Saturday, November 18, 1972 - 12:02pm - 12:08pm
Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger
White House Telephone

White House Operator: Mr. President, I have Dr. [Henry] Kissinger calling you now.

President Nixon: Fine.

White House Operator: Thank you. President on the line, sir.

President Nixon: Hi, Henry?

Henry Kissinger: Mr. President.

President Nixon: Are you in New York or Washington?

Kissinger: No, I’m here.

President Nixon: Oh, fine, fine. I’m just back, dictating about scores of letters [chuckling] to my friends.

Kissinger: Not bad.

President Nixon: Boy, I tell you, nobody knows after an election how much you’ve got to do on that. I’ve got to work that in in my spare time, but I had to come down here to finish off a lot of them. I had a very nice letter from [Israeli Prime Minister David] Ben-Gurion, you know.

Kissinger: Oh, isn’t that nice?

President Nixon: I wrote him a note, and he, with his great sense of history—hell, he didn’t talk about Vietnam or the other thing. He said, “The greatest moment was China.” And he said, “Because by that, you may help to bring about the day when the peoples of the world can”—well, he didn’t put it this way. I did. “People of the world can be friends,” and so forth, you know. But I mean, with it—But the old man is like an Old Testament prophet. Do you know him?

Kissinger: Yes, yes. He’s a remarkable man.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Yes, I’ve met him.

President Nixon: Go ahead. What do you have?

Kissinger: We’ve also had a really, very warm letter, which I’m sending to you from [John J.] McCloy—1

President Nixon: Oh, yeah.

Kissinger: —which compares what you’ve been through with what [President Abraham] Lincoln went through during the Civil War.

President Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: And their version of the doves. I’ve sent it over to you.

President Nixon: Uh-huh.

Kissinger: And you might want to take a look at it.

President Nixon: Fine.

Kissinger: What I wanted to mention and check with you is this: We now—we had a phone call from [U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth F.] Bunker—we haven’t had the actual message yet—saying that now apparently the South Vietnamese are beginning to kick over the traces again.

President Nixon: Oh, Christ!

Kissinger: And I believe that we just have to continue now and get the best agreement we can.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And then face them with it afterwards.

President Nixon: How are they kicking it over?

Kissinger: Well, they’ve apparently submitted a memorandum to him. Which he—he just said the news is not good, and their ambassador here has also raised some questions with [Deputy Assistant Secretary of State William H.] Sullivan. It’s their old pattern. What they always do is, they first read what you give them. Then they raise a few technical objections, and then they just keep escalating it.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: But—

President Nixon: Well, shall I send them another letter?

Kissinger: No. I think we now have to wait, Mr. President, until we get a—until we see at least what’s going to happen in Paris.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: And once we have the text of an agreement in Paris, we’ll have a new situation.

President Nixon: So Bunker says that they’re kicking over the traces and just being unreasonable as hell. Is that it? Or—

Kissinger: That seems to be the case. But I don’t—We can’t delay the negotiation, and we can’t tell Hanoi that we’re having trouble.

President Nixon: No, sir.

Kissinger: [They’re] going to play it like an accordion.

President Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: Well, the other—

President Nixon: When you really come down to it, though, I just can’t see how [South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van] Thieu’s got any other choice. Goddamn it, we’ve told him we’re doing everything we can, and that’s going to be it.

Kissinger: Well, that—

President Nixon: But on the other hand, the idea of just making a bilateral thing, Henry, is—

Kissinger: It’s repugnant.

President Nixon: It’s repugnant, because we lose everything we’ve done. You know what I mean? People said we could have done that years ago.

Kissinger: Well, if we can get a cease-fire in Laos and Cambodia . . . and we can, of course, say we’ve put them in a position where they can defend themselves.

President Nixon: Aha.

Kissinger: But it’s going to be a miserable exercise.

President Nixon: Well, it may not be. You just can’t tell. This—

Kissinger: If we do it bilaterally, I mean.

President Nixon: This—this may be—

Kissinger: But I—

President Nixon: —but this may be bargaining on their part knowing that you’re going to Paris.

Kissinger: Basically, I really don’t know where the hell they’re going to go.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: And they’re still making all the preparations as if there will be a cease-fire.

President Nixon: Right. I noticed that.

Kissinger: But I just wanted to check with you whether it is in accord with your views that we proceed negotiating. We can’t wait any longer for coordinating.

President Nixon: Hmm. Well, what would be the choice otherwise? I mean—you mean, you wouldn’t go?

Kissinger: That’s right. And ask for another delay, but I think that’s almost impossible.

President Nixon: Well, we couldn’t do that.

Kissinger: I mean, not after we announced it.

President Nixon: No, but I would simply go . . . You mean, they—don’t you really think they’re trying to strengthen the bargaining position before you go to Paris, isn’t it? Or—

Kissinger: I think that’s one possibility. That they’re just . . .

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: . . . trying to prove that if they’re going to cave, they’re going to do it afterwards, not before.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: And probably that they figure since they’ll get less than what they agreed to, they better ask for more.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, I think you should tell Bunker to play it damn tough. He is, isn’t he? Oh yeah—


NARA Excision

Category: National Security
Duration: 3s

Kissinger: —in which [ousted Cambodian prince Norodom] Sihanouk says that his interests were completely sold out by the North Vietnamese. He said this to the Algerian ambassador.

President Nixon: Mm-hmm.

Kissinger: It was one of the most shocking examples, and it’s an example of U.S.-Soviet pressure, and that it’s the Soviets who pressed the North Vietnamese into yielding.

President Nixon: Yeah, yeah. Well, go right ahead on the same track. Do the very best that you can. [Deputy National Security Adviser Alexander M.] Haig has no doubts about going ahead now, has he?

Kissinger: Oh, no. No, no. He’s completely with us.

President Nixon: And feels that we have to do it and . . .

Kissinger: Haig is against an open break with them before the negotiation, as I am.

President Nixon: Oh, absolutely. Yeah—no. No, go negotiate now. But when they kick over the traces, they’re making public statements?

Kissinger: No. No, no. This is a private communication.

President Nixon: Yeah, yeah. All right. Just go ahead. Do the very best you can. Get the very best agreement you can. That’s all.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: OK?

Kissinger: OK, Mr. President.

President Nixon: Fine, Henry, fine.


1 John J. McCloy was an adviser to presidents and a leading figure of the American foreign policy establishment. (↑)

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