335. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting between President Nixon and Prime Minister Heath


  • President Nixon
  • Prime Minister Heath
  • Sir Burke Trend
  • Henry A. Kissinger

Prime Minister Heath began the conversation by raising the issue of the sale of computers to the Soviet Union. He pointed out that there are apparently western scientists in the Soviet Institute of Physics, so that they have access to the computer technology anyway and, in any event, the computer was not useful for military purposes.

The President asked Dr. Kissinger for his comments and he said that the issue was whether the computer would be useful for military purposes. He recommended we send a mission to Britain to make that determination just as we were sending a mission to France on an anal[Page 1002]ogous problem with integrated circuits.2 The President said, “We will take a permissive approach towards you.”

Prime Minister Heath then asked about Vietnam. The President said, “The incentive to negotiate is going down for us every day. We are hastening the end of the war and since we are ending it anyway, it doesn’t make any difference to us whether it comes about unilaterally or through negotiations. The only incentive we have left for negotiations is the prisoners.” He told the Prime Minister that he gave a tough warning to North Korea [Vietnam] in 19693 and that since then there have been no incidents. “We will continue to make tough warnings to North Vietnam and couple it with withdrawals.”

The President then asked Prime Minister Heath about détente, and he asked Dr. Kissinger what he thought. Dr. Kissinger said the problem we have to avoid is a differentiated détente in which the Soviets buy themselves time by making a selective relaxation with particular allies. Prime Minister Heath said, “We have no pressure at home to have a visit to Moscow.”

The Prime Minister, turning back to Indochina, said, “Will you be prepared to see Cambodia go down the drain?” The President said, “In effect, yes.” The Prime Minister asked, “Is there a domino theory?” The President then said, “If the United States leaves Vietnam in a way that the U.S. interprets as a failure, we will then have to get out of Asia. The Japanese are then going to switch and confidence in us will erode. This is why we will see it through. If there should be any change in our views, we will warn Britain ahead of time, and we will also warn Britain of any major actions we will take.”

Prime Minister Heath explained Lee Kuan Yew’s position on the Soviet fleet in Singapore4 as a pressure on the Australians. The Prime Minister said he had told Lee Kuan Yew that he would lose his reputation for reliability and that the effect would be quite counter-productive. The President said, “There is a danger to the credibility of the American commitment, and this is one of our reasons for being in Vietnam.”

Prime Minister Heath said that the Commonwealth basically agrees with the position on aid to South Africa. They understand we don’t support apartheid. They agree with selling spare parts—even [Page 1003] Zambia trades with South Africa. Kaunda’s argument is that if you sell arms, however, we will side with the Soviets.5 Our view is that this doesn’t make any sense since France is selling more arms and that doesn’t induce the Soviets. When this proposition had been put to Kaunda, he did not answer. Kaunda says we are at war with South Africa, but this is double-talk. The Prime Minister continued, “We will consult the Commonwealth, but we’ve already decided to go ahead. Kaunda and Nyerere6 have drawn up a statement of the Commonwealth’s aims. If it leads to an effort to bind us vis-à-vis South Africa, it won’t come off. Kaunda’s attitude that this is a war to the death is depressing. Nyerere rejects the idea of a non-aggression treaty with South Africa on the ground that he has no intention of attacking.

Prime Minister Heath then said, “If they are rational, they won’t start on this road,” The President said, “My reaction is similar to yours. Some believe we will lose the support of the black countries, I believe that isolating South Africa makes matters worse. We have an embargo and we will maintain it. You’ll get the least possible flak from us. In this whole business of burden-sharing, we think you can compete on many fronts. If the others leave the Commonwealth, they won’t get anything special from us.”

Prime Minister Heath then gave the state of play on the Rhodesian constitution. He said the constitutional situation is that the Parliament has taken all powers unto itself and therefore the sanctions had to be resurrected every November. So by November 10th, we will have either to grant independence or we won’t be able to continue sanctions.

At this point, the meeting broke for lunch.

At lunch, Prime Minister Heath said that he needed to discuss one very sensitive matter with the President concerning nuclear business. “Chauvel in 1961 got the impression that there was a possibility of a joint nuclear business with the British Government. When I was in opposition, I thought that in the context of a wider European Community, there was the possibility of a nuclear deterrent held in trust for the Community by Britain and France. Pompidou, before I came into office, said he saw no point in discussing nuclear business because Labor was not interested in European defense. Recently, however, he has said that he recognized that Britain had a treaty arrangement with the United States which governed these matters. It, therefore, will not be raised by the French before the negotiations are completed for entry into the Common Market. However, at that point, it will be raised and we can use it in moving the French closer into the Western defense arrangements. What do you think?”

[Page 1004]

The President said, “I want you to feel that you have a great deal of running room. If the nuclear business can be a device at any time, and if you can use it to good advantage, go ahead. You can have exploratory talks, but if we pushed it we could destroy it. We are quite outgoing in this respect. We have no good alternatives to having you succeed in getting into the Common Market. We have a crisis rushing in on us. We should not think of the old pre-nuclear world. If we continue divided, they’ll pick us off one by one.”

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1023, Presidential/HAK MemCons. Secret; Eyes Only. An edited version of this memorandum of conversation was provided to the Department of State. It is ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL UK–US.
  2. See Documents 149 and 152.
  3. December 12, 1969. For text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, p. 1021.
  4. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had led Singapore to independence in 1965 by withdrawing from the Malaysia Federation. Thereafter, the issue of restrictions on British use of bases in Singapore had been in contention between the United Kingdom and Lee’s government. Lee had also shown interest in opening formal diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.
  5. Kenneth Kaunda, President of Zambia.
  6. Julius Nyerere, President of Tanzania.