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

SUBJECT

  • Talking Points for Your Meeting on Laos

There is a meeting on Laos scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Monday. Attendees will be Secretary Laird, Acting Secretary of State Richardson, Director of CIA Helms, Admiral Moorer and me.2

The Situation

Vang Pao's Meo forces on the Plain of Jars are under heavy North Vietnamese pressure and have given up most of the high ground to the east which dominates the approaches to the Plain. A number of Meo outposts have been overrun. The airfield at Xieng Khouang has been under sporadic harassing fire, but is still usable for helicopters and light aircraft. Enemy forces are well concentrated east and northeast of the Plain, but are well enough dispersed and dug in to make tacair strikes difficult. I have asked Secretary Laird to have the Chairman prepared to offer a short briefing on the strategic situation as of [Page 574]today. The Director of CIA is also prepared to present a brief review of the current tactical situation.

Departmental and Agency Positions on B–52 Strikes

  • Defense: Secretary Laird last week declined requests from Ambassador Godley for B–52 strikes, but now believes that serious consideration should be given to follow-on requests for both B–52 and tacair strikes in order to prevent Hanoi from using a victory in North Laos as a bargaining point against our interdicting infiltration routes in South Laos. He believes that this could put Vietnamization in jeopardy. The Chairman, JCS supports immediate granting of authority to employ B–52s as targets develop.
  • State: Secretary Rogers and Acting Secretary Richardson remain opposed to B–52 strikes.
  • CIA : No formal position has been expressed by CIA regarding the present request for B–52 strikes, but Helms' representative at the WSAG meeting on the last request favored the strikes in order to help preserve Vang Pao's forces. Presumably this position is unchanged.

I suggest the following talking points for your use in the meeting:

Talking Points

1.
You would like a briefing from Director Helms as to the situation in the Plain of Jars and from Admiral Moorer on the strategic implications of the situation.
2.
Should we or should we not undertake the use of B–52s at this stage?
A.
You assume that the Communists can take the Plain and go beyond it, no matter what we do, if they are willing to pay the price.
B.

You see the following advantages in using B–52s now:

Arguments favoring the immediate use of B–52s are these: (A) B–52s can do more against lines of communication than tactical air, particularly if the cloudy weather continues; (B) the greater damage we can do now to NVA logistics, the less momentum they will have to go beyond the plain this dry season, or to whittle down guerrilla forces which are the only really effective troops on our side; (C) the psychological boost to guerrillas and the RLG; would respond to a specific formal request by Souvanna; (D) the possibility that Hanoi will see the use of B–52s as a threat to introduce new weapons systems if they press too hard, and hence hold back to some extent.

C.

You see the following disadvantages:

Arguments against are these: (A) Congress and the press are watching closely (and have been inquiring regularly at Defense and State), and a major domestic donnybrook is to be expected if decision is made to use B–52s; (B) the RLG knows it cannot expect to hold the plain; we have forewarned them to have retreat lines prepared, and believe [Page 575]they have done so; the real psychological crisis will come if the NVA goes beyond the plain; (C) the use of B–52s will tend to undercut efforts we have been making to signal to the North Vietnamese our willingness to stick to 1962 lines of territorial control; (D) the use of B–52s now will deprive us of a useful signal which we could use later if the NVA goes beyond the 1962 informal lines, and it could encourage the RLG to fight disastrously to hold the plain, which was in Communist hands from 1961 until last summer.

D.
The weights we assign to these arguments depend upon some other questions:
  • —Can the guerrillas fall back without major loss without the use of B–52s? How much difference will B–52s make?
  • —What is the weather prognosis?
  • —Can we presently identify lucrative targets which we cannot hit properly with tactical air?
E.
Are there any considerations you have left out?
2.a.
(If the decision is made to bomb now) Who will be responsible for putting this decision into effect? What specific ground rules should we establish?
2.b.

(If decision is made to defer their use) What criteria should we establish for reconsideration of the decision?

You suggest that we should anticipate the use of B–52s

  • if the Communists begin to move across the informal “lines of control” of 1962 (such as proceeding beyond Muong Soui),3
  • or if they undertake an attrition campaign to wipe out the Meo guerrillas in their home area (Long Tieng, Sam Thong),
  • and if suitable targets appear.
3.

How should we insure that we stay up-to-date on the target situation?

You suggest that reconnaissance be conducted as necessary, commencing forthwith, including further B–52 reconnaissance, and you want daily reports on this situation starting immediately.

4.

Who will see that the matter comes up to you for decision when the criteria have been met?

You suggest that Secretary Laird send you a memorandum, through Henry Kissinger, when he believes that the criteria have been met. Kissinger will then inform the Secretary of State that the recommendation has been made and will obtain State views prior to your decision.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 546, Country Files, Far East, Laos, Vol. IV, 1 February 1970–31 March 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. The meeting was held from 3:37 to 4:51 p.m. with the above mentioned persons attending. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President's Daily Diary) No memorandum of conversation of this meeting has been found.
  3. Kissinger recalls in White House Years that Nixon agreed that if the North Vietnamese moved beyond Moung Soui, the attacks should be undertaken. (pp. 452–453) On February 17 Admiral Moorer informed McCain that authorization for a one-time B–52 strike on the Plain of Jars had been authorized and he ordered execution. (JCS telegram 02490 to McCain, Abrams, and Godley, February 17; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 102, Vietnam Subject Files, B–52 Strikes in Laos) In backchannel message 574 from Vientiane, February 17, Godley reported that he informed Souvanna of the decision and reiterated that it was a “one shot operation.” Souvanna suggested that the strikes should be denied no matter what the North Vietnamese charged, noting that Hanoi always denied its personnel and military operations in Laos. Godley hoped there would be no leaks and recommended that the U.S. Government continue its policy of not commenting on air operations in Laos. (Ibid.)