336. Minutes of Combined Vietnam Special Studies Group and Senior Review Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam Cease-fire and Peace Initiatives


  • Chairman—Henry A. Kissinger
  • Defense
  • David M. Packard
  • State
  • Amb. U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Sullivan
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • CIA
  • Gen. Robert E. Cushman
  • Thomas H. Karamessines
  • George Carver
  • NSC Staff
  • Col. Richard Kennedy
  • Laurence E. Lynn
  • Richard Smyser
  • Keith Guthrie
[Page 1090]


VSSG Cease-Fire Study2

The VSSG Working Group will revise the study as follows:

A brief statement of the rules of engagement that would apply under each cease-fire package will be prepared.
The description of each cease-fire package will include data on the location of both enemy and US and Allied main force units covered by the cease-fire. For Package 2, anticipated regroupment areas will be specified.
Best possible, probable, and worst possible outcomes will be formulated for each cease-fire package. The factors which affect the outcome will be clearly identified and fully described. To assist in analyzing outcomes, Defense will provide assumptions about anticipated progress on Vietnamization, and JCS will supply data on projected US withdrawals, including the specific units involved and the anticipated timing.
Cease-fire outcomes will be evaluated on the basis of two alternative assumptions regarding withdrawals: (a) that all US forces will be withdrawn within one year after a cease-fire takes effect, and (b) that withdrawals will continue according to the present schedule. In evaluating outcomes under the two withdrawal assumptions, the VSSG Working Group should consider (1) whether it may be desirable to retain certain US units as a deterrent to cease-fire violations and (2) how much it might be feasible to slow down the rate of US withdrawals once a cease-fire is effected.

The revised VSSG study is to be submitted to Dr. Kissinger by July 8.

NSSM 94 Study3

The NSSM 94 study is to be revised as follows:

Options clearly unacceptable in terms of US interests are to be deleted. From the list of proposals the US might make to induce a peace conference, the options to be eliminated will include (a) acceptance of the NLF Ten Points and (b) unilateral and unconditional withdrawal. As a substitute for the latter option, a new option will be prepared providing the bargaining US withdrawal in exchange for some concession by the communists.
The paper should provide a full discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of various forums and US proposals which might be used to induce negotiations for a peace settlement in Indochina. It should clearly distinguish between concessions to get negotiations [Page 1091] started and those which might be made in the courses of negotiating a peace settlement. It should also distinguish between public initiatives and steps that might be taken privately to launch negotiations. In particular, the paper should discuss the role that a new US senior negotiator in Paris might play in getting talks underway.
The paper should include recommendations on the optimum membership for an all-Indochina peace conference.

The NSC staff will prepare a first draft of the revised study and submit it to the Ad Hoc Group established under NSSM 94. The completed paper is due to Dr. Kissinger by July 14.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s first take up the VSSG paper. It is an important contribution toward understanding what a cease-fire would look like. I gather that everyone prefers Package 3, since it produces what is obviously the best outcome. If we were to get a cease-fire agreement today, what would the difference be between Package 1 and 2? Since there are very few enemy main force units in South Vietnam right now, we would be better off with Package 1, since Package 2 would require us to regroup our forces.

Mr. Lynn: It’s not true there are few enemy main force units presently in South Vietnam.

Adm. Moorer: Two NVA regiments are moving into the vicinity of populated areas in I Corps.

Gen. Cushman: Many of the NVA forces in I Corps have pulled back and are already regrouped.

Mr. Kissinger: They don’t lose anything if their forces are already regrouped; yet, U.S. forces would have to regroup. Where would the enemy forces in I Corps be regrouped?

Mr. Lynn: To the north.

Mr. Packard: Where they regroup makes a difference.

Mr. Kissinger: When we speak of regroupment, does anyone know exactly what we would ask for?

Mr. Lynn: No, although it is contemplated that their forces might be in II Corps.

Gen. Cushman: In principle, we want them as far away as possible from the population centers.

Amb. Sullivan: In III and IV Corps, they have already withdrawn.

Mr. Carver: They have some troops there. Regroupment involves the overlap problem, that is, determining who is in control of what area.

Amb. Sullivan: Regroupment applies only to NVA forces and U.S. and Allied main forces. In III and IV Corps there aren’t any NVA units, except in the U Minh forest.

[Page 1092]

Mr. Lynn: There is also the question of regrouping NVA fillers assigned to VC units.

Amb. Johnson: Is there any possibility of achieving that?

Amb. Sullivan: In the NSSM 37 study,4 it was assumed the fillers would stay.

Mr. Lynn: With an in-place cease-fire what would prevent fillers being introduced?

Gen. Cushman: There could also be infiltration of fillers from the regroupment areas.

Mr. Lynn: Under Package 1, is infiltration to be taken as an indicator of non-compliance with a cease-fire?

Mr. Smyser: The paper assumes there will be infiltration.

Mr. Kissinger: Suppose we offer a standstill cease-fire today. Would that not be better than regroupment?

Mr. Lynn: The paper makes very clear that it would definitely not be better.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, but I like to challenge my staff. Why would a standstill agreement not have the same practical consequences as cease-fire with regroupment? Under Package 1 we remain in the vicinity of the populated areas; under Package 2 we would have to regroup. A standstill agreement today would find enemy main force units out of the country. What we need is a definition of what is meant by a standstill agreement and what is meant by regroupment.

Mr. Packard: We should also consider what other activities we will be undertaking under each of these situations. For example, what will we be doing on pacification and on economic problems? We should broaden our definitions to include these aspects.

Mr. Lynn: Annex A describes what would be going on under each package. It is, of course, possible to quarrel with the assumptions used in formulating the packages.

Mr. Kissinger: Does the Annex tell what is meant by an in-place cease-fire?

Mr. Lynn: Yes. The paper says “Large unit contacts in South Vietnam would cease. Small unit contacts would decrease sharply but would probably not cease until patrolling limits became stabilized.”

Mr. Kissinger: That describes the consequence of an in-place cease-fire. It doesn’t say what would actually be happening.

Gen. Cushman: It would be like the Christmas truce. Large units would avoid engagement; some small unit contact might continue.

[Page 1093]

Mr. Kissinger: You can’t tell troops just to cease contact. You have got to tell them what to do and what not to do.

Mr. Lynn: We haven’t grappled with the question of what we would be negotiating about when arranging a cease-fire.

Mr. Kissinger: Leaving aside the question of negotiations, what exactly is it that units may or may not do? Do they stay in their base camps? Can they move out? Are they free to conduct sweep operations within their own lines?

Mr. Lynn: We assume all main force units would remain mobile but would not actually seek contact with one another.

Amb. Sullivan: General Abrams has pointed out that a standstill cease-fire under favorable circumstances would have the advantage of permitting military movement that would not be possible with regroupment. He is more inclined toward a Thieu-type standstill.

Mr. Lynn: That can’t be verified.

Mr. Kissinger: Tom, what do you think?

Adm. Moorer: When we start discussion, they will adjust their positions. I think Packages 1 and 2 are both dangerous. The problem of verification bothers me. There is the question of distance asymmetry; they withdraw a few miles, while we withdraw several thousand. The timing is not too good, since a cease-fire proposal would come just when we have brought about a change in the situation in Vietnam. Furthermore, we ought to look at it from the standpoint of the overall situation in Indochina.

Amb. Johnson: Each package presumes a U.S. withdrawal.

Mr. Kissinger: I hadn’t understood that before.

Mr. Lynn: The most vulnerable parts of the country are terribly significant. In southern I Corps and northern II Corps, there is a sizable prospect that a large part of the country would be detached from the GVN.

Amb. Johnson: I thought a cease-fire would be like the Christmas truce, but extended indefinitely.

Mr. Lynn: It is assumed that the NVA and the VC would take as much advantage of a cease-fire as they can without overtly breaking it.

Amb. Sullivan: Our people would do the same.

Adm. Moorer: We would carefully observe the rules of engagement, but they will exploit a cease-fire in much the same way they did the 1968 cessation of bombing.

Mr. Kissinger: Right now we need some rules about who can do what. It is one thing to have a Christmas truce and another to have an indefinite cease-fire. If we could draw a line separating the two sides’ [Page 1094] forces, we could arrange a classical cease-fire. But in Vietnam, we can’t do that.

Gen. Cushman: The enemy will not accept unless they see an advantage. I would be worried if they did agree to a cease-fire.

Adm. Moorer: So would I.

Mr. Kissinger: We will never get a negotiation started that way.

Mr. Carver: Verification of the cease-fire would be unequal. We would have the whole press corps and the television networks policing our observance of the cease-fire.

Mr. Lynn: And we would also lose valuable sources of intelligence about enemy activities.

Mr. Smyser: There are two possible situations. The enemy might really want a cease-fire. Or they might want a cease-fire only so that they can exploit it. The papers to date assume the second situation. However, the other is also possible.

Mr. Packard: There are many things they can do without violating a cease-fire. The paper notes that their forces could be expected to move back into the countryside and support guerrilla operations.

Gen. Cushman: They can just disavow whatever activities they undertake during a cease-fire. They might consider it desirable since it would permit them to work on their personnel problem. They could live with a cease-fire if we observe it.

Amb. Sullivan: While the U.S. might abide by the Marquis of Queensberry rules, our South Vietnamese friends might not be so inhibited.

Mr. Lynn: In that type of struggle, the VC have a comparative advantage. They have a better infrastructure, long experience with clandestine operations, lots of penetrations that we don’t have, and the willingness to use any means, including terrorism and assassination.

Mr. Packard: Terrorism is important. It would have to be included in a cease-fire.

Gen. Cushman: If it were not, there would be an erosion of control.

Adm. Moorer: The NVA can always attribute violations to the VC, as they have in the case of violations of the DMZ.

Amb. Johnson: According to the VSSG projections, if fighting continues, what will we be gaining in the countryside?

Mr. Lynn: The paper has two views. The first is that we would continue to gain despite the U.S. withdrawals. Vietnamization would continue to bring gains in GVN control. The second view is that at best we would stay about where we are, with some slight declines. My personal view, which is not reflected in the paper, is that there will be significant declines.

[Page 1095]

Gen. Cushman: There is a basic split in the estimates. The station in Saigon says that the VC insurgent threat would decline if operations continue. However, with the drawdown of U.S. forces there will be some erosion of the situation. (To Carver) Will those estimates go into our paper?

Mr. Carver: Yes. It will be ready next week.

Mr. Kissinger: We need a clearer description of the rules of engagement under each cease-fire hypothesis. This is not as important in the case of withdrawal as with a standstill agreement. In I Corps a standstill would be close to the same thing as regroupment. Under the VSSG analysis we lose southern I Corps and northern II Corps under both a standstill and a regroupment. Does everyone agree that the outcome in I Corps would be bad?

Mr. Packard: It depends on how you define control and on what the GVN does. If they make progress on the economy and winning the hearts and minds of the people, things may go better. If they sit down, it will be bad.

Mr. Kissinger: How can they replace 150,000 U.S. military troops and come out better militarily?

Mr. Packard: They might if they could take over some U.S. military responsibilities and at the same time make some progress on building up the economy and support among the people.

Adm. Moorer: It also depends on what they can do about infiltration.

Mr. Kissinger: Does anyone think the South Vietnamese would do better than is indicated by the VSSG projections?

Mr. Packard: Nobody’s guess can be very good. It is important to get the whole effort in Vietnam oriented back toward Vietnamization following the Cambodia operation. It depends on what the South Vietnamese can achieve. We ought to see what happens during the next couple of months. Then we will be in a better position to make an assessment.

Amb. Johnson: If things go downhill, we will be worse off than now as regards trying to arrange a cease-fire. If the situation improves, our position will be better.

Mr. Packard: If the situation deteriorates and we then propose a cease-fire, we would be no worse off than if we seek a cease-fire now and then things go downhill. Later on if we want to propose a cease-fire and accept some degradation of our position, we can do so.

Adm. Moorer: Another factor would be whether NVA forces in South Vietnam continue to decline.

Gen. Cushman: It would be an advantage to us if the NVA main force units were not in the fight. Can the ARVN and the local forces handle things without us?

[Page 1096]

Mr. Kissinger: How are we to present the issues to the President so that he can make a judgment?

The three cease-fire packages in the VSSG paper should be rewritten to include very brief statements of the rules of engagement applicable in each case and the rough locations of troop units under each package. Outcomes should be formulated in terms of the best possible, the probable, and the worst possible; and the factors that will affect the outcome should be specified. For example, if more rapid Vietnamization is identified as a factor, the paper should explain exactly what that means.

Mr. Lynn: The key to answering those questions is to know exactly which of our units are leaving.

Mr. Packard: The JCS has rough projections underway. We can get that information and provide it to you.

Mr. Kissinger: Alex has pointed out that for each cease-fire package the VSSG paper assumes a total U.S. withdrawal within twelve months. I thought the cease-fire was related to something like the present withdrawal schedule.

Mr. Lynn: We can examine the outcome using the assumption that withdrawals take place according to the present schedule.

Amb. Sullivan: This would have a major effect on the estimate of the results of a standstill agreement.

Mr. Lynn: Not necessarily. We will be down to 32 U.S. maneuver battalions by April 1971 and to 25 by the end of the fiscal year. That is not much combat strength.

Mr. Kissinger: In that case, why not pull out all the forces?

Mr. Lynn: Because without a cease-fire their firepower is needed.

Mr. Kissinger: But if there is a cease-fire, is it good or bad to retain some troops twelve months after it takes effect?

Mr. Lynn: Under a cease-fire the firepower provided by the remaining units would not be useable.

Gen. Cushman: But those troops would act as policemen.

Mr. Kissinger: Then we have two questions. Can we assume that a cease-fire will hold? And is there a need to have a U.S. force as a deterrent?

Mr. Packard: It might be easier to keep more troops in Vietnam if they are not fighting.

Mr. Lynn: Can we get a couple of assumptions on whether we can get away with it if we retain more forces in Vietnam following a cease-fire?

Amb. Sullivan: Would the deterrent be principally against main force or against guerrilla activities?

Gen. Cushman: I think it would primarily serve as a shield against enemy main force activities.

[Page 1097]

Mr. Carver: It would also be a confidence-builder for the GVN. During the next year the GVN will in theory be increasing the regional and provincial forces by 50,000 men. Quantitatively this can offset the U.S. withdrawals, although qualitatively it would not compensate completely. Nevertheless, there would be some offset.

Mr. Packard: We need to study what we can do to make the South Vietnamese exert more effort.

Mr. Carver: There are a number of imponderables. How bad has the Cambodian operation hurt the enemy? How much will the morale boost to the ARVN from Cambodia carry over into subsequent operations in Vietnam? How much is the planned South Vietnamese buildup going to be a mere paper exercise?

Mr. Packard: That’s why I think we should wait three months to assess the situation.

Mr. Carver: We will be able to make a clearer intelligence estimate in a few months.

Mr. Smyser: When the French arranged a cease-fire in 1954, their air force provided a deterrent capacity against terrorist attacks.

Amb. Sullivan: Our paper (NSSM 94) presumed that the present withdrawal schedule would be retained. Why did the VSSG study use a different assumption?

Mr. Lynn: One of the task forces working on the paper inserted the assumption of withdrawal within one year.

Mr. Kissinger: Why?

Amb. Sullivan: Does using the one-year assumption make the cease-fire look worse?

Mr. Lynn: Yes. But the question is how much worse. We can do an analysis based on the present schedule.

Mr. Packard: In the VSSG study, was any assumption made that a ban on infiltration of supplies would be one of the conditions for a cease-fire?

Mr. Lynn: No.

Mr. Packard: That would be a good condition to insist on.

Amb. Johnson: It would not be feasible, however.

Mr. Lynn: I don’t know whether the assumption of total withdrawal in one year cooks the results or not. We will have to see.

Mr. Kissinger: There are two things we need to look at. If we remove U.S. forces, what will happen in South Vietnam? What is the possible value of retaining some forces in Vietnam as a deterrent against violation of the cease-fire?

Mr. Lynn: Of course, the South Vietnamese might become more aggressive if they believe they can rely on U.S. troops to bail them out.

[Page 1098]

Amb. Sullivan: On the other hand, retaining U.S. troops might make the South Vietnamese less aggressive. They might assume that they could depend on us to take all the risks.

Mr. Kissinger: Has the issue of the one-year projection of the situation with or without a cease-fire been settled?

Mr. Lynn: No. DOD and CIA have one view. Others are more pessimistic about the outlook.

Mr. Packard: Our view is that our position will be better in a year if we continue operations.

Amb. Sullivan: We think that we will not be significantly better off.

Gen. Cushman: What happens if we propose a cease-fire and it is rejected?

Mr. Kissinger: Why would we be significantly better off in a year?

Mr. Packard: We can offer some reasons.

Mr. Lynn: The one-year projection is the hardest part of the study. We need some help on this. The working group just took a rough cut at it.

Mr. Kissinger: If you pose the question of a cease-fire a year from now, when there will be no U.S. combat forces present, what would be the answer?

Amb. Sullivan: If the circumstances are like the present—a U.S. drawdown and the NVA following a protracted warfare strategy—the situation will be about the same as now. However, if there has been a significant rise in NVA main force activity, we will be worse off.

Mr. Kissinger: Why won’t that happen even without a cease-fire?

Mr. Lynn: With a cease-fire all main force operations on our side cease.

Mr. Packard: And small units have more freedom to maneuver.

Mr. Lynn: The results will not look much better in a year. Our main force power—which constitutes our principal advantage—will be gone.

Mr. Packard: Our biggest advantage this past year has been the influence we have had on pacification.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we do without the main force activities?

Mr. Lynn: We have been most successful when our units engage in joint operations with local and provincial force units.

Mr. Packard: We have not had troops operating in IV Corps. The experience there gives some confidence that the South Vietnamese can manage by themselves.

Mr. Lynn: In IV Corps, GVN control is improving in four provinces, declining in eight, and in four is about the same.

Mr. Carver: The NVA put in five regiments and a division headquarters there. Without these reinforcements, the GVN would have [Page 1099] done even better in IV Corps. Generally speaking, the VSSG paper suggests a degree of certitude that is not felt by many observers. There are a number of imponderables, such as the calibre of provincial chiefs.

Mr. Lynn: We have tried to assess the contribution of the leadership factor under current conditions.

Mr. Carver: But it is subject to change.

Mr. Kissinger: How long will it take to get the paper in a form suitable to give to the President?

Mr. Lynn: When do you want it?

Mr. Kissinger: By July 8.

Mr. Lynn: We can have a much better version by then. It can include a description of the terms of engagement under each package, and we can grind in assumptions on various withdrawal schedules (one year vs. the existing schedule). We can also get from Defense some assumptions about the success of Vietnamization, and we can specify best, probable, and worst outcomes.

Amb. Sullivan: You might explicitly state how much the assumption of a one-year withdrawal affects the estimate of the outcome under the various cease-fire packages.

Mr. Kissinger: We will do that.

Amb. Johnson: What kind of a dialogue have we had with the GVN on these various cease-fire hypotheses?

Amb. Sullivan: We have discussed the matter a good deal with the GVN. Thieu prefers a standstill arrangement.

Mr. Kissinger: Why?

Amb. Sullivan: I imagine he thinks a standstill would make the U.S. public tolerate an indefinite U.S. presence in Vietnam.

Mr. Packard: We could go slower on pulling out but could not stay indefinitely. We ought to consider how much slower we can withdraw if we are not fighting.

Mr. Carver: We know there has been a good deal of informal discussion within the GVN about a cease-fire. Some of them feel more confident about it.

Mr. Kissinger: Do they know what a standstill cease-fire means?

Amb. Sullivan: Thieu does. He is thinking of the 1954 situation.

Mr. Smyser: The earlier VSSG paper5 assumed that the U.S. would propose a cease-fire. Is that true?

[Page 1100]

Mr. Carver: No. The VSSG assumption is that a completely neutral party would make the proposal.

Mr. Kissinger: What difference does it make?

Mr. Lynn: It is a question of the psychological disadvantage incurred by the proposer.

Mr. Kissinger: You can argue that both ways. Some say that proposing a cease-fire would strengthen our domestic position.

Now let’s take up the NSSM 94 study. This is a laundry list of options. We want to eliminate those that are clearly non-starters and leave only the reasonable ones for presentation to the President. Then we should get a full analysis of the reasonable options.

I have a number of questions about the paper. First, do we all agree that this is the time to launch an initiative? Or should we concentrate on exploiting our successes and delay any peace proposal?

Mr. Packard: In a month or so it might be a good time to take an initiative.

Amb. Johnson: I agree.

Adm. Moorer: I generally agree, but we would want to examine the matter very carefully and be sure what we would be conceding.

Mr. Kissinger: Assuming we wish to take an initiative, should we limit our effort to Vietnam or broaden it to include Indochina as a whole?

Mr. Packard: Given the Cambodian developments, the situation in Laos, and the Thai involvement, I believe it should deal with Indochina as a whole.

Gen. Cushman, Amb. Johnson, and Adm. Moorer: I agree.

Mr. Kissinger: Should our initiative consist of a bilateral approach to Hanoi or should it be in a broader framework? There are several alternatives to a bilateral approach. We could go through the French, the Geneva Co-Chairmen, U Thant, or the Djakarta Conference Group.

Mr. Packard: If we are going to address something more than just Vietnam, we will need a broader base.

Mr. Kissinger: There are a number of choices. One would be a public call by the President. Another would be to have the President ask U Thant, the French, the Co-Chairmen, or all three together. We could try secret talks with the Soviets or talk directly with the North Vietnamese in Paris.

Mr. Packard: There would be no sense having a conference in which the North Vietnamese were not involved.

Mr. Kissinger: It would be an interesting conference if it included the Soviets and not the North Vietnamese.

[Page 1101]

Amb. Johnson: There are two aspects to the question. One is the public posture we wish to take. The other is what we may wish to do privately.

Mr. Packard: The key question is what is most likely to move the North Vietnamese.

Mr. Kissinger: But we also want to consider which forum would be the most manageable for us. The two are not necessarily the same. Alex, what do you think?

Amb. Johnson: I am open-minded. The Djakarta Group has a good deal of appeal but offers no chance of getting North Vietnamese participation. If we go through the Geneva Co-Chairmen, we won’t be able to get the Chinese.

Mr. Kissinger: It would be a strange conference if Hanoi has to maneuver publicly between the Chinese and the Soviets.

Amb. Johnson: U Thant and the UN seem a weak reed. We could start out bilaterally but would then have to expand the talks to cover all Indochina.

Adm. Moorer: With the new government we might get the British in the act.

Amb. Sullivan: The British are still a weak reed.

Amb. Johnson: The bilateral talks in Paris constitute the one existing channel. We would have to decide where we wanted to proceed from there.

Amb. Sullivan: The Soviet channel is always open.

Amb. Johnson: As a private channel but not for a public initiative.

Gen. Cushman: What have the French proposed?

Amb. Johnson: Not much. They have just said that there ought to be negotiations.

Mr. Kissinger: Would it be best to try Paris or at least begin there?

Mr. Packard: Why not? We want to upgrade the talks.

Amb. Johnson: I would tend to prefer Paris.

Mr. Kissinger: What do we do there?

Mr. Packard: We could propose a conference to discuss the whole Indochina problem.

Amb. Sullivan: The drafters of the NSSM 94 paper think we are unlikely to get a conference that would include all the needed membership. If we publicly called for a conference, there might be some psychological and political effect in terms of domestic opinion in the United States and putting the onus on the other side. But there is no reason for great hope that a conference would actually materialize.

Mr. Kissinger: At what level would it be possible for us to achieve something?

[Page 1102]

Amb. Sullivan: Bilaterally in Paris with the North Vietnamese and in secret negotiations with the Soviets. In Paris the North Vietnamese are highly suspicious and always think that any step we take is aimed at deceiving them. We might be able to dispel some of this mistrust by our public posture and through secret talks with the Soviets.

Mr. Packard: What about a public appeal to the prospective attendees of a conference?

Gen. Cushman: They have all said no.

Amb. Sullivan: The North Vietnamese have been careful to leave the question open. They said they did not want a conference at this time.

Mr. Kissinger: The Soviets have taken the same position.

Mr. Carver: The North Vietnamese mind-set at this time is such that if you really want to explore the prospects for a settlement, you have to show willingness to discuss the division of political power in South Vietnam. After Cambodia, they don’t want to appear to be operating from weakness.

Mr. Kissinger: But when they are in a strong position, they have the same attitude.

Mr. Carver: For them, negotiations are not the principal objective; they are interested in political power.

Mr. Kissinger: Then under every conceivable circumstance, a division of political power is the only way to get the North Vietnamese to the conference table?

Mr. Carver: Yes.

Amb. Sullivan: That is their public position. But they might talk privately about military matters.

Amb. Johnson: I agree.

Mr. Carver: The North Vietnamese will insist on having a high-level U.S. representative.

Amb. Johnson: The North Vietnamese have two concerns—achieving political power and securing the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Mr. Carver: Politically they are not interested in a free competition which they might lose.

Mr. Kissinger: Would we have to give up something fundamental?

Mr. Carver: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: If it is true that under no circumstances will the North Vietnamese negotiate, then the question is to decide what is the propaganda proposal best calculated to place the onus of preventing a peace settlement on the enemy. Admittedly the question doesn’t seem to make much difference to our own public. On the other hand, if there is some prospect of getting negotiations started, we need to decide what combination of forums and proposals would best protect our interests.

[Page 1103]

If we are aiming only at a propaganda advantage, what forum and what type of proposal would be best?

Amb. Sullivan: We would need to have a senior man go to Paris. We can say he is going for an Indochina conference, or we can say he will discuss with the North Vietnamese matters affecting all of Indochina.

Mr. Smyser: If we say he is going to talk about Indochina as a whole, won’t that make Lon Nol nervous?

Amb. Sullivan: It won’t bother Souvanna, and it won’t make Lon Nol any more nervous than he is now.

Mr. Kissinger: Do we have to say anything at all about the purpose of appointing a senior man?

Amb. Johnson: No.

Mr. Carver: Appointing a senior representative would show we are at least trying to explore a settlement.

Mr. Kissinger: There would be a delay of several weeks before he would actually go to Paris.

Amb. Johnson: We don’t have to state the objective publicly.

Mr. Kissinger: We all agree that sending a senior man to Paris would be a significant initiative and that the subject matter of the Paris talks would have to be expanded to include all Indochina. We are not agreed that this should be done publicly or on the forum for launching expanded talks. Could our representative start by raising the matter privately with the North Vietnamese?

Mr. Carver: They would not be receptive.

Amb. Sullivan: I don’t agree. Of course, there may be delay. The senior man might have to come back. They may wait a while to respond. In the meantime, we just say that we will have interesting things to talk about.

Mr. Kissinger: Should we address our initiative to any particular forum? U Thant would not be acceptable to the North Vietnamese and the Chinese. The Co-Chairmen are not acceptable to the Chinese. The North Vietnamese and Chinese would reject the Djakarta Group. And we don’t want the French.

If we just make a public call for a conference, we can be ready whenever a conference can be constructed. In the meantime, we can talk privately to both Hanoi and the Soviets.

Amb. Sullivan: The President will have his own views on what would be desirable in the light of the domestic situation.

Mr. Packard: Just naming a high-level negotiator would have some favorable domestic impact. By the time he gets to Paris we might be prepared to propose a cease-fire. Our man goes to Paris, Le Duc Tho [Page 1104] returns, then we might propose a cease-fire and conference. This gives us two months to see what happens in Vietnam. We can be doing some further work on our studies.

Amb. Johnson: That seems very sensible.

Mr. Smyser: We should decide whom we want at a conference.

Amb. Johnson: In our own minds we should decide.

Amb. Sullivan: We won’t get a conference anyway.

Mr. Kissinger: We might for our own use have a list prepared of the optimum reasonable composition of a conference.

Mr. Packard: We ought to consider the things we could do in Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand that might make it acceptable to go a little further toward a settlement in South Vietnam.

Mr. Kissinger: We would in any event have to consider Indochina as a whole. Can we have the arguments about the various types of a conference written up? We also ought to specify why the best public approach might be just a simple call for a conference (coupled with quiet talks with the Soviets). (to Sullivan) Could you give some thought to the optimum composition of a conference?

Amb. Sullivan: We have already looked at this. We think 15 countries might be included: the five powers (U.S., U.K., USSR, France, China), the three ICC countries, the GVN, the PRG, the Lon Nol regime, Sihanouk, Souvanna, Souphanavong, and the North Vietnamese. That stacks up eight to seven.

Mr. Packard: What about the Japanese?

Amb. Sullivan: If we introduce the Djakarta group, many countries would have to be added.

Amb. Johnson: We can work out the exact list later. Our objective should be to get countries that are interested and have responsibilities.

Mr. Kissinger: Why not substitute Indonesia and Japan for Great Britain and France? It would be desirable to have the largest possible Asian participation.

Amb. Johnson: I agree.

Amb. Sullivan: If there is little likelihood of actually having a conference, why offend a lot of people by trying to invite certain countries and delete others?

Mr. Kissinger: How about inviting only the Djakarta Three?

Amb. Sullivan: In our own mind we could have an optimum list of participants.

Mr. Carver: We can call for maximum participation and let other countries turn down attendance if they wish.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s talk about proposals. NSSM 94 has three cease-fire proposals, two of which are different from those analyzed by the [Page 1105] VSSG. The two different proposals should be analyzed in terms of the criteria used in the VSSG study. The VSSG working group can undertake this.

Amb. Sullivan: Our group was not unanimous that these two cease-fire proposals merited serious consideration. They were included at the insistence of one member.

Mr. Kissinger: A local cease-fire is an interesting option. Who proposed including these cease-fires?

Amb. Sullivan: ISA.

Mr. Smyser: NSSM 94 also includes an all-Indochina cease-fire.

Amb. Johnson: That is worthwhile looking at.

Mr. Kissinger: Both the local cease-fire and the all-Indochina cease-fire are interesting proposals. The President has talked about a local cease-fire. Let’s take a look at the NSSM 94 list of proposals the U.S. might make to induce a conference.

Amb. Sullivan: We think that the option of accepting the NLF Ten Points would be contrary to our interests and therefore not worth proposing.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s drop it then.

Amb. Johnson: Would it be possible for us to arrive at some interpretation of the Ten Points which we could use?

Mr. Carver: We might do that. But as interpreted by the NLF, the Ten Points would not be in our interest.

Mr. Kissinger: There is no reason why we have to accept the Ten Points if they want to talk. Our public position already is that we will discuss anything. This should be dropped. The President won’t accept it anyway. The same is true of a unilateral and unconditional withdrawal.

Amb. Johnson: Aren’t we already on that road?

Mr. Kissinger: If we set a deadline for withdrawal, then what are they required to do?

Amb. Johnson: We can set conditions to our offer to withdraw.

Mr. Kissinger: We have always said that if there is a settlement we will withdraw in one year. However, that is not unilateral and unconditional withdrawal. Unless they pay some price for non-compliance with our withdrawal proposal, we are giving them an alternative to negotiations.

Amb. Sullivan: Our option originally included a quid pro quo. If we maintain this option, we should rewrite it so that we bargain withdrawal in exchange for some concession from them.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s an interesting suggestion. Can you rewrite the option along those lines?

Amb. Sullivan: Yes.

[Page 1106]

Amb. Johnson: The only thing available for bargaining is the timing of withdrawal.

Mr. Carver: There would also be the possibility that we would indefinitely maintain a residual force in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese don’t want to end up facing a viable ARVN.

Adm. Moorer: What do we do if they don’t comply with a settlement after we withdraw?

Adm. Johnson: That is one of the risks of the game.

(There was a break in the meeting at this point, during which there was some informal discussion of steps being taken to reorganize the economic section of the Embassy in Saigon.)

Col. Kennedy: The question of unilateral withdrawal relates to Proposal Seven [setting a time limit for getting negotiations started while continuing withdrawals].6

Mr. Kissinger: Let me suggest that in redrafting the paper a distinction be made between what we pay to get a conference and what we pay to get a settlement. I think we should pay very little for a conference. They have already sold negotiations many times over. We have paid by halting bombing and by allowing the NLF to participate.

One of the suggested proposals is that “we show readiness to make concessions on a political settlement.” Just what can we propose as an incentive beyond the April 20 statement?

Amb. Sullivan: Our panel was rather cynical on this point. We can’t get much without throwing the baby out with the bath water. Some people feel, however, that we could flesh out the April 20 proposals by giving specifics on a territorial accommodation.

Mr. Kissinger: Who suggested this?

Amb. Sullivan: Some of the lower-level members of our negotiating team.

Mr. Kissinger: Can you spell out exactly what you propose? One practical consequence of a standstill cease-fire would have to be territorial accommodations.

There are thus three possibilities—a standstill cease-fire involving a territorial accommodation, a territorial accommodation without a standstill cease-fire, and a combination.

Amb. Johnson: Can you have an accommodation without a cease-fire?

Mr. Kissinger: It might be done on a local basis. As territorial accommodations are reached in different localities, cease-fires are established.

[Page 1107]

Mr. Smyser: Hanoi is not interested in a local settlement. They want power in Saigon.

Mr. Kissinger: To sum up, the paper should be redrafted to provide a discussion of (1) forums for getting a conference started, (2) the role to be played by a new senior negotiator, and (3) what would be necessary to induce a conference as compared to what we might pay in order to negotiate a settlement. The non-starters among the options should be taken out. This should be completed by July 14. If you prefer, we can try an initial draft and turn it over to you.

Amb. Sullivan: That would be all right.

Mr. Kissinger: In that case Kennedy and Smyser can do the preliminary draft.

Amb. Johnson: Could we discuss the situation in Thailand? Our position there is in a mess as a result of the accelerated withdrawal of our forces. We might want to maintain substantial forces in Thailand, but the Defense Department has budget problems. I have held up a telegram to Ambassador Unger instructing him to raise the matter with the Thais.

Mr. Kissinger: We have a study in preparation on air operations in Southeast Asia.

Mr. Lynn: The NSSM 51 study is about ready.7

Amb. Johnson: We are going to get some backlash from the Thais.

Mr. Kissinger: I am disturbed about the problem. We need the Thai bases.

Mr. Packard: Perhaps there is some way of conducting discussions. We might just discuss the first step of our programs with the Thais, without raising the whole package.

Amb. Johnson: That would help if you can live with it.

Mr. Kissinger: The President shares Alex’s concern. He thought the tactical air study might pre-empt our position.

Mr. Packard: Our tactical air study might allow a drawdown in our forces while improving tactical air support.

Amb. Johnson: I am disturbed about going to the Thais with a big package and then coming back later with a turnaround.

Mr. Packard: The tactical air study could result in improvements, such as more effective aircraft and laser-guided bombs. Theses improvements could be made while reducing our total forces.

Amb. Johnson: The immediate operational problem is how we talk to the Thais.

Mr. Kissinger: We can coordinate on this.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–111, SRG Minutes, Originals, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Conference Room at the Western White House in San Clemente, California. Jeanne Davis sent these minutes to Kissinger on July 4. Kissinger wrote the following note on the transmittal memorandum: “Put also in my files. HK”
  2. For analysis and summary conclusions, see Document 330.
  3. For a summary, see Document 324.
  4. For a summary, see Document 91.
  5. Smyser is apparently referring to the cease-fire section in the May 13 VSSG paper entitled, “The Situation in the Countryside.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–002, VSSG Meetings, 5/20/70)
  6. Brackets in the source text.
  7. The study, August 5, was in response to NSSM 51, April 26, 1969, which called for an analysis of U.S. programs in Thailand. (National Archives. RG 59, S/S–I Files: Lot 80 D 212, NSSM 51)