home | about | documents | news | postings | FOIA | research | internships | search | donate | mailing list

Out of range of the Oval Office tape recorder, Kissinger reports to Nixon on his recent talks with the Soviets (September 16, 1972) [Source: National Archives, Still Pictures Branch, Nixon Presidential Materials Project Photo Collection]

National Security Archive Publishes Digitized Set of 2,100 Henry Kissinger "Memcons" Recounting the Secret Diplomacy of the Nixon-Ford Era
"One Can Do Nothing About the Past"-Henry Kissinger to Iraqi Foreign Minister (Note 1)
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 193
For more information contact:
William Burr
Posted - May 26, 2006

Praise for The Kissinger Transcripts:

"Henry Kissinger's memos of conversation are an amazing, fascinating, and absolutely indispensable resource for understanding his years in power. No history of the Vietnam War, the China opening, the negotiations with Moscow, or the Middle East would be complete without studying these documents."

- Walter Isaacson, author of Kissinger: A Biography

"The National Security Archive's Kissinger set is an extraordinary collection of primary source materials for one of the most important periods in recent international relations. It allows students to research and explore the complex diplomacy of Henry Kissinger, the most celebrated American diplomat of our time. In these memoranda and meeting transcripts students can see the development of America's policies toward almost every part of the globe - a unique teaching resource, carefully organized and thoroughly accessible."

- Thomas Schwartz, Professor of History, Vanderbilt University

Related posting

The Kissinger Transcripts:
The Top Secret Talks with Beijing and Moscow

Edited by William Burr

Washington, DC, 26 May 2006 - Today, the National Security Archive announces the publication The Kissinger Transcripts: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977, comprising more than 2,100 memoranda of conversations ("memcons"), many of them near-verbatim transcripts, detailing talks between Henry A. Kissinger and United States and foreign government leaders and officials. Edited by senior analyst William Burr, and available on the Digital National Security Archive as well as in print-microfiche form, this collection includes 28,386 pages of documents. It is the most comprehensive published record of Kissinger as decision-maker, executor of policy, and negotiator during all phases of his service during the Nixon and Ford administrations: 1) as Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs ("national security adviser"), 1971-1975, 2) as national security adviser and Secretary of State, 1973-1975, and 3) as Secretary of State after he was dismissed as national security adviser.

Originally found in archival sources or released through targeted declassification requests, the memcons show Kissinger meeting with the major leaders of the day in a variety of settings, from the White House Situation Room to the Kremlin and the Great Hall of the People (Beijing). Kissinger's many interlocutors included Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, James Schlesinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Denis Healey, Takeo Miki, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Anwar Sadat, Hafez al-Assad, King Hussein, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Georges Pompidou, Andrei Gromyko, Leonid Brezhnev, Anatoly Dobrynin, Aldo Moro, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Itzak Rabin, Helmut Schmidt, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Le Duc Tho, Nguyen Van Thieu, Mobutu Sese Seko, Léopold Senghor, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, John B. Vorster, Marshall Tito, and Nicolae Ceausescu, among many others.

The documents published in The Kissinger Transcripts: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy shed light on Kissinger's role in the key international developments of the period, including, but not limited to, the following topics:

  • The wars in Indochina--Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia--and Kissinger's managerial role in U.S military operations in those countries
  • Kissinger's interactions with the North Vietnamese, the Chinese, and the Soviets in trying to bring conflicts in Indochina to an end
  • The final stages of the Indochina wars, including U.S. reactions to the collapse of the client regimes in the region
  • U.S.-Soviet détente and Kissinger's conduct of the "back channel" with the Soviet Union
  • Crises over Jordan and Soviet bases in Cienfuegos, Cuba, September 1970
  • U.S.-China rapprochement: including initial White House efforts to communicate with Beijing, Kissinger's "secret trip" to China in July 1971 and subsequent high-level meetings with Chinese officials, including visits by Presidents Nixon and Ford in 1971 and 1975, respectively
  • Developments in South Asia, including the 1971 India-Pakistan war and the Nixon/Kissinger tilt to Pakistan during the crisis
  • The October War and relations with the Arab states, Japan, and Western Europe during the 1973-1974 oil crisis
  • Kissinger and Middle East "shuttle diplomacy" during 1973-1975 and the negotiation of disengagement agreements between Israel, Syria, and Egypt
  • International economic, energy and raw materials policies
  • U.S. policy toward Chile, including the coup and relations with the Pinochet dictatorship
  • The 1974 Cyprus crisis and U.S. relations with Greece and Turkey
  • Revolutions in Portugal and its colonies and U.S. policy toward the ensuing political crisis in Portugal and the civil war in Angola
  • U.S.-European relations, including policy coordination and consultations on a variety of hot issues, such as Euro-Communism and political developments in Portugal, 1974-1975
  • Negotiations to end minority rule in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, including negotiations with South African leaders

The Kissinger Transcripts: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy is available on microfiche or in electronic form as part of the on-line Digital National Security Archive (subscription service managed by ProQuest). A printed index/catalog provides great detail on each of the memcons, including archival location when appropriate. The printed guide includes a 305-page catalog, a 141-page names index, and a 592-page subject index beginning with "Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates)" and ending with "Zimbabwe." In addition, a glossary of names provides basic information on major participants in the "memcons." Finally, an overview essay by the editor provides perspective on the documents in this collection and on Kissinger's career in government.

Today's briefing book includes a sampling of 20 documents from The Kissinger Transcripts. They cover such developments as:

  • An early "back channel" meeting where Soviet ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin showed concern that the Nixon administration might escalate the Vietnam War: Kissinger replied that "it would be too bad if we were driven in this direction because it was hard to think of a place where a confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States made less sense"
  • In his first high-level secret meeting with the North Vietnamese, August 1969, Kissinger warns Hanoi that without diplomatic progress, "we will be compelled - with great reluctance - to take measures of the greatest consequence"
  • Discussing Cuba policy, Kissinger asked an NSC committee to look at "para-military options" because President Nixon was interested in, even "leaning toward", them
  • During a meeting of the Washington Special Actions Group on the 1970 "Black September" crisis in Jordan, Kissinger told the group that Nixon "wants us to consider using aircraft against the Fedayeen"; if "Royal authority" in Jordan collapsed, Washington might intervene
  • A meeting of the National Security Council showed the difficulty of producing a "clear" nuclear weapons use policy in the event of a NATO crisis; during the meeting Nixon argued that "We will never use the tactical nuclears, but we let the USSR see them there."
  • During a discussion of policy toward Allende's Chile with U.S. copper mining executives, Kissinger showed determination to wage economic warfare: "if we agree to open up international credits, we may be just speeding up the process of establishing a communist regime."
  • After his trip to China, Kissinger had an uncomfortable meeting with right-wing critics of détente and rapprochement with Beijing. While Kissinger claimed to welcome "pressure from the Right", he preferred that his audience stay quiet: they were "too harsh" and should "stop yelling at us."
  • During secret talks with Zhou Enlai in June 1972, Kissinger explained U.S. Vietnam strategy. Following his "decent interval" approach, Kissinger argued that the White House could not accept Hanoi's proposals to eject South Vietnamese leaders from power, but would accept the political changes that could occur after the United States withdrew forces from Vietnam: "if, as a result of historical evolution it should happen over a period of time, if we can live with a Communist government in China, we ought to be able to accept it in Indochina"
  • During a Vietnam strategy session in August 1972, Kissinger had a livid reaction to the "indecent haste" with which the "treacherous" Japanese had just recognized China
  • In the final stages of the Vietnam negotiations, South Vietnamese officials objected strongly to proposed settlement with Hanoi. With the agreement leaving North Vietnamese forces in the South, one official complained to Kissinger about the "overwhelming problems. If you present someone with a question, he does not wish to die either by taking poison or by a dagger. What kind of an answer do you expect?"
  • Meeting with Israeli ambassador Simcha Dinitz, Kissinger denounced the Jackson-Vanik amendment to withhold trade concessions from the Soviets unless they liberalized their policy on emigration of Soviet Jewry: the "issue for American Jews is whether a major American foreign policy can be wrecked"
  • During and after the October 1973 Middle East war, Kissinger began to squeeze the Soviets out of the Middle East; the Soviets understood this and told Kissinger that he had gone back on his promise to include Moscow in the negotiations. When Kissinger declared that the "United States has no intention to exclude the Soviet Union," Leonid Brezhnev suggested that he was not persuaded and spoke of the need for "good faith, not playing games."
  • A few days later Kissinger told Israeli officials: "we are squeezing [Moscow]" but he worried about détente's future because "we are facing these brutal bastards with nothing to offer them."
  • During a discussion with State Department staff of the problem of detecting military coups, such as the April 1974 coup in Portugal, Kissinger asked "what do we do-run an FBI in every country? [W]e say they're a dictatorship with internal security measures. The goddam internal security measures couldn't find the bloody coup, so why the hell should we find it?"
  • Discussing Cambodia with Thailand's Foreign Minister, Kissinger acknowledged that the Khmer Rouge were "murderous thugs" but he wanted the Thais to tell the Cambodians "that we will be friends with them": Cambodia aligned with China could be a "counterweight" to the real adversary, North Vietnam.
  • During a meeting of the "Quadripartite Group"--the U.S., British, French, and West German Foreign Ministers-which met secretly for discussions of matters of common concern-Kissinger explained his skepticism about Euro-Communism: "The acid test isn't whether they would come to power democratically; the test is whether they would allow a reversal. It is difficult for a Communist party to admit that history can be reversed and allow themselves to be voted out of power." For Kissinger, the European Communist Parties were the "real enemy."
  • Meeting secretly with the Iraqi foreign minister in December 1975, Kissinger declared that he found it useful to "establish contact" with Baghdad because he wanted to show that "America is not unsympathetic to Iraq."
  • During a February 1976 discussion with the Pakistani prime minister, Kissinger expressed concern about Pakistan's nuclear aspirations: worried about a proposed deal with the French, "what concerns us is how reprocessing facilities are used at a certain point." After the Pakistanis cited earlier assurances on safeguards for nuclear facilities, Kissinger observed that "realities" mattered, not "words."

Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Document 1: Memorandum for the President from Henry A. Kissinger, "Memorandum of Conversation with Ambassador Dobrynin, April 3, 1969," 3 April 1969, Secret/Nodis (Note 2)

One of Kissinger's most famous actions in the Nixon administration's first months was to establish a secret communications channel, or "back channel" (as opposed to regular "front channel" communications through the State Department) with the Soviet Union through Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. Seeing relations with the Soviet Union as one of their most important problems, Nixon and Kissinger wanted a secret channel for negotiations on the most sensitive issues but also to defuse potential crises with their only major nuclear rival. Kissinger would use it to discuss and negotiate with Dobrynin a variety of problems, including Vietnam, strategic arms control, the Berlin problem, Cuba, and the Middle East. This early discussion quickly turned to the Vietnam War with Dobyrnin showing concern over the possibility of U.S. escalation of the war. Also worried about China (border fighting had begun a month earlier), Dobrynin wondered about the direction of U.S. policy. Nixon's inaugural address had made plain his interest in opening communication with old adversaries like China but Kissinger would not give any clues about White House thinking beyond a few generalities.

Document 2: Henry Kissinger to President Nixon, "Meeting in Paris with North Vietnamese," 6 August 1969, with Memorandum of Conversation attached, 4 August 1969 attached, Top Secret/Sensitive/Nodis

In late July 1969, Nixon traveled to a number of countries in East and South Asia, including the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, India, and Pakistan (as well as the famous stop in Guam where the "Nixon Doctrine" was articulated). After Nixon's visit to Romania, Kissinger traveled separately to Paris for meetings, one of which was a highly secret discussion with North Vietnamese diplomats Xuan Thuy and Mai Van Bo in which Kissinger was accompanied only by NSC staffer (and future national security adviser) Anthony Lake and Defense Department attaché Major General Vernon Walters. Showing the gulf between the negotiating positions of the warring parties, Xuan and Mai insisted that peace in Vietnam depended on the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the "removal" of the Thieu-Ky regime. Kissinger, however, argued that the United States would not "replace" Thieu-Ky; moreover, the withdrawal of U.S. forces required the departure of DRV forces from the South. The central feature of Kissinger's presentation was his assertion that if progress on a diplomatic solution had not been reached by 1 November, the first anniversary of the Paris talks, "we will be compelled - with great reluctance - to take measures of the greatest consequence." This threat was part and parcel of the "madman theory" which Nixon and Kissinger hoped could be implemented to reach a favorable Vietnam settlement. Xuan, Kissinger reported to Nixon, "did not hit back hard" at the implied threat of a bombing campaign which Kissinger had been trying to convey in various forms over the summer. (Note 3)

Document 3: Memorandum of Conversation, "Vietnam," 4 August 1969, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris, Secret/Nodis

The same day that he had the secret meeting with Xuan Thuy, Kissinger had several meetings with senior French officials, including Prime Minister Pompidou and Foreign Minister Maurice Schumann. After some discussion of possible Chinese and Soviet thinking about the Vietnam negotiations and the views of Asian leaders about U.S. policy, the discussion turned to the North Vietnamese and the diplomacy of a settlement. Kissinger made it evident that the credibility of U.S. power was an all-important consideration in his thinking about the war: "it was important that we not be confounded by a fifth-rate agricultural power" and it was "unthinkable for a major power like the United States to be destroyed politically by North Vietnam." More or less dismissing the DRV's negotiating position, Kissinger allowed that the White House was nevertheless willing to compromise, but the United States refused to "destroy … organized non-communist political forces." Moreover, "outside military forces," including the North Vietnamese, must withdraw or "diminish via attrition." As the meeting ended, Schumann observed that "some kind of contact with the Chinese might be useful," presumably to get a better understanding of the North's position or even influence its thinking. Kissinger made no recorded response but earlier in the year, at Eisenhower's funeral, Nixon had secretly requested that de Gaulle to make contact with Beijing to convey the U.S.'s interest in high-level communications with China.

Document 4: Meeting of NSC Review Group, "U.S. Policy Toward Cuba (NSSM 32)," 23 September 1969, White House Situation Room, Secret

Part of the NSC apparatus that Kissinger and NSC staffer Morton Halperin created in the first months of the new administration, Senior Review Group brought together senior officials to review responses to the various National Security Study Memoranda that Kissinger had signed. This meeting on Cuba focused on a study prepared in response to NSSM 32, which presented four basic approaches: 1) force, 2) isolation, 3) carrot and stick (active and passive versions), and 4) normalization. The meeting shows Kissinger prodding the officials to consider the issues in a different light, i.e., to look into "how much" value the Soviets placed on their relationship with Cuba and the extent to which Washington had an interest in "maintaining a Communist regime [there] so that we can use Cuba in a squeeze play vis-à-vis the USSR." Moreover, Kissinger wanted the Group to look at "para-military options" because President Nixon was interested in, even "leaning toward", them.

A fascinating part of the discussion was on the extent to which the United States could accommodate itself to a more moderate Cuban communism. Kissinger observed that one of the "advantages of Castro Communism is that it is an unattractive form of Communism." Even if Cuba followed a "Titoist" model it might not be to the U.S.'s advantage because Yugoslavia's leader was generally not "helpful" to Washington "except when he fears Soviet attack." Looking beyond Cuba, Kissinger "asked if an enlightened Communist country in Latin America would be in our interest." Apparently the answer was no, because Kissinger "cited a democratic Latin American leader who had thanked God for the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia [because] if the Czech model had succeeded, it would have been a respectable model for others to see." Another official, the State Department's William R. Cargo, observed that if Cuba broke its ties with Moscow, it "could not be successful without our help." He "thought it better to have a poor Communist example with Soviet support and approval than not." Implicitly, communism as such was a threat, whether it was linked to the Soviet Union or not.

Document 5: Meeting of the Washington Special Actions Group with the President, "Cambodia," 15 June 1970, 3:15 p.m., White House Situation Room, Top Secret/Sensitive/Nodis

Some six weeks after U.S. forces had crossed over the Cambodian border from South Vietnam, President Nixon met with members of the Washington Special Actions Group (WSAG) to get a "maximum effort" from the national security bureaucracy in assisting the Lon Nol government and to review progress made since the invasion. Established by Kissinger in mid-1969, the WSAG played a key role in coordinating the development of contingency plans for possible crises and enabling Kissinger to monitor the implementation of the plans when crises occurred. During a meeting on Cambodia, after Kissinger reminded the WSAG that Nixon was concerned that "we were proceeding at too leisurely a pace" in providing military aid, Nixon explained that U.S. credibility was at stake in the Cambodian crisis: "It was important for Suharto and the Indonesians, as well as for the Thai and the Lao, to know that we were standing firm." If Cambodia fell, the "other side" would have their "sanctuaries" and the "psychological impact" would be "serious." Believing that it was important for Washington to "take risks" on behalf of Cambodia, Nixon wanted the group to take an "imaginative, positive approach." In response, JCS Chairman Admiral Moorer spoke about actions to "extend reconnaissance" by infiltrating "teams of indigenous ground personnel," to increase CIA activities, and to deploy two Thai regiments to protect lines of communications in Western Cambodia. When Nixon asked about the Cambodians' fighting abilities, Moorer made an invidious comparison to the Laotian forces secretly financed by the CIA: "the Cambodians were not doing badly. Compared to Helms's Laotians, they were about a stand-off in military ability." (Note 4)

Document 6: Senior WSAG Meeting, "Middle East," 10 September 1970, 3:15-4:00 p.m., White House Situation Room, Top Secret

The fall of 1970 was a period of crises for the Nixon administration: the Jordanian crisis and tensions over a Soviet naval base in Cienfuegos, Cuba overlapped with unfolding covert activities to thwart the election of Chilean socialist Salvador Allende. (Note 5) This document recounts a WSAG meeting that occurred in the midst of the "Black September" Jordan crisis, when "Fedayeen"--Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) guerillas-were fighting the government of Jordan as well as hi-jacking passenger aircraft in an attempt to secure the release of guerillas imprisoned in Israel. To ensure that the Israeli government had more military resources in the event that it intervened in Jordan, Nixon requested a new package of military aid while the WSAG looked at contingency plans in the event that Washington decided to intervene. The problem was keeping U.S. military maneuvers quiet; as Admiral Moorer explained, "We have taken every action we can take now without signaling an increased alert." While troop support was one possibility, Kissinger told the group that Nixon "wants us to consider using aircraft against the Fedayeen."

Admiral Moorer's "first recommendation is that we should not get involved" because of the logistical problems that such an intervention would face, as well as the possibility that the Soviets would react. Nevertheless, Kissinger wanted the Group to develop plans if Nixon decided in favor of a "sustained operation in Jordan" because a "collapse of Royal authority" could lead to Israeli intervention followed by Soviet and Iraqi counter-moves. This led the group to consider possible deterrent measures such as alerting strategic bombers. While Kissinger believed that Soviet intervention was "quite possible," Jordanian armed forces were able to hold off the Fedayeen and a Syrian tank column that crossed into Jordan. Nixon and Kissinger later argued that the Soviets had encouraged the Syrians to intervene and then, in response to U.S. warnings, pull back but subsequent accounts suggest exaggeration of both the Syrian and Soviet roles. (Note 6)

Document 7: Memorandum of Conversation, "NSC Meeting: NATO and MBFR," 19 November 1970, 10:00 a.m., White House, Top Secret/XGDS (Note 7)

As part of its overall review of U.S. foreign policy, the Nixon White House looked closely at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Nixon's first overseas trip was to Western Europe, as a sign of the alliance's importance to the new administration. Nevertheless, Nixon and Kissinger had concerns about future relations with Western Europe in light of Congressional pressures to withdraw troops and the emergence of Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik, which worried Kissinger because of the prospect of overly close ties between Bonn and Moscow. Moreover, Soviet pressure for a European security conference and Mutual and Balanced Force Reduction talks complicated matters further. In the fall of 1970, in the wake of major studies of NATO and MBFR, the NSC met to discuss the issues. Kissinger's briefing emphasized the necessity for developing a "viable strategy" for U.S. forces in Europe but he wanted to "avoid any actions which would lead our allies in the direction of neutralism." Force withdrawals could shock the West Germans and "push them toward the Russians." As Nixon argued, "If they reach the conclusion that the U.S. is withdrawing [the Germans] will go into a psychological frenzy." According to Kissinger, one problem that the study of NATO strategy disclosed was that the U.S. government "could not develop a clear picture of the use of tactical nuclear weapons." Nevertheless, Nixon saw tactical nuclear weapons as basic to deterrence: "We will never use the tactical nuclears, but we let the USSR see them there." Moreover, the U.S. position in Western Europe depended on overall nuclear strength: "strategy without a credible deterrent would mean the Soviet domination of Europe." The United States could not let people believe that Soviet nuclear forces were "superior" because Washington would "lose leverage as Number Two."

Document 8: "Chile", Memorandum of Conversation with Anaconda Copper Executives, 17 August 1971, White House, memoranda and letters attached, Confidential

The CIA's inability to stop Salvador Allende's election to the Chilean presidency the previous October had produced great displeasure in the Nixon White House, which had backed covert operations to prevent the Popular Unity coalition's victory. In keeping with Nixon's order to Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms to "make the economy scream," the White House supported an embargo on international loans to the Chilean government. Earlier governments had taken steps to nationalize copper mines in Chile, but the Allende coalition took the process further in July 1971, when Congress passed a constitutional amendment allowing the government to nationalize all the mines, placing them under the control of a state-owned company. In light of the high profits that U.S. corporations had made in Chilean copper over the years, Allende argued that those profits were sufficient compensation. Concerned about the Chilean situation, in August 1971 Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller asked Kissinger to meet with his former colleague John Place, who had recently become president of Anaconda Copper. A meeting between Kissinger, Place, and another Anaconda executive showed some differences over the exact meaning of a "tough line" toward Chile, but it was evident that the White House wanted to harass the Chilean economy: "if we agree to open up international credits, we may be just speeding up the process of establishing a communist regime."

Document 9: Memorandum of Conversation with Conservative Opinion Leaders, 12 August 1971, 4:00-5:30 p.m., The White House, Secret

In 1968 publishers, intellectuals, and activists on the right had generally supported Richard Nixon's candidacy. Moreover, William F. Buckley, Jr., publisher of the National Review, had been on friendly terms with Henry Kissinger since the 1950s; while Kissinger tended to dismiss most conservative activists as yokels, Buckley was one conservative opinion leader whom Kissinger, a self-described "historical conservative," had tried to win over. By the mid-summer of 1971, however, the conservative establishment was in revolt against the Nixon administration. That Nixon and Kissinger were making unnecessary concessions in the SALT talks was one worry, but the biggest blow was Kissinger's trip to Beijing, which the conservatives regarded as a deal with the devil. In a statement published in Human Events on 12 August Buckley and twelve others announced that they had "resolved to suspend our support of the Nixon administration."

That same day, some members of the group, without Buckley, met Kissinger at the White House. Doing much of the talking and defending the administration's record, Kissinger denied that the White House "has given away anything on SALT" and treated the opening to China as a "necessity" to balance off the Soviet Union. Not persuaded by Kissinger's arguments, one conservative opined that Nixon foreign policy was not significantly different from Kennedy/Johnson diplomacy, while others showed concern about Taiwan, defense spending, and missile accuracy programs. Trying to square the new China policy with the traditional support for Taiwan, Kissinger made a statement that proved remarkably imprudent in light of what happened only a few months later: "The justification of … our China initiative would be disproved now if the Taiwanese were excluded from the UN." While Kissinger pretended to welcome "pressure from the Right", it was evident that he preferred his audience to stay quiet: they were "too harsh" and should "stop yelling at us." His audience was not persuaded; one saw it as "kind of a patronizing performance." (Note 8)

Document 10: Memorandum of Conversation with Zhou Enlai, 20 June 1972, 2:05- p.m., Top Secret/Sensitive/Exclusively Eyes Only

While the far right remained unhappy with Kissinger, the rapprochement with Beijing continued to unfold with another Kissinger visit in October, Alexander Haig's visit in January 1972 and the Nixon trip in February 1972. In White House Years, Kissinger discussed at length his and Nixon's trips to China but he devoted only one paragraph to his talks with Zhou Enlai in Beijing, during 20-23 June 1972. (Note 9) These exchanges, however, do not deserve the obscurity to which Kissinger has relegated them because they were significant, covering key issues such as the Vietnam War, the possibility of normalizing relations, U.S.-Soviet relations, Soviet policy, and a host of regional problems ranging from Western Europe to South Asia to Japan and Korea. Kissinger visited Beijing in the midst of U.S.-China tensions caused by Beijing's secret protests of border incidents and attacks on Chinese ships during the Linebacker I bombing raids and mining operations against North Vietnam in retaliation against Hanoi's spring offensive. With respect to the Soviets, who were the source of considerable apprehension in Beijing, a fascinating moment occurred when Kissinger tacitly brought Beijing within the scope of the U.S. nuclear umbrella by telling Zhou that Washington would make a nuclear response in the event that Moscow launched an attack "that would put all of Asia under one European center of control" (p. 19). On the outcome of the Vietnam negotiations, Kissinger drew on the "decent interval" concept to convince Zhou that the United States was truly determined to exit from Vietnam. He told Zhou that, for credibility reasons, the United States could not meet Hanoi's demand for the "overthrow" of President Nguyen Van Thieu. Nevertheless, once U.S. forces had left Indochina, Kissinger declared, the White House would accept the results of historical change: "while we cannot bring a communist government to power, if, as a result of historical evolution it should happen over a period of time, if we can live with a communist government in China, we ought to be able to accept it in Indochina" (p. 37).

Document 11: Memorandum of Conversation with Ambassador to Republic of Vietnam Ellsworth Bunker, 31 August 1972, Honolulu, with Bunker chronology, negotiating papers, and Nixon letter to Thieu attached, Top Secret/Sensitive/Exclusively Eyes Only

A year later, Kissinger was in Oahu for the summit between Nixon and Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. Before meeting with Nixon, Kissinger had a discussion with Ellsworth Bunker, the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, about the reactions of the South Vietnamese leadership to the latest U.S. proposals at the secret peace talks with North Vietnam. Before beginning the discussion on Vietnam, Kissinger denounced the "treacherous" Japanese, who had just informed Washington, with very little notice, that they were about to establish full diplomatic relations with China. This outburst is an example, confirmed by other documents in The Kissinger Transcripts, of his often difficult, sometimes antagonistic, relationship with Japan, a society that he had great difficulty understanding. On Vietnam, Kissinger's main concern was President Thieu's fear that an agreement with North Vietnam would "sell out" the South; for Thieu, the proposed tripartite "Committee of National Reconciliation" would amount to a "disguised coalition government" by including representatives of the National Liberation Front. Worried that the "obtuse" Thieu would make his objections public, Kissinger declared that would be "their death and our death" because it would give a "big boost" to George McGovern's presidential campaign.

Certainly, the surfacing of Thieu's objections would interfere with Kissinger's "plan" to walk out of the Paris Talks after the U.S. elections and initiate a "confrontation with the North Vietnamese." To get Thieu on board, Bunker and Kissinger agreed that Nixon had to send him a letter with an assurance that the White House would not "purchase peace or honor … at the price of deserting a brave ally." While Kissinger's memoirs included a discussion of the meeting with Bunker, he did not mention the frank discussion of the U.S. presidential election, the "rigged" South Vietnamese elections in 1971, or Thieu's concern about a "disguised coalition government," much less the outburst over Japan. (Note 10)

Document 12: Memorandum of Conversation with Nguyen Phu Duc, Foreign Policy Assistant to President Thieu, 29 November 1972, 5:30-7:15 p.m., The White House, Top Secret/Sensitive/Exclusively Eyes Only

Several months later, the crisis with Saigon that Kissinger had tried to forestall began to unfold. While Kissinger had said that "peace was at hand" and Nixon was re-elected, Thieu and his advisers could not be persuaded that the agreement that Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were negotiating was in their interest. At the end of November Thieu sent his national security adviser Nguyen Phu Duc to try to persuade Nixon to make changes in the agreement. The discussion between Duc and Nixon was difficult enough, but the first Duc-Kissinger conversation amounted to a confrontation, with Kissinger taking the offensive by accusing the South Vietnamese of giving the North a "victory" because of their "public demands [on the U.S. government]." (Note 11) While Kissinger reminded Duc of Nixon's secret commitments to Thieu, which would include pledges to bomb the North in order to police the agreement, that was not enough to convince Duc to swallow his objections. As before, Duc believed that the proposed Council of National Reconciliation will be interpreted as "a coalition government without the name." Just as bad, from his standpoint, was that the peace agreement would leave North Vietnamese forces in the South. As Duc explained, these were "overwhelming problems. If you present someone with a question, he does not wish to die either by taking poison or by a dagger. What kind of an answer do you expect?" Kissinger, however, argued that he believed that the agreement was an "enormous success" because it kept President Thieu in office. "No one in America thought this was possible."

Kissinger argued that Duc should treat the plan for a Council with "total contempt"; in any event, Kissinger "wouldn't let [it] come into being." As for language on the withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces, Kissinger argued that it was "impossible." Nixon and Kissinger had conceded this point to Hanoi several years earlier when they stopped talking about "mutual withdrawal" of forces from South Vietnam; they would not reopen the issue. The meeting ended without resolution; "it is impossible to get an agreement this way," Kissinger complained. While Saigon could not win on its basic objections, before Hanoi and Washington signed the peace agreement in January 1973, the U.S. Air Force and Navy had conducted the "Christmas Bombing," to weaken Hanoi in order to create a decent interval but as an earnest to Thieu that the United States would use force to deter violations of the agreement. (Note 12)

Document 13: Memorandum of Conversation, 30 March 1973, 12:00-12:40 p.m., Military Aide's Office, East Wing, White House, Top Secret/Sensitive/Excusively Eyes Only

Meeting with Simcha Dinitz, in his new role as the Israeli ambassador, Kissinger was briefed on the secret talks on a Middle Eastern settlement between Israeli diplomats and Yevgeny Primakov, one of the top Soviet Middle East experts. According to Dinitz's account the Soviets minimized the importance of Egypt's expulsion of Soviet military advisers in the summer of 1972: "It is not so important; we [the Soviets] are still there, with friends and arms." Kissinger had no objections to the Israel-Soviet discussion, which generally paralleled the U.S. approach on the Middle East: "We are pushing nothing [with the Soviets]; we are wasting time." Referring to secret talks with Sadat's national security adviser, "We are using the Egyptians to kill off talks with the Russians." Apparently Kissinger wanted to continue "wasting time," until the Egyptians had something new to offer. Nevertheless, Kissinger and Dinitz agreed that the situation could "explode" and Kissinger recommended that the Israelis "think about eventual negotiations." On the question of the exit tax on Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate to Israel, Kissinger warned against the Jackson-Vanik amendment to deny Most-Favored Nation trade status to Moscow. Declaring that the "issue for American Jews is whether a major American foreign policy can be wrecked"-the détente trade deals with Moscow-Kissinger hoped that he could negotiate away the exit tax problem.

Document 14: Memorandum of Conversation, "CSCE: Middle East," 26 March 1974, 10:35 a.m.-1:53 p.m., The Kremlin, Secret/Nodis

The Middle East situation "exploded" in October 1973, and in the wake of the Yom Kippur War Nixon and Kissinger launched an intensive effort to secure the disengagement of, on the one hand, Israeli and Egyptian forces from the Sinai and, on the other hand, Israeli and Syrian forces from border areas. While Kissinger had worked with the Soviets in brokering a cease-fire and Moscow took it for granted that it would play a central role in negotiating a peace settlement, that was far from Kissinger's mind. After the near-crisis triggered by Brezhnev's 24 October 1973 letter, Kissinger became determined to squeeze the Soviets out of any peace talks. Well before the first Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement had been completed in mid-January 1974, it was evident that Kissinger and his interlocutors in Cairo and Damascus were putting the Soviets on the sidelines. When Kissinger traveled to Moscow in late March 1974, mainly to discuss the SALT II negotiations, he found out how much "shuttle diplomacy" had angered Brezhnev and the Soviet leadership. (Note 13) After some discussion of CSCE, which Brezhnev felt was moving too slowly (and whose human rights implications he did not take too seriously), the conversation turned to the Middle East; while Brezhnev believed that he and Kissinger had reached an understanding in October that peace settlement diplomacy would be under joint, U.S.-Soviet auspices, he was uneasy with the U.S.'s independent, or "separate," diplomatic activity in the Middle East since the cease-fire. A telling moment came after Kissinger warned against criticizing "what has been achieved"; Brezhnev responded that he was "criticizing the past from a position of principle, because it was done in circumvention of our understanding with you." That, Kissinger claimed, "is a phrase I cannot accept." While Kissinger later declared that the "United States has no intention to exclude the Soviet Union from the negotiation," Brezhnev suggested that he was not persuaded, by speaking of the need for "good faith, not playing games."

Document 15: Memorandum of Conversation with General Moshe Dayan and Ambassador Simcha Dinitz, 29 March 1974, 12:05-2:45 p.m., Secret/Nodis

With the Israeli-Syrian disengagement talks under way, Israel's Defense Minister, General Moshe Dayan, came to Washington for talks on the negotiations and on military aid issues. (Note 14) Having just returned from Moscow, Kissinger briefed the Israelis on the Middle East discussions with Brezhnev, "the roughest conversation I have ever had with the Soviets on any subject." "It was a very brutal talk." What Kissinger would not acknowledge to Brezhnev, he was perfectly comfortable telling Dayan and Ambassador Simcha Dinitz: "we are squeezing [the Soviets] on the Middle East." Indeed, Kissinger worried about the future of détente because the United States had so little to give the Soviets: "we are facing these brutal bastards with nothing to offer them." Much of the conversation related to the proposed disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces from a "buffer zone" and the levels of forces that both sides would keep in the area. Kissinger believed that a successful negotiation was essential to achieve a "temporary neutralization of the most radical [Arab] elements" but also to thwart the Soviets, who wanted the talks to "fail to bring about a disintegration of our role in the Middle East." Kissinger, however, was critical of the lines that the Israelis drew; arguing that "some slice of the Golan Heights … will have to be part of this arrangement", otherwise the Israelis "will produce a war." The disengagement talks posed complex problems that were not resolved until the end of May, when the two parties reached a final agreement.

Document 16: "The Secretary's Staff Meeting - Wed., Oct. 8, 1975," 8 October 1975, 8:00 a.m., State Department, Secret, Excised copy

Not long after he became Secretary of State, Kissinger met regularly with senior State Department officials for updates on a variety of issues, ranging from world events and overseas trips to relations with Congress and press leaks. This document is an example of the staff meetings, with topics including law of the sea issues, the International Labor Organization, Indonesian inroads on East Timor, passports to Vietnam, military sales to Chile, the developing civil war in Lebanon, SALT, a post-mortem of intelligence prior to the 1974 military coup in Portugal, a Congressional request for Kissinger testimony on covert operations, and the situations in Portugal and Ethiopia. The extended discussion of military sales to Chile shows Kissinger's resistance to linking non-security criteria such as human rights concerns to military aid to friendly governments: "if we once get into other criteria, we're licked." When Kissinger and his staff turned to failures to predict military coups, especially the one in Portugal, the discussion became heated. Kissinger argued that "What do we do-run an FBI in every country? [W]e say they're a dictatorship with internal security measures. The goddam internal security measures couldn't find the bloody coup, so why the hell should we find it?" When Assistant Secretary for Intelligence and Research William Hyland riposted, "That's supposedly what we get paid for," Kissinger disagreed: "Are we in the business of finding coups all over the world?"

Document 17: Memorandum of Conversation, "Secretary's Meeting with Foreign Minister Chatchai of Thailand," 26 November 1975, 1:00 p.m., State Department, Secret/Nodis

Months after the Indochina debacle, Kissinger had an "informal lunch" with Chatchai Chunhawan, Foreign Minister in the civilian government that came to power after the October 1973 student revolution against the military regime. Part of the new regime's agenda included normalization of relations with Beijing, so China (including Mao's physical condition, prospects for Deng Xiaoping, and the Chinese role in Southeast Asia) came up at several points during the conversation. Another agenda item for the Thai government was the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Thailand; as Kissinger indicated, negotiations had settled most of the issues except for the more sensitive issue of the U-2 deployments in Thailand (they would be redeployed to South Korea in 1976). The conversation, which moved easily from serious issues to banter, touched on the forces withdrawal issue, military aid, and especially regional problems, including the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia. Recognizing that Cambodia was controlled by "murderous thugs," Kissinger nevertheless wanted the Thais to tell the Cambodians "that we will be friends with them." That was because he saw Cambodia as a useful "counterweight", especially if aligned with China, to the real adversary, "North Vietnam." Thus, "our strategy is to get the Chinese into Laos and Cambodia as a barrier to the Vietnamese." (Note 15)

Document 18: Memorandum of Conversation, "East-West Relations (European Communist Parties); Angola; Spain; Yugoslavia; Cyprus; Italy,"12 December 1975, 3:30-5:40 p.m., Brussels, Residence of U.S. Ambassador, Top Secret/Nodis/Xgds

Beginning in 1974-1975, Kissinger and the foreign ministers of France, the United Kingdom, and the Federal Republic of Germany began meeting secretly (usually around the time of UN or NATO meetings) to discuss problems of common concern, mainly but not exclusively relating to "hot issues" in Western Europe, such as the Portuguese Revolution and "Euro-Communism." Barely mentioned in the press, the "Quadripartite Group" had a more or less clandestine existence for many years, because its members were determined to escape the notice of other NATO members who would feel perturbed if they learned of such meetings. Kissinger's memoir of 1974-1976 never mentions the Group, but in recent years records of its meetings have surfaced in State Department records at the National Archives.

During this meeting the ministers traded opinions on Euro-Communism, whether any of the European Communist Parties were independent from Moscow, whether they would allow themselves to be voted out of power, and what kind of threat an electoral victory by any of them would pose to the Alliance. All four ministers had dark views of the European Communists and did not anticipate that the ideas of a multi-party democratic socialism that were common among reform Communists in Italy and Spain would be supported by a Soviet Secretary General in a dozen years. An extended discussion of the Angolan crisis followed, in which the participants discussed the implications of a victory by the Cuban-Soviet-backed MPLA. While Kissinger pushed "to get something done," in only a few weeks Congress passed the Clark Amendment proscribing U.S. intervention in Angola's Civil War. Discussions of the post-Franco transition in Spain and an accommodation between Italian Communists and Christian Democrats ("historic compromise") sandwiched a detailed review of Western policy toward Yugoslavia with a briefing by Commander-in-Chief U.S. European Command (CINCEUR) General Alexander Haig. Concerned that the Soviets might make aggressive political or military moves against Yugoslavia, the ministers listened with interest to Haig's discussion of possible military maneuvers for the purpose of deterrence in a crisis. The end of the discussion showed the problems that the Quadrapartite Group had in arranging meetings; all four ministers had to have an excuse to be in the same city.

Document 19: Memorandum of Conversation with Sadun Hammadi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iraq, 17 December 1975, 12:20-1:18 p.m., Iraqi Ambassador's Residence, Paris, Secret/Nodis/Xgds

Several weeks later, Kissinger was in Paris for a meeting of an international energy conference. This circumstance provided the occasion for a meeting with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hammadi, probably the first major U.S.-Iraq diplomatic contact since Baghdad broke diplomatic relations with Washington in 1967 after the Six Days War. Kissinger did not mention this event in his 1999 memoir Years of Renewal but it shows that he wished to "establish contact" to show that "America is not unsympathetic to Iraq." One consideration that might have prompted Kissinger's interest in a meeting was Iraq's settlement of border issues with Iran earlier in the year (an agreement that collapsed in 1980 when Iraq went to war with Iran). Before the settlement, the CIA and the Shah of Iran had been covertly supporting a Kurdish rebellion inside Iraq, whose purpose had been to distract the Baathist regime, which Nixon and Kissinger saw as too close to Moscow. As soon as Iraq and Iran had reached a settlement, Ford and Kissinger liquidated CIA support for the Kurds. Hammadi, one of the few high-level Shiites in the Baathist regime, showed concern about the earlier U.S. support for the Kurds, but as he argued at length, Baghdad's biggest worry was Israel, which with its nuclear arsenal and its expansionist policy was a "direct threat to Iraq's security." Kissinger responded that the United States stood for the "survival of Israel" but did not want it to dominate the region; this would be accomplished by "reduce[ing] its size to historical proportions." Historical evolution, Kissinger argued, would turn Israel into a small state like Lebanon: "[I]f Israel wants to survive as a state like Lebanon-as a small state-we can support them."

Hammadi and his aide disagreed with Kissinger on Israel but they wanted to talk with him about such matters as the Kurdish rebellion, the prospects for a Palestinian state, and the situation in Lebanon. The Iraqis saw no prospect for normalizing relations with Washington but they saw possibilities for "developing relations … on the cultural and economic level." Hammadi and Kissinger agreed that more meetings would be possible "on a case-by-case basis." As the conversation ended, Hammadi shared his concern about the Kurdish problem but Kissinger dismissed it by saying "One can do nothing about the past." Not so sure, Hammadi rejoined, "Not always."

Document 20: Memorandum of Conversation, "The Secretary's Meeting with Prime Minister Bhutto," 26 February 1976, 7:00 p.m., The Waldorf Towers, Manhattan, Secret/Nodis

U.S. relations with Pakistan were a major element in Kissinger's first volume of memoirs but the relationship seldom surfaces in the third volume, Years of Renewal, probably because there was no great crisis during the period covered by the volume. Since the Indian-Pakistan war in late 1971 a "tilt" toward Pakistan had been a hallmark of Nixon/Kissinger diplomacy and Kissinger sustained it under the Ford administration. Sharing with Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto hostility toward the government of Indira Gandhi, Kissinger speculated that if the latter had another "go" at Pakistan, the Soviets would benefit from changes in the regional balance of power. Nevertheless, differences between Bhutto and Kissinger were evident. While Bhutto argued that U.S. détente policy gave the Soviets an opportunity to "strike in various places," Kissinger strongly defended the policy as a strategy to "moderate" the competition with the Soviets as well as weaken the peace movement at home and communist movements abroad. The problem, Kissinger argued, was not détente but a "collapse of executive authority" preventing executive officials from doing their "duty … to maintain an equilibrium" internationally. Unlike right-wing critics of détente, Kissinger was not worried about a Soviet nuclear first-strike because of the odds against staging a successful one. While strategic weapons were important for deterrence, he stated that tactical nuclear weapons could be useful in a crisis. He was strongly interested in teaching the Cubans a "lesson" because of their successful intervention in Angola.

One problem that was becoming difficult for U.S.-Pakistan relations was Pakistan's interest in developing a nuclear capability. Kissinger had been skeptical over how much of a national interest the United States had in leading an effort to curb proliferation but he became more worried in the wake of the Indian test. To Bhutto, he expressed concern about Pakistan's dealings with the French to secure reprocessing technology: "what concerns us is how reprocessing facilities are used at a certain point." After the Pakistanis cited earlier assurances on safeguards for nuclear facilities, Kissinger said he was concerned about "realities" not "words"; safeguarded deals were not enough because one side could break an agreement. While Bhutto declared that "We don't want to explode a bomb," it was evident that he thought that Pakistan should continue its nuclear development programs: "an embryonic capability … may prove helpful" in getting India to accept a nuclear-free zone.

The 1976 election overshadowed this conversation, which showed that Kissinger did not believe that the Democrats could run successfully against the Ford administration's record: "I don't see the Democrats winning since they have neither foreign policy nor domestic issues to campaign on."


1. See document 19.

2. "Nodis" or "No Distribution" without permission.

3. For Kissinger's account of the meeting, see White House Years (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), 278-282. For the campaign of threats, see William Burr and Jeffrey Kimball, "Nixon's Secret Nuclear Alert: Vietnam War Diplomacy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Readiness Test, October 1969," Cold War History, January 2003, and Kimball, The Vietnam War Files: Uncovering the Secret History of Nixon-Era Strategy (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004), 11-21.

4. For Kissinger's account of Cambodia (which does not mention this meeting), see White House Years, 457-520. For an up-to-date account of U.S. policy during this period, see Kenton Clymer, The United States and Cambodia, 1969-2000: A Troubled Relationship (New York: Routledge, 2004), 24-42.

5. For Kissinger's account of the Jordanian crisis, see White House Years, 594-631; this meeting is mentioned on page 607. For an overview of crises during September 1970, see Walter Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1992), 285-315.

6. Raymond L. Garthoff, Détente and Confrontation, 2nd edition (Washington, DC, Brookings Institution, 1994), 98.

7. "XGDS": exclude from general declassification schedule.

8. John B. Judis, William F. Buckley, Jr., Patron Saint of the Conservatives (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1988), 300-307 and 330-332.

9. For Kissinger's version, see White House Years, at 1304. For a detailed account of the Kissinger-Zhou talks, see William Burr, "The Complexities of Rapprochement," in Academic Committee of Beijing Forum at Peking University, eds., The Harmony and Prosperity of Civilizations: Selected Papers of Bejing Forum (2004) (Beijing: Peking University Press, 2005), 190-219.

10. For Kissinger's account of the meeting, see White House Years, 1326-1327.

11. For Kissinger's brief account of the discussion, see White House Years, 1426.

12. Kimball, The Vietnam War Files, 275.

13. Kissinger discusses this meeting with Brezhnev in Years of Upheaval, (Boston: Little, Brown, 1982), 1022.

14. For Kissinger's account of the meeting without the frank evaluation of détente, see Years of Upheaval, 1042-1043.

15. For U.S. policy toward Cambodia during and after the fall of Lon Nol, see Clymer, The United States and Cambodia, 1969-2000, 86-112.

home | about | documents | news | postings | FOIA | research | internships | search | donate | mailing list

Contents of this website Copyright 1995-2017 National Security Archive. All rights reserved.
Terms and conditions for use of materials found on this website.