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

Kissinger: I’m seeing the head of the Institute of World Politics in Moscow2

Nixon: Oh, I see.

Kissinger: And he’s well connected at the Politburo. But—but they really are playing a rough game with us on that SALT business, and—

Nixon: Oh, I expected they would.

Kissinger: Because what they’re doing now is, they’ve put into Vienna the proposal which we turned down. They made us a formal proposal.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: And, I had Haig call in Dobrynin and raise hell with him last week, as he probably told you.3

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And Dobrynin said, “Oh, it was all a mistake.” But, of course, they’re—what they may do is they may finally accept our proposal.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: But deprive you of the credit for it by putting it into Vienna.

Nixon: Huh?

Kissinger: I mean, they won’t deprive—it’s such a cheap little stunt.

Nixon: They’ll try, and if anything happens at Vienna, they’ll take the credit for it.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

[Page 478]

Kissinger: My present—my instinct would be, Mr. President, that if Dobrynin diddles us beyond this week, on the SALT

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —we just ought to go public with our proposal. They’ve put their proposal in, and we have a very strong case.

Nixon: When would we go? How would we go about Vienna? Just a statement from here, or have it made in Vienna, or what?

Kissinger: If we have to, we can do it either way. Well, one of the things they have—

Nixon: We can just send new instructions to Vienna and have it done that way. It isn’t going to be an awful big thing just going public with it.

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: You understand? It isn’t going to be anything good for us in the United States to go public with it, except to—so it’s just parts, so it doesn’t make it in any case—

Kissinger: But—

Nixon: There’s nothing in it for us.

Kissinger: But the second thing that we might seriously consider, because I think we are going to be bled to death on Vietnam, is at some point—I’ve now come to the view, if you still hold it, that June 8th is the best time for, for Thieu.

Nixon: Well, I do, unless we can have something before, and if you could—the way it looks, you’re not going to get anything on SALT before, so the [unclear]—

Kissinger: Well, I’m—we’re not sure yet on SALT. If we don’t get anything by a week from today, we have to assume we won’t get anything—

Nixon: You should have it by now, though, shouldn’t you?

Kissinger: He said two meetings of the Politburo, which means we should have it this week.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: Of course, it will take them a few—if the Politburo met Friday4

Nixon: Um-hmm?

Kissinger: —then it will take them 2 or 3 days to draft instructions. We—we should have it by Wednesday night—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

[Page 479]

Kissinger: —if it takes a normal course.

Nixon: Right.

[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 200.]

Nixon: I don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Soviet on SALT. I think we—I think you could ask Vienna if they were—knew exactly what the hell they’re doing. They don’t make mistakes.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Kissinger: And, then, I think, Mr. President, if we know we are going to be in trouble with the Russians, you might consider—

Nixon: The Chinese thing?

Kissinger: Well, the Chinese anyway—going on television with, with the facts of the military situation and just put it to our opponents.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: And, and play very tough in SALT. What we mustn’t do is yield in SALT

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: —beyond the point, which we’ve already given them in my channel, because that will just encourage them to whipsaw us.

Nixon: What have they offered? Have they offered in—they offered in SALT—they offered in Vienna the National Command Center?

Kissinger: No, they’re done two things in Vienna. They’ve offered the National Command thing.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: And they’ve offered the construction freeze after the ABM agreement, which while we—we have insisted on—

Nixon: Simultaneous—?

Kissinger: —on simultaneous, and on Safeguard. Now, we could conceivably give on Safeguard but we cannot do it—

Nixon: After?

Kissinger: —afterwards, because there’ll be nothing left for us to negotiate—

Nixon: That’s right. Yeah.

Kissinger: If they’ve not willing to give us a freeze before an ABM agreement, they sure as hell aren’t going to give it to us after an ABM agreement.

Nixon: They’ve offered to discuss it afterwards. Is that it?

Kissinger: They’ve offered to discuss it afterwards. They’re trying the Hanoi tactic.

Nixon: That’s right.

[Page 480]

Kissinger: And that, Mr. President, I really think would be disastrous to national security—-

Nixon: You’re not going to do it.

Kissinger: Also, we have told—

Nixon: You told Smith not to do anything on it, am I right? Haven’t we told him? Does he know?

Kissinger: We told him. He’s coming back for consultation anyway—

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: Nothing can happen.

Nixon: Well, he’ll understand.

Kissinger: Now luckily, the Russians have asked—what speaks on the other side, Mr. President, to make—to put a good case—face on it is that they have asked for a recess on May 28th.

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: And a re-assembly on July 1st.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: Now, that would be consistent with phasing it into the summit schedule. Well, it’s—and it means they’re not going to beat us over the head for 4 weeks.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: Secondly, you could argue that they’ve put forward their proposition—

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah?

Kissinger: —for their own bureaucratic reasons; that they can’t turn around 180 degrees—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —without having made some bureaucratic record from which they then retreat.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: Actually, their proposal is making our bureaucratic position easier on the exchange of letters, if they still come through. If—if they don’t come through by next Monday, then we know they’re stonewalling us. Up to now, it’s still a normal decision-making time. It does take them about—

Nixon: Why is that?

Kissinger: —2 to 3 weeks.

Nixon: You’ll know next Monday. Don’t fool—don’t have any illusions. If they don’t come through next Monday, then it’s done.

Kissinger: Then it’s done.

[Page 481]

Nixon: And then I will let Dobrynin know, coldly, that, “That’s it. We’ve got our answer.”

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT, portions of which are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 206.]

Kissinger: One week, Mr. President, may be caused by this statement that Sino-Soviet disputes—I told—

Nixon: Rogers’s statement?5

Kissinger: Yeah. I told Bob right away that this might delay the SALT thing by a couple of weeks, because that—

Nixon: That has to—for both China and Russia.

Kissinger: Yeah. It was a disaster.

Nixon: The dividend statement. Is that the one?

Kissinger: The dividend statement.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: The Taiwan Straits one—that was, that was also [unclear]—

Nixon: But, we tried to clear it up.6 Do you think we could—

Kissinger: Well, you did it very—

Nixon: Yeah, but I mean it’s a—I mean, the point is that the damage is done. Four days later we tried to clear it up.

Kissinger: Because it happened, unfortunately, a day after Dobrynin told me that if we played them off against each other, there’d be a very tough reaction out of Moscow.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

[Page 482]

Kissinger: It’s hard for them to believe that it’s—

Nixon: That Rogers didn’t do it at our instruction.

Kissinger: Exactly. You know, that’s awfully hard to convince people of—

Nixon: Well, he—just, just dropped it. It was at a press thing, apparently.

Kissinger: Yeah

Nixon: Coming back to this, the Russian thing, the other play we have to do is on Vietnam. See, that’s the game now. Let’s forget the Russian thing and the rest at the present time. The game is where it is. All that matters here is Vietnam now.

[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 200.]

Nixon: So, that’s the Vietnam—in the meantime, Henry, we’ve got to keep our goddamn troops in the Senate. Do you notice, for example, if you read the weekend news summary, that all these people are, you know, yelling around about what they’re going to do, and this, or that. Or [SenatorFrank] Church says to share responsibility with the House—with the Congress, you know. Responsibility? You know what they’re petrified at?

Kissinger: That you’ll succeed.

Nixon: We’ll end the goddamn war, and then blame it—and say, “We ended it; they started it.”

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: I think—I think we can beat them on that issue. I think—but, provided we keep one step ahead. Now, unfortunately, I was hoping we’d have a SALT thing. Let’s assume we don’t have it. Let’s assume we don’t have a summit thing. That means we just—I think at the very least we’ve got to figure that what we’ve got, we’re going to have a June 8th announcement, and then we’ve got to come back with another announcement of a new negotiating offer and our final negotiating offer. Right?

Kissinger: Right—

Nixon: And we make it publicly.

Kissinger: Right.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 200.]

Kissinger: I just think that once—what we absolutely have to have to the Chinese is a reliable contact, and a game plan, which they and we follow. And if we can get—once we get that visit set up—

[Page 483]

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: —we may still get—the secret meeting has the other advantage. Of course, you’re assuming we won’t get the SALT. I’m not so sure on that yet—

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: We’ve got to do it—

Nixon: Well, anyway, we’ll see. [Laughs]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 496–9. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger from 12:57 to 1:30 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The Nixon Tape Log lists this conversation as taking place on May 19, presumably in error, since all other conversations listed under 496 are dated May 10. The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. Kissinger met with Georgiy Arbatov, Director of the Institute for the USA, USSR Academy of Sciences, from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule)
  3. See footnote 6, Document 153.
  4. May 7.
  5. Reference is to Rogers’s public remark, recorded April 28 for broadcast April 29, that increased Sino-Soviet tensions that might come about as a result of improved U.S.-China relations would produce a “dividend.” (Department of State Bulletin, May 31, 1971, pp. 686–691)
  6. In his diary Haldeman explained that “I had to call Rogers this morning as a result of his speech flaps yesterday and the days before. Covered the point the P wanted to raise, using the press conference tonight [April 29] as the lead-in thing: the P, if pressed, was going to have to, in effect, say the Secretary didn’t mean what he said. This had the desired effect on Rogers, and he backed off completely from his point that any Russian-Chinese differences that arise from our initiatives would be a dividend. He said that isn’t what he meant at all. He was concerned enough that, after we’d discussed it thoroughly and hung up he called back in a few minutes to reiterate his view as to how the P should approach the question at the press conference tonight. In the meeting with Haig in the P’s office at midday, the P told Haig to call Dobrynin and clear up the points raised by Rogers, so that he wasn’t given the impression that we were trying to play a game with the Soviets. The P himself cleared it up pretty well in the press conference tonight, in fact, extremely well. There was no further problem on this touchy subject.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) Regarding the April 29 press conference, see footnote 2, Document 148.