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

Nixon: Incidentally, we’ve got a little problem on Bill [Rogers], because I had him come on over here—I had him come over here [unclear] the damn meetings on the economic thing [unclear]. I—what I’d like to do is review the meetings with Smith, first; to give Smith his marching orders; and I told Bill not to come ‘cause he’s not coming ‘til 10—‘til 10:30, but when he comes in—

Kissinger: Gets his picture taken.

Nixon: Now, I—

Kissinger: That wouldn’t make any difference—

Nixon: —wouldn’t be too concerned about his trying to get credit for SALT, because, as a matter of fact, as it—we’re going to screw SALT up. There isn’t going to be any goddamn SALT if—unless these people get a little bit better.

Kissinger: Well, what—to give you the feel for what Smith will want from you—

Nixon: What’s that?

Kissinger: He wants your final position on ABM. I’d never give that to him—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: Besides, I don’t think you should give much ground on ABM, because we’ve already gone a long way towards them.

Nixon: Yeah. But, the thing I would encourage is to get him in and—

Kissinger: It makes no difference if Bill wants to be here.

Nixon: [unclear] No, no, no. I’ll—no, no. I would like to, I’d like to get some tough talk with him, first, and say—

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: “Now, look here: there isn’t going to be any final position on ABM.” There’s nothing left, but he—

Kissinger: It’d just—

[Page 659]

Nixon: —he wants the final position on everything so he can negotiate a settlement. Isn’t that it?

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: All right. What other things do you want me to say, Henry? [unclear]—

Kissinger: I wouldn’t even say there won’t be any final position, Mr. President, because he’ll just leak it. I would say you’re studying the problem very carefully, as you—

Nixon: [unclear] I’ll say we’ve got a hell of a problem with Defense. How about that?

Kissinger: Well, no. He’s already dealing with them, because they’ve got their own fish to fry. I’ve got to get Moorer positioned. I would just say you’re studying it; it’s a tough problem; and you’ll let him know—

Nixon: All right. What—what—why don’t—

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: Why don’t you say what we can give?

Kissinger: Yes. Well, I think you can tell him that he can tell them that it should be a treaty—

Nixon: Fine.

Kissinger: —for ABM, and an executive agreement for offensive—

Nixon: All right, all right, all right. Ok.

Kissinger: That the SLBMs should be in terms of tubes, rather than in terms of boats.

Nixon: Right. Fine.

Kissinger: These are two major—

Nixon: That’s fine. But, but on the other things, I [unclear]—

Kissinger: On the other things, you want him to go on the present line for a while longer.

Nixon: Until we let him know.

Kissinger: And then—

Nixon: Henry, the best thing to do is to get him in. Under, under those circumstances, it would be best to get him and let Bill hear that, so that he knows that the treaty entails this move, just to tell him that I made this decision. And just let him ride—and have to ride out the thing. This fellow is—this fellow Smith, how’s he thinking, Henry?

Kissinger: Well, he’s greasy and oily.

Nixon: [unclear]—

Kissinger: Now, we—well, you know, we are told that Bill is launching, and I’m—this happens to be one that’s so complex that he doesn’t understand it, so I’m not that eager to get him into too much [Page 660] of the line of command on it. But, whether he’s in on one meeting or not, doesn’t make any difference.

Nixon: This meeting is not a big deal.


Kissinger: It’s not a major deal.

Nixon: Smith will run right over there afterwards. That’s our problem.

Kissinger: Yeah. And I don’t want to come—

Nixon: Did he say he’s got Laird under control?

Kissinger: Well, Laird is playing such a crooked game—

Nixon: Ha!

Kissinger: —as always. He has a bewildering series of memoranda here.

Nixon: Just don’t tell him any more. Don’t—I [unclear]—

Kissinger: And, there are such—one of them is that he wants three ABM sites. Another is that he wants to go for an NCA defense, now, a defense of Washington. Another is—

Nixon: I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to take a very hard-line with Smith, and I know this could get back to State, but, honestly, I’ve been very concerned about the Soviet buildup. I’ve been concerned about the fact that they have had—I’m gonna get this son-of-a-bitch straightened out a little, Henry—that they have more tests this year than in any year since the Test Ban Treaty. Under the circumstances, that I have some very grave doubts about what their intentions are, and that I’m just—that we’re going to go with these two steps and then take a look. I want to leave ‘em in their tracks. How’s that sound?

Kissinger: That’s right. And I think I can—the Soviets have already asked for a recess on the 20th. Now, Smith thinks he can talk them out of it—

Nixon: Bullshit.

Kissinger: —and I don’t think you should show any eagerness for a recess, because I think I can position the Soviets to ask for it, so you’re not the villain. Smith’s line is—every Verification Panel meeting, Smith says, “I just want to make sure, now, that the President isn’t stalling this for the summit.” Of course, if [Edward] Kennedy were the President—

Nixon: What the Christ is he talking about?

Kissinger: He should be stalling. I always say, “No, your instructions are to get it as fast as possible.” But, of course, if Kennedy were the President, the whole goddamn bureaucracy would be stalling it for the summit.

Nixon: And that’s just the SALT thing, Henry.

[Page 661]

Kissinger: Of course.

Nixon: Goddamn positioning. Why shouldn’t we stall for the summit? So that he can get he credit, is that it?

Kissinger: He isn’t running for re-election this year, Mr. President. And he—

Nixon: Well, I, of course, can’t give him any indication that I want to stall for the summit. That’s not—

Kissinger: That’s the problem.

[Omitted here is a discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Nixon: Coming back to this thing on SALT, Henry. We’ll give him—

Kissinger: I wouldn’t give him more than half an hour, Mr. President—

Nixon: Hell, 15 minutes!

Kissinger: Good.

Nixon: That’s what you said.

Kissinger: That’s all.

Nixon: Yeah. I’ll just say, “Gee, I got a tough schedule today.” And, so I just—that gets us in and out, and we have—I’ll say, “I’ve been—I’ve studied all of this, Gerry, and all I want you to do is this: First, I’ve decided that we’d like a treaty and [unclear]—” I’ve told him that before!

Kissinger: Well, you’ve never told him flatly—

Nixon: All right, fine. I’ve definitely decided we should have a treaty on the ABM, and the executive agreement on the other. Correct?

Kissinger: Right, right.

Nixon: Second, with regard to SLBMs, I think your idea—shall I put to him—

Kissinger: Good.

Nixon: It’s your idea; his is different. That the number of weapons, rather than the number of submarines—

Kissinger: The number of missiles.

Nixon: So, in fact—

Kissinger: The number of tubes.

Nixon: Number of tubes. All right, the number of tubes, rather than—

Kissinger: Because if you say “weapons,” then they’ll start counting the warheads.

Nixon: All right, fine. The number of tubes, rather than [unclear]control the fact that—now, the third thing is that question that you raised in here is—what do you want to say is the third thing?

Kissinger: On the end position, say, “I’m in the process of studying it, and I’ll be in touch with you—”

[Page 662]

Nixon: “Now, on the end position on—what we’re finally going to [unclear], and I want to be quite candid with you: there is a very grave political problem on this at the present time, and I—well, I have a grave problem with people”—I won’t say “political problem” with regard to the—“what this country is going to take. There’s grave doubts about this thing.” I’m going to tell him this, the little, slippery son-of-a-bitch. How’s that sound to you?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: I’ve got to study it some more.

Kissinger: Right, right, right.

Nixon: And I’ll let you know.

Kissinger: Right, right.

Nixon: He wants to give the final position away now.

Kissinger: Of course.

Nixon: The son-of-a-bitch.

Kissinger: And then he’s the hero. I mean [chuckles], we broke the goddamn deadlock. We—

Nixon: Shit!

Kissinger: Whatever he’s got, we got for him. He hasn’t advanced it one step.

Nixon: But you don’t think we can fire him?

Kissinger: No. Not now.

Nixon: That’s always the case. We can’t fire anybody. All right. All right.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 642–15. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger from 9:25 to 10:04 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.