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

SUBJECT

  • Memorandum of Conversation with Dobrynin April 14, 1969

After an exchange of pleasantries and a somewhat lengthy discussion of the Middle East (reported separately),2 the discussion turned to Vietnam. I asked Dobrynin whether he had had any reaction from Moscow to our last conversation. He said he had not, but that he was aware of a conversation Zorin had had with Lodge.

I then said that the President had wished me to convey his thoughts on Vietnam to Moscow. We had followed the discussions in Paris with great interest and considerable patience. As Lodge had already pointed out to Zorin, it was very difficult to negotiate when the other side constantly accused us of insincerity, when every private meeting so far had been initiated by us, and when every proposition was put forward on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. The President had therefore decided to make one more direct approach on the highest level before drawing the conclusion that the war could only be ended by unilateral means. The President's personal word should be a guarantee of sincerity. After showing Dobrynin the talking points and the President's initials, I read them to him. He took copious notes, stopping every once in awhile to ask for an explanation. When I said we wanted to have the negotiations concluded within two months, Dobrynin said that if this proposal was feasible at all, we would be able to tell after the first week of negotiations whether they would lead anywhere. When I got through, Dobrynin asked whether I was saying that unless [Page 200]the Vietnam war was settled, we would not continue our discussions on the Middle East and not enter the talks on strategic arms. I replied that we were prepared to continue talking but that we would take measures which might create a complicated situation.

Dobrynin said that whatever happens in Vietnam, the Soviet leaders were eager to continue talking. He then asked whether these new measures might involve Soviet ships. I replied that many measures were under intensive study. In dealing with the President, it was well to remember that he always did more than he threatened and that he never threatened idly.

Dobrynin then said he hoped we understand the limitations of Soviet influence in Hanoi. We had to understand that while the Soviet Union might recommend certain steps, it would never threaten to cut off supplies. He could tell me that the Soviet Union had been instrumental in helping to get the talks started. Moreover, Communist China was constantly accusing the Soviet Union of betraying Hanoi. The Soviet Union could not afford to appear at a Communist meeting and find itself accused of having undermined a fellow Socialist country. On the other hand, the Soviet Union had no strategic interest in Southeast Asia. The chief reasons for its support of North Vietnam have been the appeals of a fellow Socialist country. I could be sure that the President's proposal would be transmitted to Hanoi within 24 hours. Dobrynin added that often Soviet messages were never answered by Hanoi so he could not guarantee what the reply would be or indeed if there would be a reply.

Dobrynin then said that the North Vietnamese were using the following agreement with Moscow and he stressed that Moscow did not necessarily agree with it: The Saigon Government was composed of individuals committed to the destruction of the NLF. The NLF would not enter a political confrontation in which the administrative apparatus was in the hands of people who sought to destroy them. The NLF would not insist on participating in the Government but it would insist that the Government be broadened and that Thieu and Ky be removed. Dobrynin repeated that he was simply stating Hanoi's arguments, not endorsing them.

I replied that I was familiar with Hanoi's arguments since they were being made to us as well. Nevertheless, the best policy for the NLF would be to work out guarantees for its political participation after a settlement of the war. They would certainly find us forthcoming.

Dobrynin reiterated Moscow's desire to stay in negotiations with us whatever happened in Vietnam. He told me many anecdotes of Stalin as well as of Molotov. He added that the Soviet Union had intended to send Marshall Zhukov to Eisenhower's funeral but Zhukov had recently had two strokes and was partially paralyzed. He then [Page 201]asked whether we understood that Communist China was attempting to produce a clash between the Soviet Union and the United States. If the war in Vietnam escalates, it would only service Communist China's interest. I replied that this was the precise point the President had tried to make to Kuznetsov on the occasion of the Eisenhower funeral. It was, therefore, incumbent on the Soviet Union to help us remove this danger. We felt that in this period, the great nuclear powers still have the possibility of making peace.

As he was preparing to leave, Dobrynin asked me whether he could read over the talking points once more. I handed them to him and he read them slowly and carefully. He departed saying “this has been a very important conversation.”

Attachment

TALKING POINTS ON VIETNAM FOR DISCUSSION WITH SOVIET AMBASSADOR DOBRYNIN

1. I plan to utilize the following points in discussing efforts to resolve the Vietnam conflict:

a.
The President has just completed a thorough going review of the Vietnam situation in its fullest world-wide context.
b.
He will not be the first American President to lose a war, and he is not prepared to give in to public pressures which would have that practical consequence.3
c.
The President is convinced that it is in no one's interest to have an outcome that would encourage Mainland China's aggressive drive.
d.
The President has therefore decided that he will make one more4 effort to achieve a reasonable settlement. If it fails, other measures will be invoked.5
e.
These measures could not help but involve wider risks. U.S.-Soviet relations are therefore at a crossroad.6
f.
The President views this point in history with the utmost gravity, especially since he is eager to move into an era of conciliation with the Soviet Union on a broad front. He is willing to begin talks on strategic arms limitations. He has agreed not to threaten the status quo in Europe. He is willing to consider meetings at the highest levels.
g.
However, the President believes that an acceptable settlement to the Vietnamese conflict is the key to everything. Therefore, concurrently, the President proposes to designate a high-level representative to meet with a North Vietnamese negotiator at any location, including Moscow, designated by the Soviet Union to seek agreement with a designated North Vietnamese negotiator on a military as well as a political settlement. The President visualizes that this negotiation would be conducted distinct from the existing Paris framework in order to avoid the sluggish and heretofore cumbersome mechanisms that have evolved in Paris.
h.
The President will give this peace effort just six weeks to succeed.7
i.
The President will ask nothing of the Soviet Union inconsistent with its position as a senior communist power. He expects that nothing will be asked of the U.S. inconsistent with its world-wide obligations.
j.
If this negotiation is successful, the President will conclude that the major danger to war is being removed and he would expect progress in many areas.
k.
The President is prepared to repeat this proposition to the Soviet Ambassador personally if there is any interest in the Kremlin.

1.
Our proposal to Hanoi will be conciliatory embracing both political and military measures.8
2.
The object of the Vietnam negotiations would be as follows:
a.
Definition of Objective: To reach prompt agreement with the North Vietnamese on the general shape of a political-military settlement, specifically:
(1)
Military—Agreement that there will be mutual withdrawal of all external forces, and a ceasefire based on a mutual withdrawal.
(2)
Political—(a) Agreement that guarantees the NLF freedom from reprisals and the right to participate fully in the political and social life of the country in exchange for agreement by NLF and DRV to forego further attempts to achieve their political objectives by force and violence, and9 (b) agreement that there will be a separate and independent SVN for at least five years.
(3)
Mechanism for supervising and verifying the carrying out of the settlement. The agreement with the DRV should not attempt to spell out the manner in which the general principles agreed to will be implemented. That should be left for Paris.
3.
If the special U.S. and North Vietnamese negotiators can achieve an agreement in principle, the negotiations would shift back to Paris for final implementation. The whole process should be completed before the end of August. If the special talks prove unsuccessful, it is difficult to visualize the progress which we both seek and the outlook for improved U.S.-Soviet relations would be seriously jeopardized.
4.
The President realizes that this proposal represents a most complex and difficult choice for all parties concerned, but because we are at a most significant crossroad, he is convinced that extraordinary measures are called for. Because they are extraordinary, he would anticipate that Ambassador Dobrynin would wish to discuss them in detail with his government10 and is prepared to withhold critical decisions on future actions with respect to Vietnam until he receives the Soviet government's reply to this proposal.11
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 489, President's Trip Files, Dobrynin/HAK, 1969 [part 2]. Secret; Nodis. A handwritten note on the memorandum reads: “Back from President, 4/16/69.”
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. Kissinger bracketed this paragraph.
  4. Kissinger bracketed the phrase “one more” and wrote above it “a major.”
  5. Kissinger bracketed the final sentence of 1. d.
  6. Kissinger bracketed this paragraph.
  7. Nixon added the following sentence by hand at this point: “perhaps 2 months is more realistic.”
  8. Kissinger added the following phrase by hand at this point: “for ending hostilities.”
  9. Nixon added the following phrase by hand at this point: “a date for new elections.”
  10. Kissinger bracketed the final phrase of point 4 beginning here.
  11. Nixon initialed the approve option. Attached was a half sheet of paper comprising three additional points. It reads: “1. The President wishes to reiterate his conviction that a just peace is achievable. 2. The President is willing to explore avenues other than the existing negotiating framework. For example, it might be desirable for American and North Vietnamese negotiators to meet separately from the Paris framework to discuss general principles of a settlement. If the special US and DRV negotiators can achieve an agreement in principle, the final technical negotiations can shift back to Paris. 3. The USG is convinced that all parties are at a crossroads and that extraordinary measures are called for to reverse the tide of war.” Nixon prints these three points in RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon , p. 391. He also states that Kissinger showed these three points to Dobrynin.