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

Kissinger: Well, first, it was the longest meeting we’ve ever had. It was the most complex.

Nixon: Yeah, I noticed that in your report.2

Kissinger: And—do you want me to run through it?

Nixon: Sure. Sure. Sure. Anything. Anytime.

Kissinger: Well, but—

Nixon: All I have is Haig’s report—

Kissinger: Right. Well, Haig didn’t have much—3

Nixon: It was just indicating it was a long meeting and they made some concrete proposals.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: You made some concrete proposals, which I assumed.

Kissinger: Well, the proposals I made you know. They were the ones that Brezhnev and you worked out.

Nixon: Yeah.

[Omitted here is discussion of Nixon’s July 29 press conference and Vietnam and of Presidential politics and the November election.]

Kissinger: All right, so we spent an hour on that,4 which was very acrimonious. As I said: “The President has proved that he does not have good will and serious intent?” I said: “Mr. Le Duc Tho, I waited for two weeks to tell you this. The next time you say anything about the President’s intentions, motives, or anything else, I will pick up my papers and walk out of this room. We are here to negotiate. The fact that I’m here shows our good will. I’m not going to discuss our motives. [Page 781] You discuss our proposals. We’ll discuss your proposals. I’m not sitting here to listen to one more word about the President. If you can’t take this, I’ll walk out now.” I figured they were never going to let me walk out.

Nixon: It was a good move, though. You had to test him.

Kissinger: Yeah, so he peddled right back. He said: “I’m not attacking you.” I said: “I’m not saying you’re attacking me. Attack me, that’s your privilege. I’m here. I won’t let you attack the President. I represent the President.” So—so he started dancing away from me. Well, at any rate, after about 45 minutes of this, I presented in effect what you and Brezhnev had discussed, which I had held back last time, with a few extra frills, which I had mentioned to you, such as a—

Nixon: Yeah, sure.

Kissinger: —constitutional convention, made a very long speech for publication, in which I showed that we had—

Nixon: Good.

Kissinger: —that we had—

Nixon: That’ll be good for this record.

Kissinger: That’s right. That we had taken every one of their seven points into account, just so that they had to shut up that we had never responded to their seven points—5

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: —and—and how we had that evidence, and so on, and so forth. I—he asked a few questions and asked for a recess. There was an hour and 15 minutes recess where, for the first time, they served us a hot meal and offered us whiskey, and wine, and tea.

Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: That never happened before.

Nixon: Hmm.

Kissinger: Then he came back, asked a few more questions, then made a 15-minute violent attack on the bombing—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and what you have said about bombing, and—

Nixon: So, then what’d you say to them?

Kissinger: And what did I say to them? I was just cold. I said: “We’ve offered you a ceasefire. You can accept your power to stop the bombing.” I said: “It’s up to you, it’s not up to us. You can stop the bombing.” Then he went on again. I said: “Mr. Special Adviser, on May 2d, when I saw you, you said ‘Offensives are the result of long wars.’ [Page 782] End the war and we’ll end the bombing in the next minute.” And then I offered him a cease-fire—a three-month cease-fire, a mutual deescalation. I said: “Why don’t you tell us, privately, you’re going to reduce the intensity of your fighting. I promise you we’ll reduce the intensity of our bombing.”

Nixon: Good. That’s good—

Kissinger: Frankly, it’s cynical. I just made it for the record.

Nixon: Sure, I know. It was good—

Kissinger: Then he pulled out a long statement, which is the most comprehensive proposal they’ve ever made. The first, I would say, negotiating proposal they’ve made. In the past, they’ve just given us nine brief points. This time it’s about an eight-page document, ten points, and then four procedural points. Now, I can get them, if you want them point-by-point—

Nixon: No, no, no. I think—

Kissinger: —or I can give the main—

Nixon: —the gist—what’s the heart of the matter?

Kissinger: The heart of the matter is that in the past they had always said that we must set a deadline, which we then will keep regardless of what else happens. In other words, December 1st or whatever. They’ve given that up. Now, they agree with our formulation that the deadline will be a specified period of time after the signature of the agreement. So they accept our formulation on that. They say one month, we say four months, but I’m sure we can find a point in between. They say one month after the signature of the agreement. That, for them, is a tremendous change because in the past they have always said we must set a fixed date. And only after that phase, and only after we’ve agreed with [unclear].

Nixon: Which comes first?

Kissinger: Well, they now agree the agreement has to come—

Nixon: That’s right. That’s right. Which is our position.

Kissinger: Which is exact—they’ve accepted our position. The only thing we give them now is the length of time, but that’s unavoidable. Secondly, they propose a Government of National Concord, but they have changed that somewhat. But, quite significantly in the past, their Government of National Concord was composed, as they said, of three elements: peace-loving elements of the Saigon administration, neutralists, and themselves.

Nixon: Jesus—

Kissinger: And the peace-loving elements of the Saigon administration had to change their policies: disband the army, let people out of concentration camps, and so forth. So, they were paranoid. Now, they say the Government of National Concord should be composed in [Page 783] the following way: the Saigon government, including Theiu, appoints people to the Government of National Concord, anybody they want. Except, they can’t appoint Thieu to the Government of National Concord. But they can appoint anybody else. They, the PRG, will appoint another third. And then the Saigon people—it’s not acceptable, but it’s a tremendous change for them—the Saigon people and the PRG, between them, select the other third. So, in other words, it’s 50–50. That’s what it really amounts to. In the past, it was at least 2-to-1 for them, and, probably, completely them, because who is a peace-loving element of the Saigon administration? Again, I repeat: this is not acceptable, but it’s the biggest shift they’ve ever made.

Nixon: It’s still a coalition Communist government?

Kissinger: It’s still a coalition—50–50—government. Third, they said they are willing—if we agree to some of these principles—they are willing to set up two new forums in Paris. One, direct talks between the PRG and the Saigon government, including Thieu, which they’ve never been willing to do. Second, direct talks between themselves, the PRG, and Thieu. The first forum would discuss the implementation of the political program. The second forum would discuss the military things that do not involve America. And then—and they have a lot of other clauses which we can hammer out. The big, enormous change they have made is the willingness to talk to Saigon, plus Thieu, about anything. In the past, they’ve always said Thieu has to resign before—and the government has to change its policies—before anything happens. That was the condition for negotiation, not the condition for settling. Now they say they’re willing to talk to Thieu about a political settlement. They still insist that it should be a coalition government, and this is why I say it’s still unacceptable. Now, I asked him: “What happened in the provinces? How are they governed?” And then they said something that was quite interesting. He said: “In the provinces, the provinces governed by Saigon remain governed by Saigon. The governed—provinces governed by the PRG remain governed by the PRG. The contested provinces get a Provincial Administration of National Concord.” Now, I didn’t press him too hard because I didn’t want him to get a negative answer. But if he means that, then what you really have is a standstill cease-fire, which brings this about. Oh, and they agreed to a cease-fire. [unclear] That’s the fourth point. And they agreed that all prisoners would be released within one month, and we agreed to withdraw within one month. At any rate, they agreed to a total release of prisoners.

Nixon: Contemporaneous withdrawal—?

Kissinger: Right. Now, there are two—the first question is this: if they mean that each administration continues and some sort of super thing is set up, that we could li—conceivably live with. In other words, [Page 784] if we said—if we reversed the process—if we said: “First, there’s a standstill cease-fire,” the standstill cease-fire de facto will produce Saigon areas and PRG areas. That’s what it’s got to do. And then you could say you have some commission over those. That we could live with. If they say: “The Saigon government has to disappear, and only a coalition government can exist,” then, we’re in trouble. Now, he said one other thing. He said: “You don’t have to put this into an agreement. We’re willing to write the agreement in a neutral way, provided you tell us privately you will use your influence in the negotiations that will go on between Thieu and us to bring about that Government of National Concord.” Now, this gives us a number—first of all, it gives us massive problems, because, if they publish this, this is harder to turn down than their other stuff.

Nixon: Yes. It’s harder to say they’re imposing a Communist government.

Kissinger: It’s harder to say they’re imposing a Communist government. It’s harder to say they’re loading the process because they want it to abandon its army, police, and so forth, because they’ve dropped all of those demands. Secondly, you have to say that, for them, they have made a tremendous step. It’s not—in the past, we used to say they’ve made a step because of the mood. But this time—we used to say that when they’re willing to talk to Thieu, we are halfway home. I think we are halfway home, myself. Third, and this I will say only room, if you told me to sell out I could make it look brilliant. I mean—I’m not ask—I’m not recommending it, Mr. President, but I’m saying—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —that if we got up against a hard place—I do feel this, that a McGovern victory would be worse than a sellout in Vietnam.

Nixon: Oh, Christ. Of course, of course. We know that for sure—

Kissinger: But I also think we shouldn’t do it.

Nixon: Why?

Kissinger: We shouldn’t sell out, I mean, and fourth—

Nixon: We can survive without it.

Kissinger: Fourthly, Mr. President, I don’t believe—

Nixon: It depends upon how much of a price we have to pay.

Kissinger: Fourthly, this is not their last word. It can’t be their last word. I mean, they—when they start, they’re not going to nail themselves to the blackboard. [What]they have done, in my judgment, is this: they have decided—you see, the easy thing to do is to say that they’ll wait ’til October, and then, if you’re way ahead, they’ll settle with you. I’ve always said they can’t do that, because if they—supposing they had floated this plan in October, we could just—they’d never finish it.

[Page 785]

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: If you are ten points ahead in November—in October, we’ll accept elements in principle, and it gets to be November 7, and they haven’t got an agreement. So, if they want to have the option of settling it early in October, they must start talking about it now. As they talk about it, now, they’re helping you, because no one—because these meetings—I don’t know what they do to public opinion, but I’ve seen when I talk to Senators—they confuse them. They confuse McGovern

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and even with this proposal, we’re in a position to say: “Hell, we were negotiating seriously, and this son-of-a-bitch makes any negotiation—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —impossible.”

Nixon: Hmm. Yeah.

Kissinger: So—

Nixon: That’s fine.

Kissinger: So I think—and certainly what they have done, now, they’ve given us a piece of paper which makes it impossible for these talks to break up quickly, because I can now drive them crazy.

[Omitted here is discussion of the Middle East, the Soviet Union, and Japan.]

Kissinger: Now, to get back to this Vietnam thing, Mr. President, I think now, for the first time, we can settle it. And I think—I’m not saying we can settle it on their plan. This is too complex, too detailed, and they’re too eager. If you stay ten points ahead, I would say now the chances are two out of three that they’ll settle in October.

Nixon: Should we?

Kissinger: Well, that’s a different question, but I’m just telling you what I think.

Nixon: Yeah, what I mean—I guess that my question is then another one. Suddenly, we’re ten points ahead and we are—and then, will we settle in October? The real question is whether, whether we settle at a cost of destroying the South Vietnamese.

Kissinger: Well, we cannot accept this—

Nixon: Yes, we cannot [unclear]—

Kissinger: —present proposal.

Nixon: We have to have something that would—

Kissinger: Uh-huh.

Nixon: I would like—frankly, I’d like to trick them. I’d like to do it in a way that we make a settlement, and then screw them in the implementation, to be quite candid.

[Page 786]

Kissinger: Well, that we can do, too. See, they’ve given us—

Nixon: We could promise something, and then, right after the election, say Thieu wouldn’t do it. Just keep the pressure on.

Kissinger: Well, they can give us a lot of—they’ve given us a lot of options now. We could—

Nixon: See, we can’t—one problem we’ve got, you’ve got to remember, we can’t—it’s very difficult to lift the mining and stop the bombing and then, then restart it again. We could after the election, but—and will—but—yeah. If—you see, here’s the advantage. The advantage, Henry, of trying to settle now, even if you’re ten points ahead, is that, then, you assure a hell of a landslide. And you might win the House and get increased strength in the Senate.

Kissinger: And you’d have—

Nixon: You’d have a mandate in the country.

Kissinger: And you have the goddamned nightmare off your back, I mean—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: It’s—

Nixon: It’s very important. Because, you know, it is a nightmare. It’s a nightmare being there, but—and so therefore, I think we, I think our goal should be that. I just, I just don’t know how far we can go—

Kissinger: No, I’ve never been—

Nixon: —with the Communists. I don’t see how far we can go in good conscience, not only—not because of South Vietnam, but because of the effect on other countries in the world—

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: —without screwing up [unclear]—

Kissinger: —we cannot possibly accept what they’re proposing.

Nixon: Oh, I know, but—

Kissinger: That is clear. Then, the question is what—

Nixon: What, if anything, has Henry—has Thieu offered? He [unclear]—

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: He’s never talked about a Government of National Concord, has he?

Kissinger: No. I think what we ought to do is this—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —simply to get some procedural things. On the 14th, I ought to accept, or nearly accept, every point in their proposal, except the political one.

Nixon: Yeah.

[Page 787]

Kissinger: Because—

Nixon: Oh, I see no problem with that.

Kissinger: There’s no problem with that, but that shows major progress.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: Then, we ought to send Haig out to Saigon, or, conceivably, even I should go out to Saigon.

[Omitted here is discussion of Kissinger’s schedule.]

Kissinger: And then, I could tell them, frankly, at the next meeting: “Let’s make as much progress today as we can today, and let’s narrow the differences on the political.” We can’t accept their proposal. Then, the question is: how do we get into alternatives, and I’m really—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I’d like to spend today thinking it through to see—

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: —what we can do to [unclear]—

Nixon: We’ll have tomorrow and the next day. Don’t press yourself too hard on that [unclear]—

Kissinger: But, for the first time—

Nixon: —keep yourself available for other, bigger shows.

Kissinger: But, for the first time, we have a, we have a real—I mean they’ve given us so many elements to play with, that, for example, we can accept the procedure immediately. We’ve been trying for three years, Mr. President, to get them to talk to the Thieu government.

Nixon: Yeah. Let me say this—one thing I—they are thinking you don’t have to spell out: they are under no illusions that this offer is not open-ended. They are under no illusions that on November the 7th, there ain’t no offers, believe me. None.

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: Not even a cease-fire.

Kissinger: Well, I’m not saying it explicitly because I’m afraid—

Nixon: No, because you don’t want to use that premise—

Kissinger: No, I don’t want to be—no, I don’t want to be threatening. I don’t want it to be published, but—

Nixon: That’s what I mean. You don’t want to become threatening in the public, I know. I know, but, you see, that’s the way it’s going to be. November the 7th, and these sons-of-bitches have strung us along, then we just continue to step it up—

Kissinger: They are not stringing us along—

Nixon: This war is over by the end of this year [unclear]—

[Page 788]

Kissinger: Mr. President, the reason I’m convinced they’re not stringing us along is that if this proposal gets published, it will be very embarrassing to us. It gives us a tough problem domestically.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But it will be more than murder for them, for them to have offered to us that they will talk to Theiu, which they have said for eight years they would never do under any circumstances. This will have a shattering effect on their guerrillas. I mean, every intelligence document we get holds firm on the proposition that Thieu can’t be talked to, so they have made—for what is for them, you know, they are bastards—

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: —they are—they would love it best if you got defeated.

Nixon: Oh, sure. Or shot.

Kissinger: Or shot, or anything. You could disappear from the scene. They hate you, and they hate me. I mean, they know who did this.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: But, the question is, now: how can we maneuver it so that we can have a process, so that it can look like a settlement by election day, but if the process is still open? If we can get that done, then we can screw them after Election Day, if necessary, and we can get—I mean, if you pull off—these sons-of-bitches are going to say you’re not going to succeed. I mean, that’s for sure. They’re going to say you lie, and you’re not going to succeed.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And, I think this could finish the destruction of McGovern.

Nixon: Oh, yes. And it does.

Kissinger: And it does.

Nixon: Which is just as important—

Kissinger: And I think—

Nixon: —[unclear] the whole damn bunch—

Kissinger: And I think we have two problems here. It isn’t just that you win, which is crucial.

Nixon: We’ve got to win big. I mean, you can’t—

Kissinger: And that you win big, but also that, ideologically, if they see—if it is that you knew all along what you were doing—no one is hassling you any more on Russia and China.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But you said you had a plan. You said you’d do it with Russia and China. You did it with Russia.

[Page 789]

Nixon: Yeah, and even with Japan, now.

Kissinger: Yeah, we’ll come out all right.

Nixon: See, I think with this that the—look, there’s no question that—I don’t know. I don’t know. The real problem, which I guess you’ve got here on Vietnam—Vietnam poisons our relations with the Soviet, and it poisons our relations with the Chinese. We have suffered long and hard, and God knows how do we get out of it. All it is, is a question of getting out in a way that to other countries—not the Chinese or the Russians so much, they don’t give a damn how it’s settled, just that we’re out—but to other countries, it does not appear that we, after four years, bugged out. That’s all we have to do—

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: I’m not—I’m just not sure that South Vietnam can survive in any event, you know? I just don’t think that I—

Kissinger: And the South—

Nixon: —the Northerners seem to be—have the more stamina. How the hell they’ve taken what they have, I don’t know. I’ll never know.

Kissinger: And the doves should not be able to say—

Nixon: To have a veto on us.

Kissinger: Well the doves should not be able to say—

Nixon: Oh, the doves. I thought you said the South.

Kissinger: No, I said the doves should not be able to say in October that what you did, they would have done in February of ’69 and saved—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —20,000 lives.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: So we’ve got to have something to show for them. We’ve got to be able to prove that we had honor and a settlement.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: And, therefore, even if we go very far, the settlement has to look as if we haven’t done a hell of a lot.

Nixon: Of course, what you’re going to have here, basically, is a secret deal. Let’s face it. That’s—that’s the only chance of a settlement, a secret deal where we say, in effect: “All right, we agree to a cease-fire, et cetera. And we agree that we will then use our influence strongly on the side of the kind of a political settlement that we have agreed to [unclear].” Right?

Kissinger: Well, you see I have—

Nixon: And then you don’t [unclear]—

[Page 790]

Kissinger: I have a number of, a number of things I’ve thought of I think we should do. One is, we’ve asked for a general cease-fire. I think, now, one way of handling it—the reason they’re opposed to that is that they’re afraid if they break it, we have a right to come back in. Now, if we made a dual cease-fire in which every party makes a separate cease-fire with every other party, then if they don’t break it with us, they’ll break it with the GVN. We may go back in, but we also may not.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: And after January, if we beat them up enough, Mr. President, I don’t think they can win against the South.

Nixon: I agree. No, I’ve—from what I’ve read, you know, and everybody else in here, they’re kicking also. Let’s face it Henry, we didn’t do the mining for fun. That mining and that bombing has got to be hurting these bastards.

Kissinger: That’s right. I have an [unclear] feeling about the bombing, Mr. President, that somebody—

Nixon: Is screwing it up?

Kissinger: —is screwing it up. They’re not bombing, and if I—

Nixon: Well, I know that the weather’s always—

Kissinger: Well, but this is the dry season, Mr. President.

Nixon: I know the point. That’s my point. I’m thinking Laird—I’m just wondering [unclear] on this weather crap.

Kissinger: I’m wondering—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Kissinger: —would you would be willing to let me bring Moorer in after some WSAG meeting and tell him now, by God, you want them to go full bore until there’s a settlement.

Nixon: Now, if he’s willing, I’ll—I will order him. Who do you think it is? Laird?

Kissinger: I think LairdMoorer, basically, is a tricky son-of-a-bitch. After his present term is over, Mr. President—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: —in two years—in a year and a half into your new term—but four years is plenty for him. He won’t care. My—my recommendation is too far down. It would be somebody like Haig, who is your man—

Nixon: Of course.

Kissinger: Who understands—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: —is energetic—

Nixon: Yeah.

[Page 791]

Kissinger: —and, in fact, you don’t have to fight back with him—

Nixon: MoorerMoorer

Kissinger: Moorer is—any time you give him an order, he’s all right for four weeks, then Laird gets to him, again, and Laird is just—

Nixon: The bureaucracy.

Kissinger: And Laird is pretty disaffected. Right now, you know, he took you on yesterday on that debt ceiling.

Nixon: On the, the—

Kissinger: The spending limit.

Nixon: Well, he’s wrong on this, and let me—the spending limit does not entail any cut, any limit on defense.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: It’s only a limit on the other things. He knows that. But that’s all right. Laird’s doing all right kicking the hell out of them on these various bases. He’s sort of scaring—

Kissinger: Oh, yeah—

Nixon: —the shit out of people—

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: That’s always a job. That’s the kind of a thing he’s good at.

Kissinger: Oh, yeah. Politically, incidentally, he thinks that McGovern has just about killed himself. He told me this morning.

Nixon: I think having Moorer in is an excellent idea. I should talk to him anyway, and, your suggestion, I’ll wring him out good. I’ll say, “Now, we’ve got to do it.” I’ll tell that him we need it from the standpoint of the negotiations—

Kissinger: Now, Mr. President, I don’t exclude—I’m looking at this thing totally cynically, now. I don’t exclude that you might want to consider when I come back from Moscow, that you—that we stop bombing north of the 20th parallel for the six weeks of—if there’s to be major progress in Paris.

Nixon: I agree.

Kissinger: You see, what we need—

Nixon: Oh, I agree.

Kissinger: —is to have something at home that shows constant progress and could—

Nixon: While that’s happening we’ll stop bombing, but, also, they’re to reduce their level of fighting, too.

Kissinger: Right, well that will happen automatically, but my point is, if we stop on September—between September 15th and November 8th they can’t do much.

[Page 792]

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: After November 7th, if you get—there’s no question you’ll get reelected—

Nixon: If we win—

Kissinger: We—

Nixon: —after November 7, school’s out.

Kissinger: That’s right—

Nixon: No foolin’ around, because you say—

Kissinger: We can’t go through another two years—

Nixon: [unclear] we’re going to take out the heart of, the heart of the installations in Hanoi.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: We’re going to take out the whole goddamn dock area, ships or no ships. Tell them: “Clear out of there.” We’ll stay away from the Chinese border. And frankly, Henry, we may have to take the dikes out, not for the purpose of killing people—

Kissinger: Mr. President—

Nixon: Warn the people. Tell them to get the hell out of there.

Kissinger: It’s the dry season. I would take the dikes out.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: Right now, you have [unclear]—

Nixon: Sure, but in the dry season, we take them out, and then they have to move, that’s all. Isn’t that right?

Kissinger: I’ll tell them: “Let our prisoners go,” I’ll make them an offer again, and then I’d [unclear].

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: But, when all is said and done, Mr. President, if they want to take—assuming they have decided they’re going to accept your May 8th offer—they couldn’t go further than they did yesterday. This was, in all the years of the negotiations put together, this is the biggest concession. Well, that doesn’t prove anything, because they’ve never made a concession.

Nixon: I know. I know.

Kissinger: But they’ve accepted two of our—I said—we’ve always said there are three acceptable points. That the deadline has to be conditional on an agreement. They’ve accepted that. That they have to talk to Thieu. They’ve accepted that. The only thing they haven’t accepted, yet, is the structure of the government. But it was another thing they did which will help us with the record. I read them a long statement last time of, really, garbage, of basic principles. I took it from some of the things you had said to Chou En-lai about how we can coexist with Communist countries.

[Page 793]

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: I said: “I just want you to know what the President is thinking”—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and they said they were very impressed by that. It’s—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —half baloney, but the fact is they’ve said it, and we can publish it—

Nixon: Sure. Sure. Sure.

Kissinger: And—and what—they really are serious. They say from now on, after every meeting, let’s write down what we’ve agreed to, and then let’s shift it into another forum. I don’t think they will make a final thing before the second half of—

Nixon: How about getting Bunker over and letting him do the, the brutalizing of Thieu.

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: That’s one other way to get at it—

Kissinger: We can also—well, first of all, we have to know what we want you to do.

Nixon: Yeah, I know.

Kissinger: Which we haven’t decided. If we could do two things, we could have, first, Bunker come here. I think either Haig or I have to go out there, at some point. First of all, it will look—if after the next meeting—

Nixon: [unclear] if you wanted to go, because if you go, then that’ll have an enormous impact here. I mean, it also doesn’t buy time. You have to realize that the more time we buy, the better.

Kissinger: Well, if after the meeting on the 14th, I go to, to Saigon—I mean, I’m looking at it partly now as PR.

Nixon: Oh, I know. That’s all it is then.

Kissinger: Everybody will figure: “Jesus Christ, something has—”

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: “—to be going on.”

Nixon: My own view is that you really, probably ought go to Saigon after the meeting on the 14th.

[Omitted here is discussion of Kissinger’s schedule.]

Kissinger: Now that they’ve offered a standstill cease-fire, I know they’re going to start a big offensive. I mean, they’re going to try to grab every square inch of territory—

Nixon: Oh, yes [unclear] that we may agree to a standstill cease-fire.

[Page 794]

Kissinger: Well, they’ve objected—

Nixon: But I must say, I think, as I read these reports, and I’m reading them quite carefully these days, the ARVN may be doing a little better on the ground than we had—than they have. They—they seem to be having a hell of a lot of spoiling operations, and I say that not because of the casualties they claim they’re inflicting, but because of the ones they’re taking themselves.

Kissinger: Right.

Nixon: In other words, whenever I see low ARVN casualties, I know they’re sitting in their foxholes, but when I see them high, they must be out killing somebody.

Kissinger: They’re taking almost as many as the North Vietnamese.

Nixon: They are, are they?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Well, they should be, because they’re on the offensive. Now, those spoiling operations, Henry, are pretty hard on these bastards.

Kissinger: Oh, and then, they pick up—yesterday, they picked up six [unclear] of mortar action—

Nixon: I saw that.

Kissinger: —in one place [unclear]—

Nixon: I also saw that in one area, in another province, that, where they came in to an area of training, they found about 180 dead bodies. Just dead bodies from bombing.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Now there are—that must not be an isolated incident. You know, damn well, these bombs have got to be hitting something.

Kissinger: Well, we think we’ve killed about 70,000 people. That’s not even counting B–52s. Now, if that’s true, that means we’ve wounded another 70,000. I’ve talked with [Sir Robert] Thompson, who’s going around the world for us, around Southeast Asia for us, and he thinks—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —we’ve—we—he thinks they’re through ’til ’75.

Nixon: Well then, ARVNARVN can survive, then.

Kissinger: And I think, Mr. President, we have a—I’m going to get these terms improved. I mean, we’ve never yet accepted a first offer anybody made to us.

Nixon: No.

Kissinger: But I will make specific recommendations to you before the end of [unclear]—

[Page 795]

Nixon: Of course, you know, you know that you have a very tough partner in Theiu here. He may not be willing even to go along with this, that he won’t run again.

Kissinger: That isn’t—that is not—that’s no longer an issue. Actually, their proposal—

Nixon: Says that he will not?

Kissinger: Their proposal is easier for, for him to handle—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: —because it requires a direct negotiation with him. Strangely enough, their proposal is better attuned to Vietnamese psychology than ours is. Their proposal requires that he, that he can participate in the negotiations. Then, he’s supposed not to participate in a Government of National Concord—

Nixon: Good. Good—

Kissinger: —but I’m not yet absolutely sure what that Government of National Concord is. Whether that’s a super, sort of, structure, or—and Saigon continues, you see? Or whether Saigon disappears? But he’s always said, when there is permanent peace, he won’t run. So, he has the face-saving—he will resign. So, he could put it into that context.

Nixon: Well, the Government of National Concord could just be a temporary government until new elections are held. That’s—

Kissinger: Oh, well, that’s what they want.

Nixon: And then new elections will determine the government?

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: You’re sure?

Kissinger: Oh, positive.

[Omitted here are a brief continuation of the discussion of Vietnam and discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 759–5. 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, 10:34–11:47 a.m.
  2. The report is apparently the one Kissinger formally submitted to the President the following day, Document 225.
  3. Reference is to a memorandum from Haig to President Nixon, August 1; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 855, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XV.
  4. Kissinger was referring to a lengthy discussion between himself and Le Duc Tho in the first hour of their August 1 meeting regarding President Nixon’s press conference of July 27, in which Nixon responded to questions on whether or not U.S. military aircraft had targeted the dikes in the Hanoi–Haiphong area, the Communists’ use of the dikes as emplacements for surface-to-air missiles, and the current political negotiations in Paris. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 744–747.
  5. See footnote 4, Document 26.