Fresh Nixon Papers

Senior Washington Correspondent John Cochran blogs:

Just when we think we know all there is to know about the Nixon years, another batch of papers or audiotapes emerges with more chewy morsels.

As a reporter who occasionally covered Richard Nixon's presidency, I was fascinated to see the latest "dump" of Nixon documents released Wednesday by the National Archives.

So far, the most interesting papers I have seen today are not about the Watergate scandal or domestic issues, but about national security. The new revelations would have made big headlines back then, but some people may now find this all a bit arcane. Not me.

Let's start by going back to the summer of 1969 when the CIA was telling Nixon and Henry Kissinger that Israel had either already developed a nuclear bomb or was on the verge of developing it. Even if Israel did not yet have the bomb, Nixon saw no way to stop the Israelis. He, like previous American presidents, did not want Israel to have nukes because he feared it would further de-stabilize the Mideast and possibly cause the Soviet Union, then an ally of many Arabs, to bomb Israel.

In what was then a Top Secret memo, Kissinger told Nixon that since the U.S. could not stop Israel from having nukes, the important thing was to protect Israel's secret: "While we might ideally like to halt actual Israeli possession, what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact."

The policy Nixon and Kissinger adopted was essentially "Don't Ask; Don't Tell." That policy is still in effect today. There have been many leaks about the Israeli nuclear program, but no official confirmation either from Israel or the U.S.

Some of the newly released Nixon papers have virtually nothing to do with the present, but they can still be riveting. Just below is a good example of the Realpolitik hardball that Nixon and Kissinger loved to play.

It's December, 1973. Kissinger is meeting with Rui Manuel Patricio, the Foreign Minister of Portugal which was then a dictatorship fighting against guerrillas in its African colonies. American law forbade selling weapons to Portugal to fight the Africans.

The Portuguese F.M. said Soviet MIG planes would soon attack a Portuguese colony, Guinea.

Read an excerpt of their conversation after the jump… Including a possible hint as to who would be the middle man in getting Hawk missiles to Portugal for use against Africans.

Here is part of the conversation in their own words: Kissinger: You need Hawk missiles. FM Patricio: Yes, we need ground to air missiles. Military disaster in Guinea…could lead to a change of government in Portugal…this could mean we would withdraw from NATO…also from Angola and Mozambique. K: We are familiar with this. FM: A defeat in Guinea would be very bad. The Soviets would be very interested…We are in mortal danger. K: We cannot give you ground to air missiles directly but we must figure out some way to get them to you indirectly. I am sure we will succeed. FM: It is not my style to be dramatic. K: No, you are doing very well…do you care where the missiles come from? FM: No. K: We're trying to work it out…we must work out the process of getting you Hawks. If we give them to you directly, the Congress will forbid it. Then it would be useless for you. FM: I don't know about the Congress, but they should be concerned about keeping friends alive. K: The Congress has passed laws this year against our own U.S. interests. It will be nothing for them to pass laws against the interests of other countries. You saw what they did about Vietnam. FM: But this concerns our survival. K: Congress doesn't understand this. They are only interested when it is a question of the survival of Israel…You don't have to convince me. We will do what is humanly possible, EVEN IF I HAVE TO SHOOT A FEW OF MY COLLEAGUES IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT. FM: This is a question of life or death for us. K: I understand. There is a prohibition against sending arms to you in Africa. We could only send them to you for use in Portugal and there is a prohibition against a diversion. We must send them indirectly.

Kissinger concludes with what appears to be a hint as to who would be the middle man in getting Hawks to Portugal for use against Africans: K: Your ambassador is talking to the Israeli Ambassador in Washington. They are to meet on Monday.

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