Richard Nixon and William P. Rogers on 26 October 1971


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Patrick J. Garrity, Erin R. Mahan, and Kieran K. Matthews

The vote by the U.N. General Assembly on 25 October 1971 to expel Taiwan (Republic of China) and to seat the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was widely regarded as a stunning diplomatic defeat for the United States. Washington had long been Taiwan’s principal ally and heretofore had successfully defended Taipei’s position that it was the true representative of China in the United Nations. President Nixon had ordered his national security team to lobby hard with foreign capitals to preserve the status quo. Not surprisingly, once the outcome of the vote was known, the televised images of Communist and other delegates to the U.N. cheering and dancing in the aisles did not sit well with the White House.

Nixon and Secretary of State William P. Rogers now had to consider the challenge of minimizing the international and domestic damage to the administration without jeopardizing the President’s efforts to improve relations with the PRC. Nixon was anxious to reassure his staunchly pro-Taiwan conservative political base that he remained committed to the island’s defense, and he asked Rogers to speak with California governor Ronald W. Reagan, a leading conservative, to reinforce this message. Nixon was also concerned that the defeat would energize both the right and the left to challenge U.S. foreign aid appropriations, including those dedicated to the United Nations. He stressed to Rogers that he wanted to send a warning to foreign governments that overtly anti-American actions in the U.N. would have that effect.

Editor’s note: In 2019, thanks to the efforts of Timothy J. Naftali, former chair of the Presidential Recordings Program and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, the National Archives and Records Administration restored previously excised portions of this tape, including two segments formerly withheld as “private.” As Naftali wrote in The Atlantic, in these segments President Nixon related racist comments made to him by California governor Ronald W. Reagan. Here, Nixon embellished Reagan’s comments from their previous conversation, stating that Reagan had referred to African delegates to the United Nations as “cannibals.”
President Nixon

Yeah.

White House Operator

Secretary [William P.] Rogers.[note 1] William P. Rogers was U.S. secretary of state from January 1969 to September 1973.

William P. Rogers

Hello?

President Nixon

Hello?

Rogers

Hello, Mr. President? Hello? [Pauses.] Hello?

President Nixon

Hello?

Rogers

Hello, Mr. President? We got a bad connection here. [Pauses.] Hello? Hello?

President Nixon

Hello?

Rogers

Yes, hello, Mr. President.

President Nixon

Bill, how’d you get along?

Rogers

I thought it went pretty well.[note 2] Rogers had just held a press conference on the Taiwan vote. His introductory remarks can be found in Murrey Marder, “Rogers Criticizes Taiwan Expulsion; Sees U.N. Hurt, Bars Retaliation, Washington Post, 27 October 1971. Earlier in the day, Nixon and Rogers had discussed the approach that the Secretary of State should take in his statements to the media. Nixon stressed the need to make it clear that this and other U.N. actions had made it difficult to assure full U.S. appropriations for the world body and its agencies in the future, and that domestic support for the U.N. was very low. Rogers said that he would not defend the U.N., but that “I just don’t want to appear piqued” (Conversation 013-010, 26 October 1971, 11:37–11:42 a.m., White House Telephone).

President Nixon

I’ve been tied up. I didn’t get to—

Rogers

Yeah. [Ronald L.] Ron Ziegler thought it went well.[note 3] Ronald L. Ziegler was White House press secretary from January 1969 to August 1974.

President Nixon

I haven’t been able to talk to him yet.

Rogers

Uh-huh. It really is not too difficult. [President Nixon acknowledges.] You know, we’ve—

President Nixon

The problem we’ve got is basically this, and I’ve told our people here, that to vent their spleen on the U.N. and not on us, because [Rogers acknowledges] it’s . . . I—[Ronald W.] Reagan called me last night, and I didn’t talk to him till this morning, but he, of course, is outraged and has the feeling, but . . .[note 4] Ronald W. Reagan was the Republican governor of California from January 1967 to January 1975. See Conversation 013-008, 26 October 1971, 11:13–11:25 a.m., White House Telephone. And I found that what outraged him, and I think this is—I find this is typical of a lot of people—they saw it on television, and he said, “These cannibals jumping up and down [Rogers acknowledges], and all that.” And apparently it was a pretty grotesque picture.

Rogers

Apparently it was a terrible scene—

President Nixon

A scene, and they cheered. And I didn’t see it, you see. Did you? On TV?

Rogers

No, I didn’t.

President Nixon

I was sitting [chuckles] and just read the reports, but Reagan said he practically got sick at his stomach, and that’s why he called. [Rogers acknowledges throughout.] And he said it was a terrible scene, and that that sort of thing will have an emotional effect on people. That here these, as he said, “This bunch of people that don’t even wear shoes to—yet to be kicking the United States in the teeth.” He says it was a terrible thing, they thought. Did you get the same feeling, or not? [Unclear]

Rogers

Yes, I did. I didn’t—of course, I didn’t see it, but I’ve heard that there was a really pretty revolting, repulsive [President Nixon acknowledges], damn scene. I tried to hit it as carefully as I could. I said I thought this was going to lose support of American people, and American people are going to be disillusioned.

President Nixon

That’s good.

Rogers

I talked about the money. I said that they’ve got to face up to the fact they’re bankrupt. [President Nixon acknowledges.] And I said Senator [Michael J. “Mike”] Mansfield [D–Montana] and Senator [Hugh D.] Scott [R–Pennsylvania] have both introduced bills now, saying that they’re going to cut back the appropriations and we got to—the U.N. has got to face up to realities, and so on.[note 5] Michael J. “Mike” Mansfield was a U.S. senator [D–Montana] from January 1953 to January 1977, and Senate Majority Leader from January 1961 to January 1977. Hugh D. Scott was a U.S. senator [R–Pennsylvania] from January 1959 to January 1977, and Senate Minority Leader from September 1969 to January 1977. You never know how it’s going to come out, though.[note 6] The perception that the United Nations was plagued with waste, fraud, and corruption was commonplace in American political discourse. Many in Congress took the position that unless the U.N. enacted fundamental administrative and budgetary reforms, the United States could not justify its financial support at current levels. Rogers sought to reinforce this message in his statement to the media. [President Nixon acknowledges throughout.] What they’ll try to do now is make it appear that it was a defeat for us. And I said that, you know, it’s not a defeat.

President Nixon

Is that the line the—

Rogers

[speaking over President Nixon] We fought for principle, and we think that we were right, and we understand that sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. And—

President Nixon

Did you—well, of course, this vote has been getting closer every year, as you know.

Rogers

Yes, I pointed that out.

President Nixon

What was it last year? Wasn’t it pretty close?

Rogers

Well, it was pretty close last year. But see, what’s happened in the meantime is that [President Nixon attempts to interject] the People’s Republic has established diplomatic relations [with] a lot of these countries.

President Nixon

Sure, including Italy.

Rogers

Italy [President Nixon acknowledges throughout], and Canada, and Belgium, and the rest of them.

President Nixon

And—well, on the—of course, the defeat side, but I can’t help but believe that we have make, or are making the case, or have made the case that we’ve worked hard on the damn thing. What do you think?

Rogers

Oh, yes. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.

President Nixon

Do you think—did you get much doubt on that point?

Rogers

No, no. There was only one question [slight chuckle] about that and everybody knows that we worked like hell on it. I wonder if I should call Reagan.

President Nixon

Well, here’s what his proposal is, and you might call him, and . . . His proposal, basically, he says that he feels so strongly, he says, “I’m urging”—and, of course, this is so—this is ridiculous, but I want you to have this background, ‘cause it might be helpful if you call him. And you say—he says, “I feel,” he says, “that you ought to call [George H. W.] Bush back and then have him—and instruct him to go back to the United Nations and just say that, ‘Well, we will continue to attend the United Nations but we will no longer participate in the votes.’”[note 7] George H. W. Bush was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from February 1971 to January 1973. In his abovementioned telephone call with Nixon, Conversation 013-008, Reagan added that under his proposal, the United States “would not be bound by the votes of the U.N.”

Rogers

[chuckling] Well, we can’t do that.

President Nixon

Well, you know what I mean. And he says, “This,” he says, “the American people would just be for this [unclear].” Well, of course, that, in effect, Bill, is like getting out of the U.N. It’s [Rogers acknowledges throughout]—as you know, Birch—he’s pretty far on the [John] Birch [Society] kick and the rest.[note 8] The John Birch Society was a fringe right-wing group that was deeply suspicious of international bodies like the United Nations and of the influence of alleged socialist and Communist elements in American society and the federal government. Reagan was not a member of the John Birch Society, although he had supporters who were. Nixon later told Henry A. Kissinger: “I’m the only person, by God, on the American team that can do it—can handle a Ronald Reagan” (Conversation 013-080, 2 November 1971, 11:44–11:57 a.m., White House Telephone). What do you think? Would it do any good to call him or not?

Rogers

Well, I thought it might be a good idea to say that we feel the same way that he does [President Nixon acknowledges throughout] and we’re going to do what we can to cut down their, you know, cut them down to size.

President Nixon

Yeah. And I’ll tell you what you might do, is say you don’t know how the press will cover it there. But you might read that portion of your statement.

Rogers

Right.

President Nixon

I wouldn’t read the part welcoming the Chinese in.

Rogers

I took that word out.[note 9] In his original draft of the statement to the media, Rogers proposed to begin: “The United States welcomes last night’s decision to admit the People’s Republic of China as a member of the United Nations.” See Conversation 013-010, noted above. The final version read: “Last night’s decision to admit the People’s Republic of China as a member of the United Nations of course is consistent with the policy of the United States. President Nixon hopes that this action, which will bring into the United Nations representatives of more than seven hundred million people, will result in a reduction of tensions in the Pacific area.” Rogers then went on to criticize the treatment of Taiwan. In a brief subsequent conversation with Rogers, Nixon told the Secretary that he should specifically emphasize to Reagan the White House’s continued support for Taiwanese president Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist government (Conversation 013-014, 26 October 1971, 1:50–1:51 p.m., White House Telephone).

President Nixon

Good, good. Well, good. [Rogers laughs.] Just say we supported it or that—[speaking over Rogers] what I meant is—but I wouldn’t even say that. I’d just [unclear]—I’d say, look, this is what we said, “I regret this. We think it was this,” and then say, “Look, Governor, take it—we don’t mind you taking it out on the U.N., but remember”—and then you might—I think you might disclose to him that I made some calls.[note 10] A few days before the U.N. vote on Taiwan, Nixon spoke directly with Prime Minister Emilio Colombo of Italy (Conversation 012-088, 22 October 1971, 5:40–5:59 p.m., White House Telephone); President Luis Echeverría Álvarez of Mexico (Conversation 012-103, 23 October 1971, 11:19–11:31 a.m., White House Telephone); and King Hassan II of Morocco (Conversation 012-106 23 October 1971, 11:59 a.m.–12:08 p.m., White House Telephone). Nixon also spoke with the U.S. ambassador to Argentina, John Davis Lodge, to give him talking points to use in a subsequent meeting with President Alejandro Agustín Lanusse (Conversation 012-081, 22 October 1971, 3:05–3:09 p.m., White House Telephone).

Rogers

OK.

President Nixon

Would you . . . And tell him to keep it in confidence [Rogers acknowledges throughout] because we don’t want to embarrass the countries that I called—that I didn’t call. But why don’t you tell him that. This is unprecedented.

Rogers

Well, [unclear], Mr. President, but you sent a lot of personal messages to—

President Nixon

Oh—

Rogers

—in addition to the calls. [speaking over President Nixon] By God, you must have sent—

President Nixon

Laos, for Christ’s sakes?[note 11] Nixon had instructed Deputy National Security Adviser Alexander M. Haig Jr. to see that a letter was sent to the prime minister of Laos, Souvanna Phouma, making the U.S. case on the Taiwan vote (Conversation 012-117, 25 October 1971, 3:12–3:15 p.m., White House Telephone).

Rogers

Well, you sent—no, [President Nixon acknowledges] but you sent a lot to these other—

President Nixon

The oral messages. [Rogers acknowledges.] Oh, yeah! I think you ought to say that we—that everything was done and that it was just an unprecedented effort. And then say that what really happened here—I think you might explain is that before we ever announced [slight chuckle] the Chinese trip—which is very important—before we ever announced, Italy was gone, Canada was gone—[note 12] That is, the President’s planned trip to the PRC in February 1972, which was announced on 15 July 1971.

Rogers

That’s right.

President Nixon

You know?

Rogers

That’s right.

President Nixon

And . . .

Rogers

Belgium was—

President Nixon

Iran.

Rogers

Iran. Turkey.

President Nixon

Turkey.

Rogers

All right, I’ll do that.

President Nixon

[speaking over Rogers] Would you mind calling him?

Rogers

Not at all.

President Nixon

Good, good.

Rogers

Be glad to. All right, Mr. President. Thank you.

President Nixon

All right, bye. Do your best! [Chuckles.] [Rogers attempts to interject.] Oh! But explain that you feel—that I talked—tell him that I—that after his talk with me, that I . . . as a matter of fact, I did talk to you right after I talked to him and that I had said [Rogers acknowledges throughout]—I had talked to you and you say, “Now, Governor, we reflected this in your statement, that you made the statement for the administration because you’d carried this fight, that Bush did a terrific job and the rest,” that he mentioned this to you and that you feel that under the circumstance—Oh! The other thing, if you would mention—which isn’t a bad idea—say that there’s one little—there’s one special problem we have right now: we have a possibility of war in India and Pakistan and we may have to use the U.N., you know, to restrain that damn war.

Rogers

That’s right.

President Nixon

And that this—therefore, we’re really in a box in the [unclear]—I’d hit that very hard.

Rogers

That’s a good idea.

President Nixon

Very hard. Tell him that. Tell him that what he says, that’s something else again, but says, “Remember, hit the U.N. and don’t hit the President.”[note 13] Nixon told White House chief of staff H. R. “Bob” Haldeman later that day that Kissinger had also called Reagan about the U.N. vote and would do so again the next day. Haldeman remarked that “the Reagan thing is a problem due to the fact that we’ve got to keep him from jumping off the reservation. I think that [John N.] Mitchell should be able to help there.” Nixon also proposed that Kissinger call conservative columnist and opinion leader William F. Buckley Jr. (Conversation 013-018, 26 October 1971, 8:01–8:07 p.m., White House Telephone).

Rogers

OK. [Laughs.]

President Nixon

OK?

Rogers

Thank you.

President Nixon

Fine.

Rogers

Thank you. Bye.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and William P. Rogers on 26 October 1971,” Conversation 013-012, Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Nixon Telephone Tapes 1971, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006641