197. Editorial Note

On March 6, 1970, President Nixon released from the White House in Key Biscayne, Florida, a statement entitled, “About the Situation in Laos.” The text of the statement is in Public Papers: Nixon , 1970, pages [Page 649] 244–249. Nixon announced that “in light of increasingly massive presence of North Vietnamese troops and their recent offensives in Laos,” he was writing British Prime Minister Wilson and Soviet Premier Kosygin as co-chairmen of the 1962 Geneva Conference for their help in restoring the 1962 agreements. Nixon’s letters to Kosygin and Wilson, both March 6, are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 101, Vietnam Subject Files, Laos Statement, Vol. II. The President reported in the statement that there were 67,000 North Vietnamese troops in Laos and 30 North Vietnamese regular battalions with tanks, armored cars, and long-range artillery currently involved in a campaign attacking the Plain of Jars. The Pathet Lao’s role was “insignificant.” After reviewing events in Laos from 1962 to 1969, Nixon explained that there were no American combat troops and no plans to introduce them, but there were 616 Americans employed by the U.S. Government in Laos and 424 U.S. Government contractors. Of the 1,040 U.S. military and civilian employees, military advisers or trainers comprised 320 and logistics personnel comprised 323. No American had been killed in ground combat operations, and U.S. personnel had not increased in the past year while North Vietnam increased its forces by 13,000. Nixon reported that the United States provided, at the Lao Government’s request, military assistance to its regular and irregular forces. The United States continued air operations on a first priority to interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and secondly to reconnoiter and provide combat support for Royal Lao Government forces. The President ended with a promise to continue the search for peace in Laos on the basis of the 1962 Geneva Agreements.

On February 27 Kissinger and the President discussed this statement and agreed that before making it the President should write to the Geneva Co-Chairmen, the Soviet Union and Great Britain. Kissinger suggested that the President should tell the American people about the letters and give them the facts about what “both sides” were doing. Nixon stated that “the main thing is to nail this—Kennedy did this, and Kennedy did that.” Kissinger added: “and get Harriman in there.” The President responded: “More Harriman than Kennedy. I will say that they’ve [North Vietnam] stepped up from 40 thousand to 70 thousand.” The President did not want a long statement, noting that “It’s a Washington story—people in Oklahoma know nothing about Laos.” Kissinger added that “you should not be talking about wars all the time.” The President stated that “we want to make it clear we have no combat forces in Laos. No one cares about [B] 52 strikes in Laos. But people worry about our boys.” Kissinger thought that was the problem with the CIA. Nixon responded: “We won’t mention that. We can put out some silly figure and they are there—I’ll have to fuzz their capacity. Non-combative and none killed. That’s the only way you can show they are non-combat.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, [Page 650] Kissinger Papers, Box 362, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File) On March 4 at 9:45 p.m. Kissinger and Nixon again discussed the statement. Nixon stated, “If we had left the statement for them [Department of State] to make it would have been an utter disaster—whining, defensive. You can’t win on a situation like this without hitting it on the head, if you are going to have to hit it.” Kissinger suggested that this was the lesson of Nixon’s November 3, 1969, speech and that “we have a good case on this [Laos].” The President agreed. Kissinger suggested that the North Vietnamese “are moving in Laos to stampede us in Paris. I like the line you are taking because it will help us in Vietnam.” Nixon agreed and suggested, “what we are really saying is, all right boys, yes we are, what of it. State did not want us to take that tone?” Kissinger stated, “I know what they wanted us to say, we are not going to do it any more.” (Ibid., 2–9 March 1970)

When released on March 6, the Nixon statement resulted in criticism from Congressional critics of the war, pointed questions from the press corps, and leaked stories about the extent of U.S. operations in Laos and the number of pilots lost and combat deaths. Press Spokesman Ron Ziegler had to qualify the President’s statement that no Americans had been killed in ground combat operations. On March 9 Kissinger told Haldeman that “I knew it wasn’t true [no ground combat deaths]. The President should have never made the statement.” Haldeman thought that “It should have been made by State.” Kissinger complained that “they never volunteered any information and gave us no warning. Laird gave us one of his fudged statements and Rogers, as for the Nov 3 [1969] statement, we didn’t hear from. Nevertheless, I’m here to prevent that sort of thing.” (Transcript of telephone conversation between Kissinger and Haldeman, March 9, 8 p.m.; ibid., Box 362, 2–9 March 1970)

On March 7 the Pathet Lao outlined on the Vietnamese news service its terms for a political settlement in Laos including five extended points which can be summarized as: respect for Laos’ sovereignty, neutrality and integrity; a neutral foreign policy for Laos; respect for the monarchy and democracy through free elections; a consultative political conference prior to elections to create a provisional government; and unification based on consultations among the Lao parties without resort to force. The text of the statement is in Foreign Intelligence Broadcast Service No. 51, Hanoi international service in English, March 6, 1631 Greenwich mean time. It is attached to a March 7 memorandum from Kissinger informing the President that while the Pathet Lao statement “was much more moderate in tone than previous statements,” it included for the first time a “definite scenario (‘provisional political conference’ to create a ‘provisional coalition government’ followed by elections) for a political settlement in Laos.” Kissinger concluded that, “The present proposal can hardly be seriously offered, since it calls [Page 651] upon Souvanna to throw all his cards first, and does not offer a scenario for negotiations which could have the slightest appeal to him.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 19, President’s Daily Briefs)