Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 1 July 1971


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Kieran K. Matthews and Marc J. Selverstone

The President, National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger, and Deputy National Security Adviser Alexander M. Haig Jr. briefly discussed how to respond to the latest publicly announced North Vietnamese settlement proposal. For the first time Hanoi had said it would release American prisoners of war by the end of the year if the U.S. withdrew its armed forces by the same deadline. Since Hanoi also demanded that the replacement of the South Vietnamese government by a coalition government, Nixon decided to attack the proposal as a repetition of the North’s old program. Haig left at 9:45 A.M., and the President turned the conversation to the briefing book that the National Security Council staff had prepared for Polo I, Kissinger’s imminent secret trip to China to meet with Premier Zhou Enlai.

President Nixon

Now, I have read this book, and it’s really a brilliant job [unclear].

Henry A. Kissinger

I thought, Mr. President—

President Nixon

Brilliant job.

Kissinger

Now, we’ve been working on it for three weeks.

President Nixon

I know. It’s a great job. Now, let me give you some—just my own views about—from the standpoint of nuances and changes and so forth.

Kissinger

Absolutely.

President Nixon

So you can have a feel. First . . . I noticed a lot of of you—this you have in here is written on the assumption that it may go in the public domain, and therefore you want to be sure it sounds all right. That’s good. On the other hand, with that in mind, and also because there are a couple of places—several—three or four places where, I think, our negotiating position can be strengthened by [unclear] approach. I’m going to suggest that [there] be some changes [unclear].

First, with regard to . . . with regard to such a talk, while I believe it is very important, because of the nature of the Chinese and so forth, to put a lot of, you know, historical background, my respect for the Chinese traditions and teachings and so forth in it, you’ve got to watch the development very closely. You’ve got to think in terms of time. And be prepared to cut that very, very, very short. [Kissinger acknowledges.]

The reason that I—and I know that in the talks I’ve had with the Soviets and so forth—and the Chinese are somewhat different, but not altogether; they’re still Communists—that while—quite a lot of that palaver is sometimes useful, that it is never really, to these pragmatic people, convincing. I think it’s good because of their high degree of civilization and so forth, civility, to put a lot of it—to put some of it in. I would cut it substantially because I think it’s good to get to the nut-cutting soon with them.

Kissinger

But—

President Nixon

And to get—and to talk more like I talk to [Nicolae] Ceaușescu and [Andrei A.] Gromyko and the rest. Get to the cold turkey talk very soon. And—in other words, I would tend to reverse the situation here. I would tend to take the stuff at the end of your opening statement—put that at the beginning.

“We’re prepared to talk about this, this, this, and this. But before doing so, let me put it in—let me see where we are.” But in any event—

Kissinger

That’s a good—

President Nixon

—do not take—I want them to feel right from the beginning that—

Kissinger

That it clearly—

President Nixon

—this is a no-nonsense—that no nonsense [unclear] I’m not sure about the—and then on the other, I would make it sound—I would convince them first that we are very sophisticated ourselves and we respect them and the rest, but that we’re just tough as hell. And that . . . that . . . and very pragmatic. And that we’re here to do business. And that we’ve got some cards to play as well as they have. I think that the . . . yeah.

Kissinger

Let me give you one explanation why this first statement—

President Nixon

Oh, it’s very good.

Kissinger

—had so much philosophy in it. I have read every statement of Zhou Enlai over the last ten years, of conversations, to get a feel for—

President Nixon

Brilliant job.

Kissinger

—to get a feel for his cast of mind.

President Nixon

Maybe this is right?

Kissinger

And I have found that when he talks, for example, to the Pakistan ambassador, he wants—he has a tendency to go through a lot of theoretical explanations of the nature of international affairs. Now, what I wanted to do [President Nixon acknowledges throughout] is, I'm the first American that this guy has seen in a long time.

President Nixon

You want to talk to him about—yeah.

Kissinger

And I wanted to give him the sense that you had a picture of the world in your head.

President Nixon

That’s right. Let me tell you the problem that I see with that. Only that—I mean, I’m for it, it’s just a question of how much. And where. But here’s the problem that I—Henry, in my talks with Communist leaders, and whether it’s at a bar at the corner, or a Greek revolutionary, or—which I saw in ‘47, or with naturally at the [Nikita] Khrushchev level or the [Anastas] Mikoyan level, or the [Frol] Kozlov level, or anything like that—I’ve seen a few—or, for that matter, with that son of a bitch [Fidel] Castro. Very [unclear]. They always like—they love to talk the dialectical materialism. They love to talk philosophy, and, on the other hand, they have enormous respect if you come pretty directly to it. They want you to talk [Kissinger acknowledges] to them about it. But what I don’t want to do is to have a great, nice, philosophical talk here.

Kissinger

Oh, no, no.

President Nixon

They have got to get—you’ve got to get down to the—the only reason, if at all, I was effective—have ever been effective in my talks with the Communists, it has been because I’m a very different kind of a person [Kissinger acknowledges] than the kind they had usually talked to. And that, like, whether it’s Ceaușescu—I don’t fart around. I say, "Now, look"—I’m very nice to them, but then I come right in with the cold steel soon. And I say, “Now, this is it. We appreciate all this. We think you’re very sophisticated, very civilized. We’re very civilized. We appreciate it and so forth.” But you remember, you’re not going to sell him a damn thing.

Kissinger

No.

President Nixon

He knows we’re bastards and he’s a bastard. And there it is. So, I—now, you’ve got all the other in—you’ve got the cold steel in, but it may be sheathed too much. That’s all I [unclear] suggest.

Kissinger

In the opening statement, there isn’t enough cold steel. It comes perhaps later in the individual parts.

President Nixon

Yeah. And also I would be prepared to move from your plan. Don’t have it so that you’ve got to go by the book. If he moves in one direction, move quickly to another. In other words, be in the position to move very flexible with him. So that you don’t say, “Well, now, we’ve got to take this, this, this, and this, and come back to this and this.” Keeping them off balance, hitting them with surprise, is a terribly important thing. So be very flexible and don’t worry about whether we’ve cleared it here. If you think there’s something outlandish or something to suggest, throw it in. The Communist thinks in very, very orderly terms and very predictable terms, as distinguished from the present American revolutionaries who don’t think at all. You know, they just go out and say, you know, four-letter words. You see?

Kissinger

Yeah.

President Nixon

The Communist thinks that way. That’s his strength, but also his weakness. His weakness is that, because he thinks in such orderly terms, when you hit him with an unexpected order, he is thrown off balance. He doesn’t know how to handle it. You see my point?

Kissinger

I've got an urgent call from [William P.] Rogers.

Kissinger left to take the urgent call from Secretary of State William P. Rogers.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 1 July 1971,” Conversation 534-002 (PRDE Excerpt A), Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Fatal Politics, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006740