103. Memorandum From President Nixon to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

I have some later views on the strike on Haiphong–Hanoi which you should have in mind prior to your meeting Tuesday.2

Looking at our long-range goal of giving the South Vietnamese a reasonable chance to meet attacks that may be launched next year or the year afterwards, as well as the subsidiary reasons of the possible effect in getting faster action on negotiation, as well as the effect on the American public opinion, I believe it is essential that a major strike for three days, rather than two, involving a minimum of 100 B–52s, as well as much Tac Air as can be spared, should be planned starting Friday of this week.3

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The only factor that would change my decision on this is a definite conclusion after your meeting Tuesday that the North Vietnamese are ready to make a settlement now, prior to the Soviet Summit.

By settlement, I do not mean, of course, accepting all our eight points,4 but a very minimum, something like a cease fire, a withdrawal of all their forces to the pre-Easter lines and the return of all POWs.

We have to recognize the hard fact—unless we hit the Hanoi–Haiphong complex this weekend, we probably are not going to be able to hit it at all before the election. After this weekend, we will be too close to the Russian Summit. During the Summit and for a couple of weeks afterwards, our hands will be tied for the very same good reasons that they were tied during and after the Chinese Summit. Then we will be in the middle of June with the Democratic Convention only three to four weeks away and it would be a mistake to have the strike at that time. Another factor is that the more time that passes there is a possibility that the Congress will act to tie our hands. Finally, support for taking a hard line, while relatively strong now, will erode day by day, particularly as the news from the battle area is so viciously distorted by the press so that people get a sense of hopelessness, and then would assume that we were only striking out in desperation.

On Tuesday, the tactics of your host will be to try desperately to give us some hope that we are going to get a settlement in order to keep us from making a strike on the Hanoi–Haiphong complex. They will offer to discuss the eight points, they will offer to discuss the cease fire, they will offer to discuss POWs. All of this you must flatly reject. They may say that they have to report to the politburo. This you should also reject on the ground that they have had our eight points for seven months and our latest offer for three weeks. It is time for them to fish or cut bait on Tuesday with some very substantial action looking toward an immediate settlement.

Incidentally, as I have already told you, you ought to withdraw our proposal of release of only those POWs who have been held for four years or more on the ground that their stepped-up attacks now make it necessary for us to demand the total release of all POWs as a minimum condition. I am not suggesting that they will agree to this but that is the position you must go into the talks with.

Under no circumstances in talking with them is the term “reduction of the level of violence” to be used. I saw it in one of the papers which someone on your staff prepared prior to your trip to Moscow. This is the kind of gobbleygook that Johnson used at Manila and also [Page 341] that was talked about at the time of the 1968 bombing halt. It means absolutely nothing at all and is too imprecise to give us a yard stick for enforcement.

What you must have in mind, is that if they get a delay as a result of their talk with you, we shall lose the best chance we will ever have to give them a very damaging blow where it hurts, not just now, but particularly for the future.

Forget the domestic reaction. Now is the best time to hit them. Every day we delay reduces support for such strong action.

Our desire to have the Soviet Summit, of course, enters into this, but you have prepared the way very well on that score, and, in any event we cannot let the Soviet Summit be the primary consideration in making this decision. As I told you on the phone this morning, I intend to cancel the Summit unless the situation militarily and diplomatically substantially improves by May 15 at the latest or unless we get a firm commitment from the Russians to announce a joint agreement at the Summit to use our influence to end the war.5

In effect we have crossed the Rubicon and now we must win—not just a temporary respite from this battle, but if possible, tip the balance in favor of the South Vietnamese for battles to come when we no longer will be able to help them with major air strikes.

We know from experience, based on their record in 1968 that they will break every understanding. We know from their twelve secret talks with you that they talk in order to gain time. Another factor is that as we get closer to the Democratic Convention, the Democratic candidates and the supporters of Hanoi in the Congress, will increasingly give them an incentive to press on and not make a deal with us with the hope that they can make a deal with the Democrats after the election.

I will be talking with you about the statement you will make when you see them, but my present intuition is that you should be brutally frank from the beginning—particularly in tone. Naturally you should have a few conciliatory words in for the record because the record of this meeting will without question be put out at some time in the future and possibly in the very near future. In a nutshell you should tell them that they have violated all understandings, they stepped up the war, they have refused to negotiate seriously. As a result, the President has had enough and now you have only one message to give them—Settle or else!

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 341, Subject Files, HAK/President Memos, 1971—. No classification marking. Printed from a copy that was not initialed by Nixon.
  2. With Le Duc Tho in Paris on May 2.
  3. May 5.
  4. See Document 8.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 176.