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Nixon rockefeller wild hare { April 27 1971 }

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Posted on Sun, Mar. 31, 2002

Blunt talk on Nixon's China emissary
Rockefeller a `wild hare'

The Baltimore Sun

President Nixon is on the phone on an April evening in 1971, talking to his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger. They're trying to change the course of history. They chat ever so casually.

This conversation, at 8:18 p.m. April 27, 1971, involves the secret machinations that will lead to Nixon's trip to China in February 1972, transforming the course of Chinese-U.S. relations. The Chinese premier, Chou En-Lai, secretly has invited Nixon to send a clandestine emissary to China make arrangements for the trip.

On this evening, Nixon and Kissinger are trying to decide who that emissary should be. He should be someone with a title, Nixon decides. But George H.W. Bush (then ambassador to the United Nations) is dismissed as too weak. Nelson Rockefeller (governor of New York) is considered appealing -- to the Chinese, a Rockefeller would be a tremendous thing, Kissinger says. But Nixon finds him a ``wild hare running around.''

In the end, Kissinger goes. And the rest is history. Except that Kissinger kept to himself some 20,000 pages of transcripts of telephone conversations he had with Nixon from 1969 to 1973.

Three years ago, the National Security Archive, an independent nongovernmental research institute housed at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., requested access to the transcripts. Last month, the National Archives and Records Administration said the transcripts had been returned to its custody.

The transcripts -- one of several to be recently released -- give yet another glimpse into the Nixon White House.

This is an excerpt of the April 27, 1971, transcript:

Nixon: Let me think of whether there is something else -- how about Nelson [Rockefeller]?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: Can't do it, huh?

Kissinger: Mr. President, he wouldn't be disciplined enough, although he is a possibility.

Nixon: It would engulf him in a big deal, and he is outside of the government, you see.

Kissinger: Let me think about it. I might be able to hold him in check. . . .

Nixon: How about Bush?

Kissinger: Absolutely not. He is too soft and not sophisticated enough.

Nixon: I thought of that myself.

Kissinger: I thought about [Elliot] Richardson [Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare] but he wouldn't be the right thing.

Nixon: He is still too close to us. Nelson -- the Chinese would consider him important and he would be -- could do a lot for us in terms of the domestic situation. No, Nelson is a wild hare running around.

Kissinger: I think for one operation I could keep him under control. And he has this advantage -- to them a Rockefeller is a tremendous thing.

Nixon: Sure. Well, keep it in the back of your head.

Kissinger: Bush would be too weak.

Nixon: I thought so too, but I was trying to think of somebody with a title.

Earlier meetings show how Nixon and Kissinger began to approach China. Following is an excerpt from a memo about a conversation between Nixon and the president of Pakistan, Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, on Oct. 25, 1970, in the Oval Office. Yahya Khan was one of the intermediaries who approached China on Nixon's behalf.

``The President [Nixon] began the conversation by saying. . . we consider Pakistan our friend. He mentioned the 100-million dollar program loan of AID [the U.S. Agency for International Development].

``President Yahya thanked the President for the military assistance program, particularly for the release of some B-57s and the equipment.

'The President [Nixon] said, `There is a psychosis in this country about India; we will keep our word with Pakistan, however; we will work with you; we will try to be as helpful as we can.' ''

They discuss how Yahya Khan will convey Nixon's desire for a rapprochement with the Chinese on a coming visit to Beijing.

On July 19, 1971, after returning from his secret mission, Kissinger (with Nixon giving introductory remarks) briefs White House staffers on the trip, swearing them to silence.

Kissinger: Chou En-lai personally was, next to de Gaulle, the most impressive foreign leader I have ever met. . . . The Chinese style is impressive. The Russians will fight you for every nickel and dime and elbow you at every point, and lose $1 million in goodwill in the process. The Chinese have a sense of the longer trends and focus on that, not on ``ploymanship.''

Kissinger offers a final, chilling, comment, describing the preparations Pakistan's president made to help Kissinger along on his trip to Beijing.

Kissinger: The cloak-and-dagger exercise in Pakistan arranging the trip was fascinating. Yahya hasn't had such fun since the last Hindu massacre!

The National Security Archive, which collects and publishes declassified documents it obtains through the Freedom of Information Act, has a sample of the transcripts on its Web site. It also has a tape of that April conversation, available for listening:


2002 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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