169. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), the Soviet Minister of Agriculture (Matskevich), and the Soviet Chargé d’Affaires (Vorontsov)1 2

Nixon : I look forward, of course, to my meeting with the Chairman. And, of course, meeting him when I am there. I believe that this meeting could be—could be—the most important meeting to take place between heads of representatives of major governments in this century. First, speaking in personal terms, you can assure the Chairman that I approach the meeting with the same feeling in the heart that he has. As the head of, each of us leading the two most powerful countries in the world, we hold in our hands the future of all the world. If we fail, it will be damaging to our people, to the Russian people, but to the people of the whole world. We approach this in a positive spirit. One problem, however, that is a current problem, I would like to discuss very frankly with the Minister and our friend Mr. Vorontsov is the—it is a problem that greatly concerns us as it concerns, I’m sure, Chairman Brezhnev—the problem of India-Pakistan. I don’t want the, or expect the Secretary for Agriculture—Minister for Agriculture—to comment or, because, as you know, we are in correspondence with Mr. Brezhnev. But I believe that you as one who is very close to the Chairman, and, of course, you as our top ranking representative of the Embassy at this time in Washington, I want you to know how strongly I feel personally about this issue. And it may be that as a result of this conversation you could convey to Chairman Brezhnev a sense of urgency that may lead to a settlement.

Let me begin first with the positive side. In the past 3 years since I have been in this office, great progress has been made. And I don’t think that 3 years ago that anybody would have predicted that Soviet-American relations would have made as much progress as they’ve made. Speaking quite candidly, most people said,”Nixon is a strong anti-communist. The Russian leaders don’t like Nixon. They can’t get along with him.” But on the other hand, I am a very direct man. And I believe in negotiation. But as I said to Mr. Gromyko when he was here that when you have two powers each—we are equal today; we were not when we met before when that picture was taken. Then the secret for success for relations between those powers is total respect between the two. I respect the Soviet leaders, and consequently it’s in that spirit that I want to convey my views on our relations at this point. First, we have made progress on SALT. We have made progress on a historic Berlin agreement, in our view. We have agreed to a meeting of the highest level [unclear—in Moscow?]. We also have discussed the possibility of working out in the future a European Security conference, and of very, very great importance to both sides, we have begun through our special channel—between Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Dobrynin—at Mr. Brezhnev’s suggestion discussions on the Mid-East. As I see it right now, we have an opportunity for a totally new relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. We won’t agree on everything, but if we can agree on Berlin, on limitation of armaments, on the Mid-East, on a European security conference, and then finally, as I say, if we can make progress in the field of trade—where Secretary Stans received a very warm welcome and I’m most grateful for it—this will mean that the United States and the Soviet Union will be as close together as we were during the great war. That’s what we want. I believe it’s possible for two nations with differences between governments—two nations with different, which we must recognize, different objectives in the world; your objective in the Mid-East is different than ours. But I think it’s possible for us to live in peace and to find areas of cooperation. And that’s what I think our meeting in May is going to accomplish.

But now speaking very frankly, a great cloud hangs over it. It’s the problem in the subcontinent. In the United Nations we have disagreements. The Soviet Union on one side; the United States on another side. As far as the outcome of the present conflict is concerned, the Soviet Union is going to win. The client of the Soviet Union is India. India has 600 million people, and 600 million people are going to win over 60 million people. And if events go forward as they seem to be moving at the present time Pakistan, which lined up with China, will be cut in half. And, so consequently, looking at it in the short-range, this whole series of events on the subcontinent is dangerous for the Soviet Union; it’s a game for India; it’s a tragedy for Pakistan; and it’s been interpreted, of course, as being a setback for China because they back Pakistan, the loser. What concerns me, Mr. Minister, is that it is certain that what is happening on the subcontinent will be a tragedy for Pakistan. But what would be far worse from the standpoint of the future of the world is that if we continue on a different course—the Soviet Union going one way, the United States going another way on the subcontinent—it could poison this whole new relationship, which has so much promise. It could be a disaster for it. So what I would like to suggest is that I do not believe that the gains that the Soviet Union may get from India winning or the dismemberment of Pakistan, gains which are probably certain, are worth jeopardizing the relationship with the United States. I do not say this to make trouble in any sense. But I think there is a better way.

A better way is for the Soviet Union and the United States to find a method where we can work together for peace in that area. Now the first requirement is that there be a ceasefire. The second requirement is that, and this is imperative, that the Indians, who already have pretty much overcome the resistance in East Pakistan, the Indians desist in their attacks on West Pakistan. If they do not, the Indians after wiping out East Pakistan, if they then move their forces against West Pakistan, then the United States cannot stand by. Now—so the best way is the ceasefire and then maybe since the Soviet Union is open to the idea of withdrawal—the Chairman has suggested that there be political negotiations—I would say a ceasefire and then negotiations within a Pakistan framework in which Yahya will negotiate with the Awami League. And then bring [unclear] negotiations to withdrawal. Now this we think is a fair settlement, recognizing the interests of everybody concerned. The key to the settlement, however, is in the hands of the Soviet Union. They can restrain the Indians. If the Soviet Union does not restrain the Indians, the United States will not be able to exert any influence with Yahya to negotiate a political settlement with the Awami League.

Now having said all these things, right now is the critical point. The critical point is that if the Indians continue to wipe out resistance in East Pakistan and then move against West Pakistan, we then, inevitably, look to a confrontation. Because you see the Soviet Union has a treaty with India; we have one with Pakistan. And in summary, it seems to me that it’s very shortsighted for either of us to allow what happens in South Asia to interfere with these great new relations that now have so much promise.

What I would like to simply to suggest to—that you convey to the Chairman my concern—my very reasonable—but it is important that he recognize the urgency of restraining the Indians at this point and moving toward a ceasefire and a political settlement. Having said that, may I say that I know there are lots of arguments that can be made—at the United Nations Mr. [unclear] has suggested it, Mr. Brezhnev covered some of these. But my purpose is not to argue those, make debating points. My purpose is to say, look, we have a difference here, but we must not allow the differences there and the opportunity for one or the other to gain, to endanger and jeopardize the relations that are far more important. In the view of Arms Control, the Mid-East, which is far more dangerous to each of us than anything that happens in India-Pakistan, and not to mention what I think it also terribly important over the long haul, trade and the future of Europe. So there’s the message I would like to [unclear—convey?]. I’m sorry that on a visit that I know is in another field that we have this current crisis. But I know my Russian friends always like candor, and I speak that way in that spirit.

Matskevich: I am grateful for your very candid approach. Unfortunately, I was with Mr. Brezhnev [unclear]so that’s why I didn’t talk to it. We talked now with Brezhnev about four problems: the Middle East, Europe, SALT talks, and we talk trade. And I have [unclear] three proposals [unclear] and I’m looking forward to meeting you. [unclear] appeal to you and Mr. Brezhnev to have some kind of agreement on agricultural matters when you meet in Moscow. And, of course, for you to decide on what night we are going to sign that kind of agreement on agricultural matters. This is why when I talk with Brezhnev [unclear] and I was not prepared—

Nixon : Oh, I know. No, I wouldn’t want the Minister to comment on it, and I wouldn’t want you, Mr. Chargé, to comment on it, because you haven’t had a chance to get instructions from your government. But this is moving so fast that I want particularly the Chairman’s good friend and you to know that we see it as a crucial test of our relations. And so we feel that now is the time to move, to settle this thing before it blows up into a major confrontation.

Matskevich: When I see Brezhnev, I’ll convey the spirit and letter of what you said.

[unclear] in the preliminary discussion, that the main thrust of the talk [unclear]. And actually I know that the President personally took many steps to avert the war between India and Pakistan, and appeal to them. Now as he [Brezhnev] understands the situation, of course, the war on the [unclear] and the root of the problem should be eliminated, which gave rise to [unclear]. He says the Pakistan leaders should be more flexible.

Kissinger : We will have a formal reply for you tomorrow.

Nixon : In the meantime—I wish—I would like the Minister to convey, before he returns to Moscow, our feeling about this.

Vorontsov : Mr. President, I’ll—

Nixon : Because you see, Mr. Chargé, it’s so critical. I want him to read my reply in the context of what I said to his good friend, the Minister.

Vorontsov : I will report it today, and Secretary Brezhnev will have it today.

Nixon : Well, I look forward—I hope we meet again in May.

[At this point in the conversation, Matskevich and Vorontsov left the Oval Office. Nixon and Kissinger continued with their conversation].

Kissinger : I think, Mr. President, that—

Nixon : I think it will help.

Kissinger : It will help. They’re not serious. That will help. Now I’m going to send that over to State. [unclear]. I’m going to say this is what you said to the Russian Minister [unclear]. I thought—

Nixon : See, I really stuck it to him.

Kissinger : Well, but you did it so beautifully.

Nixon : When I said, “What happens to Pakistan would be tragic, but what happens to Russian-American relations could be disastrous to the world.” And you know I said, “You go in. You’re going to win. India’s going to win. You’re going to embarrass the Chinese. But you’re going to poison relations with the United States. [unclear]. But the point is, what can we do—

Kissinger : I think—

Nixon : What do we have to do?

Kissinger : Well, you told him what they should do. I’ll have the Pakistan Ambassador in, because we don’t want to do it behind their backs.

Nixon : What is he—is he willing to do anything?

Kissinger : I think what you outlined—ceasefire, promise of withdrawal—

Nixon : [Speaking to Alexander Butterfield] Send that Ambassador, send this to Vorontsov, pictures [unclear].

Kissinger : I think our friend, in fact, our friend isn’t the right word. This is one of the—I think we will lose 70 percent of this enterprise. The question is if we can save 30 percent; that’s 30 percent more than the situation permits. And we will come out with some dignity. And—

Nixon : Well, what did you tell the Pakistani Ambassador?

Kissinger : Well, I told the PAK Ambassador—I read him a few paragraphs from the Brezhnev letter. I said, here we are. And then I said my personal view, as a friend is, and then gave him, more or less, your program.

Nixon : Yeah.

Kissinger : I said it will give you time. It will stop the Indians. It will change world opinion. If there is another war, it will be a clear war of aggression. It’s—

Nixon : An agreement. All that you’re asking them to do is to agree to negotiate with the Awami League, is that it?

Kissinger : That’s right.

Nixon : They have no choice, hell.

Kissinger : Well, they could totally be obstinate and say it’s their country and they’re not going to discuss it. But—

Nixon : [unclear]

Kissinger : Right.

Kissinger : [Speaking to Alexander Butterfield] Listen, get Haig to bring the paper in. I think, Mr. President, it’s one of these situations again. I think we’re going to have, if Yahya gives us a positive reply.

Nixon : He won’t.

Kissinger : Well, then we may have to do it without him. I just hate to do it without him because of the Chinese. That’s the big problem. But then we may have to let him get raped. See then we can just, you know—

Nixon : Throw up our hands.

Kissinger : Then we can just say, “All right, we did what we could.” And then he’s just going to lose.

Nixon : You know, I used the word complication with us in this thing. I said, “We have a treaty with Pakistan; you’ve got one with India.” There’s a lot of hard language in this.

Kissinger : It will end now. It will end. We’ll lose 70 percent. But that’s a hell of a lot better. We were losing 110 percent yesterday.

Nixon : I don’t know. I don’t know what they’ll do. But at least they’ll stop the goddamn Indians from going to the west. Do you think they will or not?

Kissinger : Yes.

Nixon : You think they would?

Kissinger : Yep. That’s my judgment.

Nixon : Will you have another talk with Vorontsov—he says, of course he’ll convey this message right away, won’t he?

Kissinger : Mr. President, the thing—the things I have learned in my association, that if you push chips into the pot, you might as well push a lot in. You’re not going to lose—

Nixon : Yeah. I agree.

Kissinger : I think this will end.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation among Nixon, Kissinger, Matskevich, and Vorontsov, Oval Office, Conversation No. 634–12. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Butterfield also attended the meeting. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The comments by Matskevich were translated by an interpreter. The editor transcribed the conversation published here specifically for this volume.
  2. Nixon reviewed progress toward détente and asked Maskevich to inform Chairman Brezhnev that such progress would be seriously jeopardized if the Soviet Union did not act to restrain India from attacking West Pakistan. If India were to attack West Pakistan, Nixon warned there would be a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.