189. Conversation Among President Nixon, his Assistant (Haldeman), and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), Washington, December 15, 1971, 8:45–11:30 a.m. 1 2
Nixon: How about India at the present time?
Kissinger: Look, what we got yesterday—
Nixon: [unclear] about the same as last night?
Kissinger: Yeah. Except that I think we are moving towards an acceptance of the British resolution. But actually now—I haven’t told Bob yet—the Russians came in yesterday giving US their own guarantee that there would be no attack on West Pakistan.
Nixon: A letter from Brezhnev.
Kissinger: An addition—an explanation of the letter to—of Brezhnev saying, "They,” the Soviet Union, "guarantees there will be no military action against West Pakistan.” So we are home, now it’s done. It’s just a question what legal way we choose.
Nixon: Well, what the UN does is really irrelevant.
Kissinger: Well, it’d be—the bastards, of course, have broken promises before. It’d be better to have it on public record. We might be able to do it in an exchange of letters between Brezhnev and you. That is made public, in which you say you express your concern, and he says he wants to assure you.
Nixon: Well, what does that do now to the Chinese?
Kissinger: Oh, the Chinese would be thrilled if West Pakistan were guaranteed.
Nixon: [unclear] Did you get the—you got that, the concern about the summit thing cooled off? That—you get that?
Kissinger: I think, Mr. President, that it was unintentional that it blew in to such a fantastic thing. And if you read the full report, you’ll see that they—
Nixon: Well, it isn’t that big, actually. It’s a still, still a secondary story.
Kissinger: But I think—
Haldeman: Only CBS carried it as a big story. They termed it—nobody else really—
Kissinger: I think it has this advantage, Mr. President. First of all, since we now know there will be a settlement, you will get a major credit for it. Second, it shows that you are not a politician; that you were willing to put the summit on the line when the peace was at stake. Third, it [unclear] to the Russians. Fourth, it helps with the, with the—
Kissinger: With the Indians.
Nixon: With the Chinese.
Kissinger: With the Chinese. Hell, that fellow Vorontsov came babbling in here, said "Can’t you give me some reassurance. I know Brezhnev is terribly concerned when he reads that we need some words of reassurance.” And I’m a great believer in selling something you’ve already done. So I turned to Haig, I said, "Tell Ziegler to calm it down a little bit.” But you people should understand, by that time Ziegler had already agreed to calm down. And I told him, ”Brezhnev has to understand, you cannot play such a game with the President.” So I—and that’s when he said "well, I just had a cable to tell the President we give him, that this letter means that the Soviet Government gives him the guarantee that there will be no attack on West Pakistan. No annexation of West Pakistan.”
Nixon: Vorontsov talking now?
Kissinger: Yeah. He said no annexation of West Pakistan territory as of now. Don’t play any legalistic games with me. We consider the dividing line the existing dividing line, and also that disputed territory cannot be taken. He said yes, that’s the guarantee. So now it’s just a question of how to formalize it.
Nixon: How do you do it?
Kissinger: It’s a miracle—
Nixon: How do you get the formalization of letters between Brezhnev and me [unclear].
Kissinger: It’s an absolute miracle, Mr. President.
Nixon: Did you try to work that out? That we—I’d like to do it in a certain way that pisses on the Indians without, you know what I mean? I mean, we can’t [unclear] we have an understanding, an understanding with West Pakistan. Well, I don’t know. If you think it’s a good idea. I—don’t ask me.
Kissinger: No, I think it’s a good idea. But we have—I have this whole file of intelligence reports, which makes it unmistakably clear that the Indian strategy was—
Nixon: To knock—oh, sure.
Kissinger: —to knock over West Pakistan.
Nixon: Over the line of control here. Most people were ready to stand by and let her do it, bombing Calcutta [sic.] and all.
Kissinger: They really are bastards.
Nixon: The son-of-a-bitch [unclear]—
Kissinger: Now, after this is over we ought to do something about that goddamned Indian Ambassador here going on television every day—
Nixon: He’s really something.
Kissinger: —attacking American policy. And—
Nixon: Why haven’t we done something already?
Kissinger: And I—I’d like to call State to call him in. He says he has unmistakable proof that we are planning a landing on the Bay of Bengal. Well, that’s okay with me.
Nixon: Yeah, that scares them.
Kissinger: That carrier move is good. That—
Nixon: Why, hell yes. That never bothers me. I mean it’s a, the point about the carrier move, we just say fine, we had a majority. And we’ve got to be there for the purpose of their moving there. Look, these people are savages.
Kissinger: Mr. President, an aggregate—
Nixon: I want a word, put a word to give to Scali to use that we—that the—we cannot, the United Nations cannot survive and we cannot have a stable world if we allow one member of the United Nations to cannibalize another. Cannibalize, that’s the word. I should have thought of it earlier. You see, that really puts it to the Indians. It has, the connotation is savages. To cannibalize—
Kissinger: Mr. President—
Nixon: —and that’s what the sons-of-bitches are up to—
Kissinger: One, one other thing we have done, if I may say, rather well. We’ve put the Chinese in the position where they’re more eager to yield than we are. We can’t be accused.
[Omitted here is conversation largely unrelated to South Asia except for a brief discussion of the strategy to be adopted in discussing the crisis with the press.]
Kissinger: And now, Mr. President, what I wanted to check with you just to make sure you approved, I’m having Vorontsov in at 11:30. And I propose to tell him the following: Look, the Security Council thing can go on forever.
Nixon: That’s right.
Kissinger: What you and we had in mind, what you and we can do is, the President was very impressed by [unclear].
Nixon: And by the letter of Brezhnev.
Kissinger: Well, that I told him already we weren’t impressed with, Mr. President. I told him that was just words. What we need is something complete.
Nixon: Yeah, fine. All right.
Kissinger: He was very impressed with these assurances. That we could make peace formal. That the President writes you a letter and you respond. Or that you write US a letter and we respond. It doesn’t make much difference who takes the first step, in which you’d say that you know that no military action [is] planned against West Pakistan.
Nixon: All right. Just put it in the letter.
Kissinger: And the territorial integrity, that we both publish these letters then we can symbolize—
Kissinger: Soviet-American concern for peace.
Nixon: Good, good, good.
Kissinger: And the beauty is—
Nixon: But tell him the beauty, it would only be beautiful if we do it fast.
Kissinger: Yeah. We can then go to the Chinese and say, look—
Kissinger: I mean, we got out of this with the Chinese—
Nixon: I dislike the idea of Soviet-America, our [unclear]—we’ve laid it up too, set it up by threatening them. Now let’s go right to—
Kissinger: Now one of two things is going to happen today, Mr. President: either they will both vote for the British resolution in the Security Council, in which case they will take credit for it, or they will not vote for the British resolution and exchange these letters.
Nixon: Yeah. But we do tell them that the exchange of letters can be good, even if they vote for it. Exchange of letters–—tell them that the President believes that it would be [?] very salutary to our relations if we have an exchange of letters.
Kissinger: Yeah. Well, we have always the worry about [unclear] in Peking.
Nixon: Well, I know, but we tell them, you know what you tell them. You tell the Peking guys, the President he didn’t care what the [UN]Security Council did. He wanted to have it directly from the Russians. He’s fortunate.
Kissinger: Well, what if the Russians vote with US at the Security Council? We are fine.
Nixon: Well, ok.
Kissinger: Because, really, the Chinese thing is almost marvelous, that we brought it to this point without them blowing up.
Nixon: Yeah, ok.
Kissinger: I think it would be too much collusion if we add an exchange of letters after there has already been a vote.
[Omitted here is discussion of attempts to manage the news.]
Kissinger: But actually, if the game plan works out, it has the advantage of giving you credit. Where on the previous game plan all that would have happened was that the British put forward a resolution, everybody votes for it, and then they say—
Nixon: Stupid Americans.
Kissinger: The Americans were saved by the goddamn British. Now we can make, now no one will doubt—
Nixon: We’re in the game. Yeah. I would say this, we were just lucky. We probably wouldn’t have intended to have this kind of a play. But I think we may get it done. And I don’t—you know something?
Kissinger: But the trip was intentional.
Nixon: Henry, we mustn’t get too upset by what we call flak, or something like that. Things are not perfect. Sometimes those things that turned out to be accidents are damned good for us. In any event, you can’t change it. [unclear] That’s exactly what I told the Russian. That also happens to be totally true.
Kissinger: Right now it helps US with the Chinese; it puts a little more scare into the Indians; it helps US with the Paks; and if we turn it into a positive, it will help with the Russians.
Nixon: I’ll tell you, it helps US with our U.S. conservatives too.
Kissinger: It helps you—
Kissinger: And it helps with the people who say you are taking it only for political reasons.
Nixon: That’s right.
Kissinger: Because you put it right on the line.
[Omitted here is conversation unrelated to South Asia.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of Conversation among Nixon, Haldeman, and Kissinger, Oval Office, Conversation No. 638–4. No classification marking. The editor transcribed the portion of the conversation published here specifically for this volume.↩
- Nixon and Kissinger discussed the implications of the Soviet assurance that India would not press an attack on West Pakistan.↩