166. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2
Nixon: What I was thinking of with regard to the options, and I want you to know that I’m supposed to be working on them now—
Kissinger: That’s right.
Nixon: Maybe we have to really put it to the Russians and say that we feel that under the circumstances that we have to cancel the summit.
Kissinger: No, I wouldn’t do that yet.
Kissinger: That’s too drastic.
Kissinger: I think, Mr. President—
Nixon: I want you to know that I’m prepared.
Kissinger: Well, I know—
Nixon: Because if these people are—we’ve got to look at down the road. You got a minute now?
Nixon: The things that we’ve got to consider are these: 1) the cost of letting this go down the drain. All right, that will be great. And then doing the other things. Then, on the other hand, we’ve got to figure if we play this out the fact [is] that we may not be around after the election. We have to just figure as simply as that. And it’s a tough goddamn decision. Yet on the other hand, being around after the election, if everything is down the drain, [it] doesn’t make any difference.
Kissinger: Exactly. Mr. President, if we play it out toughly it’s my conviction—this may go down the drain, but if we play it out toughly we will get some compensation somewhere, and you can go to Moscow with your head up. If you just let it go down the drain, the Moscow summit may not be worth having. That’s the reluctant view. I mean, after all the anguish we’ve gone through setting this thing up, nobody wants to jeopardize it either.
Nixon: We might say this, for example, and I’m going to—I’ll do the note taking and refresh myself; my thought is to say I was very pleased with Secretary Stans’ conversations. I was very pleased with the conversations we’ve had with regard to the Mid-East; I’m pleased with the progress on SALT. It’s hard for me to understand that all of this could be jeopardized by this area of the world, but it is being jeopardized. And that under the circumstances, I think we have to take a look at it—we have to choose as to what we can do here.
Kissinger: That’s what we’ve already set reservations on.
Nixon: I know.
Kissinger: I don’t believe, Mr. President—the major problem now is that the Russians retain their respect for you. If they’re going to play it into an absolute showdown then the summit wasn’t worth having anyway.
Kissinger: If they want a relaxation with us, we can give them plenty of ways out.
Nixon: Now, with regard to the ways out, though, the missing thing here is what we want as a way out. In other words, what do we say to them—what is the method of settlement? We can’t say go back to the status quo ante. We can say, “Well, get the hell out of West Pakistan. Leave it alone, etc., etc., etc.”
Kissinger: At this stage we have to prevent an Indian attack on West Pakistan.
Nixon: That’s right.
Kissinger: That is the matrix.
Kissinger: We have to maintain the position of withdrawal from all of Pakistan, but that’s something that will get watered down as they [unclear] at the conference.
Kissinger: But we have to prevent West Pakistan from getting [unclear].
Nixon: We’ve got to say that that is—we have a treaty, wouldn’t you say?
Kissinger: It’s a little premature yet to make a move towards the Russians. They still owe you an answer to your previous note.
Kissinger: And therefore we have to hold it up a bit. But I think—I believe, Mr. President, we can come out of this with—if they maintain their respect for us even if you lose, we still will come out all right.
Nixon: You mean, moving the carrier and letting the few planes go in and that sort of thing. Well, maybe.
Nixon: That helps, I give you.
Kissinger: It’s not a good hand, Mr. President. But doing absolutely nothing—right now we’re in the position where we are telling allies not to assist another ally that is in mortal danger and to which we have a legal obligation.
Kissinger: We’re in the position where a Soviet stooge, supported with Soviet arms, is overrunning a country that is an American ally of the United States—
Kissinger: Keep it to a minimum.
Nixon: Hmm, hmm.
Kissinger: And I think we will preserve a little bit of our honor.
Nixon: Yeah. The Chinese thing I still think is a card in the hole there. That, goddamn, if they’d just move a little—I just think they might move a little if they thought we were going to play.
Kissinger: But I think if we do absolutely nothing it will trigger the Soviets into really a tough attitude.
Kissinger: And if we can, if we can still scare somebody else, which is not excluded, I give it less than fifty-fifty, it may open the Middle East solution.
Nixon: Hmm, hmm.
Kissinger: If this thing blows, the Middle East—we won’t—
Kissinger:—be able to talk to anybody.
Nixon: Well, don’t underestimate the fact that if, by good chance, the Congress gets out this week and, if we smack North Vietnam pretty strongly, that’ll be somewhat of a message to these people.
Kissinger: That’s right.
Kissinger: That’s right. Although, we ought to time it—if we send a message to the Chinese to leave a little integral between the message and package it so that they don’t think we used it as a pretext to get at Vietnam.
Nixon: Yeah. I think the message to the Soviets—
Kissinger: Is more important now.
Nixon: At the moment isn’t it?
Kissinger: That’s right.
Nixon: It’s a little risky [unclear].
Kissinger: That’s right. Absolutely.
Nixon: We can’t assume [unclear]. Although, they must be agonizing over this now.
Kissinger: But they’re so weak. Their trouble is that they’ve just had a semi-revolt in the military.
Nixon: Have they really?
Kissinger: Yeah. And they’ve had a million people—they have a million Russians on their border [unclear].
Nixon: Boy, I tell you a movement of even some Chinese toward that border could scare those goddamn Indians to death.
Kissinger: No question about it. As soon as we have made the decision here, we can then talk to the Chinese. I would rather do that on Friday. [unclear]
Nixon: Yeah. Well, if we could enlist them some way that’d be something.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, White House Telephone, Conversation No. 16–64. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the conversation published here specifically for this volume.↩
- Nixon and Kissinger weighed whether to cancel the Moscow summit if the Soviet Union did not restrain India. Nixon reiterated his conviction that China could exercise a decisive restraining influence on India.↩