152. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Cease-Fire Chronology

Recent events with respect to cease-fire proposals are illustrative of the difficulty of developing a coherent Vietnam policy. I am putting them before you in some detail because over a period of time, they make impossible any coherent policy and because they represent a fundamental challenge to your now established policy-making machinery, as well as to Presidential control.

The issue is not whether we should offer a cease-fire. At some point, we probably should. But timing is crucial and we must know what we are getting into. The State proposal would, in effect, partition South Vietnam. Before we take such a fateful and irreversible step, we must know where the line of control would be and where we will go if it is rejected.

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In order to provide serious, orderly consideration of the issue, in mid-October, I asked Ambassador Sullivan to have State’s Vietnam Working Group prepare a paper containing the pros and cons of various cease-fire schemes.2 This paper was to be submitted for NSC consideration and to be sent to Bunker for guidance in talking with Thieu on the subject.

At the same time, I worked out with Elliot Richardson a procedure under which a Special Group3 would analyze the situation in the countryside to determine the area of control which would enable us to judge the implications of a cease-fire.

We arranged for Sir Robert Thompson to report at the beginning of December to you, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Vietnam Special Studies Group.4 All these papers were to be completed by December 1.

On the basis of all this, the issue would have been put before the NSC in mid-December. The State Department, however, chose to try to circumvent this procedure and organize a bureaucratic consensus which would have limited your ability to determine the best course on the basis of an orderly review.

Sequence of Events

As you will remember, before the end of October you had a number of times turned down Secretary Rogers’ proposals concerning a cease-fire.
You had informed the Secretaries of State and Defense in writing on November 4 that, “This is a time for us to stand on what we have offered and let Hanoi take stock and give some indication it is willing to participate in genuine negotiations. I think it would be very detrimental to our overall objective if there were any dope stories that we were offering a stand still cease-fire or any other diplomatic concession at this time.”5
Nevertheless, on November 8 the Secretary of State tried to use the Mansfield Resolution as a vehicle for pushing his position on a cease-fire.
When you refused to go along with this, State, on November 10, allegedly in response to my request for options three weeks earlier, sent to the White House a study on cease-fire alternatives which did not present options but took an advocate’s position. I asked for a revised version which would outline the options and provide recommendations for submission to the NSC. This has never been provided.
On November 20, I asked State to make proposals on a Christmas cease-fire for your consideration. No formal proposals were made.
On November 24, Secretary Rogers stepped into my office following the NPT signing and without being asked stated that he would let the cease-fire issue drop now in view of Xuan Thuy’s statement which indicated that Hanoi opposed a cease-fire.
However, despite this statement, your letter of November 4, my arrangements with Under Secretary Richardson, and the request to let you consider the approach to a Christmas truce, the State Department initiated an exchange of cables with Saigon and Paris on extending the Christmas truce into a permanent, negotiated cease-fire. The sequence of these cables (which are attached at Tab B)6 makes it clear that this exchange was pre-arranged by back channel. Indeed, State has admitted this to my staff.
In addition, the State Department tried to get the Defense Department to join it in presenting an agreed position on a permanent cease-fire which would be submitted outside the NSC framework. Secretary Laird refused and has provided us separately with a memorandum describing his position (Tab C).7 He emphasizes the importance of not directly linking holiday truces with a negotiated, permanent cease-fire.
On November 28, Secretary Rogers forwarded a memorandum (Tab D)8 to you which urgently requests your approval of a proposal which would link the holiday truce with a proposal to negotiate a permanent cease-fire.
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Presidential Control. State’s actions were in violation of written Presidential directives. The Department ignored repeated White House requests for formal recommendations. The Secretary of State’s efforts to line up other Cabinet officers without your knowledge on such an issue is a direct challenge to Presidential control. Dean Acheson has written that he never met with other Cabinet officers without Presidential permission lest he limit the President’s freedom of action.
Bureaucratic Procedure. The NSC system is designed to avoid situations like this, and State had no good reason to try to circumvent it. The procedure which was set up to consider this question included full State representation. Richardson was involved at every step. State chairs the first committee through which the issue would pass and is represented on the Review Group and NSC. Its efforts were designed to avoid discussion.
Substance. I do not doubt that we will wish to offer a cease-fire at some point, but I do not believe that this is the right moment:
We have not yet worked out the implications of a cease-fire with regard to territorial control, etc. We therefore would not know exactly what we were proposing. (This is not the first time that the bureaucracy has attempted to push you into a course of which we did not know the consequences—e.g., the Middle East.)
We have not yet discussed the matter properly with the GVN.
With another troop cut coming up a simultaneous withdrawal offer could undercut our position completely and give an impression of extreme weakness.

Your stand on the 3rd of November9 was taken in the face of repeated counsel to offer further concessions. You ignored this advice and consequently recouped much of the ground lost through the lack of interdepartmental discipline over the late spring, summer and early fall. We are in a relatively strong position again.

The issue is not simply whether we should now weaken our position by offering another specific concession.

There is another, very important problem involved. We don’t know what the exact effect of the cease-fire would be. But we do know that it would mean some sort of partition. The effect of our pushing now for a cease-fire would therefore be to put us in the position of having accepted the principle of partition—whether or not the other side accepted our actual cease-fire offer. This could easily wreck the Saigon Government. In fact, this is probably its chief attraction to some of its proponents.

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Thus, to push for a cease-fire now would be to adopt a course with uncertain specific results while making a new concession in principle. We cannot take such a fateful step without full consideration by the President.


In view of the importance of this issue, I strongly recommend that you sign the attached letter (Tab A) to the Secretary of State10 which reiterates your policies and the need for coordination of these matters.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 183, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks, Memos and Miscellaneous, Vol. V, 12/69–1/70. Secret; Nodis; Paris Meetings; Plus. Sent for information/action.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 148.
  3. The Vietnam Special Studies Group.
  4. See Document 158.
  5. The instruction has not been found. On November 26 Kissinger talked to the President on the telephone to ask if he had seen Bunker’s cable of November 25 (see footnote 6 below) “in which he has shifted his position on the ceasefire to come closer to the Lodge proposal.” The President responded: “Henry I want this ceasefire business knocked off. I have never visualized linking the brief holiday pause with a formal proposal on a ceasefire and I want all discussions on the formal ceasefire knocked off as of now. The only thing I want our people dealing with is a Christmas truce.” The President reiterated his instructions and then told Kissinger that “All discussions of a permanently negotiated ceasefire are to stop until the National Security Council has an opportunity to consider the issue.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 361, Telephone Conversations, Chronological Files)
  6. Attached at Tab B, but not printed, was a chronology of Department of State cables plus copies of the cables themselves. Included were telegram 194286/Todel 3508 to Paris, November 19; telegram 17921 from Paris/Delto 2320, November 19; telegram 4151 from Saigon to the Department, November 24; telegram 1881120 from Paris/Delto 2343, November 24; and telegram 23716 from Saigon to the Department, November 26.
  7. Tab C, a memorandum from Rogers to Kissinger, November 28, is attached but not printed.
  8. Tab D is attached but not printed.
  9. Reference is to Nixon’s speech to the nation on Vietnam; see Document 144.
  10. The letter was attached at Tab A, but there was no indication that Nixon signed it; see Document 154.