Tuesday, April 13, 1971 - 10:16am - 10:21am
Richard Nixon, Peter Peterson
White House Telephone


President Nixon: Yeah.

Operator: Mr. [Peter] Peterson, Mr. President.1

President Nixon: Yeah. Hello?

Peterson: Yes, Mr. President.

President Nixon: I read the memorandum. It's fine, except that the—rather than 13 months ago, it was 20 months ago that we started this initiative with regard to the Chinese.

Peterson: Was it?

President Nixon: Yeah.

Peterson: Somebody indicated to me March of 1970.

President Nixon: March of ‘70, there could have been an announcement, but in—it was 20 months ago that we started the private—

Peterson: I see, the discussions started 20 months ago.

President Nixon: That's right. See, I talked to the Indian ambassador and Mrs. [Indira] Gandhi, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, you know. It's a—on my world trip at that time [unclear].2

Peterson: All right. Fine.

President Nixon: But you could say 20 months ago, then we made an announcement 13 months ago—

Peterson: All right. Fine.

President Nixon: All of that is correct.

Peterson: Fine.

President Nixon: The main thing is, however, if I could just get—be sure we get the tone. The Chinese thing is going just the way we want it. We do not want to have . . . I don't want you to appear, or I don't want us to appear that, to be exploiting it.

Peterson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: You see what I mean?

Peterson: Sure.

President Nixon: And, and so you can simply say, “Now look here,”--you can, when you tell them this, you tell them “this is for your background only.”

Peterson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: Be very tough with them.

Peterson: Mm-hmm.

President Nixon: [with Peterson assenting throughout] This is not for use. And say, “However, you should know that this is the way it began. This is the way we feel.” But I don't want them to have a story next week saying this is all a plot by which the—a plan by which the President, you know, started this many months ago—did this and that and the other thing and now it all comes to fruition, because then, that may overplay to the Chinese, will be a little bit too anxious to them, and they might, might knock that one out. And second, it will, it may hurt what we're trying to do with the Soviet right now, you see. What really is going to count with the Soviet, Pete, is the fact. I mean that Ping Pong team is worrying them right up the wall. Let the fact work—I'm just giving you this as a little kind of that, kind of backroom stuff that an editorial board loves to hear. See what I mean?

Peterson: Right.

President Nixon: You can say, “Now, this information, now”--you can say, “I would urge that you watch this in the future,” and that sort of thing.

Peterson: Right.

President Nixon: See what I mean? But your whole general thrust is right on target.

Peterson: All right. And you don't mind if they talk about the initiative, I take it, and [unclear]—

President Nixon: No, no, no. Oh, you can say that the President took this initiative. [with Peterson assenting] I think that is public knowledge. I took the initiative. And that it was my decision, and that it was not—it was one in which there was, I think you can honestly say, that there was some, there was opposition in the Foreign Service, some of the Kremlinologists, because of their concern about the Russians. I think—

Peterson: Now, is that for background, too? The [unclear]?

President Nixon: Oh, that can be something they can use.

Peterson: All right. Fine.

President Nixon: Just a minute. Let me just see. Let me check to see if . . .

According to the NARA log, confers with Henry Kissinger. See converation 478–002.

President Nixon: The difficulty with that—I would tell them that on a complete deep background, which means they can't use it, for this reason: it'll look like we're just trying to pick a fight with State. Right now, we're trying to keep State [unclear].

I think you can simply tell them that—hy don't you put it in a more fuzzed-up way? Say there was argument. Tell them that everybody's on salvo right now, but at that time, when I initiated this, there was argument because some of the Kremlinologists in the Foreign Service were deeply concerned about the fact, is going to have some problems in our Soviet relations.

And that then you go on to say, “Look, this has nothing to do with it. The President has always—this has nothing to do with trying to make the Soviet mad or the Chinese mad. The purpose is to get along with both. We want to be”--the line that I took in Yugoslavia and Romania: that you can be our friend without being anybody else's enemy. That's the line.

Peterson: Now, the part that you want strictly on background is the precise dates of all this. Is that, do I have you right on that?

President Nixon: Precise dates don't worry me. The 13 months ago and 20 months ago, no, those are—

Peterson: All right.

Kissinger can be heard indistinctly in the background. See conversation 478–002.]

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. 20 months ago the overtures were begun and those—and some of that is already public knowledge. For example, the meeting that the ambassador, [Walter] Stoessel, had with the Chinese ambassador [unclear].3

Peterson: Now, which of those four points, then do you want strictly on background?

President Nixon: What I want strictly on background is mainly the idea of the fight. I mean of the—

Peterson: State Department.

President Nixon: —the State Department.

Peterson: OK.

President Nixon: I want that strictly on background, except that I want to lay to rest the idea, what I'm really trying to get at is, as I told you yesterday, they have tried, some have tried to create the impression, some in the press, that this is an initiative from the people in State. That I have reluctantly gone along. It's just the opposite, see?

Peterson: OK.

President Nixon: So I'm just trying to give you the background so that you'll say, “Now look, boys, we aren't trying to pick a fight with anybody. There's always disagreement about things. But this is something that has been a presidential initiative from the beginning.”

Peterson: Right.

President Nixon: I think that's what you can say.

Peterson: All right. Now, Mr. President, on point A in my memorandum, the peaceful competition thing.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Peterson: Am I right that that is OK for them to talk about?

President Nixon: Absolutely, yeah. And also the bread and butter and guns and butter deal, that's good.

Peterson: Right. Right.

President Nixon: And the idea, incidentally, of—I marked two for future, and this is not for them, of getting the speech team to work on this is an excellent idea.

Peterson: Yeah.

President Nixon: This is something we're ready to . . . when you get back, do some thinking on it and we'll get some real good stuff. But your outline is excellent. I think you've got the thing right on target.

Peterson: All right. Fine.

President Nixon: Good luck.

Peterson: Thank you.

President Nixon: Bye. And stay out of the . . . and, as I say, as you know, Life has been very critical of us on the military side. I just—I'd just be—the main thing to there is to exude complete confidence and say, “Look, we know you disagree with us on that, but this President is ending this war, period. And you can argue about the means, but in the end that's a moot question. Now, let's go on to the other subjects.”

Peterson: Right.

President Nixon: But don't let them drive you into—don't say a word about that except confidence that we're doing the right thing.

Peterson: Wonderful.

President Nixon: All right.

Peterson: Thank you, sir. Bye.

President Nixon: Bye.


1 Peter G. Peterson was international economic affairs adviser. (↑)

2 Indira Gandhi was prime minister of India. (↑)

3 Walter J. Stoessel, Jr., was U.S. ambassador to Poland. (↑)

Original tape courtesy of the Nixon Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.