115. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Sullivan
  • Defense
  • Kenneth Rush
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • R/Adm. William Flanagan
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas Moorer
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms [name not declassified] (only for Mr. Helms’ briefing)
  • NSC
  • Maj. Gen. Alexander Haig
  • Richard Kennedy
  • John Holdridge
  • Mark Wandler
[Page 399]


It was agreed that:

  • —Defense will deploy the additional tank and air assets to South Vietnam as soon as possible. In order to make room for the additional air assets, Defense should promptly negotiate the reopening of Takli airbase with the Thais.
  • —Mr. Kissinger will obtain Presidential guidance on the three options Ambassador Porter has in regard to next week’s plenary session and forward this guidance to State by 1:00 p.m.

[Omitted here is discussion of the President’s attendance at the funeral of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the possibility of a military coup in South Vietnam and Thieu being killed, Abrams’s and Bunker’s May 2 meeting with Thieu, the timing of a possible enemy assault on Hue, Thieu’s request for tanks, the President’s desire to add more naval and air power to the Southeast Asia theater during the offensive, and the military resupply mission to Saigon.]

[Mr. Kissinger:] Concerning the plenary session, what are Porter’s options tomorrow if we don’t want to attend the meeting next week?

Mr. Sullivan: He has three options: First, he can accept. Later on, we can cancel under any number of excuses. Second, he can reserve judgment tomorrow. We can say our liaison people will be in touch with them later on to see if we will attend the next meeting. Third, he can categorically refuse to attend the next meeting.

Mr. Kissinger: What should he do if nothing significant happens tomorrow?

Mr. Sullivan: My guess is that the North Vietnamese are aware of the possibility we might walk out, and, consequently, they may present something which they hope will be seductive to the public. They will try to put our people at a disadvantage.

Mr. Kissinger: In what way will the other side present something seductive to the public?

Mr. Sullivan: They could try to play on something like the Zorza article in the Post today,2 creating the impression they are splitting the problem into two separate tracks: political and military.

Mr. Kissinger: They won’t do that. If they continue to insist that Thieu leave and that the machinery of oppression cease, the whole South Vietnamese government will fall.

Mr. Sullivan: That’s right. The other side could also play on the POW issue and try to present something which The New York Times says is forthcoming.

[Page 400]

Mr. Kissinger: When the North Vietnamese say something should be done to change the machinery of oppression, they really mean the entire government should be changed.

Mr. Sullivan: In French, Le Duc Tho’s statement said the policy of oppression.

Mr. Kissinger: But he really means bringing down the South Vietnamese government.

Mr. Sullivan: I suppose that if Thieu goes, the entire government will be brought down.

Mr. Kissinger: Didn’t Le Duc Tho say at the airport that only Thieu had to go and that the others could stay?

Mr. Sullivan: No. He never said that. He said Thieu must go and the policy of oppression must change. The Times and the media have interpreted the statement to mean that other government leaders could stay.3 But Le Duc Tho never said it. They choose their words very carefully.

Mr. Kissinger: Suppose the North Vietnamese do say that other government leaders could stay, provided Thieu goes and provided the policy of oppression changes. Isn’t that merely another way of bringing down the entire GVN structure?

Mr. Sullivan: I guess it would depend on the opportunistic nature of the government officials who stayed. If Thieu were to go, Tran Van Huong would probably become the Acting President, and he would most likely be stiff. If Huong were to go with Thieu, I don’t know what kind of a situation we would have with people like Khiem and others.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Helms) Dick, what do you think?

Mr. Helms: I don’t know.

Mr. Kissinger: Where is Carver today?

Mr. Helms: He’s working on something else. You know, we’ve had so many South Vietnamese leaders during the last ten years. Not one of them has been a strong leader.

Mr. Kissinger: Except Thieu.

Mr. Helms: Even he’s not been a roaring lion.

Mr. Johnson: He’s been stronger than the other leaders, though.

Mr. Helms: Yes, but we’re talking about the next best after him. I just don’t know.

[Page 401]

Mr. Johnson: When the North Vietnamese talk about changing the policy of oppression, it means arresting suspects and stopping the pacification program.

Mr. Kissinger: And releasing political prisoners.

Mr. Johnson: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: In effect, it means the end of the South Vietnamese government.

Mr. Johnson: Provided there is somebody in the South to do their work for them.

Mr. Kissinger: Right. Could the non-communists survive?

Mr. Sullivan: I don’t know. There would surely be a rapid disintegration of the government, though.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Sullivan) You think the other side is likely to propose something like this?

Mr. Sullivan: Perhaps. They would dress it up with cosmetics so that the Times and other people would say it is great and we should jump at it.

Mr. Kissinger: Especially since we refused to jump at the other side’s point number one last year.

Mr. Sullivan: If they do make a seemingly attractive proposal and if Porter refuses to attend next week’s meeting, we will get a lot of flack here. I think it’s best Porter reserve judgment about the next meeting.

Mr. Johnson: Bill [Sullivan]4 is right. Porter should say we will get in touch with the other side about the meeting.

Mr. Kissinger: Even if the other side presents pure boilerplate?

Mr. Sullivan: They will give us boilerplate in any case. If they make an outright attack on the President, Porter will have cause to break off the negotiations. However, if they make a proposal which is seductive to the public and Porter refuses to attend the next meeting, we will get a lot of flack.

Mr. Kissinger: We’ll get a lot of flack here, anyway. I understand the three choices for Porter.

Mr. Sullivan: We have to send instructions to Porter within the next six hours.

[Page 402]

Mr. Kissinger: I’ll speak to the President about this when I see him in a few minutes, and I’ll call you by 1:00 p.m.5 Are there any other problems?

Adm. Flanagan: The leaflet message was finally sent out.

  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.
  2. “Vietnam Deal In the Making,” The Washington Post, May 3, 1972, p. A21.
  3. Tho Seems to Ease Hanoi’s Terms a Bit,” The New York Times, May 1, 1972, p. 1.
  4. Brackets are in the original.
  5. Porter’s instructions were as follows: if the North Vietnamese were inflexible, Porter was to do the following: “Once you have elicited their negative replies and have commented on the sterility of their presentation, you are authorized, in this contingency, to state that you see no rpt no grounds for a meeting next week and suggest that we resume the plenaries whenever they indicate that they are seriously interested in the negotiation of matters of substance.” However, if the other side presented a seemingly reasonable proposal and appeared to be flexible, Porter should take a different path: “But, in this contingency, instead of rejecting outright a proposal for a May 11 Plenary, you should say that we will wish to study the full record of the meeting to determine whether a basis exists for a meeting next week, and indicate that our liaison officers will be touch with theirs on the subject.” Finally, he was reminded: “You will note that there is no rpt no circumstance in which you are authorized automatically and unconditionally to accept a Plenary meeting for May 11.” (Message 77030 to USDel Paris, May 3; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Paris Talks/Meetings, Box 191, Paris Talks, January–June 1972) In a backchannel message, Kissinger informed Porter that the supplemental instructions came with White House approval. (Backchannel message 21240 from Kissinger to Porter, May 3; ibid., Box 869, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David Cables, January 1–July 31, 1972)