197. Conversation Among President Nixon, his Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig), and the White House Chief of Staff (Haldeman)1
Nixon: I think that, Al, we’re going to have to come—to plan that trip on the 8th. You know, the Thieu trip.2
Haig: Yes, sir.
Nixon: Now, let me tell you the problem here. First, we’ve got to have a significant movement by that time on the Vietnam front. We have got to do that, or something else. Henry says there’s a very remote possibility, now, to grab it, so, we won’t do it unless he’s—we’re [Page 600] ready to do it—until we’re ready to start that meeting. He’s just got to see if that can’t be pulled off. See, if you could announce that, then I could put the other trip off ‘til the end of June, because I don’t want to do the two together. But, assuming it’s out the window, then I have to have that. Now, Henry’s arguments against doing it then, of course, relate to his little Mickey Mouse game of going over to Paris and seeing those fellows, and so forth and so on. I have no, no illusions about that [unclear]. First of all, I asked him—it may be they may not see him. Second, if they do, they’re just going to diddle him along, and, and we’re not going to do that this time. This is going to be an ultimatum, as far as I’m concerned—
Haig: That’s right, sir. Well, I think that’s—
Haig: —Henry’s thinking.
Nixon: Well, but the point is, I mean, he says that if they have two meetings, they’re gonna push it past the 8th. He’s not going to have two meetings. I mean, he’s going to say, “We’re going to have an understanding in this regard,” and then he can give it three days, or four days, or whatever the case is.
But, the idea that we will wait and have to have them screw around in those meetings in Paris again, is just not going to happen again. There’s going to be—it’s a—the—he said two meetings. The second meeting is for the purpose of finishing.
Haig: That’s right.
Nixon: There ain’t going to be—there’s not going to be another one for the purpose of haggling around. Because they—there is really nothing in that record, the previous record, Al, to indicate that any progress was made in those talks.
Nixon: Now, there isn’t. I’ve read them, and there isn’t a god-damn thing. And, the way Xuan Thuy is talking, and all the rest, I don’t think they—I don’t think there’s a chance, really. I think there’s very little chance. Henry feels, I know, that because of the Chinese move, that they’re worrying, because, maybe, the—the Russians may be doing it, and so forth. That’s all gobbledygook. That’s a guess. Maybe. Maybe there is; maybe there isn’t. But, it’s either fish or cut bait now.
Haig: Well, we have to have a record, sir. You have to have a record of proposing a fixed withdrawal date, and it being turned down—
Nixon: Sure. That record will be made, and then we’ll go. But, Henry’s feeling was—and I talked to him last night—that we’d make the record, and then, if they had turned it down, then I’d just announce that I’d made the offer. That isn’t enough. [unclear] We have to have [Page 601] by the 8th of June3—we’ve got to have something more than an offer of the fact that we’ve offered a date, and a cease-fire, and the rest. That was a—That’s—That’s a—That’s a nice little thing to offer, and it’ll be a two-day story. So, I—My, my thinking, now, is that we’ve got to, we’ve got to make our preliminary plans in terms of the 8th, having in mind the fact that if anything should develop in Paris then we’ll push it off—if it should. The Chinese thing shouldn’t—it has nothing to do with it; absolutely nothing to do with it. I mean, if—whatever happens on that will, will just be a dividend. Or it’ll have no—it’ll not change the situation. We’re going to do the China thing for other reasons. But, I, I just don’t want any of you, Al, to [unclear]. We can haggle around through the summer. I mean, you’ve got the Chinese game, and we’ve got the Soviet game, and we’ve got the, the other game, and so forth and so on. Because I know the domestic game at this point. At the present time, we have got to move decisively [unclear] for domestic reasons. Not, not to—we’re not—we’re not going to change in terms of withdrawal, or anything like that, but we’ve got to move on the Thieu meeting if we’re going to. If that’s going to be our big announcement for the summer, get it over with and get it over fast, because that’s the only way you can stop. See, Henry has no, no concern or, certainly, no understanding of the situation in the Senate. Now, the votes are going to start coming around the 8th, 9th, and 10th. We’ll have one in the House next week on the appropriations bill with a terminal date. The Senate votes are the ones I’m concerned about.4 I’ve got to have something; something more than simply, “Well, and—well, we offered the South Vietnamese—or the North Vietnamese, a terminal date, we’ve got a date.” You know what I mean. It won’t be that way in a cease-fire, and so forth, but it’s too complicated. It’s a good offer, I mean. I agree, and Stuart Alsop will understand it, Chalmers Roberts and a few others, but the guys up there that are—will not. So, on the other hand, the announcement from—after meeting with Thieu, the American combat role ends at a certain time, that’ll have some impact. Right?
Nixon: [unclear] my view.
Haldeman: That’s just an offer that’s turned down.
Nixon: Well, now look. Here’s the point—[Page 602]
Haldeman: Except that—
Nixon: We have offered everything else. I noted already that—we all know the technical difference. That here, we are not—that here, we are separating out the political settlement, we’re separating out the element of the China peace conference, and, and we are saying, “As of a date certain, if you’ll give us a cease-fire and release our prisoners, we’ll be out.” That’s new, and we all know that it’s new. And it’s very significant. We all know it’s very significant. But, Al, to the average person in the country, that’s just another [unclear] gobbledygook like the one we made before. See?
Haig: Well, it’s not going to mean anything, no.
Nixon: See? You make my point.
Nixon: You see, what they need, now, is something, Al. We’ve got to have something that means something to domestic people, here. That, that, that’s—that’s why the, the Thieu vote, if we don’t have another vote, has got to be thrown—shot on the 8th. And the other vote isn’t going to come out of Paris in my opinion. I don’t know.
[Omitted here is discussion of SALT and China.]
Nixon: Then the summit thing, if something comes on that, it could have an effect. It could be a big play in early June, if they’re ready to announce it. But, if not, then let it go. Then, we might only have only one ball left, at this time, in the political field, and that’s the meeting with Thieu, and the combat troop thing. And that would help. But it would have to come June 8th. If it comes later in the month, it could be—it would be past the votes, and I would hate like hell to go over and have a meeting with him and announce that no more combat troops are going to be there after the Senate had voted a terminal date. See my point? I don’t want to have actions taken which appear to be in reaction to duress, or to the Senate. And the—That’s why the Thieu thing very well may have to be the 8th, because there could god-well be an action in the Senate, which—it’s hard to phrase all this very well, now, because we can’t tell what their reactions will be to the recent demonstrations, and the rest. And some of them may start to harden up a bit, and maybe the House will be better next week than we [unclear] thought, but—but, it’s really the Senate we’re worried about. But—but I do know, I do know this: that, now, it’s a cold turkey proposition. We’ve either got to have something solid, or—on—the only things that will affect us are: one, the meeting with Thieu, since we’ve ruled out the draft thing. Don’t even think—don’t even bother with it, now, until it’s—before the school year begins. Then, you can try it again. The meeting with Thieu can have a—have an effect, provided it has that announcement, with that announcement I’m going to meet with him. The second thing is the announcement of the summit, or an announcement [Page 603] that we’re meeting with the Chinese. On—those are the only things that can have any effect on the Congressional situation. See, that will really hit ‘em, it will hit with a great shock. The other things—SALT—will help some sophisticated people.
[Omitted here is discussion of SALT.]
Nixon: Now, the other thing, of course, that I thought of, was that in view of their turn down of our prisoner thing, you know what I mean? Normal reaction was that it was—that it would have been a hell of a good time to, to hit those three passes in North Vietnam. But, on the other hand, since he has this damn offer hanging out there—I want to get that over with for that reason, too, Al.
Haig: Yes, sir.
Nixon: You understand, with Henry bouncing back and forth with Paris and those goddamn trips, I mean, that’ll—they’d like to string it along, because they know very well that we don’t do anything when those—when that’s going on. We’re going to hit ‘em. I mean, they can’t turn down an offer like that, and they can’t make some of the jackass statements they make without paying some consequences, and that’s the only thing we’ve got left. We’re just about ready to hit ‘em again, so I—so they—see, that’s another reason for you, when you’re talking to Henry, must be pressing Thieu. I mean, we—look, we can’t diddle any more. That’s the whole point.
Nixon: We’ve got to cut the diddling. Oh, the idea that, well, we can’t do this, or that, or the other thing, because of the fact that it might disturb our talks with the Chinese; it might disturb our talks with the Russians; or it might disturb what talks we might have with the South—North Vietnamese. Just let me say: all that really matters is the talk that’s going on in that Senate at the present time.
Haig: Yes, sir.
Nixon: Therefore, what we have to do is what we have to do: we have to, now, pose our actions in a way that will not destroy any of these talks—and they don’t need them to—but that don’t, but that don’t—frankly, if you think anything’s going to disturb our talks just have the goddamn Senate pass something like that. Right?
Nixon: Well then, where’s your bargaining position then?
Haig: I don’t know.
Nixon: If the Congress says, “Well, get out of there the 31st of June,” in December, right? Suppose they cut your money? What do you do then? Then what’s happened to Vietnam? Am I right? See, this is what—
Haig: [unclear][Page 604]
Nixon: This is the—this is a factor we’ve now got to start thinking about. We’ve—we’re coming right under the wire, and we’re coming in pretty good shape. We’re—we’ve fought a long battle, and we can win it. But, right now, we’ve got to shoot our bullets and shoot them in good enough time, even though it presses us a little bit.
Haig: That’s right, sir.
Nixon: That’s why I probably am going to have to go on the 8th if you can’t get—since you can’t get the draft thing. We have to go on the 8th and [unclear] arguing against it, but what else can you do?
Haig: No, I—I think the draft thing is going to be—
Nixon: It can’t be done, I know. [unclear] But let’s leave it out for the moment. Leave the draft out, but, assuming the draft can’t be done—let’s base all our assumptions on that—do you have anything else we could do before the 8th? You see, on the 8th—the week of the 8th—
Haig: Sir, I—I—
Nixon: The only other thing coming up is SALT.
[Omitted here is discussion of SALT, China, and the Moscow summit.]
Nixon: So, I’m inclined to think that the June 8th measures—let’s [unclear] it. Now, we’ve got to do this in terms of, of attitude, and as far as Henry’s plans are concerned, that interferes with another trip he’s going to take to Paris. Forget it. Let him take his trip and go back again. If that interferes with when he’s to go to Pakistan, just go out. You know, people—
Nixon: There’s no problem—no problem with that. Nothing has to be foreseen.
[Omitted here is discussion of SALT.]
Nixon: But I do say that we have to do something—
Haig: We have to get—
Nixon: —tangible on, on Vietnam. And since we don’t have—if we can’t do it with regard to the draftee thing, then we’ll have to move the Thieu thing up to the 8th. That’ll work. And that’s—that’s good enough. It’s the best we’ve got. It’ll help.
Haig: A little bit of a mixed package with Thieu’s visit. The—they’ll be—
Haig: The doves will say that you’re propping up his election, too.
Nixon: That’s right.
Haig: That’s—that’s one of the criticisms we’ll get.
Nixon: I guess you will. So, we will. But he wants to come over. Let’s say that, look, if he, after that, announces that he will assume the [Page 605] full combat responsibility at a certain time, that’s pretty goddamn good news, isn’t it?
Haig: I think it’s very good. I think it’ll help.
Haldeman: [unclear] you’re not being accused of propping up the Thieu Government, because you are.
Nixon: And, Al, that’s accurate—
Nixon: —and everybody thinks we’re propping up the goddamn Thieu Government, and I don’t think—I just think we just, just—just do it and do it well. That’s the point. Good God, you’d have thought we were propping up [unclear].
Haig: You can talk about, at that meeting, also, about the peaceful development of Vietnam later. [unclear]
Nixon: The most important thing is that announcement, though. If we can get the, if we can get the—If we can get the SALT thing, that will set a warmer climate for the Thieu visit and everything else that comes among the intellectuals. I agree with that. But then, don’t let, don’t let the little junket to Paris. I—I mean, that’s the one thing I [unclear]
Haig: I don’t see anything.
Nixon: Look, Al—
Haig: I never have.
Nixon: Yeah. Henry has been too bullish [unclear] he thinks that—as you know, as he’s said, because of the Chinese thing and the Russian—particularly the Chinese thing—he thinks there’s a 50 percent chance, now, that maybe they’ll talk. They aren’t going to talk. Why the hell should they?
Nixon: We’re going to get out anyway. You see my point?
Haig: And they read. They read our problems here, too—
Nixon: Yeah. Oh, sure. He talks about ‘em.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 493–10. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. This exchange is part of a larger conversation, 11 a.m.–12:10 p.m.↩
- See footnote 7, Document 191.↩
- When Nixon expected to meet with Thieu on Midway Island.↩
- Nixon’s reference is to resolutions currently before Congress. (See “New Public Hearings Before Sen. Fulbright’s Committee: A Variety of End-the-War Resolutions,” The New York Times, April 26, 1971, page A22)↩