245. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is a brief discussion of the President’s schedule and of Kissinger’s plans for secret talks with the North Vietnamese in Paris.]

Kissinger: I had a cable from—

Nixon: Rush.

Kissinger: —from Rush.2 And we are in the ridiculous position, Mr. President, that—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: —the Berlin talks are going so well that we may not be able to slow them down enough. I think we’ll have the Berlin agreement, unless there’s a snag, by the middle of July, which makes it imperative that I talk to Dobrynin and tell him—

Nixon: Yes.

Kissinger: —“This is it now.” And actually the Russians are making two-thirds of the concessions.

Nixon: Hm-hmm.

Kissinger: That formula we came up with—

Nixon: You’re talking about the—

Kissinger: —just the pragmatic things, no legal justifications—which is actually a great help to us, because any legal justification would give East Germany an enhanced status.

[Page 721]

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: While this one just describes who has what.

Nixon: Great.

Kissinger: And the Russians, that’s their big concession, have agreed to assume responsibility, or some responsibility, for Four Power, for the access to Berlin. Now, I don’t kid myself that any time they, they really want a crisis, they can find administrative reasons.

Nixon: Yes.

Kissinger: They can rebuild the Autobahn or tear up the road bed. That is not affected by it. But—

Nixon: It’s a very good job.

Kissinger: —but that they could do anyway.

Nixon: It’s really the most, probably the best thing we’ve done. It’s better, when I say best—

Kissinger: It’s more complicated.

Nixon: Well, what I mean is, more people, most people wouldn’t even understand what the heck you’re talking about. I understand it— the logic. The logic is so clear: to get away from legality. That’s what, those are the things that send them up the wall. That’s—

Kissinger: That’s right. And that’s what creates the domestic issue.

Nixon: That’s one place where your diplomats would never, never, never—

Kissinger: And also the way we are doing—

Nixon: They always get hung up, the diplomats, always get hung up.

Kissinger: The way we are doing it with Bahr and their Ambassador [Falin] and Rush meeting privately from time, every two—

Nixon: Everybody know it’s private?

Kissinger: Oh yes.

[Omitted here is a discussion of Brazil, Vietnam, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty Talks.]

Kissinger: The Berlin thing is going to break—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —in the next 2 or 3 weeks.”

Nixon: I think that what we’ve got to figure, at least, is that we get those two [Berlin and SALT]. But, on the other hand, the Berlin—Can we keep Berlin from breaking if they don’t agree with the summit?

Kissinger: Well, I’m going to give him [Dobrynin] an ultimatum on the summit a week from Monday.

Nixon: I know but I’m just asking what—

Kissinger: Yeah. We can keep it, we can keep it from breaking.

[Page 722]

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: We have to be bastards but we just—

Nixon: All right. We’ll be bastards. That’s right. Just say the President—All right, and when he gets to that say “We’re not going to agree to Berlin. It’s up to you.”

Kissinger: The next time they’re going to meet is on June 4th. And that’s mostly technical stuff.

Nixon: Hmhmm.

Kissinger: Then Brandt and Rush are going to come over here.

Nixon: And we see Brandt.

Kissinger: And we see Brandt. And before Brandt gets here, I’m going to tell Dobrynin “That’s it now, we’ve horsed around long enough.”

Nixon: We have.

Kissinger: We have to make our basic decisions. The only thing is, the only way we’ll make it plausible is to say if you reject it now, that’s it for this year.

[Omitted here is discussion of numerous issues, including Cuba, China, Vietnam, SALT, and the summit.]

Kissinger: Mr. President, for us to get Berlin, SALT, China, the summit, all into the one time frame and to keep any of these countries—

Nixon: To keep Europe happy.

Kissinger: To keep Europe happy, to keep Vietnam from collapsing, that takes great subtlety and intricacy.

Nixon: All of this, everything is close. But on the whole, everything worthwhile in the world is close. Nothing is easy. Nothing is easy in these times.

Kissinger: To get this Berlin thing is, I now consider, practically certain. We’ve got that where we had SALT in March—

Nixon: I ought to get into that, don’t you think?

Kissinger: I beg your pardon?

Nixon: I probably ought to get into that sometime.

Kissinger: Berlin?

Nixon: Yes.

Kissinger: Still—

Nixon: Get a little credit.

Kissinger: When Brandt is here you may be able to do something with that.

Nixon: Well, we’ll see. I don’t want to hurt our friends in Germany though by catering to that son-of-a-bitch.

Kissinger: Well, that’s the thing, I think we can leak, Bahr will be eager to leak out that story.

[Page 723]

Nixon: Yeah, yeah. The leak is one thing, but the other thing is to demagogue it. I just got to remember every little thing that is, all the plusses and the demagoguery—

Kissinger: You see I talked to Harriman the other day—3

Nixon: —leaking things—

Kissinger: —and all he’s got left now is Vietnam but he, and he’s hacking around at Berlin. He says if you could settle Berlin he figures [unclear] stalemate. “What a great achievement,” he said, “but you are so against Brandt that [you] aren’t going to be able to do that.” So I said “All right, Averell, we—.” I didn’t tell him anything. So with that bunch, it will compound their confusion, because we’re not supposed to be able to settle Berlin.

Nixon: Henry, the difficulty with all of these things—

Kissinger: Is how to get it across?

Nixon: No. The difficulty with all of these things, it has a great effect on that bunch, and I don’t know when they’ll vote for us.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: The thing that we have to remember is that we have to, that’s why I said we have to demagogue a few things [unclear] business of SALT, that basically for me not to make the announcement [unclear] try to get a little credit for it and the same with these other things, you have to realize—

Kissinger: I agree.

Nixon: —the priority in all of these areas now, all that matters is the political consequences.

Kissinger: The trouble with Berlin is, it’s technically a Four Power thing so you can’t do it alone.

Nixon: Right. We have Congress [unclear exchange] big deal about it. [unclear]

Kissinger: Maybe we could have a Western summit or something. That could be done.

Nixon: The West is—

Kissinger: Western summit.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: The thing is, it’s a Four Power, we can’t do it alone.

[Omitted here is brief discussion of presidential appointments and Kissinger’s schedule.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of Conversation Between Nixon and Kissinger, May 29, 1971, Time Unknown, Oval Office, Conversation 507–4. No classification marking. According to his Daily Diary, Nixon met with Kissinger in the Oval Office from 9:08 to 10:32 a.m. The editor transcribed the portions of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume. The time of the conversation, which was held in the Oval Office, is taken from the President’s Daily Diary; Haldeman joined the discussion at 10 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. Document 244.
  3. Kissinger met Harriman for an hour on the afternoon of May 24. (Record of Schedule; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) No substantive record of the meeting has been found.