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Kissinger confers with david rockefeller { May 27 2004 }

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Kissinger tapes show president trapped by war
Phone conversations from 1969-74 include candid segments revealing Richard Nixon's turmoil amid a wartime scandal on the My Lai massacre by GIs

By Elizabeth Becker
New York Times News Service
Published May 27, 2004

WASHINGTON -- News had just broken of an unimaginable atrocity committed by American soldiers, and the secretary of defense and the national security adviser debated whether there was any way to stop newspapers and television news programs from showing graphic photographs of the victims.

"They're pretty terrible," said Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird of the color photographs of the men, women and children killed in the My Lai massacre in South Vietnam.

Henry Kissinger, the national security adviser, responded that one of President Richard Nixon's aides had "heard that the Army is trying to impound the pictures--that can't be done."

A transcript of this 1969 telephone conversation, with its uncanny echoes of the Iraq war and the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, was released Wednesday by the National Archives as part of 20,000 pages of records of Kissinger's telephone conversations. The documents cover the years from the beginning of his service in 1969 until August 1974, when Nixon resigned.

The conversations portray a senior adviser trying to juggle foreign policy crises under a president increasingly distracted by the Watergate scandal and, on at least one occasion, too drunk to talk to the British prime minister.

They also show Kissinger using his charm on Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States. One minute the two men are joking about Kissinger's date with a former Playboy playmate, the next they are discussing the Mideast or disarmament treaties.

The transcripts were released over the objections of Kissinger after the National Security Archive, a non-profit organization, initiated legal proceedings to make them public.

Kissinger issued a statement Wednesday saying he had not seen the released material and would have no comment.

The episode involving Nixon's drinking occurred on Oct. 11, 1973, shortly after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war erupted. Aides to Prime Minister Edward Heath of Britain telephoned shortly before 8 p.m., hoping to reach the president so the two leaders could discuss the war.

Kissinger asked: "Can we tell them no? When I talked to the president, he was loaded."

Brent Scowcroft, then an assistant to Kissinger, said: "Right, OK, I will say the president will not be available until first thing in the morning but you will be this evening."

The transcripts cover major events of the Cold War, such as the opening of China, which was soon followed by calls to Kissinger from influential figures such as David Rockefeller, chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank, and Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association, who wanted help getting the first visas to Beijing.

War and conflict were the most constant topics, however.

In their conversation on Nov. 21, 1969, about the My Lai massacre, Laird told Kissinger that while he would like "to sweep it under the rug," the photographs prevented it.

"There are so many kids just laying there; these pictures are authentic," he said.

The phone transcripts show how frustrated Nixon was becoming with the Vietnam War and his failing effort to withdraw U.S. troops from Vietnam by expanding the war into Cambodia. He became especially angry on Dec. 9, 1970, with what he considered the lackluster bombing campaign by the Air Force against targets in Cambodia.

"They're not only not imaginative but they are just running these things--bombing jungles," Nixon said. "They have got to go in there and I mean really go in."

Kissinger then cautioned: "The Air Force is designed to fight an air battle against the Soviet Union. They are not designed for this war."

The president persisted, suggesting that the bombing campaign could be disguised as an airlift of supplies.

"I want them to hit everything," he said. "I want them to use the big planes, the small planes, everything they can that will help out there, and let's start giving them a little shock."

He ended by saying that there was a chance to win the war, "and that's probably what we are going to have to do because we are not going to do anything at the conference table."

Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune

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