In October 1973, when the Arab-Israeli war threatened to erupt into a cold war confrontation, then US president Richard Nixon was too drunk to take a call from then British prime minister Edward Heath, according to telephone transcripts cleared for release on Wednesday.
The awkward maneuvering to conceal the president's indisposition from Heath was revealed in more than 20,000 pages of transcripts of telephone conversations conducted by Henry Kissinger at a time when he was Nixon's most trusted foreign-policy adviser.
Kissinger served as national security adviser and secretary of state in the Nixon administration.
According to the transcripts, Heath phoned the White House shortly after 8pm to speak to Nixon, five days after the start of the war.
"Can we tell them no?" Kissinger asked his assistant, Brent Scowcroft, who had told him of the urgent request. "When I talked to the president, he was loaded."
Scowcroft replied: "We could tell him: the pres perhaps he can call you."
Kissinger conveyed the message to Heath, saying that Nixon would be available in the morning.
Admittedly, Nixon had a lot on his mind that October. The Arab-Israeli war erupted on Oct. 6, 1973. Vice president Spiro Agnew resigned on Oct. 10, 1973, amid bribery charges, and Nixon was months away from his own ignominious departure because of the Watergate scandal.
Staff at the national archives say the boxed transcripts contain countless such episodes, documenting a tumultuous five years of US foreign policy, which spanned the Vietnam war and the secret and illegal bombing of Cambodia; the 1973 Arab-Israeli war; the US' opening to China; and arms talks with the Soviet Union.
"We have a roomful of historians downstairs, practically drooling to get into the boxes," said David Mengel, who works on the Nixon presidential papers at the archives.
He said the body of transcripts offered a powerful glimpse of Kissinger's role in the administration, both as an adviser to Nixon and as a public relations expert.
It includes conversations with the president and cosy chats with journalists which Kissinger was known for.
"You really get the voices and intonements -- how adamant he was, how forceful on these issues," he said.
Although Kissinger was certainly privy to Nixon's thoughts on foreign policy, which occupied a great deal of his attention as president, he was out of the loop on domestic matters.
The day before Nixon was to announce a new vice president to replace Agnew, the transcripts suggest, Kissinger had no idea he was going to choose Gerald Ford.
With release of the Kissinger transcripts, historians now have access to three sources of raw and uncensored records of the Nixon administration. In the case of the Nixon tapes, the record is particularly raw -- the late president was known for his foul language and racial abuse.
Although Kissinger has a reputation for bouts of irascibility, the transcripts do not show a strong reliance on swear words.
"It's fairly G-rated," Mengel said.