324. Memorandum From John Holdridge of the Operations Staff of the National Security Council to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • NSSM 94: Diplomatic Initiatives on Indo-China

At Tab A is a memorandum to you from Eliot of State transmitting the text of NSSM 94,2 which deals with diplomatic initiatives on Indo-China we might take following the completion of current military operations in Cambodia in order to bring a settlement. The study [Page 1049] was drafted by a working group of the Vietnam Ad Hoc Committee consisting of Ambassador Sullivan as Chairman and representatives from Defense, the JCS, CIA, State, and the NSC staff. It has been cleared by all the Principals except yourself.

The study begins by outlining the kind of a settlement we would hope to achieve: ideally, a realization of the 1954 and 1962 Geneva agreements, but more realistically a defensive interrelationship against a continued Communist threat on the part of South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand, with the first three perhaps being technically non-aligned and without the presence of U.S. combat forces, and with Thailand serving as a base from which U.S. military assistance could be provided. The importance of keeping the southern two-thirds of Cambodia out of Communist control is noted as a means of assuring territorial contiguity. It is assumed that the Communist threat would be subject to international supervisory constraints.

A narrative discussion then ensues which deals with the following subjects:

Section A: the various strategies which might be pursued to convoke an international conference on Indo-China, acting on the assumption that most nations would favor such a conference and that it could help to achieve our stated objectives:

  • —A public call by the President for an international conference;
  • —A private approach by the President to U Thant, the French, the Geneva Co-Chairmen, or all three;
  • Secret discussions with the Soviets as a channel to Hanoi;
  • Direct discussions with the North Vietnamese at Paris;

It is pointed out that in implementing these approaches the question of timing should be carefully considered.

Section B: the various international forums in which such a conference might get under way:

  • A renewed Geneva conference on the 1954, 1962, or some expanded model, acting through the Geneva Co-Chairmen;
  • —The conference of “interested parties” suggested by the French;
  • —A conference under the sponsorship of U Thant, acting on the basis of his statement favoring a conference, and to be held in Geneva;
  • —A conference using the nations attending the Djakarta Conference on Cambodia as a nucleus;
  • —An expansion of the current Paris talks on Vietnam by the addition of Laotian and Cambodian representatives and maintenance of the “our side-your side” formula;
  • —”Corridor conversations” on Indo-China coming out of Article IV consultations among signatories of the 1962 Geneva Conference on Laos;
  • —A “three-ring forum” in which the Paris talks would continue and negotiations would be opened between the opposing sides in Laos and Cambodia, thus permitting a coordinated approach to the whole Indo-China problem.

Section C: the various proposals which the U.S. might make to induce an international conference and work toward a settlement ranging from acceptance of Communist demands at the one extreme and a virtual ultimatum on the other:

  • Accepting the NLF 10-point program as the basis for an agreement on Vietnam;
  • —Expressing a willingness at Paris to set a firm and early date for unconditionally withdrawing all U.S. troops from Vietnam;
  • Softening our position on a political settlement in Vietnam and expanding this theme to cover Laos and Cambodia, but not setting a timetable for U.S. troops withdrawals so as to retain leverage;
  • Proposing or initiating a cease-fire in Vietnam, which could include an agreed general cease-fire without conditions, an agreed local cease-fire, and a unilateral US/GVN cease-fire;
  • Proposing a package deal consisting of a standstill cease-fire throughout Indo-China, immediate exchange of POW’s, reactivation of the ICC in all three countries, establishment of observer groups from the Djakarta Conference countries, and agreement by both sides to participate in wider Indo-China negotiations;
  • Appointing a prestigious figure to lead our Paris delegation who would negotiate on the basis of the package incorporated in the President’s April 20 speech (a further reduction in U.S. troop strength by next Spring might also be offered);
  • —Doing the same as above, but setting a time limit on our willingness to follow this course (with the implication that we would thereafter be prepared to use greater force);
  • Setting forth a carrot and stick proposal which would stiffen our military role in Indo-China and deny economic aid to Hanoi for reconstruction if it refused to negotiate, but would greatly reduce the U.S. military presence, accept neutralization of Indo-China, and repeat President Johnson’s Johns Hopkins aid offer if Hanoi were to become responsive.3

Section D: other initiatives which the U.S. might take to involve North Vietnam and other Communist nations if an international conference does not prove feasible (the study warns here that Hanoi probably still [Page 1051] considers the odds in its favor and will resist attending a conference unless it believes that it can gain its goals in South Vietnam through one, and that while it might eventually reassess this position in the light of military and political developments, there is as yet no sign it is doing so):

  • Working out an arrangement for a cease-fire and immediate exchange of prisoners of war, along with the immediate reestablishment of the ICC in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia;
  • Moving to establish a support base in Thailand to maintain the military viability of the three Indo-China states;
  • Taking action in Washington to permit military and economic assistance to the three Indo-China states;
  • Announcing an accelerated rate of troop withdrawals.

Section E: the various strategies which might be pursued with respect to regional conferences and initiatives whether or not an international conference is convened:

  • Associating ourselves with the objectives and actions of the Djakarta Conference communiqué, possibly to include using Djakarta Conference nations to form Observer Groups;
  • Working to keep Sihanouk and the PRG from representing Cambodia and South Vietnam in regional conferences or meetings, or from being accorded equal status;
  • Encouraging realistic discussions of Indo-China at regional conferences and avoiding resolutions which would condemn our side;
  • —Working through Indonesia and Malaysia to keep Sihanouk and the PRG from being invited to the Non-Aligned Summit Meeting in New Delhi (this issue is already OBE’d—they were not invited).
  • —Not seeking any new regional conference on Indo-China but rather exploiting the Djakarta Conference;
  • —Taking advantage of the June 17 ASPAC Ministerial Conference in Wellington to obtain a fresh Asian endorsement of the Djakarta Conference conclusions;
  • —Seeking a fresh statement of intentions toward Cambodia and the Djakarta initiative from participants in the July SEATO and TCC ministerial meetings.

Section F: relating the Paris negotiations on Vietnam to proposals in an international conference:

  • —Accepting the concept that all interested parties in an Indo-China settlement should preferably be brought into a single forum to achieve a settlement (this might mean liquidating the Paris talks);
  • —Assuring that proposals which we support or sponsor in international forums are consistent with our position in Paris or in other Indo-China negotiations.
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Section G: the pros and cons of all the alternatives set forth in Sections A, B, and C (you will want to go over these in detail, and they are not repeated here).

Comment: One problem which I have with the study is its assumption, notably in Section D, that Hanoi will resist going into an international conference until it is convinced that it will get everything it wants by way of a settlement, and that we will either have to soften our negotiating position considerably to gain Hanoi’s participation or accept the possibility that an international conference simply cannot be arranged at the present time. This assumption, which was strongly pressed by the CIA drafter,4 tends to downplay the constraints operating upon Hanoi (e.g. manpower shortages, the effects of Cambodia on Hanoi’s strategy, and economic problems in North Vietnam), and thus infers that North Vietnam can go on as before for quite a while yet. In this respect, we have had more than a few remarks from various Soviets to the effect that Hanoi is “exhausted,” which in turn follow in the wake of reports that the Soviets themselves are getting tired of underwriting Hanoi and would like to see Hanoi negotiate. It is therefore conceivable that over the next few months, if not now, Hanoi may become more receptive than the paper appears to think to the idea of an international conference. Whether or not it would be any more receptive to working out a compromise settlement remains hard to say, but there is some chance that once in a conference it would be as subject as ourselves to international pressures in favor of a settlement. (We may need to go through a period of heightened North Vietnamese military activity, for which the enemy now appears to be gearing up, before Hanoi shifts its stance.)

The foregoing observation aside, I believe that the study adequately outlines the various alternatives and the pros and cons connected with the key questions. If you should desire further drafting, however, it would be possible to accomplish this in conjunction with the work on NSSM 95, which is intended as a companion piece to NSSM 94 and which now has a completion date of June 19. With respect to interagency consideration, you may recall that you informed Ambassador Sullivan that the study would not be referred to the Review Group but to some higher-level body.

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That you approve NSSM 94 in its present form for high-level interagency consideration—approve.5

Disapprove, refer back to working group for further drafting.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 530, Country Files, Far East, Indochina, Vol. I, 1970–1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. Sent for action.
  2. Dated June 9, attached but not printed. Smyser also looked at this draft of the response to NSSM at Kissinger’s request. In a June 12 memorandum to Kissinger, Smyser wrote that it was a “passable first cut” with some good ideas—collaboration with the Asian nations in the Djakarta group, international observers from Japan, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and cease-fire in place—but he thought it suffered from “a tendency to interpret its mandate very narrowly,” did not give options or preferences, had internal contradictions, never assessed the Chinese role, relied too heavily on Soviet help, made no detailed look at the composition of a conference, and did not consider possible cooperation with Sihanouk. (Ibid.)
  3. At the top of the page Kissinger wrote: “This is just a laundry list. How do we clean it up?”
  4. Kissinger wrote the following note in the margin at this point: “Why is CIA drafter?”
  5. Kissinger initialed this option and wrote: “I want a meeting of the VSSG to be followed by consideration of this paper. Laundry list must be reduced. I need small group to clean [?] out a scheme—Winston [Lord] talk to me about this.”