25. Editorial Note

President Nixon briefed a joint meeting of the National Security Council and the Cabinet on May 15, 1969, on the televised speech on Vietnam he had delivered the previous evening. During the briefing, Nixon summarized his objectives and strategy in pursuing a settlement to the conflict:

“In a summary statement, the President began by pointing out that the end of World War II was delayed by the insistence on unconditional surrender. If the enemy knows there is no way out but military defeat, he has nothing to gain by offering a settlement. What we have provided is a way out. On the other side of the coin, some people feel that it is only necessary to put out a proposal to get peace. What must be realized is that we are talking to an enemy whose first objective is not peace. They want South Vietnam. So if we are going to get genuine negotiations, just putting out a proposal is not enough. We needed to threaten that if they don’t talk they will suffer.

“The President listed four principal factors in the U.S. position. One, we are for peace—we are reasonable. Two, we aim to convince the enemy that if there is no settlement, we have an option which is military action not only at the present level but at an expanded level. Three, we want to make clear that they can’t win by sitting us out. Four, we want to convince them that they aren’t going to get what they want by erosion of the will of the U.S. So, said the President, we have offered them a way out. We have tried to indicate that we will not tolerate a continuation of their fight-talk strategy. We have tried to convince them that the time is coming when South Vietnam will be strong enough to [Page 83] handle a major part of the load. Beyond all this, said the President, it was necessary to give the impression to the enemy that the people of the U.S. are going to support a sound peace proposal and not accept peace at any price. Then and only then will the enemy realize that the war must be ended.” (Memorandum of National Security Council/Cabinet Meeting, drafted by the President’s Special Assistant James Keogh; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Office Files, Box 1, Memoranda for the President 1969-1970, Beginning May 11, 1969)

Members of the National Security Council, the Cabinet, and 24 sub-Cabinet and White House officials attended the meeting, which lasted from 10:08 to 11:44 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, Staff Memoranda and Office Files, Office of Presidential Papers and Archives, Daily Diary) The full text of the memorandum is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Southeast Asia, 1969-1972. In his speech to the nation on May 14, President Nixon outlined a proposal for mutual withdrawal in Vietnam over a period of 12 months. The text of the speech is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1969, pages 369-375.