haig: I just think that—

Haldeman: If you’ve put all that together then you—

Haig: You just can’t—

Nixon: Right.

Haig: Your foreign policy would have been absolutely revolutionary—

Nixon: Yeah.

Haldeman: But you’ve got to get it all done—

Nixon: The only trouble is, though, that how can you get both summits—the Chinese, and the summit with the Russians?7

[Omitted here is discussion not directly related to SALT.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 493–10. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Haig and Haldeman from 11 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. May 12.
  3. Possible reference to a scheduled vote in the House of Representatives on Nixon’s proposal to direct $5 billion in federal revenue to the states.
  4. Nixon was scheduled to meet with Senator Edward Brooke (R–MA) during the week of May 9.
  5. Reference is to an incident brought about by a May 5 message from Smith indicating that Semenov had told him that the Soviets were thinking of offering a halt to new ICBMs in connection with an ABM/NCA agreement. On May 5 Haig met with Dobrynin at Kissinger’s instruction. According to an undated memorandum for the record prepared by Haig, he told Dobrynin the following: “Because of this turn of events and the apparent shifting Soviet attitude on SALT, both Dr. Kissinger and the President were beginning to seriously question the value of continuing with this special channel and wondered whether or not it might not be more advantageous to terminate this channel now.” The memorandum and Smith’s message are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 491, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1971, Vol. 6 [Part 2].
  6. At 12:32 p.m. Nixon spoke with Haldeman alone in the Oval Office. According to a recording of their conversation, the following exchange took place in reference to his conversation with Haig: Nixon: “Well, let me put it this way—with this—you get this SALT thing. I was deliberately downgrading it more than I really feel about SALT, because Henry and Al both upgrade it far more.” Haldeman: “That’s why I think [unclear]. At the same time—” Nixon: “You see, you see, the SALT thing is enormously important.” Haldeman: “It’s true, however, it isn’t going to make a lot of difference to people. People just don’t understand what’s SALT, SALT does, or care.” Nixon: “No.” Haldeman: “They don’t understand the arms race really, except in the very—” Nixon: “[unclear] arms limitation, we’re not going to build an ABM. Yeah, it, it’ll be a peace move.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 493–15) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.