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


  • NSC Meeting July 21, 1970—Negotiating Strategy and Paris Talks

The purpose of the meeting is to review our negotiating situation in Paris and to set the stage for decisions as to our course there over the next few months. Your appointment of Ambassador Bruce, coming on the heels of the conclusion of our operations in Cambodia, has given rise to some expectation that you will move soon to major new diplomatic initiatives aimed at an early solution. The meeting will give an opportunity for a full discussion of the issues. I recommend, however, that you reserve decision and advise the NSC that you will announce decision later before Ambassador Bruce’s arrival in Paris on August 6.

The meeting will focus on four immediate issues for period ahead when Ambassador Bruce takes up his post in Paris:

  • —Should we propose a ceasefire?
  • —Should we propose a broader conference on Indo-China?
  • —How should Ambassador Bruce proceed in Paris?
  • —How should we deal with the Russians?

These issues are essentially tactical. The fundamental question which we will need to answer in the coming months is—what strategy should we pursue?

  • —The Paris talks continue to be on dead center. The North Vietnamese, despite a forthcoming attitude on our part and our tabling of reasonable proposals, have continued to demand as the price for negotiations (1) a guaranteed and accelerated schedule for complete U.S. withdrawal and (2) an abandonment of the present South Vietnamese government.
  • —In effect the other side is saying that it should have a major say in our withdrawal plans. Clearly, however, both the pace and scope of our withdrawal are matters for us to decide unilaterally. The other side in effect also is saying that negotiation for a settlement cannot proceed unless we are willing to dump the present South Vietnamese government. But what is there left to talk about at that point?
  • —We have three broad choices:
  • —Concentrate on disengagement and leave the question of political settlement entirely to the North and South Vietnamese.
  • —Make a major effort to seek a political settlement and hinge our withdrawals on this objective.
  • —Continue on a middle course, withdrawing while attempting to build South Vietnamese strength and meanwhile seeking a political resolution.
  • —If we continue to follow the middle course we will be able to keep our options open for a time. But we must recognize that at some point we will face a decision to move to one or the other of the remaining courses—the point will come when our withdrawals are no longer a major bargaining card. We will have proceeded so far with withdrawals that there will be little incentive left for the other side to respond on political issues to further withdrawal proposals of ours.

(I provided you a separate memorandum which discusses these strategy options more fully.)2

Should We Propose a Ceasefire?

The most important single proposal to move toward a settlement, or even for public relations effect here and throughout the world, clearly is that of some form of ceasefire. President Thieu is suggesting this.

  • —Both State and Defense favor a ceasefire—State because it would be a dramatic new initiative; Defense because it would help alleviate its budgetary difficulties.
  • —The major problem, however, is one of timing. We need time, now that our Cambodian operations have been concluded successfully and Ambassador Bruce has been named, to (1) assess Hanoi’s strategy and (2) see what success the South Vietnamese will have in their accelerated pacification program.
  • —Accordingly, I recommend that you do not make any decision on a ceasefire proposal at this meeting.

Should We Propose a Broader Conference on Indo-China?

  • —Vietnam is the key, of course, but Laos and Cambodia always have been a part of the problem—the source of the problem in all three is Hanoi. Our main concern would be to avoid complicating efforts toward resolving the Vietnam question.
  • —A variety of forums for a broader conference are possible and we could live with any of them. It would be difficult, however, to get [Page 1132] agreement of the two sides as to who should participate in any conference which might be called.
  • —There is general agreement that we have nothing to lose and may gain some propaganda advantage by proposing such a conference in general terms and by indicating willingness to participate if others propose it.
  • —Again, however, timing is important. I recommend that you agree in principle but defer announcing any decision for a few weeks until we can assess reaction to Ambassador Bruce’s presence in Paris.

The Role of Ambassador Bruce

  • —You have taken a major step in naming him. That is a sufficient price to pay at this juncture. We cannot be sure yet that the other side will budge very much, but we should wait to see.
  • —Accordingly, I recommend that he begin his role as senior negotiator in the context of our present course and that he do so soon after his joining the delegation—we do not want to give the impression that he will participate only if the other side reciprocates. We can put the burden of response on North Vietnam.
  • —The major thrust of Ambassador Bruce’s effort, however, should be to get private talks started with the North Vietnamese. This will help us assess their strategy and find out if they have anything to say. Equally important, it will gain us at least a month to assess their position and attitude.

How Should We Deal with the Russians?

  • —So far the Russians have been helpful only when it was in Hanoi’s interest for them to be so. I am not persuaded that, as State or our Paris delegation may argue, we need the Russians to interpret our views to the North Vietnamese. They might be helpful to this end after we have explored the issues through other channels with the North Vietnamese.
  • —Accordingly, I recommend that you do not authorize regular consultations with the Russians in Paris now until private talks have been started with the North Vietnamese and we have had a chance to explore other channels. The channel to the Russians can be kept open for use on a case-by-case basis should we want to do so.

I recommend that you conduct the meeting by first asking Director Helms for a review of the North Vietnamese attitudes in Paris and their attitudes on the political situation in Vietnam, and on the military situtation in South Vietnam and Cambodia (he is prepared to do this). I would then outline the issues, dealing first with the question of various ceasefire proposals and then moving to an outline of the question of our posture in the immediate period ahead. Discussion would follow. Your talking points proceed in this way.

[Page 1133]

Your book contains:3

  • —Your talking points.
  • —A summary of the interagency paper on diplomatic initiatives.

The complete Ceasefire study and the Interagency paper on Diplomatic Initiatives (NSSM 94) are included in a separate background book for your information.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–028, NSC Meetings, Vietnam: Ceasefire and Diplomatic Initiative, 7/21/70. Top Secret; Sensitive.
  2. Document 347.
  3. Attached but not printed.