33. Editorial Note

On March 8, 1969, at 7:10 p.m., Henry Kissinger spoke on the telephone with President Nixon, who was in Key Biscayne, Florida, about recent developments relating to Vietnam including the decision not to retaliate for North Vietnamese attacks on South Vietnamese cities, the option of engaging in private talks with the North Vietnamese, and Secretary of State William Rogers’ discussion with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin. (See Document 32.) Kissinger reported that Packard was very disturbed about Secretary of State “Rogers’ action of today.” The President stated that, “We cannot have this thing running in every direction!” Kissinger suggested it was a “question of judgment. I don’t believe we are not making progress because the other side doubts our sincerity.” Nixon stated that he thought he made that clear when he spoke with Lodge and Habib in Paris in early March. The discussion then switched to U.S.-Soviet relations, but the President returned to the issue of private talks with the North Vietnamese in Paris. Kissinger suggested that, “If you hit Cambodia [Menu bombing] after the private talks start it can break them, and you will be accused of insincerity.” Kissinger advised: “Hit them and then ask for private talks.” The President asked if Packard agreed with that advice. Kissinger responded that he did, “but doesn’t feel confident about it. Rogers feels it would be bad for negotiations.” Kissinger and the President then discussed Rogers’ volunteering four-party talks to Dobrynin. Kissinger stated, “We weren’t saying we didn’t want to discuss political questions. I think, myself, we would have wound up, in this first testing period, in a weak position in a tough sequence of events. My concern is they will now feel free to press us along in these private talks.” Nixon responded, “We can’t be boxed in where we are at the mercy of the fact that we can’t hit the north and we can’t have private talks. We will have no bargaining position.” Kissinger stated that after 4 weeks of pressing publicly for military and political talks, the North Vietnamese had achieved that and “they can go to private talks and string them out.” Nixon suggested that Kissinger “can cut that down by making clear to the Soviets and I will say so in my press conference, there will be no compromise on this coalition government.” Kissinger suggested that, “I don’t believe it will be easy for you to attack Cambodia while [Page 97] private talks are going on and not much is being done in South Vietnam.” Nixon replied that, “My point is if, while the private talks are going on and they are kicking us, we are going to do something.” Nixon and Kissinger returned to the RogersDobrynin conversation. Nixon stated that, “There is not going to be any de-escalation. State has nothing to do with that. We are just going to keep giving word to Wheeler to knock hell out of them.” Kissinger suggested that, “If they hit us again, we must refuse to have private talks for another week.” The President stated: “We cannot tolerate one more of these without hitting back. We have already warned them. Presumably they have stopped. If they hit us again, we hit them with no warning. That is the way we are going to do it. I can’t tolerate argument from Rogers on this. You warn once. However, if they don’t hit us, we are screwed.” Kissinger again suggested waiting at least a week before initiating private talks with the North Vietnamese in Paris “to see how they behave.” The President concluded the conversation by stating: “In the future, we will have to keep more close control. I think that Bill [Rogers] did not realize the tremendous significance of tying political with military matters. We have to start talking about Viet Nam outside of the NSC—just among the President, Kissinger, Rogers and Laird—to bring up such things as this political matter to educate people. If Bill had been to Vietnam, he would not have done this.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 359, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)