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

SUBJECT

  • Future of the Paris Talks

You have asked Secretary of State Rogers for an opinion on whether the Paris talks are in the best interests of the United States. His reply (Tab A)2 deals with the question in terms of alternatives:

  • —If the only alternative is the total suspension of the meetings on the grounds that they have degenerated into a propaganda forum, we would lose more than we gain by appearing to contradict our statement that we will persist through any means to seek a negotiated settlement.
  • —However, elimination or reduction of the present plenaries in favor of restricted sessions would be a “positive step” and would probably be received well at home and abroad.

Picking up the second alternative, the Secretary points out that the other side is very sensitive to the prospect that we might downgrade or even eliminate the negotiations, and suggests that we exploit this sensitivity in order to work toward restricted sessions. He suggests that [Page 520]we use the upcoming holiday season to test the possibilities by reducing the frequency of the talks as follows:

—Substituting one plenary meeting on December 30 for the two plenaries which normally would be held on December 25 and January 1, and proposing in the regularly-scheduled January 8 meeting that future meetings be plenary and restricted on alternate Thursdays.

The Secretary doubts that the other side would accept, and foresees three courses of action which we could then take:

  • —Insisting on our proposal and refusing to attend any meetings unless it is accepted. Total cessation of the talks would then be at our initiative.
  • —Agreeing to plenary sessions every other Thursday, with a hiatus in between unless the other side accepts alternate restricted and plenary sessions. If, as probable, they insist on weekly sessions or none at all, the onus for the resulting total cessation of the talks would be more on their side.
  • —Maintaining and continuing to put forward our proposal for alternating sessions, but attending regular weekly sessions in the meantime.

The Secretary recommends in sum that we hold only one plenary session during the holiday season, on December 30; that on January 8 we propose alternating plenary and restricted sessions; and that we continue to attend weekly plenaries if the other side rejects our proposal.

Comment: I agree with the Secretary on the liabilities which complete cessation of the talks would entail. I also agree on the utility of pushing toward restricted sessions. Secretary Rogers' gambit impresses me, therefore, as being worth trying. I doubt, however, that you would want to leave us tied into an indefinite series of plenary sessions of the type we have encountered so far, and suggest that you might wish again to review the course of the talks and possible alternatives with Secretary Rogers in about six weeks' time.

Recommendation:3

That you authorize me to inform Secretary Rogers of your agreement to his recommended course of action.4

[Page 521]

That you authorize me to inform him that you will want another look at the Paris talks situation in about six weeks' time with a view toward assessing both the progress, if any, and the desirability of considering possible alternatives.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 64, Memoranda to the President, 1969 December. Top Secret; Nodis; Paris Meetings. Drafted by Holdridge on December 16. Sent for information/action. There is no date on the memorandum; the date used is the drafting date.
  2. Tab A, a memorandum from Rogers to Nixon, December 15; attached but not printed. The Department of State copy of this memorandum indicated it was drafted by Sullivan and Eliot. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET)
  3. Both recommendations were approved for Nixon by Kissinger on December 18.
  4. Kissinger informed Rogers of Nixon's approval of his recommended course of action in a December 30 memorandum, and directed specifically that “Ambassador Habib should offer at the January 8 session alternating restricted and plenary sessions.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Box TS 64, Memoranda to the President, 1969 December)