31. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Ellsworth Bunker, Ambassador to South Vietnam
  • Robert S. Lindquist, Chargé in Malaysia
  • William H. Burns, Chargé in Singapore
  • G. McMurtrie Godley, Ambassador to Laos
  • Arthur W. Hummel, Ambassador to Burma
  • Carol Laise, Ambassador to Nepal
  • Andrew V. Corry, Ambassador to Ceylon
  • Leonard Unger, Ambassador to Thailand
  • Norman Hannah, DCM in Thailand
  • Robert G. Neumann, Ambassador to Afghanistan
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President
  • Ronald Ziegler, Assistant to the President
  • Harold H. Saunders, NSC Staff

President: Thanks for coming. Time precludes visiting some countries. On the other hand, being in area provides opportunity to hear your countries’ reactions to our policies generally—everything from foreign assistance over. What I have tried to get across on trip so far:

I have general belief that Asia is where the action is and ought to be—in spite of Vietnam. Other areas naturally important too. US/Soviet [Page 95] relations will be taken care of at highest level. Latin America will not change much. Africa will not govern itself for 200 years. But in terms of conflict involving us, likeliest place is Asia. Mid-East possibly, but there less likely because that would be between US and USSR. But in Asia, countries on edge of China ripe for export of revolution.

As I see it, the way we end Vietnam war will determine whether we can have viable policy in Asia—a settlement that will not be seen as US defeat and will not lead to Communist takeover in a few years. Don’t have to put this in domino terms.

One could conclude that getting out of Vietnam any way would be best thing we could do. But—though everyone wants peace—the most detrimental effect of a Vietnam settlement would be a settlement that produced Communist victory in a few years. US people would throw up hands on further active Asian involvement. We are going through critical phase for US world leadership—American people never wanted to be world leaders in first place and maybe that’s why we have never had a world policy.

[Omitted here are reports by Chiefs of Mission Godley, Hummel, Lindquist, Burns, Neumann, Corry, Laise, and Bunker on developments in their respective areas of responsibility.]

President: Let me sum up.

On Mid-East, no progress of significance. I anticipate none. May only come only at a very high level only when Soviets realize they may be drawn in. Arabs they support in shaky positions. Very pessimistic situation at this time.

On Vietnam, no significant progress in Paris on public talks—don’t talk about private contacts. Soviets have played minimal role; expect none unless they can get something because they can’t get caught at it. Escalation that would involve US and USSR remote. Ties us down. One factor in other direction is that they have their troubles. As long as Vietnam going on, difficult to make progress in other fields with us. If USSR needs or wants better relations with US, moving on Vietnam would open door. If I were where they sit, I would keep “giving it to the US” in Vietnam.

Chinese-Soviet and US attitude. I don’t think we should rush quickly into embrace with USSR to contain China. Best US stance is to play each—not publicly. US-USSR-Europe lined up against rest of Asia not a pretty prospect. US-USSR security pact would invite Soviet adventurism in area; can let people talk about it but not do anything about.

What really rides on Vietnam, is whether US people are going to play big role in world or not. That question is [in]very serious doubt. Mass of people usually think right but intellectuals oppose all but passive [Page 96] US role. How can we conduct policies in Asia so that we can play role we should:

Viable Vietnamese government for at least five years.
Where problem is internal subversion, countries must deal with problem themselves. We will help—but not American ground forces. Even when there is foreign exported revolution. Not talking about invasion by conventional troops.
I feel that with all criticism of US, Asia leaders realize worst thing for them would be for US to bug out of Vietnam because that would leave vacuum. Collective security is a good theme—but not real for five years (even Japan).
We have to conduct policy so we can sell it in US.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1023, Presidential/HAK Memcons, President’s Asian and European Trip, July-Aug 1969. No classification marking. The meeting, held in the Embassy in Bangkok, was a gathering of regional Chiefs of Mission held during Nixon’s trip to several Asian countries and Romania, which he took in July and August 1969. Additional documentation on the trip is ibid., President’s Trip Files, Boxes 452-454. For the full text of the memorandum of conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Southeast Asia, 1969–1972.