328. Conversation Among President Nixon, Secretary of State Rogers, and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Rogers: On the testimony on the SALT agreement,2 the—I assume that on the question of reservations we want to do everything we can to prevent any reservations from being attached?

Nixon: [unclear].

Rogers: There has been some discussion at lower levels that maybe we ought to be lenient toward the reservations—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Rogers: —but my attitude is we ought to oppose them like hell. I think it would—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Rogers: —be very dangerous to have reservations.

Nixon: Well, if you do, I think you’d have a hell of a time having to go back and renegotiate with them. [unclear]

Kissinger: I don’t know about reser—but, I would say, in principle, every—any reservation would require a renegotiation. And, some of them might be non-negotiable; all of it would be damaging.

[Page 961]

Nixon: That’s right.

Rogers: So, I think we should just be against the reservations. Ok, well, I’m glad I asked. Now, on the timing of it, because of Mel Laird’s testimony—

Nixon: What’s—what day is he going?

Rogers: Well, he’s going after me. But, I mean, he—I’ve talked about the testimony where he will link the defense expenditures to—

Nixon: Yeah.

Rogers: —ratification.

Nixon: Yeah.

Rogers: I talked to Fulbright yesterday, and he said that’s one of the things he’s going to ask about.

Nixon: Um-hmm

Rogers: So, it really gets down to how we do it. Mel linked it very directly.3 He said he couldn’t support ratification unless he got what he wanted on B–1 and on Trident. And, I guess he also referred to the—

Nixon: Hmm.

Rogers: —to the Washington ABM site.

Nixon: I think he—well, I think that the way I would, the way I would feel about it, just offhand, is this: I saw what Mel was trying to do, and I know the way the question would come to you. I think the—I think our position should be that we favor the B–1; we favor that, and we favor—we think we would be out of our minds not to do the two sites, because of the equilibrium, and the rest. But, I don’t think that it makes sense to—and Henry, they’ll probably ask you that question. So, what is your view, too? I don’t think if you link it, I don’t—if you link it like Mel has, you might run into—you might just start a hell of a fight among the Fulbright-types, which we don’t need.

Rogers: Or, you’ll have a Jackson saying, “Well, hell, let’s not ratify until we see what’s going to happen to the defense budget.”

Nixon: Oh, we can’t do that. We need ratification as fast as we can get it—

Rogers: [unclear]

Kissinger: Well, now, Jackson was in this morning.

Nixon: Was he?

[Page 962]

Kissinger: And, I think, well, that he is weakening. And, he makes a good point that over the next term, when you get re-elected—which he says he hopes if McGovern gets the nomination—

Nixon: He really does?

Kissinger: That’s what he said. He said McGovern would be an unalloyed disaster for the country.

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: He said you—

Nixon: He is. You see what the son-of-a-bitch said this morning?

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to SALT.]

Nixon: Well, let’s get to agree on an announcement, what Bill should say. Now, Bill would—what are you going to say?

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: What I would propose to say, subject to—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —the discussion here, is not to establish a direct linkage, but to say, “We think the treaties are justified in their own right. We believe that the other things are equally justified. That we—that the administration strongly supports both. But—”

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: “Each should stand on their own feet.”

Rogers: Yeah. I think that’s the way to do it.

Nixon: But, I would say this, that I think it’s very important, Bill, for you to come down. I mean Mel, by the linkage thing, I mean, he was basically too belligerent, too threatening. But, on the other hand, the—he was talking to his constituency. The thing is that if you could—I think that the [unclear] that this is a—the point I made to the Republican leaders yesterday:4 I said, “Look, this is a deal where we both negotiated very hard.” I said, “Neither—and, and neither side got everything it wanted.” I said, “That’s—and that’s why it’s a deal which both sides, therefore, can and should accept.” That, I said, “On the other hand, we have to realize that it’s only the beginning of a long process. It’s a total limitation on defensive missiles. It’s only a partial on offensive missiles. And, it—we must now set the stage for the next development.” And, I told, incidentally, Stennis yesterday5 that we would have the next round begin in October, if this thing began. But, I said, “In order to set the stage for the next development, we should pass [Page 963] this in—but after—.” Oh, then, I said to the Republicans, “We welcome, we welcome from you a thorough, thorough questioning, a thorough examination of this, because we believe that after—that such examination would clearly demonstrate that these agreements are in the interest of the United States.”

Rogers: Um-hmm.

Nixon: I think we have to—I think we have to avoid—I mean, and this will hurt us to an extent here, but it’s the right thing, and it’s the—if it’s not the right thing it’s responsible. We really can’t say this is a better deal for us than it is for them.

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: It isn’t. And, it isn’t. And, they on their part, have got to avoid that, too. The deal is not a better deal for us than it is for them. Frankly, what—if you really get down to it—is—and this is where Jackson understands it, and I suppose you made this point to him as I made to the Leader, Strom [Thurmond]. I said, “Look, what you really get down to it here is that we in the field of offensive weapons didn’t have any cards to play with.” I said, “We have—because we’re not going to build any, either. The Joint Chiefs are flatly against a crash program for new submarines, so we have no cards to play with. We’ve got to build ULMS with the $59 billion. We have no land-based missile program. We have no new weapons systems, except those that were started in the Eisenhower administration.” I said, “Under these circumstances, therefore, we are not limiting ourselves in any way that we would not have been limited by what the Congress refused to do.” I said, “Now, you fellows know ABM only passed by one vote.” You can’t talk this way in testimony, but you can to our—the other fellows, the realists. I said, “You also know that as far as the defense budget is concerned, it’s totally unrealistic to say that we’re going to have a $20 billion increase in the defense budget in order to catch the Soviet.”

Rogers: [unclear]—

Nixon: So, the offensive limitation one, I think—which is the tougher one—

Rogers: Yeah.

Nixon: Everybody wants to hold the defense down. They say, “Well, isn’t that great?” But, the offensive one, really—well, looking at the defensive one, you know there wouldn’t be a prayer to get through another ABM if we didn’t have this agreement. So, we’re not really giving anything away over there. That’s the practical thing. The Russians may be just a little worried that there is. On the offensive side, you and I know there isn’t a prayer to get a crash program increasing the defense budget—

Rogers: That’s right.

[Page 964]

Nixon: —that the pull is all in the other direction. So, we’re not giving away anything there. So, looking to the future, yes, we should be for ULMS, we should be for the B–1, we should be for all these other things—

Rogers: What about NCA—?

Nixon: —but I wouldn’t link it.

Rogers: What about NCA? That’s, that’s a—oh, that’s a tough one—

Nixon: You mean, whether we’re going to build it?

Kissinger: As I look back on it, that was one major mistake we made in this bloody negotiation.

Nixon: Well, that’s [unclear].

Kissinger: And, we did it because the Joint Chiefs and Laird—and Laird gave us a written letter saying that in the context of SALT he, as a Congressional expert, would guarantee that it would go through.

Nixon: Yeah.

Rogers: I don’t think it could get through.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: Well, I’m not too worried, to be perfectly candid—

Kissinger: Well, but if we weren’t going to get it, there was no sense for our going for it.

Rogers: Yeah, because that gave them a—an extra—

Kissinger: It gave them the—

Rogers: [unclear]—

Kissinger: Then, we would have been better off. We’ve could’ve kept Malmstrom6 if we had stuck with it. They would have kicked and screamed, but at the last minute, they would have yielded. They were dying to get the agreement. But, you were in no position to overrule the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and all your other advisers. State didn’t take a position, as it shouldn’t have. I mean, it’s not a State problem.

Nixon: No, but I didn’t—as you know, I never did feel we ought to build that, then. Do you remember the meeting?

Rogers: Yeah.

Nixon: Do you remember I didn’t? I said, “Why—who in the hell wants to build it—?”

Kissinger: But you had, well, Allison on the delegation. You had Moorer

[Page 965]

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: You had a unanimous recommendation—

Nixon: Nitze?

Kissinger: You had Nitze. All of them pressing plans—

Rogers: It never made any sense to me, because I didn’t think we could get it through. Well, in any event, we can [unclear] that.

Nixon: While we’re thinking about it, let’s just understand, period, the thing about it is to say, “Well, of course, we should build them.”

[Omitted here is a telephone discussion unrelated to SALT]

Nixon: Now, Bill, so that you’ll know, I told the Congressional leaders. They said, “Now, do you want this?” I said, “We certainly do.” “Because,” I said, “it’d be the wrong signal to the Russians, after we’ve negotiated it, that we didn’t build it.” And so, I think we should just take the position: we need it, we should have it, and it provides—and it’s essential to the strategic balance. And Laird should say that, goddamnit—

Kissinger: Laird will say it.

Rogers: We don’t have a budget this year, do we?

Nixon: No, we had the other.

Kissinger: Not yet.

Rogers: I’ll have to check—

Kissinger: You know, I think we have it in. Yeah—

Rogers: Or, beginning—maybe it was—

Kissinger: Beginning—

Rogers: —getting seed-money to somebody.

Kissinger: Under their site—

Rogers: Site selection?

Kissinger: We have in the budget, we have advanced—whatever the word is—preparation, but not actual construction.

Rogers: Um-hmm.

Nixon: Well, it was in the original plan.

Kissinger: Yeah, but then it was dropped out and confined to advanced preparation. And now it’s back in. Speaking in this room, it was a mistake. We should have just told the military to go to hell.

Rogers: Yeah.

Kissinger: And that we weren’t going to do it.

Nixon: Yeah.

Rogers: I suppose, though, that even—well, even though it’s a waste of money, it might have some psychological advantage for the country.

[Page 966]

Nixon: Let me tell you something: it’s—it’s not all [unclear]. I mean, let’s look at it from the standpoint of the Russians. Why do they protect Moscow [unclear]? Because, there’s a hell of a lot of important population there. And this—

Kissinger: And with China.

Nixon: Yes, that’s right, Henry; against China. But, there is a very important—let’s face it—population complex around here.

Rogers: Yeah.

Nixon: Right, Henry? It isn’t just Washington.

Kissinger: Hell, we’d cover [unclear] you’ll cover as far north as Philadelphia, which would have—it is—against third-country attacks, there’s a certain utility in it, and it forces a larger attack on us.

Rogers: It also gives us an opportunity to develop our technology [unclear]—

Kissinger: In our population—

Rogers: In other words, if you don’t have something going, you’re not going to have any interest in the, the program.

Nixon: But, also, it’s a—the technology for the defense of civilian areas [unclear]—

Rogers: Of course, you know, that’s what I mean.

Nixon: —which they’ve been developing.

Rogers: Sure.

Nixon: The technological developments will go forward here.

Rogers: I think that’s the best argument for it. It really is that—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Rogers: —they’re going to go ahead with theirs, and if we’re out of the business, entirely, we’ll fall behind. Goddamn, I thought it was amazing how the expenses go up. Already the estimates were way above what they were when we made them, initially.

Nixon: On, on this thing?

Rogers: [unclear] Yeah—

Nixon: Oh, God. Well, on this, the—I think just, just be—

Rogers: I think I’ve got it.

Nixon: Does Mel testify after you do?

Rogers: Yeah.

Kissinger: I think he testifies Wednesday;7 Bill testifies Monday, isn’t it?

[unclear exchange]

[Page 967]

Nixon: Well, I think, I’ve covered it, I’ve covered it with the—with Republicans, and I’ll cover it in my remarks. [unclear] I’m not going to talk long, just—

Rogers: You know, Mr. President, thinking about the renewed negotiations in October, I think, probably, Gerry’s going to resign pretty soon, so we have to give some thought to who—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Rogers: —who we’d put in that spot. Maybe you have someone in mind. But it’s going to be a long—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Rogers: —tedious job.

Nixon: Get somebody who’s gonna give five years of his life to it. Rogers: That’s right. What do you—what did you say the other night at the dinner? You know, what were you called at the—at the Duke Law School? What did your professors call you there? Hell, “Iron Butt?”

Nixon: An “iron butt.”

Rogers: [Laughs]

Nixon: That’s all one needs to learn the law.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 733–3. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Rogers and Kissinger from 10:04 to 11:07 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation printed here specifically for the volume.
  2. Rogers was scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 19. The text of his remarks is printed in Department of State Bulletin, July 10, 1972, pp. 50–55.
  3. On June 6 Laird commented to reporters that he could not support the SALT agreements if Congress rejected funds for a new missile-firing submarine and other U.S. offensive weapons. (Jim Adams, “Laird Opposes SALT Without New Weapons,” Washington Post, June 7, 1972, p. A10)
  4. See Document 326.
  5. See Document 327.
  6. Malmstrom AFB, one of the proposed Safeguard sites.
  7. June 21.