262. Conversation Among President Nixon, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger), and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1
[An unknown portion of the conversation was not recorded while the tape was changed.]
Kissinger: “You [Le Duc Tho] just don’t understand America.” I said: “If you had released those three prisoners to us, you would have put us under some pressure to reciprocate. Releasing them to a peace group that’s better known in Hanoi than in America,” I said, “hurts you.”2
Kissinger: I said: “I’ve got trouble enough advising in Washington. I don’t want to advise in Hanoi. But I just want to tell you, whatever little advantage you get from releasing three prisoners, you’ve destroyed by giving it to, I think, giving these prisoners to these people.” Well, [unclear] he said: “‘Peace group?’ We don’t know any peace groups. This is a social welfare organization. It’s the first time I hear that it’s a ‘peace group.’”
Nixon: Jesus Christ.
Kissinger: [laughs] And, about the announcement, he said: “Why do you think we would object to it? Of course make the announcement.” And—so, this, this set the mood. Then I presented our proposal. But then, he said—then I told him I had to go to Pompidou. He said: “Well, if we don’t finish, maybe we can meet tomorrow.”
Nixon: Hmm.[Page 960]
Kissinger: I said, at first, “All right we’ll meet tomorrow.” And I was thinking of staying over. That would have given us a tremendous press play, but then, the more I thought about it is, without preparing Saigon, if I stayed over—
Kissinger: —Saigon, on top of that peace plan, would have thought we had sold them out.
Kissinger: So, then—
Nixon: That’s true.
Kissinger: Then he presented maybe 30 pages of documents3 of—and when you consider that, in the past, they’ve never presented more than one—now, their new peace plan is still not acceptable, and I’m not arguing that one. But, they’re moving stuff out. It’s already amazing that every meeting they propose a new plan. Formerly, they made one plan, then stuck with it for a year—
Kissinger: When we started, they said Thieu had to go and a provisional government had to be set up. Then they said Thieu could stay as long as we promised to set up a provisional government, later. Now they say: “The administration in Saigon can stay even after the provisional government is set up, to administer the part of the territory it controls.” That also—that’s also not acceptable. All I’m saying is that they’re moving step-by-step. But, I don’t want to go into the details now, but I can do it tomorrow.
Nixon: Well, sure.
Kissinger: When he was through all of this, I said: “I’ve thought about it Mr. Special Adviser, there isn’t enough here to meet tomorrow, and this is so much we’ve got to study.” He said: “Well, when can you meet again?” I said: “Well, I propose the 29th.” And I have a State Department interpreter, a reliable guy, who was apparently—he said he’d never seen anything like that. He said Le Duc Tho went to pieces. He said: “I must know one thing from you, but you must tell me now: do you want to settle it?” I said: “Yes, we want to settle it, but I want to say, simply, we don’t have to settle it before the election. Actually, settling it is a liability for the election.” And I read him the Harris poll.[Page 961]
Kissinger: And I read him the other one. So, I said: “If you really want other concessions from us because of the election, frankly, we’d really a little bit prefer not to settle it before the election for political reasons, but, because this is so important for the sake of mankind, we’ll settle it before the election, if you let us. But don’t count on any more concessions.”
Nixon: That’s right.
Kissinger: He—he said: “You have to tell us if you want to settle it. All our plans could be made to settle it. If you tell us you don’t want to settle, it’s childish.” I said: “Yes, we want to settle it.” He said: “Give me a day.” I said: “Well, October 15th.” He took my hand and said: “Our first agreement. We’ll settle it October 15th.” Then he said: “October 15th, between you and us, or between everybody?” I said: “I think we’ll be doing, probably doing, between you and us. The others, I will see.” He said: “Oh, no, no, no. We ought to get them all done by the end of October, anyway, with Saigon and everybody else.” So, I then, I said: “All right.” I said: “I’ll have to check with the President. Let’s—we’ll aim for next Friday or early the following week.” He said: “Can you come for two days?” So, I said: “I’ll try.” And I pretty well promised it to him, because I figure if I go for a day, they announce we’d meet in the morning. Then, in the evening, we announce that I’ve extended it for a day, which we have pre-positioned Saigon, so that they don’t get nervous—
Nixon: Um-hmm. Um-hmm.
Kissinger: After that, our domestic opposition has to shut up. I mean, something has to be going on—
Nixon: Well, yeah.
Kissinger: —if we are meeting for two days.
Kissinger: And Hanoi has to shut up. Now, frankly, I don’t see how it can be settled—
Kissinger: —with all these issues unresolved. But, he said: “Let’s do it this way.” He said: “Let’s agree on all the things we agree on and draft language on it.” He said: “Let’s agree on the International Control Commission, and let’s spend a whole day on the political settlement.” I, frankly, don’t see how it’s going to get solved. But I—he was absolutely—I cannot overemphasize how candid he was. Now, you can say he’s stringing us along, but if he’s stringing us along he would delay the meeting.
Nixon: Yeah.[Page 962]
Kissinger: He—what does he get out of a two-day meeting? A two-day meeting enables us to say [unclear] that there must be something going on.
Kissinger: It takes care of us for three weeks after that. By that time, we will be so close to the election, that if they go public we’ll just say they’re trying to affect the election.
Kissinger: Then, we won’t even have to go public anymore.
Kissinger: I think he’s out—he’s, he’s been totally outmaneuvered.
Nixon: [clears throat] What do you think his reason is?
Kissinger: I think they are terrified of you getting re-elected.
Kissinger: Not one word—
Kissinger: Not one word about bombing.
Kissinger: Not one word about inhuman acts. Not one word about how they’re winning. Not one word about how they’re going to fight for all eternity.
Kissinger: I said: “You know, one thing I want you to remember, Mr. Special Adviser,” I said, “you and your friends have turned this election into a plebiscite on Vietnam. And after November the President is going to have a majority for continuing the war.”
Nixon: Because of them.
Kissinger: “Therefore,” I said, “you’d better think about what the negotiating position will be in November.”
Nixon: Good. Good.
Kissinger: And he didn’t say—if I had said this to him a year ago, I would have heard an hour speech about how the Vietnamese people have fought everybody.
Kissinger: And—but, I don’t want to mislead you. If he were Chou En-lai, I would now say: “We’ll settle it.”
Kissinger: But surely—
Nixon: They just may not have the capability of doing it.
Kissinger: They, they are in a panic. They would like to settle. They don’t know how to do it. They keep making moves. For them, they have made huge concessions.[Page 963]
Kissinger: I mean, considering where they started, that in three months they have moved—
Kissinger: —from disbanding everything in South Vietnam, to keeping Saigon in charge of the admin—of the area it controls. That’s an unbelievable move for them, but it’s not enough, and whether they can go the rest of the way, I would doubt. But, in order to go the rest of the way—but, in order to find that out, they have to do so many things to help you.
Nixon: Um-hmm. That’s right.
Kissinger: It’s, it’s really—I was stunned by that—
Kissinger: —by, by, by their behavior. Usually, it’s extremely unpleasant—
Kissinger: —to sit with them. It was a six-hour meeting, but—
Nixon: Hmm. Goddamn—
Kissinger: —but they were really—well, they wanted more. I, I broke it off, partly because I had to see Pompidou,4 but I’ll have a real problem keeping this thing going for two days. But I’ll come up with enough bravado. We shouldn’t make another significant move now.
Nixon: No. We can’t—
Kissinger: We should let them make the move. But, if we hadn’t done—it was really—I was very—
Kissinger: If we hadn’t made this—first of all, their offer now washes out our proposal anyway, but if we hadn’t made that proposal, that was the one new thing in that, in our—
Kissinger: And it makes no practical difference, and I’m certain that Thieu, now that he sees this whole evolution, sees that we—what Thieu is really afraid of is a cease-fire.
Nixon: He is?[Page 964]
Kissinger: Yeah. Now, there is this possibility, Mr. President: it may be that they have decided to cave, but that they’re not going to cave before—until midnight of the last day that they had set for themselves. That they say to themselves, they can cave soon enough. That’s—I mean, they can cave whenever it—whether they cave at the last second, or two weeks earlier—
Kissinger: —doesn’t get them any benefit. Brezhnev said what the Russians did to them. Le Duc Tho was in Moscow Sunday—Sunday night, Monday morning. He saw Mazurov,5 number 14 on the Politburo. I saw Brezhnev for 25 hours.
Kissinger: Brezhnev did not receive Le Duc Tho.
Nixon: 25 hours?
Kissinger: 25 hours I saw him.
[Omitted here is discussion of Kissinger’s meeting with Brezhnev, Mutual Balanced Force Reductions, European security, Strategic Arms Limitations Talks and U.S.–USSR trade.]
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 780–1. 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, 11:43 p.m.–1:01 a.m. In this conversation, Kissinger reported the high points of his September 15 meeting with Le Duc Tho in Paris.↩
- Hanoi announced on September 2 that it would release three U.S. prisoners into the custody of the anti-war Committee of Liaison with Families of Servicemen Detained in North Vietnam, co-chaired by Cora Weiss and David Dellinger. It did so on September 25 and the three prisoners—Navy Lieutenants Markham L. Gartley and Norris A. Charles, and Air Force Major Edward K. Elias—arrived in New York on September 28.↩
- At the September 15 meeting, the Communist side submitted four papers: the principles that should guide the settlement of the war, the DRV peace proposals, the U.S. obligation to rebuild the North Vietnamese economy, and how the negotiations should be conducted. They are, respectively, Tabs B–E attached to the September 15 memorandum of conversation. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 864, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Senstive Camp David Memcons, May–October 1972 [3 of 5])↩
- Kissinger was in Moscow September 10–13 to discuss with Soviet leaders a variety of economic and financial issues. On September 14, he flew to England to brief Prime Minister Edward Heath on his discussions and early the next morning to France to do the same for President Georges Pompidou. Briefing Pompidou was also cover for the private meeting with Le Duc Tho that day.↩
- First Deputy Premier Kiral Mazurov.↩