198. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and Attorney General Mitchell 1

Nixon: I marked, incidentally, Henry, on the letter from Brezhnev.2 I think you ought to take Dobrynin, brace him damn hard on the fact that Brezhnev did not respond with regard to the offensive weapons thing at SALT.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: I don’t want that. We have enough of a problem with our hawks here. They, as I understand it, at SALT, all they’ve talked about, and I assume that Gerry Smith has not pressed them on it, is about defensive—totally. They haven’t—have they blocked offensive or [unclear]—

Kissinger: No. No. That’s Laird. Laird is beginning to try to make a record on that. The major problem has been—there’ve been two problems. They’ve been pretty tough on the defensive ones. And they’ve—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —on the offensive ones, have not gone into great detail, but they’ve discussed it. But, part of the trouble has been our delegation. John sits on this committee—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —and it’s the goddamnest thing you’ve ever seen. They’re running this as if it’s—if they had gone in there early in July and said, “Here is our understanding of May 20th. This is what we want to discuss,” then we would’ve known within three weeks where we stood.

Nixon: What’ve they done?

Kissinger: Instead, they—first, they raised zero ABM. Then they raised so many abstruse points that you have to be a theologian to understand them. And finally, last week, John was at the meeting, I just cut them all off.3

[Page 609]

Nixon: Henry, for Christ sakes, I wrote a letter to the son-of-a-bitch, Smith, and said, “This is the line.” Why didn’t he follow the letter?4

Kissinger: Because, he is like—

Nixon: You mean [unclear] everything here?

Kissinger: Well, he’s like a shyster lawyer. You put in that letter that we are willing to have zero ABM

Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Kissinger: —eventually. So, the next thing—

Nixon: He started there, at the beginning. I get it. [unclear]—

Kissinger: So, the next thing, he now wants to put it into the preamble of the present treaty. He’s wasting time on it when he doesn’t even have an agreement yet. And the Russians have put up a whole series of really cynical proposals, which—

Nixon: Um-hmm. Yeah. Which, of course, they would.

Kissinger: —which they would, and which we should have disposed of in the first week.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT; a portion is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIII, Soviet Union, October 1970–September 1971, Document 329.]

Kissinger: Now, the only reason this isn’t an unmitigated loss is because, actually, we don’t mind staging it so that you can sign it next year.

Nixon: You mean, to let the delegation get it screwed up, and then we will—

Kissinger: Well, let the delegation horse around a bit. Otherwise, it would have been unconscionable what they have done. But, John sits through these meetings. These guys act—

Mitchell: Well, Gerry Smith is trying to make a record for Gerry Smith on the zero ABM, one way or the other.

Nixon: He always does. Well, the minute that we got the ABM through the Congress, the son-of-a-bitch has, ever since, been trying to get it out. Like SALT.

Mitchell: Well, but here if [laughs] this preliminary agreement even mentions zero ABM in the preamble as a direction that you want to go, then you’d lose the ABM in the Congress. Who the hell’s going to vote for it—

Kissinger: No—

Mitchell: —when you’re going to ultimately get the zero ABM?

[Page 610]

Kissinger: Actually, Mr. President, I praised—I praised Dobrynin on this offensive link—

Nixon: All right—

Kissinger: —before he went back, and on September 10th, the Russians in Helsinki did make a formal statement that they recognized there was a linkage, that the two had to be discussed simultaneously. So, I think we’re going to move along on it.

Nixon: It’s just their bark, now, you see.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 576–6. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger and Mitchell from 10:40 a.m. to 2:05 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. See Document 185.
  3. See Document 196.
  4. See footnote 1, Document 192.