179. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1 2

Kissinger: I just wanted to read over what we got from the Russians. It isn’t as much as he told me earlier, but we’re getting it. “The first contacts with the Government of India—Please convey to President Nixon: The first contacts with the Government of India and personally with Prime Minister Gandhi...” [unclear]

[Omitted here is conversation unrelated to South Asia.]

Nixon: Go ahead now.

Kissinger: “The first contacts with the Government of India and personally with Prime Minster Gandhi on the question which was raised by President Nixon testified to the fact that the government of India has no intention to take any military action against West Pakistan. The Soviet leaders agreed that this makes the situation easier, and hope that the Government of Pakistan will draw from this the appropriate conclusions. As far as other questions”—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: “As far as other questions—

Nixon: Coffee, please.

Kissinger:—raised by the President are concerned, the answers will be given in the shortest of time.”

Nixon: Hmmm. Well, that doesn’t go as far as he said.

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: Except it does, well—

Kissinger: It’s—there won’t be military action. It’s just a question of how to wrap it up now.

Nixon: At least they’ve indicated they’re not going to take action against India.

Kissinger: Against West—

Nixon: I mean Pakistan.

Kissinger: Yeah. Of course, it depends how they define West Pakistan—

Nixon: Don’t kid ourselves into about, you know—

Kissinger: We’ve got to turn it another—

Nixon: Now, now your thought is to, is going forward with the 11:30 statement, right?

Kissinger: Yeah. In fact, I’ve got to get to the bureaucracy.

Nixon: Fine, you’re going to do that. This second you’re going to send a hotline thing to Brezhnev.

Kissinger: I’ve got that here. “I’ve just received your interim message concerning the grave situation in the Indian subcontinent. However, after delaying 72 hours in anticipation of your reply to my conversation with Minister Matskevich and Counselor Vorontsov, I have set in train certain moves in the United Nations Security Council at the time mentioned to Counselor Vorontsov. These cannot now be reversed. I’m still prepared to proceed along the lines set forth in my letter of December 10, as well as in the conversation with your charge d’affairs in my talk with your Agricultural Minister. In view of the seriousness of the situation and that we’ve both considered action, I propose that we continue closer consultations through established confidential channels.”

Nixon: I don’t know if you’ve gotten out the fact that I cannot emphasize too strongly that I consider the need for immediate action to be—rather than seriousness, the—get me, get me a stronger word. There’s just [unclear] You see what I mean? I think you’ve got to get something out. You know, this is—what have you got—in view of what? [unclear] I cannot emphasize too strongly that time is of the essence. That time is of the essence. Failure to act, no, failure—that time is of the essence. Just put it that way, that time is of the essence. That, I think that failure to pursue, failure to workout a peaceful settlement, could set in motion—

Kissinger: I think time—

Nixon:—undesirable consequences beyond our control.

Kissinger: Well, the danger is then they’ll think we’ve colluded with the Chinese, so we’d better not do that.

Nixon: [unclear] Time is of the essence to avoid—and to avoid—to avoid undesirable consequences, or whatever. The—well, you get what I mean? I don’t think that message sounds tough, strong enough in terms of the urgency.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And you?

Kissinger: Well, I’ve actually—I’ve tried to have this one a little softer because we’re kicking them in the teeth at the Security Council, publicly.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: Why don’t we just say, “In view of the urgency of the situation”—

Nixon: In view of the—let’s see. I think there’s a better word than the ones you have. But maybe that’s where, what I’m trying to get at. Where you say “the serious situation in the subcontinent.” Let’s cut that one down, instead of “serious.” What do you think?

Kissinger: How about “urgency”?

Nixon: Ah, the—in terms of the problem we face. It’s something in the [unclear].

Kissinger: I’ll make sure he doesn’t inform the press before we have some assurances.

Nixon: We will. Oh, this press thing is fine

Kissinger: Yeah, but I’d like to [unclear] you first.

Nixon: Oh, I see. All right.

Nixon: Well, I guess that—all right. Making some [unclear] urgency in the—

Kissinger: Well, we—why not just say, “I cannot emphasize too strongly that time is of the essence”?

Nixon: “That time is of the essence to avoid, to...”

Kissinger: To prevent, not to run away with us.

Nixon: Yeah. “To avoid—to avoid—to avoid frightening consequences that neither of US want.” Or something like that. Or, it’s too strong?

Kissinger: Yeah. To avoid—

Nixon: To avoid—

Kissinger:—events running away with our capacity to shape them, or something like that.

Nixon: They won’t know what that means. Events—

Kissinger: To avoid consequences—

Nixon: To avoid consequences that neither of us want.

Kissinger:—that neither of us want. Consequences neither of us—

Nixon: Neither of us want.

Kissinger:—neither of us want. That is clear.

Nixon: To avoid consequences that neither of us want. That’ll be, that’ll, that understates it a bit and gets it across.

Kissinger: Good.

Nixon: Good. Now basically by this we’re putting the Russians on the spot. Want to realize that we’re putting, by our public statement we’re putting it to the Indians.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Now by putting it to the Indians we have to do that for the four reasons that you mentioned. The argument against putting it to the Indians is, as you know, that, well if you put it to the Indians then they will sit on their backs and say screw you.

Kissinger: They won’t.

Nixon: Well, my view is that, is that, well understand I’m just, I’m running it through this drill. We’ve talked to the bureaucracy about [unclear]. My answer there is that, well what do you do about the Chinese? What do you do about the Russians? What do you do [unclear]. But also as far as the Indians are concerned, they’ve got to know that, they seem to be affected by world opinion. To the extent they are, goddamnit, we’re going to get it across that world opinion is against them. Their play, do you agree?

Kissinger: Completely agree.

Nixon: But how, how are you going to change—

Kissinger: Mr. President, I’ll tell you the truth. I’m not going to answer any arguments. I’m going to tell them for 72 hours they’re going to play the President’s game and we’ll stand and fall on our game. This is the strategy, this is what you gentlemen are going to do.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Anyone who wants to protest can do it after the events. But this is it now. We have 15 minutes, I haven’t got time for an argument.

Nixon: That’s right. Just say the President dictated this. Fine.

Kissinger: So I’m—

Nixon: Also, you’re going to tell them about the hotline?

Kissinger: I’ll tell Johnson.

Nixon: Tell Johnson. Say, I’m doing it. In other words, we have this. Johnson knows about the conversation we had with Vorontsov and Matskevich.

Kissinger: I’m showing, going to show Johnson this message.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And tell him what the game is so he understands.

Nixon: Okay, fine.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, Oval Office, Conversation No. 637–11. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the conversation published here specifically for this volume.
  2. Nixon and Kissinger completed drafting the hotline message to the Soviet Union.