145. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Marshall Green, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
- Ambassador William Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs John H. Holdridge, Senior Staff Member, NSC
- Remarks by Ambassadors Green and Sullivan Concerning Vietnam
After a few opening comments concerning the President's speech2 and the desirability of getting reactions in as soon as possible, the conversation focussed on recent developments in Vietnam. Dr. Kissinger asked what might happen next in Paris, to which Ambassador Sullivan replied that the Communists in his opinion were likely to stone wall in Paris while increasing military pressure in the field. He mentioned that a step-up in the rate of infiltration had taken place since October 23, and that over 5,000 NVA troops were now in the pipeline—as many as had infiltrated in the whole period from April to October. [Page 479]A build-up north of the DMZ was also possible, with perhaps an attack directly across the DMZ. If military action of this sort occurred, we would need to take appropriate measures, perhaps even bombing north of the DMZ.
Dr. Kissinger mentioned that the Communist build-up in the Delta was obvious to everybody, and asked if there was any plan on what to do about it. Sullivan said that nothing more than the normal increase of South Vietnamese forces was contemplated, but dismissed the Communist build-up as not being big enough to worry about. To him, the Communist threat to the special forces camps of Bu Prang and Duc Lap was politically more significant, and the Communists had the capability to take these camps. However, it was General Abrams' view that the situation was not all that serious. The number of 5,000 infiltrators was not in itself of major significance.
Dr. Kissinger wondered if the Communists had ever meant to settle the war by negotiations. He noted that in May and June it had looked as if things might get moving. Could we have done more, and what froze the Communists up? Ambassadors Green and Sullivan said in reply that the Communists had in their negotiating position blasted Vietnamization and US troop withdrawals as a major factor, and they were inclined to take the Communist rationale at face value.
Continuing, Sullivan mentioned that what had intrigued him most in that period was the May 31 speech of Le Duc Tho 3—Tho had asked if we would agree to discuss everything on the table, i.e., both the 8 point and 10 point programs, and have a cease-fire. Sullivan speculated, though, that Ho Chi Minh's illness plus the influence of the US peacenicks and the growing American intellectual split had caused the Communists to back off.
Ambassador Green noted that our intelligence had brought out a coincidence between the July 20 Plaine de Jarres offensive and the South Vietnam situation. This has been an important anniversary, and we all had reached the conclusion it was a big date. Perhaps the Communists had then anticipated that a major move was to be expected from the US, such as proposing a cease-fire. There therefore might have been something significant in the Communist pull-back from Muong Soui. He had been told by both Khampan and Champassak that they were dissatisfied with the explanation that the Communist forces pulled back from Muong Soui solely because they ran out of food.
The conversation then turned to the question of a cease-fire, with Dr. Kissinger asking why the Communists might want one. Sullivan [Page 480]spoke of the attrition of Communist forces, which was continuing to the point where they were not contesting the GVN's pacification efforts. He thought that in a few more months the Communists would be put in a position of making the choice between stepping up the war and making a major infiltration effort, or else taking some steps to protect the integrity of their forces. A cease-fire would be such a step. Dr. Kissinger recalled that there had been no discussion of a cease-fire by the Communists, to which Sullivan speculated that they would prefer the offer to come from us rather than from them. Dr. Kissinger noted that all they needed to do was to send the Soviets to us on this issue and ask us what we meant.
Sullivan mentioned the effort being launched by the Archbishops of Saigon and Danang to contact all four parties in Paris. He thought that this effort was probably in connection with a cease-fire proposal, which we for our part would not oppose.
Dr. Kissinger doubted that if the Communists were in such bad shape as Sullivan had suggested, they would favor a cease-fire. He could not see the logic. Sullivan speculated that if the Communists took the initiative they could gain a propaganda advantage by linking a cease-fire appeal, which would be popular in the US, with a coalition government. He thought, therefore, that we should propose a cease-fire first so as to preempt the Communists. Dr. Kissinger felt that we could easily explore with Thieu the meaning of a cease-fire without asking for one.
Dr. Kissinger remarked upon the US domestic implications of a cease-fire and wondered whether there was a desire for one which we were blocking because we simply didn't understand the implications. Should the President have proposed one? Sullivan thought that such a proposal would have been a gimmick, but Ambassador Green thought that it might be useful as an argument to the people back here as well as to head the Communists off.
After a few references to the Fulbright Hearings on Vietnam, Sullivan elaborated on the advantages of a cease-fire, by noting that if our position remained unchanged and the Communists did revert to stepped-up military action, they could give us a great problem with Saigon as well as with public opinion here by at some later stage proposing a cease-fire linked with a coalition government. Again, he thought that we should get there first.
Dr. Kissinger pointed out that if we were to make the offer first, the Communists could always counter by calling for a complete US troop withdrawal and a coalition government.
Following some further discussion of the pros and cons of a cease-fire, with some reference to the possibility of increased Communist military action occurring next February or March, as Deputy Ambassador [Page 481] Berger believed might happen, Dr. Kissinger stated that if a paper containing a recommendation on a cease-fire came from them, Ambassadors Green and Sullivan, he would see that it was considered by the President even if it did not have JCS clearance. (Ambassador Green noted that the absence of such clearance on a paper already extant was the reason it had not been sent.)
The conversation shifted back to the fact that Ambassador Bunker had been authorized to discuss a cease-fire with Thieu, along with other issues, but nothing had been heard from him. Ambassador Green raised the possibility that Bunker might have been communicating directly with the White House by “back channels”, to which Dr. Kissinger emphatically rejected the idea that any such communication had taken place on the subject of a cease-fire.4
In conclusion, Ambassador Green raised the matter of our Ambassador in Warsaw making contact with the Chinese Communist Chargé. The first opportunity to make such contact at a social occasion would come at the end of the month, but was there any objection to operating overtly? Direct contact could be made via a call at the Chinese Embassy. Dr. Kissinger said that he saw no objection to such direct contacts, but added that there was no problem either, in getting together overtly—in fact we preferred it.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 140, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, Vol. XII, 1–15 November 1969. Secret; Nodis. Holdridge sent this memorandum to Kissinger under cover of a memorandum of November 12, on which Kissinger wrote: “note change on p. 3. No distribution. HK” Prior to this discussion, Kissinger and Sullivan talked on the telephone at 3:10 p.m. on November 4. According to notes of the discussion, Kissinger told Sullivan that “Habib was not to make any modifications on what he had previously said” and that “the President was determined that we don't make any new proposals in Paris…. On threat of death K said there will be no new proposals.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 361, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)↩
- See Document 144.↩
- See Document 75.↩
- At this point, Kissinger crossed out “or would take place” and wrote “on the subject of a ceasefire.”↩