Former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger, who derided Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in a private conversation with President Nixon in 1971, expressed regret in an interview broadcast Friday and insisted that the comments should be viewed in the context of the Cold War.
The transcript of the conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, his national security adviser, in the Oval Office on Nov. 5, 1971, was declassified Tuesday and made front-page news across India. They discussed Nixon's meeting with Gandhi on the previous day.
"We really slobbered over the old witch," Nixon told Kissinger.
Nixon's remark came as the two men speculated about Gandhi's motives and discussed India's intentions in a looming conflict with neighboring Pakistan. The United States was allied with Pakistan and saw India as too close to its Cold War rival, the Soviet Union.
"The Indians are bastards anyway," Kissinger responded to Nixon. "They are starting a war there. . . . While she was a bitch, we got what we wanted, too. She will not be able to go home and say that the United States didn't give her a warm reception and therefore in despair she's got to go to war."
Kissinger, in an interview Thursday at his New York office, told the New Delhi Television channel that the conversation must be viewed as a reflection of the Cold War.
"I regret that these words were used. I have extremely high regard for Mrs. Gandhi as a statesman," he said. "The fact that we were at cross purposes at that time was inherent in the situation, but she was a great leader who did great things for her country."
Gandhi served terms as prime minister between 1966 and 1984, when she was assassinated by two of her bodyguards.
Kissinger said the conversation with Nixon reflected U.S. concern about India's friendship with the Soviet Union. In 1971, Gandhi was also seen as seeking a military conflict with Pakistan, which the United States was trying to avoid. The war broke out a month later, leading to the creation of Bangladesh.
"This was not a formal conversation. This was somebody letting off steam at the end of a meeting in which both President Nixon and I were emphasizing that we had gone out of our way to treat Mrs. Gandhi very cordially," Kissinger, 82, said in the interview. "There was disappointment at the results of the meeting. The language was Nixon language."