200. Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Kissinger: On the Vietnamese, on Hanoi, Mr. President, I think we might seriously consider the following: that, if they come back with an unsatisfactory reply, that we just drop it. And that you might consider this Howard K. Smith idea of going to Congress and make the whole proposal. And you could say, which would be true, that, on January 8th, we, in effect, told them through the Russians2 that we would be willing to set a deadline if they gave a cease-fire. I did suggest to Dobrynin the general—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —outline of it as a—in a somewhat vaguer way, but it was clear enough. They then said they—they waited for two months before they replied and said they’re willing to talk. We offered to talk, and they didn’t talk, so we’re making it public. Make it as a public offer, and then we’ll be on record. I—I think we have to find some way of going on the offensive on this issue instead of always defending ourselves.

Nixon: Well, yeah, we have to for other reasons, too. But the—since we don’t have the draft thing, the only thing now we can do in Vietnam is to meet Thieu and have the combat thing.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Unless he does that [unclear]—

Kissinger: If he does that, there’s no problem.

Nixon: The other thing is that—

Kissinger: But that, by itself, isn’t all that—

Nixon: But the other thing—

Kissinger: —tremendous.

Nixon: —it is something.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: It’s something.

[Omitted here is discussion of SALT.]

[Page 609]

Nixon: The other thing is that I think in this, in terms of Vietnam, it doesn’t mean anything, Henry, particularly just to put up some offer. And, it might mean something to put up the offer of the—what would be the date of it? And would we do it this week?

Kissinger: A deadline? No—

Nixon: Well, this week, we would make that offer—We would reveal the thing this week. [unclear]—

Kissinger: No, I would do it after you’ve seen Thieu—in June sometime, by the middle of June.

Nixon: Al thinks that we’ve got to do something before the end of June, because we have—and the Congress, imposing this on us before we can see him. That’s the problem with Congress. They—the CooperChurch, McGovern–Hatfield, and all the rest. We’ll fight it off. But [unclear]. See, that’s the real problem we’ve got is that we have to have some play to make, to make in order to keep the Congress from making a move which will completely destroy what little margin is left. Now, my view is that, too, that we ought to—that we’ve got to move with regard to general action from them. [unclear] we pretty well have got to move the Bruce thing. The difficulty with moving on the Bruce thing is that then we have removed one of the arguments for not setting a deadline on negotiations. So, what the hell else have we got, besides the deadline while we protect Americans? In other words, it’s too—it’s the only thing that we’re sure that we can do is to have a meeting with Thieu in June, and after that, to have an—to reveal that thing, to make an offer of negotiation, publicly, for a deadline, ceasefire, and prisoners—

Kissinger: And return of prisoners.

Nixon: Prisoners.

Kissinger: Ask the Congress to support it. I’m coming to the view, Mr. President, mainly colored by the fact that I’ve seen so many right-wingers out there—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: But Haig told me he talked to the agricultural people on my behalf on Friday.3 There was only one question on Vietnam. I—If I heard a hundred times out on the west coast, “Why won’t the President get up and fight these people? Why does he keep turning the other cheek?” That we may wind up in a—

Nixon: They think we’re caving in to the students?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: On what?

[Page 610]

Kissinger: On—

Nixon: Demonstrations, you mean?

Kissinger: Well, not on demonstrations, so much. I mean, I had a long conversation with Reagan on, on Saturday who was [unclear]—4

Nixon: Who does he think we’re turning it to? That’s the point.

Kissinger: Well, no, Reagan made a—well, he made a point that was actually not so bad. He said he listened to your television speech on April 7th,5 and he said the end of it was superlative.

Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: The body of it, he said he thought, was too defensive. I’m—I’m just giving you his reaction.

Nixon: Um-hmm. Well, that’s the reaction of the Right, yeah?

Kissinger: And, a number of people who are not as far Right as he is—

Nixon: I mean, we thought the body was pretty strong, you know?

Kissinger: That’s right. Right—

Nixon: Well, most of the people back here wrote that it was strong. They, they were—

Kissinger: Oh, yes. Yes.

Nixon: So, you see, it shows you, though, that there’s a hell of a lot of people in the country that want you to move a little further.

Kissinger: I’m not—

Nixon: Yes?

Kissinger: This wouldn’t have been my view—

Nixon: But, it’s—it’s important, you know.

Kissinger: But I’ve been really struck out there by—

Nixon: It’s good to be out there, isn’t it?

Kissinger: Yeah. First of all, how much support you’ve got—

Nixon: [unclear] people.

Kissinger: How much support you’ve got.

Nixon: We’ve got some.

[Omitted here is discussion of U.S.-Soviet relations and SALT.]

Nixon: Coming back to this, the Russian thing, the other play we have to do is on Vietnam. See, that’s the game, though. Let’s forget the Russian thing and the rest at the present time. The game is where it is. All that matters here is Vietnam, though. Well, it seems to me, all we’ve got to play is the combat role, but what about making the offer sooner?

[Page 611]

Kissinger: I think it would bring Thieu down. I think the way to do it is to [unclear].

Nixon: All right, that’s a reason not to do it. In other words, you don’t think we can sell it to Thieu?

Kissinger: I think you can sell it to Thieu, but no one else.

Nixon: I have to tell him we’re going to offer a cease-fire, and—but we wouldn’t do it there.

Kissinger: No, you’d do it as soon as you—within a week of coming back.

Nixon: After he goes back, and we do it simultaneously?

Kissinger: Yes. Something may come out of this Le Duan visit to Moscow, Mr. President. It’s three weeks—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —and that—they may be getting ready to settle it. I’ve still—a three-week visit for the leading North Vietnamese in Russia—

Nixon: Maybe he’s sick?

Kissinger: No. It’s highly unusual. In fact, four weeks he’s stayed on after the Party Congress. He’s never left, and—

Nixon: Is he the big man?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: You consider him to be one?

Kissinger: Yeah, he’s the Party—he’s the number one man.

Nixon: I think that’s one way, but then, let’s understand: the least we have to do is to go there. I mean, we planned to go to—let’s just plan to go to Midway on the 8th.

Kissinger: I think that’s a good idea—

Nixon: I—see, we’ve got to start planning that, now.

Kissinger: I—I’ve thought about it all last week—

Nixon: We’ll go on the 8th, and let’s get it done. And then—

Kissinger: In fact, there’s a lot to be said to get—

Nixon: And then it’s early, before the election.

Kissinger: —to do it before. It’s good to have it before the election; it’s good to have it in a way before the Chinese answer.

Nixon: I know. Coming just two years after Vietnamization and making the announcement that the American combat role will end on—What is it? What’s he going to say? The 1st of December? The 1st of January—?

Kissinger: Yeah. End of this troop withdrawal, the first of December.

Nixon: Yeah. Well, we could make it spring pretty soon.

Kissinger: Oh yeah. And then, if a week later, you come up with a—

Nixon: What were the casualties this week?

[Page 612]

Kissinger: Thirty-two.

Nixon: I thought they’d be down.

Kissinger: Cut in half—

Nixon: I mean, I thought they’d be lower than that.

Kissinger: Thirty-two is pretty low. Once you get below—

Nixon: Fifty?

Kissinger: Fifty, it’s really—

Nixon: Forty? [unclear]

Kissinger: That’s cut in half—

Nixon: There’s still probably some carryovers from—

Kissinger: Yes.

Nixon: —helicopter pilots, the poor guys. That’s one bit of good news, isn’t it?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: All right. Then, in the other part—so, that’s the Vietnam. In the meantime, Henry, we’ve got to keep our goddamned troops in the Senate. Do you notice, for example, if you read the weekend news summary, that all these people are, you know, yelling around about what they’re going to do, and this, or that. Or [Senator Frank] Church says the shared responsibility with the House—with the Congress, you know. Responsibility? You know what they’re petrified at?

Kissinger: That you’ll succeed.

Nixon: We’ll end the goddamn war and blame—and say, “We ended it, they started it.”

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: I think—I think we can beat them on that issue. I think—but, provided we keep one step ahead. Now, unfortunately, I was hoping we’d have a SALT thing. Let’s assume we don’t have it. Let’s assume we don’t have a summit thing. That means we just—I think, at the very least, we’ve got to figure that what we’ve got, we’re going to have a June 8th announcement, and then we’ve got to come back with another announcement of a new negotiating offer and our final negotiating offer. Right?

Kissinger: Right—

Nixon: And we make it publicly?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: What date would you put?

Kissinger: I’d put September 1st, ’72. Well, I don’t think that makes a hell—

[Page 613]

Nixon: I don’t think it makes a lot of difference. They’re not going to take it.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Cease-fire, and all the rest. I’d make it July 1st. If you put it September 1st it looks like you’re doing it just before the election, and for the election. See my point?

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: I think it’s—I think you got to move [unclear]. Well, you don’t have to negotiate too much. We’ve got to sell Thieu on it. Just say, “Let’s do it July 1st,” and then see what happens.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: He knows goddamn well we’re not going to agree. You know, on the prisoner thing, their attitude is a cold-blooded deal. They’re not going to do a damn thing on prisoners. You know why? They know they’ve got us by the balls.

Kissinger: But—no, they’re going to use the prisoners. As soon as we give a deadline, they’ll insist that we stop military—

Nixon: You don’t want to—You don’t think we, we should consider any more bombing at the present time?

Kissinger: I think we should consider it, seriously.

Nixon: As of now?

Kissinger: Wait ‘til we get their answer.

Nixon: And the answer from Dobrynin

Kissinger: We will get an answer this week from Hanoi.

Nixon: You think so? Why didn’t you get it this—last week?

Kissinger: Well, they—

Nixon: They—they’re away, you say—?

Kissinger: Now, they had told us—they, up to now, they’ve not been—they have said, right away, they almost certainly couldn’t do it on May 9th because Xuan Thuy would be out of town, and they might have to propose the 16th. Now, I believe, Mr. President, if they do propose the 16th, I should not go on that—such short notice. I should, then, suggest the 23rd.

Nixon: Only one problem: I’d go the 16th. There’s a reason for it is that the reason is that—

Kissinger: They’ll have made the offer.

Nixon: Look, we want to get it done. We’ve got to. We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to do, and right now it’s a race against time with us. That’s what we have to realize. We don’t want do anything that’s wrong, but the 16th and 23rd—we can’t diddle along, just [unclear].

Kissinger: Well, it depends when they come back, Mr. President. It’s—they didn’t come today.

[Page 614]

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: I think if they came on Wednesday,6 for me to come on three days notice to Paris is a—is something to which they’d be very sensitive. But they may not propose to see me. Let’s see what they propose—if they propose anything. They may refuse a meeting.

Nixon: You haven’t heard anything. I don’t think they’ll give it. They might not even answer at all.

Kissinger: No, but then, we’re in great shape.

Nixon: Well, [unclear]. In other words, we made an offer, and they refused.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: Bruce, he made an offer and they refused in all the private meetings and the rest. They’ve been hurt by Laos, and the rest, despite everything they tell him—

Kissinger: Oh, yeah. Or—and, of course, they think they’ve got us on the run with all these demonstrations, which they’re misreading.

[Omitted here is discussion of domestic policies, the Soviet Union, and the People’s Republic of China.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 496–9. 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, 12:57–1:30 p.m. The Nixon tape log mistakenly dates this conversation May 19.
  2. Kissinger is referring to his January 9 meeting with Dobrynin; see Document 101.
  3. May 7.
  4. No further record has been found.
  5. See Document 174.
  6. May 12.