WASHINGTON (AFP) – The final batch of taped conversations secretly recorded by president Richard Nixon and then used to help bring him down during the Watergate scandal have been released.
The latest tapes, recorded between April and July 1973, add new historical insight into a period of rapprochement with the Soviet Union after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.
The 340 hours of recordings were released in the digital mp3 format on the website of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California and posted on the website www.nixonlibrary.gov.
Most of the conversations that were related to the Watergate scandal had been previously released, but historians and fans of presidential anecdotes will find much to flesh out their appreciation of the period.
The latest batch includes, for example, a unique albeit poor-quality recording of Nixon meeting with his Soviet counterpart Leonid Brezhnev in the Oval Office during the historic June 1973 summit.
In it Brezhnev thanks Nixon for his invitation to visit the U.S. president’s so-called “Western White House” — the Casa Pacifica, his Californian villa.
“When you called it — the first thought I had certain doubts about the San Clemente visit,” Brezhnev said.
“Sure,” Nixon replied.
“And that’s why I came to you, to contact you through the ambassador,” the Russian leader explained. “Let me say that I am now really happy that I have revised my initial decision and I – and it was a personal decision on my part – and I do believe now, especially when I know that you, the symbolism that you put into the name of that house in San Clemente …”
“House of Peace,” said Nixon.
“Exactly, and I do believe I’m, as I say, I’m happy that I am going there, and I do believe that that symbolism will turn into reality.” Brezhnev said.
Nixon, who was elected in 1968 and again in 1972, installed an extensive system of recording devices throughout the White House and the presidential retreat at Camp David.
In each batch of tapes, parts were withheld. Hundreds of hours of the recordings remain classified for national security reasons. In the future, that material could be declassified.
The existence of the recording system, installed in February 1971, was revealed during the inquiry into Watergate in July 1973, prompting the White House to order its removal.
A year later, facing possible impeachment over Watergate — the scandal caused when White House operatives burgled and bugged a meeting of Nixon’s opponents in the Watergate Hotel and then tried to cover their action up — the president resigned in disgrace.
Tapes archivist Cary McStay said there are currently no plans to transcribe the tapes, but that the library has produced subject logs to help guide researchers.
The Nixon tapes themselves are kept in Washington D.C. by the National Archives.
The tapes do not just record moments of high-wire diplomacy or low political skulduggery, but also more entertaining visits like that of Brazilian football legend Pele.
Pele visited the White House in May 1973, three years after he had scored the first goal in Brazil’s 4-1 victory in the 1970 World Cup final.
“You are the greatest in the world,” Nixon told the player at an Oval Office photo call where the pair exchanged gifts and Pele spoke of his plan to promote soccer in the United States.
“Do you speak any Spanish?” Nixon asked.
“No, Portuguese. It is all the same,” Pele replied, as Nixon played with a ball.
“He always wins,” Nixon said, to which Pele’s then wife, Rosemeri dos Reis Cholbi replied: “Yes.”