216. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict.]

Nixon: Well, you’ve done everything you can on that bill. I think the fact that they killed the foreign aid bill sort of makes the bill easier for us to follow—swallow.2 What is your candid opinion as to the effect on the North Vietnamese? Makes ’em tougher [unclear]—?

Kissinger: A little bit. But they’ve seen these things come and go. I think the North Vietnamese, now they’re going to wait for the effect of their offensive. But then they’ve thrown in the kitchen sink. They really, then—now, we have the CIA analysis at last, where even CIA says that next year they can only do guerrilla war.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Middle East.]

Kissinger: Now I have one other suggestion having to do with my talks on Vietnam next week. I think, Mr. President, that one of our objectives has to be to make a good record.

Nixon: Yes.

Kissinger: Because, if these talks are going to stalemate, you might want to consider at the end of September, middle of September breaking them off and saying the election makes it impossible. That you’ll resume them on November 9th, in the meantime here is the proposal we have made, and it stays on the table. But, therefore, we need a very good proposal.

Nixon: Um-hmm. Um-hmm.

Kissinger: Now, the Vietcong—the North Vietnamese proposal is that the government has to change, and that, then, the changed government talks to the PRG to set up a new constitution. We could rejigger your January 25th proposal3 to accept those two propositions, but to make the government change result from elections. And to say that, then, their newly-elected government talks to the PRG. That has the advantage—what they want from us now is that the government gets dismantled [Page 759] before negotiations start. This way they have to accept Thieu to work out the details of this arrangement. It’s not a sellout. On the other hand, it’s a face-saving formula for them, and we can create the same confusion with this. All we need is four weeks of confusion. I mean—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Kissinger: —I’m being cynical—

Nixon: Right, right.

Kissinger: As we did with our January 25th proposal—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —that, substantively, doesn’t change a hell of a lot.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: Now, that one part about changing the constitution, we have to present without clearing with Thieu, because he’ll just go into orbit. But, one of two things will happen: If they reject it, he won’t give a damn that we offered it. If they accept it, then we have a little problem selling it to him. But—

Nixon: Changing the constitution how again?

Kissinger: Well, the constitu—what would happen is this: first, there’s a statement to sign a dec—we sign a statement of principles—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —that will—and that will produce a cease-fire. Then, three months—there’ll be three months—that will be followed by three months of political negotiations to set up electoral commission. Six months after that, or nine months after the statement of principles, or in other words next August, there’ll be elections, in which Thieu won’t run. One year after this new government is put in, through elections, that new government will and we talk to PRG about drafting a new constitution, which means, in other words, that government has had two years to establish itself—

Nixon: [clears throat]

Kissinger: —and it has a veto because it doesn’t have to accept any constitution that it doesn’t want to. If the advantage—

Nixon: That’d be awfully hard to sell to Thieu, wouldn’t it?

Kissinger: Well, but it has the advantage, Mr. President. It answers all the people who say: “Why should they run under—why should they live with a constitution imposed by the Americans in ’67?”

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: And the argument that we are fighting for Thieu

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: —it would be entirely on the basis that these sons-of-bitches want a Communist government for them—

Nixon: Sure. Sure.

[Page 760]

Kissinger: —and that one we can win.

Nixon: That’s right. That’s right. Okay—

Kissinger: It won’t be easy to sell to Thieu, Mr. President, but with the other problem we have—

Nixon: We’ve gone as far, we’ve gone as far as we can with Thieu

Kissinger: —is whether we can have McGovern win the election. The—Henry Brandon, who has been on your side up to now, this weekend said: “I’m for your Vietnam policy.” He said: “But Henry, for God’s sakes, how can the President take a one percent chance of turning this country over to McGovern for the sake of Vietnam?” Now, we cannot screw Thieu. We cannot—

Nixon: That’s right. Well, that’ll make us—

Kissinger: We’d lose.

Nixon: —lose the election, too.

Kissinger: That will lose the election, also. And it also would—

Nixon: It should lose it.

Kissinger: But, I think this is not an unfair proposal—

Nixon: Well, I agree. That’s right. Let me ask [unclear]—

Kissinger: And then I will redo it so that it doesn’t look like eight points [unclear]—

Nixon: No, no.

Kissinger: —and I’ll get it so—those are the only new provisions, but I’ll get it so rewritten that it will take The New York Times three weeks to figure out—

Nixon: That’s right. That’s right. That’s right.

Kissinger: I mean, every time we’ve gone public, we’ve screwed everybody up for two, three weeks.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: But I hope it won’t be necessary.

Nixon: You never know, Henry. They may—they may decide to not to risk that November date. There’s a little bit trickling through now to that effect that—I know these goddamn Quakers, getting back to those sons-of-bitches, have said, well that their morale in North Vietnam is high, and all that sort of thing. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that—

Kissinger: None of our intelligence—

Nixon: I don’t believe that Swedish report, and I don’t believe that report. What intelligence reports do we have? Any?

Kissinger: Uh—all of the ones—

Nixon: They’ve got to be hurting or something’s wrong with our military.

[Page 761]

Kissinger: Mr.—well, Mr. President—

Nixon: With all we know, we know that mining has been effective.

Kissinger: When they’ve published statements against defeatism and warning their people against seditious acts, something—why the hell would they publish those if there weren’t something deeply wrong? Now, in Hanoi [unclear]—now, the line I’ve been putting out to newsmen is: they say, well, they were very tough with Joe Kraft. I said I’m very encouraged by that. I said if they had been very [unclear] to Joe Kraft, I would have drawn the conclusion that these guys are trying to put public pressure on us.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: If they want to talk seriously with us, I’d expect them not to tell it to Joe Kraft, but to tell it to us.4

Nixon: Good.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Paris talks.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 752–6. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. The transcript is part of a larger conversation, 9:55–10:35 a.m.
  2. The President was apparently referring to the July 23 defeat in the Senate of the security assistance authorization bill for fiscal year 1973 by a 48 to 42 vote, and, also on July 23, the 49 to 46 roll call vote in favor of an end-the-war amendment.
  3. See Documents 5 and 8.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 207.