46. Memorandum From the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1
- Vietnam Negotiations Papers for the NSC 2
Attached are the General Negotiating Strategy Paper and a paper on Mutual Withdrawal approved by the Review Group for discussion [Page 155]at the NSC meeting on March 28.3 Summaries of each of these papers are included, as well as an issues for decision paper.4 This memo summarizes the major points of difference which you may wish to have discussed at the NSC meeting, and contains my recommendations.
Also attached is a summary of the agency responses to the questions on Vietnam which we prepared prior to January 20.5 The summary has been agreed to by the agencies.
I. Strategy Paper
The issue is whether we should be prepared to negotiate de-escalatory steps in Paris. Some argue that the enemy will raise the issue and we must be prepared to talk about it because critics of the war will keep on this issue. It is also argued that mutual de-escalation would increase public support for the war and give us time to work out a settlement. While acknowledging the difficulties of developing proposals, Paris argues that the scope and pace of B–52 strikes, U.S. offensive operations, and U.S. harassment and interdiction fire could be curtailed.
The opposing position is that we should not ourselves raise the subject in Paris and, if the other side raises it, say we are prepared to discuss it in the context of mutual withdrawal. MACV and the JCS feel very strongly that we should not be prepared to negotiate de-escalation. MACV argues that the cut-down on combat sweeps would shift degree of initiative from us to the enemy, which he would exploit to rebuild his strength in populated areas. He also argues that this would result in a shift in the KIA ratios in a direction less favorable to the U.S. He argues that a cutback in artillery and air support including B–52's would result in further loss of American lives and would have “seriously adverse” results. Furthermore, tacit understandings on mutual de-escalation have already been proved illusory.[Page 156]
I believe that we should not feel obliged to talk about de-escalation simply because the enemy may want to do so. Attempts to negotiate a de-escalatory agreement would only bog talks down while adversely affecting the morale of our troops. I, thus, recommend that the second position be included in the Game Plan.
II. Mutual Withdrawal
A. Residual U.S. Forces
The Joint Chiefs and MACV argue that we should keep open the option of maintaining U.S. combat forces in South Vietnam after we complete our mutual withdrawal. They argue that we cannot be sure that the GVN will be able to handle the NLF alone and should be free to leave our own combat forces in South Vietnam.
State and Paris argue that we need to be clear in our own minds that we are prepared to take out all of our combat forces, while leaving behind civilians and MAAG personnel, in the improbable event that Hanoi fully satisfies the conditions we set for mutual withdrawal.
This is in large part a theoretical issue. If we adopt the State/Paris position, we would be committing ourselves in principle to withdraw all of our combat forces only if Hanoi met all of our conditions. These conditions would be (1) withdrawal of all North Vietnamese regulars, all North Vietnamese serving in VC units, and all other personnel infiltrated from North Vietnam into the South, (2) withdrawal must be to North Vietnam, not to Laos and Cambodia, and (3) there must be adequate verification. It is very doubtful that Hanoi would ever adequately perform on each of these conditions. We will always be in a position to assert that Hanoi has not lived up to its commitments and hence we are free to leave troops behind. If Hanoi did meet all of our conditions fully, it is doubtful that we would need to leave any combat troops in South Vietnam. Our decision whether to proceed with a complete withdrawal will be a political one not bound by what we have agreed to in principle if Hanoi met our conditions.
On the other hand, an effort on our part to exempt some combat forces would be taken by the Soviets and our public, as well as Hanoi, as a hardening of our position. Hanoi would very likely seize on this issue to attempt to stir public controversy in the U.S. Thus, I believe we should be prepared in principle to withdraw all of our combat forces if Hanoi meets our conditions.
B. Completion of Withdrawal Within Six Months
State feels that we should not repudiate the Manila Declaration commitment to be out six months after all North Vietnamese forces [Page 157]have been withdrawn. The Manila Communiqué was negotiated with and accepted by the GVN and the Troop Contributing Nations. Any new position on a time limit would require a further round of negotiations with them. Harriman assured DRV, on instructions, that this was our position. We could also have problems in Congress if we repudiated the Manila Communiqué.
On the other hand, Secretary Laird believes that the Manila six-month time limit is far too rigid. He has in the past indicated that he would like to have up to two years to take all of our troops out. Saigon, without noting any MACV dissent, accepts the six-month deadline for personnel, but points out that additional time will be required for the removal of military supplies and equipment.
State points out that the six-month formula gives us considerable leeway since we can decide when all of Hanoi's forces have in fact been withdrawn from South Vietnam all the way to North Vietnam. Since it is almost certain that North Vietnam will in fact leave behind some forces, we will, in actual fact, have flexibility in implementing the six-month provision.
This issue is closely related to the residual combat troop issue. Again, if Hanoi did not meet our conditions we could complete our withdrawal at our own pace—if at all. The one added element is that we introduced this concept initially at Soviet urging since they said Hanoi did not believe that we would ever really withdraw. If we back off this pledge, we are likely to find it harder to get the Soviets involved constructively.
If we interpret the conditions which Hanoi must fulfill rigidly, then the six months deadline gives us flexibility. If we are not going to be rigid—and there will be strong pressures on you not to be—then it would be better to have a longer deadline. However, you should take account of the problems with our public and Congress, with our allies, and with the Soviets which would result if we changed the time limit. Thus, if we do not change the time limit, you will face problems down the road; if we do change, you will face problems now.
We need urgently to have a study of the details and modalities of mutual withdrawal including, in particular, the question of adequate verification.[Page 158]
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 82, NSC Meetings, Jan–Mar 1969. Top Secret; Nodis; Paris Meetings; Plus. On a copy of this memorandum in the Johnson Library, Halperin Papers, Box 4, Chronological File, March–July 1969, a note on the first page reads: “HAK discussed with RN and perhaps shown to him.”↩
- On March 12 Kissinger sent Rogers, Laird, and Helms NSSM 29, which informed them that the President had directed preparation of two papers described as: “1. Negotiating strategy paper. This paper should discuss the strategy we would follow in private talks with Hanoi. It should also consider our strategy for dealing with the GVN in regard to private talks. 2. Mutual withdrawal of forces. This paper should consider our basic objectives with regard to mutual withdrawal. It should discuss major issues and alternative positions on these issues.” These papers were to be submitted to the Review Group by March 17. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–140, NSSM Files, NSSM 29)↩
- Neither attached; Bundy sent a revised draft of both papers to the Chairman of the NSC Review Group under two separate covering memoranda, both March 21. They were found attached to an uninitialed and undated draft of Kissinger's memorandum to Nixon. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 182, Paris Talks, Memos and Miscellaneous/Memcons, Vol. II) The approved papers, comprising NSDM 9, are ibid., NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–209, NSDM Files, NSDM 9. For the NSC meeting, see Document 49.↩
- Attached were two summary papers, both March 25, entitled, “A General Strategy and Plan of Action for the Vietnam Negotiations” and “US Position on Mutual Withdrawal” and an undated paper which is printed as an attachment.↩
- Document 44.↩
- Top Secret; Sensitive.↩