201. Conversation Among President Nixon, his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and the White House Chief of Staff (Haldeman)1

[Omitted here is a brief discussion of Korea.]

Nixon: Cambodia2 was right.

[Page 615]

Kissinger: Oh—

Nixon: And, and, and—well, not public opinion-wise. Laos3 was right, too.

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: The best thing about Laos that, Bob, you ought to have in mind is, you know, when all these people complain about it and then they vote. We’ll never get any credit ‘til later. But, if opponents see through [unclear] the casualties and the level of military activity since Laos—no, from Laos, and since—there has been no spring offensive. And that’s when they have the offensive.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Now, something had to happen. What happened? The South Vietnamese went in and kicked the hell out of a lot of North Vietnamese—

Kissinger: No spring offensive, despite the largest input of materiel in any period, including Tet.

Nixon: That’s right. Now, one thing else, get the [unclear]—get, get, get that fellow Laird—well, no, no, Moorer. Tell him I want a, a little package for bombing the north.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: And I want it goddamn fast. Now, I don’t think we should—I don’t think you need to wait for Bill [Rogers]. I think maybe this weekend’s a good time. I don’t think [unclear]—

Kissinger: Well, unless—

Nixon: —to think why, why does it, why does it have any relationship with the Russians? You think it has some relationship with the Russians—?

Kissinger: Well, I think we shouldn’t put it to the Russians [unclear]

Nixon: Well, then, when can you? But we always—there’s never a good time. [unclear]—

Kissinger: No, after we’ve made this announcement. No, no, after—after the 20th. Let’s get the [SALT] announcement under the belt. Let’s not get that—

Nixon: See, your problem, see, too, with any kind of a summit announcement: once it’s out, it’s going to tie our hands. You see? When you’ve got to do anything you’re going to do, we want to—we want to be in a position to bang ‘em. Look, we’ve got to bang ‘em somehow, Henry. We cannot have them—

[Page 616]

Kissinger: [unclear]—

Nixon: —turn down our prisoner offer, you know, and just kick us around in Paris. We’ve got to do something.

Kissinger: I agree completely, and I think—But, I just think, Mr. President, to be—having come this close, we can wait five days. After the 20th, a week after—

Nixon: We’ve been waiting five months.

Kissinger: Oh, no, we’ve hit them in March.4

Nixon: Not much.

Kissinger: Oh, no, that was a pretty good jolt. But, we haven’t held up with bombing them. There was this damned Air Force—

Haldeman: And we hit some last weekend. There was a thing that was in the news about the [unclear]—

Kissinger: Yeah, but that was just three airplanes.

Haldeman: Anti-aircraft [unclear].

Nixon: Well, just, just have no illusions. We’re not going to go ‘til we hear from the North Vietnamese, and we end up banging them. Having that in mind, we play out this string [unclear]—

Kissinger: They—there’s something funny going on, though. Le Duan, who was four weeks in Moscow, now, he’s in Peking.

Nixon: Oh.

Kissinger: There’s something. Something is cooking—

Nixon: You think they’re getting ready for a big offensive?

Kissinger: No. No, they—to them, what’s going on—to them, there’s some—this SALT thing is going to be a jolt, because no matter what the Russians tell them they can’t be sure of what side deals are being made.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 498–2. 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, 9:28–10:03 a.m.
  2. Nixon is referring to the Cambodian incursion, the American-South Vietnamese sweep into Cambodia that began on April 29, 1970, for the South Vietnamese and the following day for the Americans and ended on June 30. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970, Documents 219341.
  3. Nixon refers here to Operation Lam Son 719.
  4. A likely reference to Operation Fracture Cross Alpha, March 21–21, a joint Air Force–Navy series of 234 airstrikes and 20 armed reconnaissance sorties against North Vietnamese SAM sites. (Carl Berger, ed., The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia, 1961–1973: An Illustrated Account, p. 92)