260. Conversation Between President Nixon and His Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Kissinger: On SALT, Mr. President—

Nixon: Well, let’s—yeah, let’s go through some of those.

Kissinger: —you don’t have to make a decision on these various options, except, are you prepared—

Nixon: I wanted to go over these things. I didn’t mean that [unclear]—

Kissinger: Are you prepared—

Nixon: —just the general stuff.

Kissinger: —to give up on the SL—on the submarines?

Nixon: Am I? Of course. I’m prepared to give up on it. I think we can sell it, can’t we? [unclear]—

Kissinger: Well, it’s—well, I think I’m going to tell that son-of-a—I’m going to tell Moorer, “The President has just saved your bloody honor—”

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: “‘—and you are going to do it.’”

Nixon: That’s right. That’s right. But on that, let’s give it up, provided we have a hard-line in that we immediately send our negotiators back to work on the SLBMs, you know, something like that.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: But on that, I don’t know—get what you can, but I must say that, you know—let me put it like this, Henry: get everything you can, recognizing that we cannot have an arms control agreement that looks as if we got took. They’re going to analyze that son-of-a-bitch right down to the [unclear], so do the best you can. That’s all I can say. And the same is true about whether we have a Washington, and then the Malmstrom and all the rest. You know, do the best you can.

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: You’re a hard worker. Do the best you can.

[Page 770]

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: Fair enough?

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: I’ve looked at all these things, but, normally, if I were to start to say, “Well, take this, don’t take that,” and so forth—this is a matter that will have to be determined [unclear]—

Kissinger: Frankly, Mr. President, whether we get a 150 more interceptors or not is just of no consequence.

Nixon: Yeah. Listen, I don’t think it makes a hell of a lot of difference. On, on the SLBMs, actually, I think, I think it’s to our advantage if they don’t settle, to continue to build some. Maybe not? Maybe we—you know, we’ve got a hell of a budget problem. We’ve got to cut it down. We’ve got to cut $5 billion off next year’s defense budget. So, I told ‘em we couldn’t do it unless we’ve got some settlement with the Russians on that—

Kissinger: I have to talk to you about that.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Nixon: Now, on SALT, I know what you’re talking about, but—of course, Gerry Smith would give it all away, though, wouldn’t he? What’s he say about SLBMs? Does he want to give it away?

Kissinger: Well—well, what Gerry would settle for—

Nixon: [chuckles] Right.

Kissinger: —for one site—

Nixon: Zero ABMs. Right?

Kissinger: —for one site each—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Kissinger: —plus giving up SLBMs. But we cannot.

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: Now, the only trouble is if we save two sites, and one of them should be Washington, that puts them into the—if we say, “Each side can complete what it’s building,” that’s a reasonable proposition.

Nixon: All right. Let’s do that.

Kissinger: But, if we say, “We will scrap Malmstrom and go to Washington—”

Nixon: I don’t want to do that. I don’t want Washington. I don’t like the deal with Washington. I don’t like that goddamn command airplane, or any of this shit. I don’t believe in all that crap. I really don’t.

Kissinger: But we may be—

Nixon: Do the best you can not to add Washington. I think the idea of building a new system around Washington is stupid. Now, that’s my view. It’s very stupid. I do feel strongly about that.

[Page 771]

Kissinger: Well, let me—

Nixon: I’d even rather build one-and-one than to build in Washington.

Kissinger: No, no. No, one-and-one is morally wrong for us—

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: —because we would just be getting a [unclear].

Nixon: All right, good. Now, my point is, I just don’t see the—what’s in it for us to do Washington. I just don’t see what’s in it for us to do Washington. I think we should complete what we’ve done—both of us. And then, maybe we’ll—

Kissinger: All right.

Nixon: —and then, maybe we’ll give on SLBMs.

Kissinger: Well, Laird has recommended Washington.2 Gerry Smith has recommended Washington. Now—

Nixon: Well—

Kissinger: If—

Nixon: —why?

Kissinger: I think anything we get—so that we can say, “We got a better deal on ABM.”

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: We have to get an advantage on ABM—a little bit. Not that it makes a hell of a lot of difference. [Pause] But—

Nixon: I know that they wanted it, except if it doesn’t look all right to the folks.

Kissinger: Well, that we can probably do it if we say.

Nixon: I’d—I don’t know. I—it’s hard for me to figure it out from, from the stuff I read here.3 Don’t you think we could get it? [Nixon turning pages]

Kissinger: Well, it is a terribly complicated thing. Basically, we’d be better off with a two—with a simple formula that each side can complete what they’ve got. However, that runs into some problems with Laird. Therefore, if they’d let us have Washington and Grand Forks—what screwed us on Malmstrom was the strike. If that strike hadn’t happened, there’d be no issue; it’d be two-thirds finished now.

Nixon: Yeah. I know.

Kissinger: If we can have Washington, Grand Forks, and they finesse it somewhat, so that we can say we got one—somewhat more [Page 772] than they did on the ABM, it would help us domestically. It would also help us in our position vis-à-vis them.

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: But, you see, the problem is to make that plausible, we’d have to crash on submarines, and say that we’re doing more submarine building.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 713–1. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger from 3:27 to 5:01 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume. A fuller transcription of the conversation is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 126.
  2. See Documents 254 and 258.
  3. See Document 259.