46. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Vietnam Negotiations Papers for the NSC2

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

A. De-Escalation

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.

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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.

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Paper Prepared for President Nixon 6


Following the NSC meeting:

You may wish to approve the Negotiating Strategy and the Mutual Withdrawal papers as guidance for the first phase of the negotiations. Recognizing that our views on the issues discussed in the paper may require revision as the negotiations proceed, it would be extremely useful to be sure that everyone starts out on the same track.

I, therefore, recommend that you do approve the two papers. We would then distribute them on a very selective basis.

I. Negotiating Strategy Paper

Approval of this paper means in essence:
Our general objective is to give the South Vietnamese the opportunity to determine their own political future without outside interference.
Our first priority objectives are agreed or tacit mutual withdrawal (with attendant reduction in hostilities), reestablishment of the DMZ, eventual total ceasefire, release of allied prisoners, relevant interim policing machinery, and restoration of 17th parallel as provisional boundary line. Other objectives down the line include status of the two Vietnams, relationships between them, follow-on inspection and supervision machinery, international guaranties, Laos, Cambodia, and economic questions.
We leave to the Vietnamese themselves questions concerning the political future of South Vietnam and minimize our negotiating involvement in these issues.
Game Plan
Our emphasis will be on private talks, between the DRV and ourselves on the one hand, and the GVN and NLF on the other.
Our posture will be one of sincere desire for progress, but not an over-eagerness that could mislead Hanoi.
Our early negotiating emphasis will be on mutual withdrawals, the DMZ, and POWs (as it already is in Paris).
In approving the paper you will have to choose between two positions on deescalation:
Express an interest in communicating with the enemy about possible deescalatory moves and authorize our negotiators to discuss the subject.
Indicate that you do not wish to enter into negotiations in Paris on deescalatory moves except in the context of mutual withdrawal.

I recommend Option 2. It is hard to visualize concrete deescalatory proposals that would be truly reciprocal. Most suggestions would seem to favor the enemy militarily. We need not feel obliged to talk about deescalation simply because the enemy may raise the issue. Attempts to negotiate deescalatory agreements would only bog talks down while adversely affecting the morale of our troops. However, there is no reason why we cannot proceed with in-house studies of this problem.

II. Mutual Withdrawal Paper

Approval of this paper means in essence:
Our basic objectives are to achieve the withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia back to North Vietnam and to get adequate assurance that such withdrawals have taken place.
We would insist on the withdrawal of all North Vietnamese regular forces, fillers in nominally VC units and other personnel infiltrated from the North, although we would be prepared to live with some inevitable ambiguity about the latter category.
We would be willing to withdraw U.S. allied forces contingent upon withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces and units.
We would begin our withdrawals as North Vietnam begins its withdrawals and ceases its flow of new manpower; we would not require subsidence of violence as a formal precondition to our withdrawals but would look at this factor in assessing the enemy’s compliance with withdrawal agreements.
We would work toward a timetable that would include phasing of agreed withdrawals on each side, simultaneous initiation of withdrawals, and completion of enemy withdrawals before our own.
In carrying out our withdrawals, we would continually look at the total pattern of North Vietnamese actions to assess their good faith.
We would not link the issue of mutual withdrawals with the future internal political structure of South Vietnam, although we would not complete withdrawals if the total picture in Paris and Vietnam gave us ground for serious doubt concerning Hanoi’s intentions.
We would press for North Vietnamese withdrawals from Laos and Cambodia, particularly, in the case of Laos, those troops which have been supporting operations in South Vietnam.
We would insist that agreed withdrawals and future compliance must be subject to adequate policing, although we cannot yet be clear on what specific types of arrangements will be necessary and appropriate.
Any unilateral allied withdrawals would be based on full consultation with the GVN and our assessment of the overall picture, including the impact of such withdrawals on our negotiating position.
There are two issues discussed in the paper on which there is disagreement: (1) residual U.S. forces and (2) six month deadline.
With regard to residual U.S. forces, the options are:
Be prepared to state that agreed and verified mutual withdrawals will, in principle, in the end include the withdrawal of all U.S. and allied combat and directly combat-related forces, if there is a full and verified withdrawal to North Vietnam of the North Vietnamese forces.

At least for a period of time, plan to leave some combat forces behind and avoid any commitment to pull them all out.

I recommend Option 2. To attempt to exempt some combat forces from our withdrawals would clearly be considered a hardening of our position by all concerned. We would set back the negotiations and stir great controversy in this country (and not just among dovish elements). If Hanoi does fulfill its withdrawal obligations, it is not clear that U.S. combat forces would be needed.

With regard to the six-month deadline, the options are:
Be prepared to specify at an appropriate time that the period between completion of a full and verified North Vietnamese withdrawal to North Vietnam and the completion of our own withdrawal would be not more than six months.
Simply say that withdrawal would be completed as soon as practicable, avoiding any time limits.

I recommend Option 1. To drop the six month target would also be considered a hardening of our position in relation to past private and public statements. We will have considerable flexibility in defining the starting date for our six month obligation, and we can insist upon strict compliance by Hanoi with whatever withdrawal agreements are negotiated.

III. Further Studies

You may wish to direct studies on:

Actual modalities of mutual withdrawal, including verification procedures.
Possible forms of political accommodation in South Vietnam.
Laos, in the context of the Vietnam settlement.
Possible forms of deescalation.

I recommend all four studies. I believe that it would be useful to study deescalation in part to make clear the great difficulty of developing any concrete proposals.

  1. 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.”
  2. 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)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Document 44.
  6. Top Secret; Sensitive.