55. Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion of Peru and the International Petroleum Corporate dispute.]

P: I was wondering, in view of the rather patent attempt of the North Vietnamese to try to indicate that there is no progress being made in the talks—and then also the statement that the Administration had attempted to reduce its casualties and they wouldn’t let that happen2—I’m inclined to think that even without a reason, we ought to go ahead and crack them pretty hard on the North.

[Page 188]

HAK: I know what you mean. I don’t know whether you’ve had a chance to see a conversation I had with Dobrynin—it’s in a package sent to you yesterday.3 He came in with a pretext on European matters, but it was terribly transparent—he launched into a long talk on Vietnam. He said “we don’t have any military observers with the Communist party in the south.” I said “I hope they tell you what’s going on.” He kept coming back to this problem.

P: They don’t have private talks next week?

HAK: No, it would be a good week for doing it. I’ve become convinced—and Dobrynin’s conversation made it stronger—that we try the other route we have been discussing. The Soviets are getting edgy. I think if we gave them some way of getting themselves into it they might be ready to do it now.

I think domestically, and in Thieu government, it’s going to be hard to hold it together. You have Laird’s statements, for example—what he said about B–52’s and private talks, etc.

P: Everybody has to get out and make it appear things are going well—they aren’t used to playing a big game.

HAK: That’s the problem.

P: They can’t just stand there and (wait?), which is what you have to do.

HAK: Spend your assets at once, rather than piddle them away.

P: I agree we’re going to have to change it. I’m not sure that will work. We may have to do something even more strong. I’m not sure the Vance ploy will work.

HAK: We don’t have to tie ourselves to the Vance thing.

P: I’m concerned at the present time we’re sort of piddling around and Walsh is jittering(?) around in Paris. The tone of the private talks has changed. I’m not so sure that they don’t read what we’re doing and that they’re going to wait us out. It will worry them a little—that was the purpose of the other one, wasn’t it?

HAK: That was the purpose, and we learned from it. We learned Hanoi was pretty eager, because they never would have come to private talks.

P: Let’s assume the other side won’t. We hit them again. I suppose they could then squeal that what we were doing—they might want to use this as a pretext.

HAK: They still have to get Sihanouk. They have no status for complaining. We have to play it cool.

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P: Particularly in that corner.

HAK: It’s even more inaccessible where we hit it.

P: The Laotians are now asking for help.

HAK: I think if we could come to a decision on whether to shift the framework that then we ought to adhere to that, and then do it the week before we shift the framework so that word can get back to Moscow. One problem is Hanoi might not know how to translate it. Paris is cumbersome procedure even if you wanted to move fast.

P: Shifting of the framework poses a problem of what you do with Rogers, of course.

HAK: I think if we do it carefully, Rogers has to be brought along. It would take us about 3 weeks to set up, in my view. This is not something the Soviets would really have to think about.

P: My inclination is to crack this one, and crack another one—plenty of places to hit.

HAK: Say we crack them next week. Week after, we approach Dobrynin. But it would take him about two weeks to set up. When it is set up, we’ve got to bring Rogers in. By that time the talks in Paris might be stalemated and he might be eager to have a way out. The way everyone is talking in this country Hanoi is going to try to wait.

P: If they see everybody talking, that’s going to make them wait. I can rectify it to an extent, by what I say next week at the press conference—that will hold the line.

HAK: Next week would be bad for a press conference, with NATO in town and a major speech. At any rate, whenever you have a p.c., you can rectify it. The NATO speech is on Thursday. Bill is going to have a p.c. on Monday4—he hasn’t had one yet.

P: We may have to hit them one while we’re here. The necessity for the North Vietnamese to know that there’s still a lot of snap left in the old boys is very important. And I don’t know any other way to do it.

HAK: I think that’s needed. But also what is needed is a forum so they have a way out if they need it. I’d be in favor of doing it next week anyhow, even if we don’t have change of venue, but if they could tie the two together—that’s what made the other one so confusing to them.

P: OK, we’ll see what happens. When do they expect the next private talk?

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HAK: They will ask for it when Bunker is back in Saigon. In about a week.

P: I think we better get geared up to do this other one. So they’re ready to hit that area. I won’t tell anything to the Pentagon.

HAK: I’ll hold it until Monday.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 359, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File. No classification marking. Nixon was in Key Biscayne, Florida; Kissinger was in Washington.
  2. On April 3 North Vietnamese delegation officials in Paris denied that “secret talks” had started and that “some progress” was being made. On April 1 the NLF news agency stated that Abrams’ defensive strategy of “avoiding losses and reducing expenses” had proved to be a “fiasco” by their post-Tet military offense. (Quoted from Stanley Millet, ed., South Vietnam: U.S.-Communist Confrontation in Southeast Asia, Vol. 4, 1969, pp. 35 and 40)
  3. See Document 53.
  4. April 7; the text of Rogers’ press conference is in Department of State Bulletin, April 28, 1969, pp. 357–363.