164. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and the Head of the U.S. Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks (Porter)1

[Omitted here are introductory greetings and discussion of Porter’s schedule.]

Nixon: Well, I don’t think you have anything to do in Paris for a while. You might as well stay here for three or four months.2

[Page 605]

Porter: Well, I’ll stay wherever you want me to, sir, but we’ll have things to do. This place is extremely interesting, and I can at least contribute something to the scene. I think that there they are trying to position themselves to do something quickly, and that’s why Le Duc Tho is kept in Paris. It’s not an easy matter for them to move a man from Hanoi—especially a Politburo man—from Hanoi into Paris, because the protocol requires that he stop two days in Peking, and then stop in Moscow, also, to balance things out. And, there’s at least two or three days travel involved. So, I think they just made up their minds that he’s going to have something to say sooner or later, and I don’t think that what he will say eventually will perhaps resemble what they’d hoped he’d have to say. [unclear]—

Kissinger: Bill thinks that their offensive is way out of kilter now. Porter: Oh, I have, what else, my own—

Nixon: They’re getting killed.

Porter: They’re getting—they’re getting killed, and —

Nixon: Wait ’til—wait ’til next week.

Porter: Well—

Nixon: Of course, because I’ve just decided [unclear] I mean, I’m—the biggest error we’ve made was to fail to bomb them before China, and during China, and after China, and it’s not going to be made again. These sons-of-bitches are going to get it.

Kissinger: Well, we didn’t have the excuse then [unclear]—

Porter: I—I—

Nixon: It’s decided. They’re going to get it now, because this—the die is cast. We cannot have a situation, cannot have a situation having cast this die, where we worry about somebody saying: “Well, then, maybe we shouldn’t hit them this way or that.” There’re no limits—except nuclear.

Porter: I think they’re going for cease-fire sooner or later, but a cease-fire not involving South Vietnam only. I think to cease the activity in the North. They’ll do it to create a diversion, if nothing else. They haven’t got their—they haven’t reached their objectives in the South by any means, and that will not be the main motivation. But, if you keep up this, giving them this kind of punishment, then what we’re doing in the North will become even more important than what they haven’t achieved in the South.

Nixon: But then there’s no leverage—

Porter: I think—

Nixon: —there’s no leverage to get a cease-fire, or a return of our POWs, unless you’re doing something to them that hurts them.

Porter: Exactly.

[Page 606]

Nixon: And they’re going to get a little more hurt. We’re not doing enough, actually, now—

Porter: Well [unclear]—

Nixon: —except for the pusillanimous—

Porter: Yes.

Nixon: —activity, they—

Porter: Yes, sir.

Nixon: —we haven’t done enough in the North [unclear]. We’ll need a hell of a lot more shocks on your little—

Porter: Yeah.

Nixon: —little scaredy cats in the State Department, as usual. But that’s all right, they’ve been shocked before.

Porter: Well, I’m very pleased to hear—

Nixon: You ought to tell them develop a little more backbone in the Foreign Service. And, incidentally—

Porter: I think it’s [unclear]—

Nixon: —in the Foreign Service—in the Foreign Service, it isn’t just—

Porter: Sir—

Nixon: It isn’t just the Foreign Service. The Pentagon is as bad—

Porter: Hmm.

Nixon: —a bunch of spineless bastards. [unclear]—

Kissinger: Well, I just gave hell to McCain.

Porter: Yes?

Nixon: Well, what the hell—what did he say? What—

Kissinger: Well, I said—

Nixon: —in the name of God? You know Agnew. Now, Agnew is a—you see, talking to him and Church here, Agnew is a wonderful guy, a super hawk, and very simple because he can’t really understand these things. So, he goes out there and McCain says, “Oh, gee whiz. We’d do a lot better, but they—our orders restrict us in the bombing the North.” That’s just bullshit, absolute bullshit! They have restricted themselves. They won’t bomb. They haven’t bombed for four days, because they say that the ceiling isn’t high enough, 5,000 feet. Now, for Christ’s sakes, how in the name of God—I mean we should be hitting the North before this trip3 every goddamned day! Right?

Porter: Yes, sir.

Nixon: [unclear] those books. I wish to God—what’d McCain say?

[Page 607]

Kissinger: Well, he said he’d have to check into it. I said I’d never seen the President so angry.

Nixon: You’re right.

Kissinger: I said—

Nixon: And he’s going to see me a lot more angry, because he’s supposed to be our guy.

Kissinger: I said that—

Nixon: He is, and if he wants to stay on the job—and I want him to stay on; I like him, but, damn, not this way—he’s going to start taking his orders from here, or else! Now, I’m not going to have this crap anymore.

Kissinger: Well, and you know, I looked at the pictures. I never look at bomb pictures, but the only restriction we’ve put on them until tomorrow morning is the 20-mile zone near the Chinese border.

Nixon: Which we should have. We shouldn’t bomb near China because if they head over the Chinese border it’s an unnecessary irritant. And, of course, it’s not necessary. They’re not even hitting anything—

Kissinger: There are only three targets in that area. One is two bridges. One of those bridges is right on the border and connects China—

Nixon: Have we hit it?

Kissinger: —and Vietnam. We cannot hit this. We’ve taken out the other bridge, and the third target are railroad marshalling yards, where they switch from one track to the other. And we have—of course, if that picture is halfway accurate—we’ve destroyed those marshalling yards 100 percent, which you never get. I mean they got some lucky hits and they seem to have leveled those completely. So, I don’t know what these guys are talking about.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: There’s no train moving right now in between Hanoi and the border—

Nixon: I’m going to deal with the North—

Porter: Hmm.

Nixon: We’ve got to be in the North. There’s no limits there, there’s no more.

Kissinger: And—

Nixon: And no trucks.

Kissinger: Trucks they haven’t ever used before. They haven’t started it—

Nixon: Well, basically, you’re going to—we can—you can take out. Believe me, with rivers to cross they’ve got a problem—

Kissinger: Well—

[Page 608]

Nixon: Those pontoon bridges are easy to hit—

Kissinger: It’s not a doable proposition anyway to put two hundr—two million, two hundred thousand tons of supplies on trucks. They’ve never done that before—

Nixon: Well, seriously, I know that you have to go back to Paris, and I know you’ve got to continue the charade and all the rest, but do it. And—but one day it may, the thing’s going to come. When it does, then you—

Porter: It’ll come.

Nixon: —then you’ll earn your money.

Porter: It’ll come—

Kissinger: He agrees that we shouldn’t have a plenary session until we’ve had a private session that had real progress.

Nixon: Absolutely.

Porter: Oh, yeah—

Nixon: Otherwise you’ll have a plenary, you see—well, you’ve got—you have a plenary session and everybody here in this country will say: “Well, let’s stop the bombing when we have the plenary session.” Oh, no! We—they sold us that once; they’re not going to sell it again.

Porter: Our position, as I’ve gone over it with Henry this morning, [is] you’ve made your offer. You’ve got them at a disadvantage right from the moment you put the offer through, regardless of which channel you use—

Kissinger: That’s right.

Porter: —and that’s the way to go at it, and also the last time the public is quite convinced of that, they came and said nothing, and that we tried to follow through with a plenary and they said more of nothing.

Nixon: That’s right.

Porter: And we’ve now got them in a position where they’re—

Nixon: They’re next with it. It’s their move. It’s their move—

Porter: It’s their move. Exactly—

Kissinger: And we will say that we offered through the Russians to meet with them on the 21st. They never even answered up ’til now.

Nixon: Yes. Do you think they might offer that clever plan which, of course, I suppose which in desperation they might now say: POWs for withdrawal? We will never accept it. But if they do?

Kissinger: No.

Porter: I don’t think they’re going to do it.

Nixon: No?

Kissinger: Because—

[Page 609]

Porter: They have too many other things. POWs for withdrawal is so contrary to everything that they’ve said, and are still saying that—

Nixon: Good.

Porter: —a turnover of that nature is very improbable—

Kissinger: I don’t know what Bill thinks, but I think their actions prove that The New York Times and Washington Post isn’t right that they have won in the South. If they thought they had won in the South they would offer it, because then they’d get us out and knock over the ARVN. But what they’re asking of us is that we should knock over Thieu.

Porter: Because they still have to ask it. They haven’t achieved their objectives.

Kissinger: If they had achieved—

Nixon: They can’t knock him over and they’re asking us to knock him over—

Porter: Oh, yeah—

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: Don’t you think, Bill, that if they thought they could do it, they would get us the hell out of there—?

Porter: That’s right. If they had managed to break out of our large pocket there, they’d be proceeding with us separately figuring it’s just a question of getting down towards Saigon—

Nixon: The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, the networks all are doing wishful writing and wishful talking.4

Porter: Yes.

Nixon: That the—that they won in the South. Hell no; they haven’t won in the South. They’re not going to. Let me say—no more. Well, we appreciate what you’re doing—

Porter: Mr. President, I admire what you do [unclear]—

Nixon: Well, there’re lots, lots of good, lots of good things in the Foreign Service, despite when I bitch now and then. Let me say it’s bureaucrats. That’s the problem.

Porter: I know.

Nixon: I mean that’s the trouble with the goddamned Russians: they’ve got too many bureaucrats. But don’t ever become a bureaucrat.

[Page 610]

Porter: I haven’t yet, and I’ve been there too long. Now, I think I’m set in my ways—

Nixon: Right. Bye. Good. All right. Bye. Bye—

Porter: Bye, bye, sir.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 726–8. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. As of May 4, the United States placed the public talks in Paris on an indefinite halt. (“Break Indefinite: Porter Implies Secret Sessions Are Also in a Deadlock,” The New York Times, May 5, 1972, p. 1)
  3. Nixon and Kissinger were about to depart for the summit meeting with the leaders of the Soviet Union.
  4. Nixon was probably referring to such articles in The New York Times as “Tensions Over Vietnam,” by Max Frankel on May 2; “Nixon’s Hardest Decision,” by James Reston on May 3; “The Real Decisions,” by Tom Wicker on May 11; and “Military Effect,” by Craig R. Whitney on May 14. Similar in substance and tone were articles in The Washington Post such as “Vietnam: A Time of Reckoning,” by Peter Osnos on May 7; “A Gamble Not Worth Winning,” by Richard Holbrooke and Anthony Lake on May 14; and “Relentless Patterns to Our Vietnam Nightmare,” by Richard Holbrooke on May 15.