168. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), Washington, December 9, 1971, 12:44–1:27 p.m.12
Kissinger: Muskie came mumbling up to me about India-Pakistan.
Nixon: What did you do?
Kissinger: I said—
Kissinger: Actually, what he said wasn’t all that bad. He said he’s for ceasefire-withdrawal and what he said publicly. I said, "Look Senator, we will be able to demonstrate that the Indians deliberately provoked this war. In the 10 minutes we’ve got here I can’t go into any details but I just want to tell you that we will be able to demonstrate this.”
[Omitted here is conversation unrelated to South Asia.]
Kissinger: Now, to get back to the Pakistan issue. We have this letter from Brezhnev. It’s a pretty rough deal for us. What he’s proposing is a ceasefire in return for negotiations between YAHYA and the Awami League.
Nixon: Which means?
Kissinger: Which means—
Kissinger: I suppose—well, if they don’t spell it out. Our problem is 1) to prevent an attack by the Indians on West Pakistan.
Nixon: They are already attacking.
Kissinger: Well not at full force yet. Right now the West Pakistanis are still attacking them more than the other way around. The danger is that if nothing happens between now—if the war continues India will wind up with a Bhutan in the east and Nepal in the west. And the consequences of this, the rape of the sovereign country and one that has an alliance with the United States, including a secret commitment, particularly applicable to this situation, I think would be severe in Iran, in Indonesia and in the Middle East, at least. And Dick Helms agrees with this. I had him make an independent assessment. Now, there is no good deal possible anymore at this stage. And if the Russians want to press it to a brutal conclusion, we’re going to lose. On the other hand, the letter is in a very conciliatory form and we have a number of answers: One, they want the Middle East—
Nixon: Has the letter from the Agricultural Minister arrived?
Kissinger: No. The letter is a reply to the letter we sent him on Monday, which was very tough. One, they want a Middle East settlement. Two—
Nixon: They put that in the letter?
Kissinger: No. But we know it. Two, they want a European Security conference.
Nixon: Three, they want trade.
Kissinger: They want trade. And four, they want you there, and they’re afraid they’ll drive you completely towards Peking. So we have, we are not without assets. The State Department position, as I understand it, is to do nothing—is to say we shouldn’t get involved and at the right moment urge YAHYA to vacate that part of Kashmir that his forces have occupied in return for a ceasefire and forget about East Pakistan. Now the Russians have made US a better offer than that. The Russians—now one advantage of accepting—
Nixon: Of course the Russians have indicated that they’re interested in negotiations.
Kissinger: Between West and East Pakistan.
Nixon: But when will the Russians believe [unclear]?
Kissinger: Well, what this would do is keep the Russians from recognizing Bangladesh.
Kissinger: Yes. But they might. My recommendation would be this: First, to warn the Russians and the Indians if this continues, we could leak out or in some way make clear that Kennedy made a commitment to Pakistan against aggression from India. This will shut up some of the liberals.
Kissinger: I told them—
Nixon: [unclear] know that commitment?
Kissinger: Yeah. Yeah. That sure doesn’t mean anything.
Nixon: Oh, it doesn’t?
Nixon: Why not?
Kissinger: Because it was just a note from the Ambassador.
Nixon: Let’s put it out.
Nixon: Let’s put it out. What do you think?
Kissinger: We should put it out as part of a general plan.
Nixon: That’s right.
Kissinger: Secondly, we should move the helicopter ship. I’m not so much in favor of moving the carrier. We’d have to do a helicopter ship and some escorts into the Bay of Bengal. And claim that they’re for evacuation. Thirdly, on the Jordanian—
Kissinger: Well, it shows we are—not on the Indians but on the Russians—
Nixon: Why the carrier?
Kissinger: Well because I think once the news of that hits there’ll be so many people screaming we’re [there] for intervention. And then we have to explain what we will never do.
Nixon: [unclear] we did—you know that we did the whole damn Turkey thing [unclear] for the purposes of being able to evacuate Americans. You remember?
Kissinger: Yeah, but in—
Nixon: Can’t play this game here. Is that correct?
Kissinger: I would be reluctant—you know you should [unclear—consider?] both courses. From the Chinese angle I’d like to move the carrier. From the public opinion angle, what the press and television would do to US if an American carrier showed up there I—
Nixon: What, why—can’t the carrier be there for the purpose of evacuation?
Kissinger: Yeah, but against whom are we going to use the planes? Against whom are we going to use the planes? Are we going to shoot our way in?
Nixon: So what do we move? Move a little helicopter ship in there? What good does that do? And why do it?
Kissinger: Well it’s a token that something else will come afterward. Gets our presence established there.
Nixon: All right. That way—
Kissinger: And the Jordanians—
Kissinger: I’d let the Jordanians move some of their planes in. And I’d get the Indian Ambassador in and demand assurances that India doesn’t want to annex territory.
Nixon: Now what part of this does State take action?
Kissinger: Well, Mr. President, I know it—it is embarrassing to hear India complaining constantly about the bureaucracy.
Nixon: All right. [unclear]
Kissinger: You have—
Nixon: I just want to know what we have to get across.
Kissinger: Well, State objects. Every time we ask State "what do you do now,” they have a telegram to YAHYA asking him to do something. The choice is between adopting a generally threatening posture and indicating State’s policy is noninvolvement—don’t get any arms in, don’t move anything.
Nixon: Non-involved? Meaning?
Kissinger: Rape of Pakistan.
Kissinger: That’s right. And they would propose a ceasefire in the west in return for in effect our recognition of Bangladesh, which is a total collapse, it would hurt US with the Chinese.
Kissinger: No. But he may not feel—
Nixon: Now let’s look at this from the standpoint, really look at what the realities are. You know you can handle these people [unclear]. When you look at the realities there—
Kissinger: The realities—
Nixon: The partition of Pakistan is a fact.
Kissinger: Oh, yeah.
Nixon: We know that.
Kissinger: Of course.
Nixon: You see those people welcoming the Indian troops when they come in. [unclear]. Now the point is, why is then, Henry, are we going through all this agony?
Kissinger: We’re going through this agony to prevent the West Pakistan army from being destroyed. Secondly, to maintain our Chinese arm. Thirdly, to prevent a complete collapse of the world’s psychological balance of power, which will be produced if a combination of the Soviet Union and the Soviet armed client state can tackle a not so insignificant country without anybody doing anything. Now the purpose of the [unclear—course?]that I’m suggesting is whether we can put enough chips into the pot to get the Russians for their own reasons, for the other considerations, to call a halt to it. It may not work, after which—
Nixon: What are we going to ask the Russians to do?
Kissinger: Ceasefire, negotiation, and subsequent withdrawal. But we’d have to clear it with YAHYA first before we did it. But before we ask the Russians—
Nixon: Ceasefire and negotiation on what basis?
Kissinger: Between East, between—
Kissinger: No, between the Awami League. The word Bangladesh wouldn’t be mentioned. Between the Awami League and Islamabad on the basis of the December 1970 election, which is what they’ve proposed here, which is, but within the framework of a united Pakistan. So the West Pakistanis would give by recognizing the Awami League, and the Awami League would give by not insisting on it as a precondition on Bangladesh. And the Russians would disassociate themselves from India on Bangladesh.
Nixon: And then we’d have a ceasefire and withdrawal would not occur though?
Kissinger: Withdrawal would occur after the settlement.
Nixon: Yeah. After the settlement? But there will be no settlement though?
Kissinger: That’s right.
Nixon: Then what happens? There’s no withdrawal? Correct?
Kissinger: But then West Pakistan would be preserved.
Nixon: Why? Because there’s not enough Indians there yet for withdrawal to matter?
Kissinger: That’s right.
Nixon: [unclear] to see what’s at the end of the road.
Kissinger: No, because right now the Indians do not yet hold much of West Pakistan and the West Pakistanis hold a little bit of Indian territory, so that comes out a wash. The major problem there is that the Pakistan army is not yet defeated in the west. They’ll run out in ammunition and POL in two weeks.
Nixon: So they’re going to [unclear] including the Russians?
Kissinger: I’m not sure. But at least then we’ll have separated them.
Nixon: What can we do down the road about the Indians?
Kissinger: I’d cut—
Nixon: We could call in the Ambassador and tell him why.
Kissinger: Demanding assurances. I would keep open the possibility that we’ll pour in arms into Pakistan. I don’t understand the psychology by which the Russians can pour arms into India but we cannot give arms to Pakistan. I don’t understand the theory of non-involvement. I don’t see where we will be as a country. I have to tell you honestly, I consider this our Rhineland. But politically it won’t affect US through next year because our opponents are so far to the left—
Nixon: Yeah, of course, we will be all right. [unclear]
Kissinger: Well but—
Nixon: I guess you have to determine, Henry, now what is the political [unclear]—
Kissinger: Well but—
Nixon: The Jordanians—
Kissinger: It will make both your trips to—
Nixon: It may well be that we just have to say that [unclear—we’ve done?] the best we can. We will lose public opinion [unclear] CHOU EN-LAI, but that’s all right. We lose public opinion. [unclear]Understand we’re not risking—
Kissinger: Yeah, but we could come out with a settlement too.
Kissinger: On our present course we’ll come out with a rape.
Nixon: Yeah, yeah. I understand. I’ve tried to put, though—we’ve got to look at the options in their worse form. It’s very possible that we come out without a settlement. It will appear that we intervened and failed. The Russians—the American public opinion, [unclear] you see by becoming involved then you get into the whole dialogue about defeat or victory. You see? We’re not in that now. We’re not at all. It isn’t quite [unclear]. We know, you and I—
Kissinger: And it will be obvious after—
Nixon: We know. And it will be obvious after time. I hear you, I hear you. I agree. We, but I’m speaking now—
Kissinger: But other things—
Nixon: Now on this point we have to bear in mind that—and that’s why actually we have to look clear down the road. We probably ought to risk, if we’re going to go we ought to risk the summit with the Russians.
Kissinger: Yeah, but we’re risking it either way because if the Russians come out of it totally cocky, we may have a Middle East war in the spring. And which is—and Peking may be a problem because what the hell is Peking getting out of US then? We’re not going to give them Formosa; we’re not strong enough to give them any other assurances. But you are right, that is the other side of the story.
Nixon: What should we tell the Russians?
Kissinger: I would tell the Russians if, I’d say you recognize that good relations with the Soviet Union you’ve always believed are the cornerstone of peace that presupposes that neither side will take unilateral advantage of situations. Now, just when we were getting a settlement, just when we were beginning to move on the Middle East, the Soviet Union is encouraging a total change in the situation and the Indians have counted on them. You have to tell them that this will affect our relationship. And it’s bound to affect our relationship if they don’t cooperate in bringing it to a close.
Nixon: We told them that already in a letter. You think telling them in person is also a good idea.
Kissinger: Yeah, because then he’d have heard it from you. We’ve got Butz saying something like that in his toast today at lunch. I think we are better—well, but that’s what I always think, so it’s my advice that doing nothing is the State Department’s advice.
Nixon: Well I’m all for doing something, but just—
Kissinger: You are jeopardizing—
Nixon: We have to know what we’re jeopardizing and know that once we go balls out we never look back.
Kissinger: That’s right. You are jeopardizing your relationship with the Soviets but that’s also your card, your willingness to jeopardize it. If you don’t do it, they come out of this completely ahead. Now I don’t know—
Nixon: I suppose State’s objections and those who would oppose this [unclear]. Deep down they don’t want to jeopardize their relations with India.
Kissinger: That’s their principal objection.
Nixon: Second, they do not want to jeopardize our relations with the Congress in terms of non-involvement because Congress is for non-involvement around the world. And third, State [unclear].
Kissinger: But they know [unclear—the end?] That’s right.
Nixon: Is that about the way [unclear]?
Kissinger: That is right. That is right.
Nixon: So they say, "Why try?" They always say that things aren’t going to work. And that, of course, is always, sometimes, an excuse—
Kissinger: That is right. That is right. Now, of course, in our relations with the Indians we, no matter what happens—
Nixon: But just think, I am going to raise [unclear—the ante?] in the goddamn thing, except for [unclear].
Kissinger: Again you could argue that it will help US in the long-term with the Indians.
Nixon: I don’t give a damn about the Indians. I don’t think it makes a damn bit of difference whether what the relations—
Kissinger: But you see we don’t have to do a hell of overt things. You know the Jordanian airplanes; we’re talking only about less than twenty. It’s only a symbol that things are getting out of hand. Once the Indians have launched their attack I would oppose—
Nixon: The Jordanian airplane thing—I mean did you raise that in your Russian meetings?
Kissinger: Uh, yeah, but they’re so opposed to it. What they’d say if we—
Nixon: Why have they [unclear]? I don’t, I don’t believe—I don’t want them to be able to know. We need a news conference for it. They went out having a luncheon meeting there and I don’t know who that [unclear]probably put out that story to that effect. Who else there could have put out the story to the effect that I directly ordered it, or any of US were involved? Huh?
Kissinger: I have no idea. I don’t know.
Nixon: Who could do it?
Kissinger: I have no idea. I really don’t know. [At] the UN, they sit in these meetings, Mr. President, on total sabotage without guts. They’re sitting there. They never volunteer anything, sullenly dragging things out of them. They procrastinate on everything. I can’t run in to you three times a day. We’ve gone through hell for three weeks. But, that’s my job so I can’t do anything but bitching about the—but this is the first time we haven’t succeeded in getting done what needed to be done, because on Cambodia and Laos, on all these things, we held the cards. And even if we waited a week or two longer than we needed to, nothing wrong was being done. This one, they’ve just screwed it up 10 percent each day.
Nixon: What’s Packard think?
Kissinger: He’s on your side, but again none of them have the real strategic conception.
Nixon: But at least he’s on our side, though.
Kissinger: No, no. Packard, Helms and the others are.
Nixon: They’re [unclear].
Kissinger: I explained. I discussed the situation with Connally. I mean, not the bureaucratic one, I didn’t.
Nixon: What’s Connally feel? Or has [unclear] put it off again?
Kissinger: No, I gave him the pros and cons but probably in an unfair way.
Nixon: All right. What did he say?
Kissinger: He would do everything that I recommend, except moving the carrier because he thinks it might be a political liability. He’d move the helicopters there.
Nixon: Why does he think the carrier is a political liability?
Kissinger: Because he thinks people will then ask, "Are we going to intervene militarily?" And that, he thinks, is not feasible.
Nixon: I know, but we’re not going to intervene. What does it mean?
Kissinger: And then you’ll have—
Nixon: We cannot have stories about how we [unclear], but on the other hand, I happen to know damn well they’re lying.
Kissinger: It’s a close decision. I go back and forth on it myself.
Nixon: Are there a lot of Americans in that area? Are there?
Kissinger: There are 300 in West Pakistan and 200 in East Pakistan, something like that. It’s on the order of 500. I don’t know how many there are.
Nixon: Could we put the carrier in safely?
Kissinger: I told them all to give me their views by two o’clock.
Nixon: What did they say?
Kissinger: I haven’t let—I didn’t let them express any of it.
Nixon: You asked for clearance moving carriers mainly for the purpose of evacuation?
Kissinger: Oh yeah.
Nixon: Don’t, don’t tell them. We’ll let them know when they’re engaged.
Kissinger: Oh, no.
Nixon: Don’t let them in on the [unclear], on all our [unclear]. You understand? Just lie low.
Kissinger: Right. But if you want to be—
Nixon: On Jordan, let me say, on Jordan, I’m just thinking of this thing. Listen, I really think we need more carriers involved in this thing. I think moving the carrier [unclear] why would that pose a problem? Goddamn it, I’ve got a responsibility to protect American lives. I’m going to do it. I’ll just phrase it right out. Now, what’s the argument against it?
Nixon: Why is that [unclear]?
Kissinger: Nobody will believe it.
Kissinger: The Indians will scream we’re threatening them.
Nixon: Why are we doing it anyway? Aren’t we going in for the purpose of strength? Well, what do we want them [unclear] for?
Kissinger: Well I—hell, I’d move the carriers so that we can tell the Chinese tomorrow to move their forces to the frontier, and then if the Russians intervene—
Nixon: Well, all right. Now, will the Chinese intervene if we don’t move the carriers? We may just move the helicopters in.
Kissinger: It’d be better to have the carrier. But we’d have to do a lot of things, and we’d have to do them toughly.
Nixon: I understand. I think we ought to get started on it—
Kissinger: I mean we’d have to get the Indian Ambassador called in and demand assurances against annexation. We’d have to leak at that moment that secret understanding to protect the Indians [Pakistanis] against aggression.
Nixon: I understand. I get the whole plan. We’ll get the whole thing together. Quite to, with regard to the, with regard to the Jordanians, how do we wield that now?
Kissinger: The way we would do that is to [2 seconds not declassified] tell the King to move his planes and inform US that he’s done it.
Kissinger: And then we would tell State to shut up.
Nixon: That’s right.
Kissinger: If he—we would have to tell him it’s illegal, but if he does it we’ll keep things under control.
Nixon: That’s right. That’s right. All right, that’s the way we play that. And then State, the only thing they’ve ever done—well, we need Congress to be gone for the weekend any way. That’s another good thing, though. You realize that it’s coming at a good time.
Kissinger: What we should do, though, is tell—the reason I suggested getting these guys together, Mr. President—
Nixon: I know it.
Kissinger: —is to stop their [unclear], to tell them you want to overawe—
Nixon: I understand. When do we do it?
[Omitted here is conversation unrelated to South Asia.]
Nixon: And then we go to the line. And tell him that we’re going to move the carrier. Do I tell him that? I don’t know. I’m perfectly willing to tell him everything. [unclear]. Are we going to tell them that I’m going to approve the Jordanian thing, or not? [unclear] tell them to sit down—
Kissinger: Let me—
Kissinger: Let me think about it—
Nixon: [unclear] so don’t worry. I’ll, I’ll—
Kissinger: I think—
Nixon: I’ll put it to him Monday—
Kissinger: —for our game plan—If you’ve decided to do this game plan, I think it’s more important that you see the Russian today because his cable would go back.
Nixon: All right.
Kissinger: And we could get the others in first thing in the morning because they can’t, won’t do a damn thing about it anyway.
Nixon: See the Russian? Hmm. I think they do. [unclear] Let me ask you this: Why didn’t we decide on a game plan now?
Kissinger: I didn’t find it—
Nixon: We decide the plan now. Figure it out.
Kissinger: Right, but I—
Nixon: Ok? Now the way I look at the plan it leads on to the question of the carrier. Doesn’t that bother you that much?
Kissinger: It won’t get there for 6 days anyway. Congress will be out of session.
Nixon: And Congress is going to be out, so people will say "The carrier’s there.” And I’ll say it’s for the purpose of getting our people out.
Nixon: In case something happens. But when it starts to move, is that, will that get out? You get that? See, I don’t want [unclear].
Kissinger: The carrier movement may get out.
Nixon: The carrier will arrive.
Kissinger: Uh, yeah. I’d like to talk to Moorer to see whether we can keep the carrier back of the Bay of Bengal.
Nixon: All right. And then can we move the other helicopter thing in on the other hand?
Nixon: Fine. Ok, we’ll move on that. Second, with regard to the Jordanians, no sweat. That should be on your [unclear].
Nixon: And [1 second not declassified] will inform them.
Kissinger: All right.
Nixon: We’ll get him going on that. Third, with regard to the talk with the Russian, I’ll make it today. Fourth, I [want to] know that the Chinese know we’re going to do that.
Kissinger: I’ll deliver that tomorrow.
Nixon: Fifth, leak out the Kennedy thing. That ought to be done. So they know that we are concerned about the fact that we do have a deal with Pakistan.
Kissinger: We’ll let State do that. When they call Jha in they will inform him of the commitment.
Nixon: You’re going to have them call Jha in, or should I do it?
Kissinger: No, No. That’s their baby. Let them have it for assurances there’s no annexations. And while they’re there inform them that we have these commitments. [unclear] And that the Indians [unclear—understand?]that there were commitments by Kennedy. Let them put it out.
Nixon: All right. That’s what I told [unclear].
Kissinger: If you could give them advance guidance. What you need—within 10 minutes say gentlemen it’s my decision to over—to try to deter an Indian attack on West Pakistan. I want the Indians warned. I want [unclear]movement supported. And I want the bureaucracies’ [support] for evacuation purposes. I wouldn’t say anything about Jordan.
Kissinger: And I want—it is your responsibility to line up your bureaucracies to perform this with enthusiasm. And to stop the leaking. And to come up with ideas now how we can get this accomplished. Ten minutes and I’d walk out. I wouldn’t have a discussion with them.
Kissinger: We have Irwin, and Johnson, and Packard, and Moorer, and Helms. Everyone will be on your side except Irwin and Johnson.
Kissinger: I’ll get a talking paper for both the Russian—
Nixon: Now, [unclear] on the issue of the Russian.
[Nixon and Kissinger closed the conversation by discussing when to schedule a meeting with the Soviet Minister of Agriculture and another with the officials from State, Defense, the JCS, and the CIA.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, Oval Office, Conversation No. 633–11. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the portions of the conversation published here specifically for this volume.↩
- Nixon and Kissinger again weighed the moves they could make to prevent India from dismembering West Pakistan.↩