For immediate release,
11 February 2002
For further information:
Thomas Blanton, Archive director, 202/994-7068
William Burr, senior analyst, 202/994-7032
Lee Rubin, Mayer Brown & Platt, 202/263-3267

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GWU Group Persuades National Archives to Recover Telephone Transcripts

Washington, D.C., February 11 – In answer to a three-year-old National Security Archive request, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) today confirmed that former national security adviser Henry Kissinger has returned to NARA’s custody the 20,000 pages of transcripts of his telephone conversations conducted while serving President Nixon from 1969 through September 1973.  Last August, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher credited the National Security Archive for prompting the Department to recover some 10,000 pages of “telcons” from Kissinger’s tenure there (starting in September 1973); but Kissinger’s White House telcons remained under lock and key at the Library of Congress until today.

“To look at these transcripts is to be in the room when he’s conducting all his telephone diplomacy – the secret opening to China, the secret trips to Paris on the Vietnam War negotiations, his backstage leaks to the press – you name it,” commented Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a foreign policy documentation center based at George Washington University.  “We congratulate the National Archives as well as the State Department for taking this historic action, and in fact, Mr. Kissinger also deserves credit for doing the right thing at last.”

Although NARA warned that declassification review of the telcons may take up to a year, the National Security Archive today posted on its Web site a sample of the Kissinger White House telcons, a phone conversation with President Nixon on 27 April 1971 discussing Chinese premier Zhou En-Lai’s invitation for a secret Nixon emissary to come to China and make arrangements for Nixon’s 1972 trip.  Ironically, while Kissinger’s secretaries listened in to make their telcon, Nixon’s taping system also captured the conversation (the President and his top adviser wire-tapping each other without either revealing that fact).  Archive senior analyst William Burr, editor of The Kissinger Transcripts (New York: The New Press, 1999), found the telcon in other declassified National Security Council files, and provides on the Web site a comparison of the variances between the telcon and the now-declassified Nixon tape.

The Archive’s Web site also provides further background on the Kissinger telcons, the legal arguments, and the correspondence between the National Security Archive and the government, as well as the draft legal brief prepared by the Archive’s pro bono lawyers, Lee Rubin and Craig Isenberg at Mayer, Brown & Platt, whose presentation of the issues persuaded the State Department, the National Archives, and the National Security Council to take action and right a 20-year-old wrong.

A fraction of the twenty thousand pages of Henry Kissinger's transcripts of telephone conversations ("telcons") from 1969-1973 have shown up in the National Security Files in the Nixon Presidential Materials Project at the National Archives.  When Kissinger was in office he would sometimes circulate "telcons" to staffers when they needed them for their work and occasionally the documents, such as the one below, would remain in the files. One of the more fascinating aspects of this transcript of a telephone conversation between President Richard Nixon and Kissinger is that while Kissinger's secretary was listening in and transcribing the conversation, Nixon had a tape recorder that simultaneously taped the call.  Neither realized that the other was making a record of the conversation.

      The "telcon" is very close to the tape in content although not in all of the wording (no doubt it was difficult for the transcriber to keep up with every word).  The tape (number 2-52 in the Nixon tapes), however, is not available in its entirety; several portions were excised when the tape was released in 1999. Nevertheless, the "telcon" in the Nixon presidential materials was released in full last spring, and it immediately becomes evident that two of the deletions, withdrawn on privacy grounds, are Kissinger's critical comments on U.S. representative to the United Nations George H.W. Bush.  The other excision made on "national security" grounds was Kissinger's reference to the secret Pakistani channel that Nixon and Zhou Enlai used to exchange messages.(1)  That the secrecy censors deleted the reference to Pakistan is astonishing given that information on the Pakistani channel has been available for years, not least in Henry Kissinger's memoirs, White House Years (1979), and has been declassified in numerous documents in the Nixon Presidential Materials Project at the National Archives.

    The substance of the Kissinger-Nixon phone conversation concerned a message that Kissinger had received at 6:15 p.m. that day from Chinese premier Zhou Enlai.  Zhou's message set the stage for Kissinger's secret visit to Beijing on 9 July, the subsequent Nixon trip to China, and the beginning of normalization of relations with China.  Zhou's message was delivered through the secret Pakistani channel between Beijing and Washington that had been established during 1969.   Confirming earlier messages, Zhou wrote that the People's Republic of China was willing to receive a "special envoy of the U.S. (for instance, Mr. Kissinger)  ... or even the President of the U.S. himself for direct meeting and discussions."  Kissinger immediately walked the message over to the Oval Office and an hour or so later, Nixon discussed it on the telephone with Kissinger.  Zhou had suggested Kissinger as a "special envoy," but in his phone call to Kissinger, Nixon discussed anybody else as envoy--New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Vietnam negotiator Ambassador David K. E. Bruce, U.S. representative to the United Nation ambassador George H.W. Bush, Secretary of Health Education and Welfare Elliot Richardson, and even the recently deceased GOP presidential candidate Thomas Dewey. Nixon was toying with Kissinger, who wanted to go to Beijing. The next day, Nixon settled the suspense and told Kissinger that he would be going to Beijing.(2)

TELCON, "The President/Mr. Kissinger," 8:18 p.m., April 27, 1971.
Source: Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Archives and Records Administration, National Security Files, Box 1031, Exchanges Leading Up to HAK Trip to China, December 1969-July 1971 (1)

The audio clips below are in MP3 format. You will need to download the clips and open them with an MP3 player such as the free RealOne Player.
Audio clip: Conversation 2-52, President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, 8:18 p.m., April 27, 1971. (Full clip is 9.38 MB)
Source: White House Tapes, Nixon Presidential Materials Project, National Archives and Records Administration
Above clip divided into four parts
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
2.33 MB
2.37 MB
2.33 MB
2.53 MB

1.  Presentation by Craig A. Daigle, History Department, George Washington University,  9 February 2002, at George Washington University Cold War Group (GWCW) Conference on the Sino-American Opening and the Cold War, 8-9 February 2002.

2.  For background, see Henry Kissinger, White House Years (Boston: Little Brown, 1979), pp. 684-732, and F. S. Aijazuddin, From a Head, Through a Head, to a Head: The Secret Channel between the US and China through Pakistan (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000)