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327. Notes of Meeting1

NOTES ON BRIEFING OF FORMER VICE PRESIDENT NIXON AND GOVERNOR AGNEW

THOSE ATTENDING THE BRIEFING WERE

  • The President
  • Former Vice President Nixon
  • Secretary Rusk
  • CIA Director Helms
  • Cyrus Vance
  • Governor Agnew
  • Tom Johnson

[Omitted here is discussion of Czechoslovakia (see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XVII, Document 78) and the Middle East.]

CIA Director Helms: Vietnam—The war is at the tensest point. Lull is not hard to explain.

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  • —Lost 128,000 men
  • —Needed to fill out units
  • —Units now coming back
  • —Attack could come anytime.

The primary objective is—ruination of Saigon's government.

Secretary Rusk: The offensive has been slowed by 40 [percent] of equipment being captured. They may be tired of military activity.

Nixon: Would the attacks be city attacks?

CIA Director Helms: Yes, city attacks.

[Omitted here is discussion of Latin America.]

Vance: No tangible progress on central issue.

  • —Some advance. We have gone to Paris.
  • —We have had three prisoners released. We may get more out.

Le Duc Tho is on the way back from Hanoi.

Cessation of bombing.

Public sessions—rigid and unbending.

We will stop bombing under right conditions.

Private Conversations: We have tried to come up with formula to let us stop the bombing with no public [omission in the source text].

Vance: They have refused to suggest anything at this point. They will not permit the Thieu-Ky government to sit at the table.

I arranged the original talks at a Tea Break. So far no progress.

Governor Agnew: Is there any difference between private and public talks?

Vance: There is no difference between private and public talks on substance.

Le Duc Tho—he stops at Peking and Moscow enroute to Paris.2

There is possibility of discussion between third country.

Secretary Rusk: We just got a message that they could not do this until September.3

Nixon: Why are they talking?

Vance: Eventually they want a solution.

Secretary Rusk: They want a solution, but on what terms?

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Vance: They would like it on their basis.4

Nixon: We have people on our side who are constantly screwing us on propaganda. They signed an agreement in 1954 which gave them less on paper than they could have won on the battlefield.

What about China? What are they doing? Are the North Vietnamese sophisticated?

Vance: They are. They have sophistication.

Nixon: Do they still believe we have lost the war?

CIA Director Helms: The North Vietnamese are convinced they won after Dien Bien Phu.

The President: They think we believe that we lost the war. They don't think so.

Nixon: We have got to tell our people to remember that every word they write will be read by Hanoi.

Governor Agnew: How much information comes from Peking?

CIA Director Helms: Peking supports Hanoi with ammunition, munitions, food.

The President: We cannot certify how much influence on Hanoi China is.

CIA Director Helms: Ho wants their help, not their advice.

The President: I cannot tell you how much influence either Kosygin or Mao has.

The President: When we have a pause, we have a difficult time getting back.

Nixon: Who talks to the Soviets?

Secretary Rusk: We talk to Soviets in Washington and in Paris.

Nixon: Is there a shift in the Soviet attitude?

The President: The USSR suggested the 37-day pause. They can't deliver.

Secretary Rusk: The current mood is “stop the bombing”.

Nixon: Any discussions with the Chinese?

Vance: No.

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Nixon: Do we talk at Warsaw?

Vance: Yes.

Secretary Rusk: If Tito were reaching out to grab Greece, you would have a parallel.

Nixon: What is the Laos situation?

Secretary Rusk: There is nothing decisive.

Governor Agnew: What is the relationship between the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong? What is the degree of military deficiency before and after?

CIA Director Helms: 90% North Vietnamese now vs. 60% earlier.

Governor Agnew: This might offset qualities.

CIA Director Helms: They are not as good now as they were.

Nixon: What about Thieu's attitude? He did not object to the Viet Cong being at negotiations.

Secretary Rusk: We and the South Vietnamese would be at the table on an our-side-your-side basis, but the Viet Cong won't sit down with the Hanoi government.

The President: They have no problem making their views known.

Secretary Rusk: [omission in the source text]

Nixon: It's so much like a labor negotiation. You cannot give away the game in advance.

Secretary Rusk: In Latin America no coup has occurred in 27 years. Things are beginning to stabilize. The next Administration will see more movements in the Communist world. Mao is 75. Lots of ferment. It may evolve to non-Communist mainland.

Nixon: Why are they enamored with philosophy that even old Communism is outdated?

The apparatus is working.5

  1. Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting lasted until 1:15 p.m. Nixon and his party arrived at the Ranch at 11:59 a.m. A lunch followed this briefing after which Nixon departed. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) Vance returned to Paris on August 12. The President had offered Nixon the opportunity for the meeting during a telephone conversation on August 8. (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Nixon, August 8, 1968, 4:09 p.m., Tape F6807.02, PNO 21)
  2. Tho returned to Paris from his 6-week trip on August 13.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. A memorandum for the record by John Walsh of S/S, August 8, described a conversation between former NSC Staff member Chester Cooper and Vance. At the request of the Humphrey campaign, Cooper informed Vance that the Vice President planned to issue a statement calling for an immediate halt to the bombing. Vance replied that his public reaction to the statement would be critical since it would interfere and damage the Paris negotiations. Cooper telephoned Vance the next day and reported that “the Vice President would be prepared to leave public life rather than to do anything that would damage our negotiating position or harm our country.” The substance of this exchange was relayed to both Smith and Rusk. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET)
  5. In a memorandum for the record, August 12, summarizing this briefing, Helms wrote: “Mr. Vance covered developments in then Paris peace negotiations, including details of the private talks between the Americans and the North Vietnamese. He carefully pointed out the total unwillingness of the North Vietnamese to meet across the table with the South Vietnamese Government. It came as an obvious surprise to the candidates that the North Vietnamese expect the GVN to negotiate directly with the National Liberation Front. Lack of progress in the talks was underlined, but the point was carefully made that patience might yet get something started, perhaps in the private dialogue. Mr. Nixon made it clear that he had no intention of saying or doing anything which would make the job of the American negotiators more difficult.” (Central Intelligence Agency, DCI (Helms) Files, Job 80–B01285A, DCI (Helms) Chrono, Aug.–Dec. 1968)