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

Nixon: Well, how are you feeling, how are you doing this morning, Henry?

Kissinger: Well, it’s beginning to catch up with me. I think by this evening I’ll—

Haldeman: Well, stay up for another hour and a half, will you?

Kissinger: Oh, no, I’ll be all right. [Laughter] You know, you must feel it, too.

Nixon: Yeah, well—

Kissinger: I’m just beginning to—

Nixon: You need to relax after all the things that we’ve been through pell-mell. You know, the—I know everybody is tired that went over there. Good god, those advance men and others worked their butts off. But, you and I are tired for different reasons.

Kissinger: Well, the nervous tension of being up for—

Nixon: [unclear] one hell of an emotional fight from having to fight with—the Rogers thing the first day,2 and then the SALT thing on Wednesday3 night. Goddamn, you know, you just—Bob, it’s hard enough to go to one of these things without going through that, but it’s really awful.

Kissinger: Well, then, the SALT thing Wednesday night, afterward, was probably the single most emotional meeting that I’ve attended since I’ve been in the White House.

Haldeman: The dacha meeting?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: [unclear].

[Page 927]

Kissinger: You’ve got these three tough guys working the President over.

Nixon: It was a rough one. But it was good and interesting, and it was—

Kissinger: Well, I think it was the turning point of the discussion.

Nixon: I think, probably, what I am trying to do today, Henry, is to say: look confident. The substance is all going to be presented. I’m not going to go into that, but I want to give you—I want to put it in a larger framework. I want to tell you about the men, I want to tell you about—and I’m going to bring both China and Russia into it.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: The China thing only in terms of why do the Chinese want a relationship with us? Because they’re pragmatic. Why does the Soviet Union want this relationship with us—?

Kissinger: Right. We just have to be sure they don’t go out and blab it. That’s [unclear]—

Nixon: I’m not going to say that. I’m not going to say, “The Soviet wanted it because they’re against China.”

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Or any—or, not for that reason, though, but—but that the Soviet wanted it for other reasons.

Kissinger: Right. Right. Right.

Nixon: What do you want to cover?

Kissinger: Well, it’s entirely up to you, Mr. President.

Nixon: Well, how do you feel with all the things this ought to cover? What [unclear]—?

Kissinger: Well, I could cover the sort of thing about the meetings that you can’t. I mean, you can’t very well cover how the meetings were conducted the way I can.

Haldeman: I think you should, too.

Kissinger: And—

Haldeman: I mean, this one is one—

Nixon: What else should I do? Should I start with Henry? Or should I—?

Kissinger: No, I think you should start.

Haldeman: No, you should let out the context and the big picture that you’re talking about. But then, Henry should start with a, “Let me give you a little background on how these meetings were conducted; how your President represented you.”

Nixon: Without going [unclear].

Kissinger: And, uh—

[Page 928]

Haldeman: But this is billed, and they understand it, and the press has billed it as a monumental, personal thing, which is the very interesting thing that comes out of all this. It’s—they’re not—

Kissinger: The first time the press has done that since we have been in—

Haldeman: And they’re talking more about the importance of the personal—

Nixon: Component? No—

Haldeman: The promise of what you did, the way you worked, and how you did it—

Kissinger: You see—

Haldeman: —than they are about the substance of the, the whole thing.

Kissinger: You see, the way I could do this is to say, “Why the summit?” I mean, why could it work at the—could certain, certain things work at the summit that couldn’t work anywhere else?

Nixon: Yeah, good. Now, how would you say that?

Kissinger: And, and that way—

Nixon: Well, tell me—

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: —what do we say, so that I don’t cover that.

Kissinger: Well, I would say it two ways: First of all, the imminence of the summit—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —enabled the President to take a personal hand—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —on a number of issues. And I’ll give them that Incidents at Sea example, which is—

Nixon: Yeah, I know.

Kissinger: —a very trivial example of an agreement4

Nixon: Also, if—then again, if you could go on and say how we broke the impasse on—say on such [unclear]—

Kissinger: Then secondly—

Nixon: —things on SALT.

Kissinger: —how you broke the impasse. That’s exactly what I was going to say: how you broke the impasse on SALT

Nixon: And how you think—and then, you might say, for example, in a field where we did not reach our goal—and then I think this [Page 929] may not be bad on Lend-Lease. I’d say, “We—the President narrowed the difference. We got it down, but we wouldn’t give on the matter of the interest rate—”

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: “—and we’re going to have to negotiate it.” I think they’d love to hear that.

Kissinger: So that was point one. Then, point two was that a number of issues were left that, literally, were unresolvable, except at the highest level. And then, thirdly, the whole statement of principles problem, for example.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: You wouldn’t even have known how to start except at the highest level.

Nixon: And I have. You couldn’t say, “Well, let’s let our Ambassadors work it out.” Can you imagine Beam sitting down with Gromyko?

Kissinger: Inconceivable. Well, the point which I’ve made to the press, which all of them, or all of the—Max Frankel, I know, used it, and a number of others—I said, “Look, under the best of circumstances, you have to consider one diplomatic note is 20 minutes of Presidential talk. Now, you add up 43 hours that the President spent with these people, and that means—”

Nixon: Was it 43 hours?

Kissinger: Yeah. I mean all together. That’s what Ron figured out.

Nixon: Phew.

Kissinger: But whatever it is, it would be 60 to 100 diplomatic notes, each of which taking 2 to 3 weeks to get a reply to it. This is without the first-personal impact.

Haldeman: It’s much easier. You never get the reading from the notes—

Kissinger: That’s right.

Haldeman: —that you get from the face-to-face.

Kissinger: So, that’s what I said what you have to consider: it’s a 4-year proposition. And then, so many other things happen in the interval that you never get it done. I said—on the other hand, I drew a distinction between summit meetings that are not well-prepared, where, then, the principals get together, create a deadlock and make the situation worse, compared to some which had been narrowed to a point where the principals could act with maximum effectiveness.

Nixon: Um-hmm. Um-hmm. Um-hmm.

Kissinger: And that’s sort of the theme. And then, I thought I could hit a few of the high points of the agreements. But the Russians are on an all-out propaganda campaign at home saying what a terrific achievement this was. [2 seconds not declassified] between Brezhnev and [Page 930] [Marshal] Grechko, in which Brezhnev complains to Grechko saying, “Goddamnit these Americans. You remember that afternoon session, the President and Kissinger hit me about exactly the thing they’re worried about.” You know—

Nixon: On these ULMS?

Kissinger: No, with the missile diameter.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: And Grechko makes all the arguments to him that Jackson is making to us, saying, “How do we know the Americans won’t put modern missiles on diesel submarines? And Brezhnev saying, “You idiot. Why would they scream about our putting missiles on diesel submarines if they wanted to do it?” And Grechko said, “Well you know Brezhnev, that we’re going to scrap the diesel submarines,” which is true.

Nixon: Incidentally, what do you want me to get across to him now? What do you want me to say to him, because I—

Kissinger: On SALT?

Nixon: About anything. Well, SALT, I’m just going to say, I’m going to say, “Look, when I left office and d-d-d-d [etc.], we had—there was a 10-to-1 advantage for the United States. When we came in the advantage had been wiped out. We hadn’t done a thing—”

Kissinger: And they take 10—

Nixon: “And if we hadn’t done something, we were—had to go—we either had two choices: to go for a crash program of building, which I think the American people would have had great concern about, or have a limitation.”

Kissinger: I wouldn’t even give them that. I would say, “There was no crash program of building we could have done.”

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: You can say, “We had the Joint Chiefs of Staff in. We said, ‘Can you do a crash program on submarines?’” I had three meetings with them, Mr. President.

Nixon: Oh, I know, ‘cause I asked Moorer in that meeting, too.

Kissinger: And they said, “No, we cannot do a crash program—”

Nixon: Well, do you think—do you want me to zero in on that or [unclear]—

Kissinger: But I can do that task better than you.

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: If you want to.

Nixon: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Kissinger: It’s up to you.

Nixon: You take up all the things that I—

Kissinger: I mean you can just say, “When we came in, this was the situation. It worsened every year. I’ve started a number of programs: [Page 931] ABM, ULMS, B–1. Each of which had enormous Congressional opposition. All of you gentlemen know it takes ten years from the time you start a program until it is operational.”

Nixon: You’ve got to remember, we’ve got doves there as well as hawks. [unclear]

Kissinger: And then I’d say we had two choices then. We had only one choice. We—what we have done is broken the momentum of their agreement.

Haldeman: You don’t have any problems with the doves, though. They’re so—

Kissinger: No. You won’t have any problems with the hawks after two weeks. I guarantee you, I’ll work them over.

Haldeman: Except Scoop [Jackson]. He’s gotten himself out on a limb.

Kissinger: Yeah, but Scoop, I think, is being partisan on this.

Nixon: Sure he is.

Kissinger: I mean, the things Scoop is saying—why the hell didn’t he say them two years ago? Or one year ago? They were equally true. They have nothing to do with the agreement.

Nixon: Well, the whole secret deal has gotten, of course—he says, “That’s an old point—”

Kissinger: Well, the secret deal, Mr. President, the way to hit that is this: You can say, “There are a number of interpretive, if they’re agreed, statements,” which I will be glad to explain to them, “all of which will be submitted by agreement with the Soviets to the Senate.” You, just for your information, you have written a letter to Brezhnev 5

Nixon: Saying we wouldn’t build three subs—saying all that?

Kissinger: —in which you’re saying, “I want you to know we have no plans—”

Nixon: No plans.

Kissinger: “—to build those three extra submarines to which we are entitled during the period of the freeze.” This is nothing but the literal truth. We have no such plans—

Nixon: I mean, we’re simply informing him of something. That’s all.

Kissinger: That’s not an agreement. You can change your plans anyway. But, the fact of the matter is, you have no such plans. The Navy doesn’t want them, and nothing in the agreement forces you to exercise your option. That’s only an option. That’s not something that you’re supposed to do. But I must say—incidentally, I talked to some [Page 932] people who heard your speech. Apparently, on television, it came over extremely well.6

Haldeman: Yes.

Kissinger: I’m not—I thought he was speaking a little too fast, quite honestly, sitting in the, in the chamber. But, on television, people told me it sounded very effective.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 727–5. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger and Haig in the Oval Office from 9:45 to 10:03 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed this portion of the conversation specifically for this volume.
  2. Nixon became angry when Rogers announced on May 19 that he would hold a press conference to set the tone for the upcoming summit. Nixon, who was also planning to brief the press that day, complained to Kissinger: “He doesn’t know anything about it. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen at the summit. He doesn’t have the slightest idea.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 726–4) See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 245.
  3. May 24.
  4. The Agreement on Prevention of Incidents at Sea (23 UST 1168) was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at the summit; for text, see Department of State Bulletin, June 26, 1972, pp. 926–927.
  5. See footnote 4, Document 314.
  6. The text of Nixon’s June 1 address to a Joint Session of Congress on his return from the summit is in Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 660–666. The address was broadcast live on radio and television.