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

Nixon: But, be honest: Are you—Did you tell him [Laird] that we’re going to have to get the Joint Chiefs lined up on this?2

Kissinger: Yeah.

[Page 693]

Nixon: Does he agree, or not? Well, he’s got to agree.

Kissinger: On the SALT thing?

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I told him. You probably—I didn’t—you can disavow me, but I said if Moorer can’t line up the Chiefs, then maybe we shouldn’t reappoint him, because his term is up at the end of [unclear]. And I think it’s too early—

Nixon: [unclear] the only problem is—I don’t care whether the Chiefs believe it—they cannot go out and leak to the likes of Buckley and Tower, and the rest, that we have sold out to the Russians.

Kissinger: Look, and they’re so insane. They say if we exclude the submarines, the Soviets are going to have 70 submarines, all—in total, before we can build a new one. That’s true. But, if we don’t have an agreement, that same condition exists. So, in order—so, in—and, in addition, they will then be building land-based missiles, too, which at least we’d be stopping.

Nixon: The point is that we, at least are—without an agreement, they’re going to build submarines.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: With an agreement, they’re going to build submarines.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: But with an agreement—

Kissinger: We’re giving up nothing.

Nixon: —which would mean we’re not going to give them land-based submarines [missiles]. So what do they want [unclear]?

Kissinger: Mr. President, that’s right. So, we are not giving them—

Nixon: Well, we’re going to try. We’re going to try to get submarines in, yes.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: But, if we can’t, we’re better off with an agreement on land-based rather than no agreement at all.

Kissinger: That’s exactly my view. Exactly my view—

Nixon: But remember, we’re gonna have a hell of a time selling it to everybody.

Kissinger: Well, what we’ll have to do—

Nixon: How about waiting? This is one bloody gig we’d get Rogers lined up on pretty quickly—

Kissinger: Oh, no question. But, we ought to get a crash program then, which accelerates some of the submarines. Build some new ones for the interim period.

Nixon: Our own?

[Page 694]

Kissinger: That’s right. If they won’t include submarines, there’s a new—before the ULMS comes into being, there is—we could build something called “6–40 submarines.” That’s—

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: —a submarine with the present hull, but with new missiles.

Nixon: Can we order those, now?

Kissinger: We could go to those now. We wouldn’t get any before ‘75, but at any rate, we could do it—

Nixon: All right. How about—how about putting it out right now, in between?

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: Is that all right with you?

Kissinger: Well, I think we should do it after. I think if we put out another program, the Russians may use it as an excuse.

Nixon: Not to make a deal?

Kissinger: Not to make a deal. But, if we can’t get a deal, we should, then, go to the Congress and say, “Since we tried for a deal, they wouldn’t give it to us. We’ve got to go—”

Nixon: Let’s start building up the idea on the submarines, now, if submarines are not included, and that, therefore, that we’re going to Trident. But, that—what I’m getting at is: Let’s don’t have a situation where we get them to communicate out and then say, “Ah ha.”

Kissinger: Oh, no.

Nixon: We’ll get screwed. See what I mean?

Kissinger: No—

Nixon: You know, Henry, in China, we knew we would be screwed, but in Russia, they think—they might have something to say.

Kissinger: Well, what we’d be able to do is—I don’t think you should be the one who finally makes that deal. I think we should get Gerry Smith to recommend it and put it through the Verification Panel. I mean that part of the deal.

Nixon: Yeah.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Nixon: Here’s what I want to keep for myself, and that is, basically, here in this house: SALT

Kissinger: Yes.

Nixon: —the Middle East, and the decision with regard to the European Security Conference.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Nixon: But, if we’d left SALT with Rogers, first of all, he would have—there would have been a flat-out battle with the Joint Chiefs.

[Page 695]

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: [unclear] we’d have just given away our goddamn balls.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Right?

Kissinger: I don’t think he can explain the issues to you today on SALT.

Nixon: SALT. Christ. [Laughs] I must say, on that, you’ve got to hand it to old Laird. He knows the issues on SALT.

Kissinger: He knows them.

Nixon: You’re goddamn right.

Kissinger: He plays this politically, but he knows it.

Nixon: But, but, but he knows—

Kissinger: Oh, no—

Nixon: He also knows what the hell it’s about. Bill doesn’t know. [unclear] I don’t know ‘em too well, but at least I know what the Christ—now, but Bill will, Bill will not indulge himself in the luxury—what he considers to be a waste of time—on the philosophical [unclear]. In other words, whenever I raise the question, “What do the Russians really want out of SALT?” [Rogers replies:] “Well, that’s [unclear]. It’s not important.” He says, “The important thing is what can we get?” Unless you know what the other guy wants, you just—you don’t know how to screw ‘em.

Kissinger: Exactly.

Nixon: That’s basically—remember how every time I’ve raised that subject with him, Bill won’t listen?

Kissinger: He will not listen.

Nixon: You remember?

Kissinger: No, he doesn’t bother to study it, either.

Nixon: And this is the most important thing that we’ve got to do. What do the Russians want? We’ve got to look at the world from the way they look at it.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Nixon: Henry, you remember the first time we went around on this? What was it, Henry, one of the early SALT meetings? And I raised the subject just like—because I thought he was such a liar on the subject [unclear]. I says, “Well, look, before we get into all this business about counting how many, and throw-weights, and so forth,” I said, “Well, look, what do the Russians—what are their motivations? What do they want?” And BillBill constantly comes back, “Oh” he says, “we can’t guess about that sort of thing. There’s no use to speculate about that sort of thing. The thing to do is to really negotiate,” and this and that. [unclear]—

[Page 696]

Kissinger: But he never knows what to negotiate.

Nixon: Well, my point is: unless you’ve got the framework, and know what the other guy wants and what you want, and know deep down what you’re going to do, you’re going to make a deal, but the deal may be a bad one.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 681–2. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger and Haldeman from 9:28 a.m. to 12:50 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. This portion of the conversation was preceded by Kissinger’s general description of his meeting with Laird. No references to SALT were made, and no written record of that meeting has been found.