269. Conversation Among President Nixon, the Assistant to the President (Haldeman), and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Kissinger: See my worry, Mr. President, isn’t the election. My worry is that—

Nixon: Oh, I know, I know. That’s just what I—just what—Bob agrees with me, and I said exactly that I was prepared, that I’m prepared, and I know we have to end the war. I know that now, but when we really decimate the place, you’ve got pretty serious problems. But nevertheless, the real question is, it’s the old—the old irony: if we don’t end it, end it before the election, we’ve got a hell of a problem. But, if we end it in the wrong way, we’ve got a hell of a problem—not in the election. As I said, forget the election. We’ll win the election. We could—Bob, we could surrender in Vietnam and win the election, because who the hell is going to take advantage of it? McGovern says surrender, right?

Haldeman: Yeah—

Nixon: But the point I make—

Haldeman: It doesn’t affect the election; it affects—

Nixon: It affects what we’re going to do later. It affects our world position. [unclear] And, so that’s why—why Thieu will. Hell, yes they’re hurting—

Kissinger: Let me—

Nixon: —if we get a landslide.

Kissinger: Let me make a few things. See, I don’t think it is technically possible—even though these silly North Vietnamese think it is—to get all the documents signed by the election.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: The best we can do by the election is a statement of principles.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: That can absolutely do you no damage, and must help you, because it has—

Nixon: Forget about it—

Kissinger: —prisoner release in it—

[Page 1002]

Nixon: It sounds right.

Kissinger: —cease-fire—

Nixon: Right—

Kissinger: —with withdrawal—

Nixon: Oh, oh. That’s, that’s fine, but even if—

Kissinger: —and no coalition government, and continuation of the GVN.

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: And no withdrawal—no resignation of Thieu.

Nixon: Both a Committee of Reconciliation, or a Committee—

Kissinger: A Commission of National Concord or Commission—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: —of National Reconciliation, and any knowing person—I mean, this will go like SALT, believe me.

Nixon: Yeah. I—I agree with you on that. The question, though, there is what we do require Thieu to do. If we do—if he does get out, does it unravel in South Vietnam, Henry? That’s the point.

Kissinger: That is—

Nixon: Goddamnit, you know, you can’t have.

Kissinger: That, Mr. President, we cannot do.

Nixon: That worries me.

Kissinger: Me too.

Nixon: Especially.

Kissinger: And if—because if we had wanted to do that—

Nixon: Yeah. Well, if we’d wanted to do it, also—

Kissinger: We had—

Nixon: —Henry, the effect, when you didn’t see what’s happening, if it is happening as always. But what you see is—you know, you know these little Indonesians and all the rest. They’ll all come apart at the seams. There is—there is a domino. That’s what really—

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: —worries me—

Kissinger: Well, it depends, Mr. President—

Nixon: On how Thieu does it.

Kissinger: Well, it depends how this thing—this is why he cannot, his resignation can’t be written into the agreement. He has to resign—

Nixon: That’s all right—

Kissinger: —after peace is restored, saying he’s done everything.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But—

[Page 1003]

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —if this thing is played intelligently, he may never resign. I don’t believe this agreement—what I believe this is agreement will do, practically, the practical consequence of what we’re now working on is—and, there are so many—I may have mislead you a little bit yesterday—there are so many technical issues in there—

Nixon: Oh, yeah. I know about that—

Kissinger: —that it may never even get signed. But assuming it got signed, I believe the practical results will be a cease-fire, an American vindication, and return of prisoners, and everything else in Vietnam—

Nixon: And then it’ll end and then it’ll sit screwed up.

Kissinger: And they’ll go at each other with Thieu in office. That’s what I think.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 788–1. 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, 9:45–10:45 a.m.