270. Conversation Among President Nixon, Secretary of State Rogers, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig), and the White House Press Secretary (Ziegler)1

Rogers: Mr. President, I’d like to say just a word about the conversation we had.2 I think that if you could work out a paper that you can give Gerry to give to Semenov, so that if we work out an agreement, we can say that it was based on your paper.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Rogers: I never liked the Brezhnev paper.3 I think it’ll [unclear]—

Nixon: Let me see it.

Rogers: In other words—

Nixon: Right—

Rogers: —if we can—if you can state our position and have a Nixon paper.

Nixon: Hmm.

Rogers: And then when we are questioned about it we can say that—

Nixon: This is our position.

Rogers: —this is our position. I just think if we could do that it’d be a big help, because some of those things in there will be—

Nixon: Well, his instructions, I think, will be an equivalent to that because you can have him hand them a paper—

Rogers: Yeah, and say this is—

Nixon: Yeah. I know.

Rogers: And then—and then, he can negotiate from that paper—

Nixon: I bet if we could work on it now—

Rogers: It will help, too.

[Page 792]

Nixon: Yeah.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Rogers: Now, as for the SALT talks, I thought on the SALT talks I would give them sort of a general map,4 but say that Gerry will come to give them any specifics after the discussions he’s had in—

Kissinger: [unclear]—

Rogers: —Helsinki. Because we don’t want to get into this. Henry, I was saying this, when you were out of the room, to the President: I think it would be worthwhile to think about having a paper from President Nixon, which we can work from, so that if we do agree, and I’m perfectly—I agree that if we could get a—SLBMs included, it’s better, as long as we don’t have to sacrifice things. If we could get his paper to work from, so that we can say, when we’ve finally concluded, that we didn’t operate from Brezhnev’s paper; we operated from ours. We can have Gerry do it, or have the President send a back channel message and then have Gerry negotiate it, so we can do it through his paper rather than from Brezhnev’s.

Kissinger: Well, I think what we should do is, we have to let the—I’ve kept them from tabling this, because I thought we should have—they were all set to table that in Helsinki—

Nixon: The Russians were?

Kissinger: I said give [unclear]give us a chance to look at this thing. And there’s—I don’t think there’s any way we can keep them from tabling it. But, we don’t have to accept that, that particular framework, although it incorporates what was said at that meeting.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: Many ideas we proposed. The only addition to what we’ve already proposed is that in addition to the G- and H-class submarines, they are suggesting that they could trade in 209 old missiles for submarine missiles. And there, you can argue that both ways. You can say those missiles reduce the edge they have in land-based missiles in return for submarine missiles. And—

Nixon: What about the proposition of putting [unclear] Smith tables something, too?

Kissinger: Sure, Smith can table it. What we’ve given him is different. In the NSDM,5 that’s different from what they’ve proposed to us.

Rogers: I’d just like to have something we could label, “President Nixon’s.”

[Page 793]

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: Well, we have said in your exchange that we, we’ve got the—

Nixon: Well, I’ll give him a letter, like we always have done before. How would that be?

Kissinger: Yeah, we could send him a letter—

Rogers: I think that would be good, yeah—

Nixon: How about—how about preparing a letter? When does he leave? Tonight?

Kissinger: Well, we can wire him the letter.

Nixon: I’ll prepare a letter, which I’ve done before.

Rogers: That’d be good—

Nixon: I’ll say after our meeting that if these are the considerations that—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: —he should have in mind, then he has that for the record—

Kissinger: That’s right—

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: —as to what we want—

Rogers: And then, we can say we’ve negotiated from your—

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. The best thing that we could get, yeah. It’s a curious situ—proposition. We are—we don’t have anything to negotiate [unclear]. We have to face the fact that on the defense—in the defense field that we have a very weak hand in terms of what we can get—

Rogers: Well, I think we got—I think—

Nixon: A very weak hand. We have to—we have to remember the Russians are moving forward like crazy on submarines and offensive weapons—

Kissinger: And they’ve just built a new ship—

Nixon: —and we’re not doing a damn thing. And so, we’re in a—and, with all the peaceniks, we have one helluva time getting it. So, I think—I don’t know, I—it’ll accomplish something to get them slowed down, and yet, in terms of selling it to the country, well, I guess all we can talk about are MIRVs.

Rogers: I think we can sell it to the country—

Nixon: The MIRVs thing, I think, is a powerful thing to them. Don’t you agree?

Kissinger: Yeah. It is a fact, which isn’t our fault, that every missile we are now working with was designed in the Eisenhower administration—

[Page 794]

Nixon: That’s right. [unclear]—

Kissinger: —that we’ve wasted 8 years of McNamara’s tenure.

Nixon: We haven’t done, we have—we are at a disadvantage. That’s the problem.

Kissinger: And when you see this damn thing, that new missile they tested—I don’t know whether you’ve seen this—

Nixon: Do you think it’s—do you think it’s a real one?

Kissinger: Yeah. And—

Nixon: I thought you said they weren’t sure if they had them—

Kissinger: Well, they popped something out of a hole, which they are applying a submarine-launch principle to land-based missiles. That is, just get it out of the ground, and then give it an additional thrust—

Nixon: Yeah, well—

Kissinger: That way they can double the payload of the SS–9, and they could give it as many as—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —twelve 5-megaton warheads. And it’s really a scary thing.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT. At 4:23 p.m., Ziegler entered. Rogers and Kissinger left at 4:24 p.m. Kissinger re-entered at 4:26 p.m.]

Nixon: I told Ron I was really, probably, too hard on Smith, but once he—

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: —just pulled out a piece of paper like that. But that’s gobbledygook to say that. What difference is it’s—

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: —State’s fucking position. What the [unclear]—

Kissinger: Mr. President, the problem is this—

Nixon: I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

Kissinger: BrezhnevBrezhnev accepted your propositions. Every point in that Brezhnev paper we gave him.

Nixon: Um-hmm. What the Christ is Rogers talking about?

Kissinger: We are cutting it down from 85 to 62, and we’re giving up nothing in return. We can’t get another goddamn submarine out of them—

Nixon: Why is Rogers so strong, so strong on this?

Kissinger: So that, so that I’ll guarantee you one thing: by Friday of this week, if you don’t do this—

Nixon: Um-hmm?

Kissinger: —you’re going to get stories out of Helsinki—

[Page 795]

Nixon: Yeah—

Kissinger: —that they broke the logjam.

[Omitted here are discussion and dictation of the text of a statement for Ziegler while the Press Secretary takes notes. Ziegler left at 4:36 p.m. Haig entered at 4:38 p.m.]

Nixon: I seldom lose my temper and everything, but I just thought, “Oh, shit,” when he handed the little shit-ass piece of paper over to you—6

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: I didn’t need to bother you. I handed Dobrynin this paper, which he had drafted, which said, “While we can’t agree with all these considerations.”7 Dobrynin said, “I’ll transmit it.” But, his reaction was the same as yours. He said, “If Brezhnev reads this—”

Nixon: [speaking on the telephone] Would you have Haig in, please?

Kissinger: He said, “If Brezhnev reads this, he’ll think that we’re playing games with him.” So, I said, “All right, why don’t you give this to Brezhnev [unclear]the other one has been accepted by Smith.”

Nixon: Well, the point is, while we cannot agree with that this—with the lawyers, it’s like writing a letter for the record or some damn thing.

Kissinger: Well, in effect, it says—

Nixon: “Shame on you,” doesn’t it?

[Page 796]

Kissinger: Yeah, and—

Nixon: But now, they put you down, basically, if—

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: [unclear] last night. I didn’t know what it’s all about. Now, I must admit, that Rogers, Rogers, basically, was pissing on the whole Brezhnev thing.

Kissinger: Of course.

Nixon: And maybe the Brezhnev thing is a bad deal. I don’t know.

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: Is it as bad as he says?

Kissinger: Now, Mr. President, can you imagine that Laird, Helms, and Moorer would support it if it were such a bad thing? That Laird and Moorer, who have to testify about this—

Nixon: Supporting it—and the Brezhnev draft?

Kissinger: Yes! That’s what they’re supporting. They’re out of [unclear]—

Nixon: But, Rogers wants it to be the President’s proposal, not Brezhnev’s proposal.

Kissinger: Mr. President, first of all, it is—no, it is [unclear]—

Nixon: After all, you negotiated the goddamn thing. That’s—

Kissinger: It is, essentially, his proposal—

Nixon: I think that’s it. You negotiated it anyway, so what the hell?

Kissinger: It’s—it’s one of the lowest performances I’ve ever seen, because, first of all, we’re accepting a freeze of 1,500 ICBMs against 1,000 ICBMs. No one raised the issue, there, of equality. The submarine thing, where we have no leverage at all, where with, where—where, supposing there is no agreement, how are we going to explain the fact that the Soviets can then build 85 to 90 submarines, while we’re not building one? And I thought this was one of the most third-rate performances I’ve ever seen.

Nixon: What the hell [unclear]? What—what did you think? I was just telling Henry I was, I seldomly get put out, but when Smith brought in that gobbledygook about—

Kissinger: Did you call him and tell him that?

Nixon: What do you think?

Haig: Well, I just thought you had the right term for it.


Nixon: Well, but what—what’d you think of that meeting? What the hell was his—?

Haig: It’s like Alice in Wonderland. He’s arguing the precise opposite track that he did in the NSC meeting, earlier.

[Page 797]

Kissinger: Two—

Nixon: He had a meeting earlier today?

Haig: No, no.

Kissinger: No. Two months ago,8 Mr. President, when—

Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Kissinger: —when I was making a case against excluding—including SLBMs, because I didn’t think we could get it, he was making a passionate case that it had to be included. The figures we gave them, these—I didn’t make up these figures; I got them from his own bloody bureaucracy.

Nixon: What the Christ is he up to then? What is—what about Rogers’s point about the Brezhnev paper being submitted? I haven’t read that carefully. Is it—do you—give me the cold judgment: is Rogers right that that’ll look bad on the record?

[Omitted here is a brief interruption as Nixon speaks to Butterfield on a topic unrelated to SALT.]

Haig: Oh, I think there are two things here, sir. One is we’re after an interim solution to a problem which is going to go on and on, and we’re going to have to work a treaty out sooner or later. What we’ve got to do is somehow get a stop on what the Soviets are doing. We haven’t affected ourselves one iota. And, from the legislative support point of view, had we left SLBMs out, we would have been in the position of fighting for full bore—take this goddamned advanced submarine missile—with nothing to go for. Now, our key Congressional people will see that there’s a target that we’ve got to fund for—

Nixon: Hmm.

Haig: And—

Nixon: Yeah.

Haig: —beyond that.

Nixon: Yeah. Right. Well, in this connection, Henry, just so that the record is clear, will you see that Al prepares, or somebody prepares, a little instruction to this goddamn Smith for me? A letter from me to Smith—a message?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: So, that it’s in the record?

Kissinger: But, Mr. President, I have a file of—it’s perfectly clear who made these proposals.

Nixon: You know what I meant, and you know what Rogers said: that—so that it’s a Nixon proposal, basically. I don’t mean something [Page 798] he hands to them. He says, based—the NSDM, I guess, handles the whole thing, doesn’t it?

Kissinger: [unclear] the NSDM

Nixon: Isn’t that a Presidential order?

Kissinger: Of course, it’s a presidential order.

Nixon: Well, why don’t I—why don’t I say that, that—

Kissinger: I don’t—we can write Gerry Smith a letter. There’s no problem about that. [unclear]—

Nixon: All right, just so that it’s for the record. Let me ask you—

Kissinger: But, but their strategy is perfectly plain, Mr. President. They want to get it so screwed up that they can then claim, when it’s totally screwed up, they will come in with proposals which will make the Brezhnev proposal look soft—I mean, look tough in, in our favor. I mean, these guys, who have retreated on every single issue, who’ve been giving our fallback positions to the Russians before we ever surfaced them. For them, when the Russians more or less accept our own proposals—the reason, when I cabled you from Moscow—9

Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Kissinger: —was because this is, in effect, our proposal.

Nixon: I didn’t know we were talking about the same thing when I listened at that meeting. I couldn’t believe it.

Kissinger: Well, but, after all, I haven’t positioned Laird, Mr. President. I didn’t position Helms. I showed this paper to Moorer. I said, “You study it. You tell me whether you can live with it.” He made a study of it. He wants—he’s in favor of it.

Nixon: What about—what about Rogers’s point that it looks bad for us, publicly, to acknowledge and to freeze inferiority on submarines? It can’t be worked—will the Russians accept that, their overall number, rather than the 62–41, or whatever it is? [unclear]—

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: —every right person will immediately seize [unclear]—

Kissinger: Mr. President, the problem—the advantage of having 62–41, we can express it in dates. We can say, “Submarines under construction by this and this date, plus conversion of other submarines.” I mean, we’ll never have to give the number, so we can avoid that. But the advantage—there, the fact that they give us both boats and launchers is an advantage to us, because if they have two kinds of boats, some [Page 799] with 12 missiles that are very long-range, and some with 16, which are like our Polarises—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —if we give them an upper number like 950, they can convert all their boats into 12-missile boats, which means that their deployment is much easier for them. If we say that the absolute maximum is 62—

Nixon: Um-hmm?

Kissinger: —then, if they converted into long-range missiles, they can’t reach 950. So, they have a real choice to make there: either to take the poor missile and get a lot of them, or to take the good missile and take fewer of them. So, expressing it in both boats and launchers is in to our advantage. It’s—it’s not to theirs.

Nixon: [unclear] is that Moorer and Laird can be strong as horseradish for this, because they’ve got to sell all this. Nobody’s going to believe this goddamn Smith on this issue.

Kissinger: Well, Smith—with Smith, Mr. President, it’s a pure case of vanity. These sons-of-bitches—on ABM, for example—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Kissinger: —I didn’t even bother you—

Nixon: —I noticed he made the very strong point there. You know, he wanted an agreement on ABMs alone, and I said: “Well, by God, they’re never going to get that.” These sons-of-bitches would have done that. That’s what he wanted.

Kissinger: [laughing] On ABM

Haig: And he wanted zero ABM

Nixon: Zero ABM, and I’ll never agree to that.

Kissinger: He’s put a real lawyer’s trick on you. I haven’t even bothered you with it. This 150-kilometer radius, in effect, combines two Soviet missile sites into one, so we’re even getting a slight disadvantage on that. That one, he sneaked by you by defining the radius. I didn’t hear anyone say that we are losing an additional site. I thought it was a really sickening performance, if I—

Nixon: Did they know better? Did you think it was?

Haig: I thought [unclear]. It was hard for me to believe, because I’ve been on the other wicket and had been arguing with Henry, earlier, about keeping the SLBMs—

Nixon: Um-hmm? Yeah?

Haig: We both agreed it’d be better off not to have them—

Kissinger: I didn’t want them in.

Nixon: Yeah. I didn’t want them in either—

Haig: —‘til I saw this proposal.

[Page 800]

Nixon: I didn’t want ‘em in for the very reason that I think that we can build them and they can’t. But, now, now we’ve gotten the goddamn things in.

Haig: And not only this, sir, but the boys on the Hill are already giving Laird a terrific time on the ULMS, wanting to cut that money. Now, the incentive is going to be with the knowledgeable ones—the Stennises, the people we can rely on to get—to say, “Look, here’s—this is the problem: if we hadn’t taken this deal, we would’ve been down to the tune of 80-some—”

Nixon: [unclear]—

Haig: “—versus—80-some Soviet missiles versus ours.” Now, we have to build to the limit to reduce the gap, and we haven’t lost a thing, except to have a great incentive for responsible Congressmen to fund them and fight like hell.

Kissinger: I have studied SALT for 15 years, Mr. President.

Nixon: But it’s—

Kissinger: Not—not SALT, but arms control. I’ve been against including submarines to begin with. I’ve been arguing with Moorer, and with Laird, and with Zumwalt. If you’re going to include submarines, this is, by far, the best deal you can get, because for every additional submarine you build, they have to retire an old missile.


Nixon: You can be at the meeting Wednesday,10 can’t you?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Well, I must say that I haven’t known what the Christ the goddamn thing was all about.

Kissinger: Well, I’ve been going through this all week. I thought I had been beaten down. Alex Johnson, who’s an honest guy, is totally in favor of this proposal.

Nixon: Is he?

Kissinger: Yes. But Smith, out of vanity—Smith has the nerve—gall to tell you the ABM thing is a breakthrough, which is nothing, and to piss on the SLBM

Nixon: With ABM it’s two for them and one for us. You know what I mean? They—it’s to their interest to control ABM. It’s to our interest to conclude—to control the offensive missiles. That’s what I told that [Page 801] goddamn arms control group. Don’t you agree? It’s not to our interest to control ABM

Kissinger: Of course.

Nixon: —it’s to theirs.

Kissinger: Of course, Rogers doesn’t understand this. I don’t think he’s ever studied this goddamn problem.

Nixon: Well, it’s a very complicated problem. But nevertheless, I don’t—his point that he was making, was that he doesn’t like the Brezhnev [unclear]—

Kissinger: Mr. President. We can easily interpret—

Nixon: I think what I did—I think Bill was just so goddamn—and Gerry, were both put out that you brought it back from Brezhnev. Isn’t that what it gets at? Or is it? I don’t know.

Kissinger: I think the basic problem is that Smith and Rogers were going to surface this as their great contribution. The SALT agreement was going to be theirs, and now they’re put out that it’s in your channel rather than in theirs. I think that’s the basic problem.

Nixon: You know, shit, it has to be small stuff, small potatoes.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 716–2. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the President met with Rogers, Kissinger, Haig, and Ziegler from 4:11 to 5:29 p.m. Prior to that Nixon met with Smith, Moorer, Allison, Helms, Rogers, Laird, Kissinger, Ziegler, and members of the press in the Cabinet Room from 3:07 to 4:08 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) There is also a recording of the earlier meeting. (Ibid., White House Tapes, Cabinet Room, Conversation No. 99–10) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. Rogers is referring to the meeting just concluded.
  3. See Document 262.
  4. Rogers left the next day on a trip to several European countries.
  5. Document 271.
  6. Nixon is referring to the reply Smith drafted in response to the SLBM proposal presented by Brezhnev to Kissinger in Moscow (see footnote 3 and Foreign Relations, 1969–1972, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 179.) Kissinger handed Smith’s note to Dobrynin when the two men met on May 1 from 12:15 to 12:40 p.m., according to Kissinger’s Record of Schedule. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976) The note reads in part as follows: “While we cannot agree with certain considerations expressed in the paper given Henry Kissinger in Moscow, we can agree in principle to the general approach suggested in that paper. It is the understanding of the U.S. government that under the proposed SLBM freeze, additional SLBM launchers, beyond those existing on the freeze date, could be built in replacement for certain existing strategic launchers. Such a freeze would last five years if an agreement on more comprehensive limitations on strategic offensive arms was not reached in the meantime. We are prepared at Helsinki to negotiate equitable provisions to cover this kind of arrangement with the aim of concluding an offensive interim agreement, together with an ABM Treaty, for signature during the forthcoming meeting in Moscow.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 494, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 12) Although no U.S. record of the meeting has been found, Dobrynin’s memorandum of conversation is published in Soviet-American Relations, Document 319.
  7. At 12:50 p.m. Haig called Dobrynin to inform him of revisions to the note. According to a memorandum for the record prepared by Haig, he told Dobrynin that Kissinger wished to delete the first phrase, which reads: “While we cannot agree with certain considerations expressed in the paper given Henry Kissinger in Moscow.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 494, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 11) See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 179.
  8. Reference is to the NSC meeting of March 17; see Document 240.
  9. For Kissinger’s discussion with Brezhnev in Moscow, see Document 262. He reported by cable in WTE 10, April 22; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 148.
  10. On May 3 Kissinger met with Moorer, Rush, and Haig from 10:45 to 10:55 a.m. and then alone with Nixon from 11 a.m. to 12:14 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) No other record of these meetings has been found.