101. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Sullivan
  • DOD
  • Kenneth Rush
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • Rear Adm. William Flanagan
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms
  • George Carver
  • William Newton (only stayed for Helms’ briefing)
  • NSC Staff
  • Major Gen. Alexander M. Haig
  • Richard T. Kennedy
  • John N. Negroponte
  • Mark Wandler

[Omitted here are the Summary of Conclusions, briefings by Helms and Moorer on the military situation in the South, discussion based on the briefings, Sullivan’s briefing on the plenary sessions in Paris, and Carver’s briefing on North Vietnamese military manpower and logistics. The latter focused on how combat and infrastructure losses might affect the enemy’s ability to continue the offensive.]

Mr. Kissinger: Do we have anything on what Le Duc Tho might do in Paris? Do we think he will negotiate seriously next week?

Mr. Carver: It’s unlikely that he will.

Mr. Kissinger: You think they won’t even begin to take a serious look at negotiations until June?

Mr. Carver: If they want to negotiate seriously right now, they are in worse trouble than we think.

Mr. Sullivan: I asked our people what they thought Le Duc Tho would bring with him, and the answer was: “nothing that would interest us.” Our people think he will try to do something which has a lot of appeal to the political mix here. For one thing, he may offer to [Page 334] return our POWs, in return for a complete U.S. withdrawal by a certain date.

Adm. Moorer: If he does that, we will have great trouble. The Senate will be in a shambles. It’s already cutting our budget every day. In fact, I don’t know why the North Vietnamese wouldn’t offer that proposition.

Mr. Johnson: I suppose they still include all our air when they talk about total withdrawal.

Adm. Moorer: If the North Vietnamese made that kind of an offer and said they would return our prisoners, we wouldn’t be able to handle it.

Mr. Kissinger: What do the bright people say we should do if Le Duc Tho makes that kind of an offer?

Adm. Moorer: If the negotiations don’t move fast, I would suggest that we get out of them—quickly.

Mr. Kissinger: We’re determined to do that if the negotiations don’t move fast enough. If the other side sticks to its old positions, it will be easy for us to get out of the negotiations. If they have new positions, though, we may have great problems.

Adm. Moorer: I don’t think we should spend much time there if they don’t have new positions.

Mr. Kissinger: Le Duc Tho will either have a new position, or he won’t. There’s no in between with him. If there is no new position, we can break off the talks without much trouble. If there is a new position, what we do depends on what the position is. We could have a massive problem.

Mr. Carver: That’s basically the line we suggest in paragraph eleven of our cease-fire paper.2

Mr. Johnson: It would be so natural for the North Vietnamese to make an offer which would guarantee return of our prisoners. But I don’t know if they would do it. In the past, they have missed so many opportunities which seemed like naturals.

Adm. Moorer: They don’t want to give the impression of weakness.

Mr. Carver: And they don’t like to gamble, either.

Mr. Kissinger: But what kind of a gamble would it be? Let me ask again what the bright people say we should do if Le Duc Tho makes that offer?

Mr. Sullivan: It would certainly cause a shambles in the Senate, as Tom said.

[Page 335]

Adm. Moorer: We would be faced with an unmanageable situation.

Mr. Sullivan: [Reads passage from State paper, gist of which was that we should make a generally positive response, which includes conditions for a general cease-fire.]3

Mr. Nutter: Why should we do that? The North Vietnamese wouldn’t accept a cease-fire.

Mr. Sullivan: They would if their tail were whipped.

Adm. Flanagan: Our assessment is that we should not accept a cease-fire at this moment. We need to have the North Vietnamese pull their forces back before we talk cease-fire with them.

Mr. Johnson: Why do you think the North Vietnamese wouldn’t accept?

Adm. Flanagan: I didn’t say they wouldn’t. I just said it is our assessment that a cease-fire is not viable for the U.S. right now.

Mr. Kissinger: Why not?

Adm. Flanagan: If there were a cease-fire in place now, we feel that the North Vietnamese would take advantage of the situation.

Mr. Johnson: Let’s assume the ARVN holds on. If so, should we accept a cease-fire?

Adm. Moorer: If the ARVN holds, the other side wouldn’t propose a cease-fire.

Mr. Kissinger: How long will it be before the North Vietnamese break a cease-fire? If we can buy six months of time, it might be worthwhile.

Adm. Moorer: The other side will violate the cease-fire less than six hours after it goes in effect.

Mr. Nutter: They never adhered to the 1954 accords.

Adm. Flanagan: That’s right. They were guilty of flagrant violations.

Mr. Johnson: But we’re talking about a different type of cease-fire.

Mr. Rush: The North Vietnamese will certainly violate the cease-fire.

Mr. Kissinger: You know, we could get legislated into a cease-fire. If the other side makes a public proposition for a cease-fire, and we reject it, we could get into deep trouble.

Mr. Rush: We could say we accept the proposition, but with certain conditions.

Mr. Kissinger: What conditions?

Mr. Rush: That the North Vietnamese withdraw.

Mr. Sullivan: The President has already proposed a cease-fire in place. Our position is on the record.

[Page 336]

Mr. Negroponte: The gut of the issue is what is the definition of withdrawal. The other side says it includes all our air and naval support. We say it doesn’t.

Mr. Sullivan: You’re right, but that’s a bit down the road. First, we have to consider if they will propose a cease-fire.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree with the CIA paper. I don’t think they will propose one until they capture a few major cities. Do you agree?

All agreed.

Mr. Kissinger: The question is should we propose a cease-fire now, knowing they won’t accept it?

Mr. Sullivan: That depends in part on the interpretation the Hill would put on it.

Mr. Rush: If we were to make a cease-fire proposal, I think it would be seen as a sign of weakness on our part.

Adm. Moorer: And it would definitely hurt Thieu.

Mr. Rush: The papers are already saying there are two wars going on: the one the President sees, and the one the press reports on—which we are losing. If we propose a cease-fire now, everyone will assume we are losing the war.

Mr. Kissinger: That depends. If we lose Quang Tri, An Loc, Hue and other cities, it’s one thing. If we hold on to those cities, it’s another thing.

Mr. Helms: In two more months, we might be in a weaker position than we are now. So far, the enemy has not taken any provincial capitals. He’s just captured FSBs.

Mr. Rush: And most of the territory he has is sparsely populated.

Mr. Johnson: So you think we would be better off proposing a cease-fire now because we may be in a worse position later?

Mr. Kissinger: If we could get a cease-fire for the rest of this year, even if it is violated, it would ruin the strategy the other side is using on our body politic. However, I don’t think they would accept a cease-fire because it would mean they have to accept the GVN as a reality. In addition, they haven’t gained enough to make a cease-fire worthwhile. But I’m worried about what would happen if they make an offer.

Mr. Carver: They can play the POW card any time they wish.

Mr. Kissinger: We can delay the cease-fire proposition in technical discussions if we are confident the situation won’t get any worse while we are talking. If George’s analysis is correct, our biggest worry is the political pressure right here. What George says is good: we should try to exhaust the North Vietnamese and reduce their options for next year. In 1971, they couldn’t have withstood what we’re doing to them now. If we had done this last year, they would be dead now.

[Page 337]

It is in our interest to get the superheated political atmosphere cooled down. If not, we could lose too much. The State paper says many U.S. leaders are already committed to accepting the proposal Hanoi may make.

Mr. Sullivan: Congressman Leggett4 went to Paris to make a proposal concerning the return of POWs. He got kicked in the teeth for his troubles. The other side said it wasn’t interested in any arrangements which would leave Thieu in power. In a way, we can be saved by this dogmatic insistence on having us dispose of Thieu. If they change their position, though, we will be in trouble.

Mr. Nutter: Leggett was turned down before the North Vietnamese offensive began. Why wouldn’t they offer to send back the POWs in return for a cease-fire?

Mr. Sullivan: The North Vietnamese maintain that all U.S. and Korean forces would have to withdraw during a cease-fire. It’s all tied up in one package.

Mr. Kissinger: This might crack the ARVN.

Mr. Carver: If the other side made a proposal which the U.S. seemed to be nibbling at, this would have an uncertain effect in Saigon.

Mr. Sullivan: Judging by Leggett’s experience, if we put forward a proposal, the other side will turn it down.

Mr. Rush: Hanoi won’t make any decisions for another month. If we make an offer now, as I said before, it will be a sign of weakness on our part.

Mr. Sullivan: Anyway, we could never get Thieu to agree to a cease-fire proposal now—except if the other side made it. If that were the case, Thieu would take it as a signal of defeat for Hanoi.

Mr. Rush: So would we.

[Omitted here is discussion of leaks to the press, the administration’s press line, the use of tear gas in Vietnam, WSAG papers on a possible cease-fire, relations with Congress over Vietnam, and the defense budget and the war.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–116, Washington Special Actions Group, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 1–3–72 to 7–24–72. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. All brackets, except those that indicate the omission of material, are in the original.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 97.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 97.
  4. Robert L. Legget (D–CA).