13. Memorandum of Conversation1

New York, September, 1969


  • President Nixon’s Courtesy Call on the Secretary-General
[Page 20]


  • U.S.
    • The President
    • Secretary Rogers
    • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
    • Ambassador Charles W. Yost
  • Foreign
    • The Secretary-General
    • Dr. Ralph Bunche

The Secretary-General expressed warm appreciation for the President’s willingness to speak to the United Nations General Assembly and thus to demonstrate in this tangible and emphatic way his support of the institution.

The SYG presented the President with a folder of United Nations stamps, and also with a memorandum urging early ratification of the United Nations Privileges and Immunities Convention. He explained that he had occasion to raise this subject a number of times in the past, that the present situation is anomalous in that a Third Secretary of the Burmese Mission to the United Nations, for example, is immune to prosecution whereas the SYG and his senior collaborators are not, and that he would greatly appreciate it if the President would find it possible to correct this anomaly. Secretary Rogers and Mr. Yost commented that the subject is under active consideration in the U.S. Government. The Secretary noted that, as a matter of fact, for many years no one had been prosecuted for the sort of activity covered in the Convention. The President commented that he nevertheless recognizes the symbolic importance of the matter but noted that the attitude of the Congress toward it is not clear.

The SYG then turned to a rather lengthy exposition of his views in regard to the significance of elections in Viet Nam. He pointed out that in a somewhat analogous situation in Burma just after the war, when every village had a supply of arms, theoretically free elections were held but in fact the government obtained 100% of the votes in villages it controlled while the Communists obtained 100% of the votes in the villages they controlled. The SYG feared that the outcome of elections held in Viet Nam under present circumstances would be much the same and would not in fact reflect the free choice of the people.

He thought that a more profitable course would be to establish in South Viet Nam a broadly-based coalition government, which after some interval for the reduction of tensions might more successfully carry out such elections. While he did not specify on this occasion whether or not he would suggest the Communists be included in such a government, he has on previous occasions indicated that they should not. He suggested as the sort of person who might play a prominent role in such a government “Big” Minh, who he felt is highly regarded by most elements throughout South Viet Nam and yet is definitely not a Communist. The SYG pointed out that 80 or 90% of the voters in [Page 21]South East Asia vote for leaders, whom they consider “good” or “bad”, rather than for parties or ideologies.

The President replied that he is very conscious of the difficulties of conducting fair elections under present circumstances in Viet Nam where arms are so widely held. It is for this reason that we have suggested that elections be supervised by an international body. What we have in mind moreover is not a small body but a large one, composed for the most part of Asians but with all points of view, including Communists and neutralists, represented. He would be pleased if it could be agreed that the UN might carry out this responsibility. He would hope that in this way the fairness of the elections might be assured.

He went on to say, however, that it should be clearly recognized that the United States has, since the cessation of bombing of the North, made a whole series of forthcoming proposals, which he had just reiterated in his speech, but that there has been so far no response from the other side, public or private, except a demand for total U.S. withdrawal and capitulation. It might be that the other side believes political pressures inside the United States will ultimately compel us to withdraw unconditionally. He wished to assure the SYG most solemnly that this would not be the case. He would under no circumstances yield to political pressures of this kind. Indeed it would be disastrous for many reasons if the United States should simply pull out of Viet Nam, not least of which would be that the effect on American public opinion would probably be such as to lead to almost complete U.S. withdrawal from world affairs. The President indicated that, on the other hand, the United States is prepared to discuss any settlement which would provide for self-determination in South Viet Nam and would wholly withdraw as a part of such a settlement.

There was some discussion as to whether the death of Ho Chi Minh would change the policy of Hanoi. The SYG expressed the view that since Ho had been “gaga” for the last year or two and the government had during that time been largely in the hands of others, principally Pham Van Dong and General Giap, there is unlikely to be any change in the near future. The President pointed out, however, that Ho had been a charismatic figure, popular throughout the whole of Viet Nam in a way that no other Northern leader was, and that this might make a difference. The SYG agreed that this might well be the case.

As time was drawing short, Secretary Rogers said that he would be very happy to continue the discussion of Viet Nam with the SYG at any time and explain the U.S. position in more detail.

The meeting ended on a warm note of mutual regard and reiteration by the SYG of appreciation for the President’s presence and his speech.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 291, Agency Files, USUN. Secret; Nodis. Drafted on September 19 by Yost. A September 23 covering memorandum from Executive Secretary Eliot to Kissinger bears a handwritten note indicating that Kissinger approved the memorandum of conversation on September 25.