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

Nixon: I was thinking that maybe about 5 o’clock that maybe you and Haig and I could talk a little more—

Kissinger: Good.

Nixon: Have you got some time then?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: Is that a good time?

Kissinger: Good.

Nixon: 5:15 maybe?

Kissinger: Excellent.

Nixon: Fair enough. Because I want to make sure Al has the feel for everything. I know—

Kissinger: Yeah—

Nixon: —you’ve been talking to him.

Kissinger: Well, I’ve—at least, we talked until about 2 o’clock last night.

[Page 1004]

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But he should get it from you.

Nixon: Well, he may. I’ll just see—

Kissinger: Now, I—

Nixon: I’ll see if he has any questions.

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: That’s the main thing.

Kissinger: No, I can just, you know, give him the state of the negotiations and so forth. It’s essential that he talk with you.

Nixon: Well, I guess the really, really gnawing concern we both have is that—

Kissinger: Well, Mr. President—

Nixon: —not doing something that’s going to flush South Vietnam.

Kissinger: Yeah, but on the resignation—

Nixon: I’m with you, that it’s South Vietnam.

Kissinger: But on the resignation, Mr. President, the way that would happen is—in a way, this is easier to handle than the other one, because he wouldn’t have to resign unless he was satisfied with the military condition.

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Kissinger: What we would table as a formal proposal doesn’t include his resignation.

Nixon: I suppose they’d leak it, wouldn’t they, Henry?

Kissinger: And if they do we can deny it.

Nixon: [unclear] Yeah. Well, it isn’t just that, I mean. As I meant, it’s the fact of the resignation when that happens. Do you think they’ll survive if he resigns?

Kissinger: If it’s—if we can get—

Nixon: Anybody else won’t be any better—?

Kissinger: If we can get their forces out of Laos, or a—substantially, at least, out of southern Laos—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —if we can get them out of Cambodia, and if we can get them to reduce them in South Vietnam, yes.

Nixon: What about that Chup plantation? That, you think, has to be put off ’til after election?

Kissinger: Yes. Well, not necessarily, [unclear]—

Nixon: It’s interesting that the French raised this point of stopping the bombing, and we’re just not going to do it. In fact, that shows you [Page 1005] that they’re very sensitive about it, and that’s why I keep the heat on them.

Kissinger: Oh—

Nixon: I noticed the sorties have come up a bit. They’re a little bit higher than they were.

Kissinger: Oh, yes. Oh, yeah—

Nixon: 326, I noted.

Kissinger: Well, if we—if we could get an agreement in principle, we might stop bombing north of the 20th.

Nixon: Oh, sure.

Kissinger: But, we’re not there yet. Yeah.

Nixon: What do you anticipate, then, at your meeting?2 If you have Haig come now? That—that would be one hell of a signal, wouldn’t it? It—

Kissinger: But it depends what you’re—

Nixon: It might raise expectations an enormous amount. I don’t know. I’m not—I’m not—

Kissinger: Well—

Nixon: —against it, I just—

Kissinger: Well, Haig’s presence has this advantage. If the negotiations get serious about the military conditions—

Nixon: Yeah?

Kissinger: —I’d have somebody there who knows what he’s talking about.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And also, frankly, I’m looking at it for some theater to keep—

Nixon: [unclear]

Kissinger: —to keep Hanoi guessing a little longer.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Kissinger: And if it gets really serious, my present assistants are very good at sort of nitpicking the thing, but they don’t have the strategic—

Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: I’d have somebody that we then could control.

Nixon: Yeah. Oh, I tell you, you need somebody to talk to. That’s the point.

[Page 1006]

Kissinger: I mean, particularly—you know, when it’s one day I can think it out ahead of time.

Nixon: Sure.

Kissinger: But when it’s two days I’d like talk to somebody at night.

Nixon: In between.

Kissinger: And I can’t put it all in a cable to you.

Nixon: You don’t think you could use a telephone?

Kissinger: No, that’s tapped.

Nixon: Is the Embassy phone tapped?

Kissinger: Yeah. I can do it. I can do without Haig if you have any doubts about it—

Nixon: No, no, no, no, no. Hell, raise the expectations. He’s got every right to come there. If he—I think what we should position his trip as is one to just look over the military situation. Is that what you’re going to do? Or how are you going to explain it—?3

Kissinger: Well, it’s already been announced. We just say it’s for a—for consultation with General Thieu—with President Thieu about the whole complex of issues.

Nixon: I see. That’s all right. Well it’s good that he’s a military man. [unclear]

Kissinger: I have told him—

Nixon: Why don’t you take him?

Kissinger: —he should see Thieu without Bunker and without Thieu’s assistants.

Nixon: Oh, sure. Sure. Sure. And you think what he does is just to take him on the mountaintop and say, “Look, here we are.”

Kissinger: Well, he has two problems. First of all he has to send our new proposal to him, which is already a nightmare enough to drive him up the wall because that abolishes the existing constitution in South Vietnam, and creates a new constitution. I mean we are, we are offering a constituent assembly.

Nixon: And he hasn’t approved that yet?

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: You didn’t discuss that with him before?

Kissinger: No, but I discussed with him a new Presidential election within the present constitution.

Nixon: Well, I suppose that would be—that’d mean that he may just be [unclear] right there?

[Page 1007]

Kissinger: I just think if he can’t risk that goddamn constitutional assembly, he hasn’t got control of his government, because he’d remain in control of his area. I mean, the GVN would retain control of its area.


Nixon: That’s a—is that a—is that key?

Kissinger: Well, we can go back. We can go to the country—to the election.

Nixon: But, I mean, I’m assuming, I’m just asking. If he doesn’t take it, then, you have to go back to the election, right?

Kissinger: Or we present it without him.

Nixon: Yeah, so it should be in a position, if it goes public, we’ve returned something to them.

Kissinger: They won’t accept it without this in it.

Nixon: Well then, let’s understand that, in other words, if he doesn’t accept that, he isn’t going to resign.

Kissinger: Well, he’s already agreed in our proposal that after the Presidential election there’d be a review of the constitution.

Nixon: So what?

Kissinger: I think this present proposal is simpler than the other one. The other one provides, first, for Presidential elections, then for National Assembly elections, then for a review of constitution.

Nixon: And this one?

Kissinger: Just—no Presidential election. No other elections. Just a constitutional assembly, which creates a new government.

Nixon: But who makes up the constitutional assembly?

Kissinger: The elections, through free elections, which he runs in his country—his part of the country, so—


Nixon: Well, Haig will have a hairy three days—two days, won’t he?

Kissinger: Oh, yeah. No doubt.

Nixon: Well, he’s a good one to go; he’ll be strong. He knows everything about it.

Kissinger: Well, we can—if he can [unclear] absolutely refuses that, then you have to make the decision whether you want to go back to what he’s already accepted, namely Presidential elections and National Assembly elections.

Nixon: But you’ve offered that already?

Kissinger: Yeah. They’ve already turned that down. But we would still have expanded functions for the Committee of National Reconciliation and Concord—

[Page 1008]

Nixon: Which you’ve offered?

Kissinger: Which we can offer.

Nixon: But you’ve offered that already?

Kissinger: Not yet, specifically. There’s no question that the constituent assembly, plus the committee would have a sex appeal.


Nixon: Understand, I’m not quarrelling with what we would offer [unclear]—

Kissinger: See that election [unclear]—

Nixon: Let’s think of what we can try to get him to accept, that’s—

Kissinger: You see, Mr. President, this is all baloney. Because the practical consequence of our proposal, and of their proposal, is a cease-fire. There’ll never be elections. The election would be run by a committee, or in their case by a Government of National Concord, which makes decisions by unanimity. There’ll never be an electoral law. They’ll never agreed on an electoral law on the basis of unanimity. Therefore, there’ll never be elections. In either case—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: This is—

Nixon: Then what happens? Do we just resume the war later on?

Kissinger: There’ll be a cease-fire.

Nixon: But we’ll be gone?

Kissinger: Yes. This is their face-saving way. We’ve always said: “Will they ever separate military from political issues?”

Nixon: I know.

Kissinger: They’ve said so often that they won’t separate them.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: The practical consequence of their proposals, nine out of ten, is that there’ll never be elections and a cease-fire.

Nixon: Yeah. That’s what—and Haig talked that frankly with Thieu to be sure?

Kissinger: Of course, Thieu doesn’t want a cease-fire—

Nixon: Um-hmm. He’s gonna get one—

Kissinger: —and he doesn’t want us out. I mean, let’s face it.

Nixon: He wants us to stay, huh? I guess that’s it.

Kissinger: The real point is that our interests and his are now divergent. We want out. We want our prisoners.

Nixon: Yeah—

Kissinger: We want a cease-fire. He wants us in. He thinks he’s winning. And he wants us to continue bombing.

[Page 1009]

Nixon: And for another two or three years.

Kissinger: For as long as needed.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: But I saw it again with each time. I think, of course, if we don’t settle it now, we’ve got to keep going, so it’s—because, I’ve now found out that Laird has screwed us in a way that is not to be believed. He’s not Vietnamized this Vietnamese Air Force. They’ve got propeller-driven planes where the others have high-performance jets. It’s an unholy alliance of the Navy, the Air Force, and Laird. The Air Force and Navy want to do both, but the Navy believes—it wanted to hold onto its two carriers, the Air Force wanted to hold onto its bases, and Laird wants to save money, so that in the air, you know, if this war continues, the very first thing we have to do is to give them high-performance aircraft.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: And force feed it in there, and then I think that by next summer we just have to get out, completely.

Nixon: Oh, sure—

Kissinger: Blast the bejeezus out of them.

Nixon: Well, by next summer, you have to—Christ, by next summer, Henry, we have to get out. I think that by then you’d have to announce it. [unclear] I’d just announce it get it—and get it done with, I mean. But, I think—you know what that means? Get the air out, too.

Kissinger: Well, that’s right. That’s why we have to force-feed them high-performance airplanes in there. But, we’d have to leave the prisoners there.

Nixon: Jesus Christ, it’s a hell of a choice.

Kissinger: That’s why I’m so much—

Nixon: Interested in pushing Thieu?

Kissinger: You know, next to you, I’ve been the hardest guy on Vietnam.

Nixon: I know that. South Vietnam, at least, of course, we just know how much is at stake and not doing something [unclear]—

Kissinger: But, I—but we can’t have a Communist government [unclear]—

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 788–11. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. Kissinger was scheduled to meet with Le Duc Tho in Paris October 8–11.
  3. Nixon was referring to Haig’s trip to Saigon, October 1–4.