YORBA LINDA, Calif. — In the final months of his life, Richard Nixon quietly advised President Bill Clinton on navigating the post-Cold War world, even offering to serve as a conduit for messages to Russian President Boris Yeltsin and other government officials, newly declassified documents show.
Memos and other records show Nixon's behind-the-scenes relations with the Clinton White House. The documents are part of an exhibit opening today at the Nixon Presidential Library, marking the centennial of his birth.
Clinton has talked often of his gratitude to Nixon for his advice on foreign affairs, particularly Russia. In a video that will be part of the exhibit, Clinton recalls receiving a letter from the 37th president shortly before his death on April 22, 1994, at a time when Clinton was assessing U.S. relations "in a world growing ever more interdependent and yet ungovernable."
"I sought guidance in the example of President Nixon, who came to the presidency at a time in our history when Americans were tempted to say, 'We've had enough of the world,' " Clinton says in the video. "But President Nixon knew we had to continue to reach out to old friends and to old enemies alike. He knew America could not quit the world."
The documents from late February and early March 1994 show Nixon, then 81, in his role of elder statesman. It was two decades after he left the White House in disgrace during Watergate.
The exhibit is an attempt to present a fuller picture of Nixon.
In another glimpse into their relationship, a handwritten note from Nixon to Clinton praises the former Arkansas governor's 1992 presidential campaign. Nixon said it was one of the best he had ever witnessed.
"The strongest steel must pass through the hottest fire. In enduring that ordeal you have demonstrated that you have the character to lead not just America but the forces of peace and freedom in the world," he wrote.
Clinton in his younger days was no fan of Nixon, but his views changed. He led the nation in paying tribute to Nixon at his funeral in California in April 1994, declaring, "May the day of judging President Nixon on anything less than his entire life and career come to a close."
Clinton later told interviewer Larry King he was deeply grateful for Nixon's counsel since and wished he could call the former president for advice.
He echoed that statement in the video tribute, saying, "I appreciated his insight and advice and I'm glad he chose, at the end of his life, to share it with me."