79. Memorandum From President Nixon to Secretary of State Rogers, Secretary of Defense Laird, and Director of Central Intelligence Helms1


  • Speculation Concerning our Position on Unarmed Reconnaissance over North Vietnam

There has been recent speculation concerning our position on unarmed reconnaissance over North Vietnam. The following is a brief summary of the facts as I understand them:

  • —On a number of occasions in discussions in Paris prior to cessation of the bombing,2 it was emphasized that all acts of force, rather than acts of war, would be ceased. This distinction was made to provide for unarmed reconnaissance flights over North Vietnam following the bombing halt. In summarizing the understanding at a meeting of his advisors on October 29, 1968,3 President Johnson stated, “Both Hanoi and Moscow are clear that we shall continue reconnaissance of North Vietnam. That is why we agreed to stop only acts of force and not acts of war.”
  • —On November 11, 1968, shortly after cessation of the bombing, we protested North Vietnamese firing on our reconnaissance planes and told them that we did not consider reconnaissance flights as constituting the use of force. This made our interpretation of the agreement clear to the North Vietnamese.
  • —On January 9, 1969, Messrs. Harriman and Vance expressed gratification to Soviet representatives Zorin and Oberemko that the DRV had not fired on our reconnaissance aircraft for twelve days. At this time, neither Zorin nor Oberemko challenged the continuation of the reconnaissance flights.
  • —Since the cessation we have consistently asserted the right to conduct unarmed reconnaissance.

In the future, there should be no question raised within the Government as to our position on continuing reconnaissance and North Vietnam’s acquiescence to it. Queries should be answered along the lines that at the time of cessation of bombing in North Vietnam in November 1968, the U.S. Government made it clear in public statements and in private talks with the North Vietnamese and the Soviets that our reconnaissance flights over North Vietnam would continue. There is no question but that both the North Vietnamese and the Soviets clearly understand our position on these flights. The spokesmen of all Departments and Agencies will adhere to the foregoing guidance.4

Richard Nixon
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 106, Kissinger Office Files, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, Reconnaissance Flights, Viet 1968 Understanding, 2 of 2. Secret; Nodis. Kissinger forwarded this memorandum to Nixon under an undated covering memorandum. In a November 22 memorandum to Kissinger, Nixon instructed both him and Laird to prepare a “no-nonsense reply to any doves” that criticized the U.S. strikes in response to DRV attacks on the flights. Nixon directed that the reply be sent to Senators Dole, Griffin, Stennis, and Scott, and Congressmen Ford and Arends (Ibid., White House Special Files, Box 2, President’s Personal Files, Memorandum from the President, November 1970)
  2. President Johnson halted the bombing on October 31, 1968.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968–January 1969, Document 140.
  4. In a November 30 memorandum to Kissinger, Laird wrote that there were “potentially damaging divergencies within the Executive Branch” on whether the United States made clear in 1968 that reconnaissance flights were not covered by the bombing halt. He believed, however, that the record clearly showed that both the DRV and the Soviet Union understood that such flights were excluded. Furthermore, Nixon said so during a television interview on July 1. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 106, Kissinger Office Files, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, Reconnaissance Flights, Viet 1968 Understanding, 2 of 2) The text of the interview is in Public Papers: Nixon, 1970, pp. 543–559.