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[Page 492]

151. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • GVN Ambassador Bui Diem
  • Dr. Kissinger
  • John H. Holdridge, NSC Senior Staff Member

SUBJECT

  • Dr. Kissinger's Comments to Ambassador Bui Diem on Cease-Fire and Other Issues

Ambassador Bui Diem apologized for calling on such short notice, but explained he would feel very bad if he returned to Saigon and reported that he had not been in a position to see Dr. Kissinger.

Dr. Kissinger said that he had assumed the initiative was on his side, and that he would certainly have gotten in touch with Diem had not the latter contacted him. He wanted very much to talk on one thing, and to explain that on foreign policy matters the Administration sometimes worked on the principle of “letting 100 flowers bloom”. Some of his colleagues, it seemed, had advocated a permanent cease-fire, but he had spoken to the President and wanted Diem to know that the Vietnamese Government was under no pressure in this respect. As before, we merely wanted Ambassador Bunker to discuss a general approach concerning the cease-fire issue with President Thieu so that if the other side were to act, we could respond. There was no need to link a cease-fire with a Christmas truce, unless, of course the Vietnamese wanted to do so. Incidentally, what Lodge had said that day in Paris was totally unauthorized and did not reflect Administration policy.2

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Diem noted that Lodge's remarks had been partially corrected, nevertheless they created confusion. People in Saigon would assume that because Lodge was leaving,3 he could now say more than he would usually say.

Continuing, Diem said that he would take the liberty of telling his own feelings. After the October 15 demonstrations and the President's speech,4 he had felt enthusiasm, which had been confirmed by the polls. He therefore had wanted to talk over next year's events with President Thieu and to prepare him for the next steps which might be taken. However, this news of the massacre had come out, and he had felt very bad over this and also over Lodge's statement. He was now quite concerned. Dr. Kissinger reiterated that what Lodge had said did not reflect Administration thinking—we were writing off Lodge's statement as a slip of the tongue.

Dr. Kissinger asked Diem if he had been urged to accept a cease-fire. Diem replied that “speaking frankly”, he had talked with Secretary Rogers who had said that the cease-fire problem had come under discussion. The Secretary had spoken of the impending Christmas truce issue and had asked him what he had thought about the problem and the possibility of extending the truce into a cease-fire, to which he had replied that he doubted the Communists would accept a cease-fire, but would talk with his friends at home to see what they thought. He felt reluctant to push the matter. It was a difficult problem and a solution was not easy. On the link with a Christmas truce, last year his government had made a statement accepting a 24-hour Christmas and New Year's truce, but never before had linked it with a cease-fire. Dr. Kissinger responded that there was no need to make such a link, and that Diem should tell his President to listen to what our President said—this is where policy was made.

Diem brought up the question of the third US troop withdrawal announcement. He expressed the personal feeling that up to now the impression had been created that decisions were all taken by the same side, and that the Vietnamese had been pushed into agreeing. He wished to find a way for Vietnam to get some of the credit, to show the world that it had goodwill and that press charges to the contrary were false.

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Dr. Kissinger recalled his previous White House experience in the 1961 Berlin crisis as showing how difficult it was to get goodwill from the press. Nevertheless, if the Vietnamese could find a formula which would enable us to say that we were acting at the request of President Thieu in withdrawing X number of American troops, we would be willing to go along.

Diem declared that there was a need to show the people that Thieu and Ky understood the nature of the situation. Dr. Kissinger responded by stating emphatically that we had no interest in humiliating or weakening Thieu and that we knew the only way Vietnamization would work was if there was a strong Vietnamese Government. In the White House, we would do all we could to strengthen Thieu. For a variety of reasons we did not want a public brawl, but Diem could be assured that in our larger discussions we would do nothing to hurt President Thieu. Diem mentioned that he would be returning in ten days, and Dr. Kissinger asked him to call again as soon as he returned.

Diem asked Dr. Kissinger if he saw any problems in connection with Vietnamization. Should the GVN do more? Were there any difficulties which were the GVN's fault? He asked Dr. Kissinger as a friend of the Vietnamese, adding that out of his great concern for Vietnam he would appreciate an honest answer. Dr. Kissinger replied that on some issues such as land reform the White House might want the GVN to move faster, but there were no major complaints and what complaints there were could be taken care of through normal contacts. There were no issues in the Vietnamization policy, which both of us were trying in all goodwill to make work. If we wanted to “bug out” there were 500 ways to do so, but we were not going to bug out. We were not out to humiliate the GVN or Thieu or to make Thieu's life difficult. Ambassador Diem knew the problems, such as the negative position of the other side in Paris. If the other side were serious, we would work out the details of our position together. He asked, though, if they were serious.

Diem replied that he did not think so, certainly not at this time. However, he had seen during the preceding 18 months of the negotiations that every time the Communists saw they could not go beyond a certain limit, they would try to switch their position. Looking at the current situation from the standpoint of the North Vietnamese—that is, analyzing the Moratorium, the President's speech and the demonstrations—he felt that the other side had big questions in mind. While a lot of noise had been created in the US, no impression on policy had been made. Lodge had resigned, but he could have resigned at any time. Why now? The polls showed that public support for the President was soaring, and if he, Diem, were a North Vietnamese he would have to ask: “Am I right?” He would be afraid that if the trend continued in the present way, he would need to face a difficult situation [Page 495]later on. The enemy had given the impression he was inflexible, but might have to do something to show that he was not all that inflexible. This was the usual tactic of the Communists. They would need to play a double game: on the one hand, to keep up their military efforts, and at the same time reassess the political situation here in Washington, the role of US public opinion and its influence on the President, and the extent to which they could inflict casualties in South Vietnam. He speculated that around January, if they had achieved nothing by then, they might switch a little bit to see what the Americans would do. Dr. Kissinger said he agreed essentially with what Diem had said.

The conversation concluded with Dr. Kissinger reiterating his words on Diem's reassuring President Thieu about President Nixon's stand—he had been instructed by President Nixon to tell Diem this—and to call again following his return from Saigon.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 183, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks, Memos and Miscellaneous, Vol. IV, 12/69–1/70. Secret; Nodis; Paris Meetings. Drafted by Holdridge on December 1. In sending this memorandum to Kissinger on December 1, Holdridge suggested that no distribution be made; Kissinger agreed.
  2. Lodge raised the possibility of a coalition government in South Vietnam that would include representatives of the NLF. In a backchannel message to Bunker, December 2, Kissinger asked Bunker to “leave no doubt in the minds of the South Vietnamese politicians as to where we [the United States] stand” on a coalition government. Kissinger informed Bunker that Nixon and Rogers had wanted him to immediately see “General Minh and Tran van Don and tell them that the U.S. will not countenance any activity designed to lead to the overthrow of the present government. Under no circumstances would we cooperate with any group which did not support the Thieu Government.” Kissinger also instructed Bunker to convey to Ky the same thoughts, and to continue exploratory talks with Thieu on a cease-fire, but to assure him that no offer was contemplated at that time. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 1, Chronological File, 1969 December)
  3. On behalf of the President, Kissinger accepted Lodge's resignation on November 20, effective December 8. As Lodge urged, Philip C. Habib was appointed Acting Head of the American delegation until a successor was chosen. Lawrence E. Walsh, Lodge's Deputy in Paris, also submitted his resignation on November 20 and was accepted by the President. (Backchannel message 794 from Paris, Lodge to Kissinger, November 18; Massachusetts Historical Society, Henry Cabot Lodge II Papers, Reel 9) For the official exchange of letters between President Nixon and Lodge regarding the latter's resignation, see the Department of State Bulletin, pp. 549–550.
  4. See Document 144.