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173. Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

K: We have the following problem. The NVN are building up a large concentration in Northern Laos. We could clobber them in the Plain des Jars. Mel has identified a target and he would like to hit it. In one of those hook ups, it got into State. State is opposed and Bill wants it brought to your attention.2 There are 14,000 troops in a tight concentration and we expect them to fan out in the next 24 to 48 hours. We should hit them tonight. We may be still able to do it tomorrow. Mel has his man on the Interdepartmental Working Group side with State and he is really in favor of hitting them. The thing that worries Bill is that we have not used B–52's in Northern Laos before. There were no targets there. If it gets to Fulbright, all hell breaks loose. If we don't do it, they will push the force across the Mekong. You don't want to consider this this afternoon. If you don't want to consider it, I will stop the letters.3 If you do, I could collect the letters and talk to you tonight.

P: I don't want to spend much time on it. But is there a strong argument? What are Mel's arguments for it.

K: A large concentration.

P: Is he really for it or not?

K: He says he is.

P: Are they essential or indispensable? What does he think of the State Department arguments?

K: They are not essential or indispensable. But if we don't they may loose the fear they have and start the offensive all over. It's a close one.

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P: I don't know. I really cannot sense what the real problem is and what there is in it for us.

K: They could be just [omission in the source text] Plain des Jars. If they can push over the ‘62 agreements with impunity then agreements in VN will not have any meaning.

P: What if it comes out? Will they raise the point (?)

K: Excessive American involvement in Laos.

P: Can we say they are heading for us?

K: No.

P: It's fighting the war in Laos and that's the problem.

K: It's our general position. We cannot make a case that it helps it directly.

P: You get Mel and Bill to chat a bit about it and we will see what their recommendation is. I would lean for it generally but it has to be pretty persuasive if they are not coming at us directly.

K: You have until midnight tonight.

P: Everyone knows we are bombing in Laos. Does the Laos Government request it?

K: Yes and the Thais want it.

P: Get it together and I will see if I have time. But not before 9:30.4

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 361, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File. No classification marking.
  2. Kissinger discussed the issue earlier on January 26 with Laird at 9:25 a.m., with Rogers at 10:25 a.m., and again with Rogers at 1 p.m. Laird told Kissinger that he was in favor of the strike, but had informed Defense representatives at the WSAG meeting (Document 172) to oppose it. Kissinger asked, “Are you for it?” Laird responded, “Yes, but not in that channel.” Rogers worried that the “escalation” would “play right into Fulbright's hand.” In the latter conversation, Rogers suggested that “The military always says they are going to be effective” and suggested, “we could do it later” with “other planes.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 361, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
  3. Reference is to memoranda from Rogers (see footnote 3, Document 183) and Laird to the President. Laird's memorandum has not been found, but he reiterated his reasons for the strike in a backchannel message of February 14; see footnote 8, Document 183.
  4. The next day, January 27, Kissinger told Laird that “On that northern target, he [Nixon] would like to do, but not on such short notice.” Kissinger continued, “We have to let this target go and have a meeting on giving you authority to hit with B–52s in that area when they develop.” Laird responded that the President “was after me to hit target there”, so he would order tactical air strikes. Laird continued: “it's the best target we've had since I became Secretary of Defense—they should start hitting it now. Four thousand troops won't stay together that long.” Laird complained that “Bill Rogers is raising hell with me as if I were irresponsible.” Kissinger told Laird: “The President is on your side.” Laird countered: “He's usually on my side, but I usually don't get anywhere. I appreciate the sympathy, though.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 361, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)