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Kissinger: The gift that keeps on giving

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After  South Vietnam fell to the commies in April 1975, then- Secretary of State Henry Kissinger asked the Nobel Committee to take back the Peace Prize he’d won with North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho for a peace deal in 1973. (Le Duc Tho turned it down back then, saying peace had not yet been restored. Kissinger accepted the award “with humility.”)

But  after Saigon fell, Kissinger prepared the medal for shipping  back to Norway. He told then-Deputy Under Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger that Oslo was refusing because they felt that the award “was worthy of having been given.”  Kissinger and Eagleburger agreed that Kissinger should stand down because, as Eagleburger noted,  it would be “unseemly to fight with them to take the damn thing back.”

These and many other nuggets have been unearthed and are being released Friday by the National Security Archive after a protracted battle with the State Department over more than 800 of Kissinger’s telephone conversation (“telcon”) transcripts, which Kissinger had tried to keep secret until five years after his death. The Archive has gotten more than  100 of them  so far, most of them from 1974 to 1976, but will be getting more now as the State Department processes them, Archive senior analyst William Burr tells us.

They are vintage Kissinger — but then of course, everything Kissinger these days  is “vintage.”

For example, a leak of U.S. aid to opposition groups in Angola in 1975 led to a purge of State Department African Affairs bureau staffers. “It will be at least a new cast of characters that leaks on Angola,” Kissinger quipped to Brent Scowcroft, then-President Gerald R. Ford’s national security adviser.

A CBS News story in early 1975  by Bob Schieffer about a National Security Council meeting on the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) finds Scowcroft complaining about the leakers’ “total lack of honor and discretion,” and Kissinger saying that when he meets with  Ford, “almost every day I am in there crying” about the leaks.

In a December 1975 telcon, we find Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s folks at the Pentagon balking — in a “stonewall  position,” Kissinger tells Ford — over a pending new SALT agreement which Kissinger says is “within our grasp.” Kissinger said he hoped Ford would help him “smash” the opposition —  and tell Rumsfeld and the Pentagon “to get with it.”

And of course, former president Richard M. Nixon makes an appearance in an early 1976 telcon about  his planned trip to China — one that Ford didn’t want to take during an election year, preferring Nixon to stay out of the limelight. Kissinger thought otherwise, saying the trip could help “get them off this idea we are soft on the Russians.” 

Nixon says he thinks Ford challenger Ronald Reagan’s attacks were encouraged by former defense secretary James Schlesinger. If Schlesinger  “keeps going after me, I will have to go after him.” But Nixon said the two of them had to “stay out of political activity,” and Kissinger agreed.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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