Kissinger Transcripts and Related Material

The following documents are transcripts of several conversations that are either excerpted or discussed in The Kissinger Transcripts: The Top Secret Talks with Beijing and Moscow, A National Security Archive Document Reader, edited by William Burr (New York, The New Press, 1999). This group of documents is wide ranging in scope, with records of conversations between Kissinger and diverse interlocutors, including Leonid Brezhnev, Andrei Gromyko, Zhou Enlai, and Qiao Guanhua. In addition, two transcripts of President Ford's discussions with Mao Zedong and Deng Xioaping are included. Initially, the editor intended the book to include these documents in their entirety but had to edit them severely or to omit them altogether. Readers of The Kissinger Transcripts can see what some of the original declassified documents look like and read them in their entirety.

Document 1

Source: National Archives, Department of State Record, Policy Planning Staff Director's Files, 1969-77, box 372, Secretary's Conversations in Peking, November 1973

This is the record of one of Kissinger's conversations with Zhou Enlai during a November 1973 visit. Although some of Kissinger's meetings were highly restricted involving only himself, Winston Lord, Zhou, and a few other Chinese officials, this session included a somewhat larger group. In part, the meeting's purpose was to review bilateral issues, but also to clarify other issues that had been in contention, such as the U.S.-Soviet Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War [PNW]. But before formal discussions unfolded, Kissinger apologized to Zhou that a U.S. Navy cruiser, the Oklahoma City, had sailed through the Taiwan Straits about 25 kilometers from the mainland. He could not, however, promise that such incidents would never occur again; "I can't think of what new stupidity people are thinking up."

When Kissinger reviewed his case for the PNW agreement, Zhou's criticisms were softer than they had been in the early summer. Not only did he agree the agreement could facilitate anti-Soviet interventions in areas where Washington lacked a "formal treaty", he explained that "we had to make criticism because we think it is necessary for the Third World countries to have such an understanding." The implication was that Zhou was more concerned with its position vis-a-vis the nonaligned nations than with a superpower condominium.

Before the two turned to bilateral problems, Zhou reminded Kissinger that he was dealing with men of the left when he brought up the Chilean junta's slaughter of Allende's supporters. Zhou's protests led to a extended and provocative discussion of Allende, Che Guevara, and Latin America revolutionary politics. Soon, however, the more prosaic blocked assets/foreign claims settlement had to be attended to; for Kissinger's advisers this was necessary to improve the climate for large-scale corporate trade and investment operations in China as well as a condition for conferring most-favored-nation status to China. Already corporations, such as M. W. Kellogg, had exported entire ammonia plants, and others, such as Monsanto and General Electric were going to China for discussions. Encouraged by the possibility of "big ticket" sales, David Bruce advised Kissinger that settling the blocked assets/claims issue could enable U.S. banks to finance PRC "imports of whole plants and equipment on a `deferred payment' basis." 1

While U.S. corporations were looking for an "open door" in China, American diplomats were not yet sure what future would hold in this area. As David Bruce had explained to an audience of U.S. ambassadors a few weeks earlier, the key issue was whether the Chinese would be willing to "incur foreign debts" that would finance the capital equipment and raw materials they could not produce internally. All that depended, Bruce explained, on whether the Chinese had made a decision to industrialize on a large scale; he did not know the answer.2

Although Zhou was committed to China's modernization, he was not ready to settle the claims-assets issue. Not only was he worried about possible lawsuits by aggrieved holders of old railroad bonds, a risk that the Americans downplayed, there was the problem of the $17 million in blocked assets that foreign banks had more or less illicitly returned to the PRC. The Americans wanted the Chinese to return the money to make the claims settlement viable but Zhou probably worried about attacks from the radicals if he signed off on a restitution agreement. These problems, along with the lingering problem of U.S.-Taiwan relations, made it easy for the Chinese to defer a settlement until 1979, during the Carter administration.3

Document 2

Source: National Archives, Department of State Record, Policy Planning Staff Director's Files, 1969-77, box 376, China Sensitive Chron Aug 17-Oct 1974

This is the record of a conversation between Kissinger and Vice Foreign Minister Qiao Guanhua on 2 October 1974. Almost immediately after President Richard Nixon's resignation in August 1974, Henry Kissinger began making plans for a trip to China in the fall of that year. To reassure the Chinese about the continuity of American policy, to demonstrate the value of the U.S.-PRC relationship, but also to counterbalance high-level meetings with the Soviets that were already on the agenda, Kissinger hoped to schedule two trips, with one in September and the other later in the year.4 As it turned out, he only went once, in late November but he foreshadowed that trip with an important discussion with Qiao, who was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

The transcript makes evident the friendly relationship and mutual respect between Qiao and Kissinger but as the first substantive high-level Sino-American contact since Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping's visit in April, it was a significant encounter. Kissinger had fairly regular meetings with PRC Liaison Office Chief Huang Zhen, but they were essentially one-way briefings by Kissinger, e.g., on the latest meetings with the Soviets, with no real dialogue.

By contrast, Qiao could impart Beijing's latest thinking with some authority and the three hour dinner meeting gave both an opportunity to discuss the usual gamut of world issues, including the Cyprus crisis, Middle East and South Asian developments, the CSCE, Cambodia, and the tricky normalization question.5

By this time, there had been important "personnel changes" in U.S.-China relations, apart from Nixon's resignation and Ford's ascendancy. It was no longer a secret that Zhou was ill; he had been hospitalized since June when Mao had finally given permission for him to receive surgery.6 On the U.S. side, Ford nominated George Bush to replace David Bruce as the next Chief of the Liaison Office in Beijing. This was a consolation prize to Bush for not becoming vice president. Thus, the meeting with Qiao gave Kissinger an opportunity to reintroduce Bush, in a sometimes condescending fashion, to U.S.-China relations.7

One issue that Kissinger wanted to discuss with Qiao was the question of U.S.-China diplomatic normalization. This was a thorny issue; as a condition of normalization, the Chinese insisted that Washington break off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, a serious problem for President Ford because Taiwan enjoyed important political support in the GOP. Kissinger hoped that he could find some "elbow room" to resolve the problem, e.g., some support for the idea of a "peaceful transition" to PRC control of Taiwan, but Qiao's took a tough approach.8 It was this exchange that led Kissinger's China experts--Winston Lord, Arthur Hummel, and Richard Solomon--to predict that when Kissinger visited Beijing in late November, a "deadlock" on normalization could ensue. The outlook was not "promising."9 Although Kissinger was no doubt reassured by Qiao's acknowledgement that Moscow remained China's number one enemy, some of the discussion, and not only the exchange on normalization, made Kissinger's advisers feel "slight uneasiness." While they recognized that the Beijing-Washington relationship had a profoundly "unsentimental" basis, the Chinese were nevertheless acting in ways that could thwart important American interests. While expecting American help in counterbalancing Moscow, Qiao had showed "unhelpfulness" on Korea and Cambodia and his UN speech assailing detente and superpower hegemony, endorsing Third World revolutions, and favoring the oil producing nations generated concern that Beijing was trying to "organize a third force against us for the longer haul." Although Kissinger had anticipated a "tacit alliance" with Beijing, the Chinese intended to preserve their freedom of action and keep some distance from the United States.10

Document 3

Source: Freedom of Information Act request to State Department

This is the record, released by a Freedom of Information request to the State Department, of a conversation between Kissinger and Brezhnev on 25 October 1974, a few weeks after meeting with Chiao. Kissnger had flown to Moscow to prepare the way for the historic Ford-Brezhnev summit scheduled for Vladivostok in early November. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks [SALT] were a principal agenda item, but also preoccupying Kissinger and his Soviet interlocutors were U.S. domestic criticisms of detente and Senate initiatives to check U.S.-Soviet economic detente. The Jackson-Vanik amendment tying emigration of Soviet Jews to most-favored-nation tariff status for Soviet exports was pending. Moreover, on September 19, the Senate passed a bill sponsored by Senator Adlai Stevenson III (D-Ill.) to limit total U.S. government credits to the Soviet Union to $300 million during the next four years. While Kissinger assured Brezhnev that the administration would get a palatable version of the Export-Import Bank bill and even get most-favored-nation treatment for the Soviets, he would have been foolish if he believed that Senator Jackson and other critics of detente would have put their seal of approval on those arrangements.11

As he had during their discussions earlier in the year, Brezhnev would tell Kissinger that he was "sick and tired" of the slow CSCE talks and would appeal for a more active U.S. role in the negotiations. Although he did not push the point strongly, Brezhnev indicated he was less than happy that in one area where the United States had taken a part, in the discussion on peaceful change, it was leaning toward the German position. No doubt, Kissinger wanted to avoid talking about it because he had only supported the German as an ally not because of the merits of their case. As he would tell his advisers some weeks later, he believed that the German "peaceful-change argument" was "understandable" but nonetheless "nuts".12

While Kissinger was unwilling to support a more vigorous U.S. role in Geneva, he would agree with Brezhnev that it was time to take soundings with the Germans and other U.S. allies to see if it was possible to finish the CSCE by March. Yet, whatever Kissinger told Brezhnev, by early December he was content to let the Conference drag on as long as Washington could avoid getting the blame. "I wouldn't mind extending it beyond the next extension" because a delay would act as a restraint on Soviet conduct: "They may not want to blow up the Middle East before the European Security Conference." Whatever Kissinger's influence may have been, the conference would continue into the summer with discussions on peaceful change and Basket II taking months to conclude.13

The Middle East situation would generate some fascinating discussion, especially on the question of Soviet foreknowledge of the Egyptian attack on Israel in October 1973. But more talk on the Middle East crisis would not prompt any U.S. concession on reopening the Geneva Middle East conference in which the Soviets were among the principals, despite Brezhnev's warning that the region was a "powderkeg." Kissinger was far from candid when he told the Soviets that "whatever we have done has not had any intention of hurting the Soviet Union" but he could never tell them his basic axiom of Middle East diplomacy, what he had told Ambassador Huang Zhen in October: "we now have a very good position to reduce the Soviet political influence."

The discussion on 24 October closed with Brezhnev voicing his distress over about recent U.S. statements about a need for the strongest possible defense posture and then closing by asking Kissinger if he believed that atomic war was possible. Brezhnev received no answer until the next day, if Kissinger answered it at all, and any record of his statement remains classified. Nonetheless, the developments that heightened Brezhnev's insecurity were evident enough: for example, the publicly announced changes in U.S. nuclear targeting policy ("Schlesinger Doctrine") designed to grant National Command Authorities more strike options in event that war broke out must have generated some disquiet in the Kremlin. So must have a Senate decision in June 1974 to support an administration request for funding to support accuracy improvements in ICBMs so they would have better capability to strike Soviet ICBM silos and command posts. It is even possible that the Soviet found out about Kissinger's musings at NATO meetings over the advantage of "relative" nuclear superiority.14

Document 4

Source: Freedom of Information Act request to State Department

This is the transcript of a conversation between Kissinger and Gromyko in Geneva on 10 July 1975. When they met, the CSCE had nearly finished its work and U.S., Canadian, and European foreign ministers were working out the details. The basic problems were to reach agreement Geneva on the CSCE's "Final Act" and to set a date for an all-European summit in Helsinki. The conference had completed work on the fundamentals of the Final Act: Basket I on basic principles, including language on human rights, non-intervention, and borders (inviolability and peaceful change) and arrangements for such confidence building measures as notification of major military exercises, Basket II on economic cooperation, and Basket III on humanitarian cooperation (family reunification, free dissemination of information). Yet, the delegation from Malta would not join the 34 others and approve the text, in part because it wanted changes in the language on cooperation between the CSCE and non-participating Mediterranean countries. Finally, a deal was cobbled to win Malta's support, yet the island's prime minister, Dominic Mintoff, could not be reached.15

On July 10, as the "Malta crisis" was unfolding, Gromyko, Kissinger and their advisers held a late afternoon meeting at the Soviet mission in Geneva. The talks convey the irritation caused by the Maltese but also the humor with which the superpower diplomats handled the problem.16

Document Five

Source: National Archives, Department of State Record, Policy Planning Staff Director's Files, 1969-77, box 373, President Ford Trip to China

This is the record of President Gerald Ford's meeting with Chairman Mao on 2 December 1975. Ford's visit to China occurred when there were unresolved difficulties in Sino-American relations; Kissinger's trip in October had been noteworthy for disagreements and sharp exchanges, e.g., over detente and conditions for diplomatic normalization. While disagreements continued, Ford's visit went more smoothly with Mao observing that "we don't have any conflicts."

When Ford and Kissinger met with Deng during the afternoon of 2 December, Mao sent out word that he wanted to meet the U.S. party. While Ford thought that Mao's health problems would permit only a brief courtesy call, the discussion lasted almost two hours. After some small talk it turned into a sometimes detailed review of the international scene, ranging from prospects for post-Franco Spain and the Middle East to Japan and the Angolan situation. Mao's unfavorable comparison of China's talks with the Soviets to those with Americans connoted no basic shift in Beijing's foreign policy, but he was rather dismissive of Ford's suggestions for joint cooperation against Moscow: "this is just talk." Moreover, he confirmed the picture of general stagnation in Sino-American relations until a normalization agreement had been reached; in the next year or two, "there will not be anything great happening between our two countries."17

Mao may have seen Ford's and Kissinger's support for covert CIA operations in the Angolan civil war as an example of why policy coordination had a low priority. To reestablish American credibility in combating revolutionary nationalists linked, however tenuously, to Moscow, Kissinger had supported a low cost covert intervention in support of Holden Roberto's National Front for the Liberation of Angola [FNLA] against the Cuban- and Soviet- supported Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola [MPLA]. Yet even with increasing support for FNLA from apartheid South Africa, the millions in covert aid pumped in by the CIA could not reverse the MPLA's gains, which now enjoyed indispensable support from Cuban troops backed by Soviet military aid. On 11 November, the MPLA-Cuban coalition had crushed the FNLA-Zairian forces in a battle near Luanda, and then started to halt the South African advance from the South. Promising Mao and Deng that they would take "forthright action", Ford and Kissinger had initiated futile efforts to convince Congress to authorize fresh infusions of funds. Only a few weeks later, however, Congress would pass the Clark Amendment blocking any U.S. military aid to insurgent forces in Angola.18

In their own way, the Chinese were veterans of Angola, having provided support to FNLA and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA as part of its own efforts to best the Soviets in Africa. This, however, was in the context of an African policy that entirely diverged from Washington's, because in its anti-imperialism Beijing denounced cooperation with the West and supported armed struggle against the U.S.'s tacit South African ally. Indeed, it was South African's increasingly prominent role in support of the FNLA, along with disappointment in the latter's military failings, that induced the Chinese, by the end of October, to terminate all assistance to the insurgence and to pull out all advisers from their base of operations in Zaire. Working on the same side as South Africa would destroy any credibility China had in Africa; preserving that was more important than the outcome of any local situation. No doubt incredulous of Ford's approval of South Africa's "admirable" intervention, Mao and Deng avoided making specific commitments in return for Ford's pleas for help, only promising to make a "try."19

Document Six

Source: National Archives, Department of State Record, Policy Planning Staff Director's Files, 1969-77, box 373, President Ford Trip to China

This is another record of President Ford's trip to China, of a meeting with Deng on 3 December for what the Vice Premier called a "round the world trip," a sweeping review of the international scene, with discussion moving from Europe and the Middle East to Cambodia and the Mayaguez affair and back to Angola. Suggesting that he had no objection to U.S. involvement in Angola, even if China couldn't participate, Deng brought attention to the Soviet's "tit-for-tat" approach and the need for Washington to "pay attention" to Soviet policy in Southern Africa. After suggesting that the Chinese, with all their dealings with the Soviets, had more proficiency in dealing with them, Ford politely put Deng on the spot by asking him what Beijing was actually doing to contain Moscow.

1 . USLO to SecState, Peking 1171, 6 October 1973, National Archives, Record Group 59, Department of State Records, Policy Planning Staff Director's Files, 1969-1977 (hereinafter cited as PPS with box number and filing information), box 370, Kissinger Visit to Peking, S/PC Mr. Lord, Vol 1 (folder 1 of 2).

2 . "East Asian Chiefs of Mission Conference November 14-16 Tokyo, Japan", Morning Session, 64, copy in U.S.-Japan Collection, National Security Archive. For U.S. official and semi-official thinking about foreign loans to China and development earlier in the century, see "Dollar Diplomacy According to Dollar Diplomats: American Development and World Development," in Martin J. Sklar, The United States as a Developing Country: Studies in U.S. History in the Progressive Era and the 1920s (New York, 1992), 78-101.

3 . Robert S. Ross, Negotiating Cooperation: The United States and China, 1969-1989, (New York, Columbia University Press, 1195) 74-75.

4 . Memorandum of conversation, "The Secretary's Travel Plans", 15 August 1974; Memorandum of Conversation, 16 August 1974, both in PPS, box 331, China Exchanges August 9-December 31, 1974.

5 . Hummel, Lord, and Solomon to Secretary, "Your Meeting with Ch'iao Kuan-hua -- Dinner, October 2, 1974, 27 September, PPS, box 376, China-Sensitive Chron: Aug 17-Oct 1974.

6 . Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao: The Memoirs of Mao's Personal Physician (New York, Random House, 1994), 582-583.

7 . George Bush, Looking Forward (New York, 1987), 129-130.

8 . For "elbow room," see Kissinger to Bush, WASH80, 4 November 1974, in PPS, box 331, China Exchanges August 9-December 31, 1974

9 . "Your Dinner Conversation with Chinese," 3 October 1974, PPS, box 376, China-Sensitive-Chron: Aug 17-Oct 1974.

10 . Ibid. For Quiao's speech, see New York Times, 3 October 1974, and "Speech by Chiao Kuan-Hua, Chairman of the Delegation of the People's Republic of China...", 2 October 1974, PPS, box 376, China-Sensitive Chron: Aug 17-Oct. 15, 1974.

15 . Paula Stern, Water's Edge: Domestic Politics and the Making of American Foreign Policy (Westport, CT, 1979), 164.

16 . For "nuts", see transcript of Secretary of State Staff Meeting, 5 December 1974, Staff Meetings, box 5.

17 . Transcript of Secretary Kissinger Staff Meeting, 5 December 1974, National Archives, Record Group 59, Department of State Records, Records of Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger's Staff Meetings, box 5. See Maresca, To Helsinki, Parts IV and V for developments from late 1974 through the summer of 1975.

18 . Raymond L. Garthoff, Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution, 1994), 466-468; State Department telegram 148542 to Belgrade, 10 July 1974, copy at National Security Archive.

23 . John Maresca, To Helsinki: The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, 1973-1975 (Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 1987), 184-187.

24 . Excerpts from White House, Memorandum of Conversation, "CSCE", 10 July 1975, 5:15-6:35 p.m., copy at NSA.

25 . Ford, A Time to Heal, 336.

26 . For a comprehensive review of Cold War competition in Angola, with extensive citations to the relevant literature, see Garthoff, Detente and Confrontation 556-593. For significant documents and thoughtful analyses of Cuban and Soviet roles in Angola, before and during the civil war there, see "New Evidence on the Cold War in Souther Africa," Bulletin of the Cold War International History Project, Issues 8-9 (Winter 1996/1997): 5-37.

27 . For the Chinese pullout, see Garthoff, Detente and Confrontation, 568-69. For the State Department's analysis of U.S.-PRC differences in Africa, see Briefing Paper, "Africa," n.d., PPS, box 373, President Ford Visit to China, Dec. 1-5, 1975, International Issues (2 of 2).

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