109. Editorial Note

On March 30, 1972, North Vietnam initiated a major offensive against the South. The offensive was supplied in large measure by the Soviet Union, which continued to be the principal support for Hanoi. [Page 370] With the planned U.S.-Soviet Moscow Summit less than 2 months away, the latest North Vietnamese offensive put to the test the Nixon administration’s long-standing concept of linkage, where progress with the Soviet Union in some aspects of U.S.-Soviet relations must be accompanied by progress in other, more difficult areas. While at the Pentagon on April 9, Henry Kissinger called to confer with the President, who was in Key Biscayne. According to the Nixon Diary, the telephone call was placed at 10:47 a.m. and concluded at 11:10 a.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, Staff Members and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary) “We are coming to the point,” Nixon said, when “knocking off of the Soviet Summit becomes more and more a possibility.” The conversation continued:

“K: I am afraid so. I do not have another view. I do not think we can survive a Soviet Summit as a country if we are humiliated in Vietnam. Unless they accept rules of conduct, we may have to confront them. It is easy for me to say. But if one looks at an election on that platform …

“P: The country would be done then.

“K: I think our bargaining position in Moscow, if it came out of a position of total weakness, would be hopeless.

“P: I have been arguing for sending more carriers, planes, etc. and taking the heat on it because I realize everything rides on this. If we lose this one, the other stuff won’t hold up. Our great China initiative—we at least opened the door, and handle ourselves as gracefully as we can—and quietly leave the scene.”

The President declared that “We have to look closely at our whole American purpose as to whether or not it is possible for one [sic] [non-Communist]country to defend itself and leave. We know it is possible for a Communist country to do that. I am not sure. We shall see.” Nixon ordered Kissinger to “call Dobrynin in” and relate the current U.S. thinking. “Tell him the Summit is on the line now,” the President said. “I think he has to know with this going on as it is that we are under enormous pressure. The whole Summit is being jeopardized. Our hole card is to play more with the Chinese.”

After brief discussion, the President concluded: “We both agree to go ahead under those circumstances…. In the meantime, we will keep kicking them in the balls. I made a decision no Summit if this thing goes. We have no other choices now. We can’t be put in a position of letting our whole policy be hostage to a couple of summits.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between President Nixon and Kissinger; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)