Saturday, January 20, 1973
Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger
White House Telephone

President Nixon: Hello.

Henry KissingerMr. President.

President Nixon: You enjoy the evening?1

Kissinger: I think it was really very nice.

President Nixon: Which one did you go to?

Kissinger: I went to the symphony concert and . . .

President Nixon: Yeah, I thought that was--I saw the last, I mean, part of it. The intermission. And, boy, that [Eugene] Ormandy certainly knows how to play up to a piano, doesn't he?

Kissinger: Beautiful. That is really hard to do.

President Nixon: The [Edvard] Grieg [concerto], of course, is a famous--every pianist loves to play it, but orchestras usually overwhelm it and, of course, this [pianist Van] Cliburn was never better. And [Philadelphia Symphony Music Director Eugene] Ormandy, they're both great actors. [laughing] They were just fantastic. 

Kissinger: It was done with great elegance. Very beautiful.

President Nixon: Right. And I thought all the choral groups, and then that 1812 [Overture] thing is a good patriotic moment.

Kissinger: I thought it was a great evening. And I liked the spirit of the people who were there. It was our people.

President Nixon: Yeah. That's all right. They actually were--there, actually, though, I compared with four years ago. They were all--I went down to the symphony down at Constitution Hall and they were all-- I mean they were cheering and everything, but this time, you know, there's a lot of, there's more shouting.

Kissinger: Oh, and there's tremendous pride. As one walks through these halls, people come up.

President Nixon: Right. Right. I bet you really needed your Secret Service last night, didn't you?

Kissinger: Oh, God, I--

President Nixon: But they were nice, weren't they, all the people?

Kissinger: All the people, oh, they couldn't--it's really moving because--

President Nixon: Yeah, they see through a lot of this stuff that we all see.

Kissinger: Oh, God. I mean everyone says--

President Nixon: Do the right thing.

Kissinger: --tell the President, "Thank God," and it's really a very moving thing.

President Nixon: What is the word from Haig?

Kissinger: We've,well, he's had a session and Thieu has written you another letter, but--

President Nixon: Oh, God.

Kissinger: Well it's important, I think, that we are patient because what the guy is doing, he's obviously posturing himself step-by-step. He's now reduced . . . In his last letter he made four conditions. He's now reduced them to two and--of which one we can't even consider and one we can probably get. He's also sending his foreign minister to Paris to meet with me.

President Nixon: Oh, God.

Kissinger: Well, Mr. President, it has this advantage--at first--my first reaction was exactly like yours. I've been in now for two hours analyzing it together with my staff. And we all have come to this conclusion: The problem with him is if we initial an agreement on Tuesday without visible participation by them, it's a great loss of face.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: If he has his foreign minister there, then he can claim he participated.

President Nixon: Yeah. The foreign minister is his nephew?

Kissinger: No, no. His nephew is that little bastard kid who is the Minister of Information.

President Nixon: Yep.

Kissinger: The foreign minister's an ass, and he won't be able to do anything. Now what I thought, though, Mr. President, we should do is this. We should send him a letter by you in reply saying you're delighted his foreign minister will be there and, of course, I'll talk to him and brief him fully. But you have instructed me to proceed with initialing.

President Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: I will try to get that one change in the protocols that they want. And on this, they are not wrong. I think Sullivan goofed on that.

President Nixon: What is it about?

Kissinger: [Unclear] a major point. The problem is Sullivan put into the protocol, and I didn't watch that, that the police should carry only pistols. They point out that their police carry carbines and M16 rifles. Now I think we can probably get something done but even if we can't in changing it, at least we can tell him you're going to make the effort. But what we should put in the letter from you is that you must have an answer from him by noon tomorrow whether, even though you have instructed me to seek that change, he will concur in letting us initial it.

President Nixon: Letting us or . . ?

Kissinger: No, I mean--

President Nixon: Ha, ha. 

Kissinger: I mean he will concur in our initialing it.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: Because, if not, you will have to initial it unilaterally.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And you would then have to call the congressional leaders in Sunday night prior to my departure and inform them of that fact. I mean, you don't have to do it. I just want to give him an explanation why he has to answer tomorrow. That once the congressional leaders are informed, aid will become difficult even if he then still finally comes along.

President Nixon: Yeah, that the congressional leaders will, in my opinion, be adamant in saying that we should go unilaterally and not seek further cooperation.

Kissinger: My worry is, if we don't give him an absolutely unshakeable deadline, he will yield--I will now bet--I would say the chances are 99 out of 100.

President Nixon: Which--but you--that, of course--you're right. It's a question of which day. I guess we all thought he'd yield Tuesday, and now we thought he'd yield Saturday and now--

Kissinger: No, I never thought he'd yield Tuesday. I thought--

President Nixon: No, no. I mean some did. I mean--

Kissinger: I thought he'd yield either today or next Tuesday. And what we have to bring home to him is that Tuesday is too late.

President Nixon: That's right. Yes. That the time--

Kissinger: But Haig and Bunker and our intelligence chief there, we have--all their units have already been informed that the ceasefire will go in--

President Nixon: Why don't you say this? That before--and he doesn't need to know that we're not--I said that before you leave for Paris on Sunday evening, I have to meet with congressional leaders, that at that time they are going to ask whether, that I will have to tell them "yes or "no," whether or not he will concur in the initialing.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: That we will do our best in that, but I cannot guarantee. But in any event, we will try. But if I tell the congressional leaders he will not concur, then, that it is my judgment without, that I am convinced from having talked to Senator Goldwater and Senator Stennis, who are his major supporters in the Senate, that they will throw up their hands, that they will in effect direct--they will in effect inform me that the Congress will not go along on further aid unless he goes along on Tuesday.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: How about putting it that way?

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: Tell him I'm going to have a meeting with congressional leaders.

Kissinger: Well--

President Nixon: You see, he doesn't need to know whether we have it or not. Or you don't want to say that?

Kissinger: I think--

President Nixon: You see, I--

Kissinger: We'll say you'll have a meeting and at that time you'll have to tell them on what basis we're proceeding.

President Nixon: Yes, that as I--tell him I'm going to have a meeting on Sunday with the congressional leaders before you leave. We should say, "with selected congressional leaders" before you leave. At that time, they will-- the question will be--I have been informed that the question will be raised as to whether or not he will concur in our initialing of the agreement. If his answer is that he will not concur in the initialing of the agreement, that the congressional leaders in my view without question then will move to cut off assistance. Is that going too far? In other words, I don't know whether the threat goes too far or not, but I'd--

Kissinger: No.

President Nixon: --do any damn thing, that is, or to cut off his head if necessary, but--

Kissinger: No, the way to put it, I think, Mr. President, is to say that even if he should then later come along--

President Nixon: Yes, that is--

Kissinger: --that [unclear] assurances will do him no good because they will look as if they'd been extorted.

President Nixon: Yeah. That is--the problem is that if he waits--that I feel it is imperative that when I meet with the congressional leaders--tell him that I'm going to meet with the congressional leaders, that I'm going to inform them at that time, that I've been in consultation with President Thieu, and that Dr. Kissinger will go to Paris Tuesday, that he will initial the agreement on Tuesday. At that time, unless I can tell the--they will inevitably ask whether or not President Thieu, despite some differences which he has mentioned, whether or not he will concur. If I am unable to tell them that he will concur, his going on later will appear to them to have been an extortion and will, I think, will probably--will without question result in congressional cut-off of aid. How's that sound? Or something like that. Does that go too far? See what I mean?

Kissinger: No, no. I think that's right. That's what we should do.

President Nixon: And we'll--"without question." I feel it is imperative, that in confidence, that I be able to tell the congressional leaders that he has objections, that we will do our best on the Tuesday session to try to get those objections dealt with. That we will raise those objections, but that we are going to initial. But that if I don't--but if he--and that you're going to meet with the foreign minister. But I must have a private assurance from him that I can pass on to them, in total privacy--selected leaders--that he will concur. Otherwise, I think his aid--the aid which we both, which I want very much for South Vietnam, will be in very, very deadly jeopardy.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: Something along that line maybe he'll do it.

Kissinger: I completely agree.

President Nixon: Well, whatever it is, I'm resigned to it. We've had so many disappointments in this thing over the four years. 

Kissinger: Well, nothing will come easy.

President Nixon: But we've fought--we fought every battle.

Kissinger: Well let me find here what Bunker is saying. 

President Nixon: Bunker's not much in touch with anything anymore. He's sort of . . . 

Kissinger: No, but . . . no, this is from Haig. He says it is important that we view Thieu's response in the context of Oriental pride and faith. "Thieu has up until now dug in firmly against the agreement. It is already apparent from intelligence that the military, the NSC, and other pertinent advisers are having no problem with the prospect of Thieu signing."

President Nixon: That what?

Kissinger: "Are having no prospect with the problem of Thieu signing."

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: "Bunker and I believe that Thieu is going to make a fight right up until the last possible minute so that he can take the position, with factual evidence, that he has done his absolute utmost. At the same time, it has been evident to Bunker and to me as well in our personal assessments that he has made up his mind to proceed. Since my first meeting with him this week, he has become relaxed and confident. I believe it is important that you bear this in mind in developing a response."

Nixon: I see. That's the way you want to go, then, with the...

Kissinger: And he says, "I'm confident that he does not expect any changes because of Lam's trip to Paris. But it will be less difficult if Lam is in Paris once he decides to formally notify us of his acceptance. For this reason I do not think we should challenge his decision." I completely agree with him on this, in fact I had independently come--

President Nixon: Yeah. All right. Just say that we--that I would say that I believe that Lam's going to Paris is a very good idea, that it will be a message to the world and to the North Vietnamese that we are in the closest of cooperation. It will also be a very salutary message to the members of our Congress and to the American people. As will, of course, the Vice President's trip [to South Vietnam] at a later time and his [President Thieu's] and my meeting this spring. But say, on the other hand, I believe--I think that we must not wait until Tuesday for his private [assurance]. I'd like for him to convey to me in the most secret channel, through a back channel, his assurance--that we are going to have to sign on that day. We'll make an effort after your conversations with Lam to get, you know, to work out things. But I must have his understanding that after we have made every effort and after, as we agree to initial, that we go along. And I must be able to tell the selected congressional leaders, people--those who are particularly his supporters like Senator Stennis and Senator Goldwater, that we are going ahead. Otherwise I feel that it would appear, if we wait until then--that it will appear that he went along unwillingly and that would give our--basically his enemies in the Senate and the Congress a chance to kill aid for Vietnam, which is, of course, something that I desperately am trying to save. Something like that.

Kissinger: Exactly. I agree completely.

President Nixon: OK. If you can get the tone of that in it, that's fine.

Kissinger: Right, Mr. President. And I think it is on course and it will go through.

President Nixon: Yeah. 

Kissinger: It's just, nothing with these bloody Vietnamese works simply.

President Nixon: Well at least though, Henry, the North Vietnamese you knew damn well were coming along on the 9th, Tuesday. It took you four more days. This fellow doesn't let you know anything.

Kissinger chuckles.

President Nixon: Or is he?

Kissinger: Well, he sort of--we know about as much from him as we knew from the North Vietnamese on the 9th. It's just that with the North Vietnamese we could meet ten hours a day and with this fellow we have to do it by cable. It's about the same process. Once they agree in principle, then they start haggling over petty--

President Nixon: Well, he has agreed in principle, hasn't he? In fact, you pick up the morning paper, even  as vicious a sheet as The Washington Post, and they say agreement in principle has been reached on the--there is agreement on the agreement, but that he still has some objections to the protocol.

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: Now you and I know that the protocols don't mean a goddamn thing. But I agree Sullivan did goof on that, but how the hell, Henry, can we watch everything? I mean, I would've known that. I would've known. But he's a good man. But I would've known that you cannot change the--let me put it this way. Sullivan--was he ever in the service? You were, of course.

Kissinger: He was in the Navy.

President Nixon: I know. Well, so was I. I'll tell you something. The point about the pistols and the other--do you realize that you have the problem with any police force that, where you have a police force which is army-based, damn it, enlisted men--it's only officers that carry pistols. They don't even issue to enlisted men. They carry carbines. That's what this is all about. You know. Thieu's got a hell of a point there.

Kissinger: And if you--

President Nixon: He'd have to change the whole--he'd have to give every one of these damned enlisted men pistols and, of course, that's a dangerous damn thing. A pistol can be concealed. It can be used to rape and everything else.

Kissinger: Also, for riot control you can't really use pistols.

President Nixon: I know that. I'm just sort of raising a more of an esoteric point which anybody could raise and say look, you know if a guy's carrying a carbine, at least you know that, I mean, it's out there in the open where you're not going to shoot somebody with stealth. With a pistol, that's only the prerogative of officers.

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: Well--

Kissinger: That was a mistake but I think we may able to do something. But if not, we can't hold up the agreement on that point.

President Nixon: Yeah. What's the other point he wants? That all South Vietnamese leave?

Kissinger: All North Vietnamese leave. But he's now made a number of--that we can handle. I've figured out a way not of--what--I thought--

President Nixon: You can't change anything. I thought you said you--

Kissinger: We can't change anything in the agreement, but what we can do--

President Nixon: Well, you can't even change anything in the protocol, can you? Tuesday, as I understand, you're just going over there to initial it or is there--

Kissinger: Well the protocols we have a little more flexibility with because those were still being negotiated last week and we can still say that I had never put my thumbprint on those.

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: So--

President Nixon: Well, you can be very positive about it and say look, we've got a lot of objections to the protocol. You've been talking to the North Vietnamese and the President has said hell with them all but there's just one here that we feel is fair enough we ought to have.

Kissinger: Right. Exactly. That we can do. We probably won't get it, but at least there we have a chance. On the North Vietnamese troops I won't even raise it. The way to handle it--

President Nixon: No, no, no, no.

Kissinger: --is to give Thieu a note saying that we do not construe anything in the agreement that gives them the right to have troops there.

President Nixon: That's right. And that I will so state it--and that we will so state it at the proper time. Well--

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: That we will so state after the agreement is signed. Can we say that?

Kissinger: Yeah. After the agreement is signed, but I wouldn't say it before.

President Nixon: Yeah. Just say that I will--that we will, just not we--and we will, we will make that position, we will make that position public after the agreement is signed.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: Fine. Without equivocation.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: Right. And the key thing is that we do not recognize that right and that when we don't recognize that right . . . well, I have a feeling--I don't know, as I always said--that he's got to go along apart from all these intercepts and the rest. There's only one thing that sort of got into my mind last night, which perhaps has occurred to you. I'm not sure how much you can rely on the intercepts. I mean, after all, these people are not stupid. And I remember when I was in Moscow and Peking, knowing the rooms were bugged, I used to say things--outlandish things sometimes--just for the purpose of, you know, putting them on the wrong trail. These characters may be doing this in order to set us up for a fall. Has that occurred to you?

Kissinger: Well, if it were only one part true, Mr. President, I would agree with you. And I thought that for a long time, but when corps commanders, regional commanders, other people have been given instructions, if--

President Nixon: Yeah. I guess so.

Kissinger: If it were any one source--

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: --but when you get five or six sources all coming together saying the same thing, what you would then have is a massive deception campaign, which is not totally impossible, but which is totally suicidal.

President Nixon: If he tells all his corps commanders, Henry, that it isn't going to happen, why--

Kissinger: I mean, if he now tells his corps commanders that he has decided--he, the man who's prided himself on his friendship with America--that he has now decided to kick America in the teeth, to cancel his orders, it would be impossible.

President Nixon: Can he not be unaware of the enormous expectation that has now been raised here? And that can he not be unaware that not only is his aid jeopardized, but that there's no way that we can reverse this course? I mean, you remember I never did like it, neither did you, Rogers' constant use of the word irreversible. Remember?

Kissinger: Yeah.

President Nixon: On Vietnamization. But now it is irreversible. You and I both know it.

Kissinger: No question. 

President Nixon: I mean you can carry a country just so far. And, understand, it isn't irreversible if there was a horrible rape on the other side. But here when he rapes himself, it's irreversible.

Kissinger: Well, and the other side has been very restrained this week.

President Nixon: Well, I know, but you see what I mean.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

President Nixon: We can do anything if there's an invasion and that sort of thing, then we can, you know, gin up people. But if, on the other hand, simply for the sake of fighting for a word in the protocol, to the effect that police should carry carbines and also, or that the principle, the esoteric principle that the North Vietnamese have no right to be in the South--you think people are going to want us to bomb Hanoi for that? Hell, no!

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: They don't give a damn about it. They say, well, gosh, if we say it, particularly on that one--well, no use to rationalize and kid ourselves about it and convince ourselves. We're all convinced. I think it should be a rather soft answer that will turn away wrath. But very firm that I have to have an answer by Sunday that I can convey--shall we say that I will convey to congressional leaders? Or do you want to say that I need an answer or I will have to call? You see, calling the congressional leaders in if I don't get answer is more of a threat. Calling them in, just a couple of his, you know, selected ones, to tell them--understand whichever way. Which do you think is the better way to play it?

Kissinger: I think your suggestion is the better way of playing it.

President Nixon: Just to say that before you go that I have to call in some selected congressional leaders--a very, very small group who are his best friends including Senator Goldman--like Senator Goldwater and Senator--and I need to inform them at that point that, and will, of his objections. But I also will tell them that we are going to have to initial, that you're going to meet with the foreign minister and I'm delighted that he's coming because I think it's important that we have consultation, which we have had, and we have a public show of it right up till the last, up to the time of initialing. But I need to tell them that or they will not be able to stop the irresistible tide of his enemies who would say that South Vietnam did not go along, that they were forced to go along, and therefore are not a dependable ally. OK, well you know, just work the language out. I think, if you want me to look at it, I can.

Kissinger: Mr. President, given your schedule today, I think you thought very well now.

President Nixon: Well, you know, it's just a question of--you've got the thought--

Kissinger: I think it's more important.

President Nixon: Sure, sure, sure.

Kissinger: I'll show it to you right after the--

President Nixon: No, no, no. I don't--I really don't need to see it. I don't need to see it, unless you think I need to.

Kissinger: I think what we discussed is exactly what we put in there.

President Nixon: Fine. Well fine. Fine. You go right ahead and send it off then. The main thing is to get the darn thing over there, Henry.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: And I realize that. Don't worry about me. I can--I've got the thought across. And when you finally come down to it, it's more the mood than anything else. Two things: the mood and the deadline. He's got to know both. Now, just to go down the road on the contingencies. Suppose he wires back and says, no, I'll have to say that he cannot--he says I cannot agree until we see what the final--

Kissinger: Then we can still give him till noon on Tuesday.

President Nixon: All right. Then on noon on Tuesday. Then we have to go--

Kissinger: I would still announce the agreement.

President Nixon: In other words, your view is you'll come back and say--you wouldn't say that he wasn't going along, but you'd say that he was. Now on the other contingency we have to have in mind, which I know you've always ruled out, suppose--are we inciting him to come out and make a public statement before Tuesday that he won't go along?

Kissinger: He will never be worse off--this will be so much the worst for him, Mr. President, that he can never be better off making it earlier rather than late.

President Nixon: Yeah. In other words, you believe that his interests absolutely require him to keep his objections in private channels at this point.

Kissinger: That's right. Until we absolutely force him to go public by some irreversible action on our part.

President Nixon: Well, that's going to be Tuesday, isn't it?

Kissinger: It will be after Tuesday. He won't do it.

President Nixon: No, no, no, no. But I mean I have to go public Tuesday. That's my point.

Kissinger: That's right.

President Nixon: Your initialing, of course, will go and then I announce it publicly and I would--I'd just put it coldly that you will go there, you will meet, you will do the best you can, you'll meet with his foreign minister, you'll work on the protocol. But then that I have directed you to initial it at that point and I will announce it Tuesday night.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: Fine. OK. Fine. Any other wars in the world you started?

Kissinger: [Chuckling] No, I thought we should get the inauguration behind us before starting another one.

President Nixon: No problems with any of our bureaucratic friends.

Kissinger: Well, I don't think we should let them in on any of this.

President Nixon: Oh, of course not. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. And, oh, incidentally, do you think it's necessary to inform--oh, very good point. And this is an order: there is to be no informing of allies with regard to the Tuesday night thing, like Australia. Is that clear?

Kissinger: Absolutely. I've already taken care of that.

President Nixon: And are you sure that Green isn't gonna slip a message out to 'em or something? They're not gonna call the ambassador in?

Kissinger: No, well--

President Nixon: The ambassador's not to be called in and informed.

Kissinger: But Green doesn't even know yet when the message is, so he can't slip him a--

President Nixon: OK. You understand?

Kissinger: Green won't know until Tuesday morning. No, we'll sit on that.

President Nixon: You understand it's just a matter of--

Kissinger: Neither Australia nor New Zealand.

President Nixon: That's right. And, needless to say, not Canada.

Kissinger: But Canada, Mr. President, we must, because they are under the international supervisory body. And Canada, actually--

President Nixon: Ah, bullshit.

Kissinger: The trouble is that Trudeau governs together with that leftist party and he was in a box there.

President Nixon: Now he can make all the excuses he wants, Henry, I'm through with him. Totally.

Kissinger: Well, that I agree with.

President Nixon: Totally. Totally. All right. Inform them--you can inform them fifteen minutes before. Now that's an order.

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: Not more than fifteen minutes. I don't care if they're on the supervisory body. They are not to have any advanced information. Is that clear?

Kissinger: Right.

President Nixon: The message is not to be from me. Is that clear?

Kissinger: Oh, that is clear.

President Nixon: Under no--my name is not to be mentioned. There is no appreciation for that. There's to be no response to anything he says saying, well, we're glad that this thing is over. I want no responses to anybody of that sort, either individual or governmentally. Is that absolutely clear?

Kissinger: Fully.

President Nixon: If there is, I'll fire the whole State Department.

Kissinger: Fully clear, Mr. President.

President Nixon: OK. Good luck.

Kissinger: Right.

  • 1. The President refers to the festivities surrounding his second inauguration.

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