126. Information Memorandum From the Director of the Planning and Coordination Staff, Department of State (Cargo) to the Under Secretary of State (Irwin)1


  • NSC Procedures—Your Lunch with Henry Kissinger

There are three related problems that I believe can usefully be discussed at your Wednesday lunch.

[Omitted here is discussion of the first problem, “FY 1971 Supplemental.”]

2. Presentation of Issues to the President

In recent months and increasingly with the advent of the SRG, there has been confusion on the specifics and timing of the presentation of issues to the President. NSSM 99 on Cambodia2 is a good example. After two meetings of the SRG, Alex Johnson circulated a draft cable which summed up the preliminary conclusions of the group (DOD and AID concurred) and suggested the next steps necessary in the process of consulting with the governments in the area.

Instead of getting approval of that message the President was asked by NSC staff to approve a NSDM, subsequently issued as NSDM 89 (Tab D).3 The NSC staff then redrafted our message to include the text of the NSDM which gives the President’s specific endorsement of Strategy 3 variant 3. Both we and Defense had not felt that such an approval, conveyed to the field, would help guide our missions. Instead we had conveyed the general purposes of our approach and specific guidelines for their discussions.

The issue here is not what goes in a cable but rather what goes to the President for decision and when. Without seeing what went to the President, it is difficult for us to know if indeed the President was approving all the analysis and conclusions of NSSM 99. Secretaries Rogers and Laird do not have the opportunity to comment in a timely and [Page 274] meaningful way to the President. They can clear a cable; they cannot be expected to approve a paper more than 100 pages long.

The principle to be guarded is that the Secretary have an opportunity to see the form in which an issue is being presented to the President, and based on this to make his recommendation. An NSC meeting offers the Secretary the opportunity to do this. The present procedures wherein issues frequently go directly from the SRG, Verification Panel or similar NSC bodies to the President for decision does not. Our recommendation therefore is that if a decision by the President is required after meetings of the SRG, Verification Panel or similar bodies, that recommendation be set forth in a memo from the group to the President. Then both Secretaries Rogers and Laird will have an opportunity to comment or add their own formal or informal advice.

(This same point arises in connection with the presentation to the President for decision of the options on handling the “provocative attack” issue discussed today by the Verification Panel. It is important, as you have already noted, for the Department and the Secretary to know exactly what is being presented to the President.)4

3. Timing of Meetings

As an aid to all concerned, and while recognizing Henry Kissinger’s scheduling problems, I recommend that you put to Henry the suggestion that two or three specific times be set aside on the SRG members’ schedules to be kept for possible meetings. This will, except in rare and unavoidable cases, obviate the necessity of changing meeting times constantly.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 74 D 164, KissingerIrwin Meetings. Secret. Drafted by Hartman. Sent through U. Alexis Johnson and Eliot.
  2. NSSM 99, “U.S. Strategy for Southeast Asia,” August 17, 1970. (Ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–173, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 99)
  3. NSDM 89, “Cambodia Strategy,” October 26, 1970. (Ibid., Box H–219, National Security Decision Memoranda, NSDM 89)
  4. The Department of State’s record of the KissingerIrwin luncheon on October 28 indicates that Irwin expressed State’s concern over the system to be followed in presenting issues to the President with the advent of the SRG. Irwin noted that Kissinger had presented NSSM 99 to the President for a decision following the SRG meeting without holding an NSC meeting or informing the agency principals in attendance at the SRG that he would go directly to the President. The “basic question,” Irwin stated, is: “At what point does the Secretary of State personally participate in the decision-making process under these circumstances?” According to the record, “the discussion was inconclusive and probably can be considered as the beginning of a continuing dialogue as required.” (Veliotes, Record of Irwin/Kissinger Lunch of October 29, November 3; ibid., RG 59, S/S Files: Lot 74 D 164, KissingerIrwin Meetings) Veliotes incorrectly gives October 29 as the date of the lunch. Irwin and Kissinger met on October 28 at 12:10 p.m., but not on October 29. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule)