42. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Highlights of Secretary Kissinger’s OFF THE RECORD Breakfast with Time, Inc., Madison Room, Department of State, August 13, 1974.

Present at the breakfast were

  • Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
  • Hedley Donovan, Editor-in-Chief
  • Henry Grunwald, Managing Editor
  • Murray Gart, Assistant Managing Editor
  • Jerrold Schecter, Diplomatic Editor
  • Hugh Sidey, Washington Bureau Chief
  • Robert Anderson, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Press Relations

QUESTION: Could you give us your comments on, and reaction to, Nixon’s resignation? (Donovan)

SECRETARY: No matter what one thinks of the issue, this was a tragedy also in human terms. One can well imagine how a man who was one day the single most powerful man in the world and cast into utter oblivion the next must feel. It was not until Wednesday night, August 7, that the resignation was 98% certain.2 I did not speak to President Nixon about the subject of resignation until Tuesday, August 6, and that was in terms of the continuity of the respect for the American people. On Monday, August 5, those close to the President such as Ron Ziegler did not seem to understand the significance of the tapes about to be released. Ziegler, for example, thought they might cause a little furor which would soon die down. During the past week I had no legal discussions on Watergate with the White House and did not talk to St. Clair3 about the subject. My only discussions concerned the effect of Watergate on the national interest. When the Supreme Court decision was rendered, I thought resignation inevitable. I was told in May that the transcripts released last week were exculpatory. The tapes revealed two Nixons, one that I knew and one I didn’t know. Regarding his swearing, I never heard him use profane language. Then, too, his sentence structures one reads from the tapes are most peculiar and cer[Page 221]tainly not like the articulate Nixon I dealt with. For example, “Do this quickly, like in ten minutes” is not the type of expression I would have expected from Nixon.

QUESTION: What about Nixon’s legal future? (Sidey)

SECRETARY: I know Nixon talked to Jaworski, but as far as I know this conversation was basically to inform Jaworski of the decision to resign. Without the tapes, the Watergate affair would have ended without Nixon’s removal from office.

QUESTION: How did taping start in the White House? Was it Haldeman’s idea? (Sidey)

SECRETARY: I did not know about the taping of the President’s conversations when it started. In talking about taping, one must understand the peculiar atmosphere in the White House. In 1962 Nixon was joined by such political has-beens as Haldeman and Ehrlichman and a few younger people such as Ziegler and Chapin who were on the make. Intellectually they were nothing more than advance men. Normally, advance men are put aside in a policy sense, but this was not the case. These men kept others away from getting into the White House. I was the only outsider who got in. Regarding the taping, Haldeman wanted someone at all meetings with the President to check on others. A man working in my area was considered for this role but refused to take it on. Because of this, taping was instituted, and the tapes were held by Haldeman. This caused considerable trouble as there was no way to get the tapes and if one did what the President said during his ruminations, one could be in trouble.

QUESTION: Did Haldeman and Ehrlichman resent you prior to Watergate? (Gart)

SECRETARY: Resentment came to light if something went wrong. For example, on the India-Pakistan question, they did not exactly help me, to put it mildly. My office was the only one which had people not approved by Haldeman. I recruited my own staff. My situation on entering the White House was simple—those in the White House wanted to conduct civil war; those outside the White House with whom I was emotionally associated turned on me because I joined the Nixon Administration.

QUESTION: What effect will transition have on our foreign policy?

SECRETARY: This has given us strength in foreign countries. The fact that the new President steps in on Friday, sees some 45 or more Ambassadors and talks with confidence is a source of strength. The Soviet Union has been shaken by the change. Dobrynin rushed back. When I saw the President yesterday, I told him I thought Dobrynin would come back soon. I returned to my office to find a note saying he’s [Page 222]back. I returned to the President to tell him I will always try to be a good prophet for him. President Ford had handled problems more subtly than I would have thought two weeks ago. He was very deft in his talks with the Ambassadors.

QUESTION: What is going to be the foreign policy strategy in the new Administration?

SECRETARY: Our objective is to weave something of enormous complexity to give us more options. President Ford can benefit from policies now coming to fruition. For example, our relations with Japan have been on the upswing for a year. And our relations with Europe are now very strong. The President can have an opportunity for construction, not just crisis management, and he will be comfortable here.

QUESTION: Regarding relations with the Soviet Union, will Ford be tougher? (Sidey)

SECRETARY: If one analyzes our policy, where has there been an absence of toughness? The Soviets have been squeezed unmercifully in the Middle East. Nixon was not soft on the Soviets. What should we ask the USSR? On emigration, Scoop Jackson could not solve this problem alone.

QUESTION: What about SALT?

SECRETARY: Regarding SALT issues, with all due respect they are phony issues. Conservative intellectuals and Jewish groups were turned off just because they couldn’t stomach Nixon. We can now have a more rational debate on the subject. We want to keep our defense budget where it is, and therefore must develop rhetoric with this in mind. The Zumwalt thesis of strategic superiority has no foreign policy or strategic basis. On the question of a first strike, the USSR could get only 20% of our force, and we could get 85% of their force. How could any responsible political leader on either side say, “Look, boss, let’s shoot out our land-based missiles.” He would be just plain crazy to do this, knowing the limitations of accuracy and the fact that his adversary would still have the potential to destroy him after a first strike. The only people planning any strategy in the U.S. are the people at Rand. If you put Schlesinger and me in a room, there would be some esoteric differences only. The reason for no SALT agreement thus far is the bureaucratic difficulties here and in Moscow. The chances for an agreement in 1975 have now greatly improved. I think President Ford agrees with my thinking on this subject. When Zumwalt says the balance is tipping against us, what does he mean? We now have a superiority of four to one with 7,000 missiles. But are we more confident? These missiles are politically useless in a crisis. You cannot move them; you cannot see them. By 1980 we will still have two-to-one superiority. By 1984 we will conservatively have 17,000 missiles. But what do you do with them? The Trident is coming along which will have ten warheads on each [Page 223]missile, and we can base these on land if we want. What will Jackson do with strategic superiority? What will the USSR do? I am confident this wrangling may end now with the nastiness going out of the debate as the intellectuals change back with Watergate out of the way. Our objective in SALT is to put a cap on deployment. Jackson wants to reduce; we do not.

QUESTION: What are our real foreign policy tests? (Grunwald)

SECRETARY: I am confident we will do well with the Russians. Before it was a combination of a lame-duck President and Watergate. The latter issue has been removed. The chances for a SALT Agreement in 1975 are excellent. The situation in the Middle East is dangerous and we must pursue our efforts in the area. One of the greatest concerns in the weak government in Israel. I may go to China and Japan in the first half of September, and to Moscow and India in the second half of October.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 426, Subject File, Media, Briefings, Background, April–October 1974. Confidential; Nodis. Drafted by Robert Anderson (S/PRS) and retyped on September 6.
  2. For Kissinger’s recollections of August 7–9, from the day of Nixon’s decision through his departure from the White House, see Years of Upheaval, pp. 1206–1214.
  3. James D. St. Clair, Special Counsel to Nixon during the Watergate period, argued the case of United States v. Nixon in front of the Supreme Court on July 8.