227. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Sullivan
  • Defense
  • Armistead Selden
  • Dennis Doolin
  • Maj. Gen. David Ott
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas Moorer
  • CIA
  • Lt. Gen. Vernon Walters
  • George Carver
  • William Newton (only for Gen. Walters’ briefing)
  • NSC
  • Richard Kennedy
  • John Holdridge
  • Mark Wandler
[Page 805]


It was agreed that:

  • —Adm. Moorer will check on the disposition of forces—friendly and enemy—in the Tay Ninh area.
  • —We will take steps to counter the effects of the SA–4 missile being used in Vietnam.
  • —Mr. Kissinger will speak to Secretary Laird about the message for Amb. Godley on the “Symington Ceiling and Military Activity in Laos.”
  • —Mr. Kissinger will seek Presidential guidance about asking the Vietnamese to extend the visas of the Indian members of the ICC.
  • —The October 19 plenary session in Paris should be cancelled.
  • —State will prepare a draft letter from the President to President Pompidou, regarding French intervention in the Paris talks.
  • —The operation in Sayaboury2 will not be approved.
  • —We will try to get more information about Souvanna’s intentions with regard to separate negotiations in Laos.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Laos.]

Mr. Kissinger: What about Laos?

Mr. Johnson: Yes, there are a number of questions we want to discuss.

Mr. Kissinger: I understand State wants to send out a cable, which DOD is blocking.

Mr. Sullivan: DOD has come up with a counter-draft this morning.

Mr. Kissinger: Then the issue is stalemated.

Mr. Selden: We’ve come up with a draft which has a few changes for the better, we feel. The Secretary feels we should make a strong effort to remove the ceiling. But he thinks it would be better to make that effort in the Conference than on the Senate floor. Given that premise, we want to tell Godley to adhere to the ceiling until Congress removes it—which should be in about ten days or two weeks.

Mr. Kissinger: But what is the implication of that? If we are spending at the rate of $420 million now, we can always cut back later on, if need be. Now is the time for us to take some decisive action, and if we diddle around, we won’t get the operations started this summer.

Mr. Selden: True.

[Page 806]

Mr. Doolin: Anyway, we couldn’t spend at the $420 million rate during the next two weeks.

Mr. Kissinger: So what is the issue?

Mr. Sullivan: We want to tell Godley to operate as if there is no ceiling. DOD, on the other hand, wants to tell him to operate as if there is a ceiling.

Mr. Kissinger: But if it will have no effect on our operations during the next few weeks, why do we want to say anything about it?

Mr. Doolin: Because we will be able to make a better case when the issue comes before the Conference Committee.

Mr. Kissinger: If Congress enacts a ceiling, we will, of course, respect it. Congress, however, is not telling us to spend the money at a uniform rate. We could spend more now and readjust at a later date.

Mr. Selden: The Secretary feels it would be better to adhere to the ceiling until we get Congressional action.

Mr. Kissinger: Is he showing the cable around?

Mr. Selden: No. But he’s working behind the scenes.

Mr. Carver: Actually, we have a problem with both of the drafts.

Mr. Kissinger: Are you opposed to both of them?

Mr. Carver: No, we’re not opposed. It’s just that we don’t know if they agree with the President’s memorandum of July 27.3 If you are satisfied with the drafts, that’s all right with us.

Mr. Kissinger: What’s your problem?

Gen. Walters: The last paragraph of the memorandum says “as a matter of urgency that all appropriate military measures, including provision of adequate tacair and B–52 support, should be taken to regain the Plaine des Jarres during the rainy season. These efforts should be designed to take advantage of the NVA forces reduction in North Laos and to reduce the North Vietnamese flexibility to transfer units from Laos to the critical battle areas in South Vietnam.” We’re not sure either one of the cables takes that paragraph into consideration.

Mr. Carver: Yes. It’s watered down in both drafts.

[Page 807]

Mr. Sullivan: (to Mr. Kissinger) While you were out of town, I discussed this with Al. We interpreted “all appropriate measures” to mean getting into a forward position on the PDJ, not necessarily launching an attack to regain it. It was our interpretation that Godley should get into the best possible position and be prepared for the North Vietnamese offensive during the next dry season.

Mr. Kissinger: Let me call the Secretary [Laird] and see if he can address himself to this problem.

Mr. Sullivan: He’s already said that he is opposed to a ceiling.

Mr. Kissinger: If there is a ceiling, we would not disobey it. The question is do we pretend there is a ceiling and hold back now, thereby losing a chance to gain some ground in case there is a settlement, or do we get the operations started now and cut back later on if we have to?

Adm. Moorer: If we get into a position where we will be able to engage in a high level of operations during the next dry season, we could run out of money during that dry season.

Mr. Kissinger: If you look at the North Vietnamese, all their divisions are in South Vietnam now. It’s unlikely they will be able to come back into Laos with two fresh divisions during the next dry season.

Mr. Sullivan: If there really is a prospect for a cease-fire in Laos, we should make a maximum effort now to gain as much territory as possible.

Mr. Kissinger: The President is fond of repeating something Leo Durocher used to say: “Use your best pitchers today because it may rain tomorrow.” That’s what he wants us to do in Laos.

Mr. Carver: It’s no good if we are sitting tight in Laos. If we let the 316th NVA Division jump off in November, it could be in Long Tieng by Christmas.

Mr. Doolin: I don’t think that’s so.

Mr. Johnson: We’ve been talking about the PDJ. But I don’t think we should ignore the Bolevens in our calculations.

Mr. Kissinger: No, we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t do anything at the expense of the Bolevens. At any rate, in the past, our activities on the PDJ and the Bolevens have not been competitive.

Mr. Carver: Another thing to keep in mind is that the entire Meo force has now been retrained and refitted. It should be ready for action again in a couple of weeks.

Adm. Moorer: We also want to ask Godley what his time schedule is. That question should be put into whatever message goes out to Godley. It’s hard for us to know what resources will have to be devoted to him if we don’t know what his plan is.

Mr. Sullivan: He sent in a plan, and your [Moorer’s] people know about it. This was his general rainy season plan. In our draft of the [Page 808] message, we say: “You should take appropriate steps to inform the military commanders concerned of your operational intentions so that they may prepare in advance for adequate air support.” I think this is perfectly clear.

Adm. Moorer: We need to have more specifics in order to provide the air requirements.

Mr. Sullivan: You will get them. We are telling Godley to inform the military commanders.

Adm. Moorer: But what does that mean?

Mr. Sullivan: It means, for example, that he should get in touch with the 7th Air Force commander. You are blocking the message, though.

Adm. Moorer: I’m not blocking it. You can go ahead and send it if you want. What will Godley do after he gets the message?

Mr. Carver: His general rainy season plan needs refinement.

Mr. Sullivan: The message tells Godley to give the specifics of his operational plans to the concerned military commanders. They will be expecting to hear from him.

Adm. Moorer: We can’t do anything until we get the specifics from him.

Mr. Sullivan: That’s why we are telling him to get in touch with the commanders.

Mr. Doolin: We were able to get through last year—when the situation in Laos was worse than it is now—with the $350 million ceiling.

Mr. Sullivan: But we were only able to do that by putting off $20 million to this year. We did a considerable amount of tailoring to the ceiling last year.

Adm. Moorer: We also have to decide whether we want to go ahead with the helo lift of Thai SGUs at Pak Beng.4

Mr. Sullivan: I don’t think we should do it because the operation would be right under the noses of the Chinese.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree. We won’t go ahead with that operation.

Mr. Sullivan: The Bolevens is lightly defended now. There are four enemy battalions in forward positions. If we crack this screen, though, we could move on to the Bolevens without any difficulty. I think we should mount this operation as soon as possible.

Mr. Kissinger: What do we have to do to get action?

Mr. Sullivan: Just tell Godley to do it. He’s ready. The question is if we go north to Phou Pha Sai and past Long Tieng, do we have the [Page 809] wherewithal to do it without stripping the forces in South Laos? After all, we never really had the PDJ.

Adm. Moorer: There are 2,000 men, including two SGUs, south of Phou Pha Sai.

Mr. Kissinger: What do we have to do to trigger action?

Mr. Carver: Just tell them to go.

Mr. Kissinger: Does the cable tell them to stop their activities?

Mr. Sullivan: No. It just says they are to act as though there is no ceiling.

Mr. Kissinger: I will talk to the Secretary about it.

Mr. Carver: Once the Meo get back into action, the friendly force on the PDJ will be stronger than the enemy force.

Mr. Kissinger: We want to take actions now which will prevent the enemy from capturing the PDJ early on in the next dry season campaign.

Mr. Carver: Our objective is to inflict heavy casualties on the 316th NVA Division and to make the North Vietnamese stretch their LOCs.

Mr. Sullivan: Godley is doing that. But if we say we are willing to let the Bolevens go in order to achieve those objectives, that’s not wise.

Mr. Kissinger: I don’t care where we take the action, as long as we do take action to keep the North Vietnamese stretched out to the maximum possible extent.

Mr. Carver: We also want to keep the 316th Division engaged, thereby preventing it from moving into Vietnam. Given the ceiling problem, Godley is acting with prudence now, as any good manager would.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Sullivan) I will get back to you on this.

Mr. Sullivan: Okay. Souvanna seems ebullient about the chance of negotiations. We really don’t know why, though. In his mind, there is a good prospect for a general cease-fire in Laos.

Mr. Kissinger: Would that include a bombing halt on the Trail?

Mr. Sullivan: Yes. And this is related to what Tom [Moorer] said earlier. The North Vietnamese are building an all-weather supply complex east of the Anamite mountains, near Khe Sanh. They are not using the Trail so much, and we’re not bombing it very much.

Adm. Moorer: It’s a quagmire, anyway.

Mr. Sullivan: We also got from one of George’s people the proposed Pathet Lao cease-fire line of September 15, 1970. It’s a line on a map which was given to Cora Weiss’ husband5 by the DRV delegation [Page 810] in Paris. This line would give the friendlies better control of the Bolevens and the banks of the Mekong.

I don’t know if Souvanna is aware of this. He cancelled his trip to France, and he is trying to move the effort along. Souk Vongsak is in Vientiane, too. Consequently, we may see something move on this front of separate negotiations.

Souvanna is also talking about the international supervision of a cease-fire. He got the idea from the French that the ICC would be improved if the French and Burmese were part of it. We told Souvanna to hold off for a while on making any specific recommendations to that effect.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Laos.]

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 80, National Security Council, Committees and Panels, Washington Special Actions Group, July–August 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. All brackets, except those that indicate the omission of material, are in the original.
  2. Reference is to an operation by SGUs against Pathet Lao troops in the northern Lao province of Sayaboury.
  3. The memorandum Carver referred to was sent by Kissinger on behalf of the President to the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and the Director of Central Intelligence and was entitled “The Symington Ceiling and Military Activity.” It noted that “the President has reaffirmed his strong preference that there should be no legislative ceiling on our assistance to Laos. If a ceiling is inescapable, the President desires that it be at a level which will not impose arbitrary financial limitations upon military activities.” (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–77–0094, 091.3, Laos)
  4. This was part of the Sayaboury operation; see footnote 2 above.
  5. Peter Weiss, a well-known anti-war activist.