168. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Prisoners of War

Secretary of Defense Laird has sent you a memorandum (Tab A)2 suggesting specific actions in response to your desire to assign the highest priority to the prisoner of war question. These actions are:

  • —Your designating a special Presidential emissary (perhaps Arthur Goldberg or Ralph Bunche) who could visit the capitals of countries which previously have expressed a concern for our prisoners of war for the purpose of confirming with appropriate government officials the high priority you have assigned to this matter.
  • —Alternatively, your designating a joint White House/NSC/Defense team to visit the same areas for the same purpose.
  • —Instructing our delegation in Paris to develop a series of hard-hitting statements on the prisoner question.
  • —Your reconsidering the proposal of designating the Vice President as your personal representative on prisoner matters.
  • —Your continuing, in your speeches and statements, to include prisoner of war references where appropriate.

On December 30 Acting Secretary Richardson forwarded State’s comments on Secretary Laird’s memorandum (Tab B).3 He expressed general agreement with the strategy outlined by Secretary Laird, but had the following specific remarks concerning each of Secretary Laird’s proposed actions: [Page 532]

  • —The idea of a special Presidential emissary could have merit if the individual were carefully chosen and care taken to assure that his mission did not become enmeshed in other aspects of Vietnam diplomacy.
  • —The alternative suggestion of a briefing team could also have value. However, the Acting Secretary believed that the State Department should be represented.
  • —Our delegation in Paris has already raised the prisoner issue repeatedly in the talks. This approach should, of course, be continued.
  • —The Acting Secretary referred to his previous comments on the possibility of putting the Vice President in charge of prisoner matters, and while welcoming the Vice President’s interest in this matter, expressed the view that your own demonstrated personal interest would be the best way of showing that this is a subject of highest importance.
  • —Accordingly, the Acting Secretary joined in the hope in the last point of Secretary Laird’s memorandum that you will continue to speak out on prisoners of war, and offered to provide material for this purpose as appropriate.

Although State’s reaction to Secretary Laird’s proposed actions suggests some minor reservations, I believe the Acting Secretary’s response is fairly close to the line suggested by Secretary Laird. I consider the designation of a special Presidential emissary as useful, but agree with State that the selection must be a careful and judicious one. For example, Arthur Goldberg does not impress me as being an appropriate choice in view of his opposition to your Vietnam policy. The suggestion of a special briefing team to perform the same function as a special Presidential envoy if a suitable candidate cannot be found also appears desirable. As noted in Acting Secretary Richardson’s comments, I believe that State should be represented. The delegation in Paris of course should continue to press the North Vietnamese on the prisoner issue. Concerning the Vice President’s role, I feel that this might better be finessed for the time being in favor of stressing the part that you yourself might play in spotlighting your own and the Administration’s concern over the treatment of our prisoners. I am sure that you will wish to keep up your personal efforts on behalf of the prisoners, and that materials from State and Defense will be useful in this regard.


That you authorize State and Defense to nominate a suitable individual to be designated by you as a special Presidential emissary on prisoners of war.

[Page 533]

That you authorize the organization of a Defense/White House/ NSC/State team to perform the functions of a special Presidential emissary if a suitable candidate cannot be found.

That you authorize the issuance of instructions to our delegation in Paris to continue to press the North Vietnamese on the prisoner issue, and to prepare a series of hard-hitting statements for this purpose.

That you hold in abeyance any change in the Vice President’s role with respect to the prisoners.

That you authorize State and Defense to provide materials for your use in dealing with the prisoner issue in speeches and public statements.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 94, Vietnam Subject Files, Vietnam, U.S. POWs in North Vietnam to April 1970. Secret. Sent for action.
  2. Dated December 20, 1969; attached but not printed.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Nixon approved all the options on January 16. On January 22 Kissinger sent Laird and Rogers a memorandum asking them to take joint action to initiate the first two and last two recommendations. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 94, Vietnam Subject Files, Vietnam, U.S. POWs in North Vietnam to April 1970)