320. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

[Omitted here is discussion of European issues.]

Kissinger: Well, now we’ve set Dobrynin for 2:30 this afternoon. It’s just part of the game Mr. President.

Nixon: So I’ll see him here?

Kissinger: Yah, for 10 minutes. We can bring him right in here, don’t you think?

Nixon: Mhh? Bring him in here?

Kissinger: Yah, he has a note of his to show you.

Nixon: Oh sure! Bring him right in the main office.

Kissinger: Just 10 minutes, really—but it shows him that we have high-level concerns. We’re building a record. If they kick us in the teeth after all of this we’ll tell them, look, we did everything we could. [momentary tape malfuntion.] The bad thing about their proposal…we can’t stop their proposal…for a 5-power nuclear conference…is that State will want to play it into a foreign ministers meeting.

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: Yah. I don’t think the Chinese will play it until they hear from us.

Nixon: Yah, I guess they would. Sure.

Kissinger: State…Rogers…wants a—wants a 5-power…wants a foreign ministers—

Nixon: Well we can certainly put the brakes on this, can’t we?

Kissinger: Oh sure.

Nixon: [unclear] Well, I should hope so for Christ’s sake.

Kissinger: Well when I see Heath next week I’m going to tell him we don’t want it, and—

Nixon: It’s premature. It’s premature.

Kissinger: And when I see the Chinese—

Nixon: And you can tell Home that.

Kissinger: And when I see Heath and the Chinese, I’m going to tell them to deal with this—

Nixon: Yah.

Kissinger: The Chinese, one has to say, have played the game on the visitors.

Nixon: Very remarkably, so far.

Kissinger: Yah, so far.

Nixon: Yah, you never know. Well anyway—

Kissinger: They’ve not only played the game with the visitors, they haven’t really told the press anything that could be inimical to you. And they could tell it. If they told [unclear] or any of these guys that are in there how you handle US-Chinese relations they would love to print it.

Nixon: They’re a very cautious group, aye?

Kissinger: They’re playing above all a big game. They’re not horsing around with little stuff.

Nixon: Yah.

[Omitted here is discussion of the war in Vietnam.]

Nixon: This 5-power foreign ministers thing…Jesus Christ!

Kissinger: Well, we can slow it down. I’ll tell him—I’ll tell Dobryn—I’ll tell Dobrynin you don’t want a foreign ministers meeting.

Nixon: Yah, but—

Kissinger: We can screw it up in the preparations. This will be months—

Nixon: Yah, will you do that? Tell Dobrynin, I don’t want any foreign ministers meeting—that this isn’t the way to do it. It’s the way [unclear.]

Kissinger: Yah. Well why don’t…you might tell him, uh, that you’ll study it but that you think it requires a lot of preparation.

Nixon: Yah.

Kissinger: Then that already puts it in—

Nixon: Well, “a lot of preparation,” might mean a foreign ministers meeting. See? [Sigh] I don’t want them to think that we want the foreign ministers together to prepare a meeting. It’s ridiculous to continue this goddamn facade to the effect that the foreign ministries in dealing with the Soviets can do anything. They can’t do a goddamn thing.

Kissinger: In fact, in many ways, it’s the worst level. It’s high enough to be very visible and yet Gromyko doesn’t have the authority. And, as it happens, now in no modern government does the foreign minister…in France, Pompidou really conducts foreign policy. In Britain, good as Home is, Heath conducts it.

Nixon: And in Germany, its Scheel.

Kissinger: And in Germany, Scheel doesn’t even know most of the things that are going on.

[Omitted here is discussion of the character of contemporary foreign policy management.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation No. 519–15. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portion of the tape recording published here specifically for this volume.
  2. Kissinger informed Nixon that Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin wanted to hand Nixon a Soviet note proposing a meeting of the five nuclear powers on disarmament.