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Exclusive interview with Henry Kissinger

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described his relationship with President Bush as broader, less formal and certainly less significant than portrayed in Bob Woodward's new book "State of Denial".  NBC's Robert Windrem reports.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described his relationship with President Bush as broader, less formal and certainly less significant than portrayed in Bob Woodward's new book "State of Denial." 

Kissinger, 83, said that the president generally calls him about every six weeks for a general discussion of foreign policy issues, which not surprisingly touch on Iraq. Kissinger said the meetings are generally one-on-one, and mostly conceptual in nature as opposed to operational. 

Kissinger dismissed any suggestion that he is helping run the war in Iraq, calling it "ridiculous" and added that he has never kept his positions on Iraq secret, having written nine articles on war in various publications since 2003 — all, as he noted, readily available on the Internet. His discussions with the president, he said, are in line with what he has repeatedly laid out in those articles.

Kissinger also expressed surprise that anyone would find unusual that he, as a member of the Defense Policy Board and a former national security adviser and secretary of state, would be called on for advice. 

On advising President Bush
“The president does me the honor of inviting me to chat with him every once in a while. It is not about the conduct of the war, although occasionally the question arises. But I don't think it's appropriate for me to talk about what are essentially private meetings.

“Why should it be surprising that I'm on the board in the Defense Department that deals with Defense Department matters that meets every four months? Why should that be surprising that the president asks my opinion?

“The president occasionally asks me to come in and see him. They're almost always one-on-one meetings, in which he asks me sort of, usually conceptual questions of, where are we going? What is your judgment on this? It very rarely mentions the tactics of the war in Iraq, although it might come up as an illustration of a general problem.

“I respect the way the president approaches that issue in dealing with me. And I don't claim that I am — the point is not to — for me to make policy. The point is to help the president make judgments on issues that come up to him elsewhere. But he decides when to talk… when to talk to me. And he does it in a general, thoughtful, and conceptual manner. And not in a tactical manner of: ‘What should I do tomorrow?’”

On how often they have met
“I have no record of it over the years. Maybe 15, 20 times. But that's over the years.”

On his position regarding the conduct of the war
“Look, I will not go into a discussion of my conversations of this kind. My position on the ability of the United States to bring about democracy in the short-term, again, has been frequently, publicly, expressed. And it can be no mystery to the people that I meet. I agree with the objective. I have some questions about the speed with which it can be carried out.”

On what he may have suggested to the president regarding troop withdrawals
“I have written, again, three or four articles on the subject of troop withdrawals, and of how they can be conducted and the risks one runs in setting out official deadlines. This is well known. Anybody can go to the Internet and read these articles. So it's probably correct to say that they reflect my view. I have never — I am not involved in the details of the strategy. I am generally supportive of the administration. But these particular statements are either taken from my articles out of context. But, I simply do not think it is appropriate that the President should not be able to talk to outside, friendly people, and get their judgment without them having to go into a long explanation of what was and wasn't said.”

On whether he discusses the general conduct of the war with the president or comparisons between Iraq and Vietnam
“Not as a general rule. Not as a major subject of conversation. But then again, the president really ought to be entitled to call in outsiders who think — this is — they're important national issues. Get their views. And then not have to worry about what they will say afterwards about the conversation.

On comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq
“Not have I ever said that this is a problem identical to Vietnam. In fact, again, I've written ten articles on this subject. And one of them is devoted to explaining why it is not the same problem as Vietnam.

On helping to run the war
“Ridiculous. Ridiculous.”

On whether he has expressed privately an opinion that the president does not think of the downside of taking particular decisions
“I don't remember having made that comment to people. I have no recollection ever having said this. 

On talking to Bob Woodward about his Presidential briefings
“I think I had a conversation with Woodward about two years ago about some book he was writing. But I have not had any conversations on the subject.”

On squabbles among members of the Bush cabinet, particularly Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
“And I'm assuming that people in high positions in Washington know that — Washington bureaucratic politics is a blood sport. And that therefore, they know how to handle themselves in the conflicting views that serious people hold are bound to present. And so, undoubtedly, Rumsfeld is a man of strong convictions. But I'm assuming that people who disagree with him have equally strong convictions, and somebody then has to resolve it.