158. Conversation Among President Nixon, Secretary of Defense Laird, and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion of Mutual and Balanced Force Reductions, printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 51.]

[Page 494]

Laird: To comment on that [SALT], Mr. President, I’m all for it. I think it’s terrific in every way, but I don’t want to give the impression it’s going to make it any easier—

Nixon: For appropriations?

Laird: —for our position. We’re not going to pick up any of our opponents on this—

Nixon: No.

Laird: I mean, they may make a nice statement—

Nixon: They’re just tasting—

Laird: They’re not going to change their votes—

Nixon: They’ll taste—they’ll taste blood.

Laird: Right. Percy isn’t going to change his vote, or Mike Mansfield, or Symington.

Nixon: The line I think we’ve got to take, which I’m sure you’ll use, is that if there was ever any demonstration needed that now we need ABM, this is it, because for this deal to go it is contingent upon us having something to give, and that’s ABM, in order to get something that we want them to give, which is a limitation on offensive weapons. Now, they will not do that, Mel, unless they—we’re able to give it to them. And if we give them ABM without, what the hell is there? You see, it’s a two-sided deal—

Laird: Oh, I know—

Nixon: They want to limit ABMs, and we want to limit offensive weapons. Now, the game will not be played unless we’ve got that to play with. Tomorrow, if the matter comes up with the [Congressional] leaders,2 I think you ought to make that point. I think you’d be a good one to make it. What do you think, Henry? Of course, I [unclear], at least we want to—we won’t tell the leaders [unclear]—

Kissinger: You should say as little as possible tomorrow.

Nixon: I think you’re right—

Laird: Well, I—I would—

Nixon: We don’t—we don’t want to—we don’t want to sound belligerent to the Russians. We want this to be as [unclear] conciliatory as possible.

Laird: But I’ll have to hard-line it, Mr. President, as far as my position is concerned. I’ve got to take a little harder position in order to sell our program up there. It keeps—

[Page 495]

Kissinger: That, I think, is good on the Hill after tomorrow.

Nixon: After tomorrow, yeah.

Laird: Uh, so, uh—

Kissinger: Or, if anyone asks the direct question, we cannot put ABM in escrow or any of that.

Laird: No, we know we can’t do that, you see—

Nixon: Oh. Well, then the deal is shot.

Laird: Yeah, we just can’t do that—

Nixon: Well, they aren’t putting any in escrow. That—that’s the greater point, but look, we’d be delighted to run it through if they’d put their offensive weapons in escrow. But they’re not. And they’re not asking us to.

Kissinger: If we put things in escrow—

Nixon: That’s the point of it all. They’re not asking us to put it in the escrow, and we’re not asking them to. We’re—but we’re agreeing to agree, frankly.

Kissinger: We’ll give them an incentive to string out the negotiations some.

[An unknown person, possibly the President’s valet, Manolo Sanchez, entered the Oval Office at an unknown time after 2:10 p.m. and left at an unknown time before 2:44 p.m.]

Nixon: [Aside to unknown person] Could you get me some coffee? [Back to Kissinger and Laird] I know you’re going to have a tough time. I know, but—

Laird: Frankly, I’m not—I’m not complaining—

Nixon: Well, let me say this—and I know you’re not—but let me say this: This agreement, however, will give some pause to people like [Drew]Pearson and others who are running it. [Aside to unknown person] Can I have tea, please, instead of coffee? Thank you. [Back to Kissinger and Laird] On the ground where we have, where we have, in effect, have said, “Now, look here, fellows.” Well, like that group yesterday. I said—I said to them, “Don’t jump too fast on this sort of thing.” As you can tell the—without telling them anything, because I knew yesterday that—well, I wasn’t sure because we didn’t get the final thing until last night at 5 o’clock. And you never know with these bastards—

Laird: Sure.

Nixon: … what you’re going to get, you know. Because, they have been known to break a deal, but once they make it, they’ll keep it. Right?

Kissinger: I—yeah.

Nixon: No. Once they make it, they’ll keep it ‘til tomorrow, I mean.

Laird: That’s [unclear]—

[Page 496]

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: What I meant is, but last—but until—the reason that, the reason that I couldn’t say anything, the reason we couldn’t inform you, what we were going to do is to have you in yesterday, you know, because we had an appointment yesterday. We didn’t hear, and I told Henry, I says, “No, sir, you cannot, we cannot go out on this thing until the Russians come in.” Now, they’re—now, they are—they are bound, as I understand it.

Kissinger: That’s right. I mean the text is the one I showed you and it’s all agreed.

Nixon: They damn well had better be bound.

Kissinger: And they’ll issue—they’ll issue an English version by TASS and—

Nixon: Their English version will be the same as ours?

Kissinger: Oh yeah, everything—

Nixon: Because they wrote this. [unclear] complains about his grammar, let’s remember this is the Russian version there. But, what I was going to say is that, that I think we, we can make strongly the argument and all that we do know what we’re doing in this administration, and after all, whether it’s in reducing our troops under the Vietnamization policy, or whether it’s the question of negotiating on SALT. Hell, all columnists—not all, but many of the columnists said SALT was dead. Fulbright said, “I don’t want to read anything more about it. Nothing’s going to happen.” He’s announced he’s going to have hearings on it to see whether—why we don’t make some initiative on SALT. And here we are, something happens. So, I—what I meant is, I think it may help you in arguing with members of the House. Not with the doves, but with guys that are sort of on the fence. They say, “Well, Jesus Christ, maybe we better join ‘em.” Yeah, well, maybe we’ve got some other things in the wings, because as a matter of fact, there may be other things in the wings. You know that, and I know it. We’re all talking about things all the time in a number of channels. As a matter of fact, I told—I didn’t tell them. I—when I saw Mansfield—I didn’t know that it was going to come about 2 weeks ago—I said, “You know, Mike, there’s more going on here than you think.” And now he’s going to be surprised tomorrow when he finds out this is going. And I think that the game you can play, and play very shrewdly with your colleagues up there, say, “Now, look here. Did any of you expect some inevitable progress on SALT, based on what you’ve been reading in the press?” The critics aren’t going to know. Well, finally, we have some, and under these circumstances this means you have an administration that is working day and night for progress in these fields. But we can’t announce it all. That’s another point.

[Page 497]

[Omitted here is discussion of Nixon’s rationale for dealing with the Soviets in secrecy.]

Nixon: As you know, the position that we’ve stated here is one we all worked out back in January.

Laird: No, our position shouldn’t change. My position—

Nixon: Look, our position’s exactly the same. In other words, you were always for ABM and offensive limitation. And that’s what, finally, the Soviet Union has agreed to.

Kissinger: Mel, we went—we told them last year in our ABM briefings, as you remember, that this will help an agreement—

Nixon: Well, Mel made that point several times in his testimony, very effectively.

Laird: Well, I don’t have any—

Nixon: And now it looks good. My point is that I would not hesitate to remind them. I’d like for you to go back, if you would, and pick out all these places where you did speak out on this [unclear], where you did say—in other words, you link the two all the time. You said, “Look, we’ve got to have ABM in order to get SALT—”

Laird: Yeah—

Nixon: Right?

Laird: Well, I’d like the record to start—

Nixon: Throw it up to them.

Laird: Hmm?

Nixon: I know you did. You’ve said it. But I think you should remind Congressmen, and Senators, and doubters that you said that. And say, “Now, boys, look. It happened.” Because, that will help us on related issues, see? I think, not with doves, but with the fence-riders. I can talk. I know what they’re like. Those guys say, “Well, gee, are we going to do anything or not?”

Laird: Well, we’re willing to make the best of it, try to get them shifted over.

Nixon: I know how hard it is—

Laird: We’re having a little problem with some of those votes, and we got to be careful we don’t give some of these guys too much, either, Mr. President. Now, you know that I’m not—

Nixon: Give what? The Russians?

Laird: No, some of our own boys, too much.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 501–18. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Laird and Kissinger from 2:10 to 2:56 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon and Kissinger met between 10:15 and 11:05 a.m. with a bipartisan Congressional leadership group in order to brief them on SALT. (Ibid.) A tape recording of the conversation is ibid., White House Tapes, Cabinet Room, Conversation No. 58–5.