95. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and White House Chief of Staff (Haldeman)1 2
Location: Oval Office
Participants: Richard M. Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger
Nixon: I want to get him [Rogers] off of the other thing. As you know, he wants to have a long talk with me this morning, and [unclear] I don’t want to get into the Russian thing, so let him do this thing.
Kissinger: Oh, no, no—
Nixon: [Unclear] Let him be the lead horse.
Kissinger: Oh, God. The only thing I want—the Israelis distrust him so much they wouldn’t do a thing without checking with us anyway.
Nixon: If you could tell Rabin, “Look here, the Secretary wants to be helpful here and the President’s [unclear] to do some things publicly and visibly. You should go see him and talk to him.
Kissinger: By all means.
Nixon: You tell Rabin that.
Kissinger: I’m strongly for it. Now there’s one thing, however, that does concern me. One is, I don’t think he should go to Tel Aviv for the funeral even if he should engineer an invitation.
Nixon: Bill? Oh, shit no.
Kissinger: Second—yeah, but they might want him. That might give them some visible American support, and that would embroil us with the Arabs.
Nixon: Yeah, all right. Yeah.
Kissinger: Second, which is more important. It is true that [Moshe] Dayan has talked to our Chargé. Now what these guys want to do is to elicit—I’ve sat on a cable they want to send.
Nixon: Listen, let me tell you something. My view, this incident blows any chance at [a peace agreement]
Kissinger: You are 100 percent right.
Nixon: You ought to know that, for Christ sakes. I had to listen—I know that’s bullshit. They want to go forward with that damn—see the Israelis, this time, they’re riding high. They don’t want to deal. And this helps them in arms in that way.
Kissinger: You’re 100 percent right.
Nixon: But the point is, let’s let Bill be out in front. Your idea of going to the UN, he finally got the point. I said, “gee”—
Kissinger: But actually—
Nixon: And it will be great for him and it will be great for us.
Kissinger: Above all, it will be good for you, Mr. President.
Kissinger: Because if he goes up to the UN, he will be doing something concrete. Of course, nothing will come out. Nothing ever comes out. But we could make a lot of statesman-like speeches about curbing terrorism.
Nixon: And the hijacking thing won’t do it.
Kissinger: That hijacking things is a third level—
Nixon: That’s right.
Kissinger: —conference, and it’s a one-shot affair.
Nixon: That’s right.
Kissinger: But if we go to the Security Council and we say that we’re not here on behalf of Israel. We are here on an international problem.
Kissinger: What happens—
Nixon: Now he’s going to—when you talk to Rabin, and I hope you can get him soon on the phone, I want you to call him.
Kissinger: I’ll tell Rabin to urge it.
Nixon: Would you tell him that—let me put it this way: Tell him, “Look, Mr. Ambassador, the President wants to get Rogers on the right side of this issue.”
Kissinger: No, I’ll get Rabin—
Nixon: And second, tell him it will be good to put the goddamn UN on the spot. We want to put them on the spot on this issue, because we think we got them by the balls here. For him to urge Rogers to go to the UN. Would you tell him the President would like for him to do that?
Kissinger: Right away. [Unclear]
Nixon: Also, tell Rabin that I consider it very statesmanlike Mrs. Meir’s statement. Would he please convey that to her. Particularly with regard to going forward with the games. That I had independently reached that conclusion, but did not want, of course, to suggest it. But I think that’s exactly the kind of thing that will make tremendous points in the world by not trying to knock off the games. That’s what the athletes would have wanted. Third point is that now that they’re in this good position, don’t blow it. Tell him, “Don’t blow it.” [Unclear] You’ve got to remember that the President is their friend. Now we’ve got some world opinion for them. But don’t—these things can turn very fast.
Nixon: That’s the point.
Kissinger: Well my major worry is—
Nixon: I don’t want them to go conquer Beirut. I don’t mind them going in and knocking off a few camps, but even that’s bad right now.
Kissinger: I think—
Nixon: They would be very well to be the injured—play the injured martyr.
Kissinger: But if we can get to the UN within the next 24 hours. Now this statement here will hold us for 24 hours.
Nixon: What statement?
Kissinger: Well, where we say we’ve consulted with other governments. Frankly, I wouldn’t consult because if you do it they’ll say no. And if we go—
Nixon: All right.
Kissinger: But that’s a tactical issue, and the state of the world doesn’t depend on it.
Nixon: Uh huh.
Kissinger: But I think we would only have to gain and only have to lose. Sure they won’t vote with us. So what. Even the Russians—
Nixon: You see, Bob, of course nobody understands what the president is trying to do here. I’m trying to get Bill doing something! As I told you last night on the phone, Bob, rather than farting around whether Henry sees Heath, or Brandt, or some other. Now Brandt may pose a problem at this point.
[Omitted here is a portion of the conversation unrelated to the Munich terrorist incident]
Nixon: Now on Bill, Bob you can see the point, getting him—what he wanted today, he wanted to be out in front on this thing.
Kissinger: That’s fine. That’s the way it should be.
Haldeman: The UN thing is an ideal thing.
Nixon: Let’s talk a little about lowering the flag. Everybody—what I’m concerned about is that you can be sure as hell that [New York City Mayor] Lindsay is going to lower the flag, Congress is going to call for lowering the flag.
Kissinger: Well I don’t know how—
Nixon: Here’s the point. [Unclear] Why don’t you order the flag when some Irish nationalists get killed?
Kissinger: That’s right.
Nixon: See my point?
Kissinger: What will Irishmen say if you didn’t lower it when the school children got killed in Belfast—
Nixon: That’s right. It really hits the point that the flag ought to be low all the time.
Haldeman: You didn’t lower it when the guys went in the airport and shot up the people.
Nixon: Well, it’s the Olympics. The Olympics, they’re international and all that business. Suppose, for example, somebody went in and machine gunned the UN and killed six Arabs there.
Kissinger: My instinct is—sure, right now you’ll get a lot of indignation. But whether more people won’t feel that this is the President of all the people—
Nixon: Going too far?
Kissinger: But Bob would have a better judgment than I.
Nixon: Well Bill’s reaction, of course, is public relations-oriented. He’s strong in lowering the flag.
Kissinger: Well, he’s been around—
Haldeman: I wonder if that isn’t over-reacting, though.
Nixon: Yeah. Now the idea of the church thing appeals to me if I do it my way. My way would be I call upon all Americans to go to church and a moment of silence. But I think, in my way, I quietly slip out of this damn door—
Kissinger: That doesn’t bother me.
Nixon: —and pick maybe that little church across the way without—
Kissinger: I mean that’s—
Nixon: —without any notice of it. I just walk round, sit in the church for 5 minutes and walk out. Get my point?
Kissinger: I mean that you would do—
Nixon: That’s my moment of silence.
Kissinger: That you would do—
Nixon: Each in an individual way. [Unclear] How does that sound to you?
Haldeman: I think that’s pretty good.
Kissinger: That I sort of like. That’s Richard Nixon—
Nixon: That’s right.
Kissinger: —not the office of the President.
Nixon: That’s the way I feel.
Kissinger: That I think, that has meaning. That has human compassion. You show where you stand, but you don’t involve the presidency of the United States in an official act. On behalf, I mean let’s face it, if Pakistan’s and Kashmir’s killed eight Indians in the Olympic stadium in front of everybody, we would [unclear] the Israeli Government.
[Omitted here is a portion of the conversation not related to the Munich incident]
Kissinger: I talked to Rabin.
Nixon: Sit down.
Kissinger: He was, he was delighted. But he said he had to check with Tel Aviv. He couldn’t make that decision on his own. So then he went to see Rogers. And Rogers called Haig and said, just as I predicted, total lack of enthusiasm [for going to the UN]. Rabin is totally opposed to it personally, but he’ll just refer it to Jerusalem. Total lack of enthusiasm. So Haig said, “Well, that’s too bad because the President is getting sort of interested in it.” And I have a tape of my conversation with Rabin so I’m not making this up. [Unclear]
Nixon: [unclear] Bill is, of course, again here he’s got a chance, star of the world stage-
Kissinger: I know but Bill wants-
Nixon: I don’t why the hell—he’ll do it over here with that [hijacking conference]-
Kissinger: Well he’s done that and that’s fine.
Nixon: That doesn’t make any difference.
Kissinger: But it won’t get us any mileage.
Nixon: By the way, if he doesn’t do it, the hell with it.
Kissinger: We shouldn’t fall on our sword over that.
[Omitted here is discussion of the peace process.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation No. 771-5. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portion of the conversation published here specifically for this volume.↩
- Discussion of how to respond to the Munich Olympic terrorist incidents.↩