173. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), Washington, December 10, 1971, 12:47–1:01 p.m.12
Kissinger: Well, I saw Vorontsov and I, and he said, "It was totally unnecessary. We got the message from the President loud and clear yesterday.” And he said, "I can tell you informally, if they’re not working through the night in Moscow now they’re not doing their duty.”
Nixon: He said that?
Nixon: Was he not unfriendly?
Kissinger: Oh, no. We’re going to get it.
Nixon: Well, I think that was the way to treat this fellow. I mean they—it was good to have Vorontsov and Brezhnev’s friend Matskevich to see me in operation. Because they only have it from the other fellow. They’ve had it from Gromyko. Now Gromyko’s seen it. But with Gromyko, I was unable—that was an occasion where I had to lay anything out for him.
Nixon: Dobrynin has seen it.
Nixon: He’s seen a little—they’ve got to know, Henry.
Kissinger: Vorontsov said, he couldn’t have been stronger. I showed him the secret treaty. I said, "Now, I hope you understand the significance of this. This isn’t just an obligation. It will completely defuse the Democrats because they are not going to attack their own President.” So I said, "When the President yesterday spoke of an obligation, he was speaking of a Kennedy obligation.”
Nixon: What’d he say? Did he look at it?
Kissinger: Oh, yeah. And he wrote. And he said within an hour this will be on Mr. Brezhnev’s desk. And I told him we’re moving some military forces, but it will not be visible until Sunday night, so you have till; in effect it was giving him sort of a veiled ultimatum. And—
Nixon: Well, the other, if Brezhnev does not have the good judgment not to push US to the wall on this miserable issue—
Kissinger: He’ll do it on something else.
Nixon: We just may as well forget the summit. That’s the way it is.
Kissinger: Well, now something that I have to do, Mr. President, I have to give State a brief summary of these exchanges otherwise they’ll go crazy at the UN with this immediate tactical situation. And I can do it with Alex Johnson, and he’ll keep it quiet.
Nixon: Well, what do they want to do with it?
Nixon: What is the situation now? Where do, you’re going to what, you’re going to urge the Chinese to take action.
Kissinger: Right. What I think is that by Sunday we’re going to have the ceasefire. Sunday night or Monday.
Nixon: And the Indians will agree?
Kissinger: Yeah, I think that the Russians would agree with US to call for one.
Nixon: Well if the Russians, the ideal situation is if the Russians agree with us. But I don’t, but don’t leave the Chinese out in left field.
Kissinger: No, I’m seeing them tonight.
Nixon: Then you’ve got to sell them on the idea so that they don’t attack US for joining with the Russians—
Kissinger: No, because we got YAHYA, what we are proposing to the Russians YAHYA gave us. See I got in touch with YAHYA yesterday after you had talked to Matskevich. I sent an extract from the Brezhnev letter. I said, "Now, here are the pros and cons. We know what the Russians are after. On the other hand, the basic problem now is to preserve your army. This may be a way of doing it. We are saying this as a friend. We are not pressing you or urging it. What do you want?" Now he came back with a formulation—
Kissinger: Which is very close to ours. And which is very close to what we can live with. And I’ve now given that to the Russians. Verbatim, the way he gave it, saying we’re willing to support that. I didn’t say it came from Pakistan. I said, "That’s ours.” It’s very close to what you said to this fellow yesterday. Of course, if I had said it came from—I said, "We’ll support this with Pakistan.” Now the question is what they’re going to do.
Nixon: Now the main thing is to keep State the hell out of the act now in the UN, right?
Kissinger: Yeah, but that’s the only way I get that done is to tell Johnson, "Now just cool it.”
Nixon: And you’re going to tell them we’re talking to the Russians?
Nixon: That’s what you’re going to tell them?
Kissinger: That’s right.
Nixon: Are you going to tell them you are going to talk to the Chinese?
Nixon: Fine. We’re talking to the Russians and that I had this—okay, fine. And we want to handle it on that basis. Now Rogers is going to get back tonight.
Kissinger: He’s going to raise hell, but that’s going to be too late.
Nixon: Would raise hell why? On what grounds?
Nixon: What’s happening that he could raise hell about?
Kissinger: No, nothing. And it’s great that it all happened while he was gone.
Nixon: Well, that was good. That was the point. That’s the reason I’ve been pressing to get it done. I don’t want to have to explain it all to him.
Kissinger: We can put it all on the basis that he was gone and we didn’t trust anyone else to know. And I got Alex Johnson in just enough so that he could control the situation while Rogers was gone. So I think this will work well.
Nixon: [unclear] Can’t you do it in the UN at this point? Because then—
Kissinger: We need the Russian reply.
Nixon: Will be able to embarrass. If we don’t want to have the Russians say no at the UN. And then the UN would be impotent.
Kissinger: Well, I don’t mind having the Russians say no after they’ve had a chance to consider it. But we don’t want to get them to say no before. Now I’ve talked to the Ambassador here, to the Pak, and told him now to just cool it now for 24 hours until we get the Russian reply. He’s getting his man in New York under control. It’s going to work out, Mr. President, unless the Indians, you put well: if the Russians are determined to humiliate US somewhere, they can now do it. Except it’s a cheap area to do it and we are not that closely tied into it. It’s not our obligation, we’ve never—but then we might as well know it. But it’s a hard lesson for them to learn because we might just let the Israelis do to the Egyptians what, you know, this is going to be the ballgame. In the Middle East, our ally is stronger than theirs.
[Omitted here is conversation unrelated to South Asia.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, Oval Office, Conversation No. 635–17. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the conversation published here specifically for this volume.↩
- Kissinger reported to Nixon on his meeting with Soviet Chargé Vorontsov.↩