234. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Paris Talks or the military situation in Vietnam.]

P: Ehrlichman had lunch with Howard Smith.2 Were you there?

K: No.

P: He said Howard Smith raised a point. To fit into your thinking with regard to your trip to Paris. Looking at Ramsey Clark,3 what his concern is that Ramsey wouldn’t be there just looking at dikes. He might come back with some screwball offer. They may say they will release half our prisoners if we will stop the bombing.

K: No.

[Page 823]

P: He told him you and I had talked it over and don’t think it will happen.

K: And if they do, we will accept it.

P: He said also that they may offer to release all our prisoners if we stop bombing and withdraw. I said we might accept that. But we don’t think they will because they aren’t going to be able to handle Thieu.

K: They won’t do it because we have already offered something like that. We will say they are offering to one party what they are refusing to the other, but they won’t do that.

P: I guess what Smith was harking back to was McGovern’s foray into Paris where he came back and said I have a commitment.

K: That turned out to be wrong.

P: I know. And I think there is less reason for them to do that now than then because they have the damned election hanging over them and what might happen in that election, and they don’t have that time.

K: Exactly.

P: It would be much more to their interest to get us out of it.

K: I don’t think getting us out is their major objective. Their major objective is to get us to overthrow Thieu because they are afraid they won’t be able to do it themselves.

P: That all fits in with everything that was in that memo of yours.4 They might come back and say they have offered to return prisoners if they overturn Thieu. And we can say that is nothing new.

K: Exactly.

P: You don’t think they would try to use him as a conduit?

K: No.

P: Why not?

K: Because the sort of proposal you are talking about they know with slight modifications they can get from us. Because that is a solution of the military problem. They have made the point to me that they don’t want to settle military problems. They want to settle the political problem. They won’t offer any candidate 23 points behind on the opinion polls what if they offered it to us they would settle. That is the hard way to do it. They might surface the proposal they made to me and that would give us a hell of a problem.

P: We could say we are negotiating it, but . . .

K: That is right, but if they were smart they would have accepted our proposal of May 31, 1971, because we would have been out of there [Page 824] and they could have probably taken over. I think they will string us along in these negotiations through September and then give us a blow in October. But not that they will make an offer to McGovern that we could answer that they make it to McGovern rather than to us.

P: With regard to the present military situation too, it would appear they may be husbanding their resources for the October blow. I don’t know—they certainly are waiting on their Hue attack, aren’t they?

K: Maybe they have lost so many people they couldn’t get it going. We had a prisoner from the 704 Division the other day. They started out with 550 men in May. Got 250 replacements, but were down to 180 people in the middle of July. They had lost 600 people out of 800. He said in one B–52 attack they lost 110 men. If that is true they may not have had the capability to do it. They may have all sorts of plans. Would like to do it in October and maybe they can do one tremendous pass.

P: If they do they will get a tremendous clobbering too.

K: Exactly.

P: OK. I will see you later.

K: Thank you.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 15, Chronological File, Aug 11–30, 1972. No classification marking.
  2. ABC Evening News co-anchor.
  3. Former Attorney General (1967–1969) and anti-war activist in 1972.
  4. Document 225.