Sunday, April 18, 1971 - 10:41am - 10:48am
Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger
White House Telephone


President Richard Nixon: OK.

Operator: [National Security Adviser] Dr. [Henry A.] Kissinger, Mr. President.

Operator: Mr. President.

President Nixon: Hi, Henry.

Henry A. Kissinger: Mr. President.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Uh, [White House Press Secretary Ronald L.] Ziegler is out of town and I've talked to [Deputy White House Press Secretary] Gerry Warren.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: He hasn't had a single press question -

President Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: —yet.

President Nixon: Don't-–

Kissinger: And the line I've tentatively established, subject to your-–

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —approval, is that he was talking about South Vietnamese capabilities, not any particular plan.

President Nixon: That's right.

Kissinger: And he was just-–

President Nixon: Very good.

Kissinger: —talking about abstract capabilities-–

President Nixon: Yeah, hyp—uh, and-–

Kissinger: —hypothetical things.

President Nixon: And not about American activities.

Kissinger: That's right. If that's agreeable, that's what we're going to-–

President Nixon: Fine.

Kissinger: —stick with.

President Nixon: Would you get, uh, [I want]—would you get [Defense Secretary Melvin R.] Laird to s—Laird'll probably be asked –

Kissinger: I got word to defense already.

President Nixon: How would Laird handle it then, or [unclear]?

Kissinger: Well, Laird would say he was-–

President Nixon: Same thing?

Kissinger: —essentially the same thing. They haven't had many queries either.

President Nixon: Well, what this is, Henry, it's a, it's the, it's the devilish press again just trying to take one little old word, and, and, and hypo this thing. They, I, of course, I think, Henry, basically, it's pretty much a defensive thing on their part. They are, really, must be up the wall, don't you think so? [unclear] –

Kissinger: Oh, Mr. President, here they've been going, saying everything, uh, they'll be bringing the Chinese in, that Laos would lead to a worsening of the situation-–

President Nixon: That's right. That's right.

Kissinger: —now they see that they got beaten back from Fire Base Six, military activity is dropping again, just as we said it would-–

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and the China thing breaks. They're g-, just out of their minds.

President Nixon: They're rea—don't you sense that in talking to them?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah, well, they're just completely confused.

President Nixon: That's right. And they're [unclear]. Now the way, the line they'll probably take, it seems [laughs] to me, is, to come back at it in terms of saying, well, this is really just the Chinese people, I mean, this is that we'll get along with the American people and that sort of thing, but I don't think the Chicoms' uh, government will play it that way.

Kissinger: Oh, no, Mr. Pres–-

President Nixon: I think they're, I think the Chicom government knows that the American people can't do one damn thing for them.

Kissinger: They're playing for the big stakes, Mr. President.

President Nixon: Don't you think so?

Kissinger: And I've got two books full of initiatives we've taken and, if they press us, we'll just leak them all out.

President Nixon: Yeah. Oh, sure. [If] they try to say that, uh, that, that this all happened because of their initiative and so forth, but it's a, really amusing to me though that, ‘cause it's, uh, while [Sen. Michael J.] Mansfield [D-Montana] is honorable, these other Democrats are not. The way they're all pandering around and now trying to run over there to China and so forth-–

Kissinger: Yes. The problem is they never recommended any of this, Mr. President. They can say, what-–

President Nixon: No.

Kissinger: —whatever they want. This is yours.

President Nixon: And neither did the state department, either.

Kissinger: That's right.

President Nixon: We, we've pushed them all-–

Kissinger: Don't forget the state department was sort of crying around with recognition and that's-–

President Nixon: That's all, they were all talking about what was really what you've called it, tactical, abstract thing, which was really unfeasible.

Kissinger: Well, I, I showed, uh, Osborne1 that little note you sent me on –

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —February First-–

President Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: —'Sixty-Nine-–

President Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: —and his mouth really dropped way open.

President Nixon: Yeah? Yeah. It's too bad that wasn't in my handwriting. It was, but they copy it off, apparently, at that time.

Kissinger: Or it's off tape, usually.

President Nixon: Oh, I may have taped, no, I may have put it, yeah, I may have dictated it.

Kissinger: Yeah.

President Nixon: I may have dictated on a tape.

Kissinger: Yeah.

President Nixon: That's right. But he, uh, but it came on with a, was it to you from RN? Was that the way it was?

Kissinger: No, it said, “To: Kissinger. From: The President.”

President Nixon: Yeah. I see. Well, that's enough. [laughs] [It] makes the point.

Kissinger: Oh, that, they know this isn't a fake.

President Nixon: He knows that-–

Kissinger: Oh, no, he knows-–

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —we wouldn't fake that.

President Nixon: Mmm-hmm. And it indicated that we ought to—what was that one? That was the first one.

Kissinger: Well, it said, “I want you to explore on a highly confidential basis how we can improve our relations with Communist China and, above all, how we can establish reliable private channels to them.”

President Nixon: Good. Ha, good, ha.

Kissinger: But it couldn't be more explicit-–

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —Mr. President.

President Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: He said, you said, “I want no publicity whatsoever.”

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That must've really killed him

Kissinger: Oh, God, his mouth really dropped about-–

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —six inches.

President Nixon: Because I suppose that, do you see, there, there some of his mythology then is knocked out, and when he writes something else he's discussed with you, he's dishonest.

Kissinger: They know damn well that on February First, ‘Sixty-Nine, no state department had gotten –

President Nixon: This is February of ‘Sixty-Nine, before [that] state department ever even talked to me.

Kissinger: That's right.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: This was February First, ‘Sixty-Nine.

President Nixon: Which is basically 10 days after we were in office.

Kissinger: Ten days. That's right.

President Nixon: And I think that's very interesting that they-–

Kissinger: No, I think on this one, sure, the Democrats are gonna start yelling now. They're gonna come up with 50 hot gimmicks, but we are so far ahead of them.

President Nixon: Sure. What they're coming, what they'll come up with, Henry, is, why don't we now admit them to the UN? Why don't we recognize and so forth. Well, that's all premature, that-–

Kissinger: And also, Mr. President, [unclear]-–

President Nixon: —[unclear] you don't want to let that be the debate.

Kissinger: —it helps us with the Russian game.

President Nixon: I think so.

Kissinger: Because if the Russians see that the Democrats are more hog-wild vis-à-vis China than you are-–

President Nixon: Yeah. [laughs] I hadn't thought of that, but it's true.

Kissinger: Then they have much less of an incentive to bring them in. They already don't trust them on the Middle East, then on China they also turn out to be a disas—

President Nixon: True. True. True.

Kissinger: So I think my major worry is that we'll, that if we get too eager that the Chinese will start going back into a shell.

President Nixon: I agree.

Kissinger: And that's why the way you've played it-–

President Nixon: I agree.

Kissinger: —that's where-–

President Nixon: I agree.

Kissinger: —the Democrats

President Nixon: I don't—

Kissinger: —can do damage.

President Nixon: I sure as hell don't expect to get eager at all with the Chinese-–

Kissinger: Oh, no, you-–

President Nixon: —unless, unless the Russian thing drops. Then, then the Chinese may want to be eager. You know what I mean?

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: And we will, too.

Kissinger: That's-—

President Nixon: We can't just assume then, “Well, we'll wait till 1974.”

Kissinger: Oh, no.

President Nixon: You see?

Kissinger: Oh, God, no.

President Nixon: This is one of those things where, where I don't believe, I think, I think our Chinese game, Henry, should be played exactly as it's being played: Very cool and aloof and yet the door is open. Now you walk in, kids, and it's your move.

Kissinger: Mr. President, I must tell you, honestly, I believe that we have a 30 percent chance even if we play the Russian game, of having a high-level Chinese one next year.

President Nixon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well—

Kissinger: That may not have to wait till Seventy—-

President Nixon: When we want to use it, we want it at the highest level, too.

Kissinger: That's what I mean.


President Nixon: Let me say that the en—the more I think about it, the envoy thing, if we're gonna go, I think we ought to go at the highest level. You see?

Kissinger: Well, I think the envoy could prepare for it.

President Nixon: It might, but [another]—it might take a lot of the zip out of it, too. You know what I mean, it's, uh, you just can't tell and I don't know that there's anybody we can trust to send over there.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: We've, uh, well, let's, [laughs] [unclear].

Kissinger: Well, let's do it—a little bit down the road.

President Nixon: All right, fine, Henry.

Kissinger: We need a reliable channel.

President Nixon: [clears throat]

Kissinger: Right, Mr. President.


1 John F. Osborne wrote the “Nixon Watch” column in The New Republic. (↑)

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