11. Memorandum of Conversation1
- President Nixon
- Vice President Agnew
- Elliot Richardson, Attorney General
- Peter J. Brennan, Secretary of Labor
- Earl L. Butz, Secretary of Agriculture
- Frederick B. Dent, Secretary of Commerce
- Rogers C.B. Morton, Secretary of the Interior
- James T. Lynn, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
- Anne Armstrong, Counsellor to the President
- Amb. George Bush, Ambassador to the UN
- William E. Simon, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury
- Frank C. Carlucci, Under Secretary, Department of Health, Education and Welfare
- Major General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
[Omitted here are oral reports presented by Armstrong, Richardson, Lynn, Dent, Butz, Carlucci, Morton, and Simon.]
The President: We will have this type of meeting monthly or every three weeks. In Paris, Dr. Kissinger has said we can’t enforce the agreement2 if we have neither a carrot nor a stick.
The problem in Southeast Asia is blown out of proportion because of Cambodia. Article 20 clearly provides for their withdrawal from Cambodia and Laos. But that has not been done, and that is the problem.
The purpose of bombing is not to get into a war in Cambodia, but to enforce the peace in Vietnam. We don’t want to encourage the Communists to go on the rampage again.
We have a carrot. I know the tremendous unpopularity of North Vietnamese aid, but most of us agree that if we get North Vietnamese cooperation, the best way to proceed is to help in reconstruction in [Page 52] Southeast Asia. The meetings are going forward and if they don’t succeed, Congress is responsible for the failure. This is restricted to this room.
The North Vietnamese have other disincentives:
—They don’t want a long war.
—They want a relationship to the U.S.
—They have problems with their major allies.
I don’t discuss it, but put yourself in the Chinese and Soviet Union’s shoes. Why would they risk a relationship to the U.S. for the purposes of a small irrational ally?
So it all fits together—our relations. The Soviet Union is very important in what happens in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The Chinese too in Asia.
We shouldn’t over-react to demonstrations against Rogers. The trip3 was successful but the press plays it up negative.
As we approach the summit,4 this is a watershed in world history. Either we move forward on a constructive basis as we began last year, or we stop. If it is the latter, the world will be a dangerous place. If we have no influence with the Soviet Union, the Chinese will have no use for us.
We are working on a trade agreement and SALT. Brezhnev is putting . . .
We will meet in Camp David and then San Clemente. A lot is riding on the visit.
In Vietnam, there is a vigorous economy and the South Vietnamese will survive a long time.
What happens in Cambodia and Laos, however, affects the states of Southeast Asia and also the PRC. If we fail there, the PRC will see us as a paper tiger.
In the Middle East is the problem of Israel. Israel’s lobby is so strong that Congress is not reasonable. When we try to get Israel reasonable, the excuse is an Israeli election, the U.S. election, or something.
This is my primary occupation. Please don’t take an all-out Israeli line. The Israelis are attractive and efficient, but the stakes are big.
We are trying to get this difficult issue off dead center.
The basic point is Israel can defeat the Arabs with our aid. But if our relationship with the Soviet Union collapses, and the Soviet Union aids the Arabs, Israel will be swamped. This is why we need to have [Page 53] movement on trade with MFN. We have to have policies which don’t allow an obsession with one state to destroy our status in the Middle East.
These are problems—but when we came into office, we weren’t talking to the PRC and not really to the Soviet Union. There was war in the Middle East and there were high casualties in Southeast Asia.
We have come a long way, but we must realize we never would have gotten here if we had had the thinking which dominates the Senate and much of the press. A weak U.S. which can’t command respect, we will find. So if we need three billion to balance it, the easy thing is to squeeze it from DOD. But if the cost is to make the U.S. the second strongest power, having the cleanest cities won’t matter because we won’t be able to enjoy them.
I stand for a strong U.S. because no one else can keep stability in the world. Do you want a world where there is a prosperous U.S. but a leaner, tougher country decides the issues of peace and freedom in the world? You are going through a tough period. Most of the people in this Administration are fine. We have come a long way and the improvement is because of us. [War in the cities, etc.]5
Agnew: In the provinces, there is not the focus on Watergate like here. People come up to tell me of their confidence in the President.
The President: I am not Pollyanish. It is rough and will get rougher. They will go after us. My concern is not myself but all our family. The crap will fly, but don’t think we have to deny every charge. Most of the charges will come from those who don’t want us to succeed. Don’t be deflected from your purpose. Be proud of our record and work to make it better.
Our major problem is with the politicians—ours too.
Agnew: Not even here.
The President: Go to the press—don’t hide. But don’t comment on the charges because of the legal processes. Just say you don’t believe the President is involved. Express confidence in the judicial system.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1026, Presidential/HAK MemCons, MemCons—Jan.–Mar. 1973 Presidential/HAK. Secret; Nodis. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House from 8:38 until 10:11 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The memorandum is mistakenly dated March 18. Scowcroft transmitted a summary of the meeting to Kissinger in Paris, who was engaged in discussions with Pompidou prior to Nixon’s meeting with the French leader in late May. (WH31298/Tohak 81, May 18; ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 35, HAK Trip Files, Paris Trip May 17, 1973—Tohak 1–100 [1 of 2])↩
- Reference is to the Paris Peace Accords. See footnote 3, Document 1.↩
- Reference is to Rogers’s 17-day trip to Latin America May 12–28. See Department of State Bulletin, June 25, 1973, p. 903.↩
- U.S.-Soviet summit meetings were scheduled for June. See Document 14.↩
- Brackets are in the original.↩