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

P: Hello.

K: Hello Mr. President.

P: Hi Henry.

K: A number of things I wanted to mention to you. One, I’ve heard from Haig and we have a major crisis with Thieu.2

P: That’s what I expected.

K: Well, it’s not just that he rejects, he rejects every proposal we’ve made, every last one of them. And won’t comment on any part of our paper, even the ones he’s previously agreed upon. And he confronted Haig with the whole National Security Council. So now we have a rather crucial decision to make, which way to go.

P: Right, right, right. Well I suppose that Haig has now talked to Bunker about it?

K: Right, well Haig is on the way back.

P: Oh he’s left?

K: Yeah. I’m not sure he should have done that under these circumstances.

P: Oh, I thought he should have stayed there. I mean, he’s on his way back?

K: Yeah, under these conditions I don’t think he should have left.

P: Well he’s put us in a spot to know what the hell to present.

K: That’s exactly right.

P: Well you can’t turn him around can you? I mean I can’t see . . . It doesn’t make any sense for him just to come back.

K: Yeah, I was astonished. He sent me this from the airplane so I . . . I mean the plan was that he came back after the meeting, but the plan wasn’t that . . .

P: Yeah, under these circumstances he shouldn’t certainly go to Paris.

[Page 1051]

K: No, under no circumstances can he go to Paris. No, no, that is out.

P: At any rate, coming back to this, only thing I can think of is to . . . we can’t reopen the Bunker channel.

K: Yes, we’ve got to do that but we’ve also got to, I mean we’ve got to do that. And we also have to . . . I mean for the first time this could leave us in a position where if they go public we’ve got nothing. And I don’t think we can survive that.

P: Right, right.

K: But you’re a better judge of that than I. But in our whole strategy, even after November 7, we need a platform in the name of which we’re going to continue the war.

P: Right, right, right.

K: I’m not thinking of the election now because I am clear about another thing. We can’t have a huge bust-up with Saigon before the election.

P: Afraid not. Well of course Thieu knows that.

K: One possibility, if we’re going to be cold-blooded about it is to settle it with the North Vietnamese and hold it until after the election in return for their being quiet during this period.

P: Yeah, settle it on the basis of . . .

K: One of the variations we’ve worked out.

P: . . . whatever we think is a . . .

K: Whatever we think can honestly preserve a non-communist government in Saigon. And then put it to these guys after the election.

P: Well I would immediately get something off to Bunker and he’s got to go in and have another cold turkey talk with Thieu.

K: Yeah, that’s what I think.

P: That’s the only thing I can think of at the moment with Haig gone. I mean, I don’t quite understand the purpose of his going just to go down and, I mean . . . well anyway, that’s that now. I’d get Bunker . . .

K: I was hoping he would . . . Well, it’s done.

P: That’s right.

K: He was following his instructions; the instructions didn’t provide for the contingency of a total impasse.

P: Right. I would get ahold of Bunker and say, look here now, I am determined that we cannot be in that position and that he’s to go in and tell Thieu that and say now what are you going to agree to.

K: Yeah.

P: Right.

[Page 1052]

K: Absolutely, I agree.

P: Well let’s start with that at least; get that off immediately.3 He should see him on a very top basis, and do it on the basis too that we’re expecting them to come out with their own proposal, you know. Throw in a little of the domestic stuff, okay?

K: Right. The Chinese wanted to brief us primarily on the Japanese negotiations which they did, I must say, more fully than our allies in Japan did. And they did say they thought this was an opportune . . . this was the time to end the war but . . . I almost think so too, but this presents a new situation. I expressed my concern yesterday to Bob Haldeman about a press conference tomorrow.4 I think it’s going to be very tough to speak about Vietnam or not to speak about Vietnam.

P: I’m just not going to speak about it. That’s the thing to do there, just not comment on it.

K: My concern about that is that it will raise expectations then.

P: No, we can do it in a way that we won’t raise any expectations. I’ll just handle it. I think we can handle it on the basis of . . . that we’ve had an understanding we’re not going to comment on it. Period. Just leave it there.

K: And what if they ask about a tripartite government for example?

P: I say I’m not going to comment on anything. Period. No, no problem on that, no problem. I intend to say exactly that, on the Vietnam thing. But be sure to get into Buchanan5 anything else that comes up in the foreign policy field. I just intend to say I’m not going to comment on Vietnam at all, which is no problem at all, no problem at all. And there will be no story; it will be just what we said previously. Just follow the lines that we’ve been taking.

[Page 1053]

K: Right. Anything more than that would really get us into major trouble now. With Saigon, Hanoi and everyone else twitching like crazy.

P: Right. We’ll leave it exactly like it is, just no comment at all. “No comment” doesn’t get us into any trouble; it doesn’t raise any expectations because that’s what we’ve been saying.

K: Right, well you can judge whether McGovern will then say you’re hiding again behind saying nothing.

P: Of course he will, of course he will, but we’ve been doing that for years. So that’s that.

K: Right, well, if you can absolutely refuse to say anything . . .

P: That’s right. We’ll refuse to say anything. You don’t have to prepare any line on that at all, just cover the other issues. I know what I want to say on that.

K: Okay, fine, Mr. President. I’ve gotten all my questions and answers . . .

P: The other questions are just probably . . . they know they’re not going to get anything on Vietnam because of what’s going on. Well it puts us in a spot as to your trip, that’s the main thing.

K: Well if I cancel the trip we’re going to have an enormous break with Hanoi.

P: I understand that; I understand that. I’m not suggesting cancelling it I’m suggesting it puts us in a problem as to what the hell you’re going to say.

K: Exactly. Oh no, we have a massive problem now.

P: Right. Well I think the best thing, Henry, is to get on with Bunker right away and say that he’s got . . .

K: From what I read of this there’s no hope that way. I’ll do it and I think it’s the only thing to do . . .

P: Have to try it don’t you?

K: And in fact it’s a serious question whether these guys will blow publicly if we bring too much pressure, but it’s our only play right now. But we’ve got a couple of hours to do anything cause it’s the middle of the night there now.

P: Yeah, what is the situation on . . . you meet with them Sunday, right?

K: Sunday, yeah. It’s set aside for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.6

P: Well under the circumstances at least at this point I wouldn’t have such a long meeting. You know, I’d . . . it’s going to put you in a hell of a spot but . . .

[Page 1054]

K: Well the fact of the matter is Mr. President . . .

P: And we’re just going to have to break it off with him after the election, I can see that. You know, if he’s going to be this unreasonable, I mean the tail can’t wag the dog here.

K: Yeah, but the problem is what they’re going to do to us in the interim . . .

P: Which one?

K: Well both of these maniacal Vietnamese. If I break . . . I mean I’ve given them every reason to believe, and so have you through Gromyko, that we’re going to make a significant offer this Sunday. Now if I just go there and stonewall, I can do it. You don’t have to decide it this minute. But it’s not a minor thing because if we do that we lose a lot of credibility with the Russians, we lose a lot of credibility with the Chinese and we’re gonna force a showdown with them. Now we can be a little tougher and see how ready they are to cave to give us credibility.

P: Well, but Thieu agreed to nothing so it puts us in a spot.

K: Well Thieu cannot not agree to anything, I mean that’s just impossible.

P: What is his line?

K: Well his line is that, and he’s got a good point, well first of all his line is that he’s the government of South Vietnam, that the North Vietnamese are the aggressors and they’ve got to leave and that everything else should be said, they have no rights in South Vietnam, he won’t agree to any government, any committees of national concord or anything else like this. It’s a great line; he’s doing it with our Air Force and our prisoners.

P: Yep that’s sure true.

K: And it leaves us totally naked. How can . . . We can’t defend that for 30 minutes in this country.

P: That’s right.

K: I mean I’m not concerned about the election. I think he can do us more damage in the election by fighting us than by anything else. I’m concerned of where we will be six months after the election if we bomb the bejesus out of them and we have to say up to now we’ve always been in the position that we’ve had a very reasonable counterproposal. We could always go to the American public and say these sons of bitches want to destroy the government. Now we could still structure these discussions on Sunday.7

[Page 1055]

K: And I’m sure if we peel that onion we are going to get a lot of proposals from them that we can’t live with and if it breaks off on that, then we have a basis. But if we say a government . . . a committee that has no power except advisory power, and if Saigon has a veto which preserves Saigon’s policies, that that means a Communist takeover, it’s a little hard to defend.

P: Right.

K: If we can get all the other things settled. So my present inclination, quite honestly, is . . .

P: . . . to present it.

K: . . . is to present it—to tell them we are having a massive problem. Now if they want to play it tough and go public, fine. I mean, I’m talking about Hanoi now.

P: Right, right.

K: And then just go back to Thieu if we get an agreement and say this is the agreement for which we cannot ask the American people to keep fighting more. And if he then goes public, I don’t know whether you’d necessarily lose in public opinion.

P: That’s right.

K: If it’s a reasonable agreement.

P: Well, actually, you are going to have the more likely thing which seems to me is that once you present that, the North Vietnamese aren’t going to accept it. They are going to be our hole card in the damned thing.

K: The North isn’t going to accept this.

P: Exactly. But on the other hand, you will be in a fairly reasonable position and I think now that it’s a very, very fine line, but I think what has to happen, Henry, probably is you’ve got to present as forthcoming an offer as you can. But present it in a way that isn’t as much as they can accept. Right? Having in mind the fact that we then immediately after the election, present it and the hell with Thieu. You see my point. After the election, we damn well will do it and if he decides to . . . that he won’t take . . . They aren’t going to go down then.

K: Well, they may have a lot of other things wrapped in. We cannot present this and let them keep their army in Laos and Cambodia and South Vietnam.

P: That’s right.

K: But if we could get them to withdraw their army from Laos, Cambodia and a good part of their army from South Vietnam in return for some of these political cosmetics, it would be a tremendous victory. If we can settle this war on a basis that keeps Thieu in office, the American public will feel we’ve . . .

[Page 1056]

P: Right. Also, it isn’t whether the American public will feel all right too, but it’s a question too of whether if we present something we feel the South Vietnamese can live with, even though Thieu is unreasonable, then the thing to do is to do it because that’s our goal. Our goal is not the temporary effect public-relations-wise of all this thing. Our goal is whether it really works and whether we can live with it in the end.

K: That’s right.

P: And we can. My own view is that you have another thing coming. Do we have any time as to when McGovern is going to make his proposal.

K: No, but the idea . . .

P: You’ve got a pretty good . . . you’ve got another card there that to break off talks—after you have made a reasonable proposal—to break off talks and say that they’ve . . . just break them off until after the election.

K: My gut instinct is, Mr. President, that we have a 50–50 chance that they’ll accept it.

P: Really? Accept the kind of a proposal that you’re going to make—that you thought you could make?

K: Yeah. 50–50. And it’s the best one we are ever going to get from them. Assuming that we can get them to get their army out of Laos, Cambodia, . . . if we can’t get that; I mean, if the end is that they keep their entire army in the South and we pull all our army out of . . .

P: No, no, no. We won’t agree to that.

K: Then, of course—and put in all these committees, then I think Thieu is right. So what Thieu’s intransigence does for us is to give us a little more flex . . . It can be a little tougher, you know.

P: Yes. I see it as just one of these things . . . we’ve had a lot of these hard places in this . . . the hardest one coming at a bad time. But on the other hand, I think our choice is to now . . . we just can’t go there with Thieu totally having a veto over everything.

K: If we go there and stonewall and they go public . . .

P: Yeah, he can’t have a veto, that’s not my point.

K: I’m not saying it would lose the elections, probably nothing can lose the election, or even affect it much.

P: Yeah, affect it some.

K: But that I can’t judge, but I’m talking about November 7 when you then step up military operations in the name of what are you going to do it?

P: Cripe! Yep, particularly if they accept a proposition such as you’re going to present. See that’s the point. So I’m not . . . You make [Page 1057] this kind of proposition, we’ll look it over, we’ll spend some time on it Friday or Thursday. Well you think about it today and tomorrow . . .

K: Well I’m working on one that is . . .

P: And then let’s make one that . . . let’s just sit down and think, let’s forget Thieu—I mean let’s forget his personal feelings—but what we think South Vietnam could live with, what we think is best for us to live with and is a good public position but is not a cave-in and is not a sell-out and all that sort of thing and let’s do that. And then my view is that we just have to go forward and present it.

K: Of course Thieu may start a public confrontation with us anyway but I am going to send Bunker in and tell him if there is a public confrontation [less than 1 line not declassified].

P: That’s right. I think the message to Bunker Henry . . . I wouldn’t be too pessimistic about what the old man can do in this case. He’s worked on it before. But he’s . . . in other words let’s let him try. He comes in there, Thieu has got to know that after all I’m his friend, second that McGovern is gonna make a major proposal and he’s going to have a great deal of support, let him appear . . .; third that we have to be in a good public position.

K: The beauty is now of the situation they have offered us a better deal than McGovern is going to offer.8 McGovern will ask for a coalition government in some form; they have already conceded that Thieu can stay and that in the coalition aspect . . . not that Thieu can stay but that the Saigon administration can stay . . . but that in the coalition aspect there’ll be unanimity.

P: Right. And all that had no effect on Thieu?

K: Well Thieu is beside himself because on September 15 we tabled . . . we had . . . after I was there in August they made about 20 suggestions; we accepted 18 of them; there was one we couldn’t accept which had to do with the composition of the electoral commission. And we put that in as tri-partite, in other words that the communists were represented on that.

P: Right. And that drove Thieu up the wall.

K: That drove Thieu up the wall, but the communists have heaped scathing scorn on it saying there was nothing new in it, if we hadn’t done this the talks would have broken down in September which we couldn’t have. The communists hadn’t gotten within a hundred miles of accepting that; it isn’t that that was a sell-out proposal. All it said was . . .

[Page 1058]

P: I know the . . . I see what happened with Thieu. He saw the press, the American press made a big thing out of that.

K: No, no they don’t even know we proposed it.

P: No, well the tri-partite thing as you know was in the . . .

K: Yeah, but not as our proposal; the press doesn’t know we accepted it. What he’s seen in the press a lot of speculation about a coalition government.

P: Well but be that as it may he’s seen some things which . . . the story that came out that the North Vietnamese are elated about this or that or the other thing.

K: No, but that’s baloney.

P: I know it’s baloney too, but you know how it is.

K: Mr. President that wasn’t a story; this is something that was fed to Lovestone9 and that Lovestone gave to Colson. And it was fed to Lovestone by the South Vietnamese; the North Vietnamese weren’t elated . . .

P: I see; I guess it’s just a question of their being suspicious as hell, that’s all.

K: He is playing ’68 all over again.

P: Yeah, we’ll he’s ’68 but he hasn’t got a candidate, that’s his problem.

K: Well that’s right, but he figures if he can survive now till the 7th and just dig in then we’ll have to yield.

P: Yeah well, I would certainly hit that with Bunker with him, wouldn’t you. Say the President’s very disappointed in terms of his reaction speaking in a personal sense . . . In other words, tell him to put it in a very personal sense and that we have to get me in a position to get through this election period and he’s to be reasonable. And after that we can be unreasonable. Hold that up for him too. And then we’ll do what we god-damn please after the election, but I would hold that up to Bunker. Say we’re not interested in doing anything that hurts him but we have to be in a position to have a good position between now and November the 7th and after that we can deal effectively with them. How about that? A little of that, that it comes directly from me, that that kind of a thing we should say.

K: Yeah, it won’t change him but we’ll do it.

P: If it won’t change him don’t do it then.

K: No, no, it will keep the record. Let me think about whether if we go too hard . . . Let me draft something and then.

P: Oh yes, you can think about it; we’re not . . .

[Page 1059]

K: What I’m trying to avoid is to have him think you’re so determined to go that he has to go public.

P: That’s right.

K: And I’d rather fool him a bit and tell him we’ll . . .

P: I agree. Also, you can talk to the North Vietnamese in terms of keeping everything quiet till after the election.

K: First we’ve got to get an agreement.

P: I know.

K: If we don’t get an agreement it’s better not to get them into the act. If we got an agreement on the basis of what we’ve worked on—this is the best we’re ever going to get. We can’t improve that by another year of bombing in my view.

P: I agree; I think that’s probably true. Incidentally with regard to these other foreign policy questions, I don’t see much in the foreign field coming up do you?

K: No, in the foreign field at the press conference you’re in good shape.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

The toughest ones are going to be Vietnam and under these conditions, Mr. President . . .

P: Well Vietnam, we just don’t say anything.

K: Yeah, but I wouldn’t even say anything about the military situation.

P: Of course not, no. No, we have no comment on it at all. There’s nothing to say on the military situation; there’s nothing new, is there?

K: No.

P: Isn’t it about the same?

K: That’s exactly right. My understanding incidentally of McGovern was that the original plan was for him to go on television, or to make that speech on the 10th. Now if that were the case he’d be making it right in the middle of my negotiations.

P: But as you know, always have in mind in terms of our game plan the fact that we’re going to use him as the reason for our breaking off.

K: Well exactly.

P: On the other hand you’ve got to be in a pretty good position.

. . . Oh, the only thing I see on Vietnam that requires some comment might be the POW thing, in terms of how it’s happened, you know, that we’ve played politics with it and so forth.

K: That I think you should hit hard.

P: If you would prepare something on that. Now here’s the way I plan to handle Vietnam: They’re going to say “What is the status of negotiation? [Page 1060] Are you hopeful?” I say “Gentlemen, we have an understanding that there will be no comments on any discussions and I’m not going to have any comment. When meetings are held they will be announced as they are held; this has been the previous case.” “Are you hopeful?” “I’m not going to comment.” “Are you not hopeful?” “I’m not going to comment.”

K: “What do you think of a tri-partite government?”

P: “I’m not going to comment on any matters, anything like that.

K: Then they’ll say “Are you still opposed to it?” Say, “Yes, but just don’t draw any conclusions.”

P: What?

K: I would just say “Don’t draw any conclusions; I’m not going into any of this.”

P: That’s right, that’s right. I’ll just say I’m not going to be drawn into any comments about this. But wait a minute, you say the question will be a tri-partite government?

K: Yeah, I’d say we are against imposing any particular . . . But then that immediately gets you into trouble with Hanoi before I get there, that’s the problem.

P: Well, let’s figure a way out of that.

K: See that’s my worry.

P: Well, we’re for a tri-partite commission, but not a government.

K: Yeah, but no one even knows that.

P: Yeah I know. Well we don’t even want to say that. And also as I told you we can’t have that word coalition ever used. We can’t leave that hanging there, probably because of the Thieu problem too, isn’t it?

K: Exactly, that’s why I’m so worried. But on the other hand if you absolutely totally reject it they may feel that they have to dig in before I get there.

P: Yeah, well I’ll figure a way to dance around it.

K: But if you leave the slightest crack you’ll have Thieu all over us. I mean you can say our basic position has been that we will not impose any particular government, that we want the future to be determined by the people of South Vietnam and now I’m not going to go . . . and we will not be party to imposing any particular government.

P: What’s that going to do to Hanoi?

K: Well, they won’t like it. But I’d rather have them a little concerned because they’re going to get our proposal anyway and we’re not offering them a government.

P: Why don’t you just write that one thing down. That’s not bad and then just . . . Or the other thing would be just to say, which presents the problem to Thieu, simply when I get the first question on [Page 1061] Vietnam which I will get is say I’m not going to comment on anything on Vietnam, and that covers all questions. “What about tripartite government” and so forth and so on? “I’ve already indicated that I don’t care what the question is and you should not read it one way or the other; I’m simply not going to comment.”

K: Yeah well the trouble is when you say you shouldn’t read it one way or the other that already leaves it open a little bit.

P: It does? Which is about what we have to do, isn’t it?

K: Yeah, but not in Saigon. I think you can stick with the not imposed . . .

P: You don’t think that goes too far with Hanoi?

K: Well it goes pretty far but . . . and it gets another bloody uproar here.

P: Well I think the idea we’re not going to impose a government on the people of South Vietnam. Is that what we want to say?

K: Yeah, yeah. Something like that.

P: We’re not going to impose a government; that’s a matter for the people of South Vietnam to determine. Is that what we want to say?

K: Right, that’s what we want to say.

P: That isn’t too bad. Basically you could then say to Hanoi . . .

K: But that’s just about the only question I would answer.

P: The others are no problem.

K: Yeah, ceasefire, won’t comment.

P: Why would I get into that Henry?

K: Well they’ll ask you are you hopeful for a ceasefire.

P: Well I’m going to say I’m not going to comment on anything.

K: “Under what conditions will you end the bombing?” I wouldn’t get into that.

P: Just say I’m not going to comment on that, I’m not going to comment on that.

K: “Well, how effective is the mining?”

P: “I’m not going to comment on that.”

K: Exactly, well that’s fine then. So the only one you’d answer is the government.

P: Well, that’s right, as far as the Vietnamese situation “How effective is the mining?” I’ll say that’s been covered by the Secretary of Defense.

K: Right.

P: I think we just turn it over to say that he’s covered it you know; isn’t that a good idea?

[Page 1062]

K: Right. Or I just would say . . . well I’ve drafted actually an answer which you could give them.

P: I don’t want to indicate that the mining has not been effective.

K: No I’ve given an answer to that . . . That doesn’t bother me too much.

P: Could throw it over to Laird, that’s what I was thinking of.

K: Well you can either throw it to Laird or you can say it’s achieved its objective.

P: Yeah, the invasion has been stopped.

K: Right, exactly, that’s what I drafted.

P: That’s what I usually have said, that the invasion has been stopped. That’s what it was intended to do. You’ve drafted the other one, on the government. I don’t know how we can dance . . . I guess you just have to say you’re not going to impose . . . you’d have to say that in any event wouldn’t you.

K: Well let me draft an answer for you and get it up to you by early this afternoon.

P: Not impose a government. And I’m not concerned at all incidentally about no commenting as far as American opinion is concerned about any of these matters; there’s no problem. I’ll just stonewall them all. The only problem is whether on the government one that causes problems either in Hanoi or Saigon.

K: And my present thought, Mr. President, on strategy is I think we should present our best proposal. We do have the clock running on them. If they turn it down we’re in good shape.

P: In other words, present the one that we know Thieu can live with.

K: That we, in our best beliefs think Thieu can live with. Because it may after all be that they want to be raped. I’d hate to be the guy who brings it to him but I guess I have to be the guy. I may not survive it.

P: You never know, I may have to.

K: No, under no conditions can you be in a position, Mr. President . . .

P: No, no, no, no, no. I’m not referring to now but I mean in the final analysis if he’s unreasonable we’ve just got to . . .

K: I think we can use his intransigence to help us with Hanoi.

P: Right. We got them over to our proposal?

K: Exactly.

P: I am not concerned about offering a reasonable proposal.

K: If it should blow, if we can honestly stand before the American people, not as a gimmick, if we can really say to ourselves it is a fair proposal—

[Page 1063]

P: Well, the main thing about whatever you propose—there is one codeword that has got to be out. It must not be a Coalition Government. It cannot be.

K: No, that cannot be. That is in the proposal. Absolutely.

P: Now a Coalition Commission—as I understand, an Electoral Commission.

K: It has no power.

P: We have always said that there would be an internationally supervised election with the Communists participating—right?

K: And we have said since 1969 there would be an electoral commission in which all parties participate.

P: All parties participate—and we have also said that there would be an election in which the Communists would participate in the government and the fact that . . . Get to Thieu and just say keep . . .

K: Well, I . . .

P: He’s got to trust the President. He’s never let him down yet.

K: I won’t get anything to Thieu now. I think . . .

P: Think about it for a night.

K: Supposing we don’t get to an agreement we are in good shape as far as Thieu is concerned. If we do get to an agreement I will just have to go out and . . .

P: And cram it down his throat.

K: And cram it down his throat and say this is it. And if he won’t settle on this basis we will have to withdraw our support. We can’t fight a war beyond a certain point.

P: Right. Right. Right. My own hunch at the present time—It’s not what they will do but what we prefer. It’s for you to bring out a very forthcoming agreement and for them to reject it. After the election we will have a free hand to do whatever the hell we want.

K: That’s true but that guy is putting us through a hell of a lot . . . First we make a very forthcoming proposal and they reject it which is an easy position to be in.

P: That’s the best position for us because . . .

K: Because then if McGovern . . . Then if they go public . . .

P: Make it as confusing as possible the forthcoming proposal, too.

K: Oh, yeah.

P: Good, Henry.

K: Well, the trouble right now is that unless McGovern has inside information he will present a proposal that gives the North Vietnamese more than they have asked for.

[Page 1064]

P: Yeah. He has inside information? That’s the problem?

K: That’s what we can’t tell.

P: He might have it from our own people, do you think?

K: Well, our own people don’t even know it. Although I made the mistake—I gave the State Department two international guarantee clauses of their proposal . . .

P: Yeah.

K: To work on and now Rogers claims he sees a great breakthrough that he can engineer with them. I picked them because they were so nothing.

P: I know. You don’t need to be concerned about what I am going to say because I—our tactics election-wise now require absolute sphinx-like attitude on everything, on everything in Vietnam, until we have something because that’s why I said that, my only concern is raising expectations. Don’t raise any expectations; we don’t need to say there’s going to be a breakthrough; we don’t need to say that we’re being reasonable, not a damned thing. Just, I think right now there’s one thing that’s very surprising, there’s a hell of a hawkish sentiment. We just had a . . . for reasons that had nothing to do with us but they polled Massachusetts of all states. For Christ’s sakes in Massachusetts with Cambridge and all the rest up there, it’s two to one against everything McGovern is for, three to one against amnesty. Two and a half to one against the imposition of a communist government, in Massachusetts! So you see Henry we’re in a position now where we don’t have to appear to be reasonable. That’s why I’m not going to . . . We don’t have to defend our policy. The press will get . . . let them say well is the mining effective and do you think you made a mistake and all that. The only thing I want a good answer on is the POWs to put them on a spot. But on the mining and all the rest I’ll say well, the results speak for themselves, that’s all. And this one, I can say no comment unless that poses more of a problem than saying something. I can say anything.

K: I think you should say no comment on everything except the tri-partite government. There’s nothing you can say on anything that will not do damage except on that government and then only to keep Thieu from blowing.

P: That’s right, that’s right. On the government well you just prepare anything that you, don’t tilt it too much toward Thieu. Just sort of make it a little ambivalent, huh?

K: No, on the government, any ambivalence is . . .

P: He’ll see it. The other point is that we can say that and then you can go to the North Vietnamese and say that’s our public position but privately we’re willing to negotiate.

K: Right, well on the government we’re not willing to negotiate.

[Page 1065]

P: Well, you know damn well that they think of that as the government; we’re thinking of it.

K: They won’t accept the word “committee” in my view.

P: Well that’s my point.

K: Because that’s where we’re going to come out rather well.

P: Right, right, right.

K: I think we’re going to come out the way you want. I think we’re going to come out with a great public record and no settlement and a free hand after the elections.

P: Well I’ll tell you one thing though Henry, we’re not going to forget that Thieu misbehaved right now. From a personal standpoint he’s done wrong. The only problem we have is that god-dammit he’s the best man they’re got.

K: He’s the best man they’ve got and if the whole thing goes to pieces . . .

P: Then we have a terrible thing on our hands.

K: Right, exactly. But we’ve been in tight spots before Mr. President and I think if we have . . .

P: On sure, sure. And after all, the reason we’ve come through is that we’ve been damned honorable and decent to everybody.

K: That’s right, and that we’ve done . . .

P: Including him, God.

K: . . . and that we’ve done what you think is right.

P: All the time, all the time.

K: Without regard for any . . .

P: When you stop to think what we’ve done for him on Cambodia, what we’ve done on Laos, what we’ve done on May 8—Jesus Christ, he owes us one now and he owes it damn fast. He owes it to give us trust, some confidence, and we’re not going to sell him down the river, but we have to have a strong position before this election.

K: Well and we have to have a strong position above all after the election Mr. President because I recognize you’re in a good position now, partly you’re in a good position on Vietnam . . . My own personal analysis, which may not be worth a god-damn, is that McGovern turns people off so much as a person that anything he’s for they’re against.

P: Let me tell you what I’m saying before the election—that’s what we want him to think. After the election we’ll do what we god-damn well please. Our position then will be right down their throat. Because if we know it’s in their best interest, he’s got to be told. But I think we’ve got to mislead them a little Henry, you see my point? Just as you mislead the . . . we’ve got to . . . Hanoi and let them think well play [Page 1066] along with us now and maybe it’ll be better later. But with Thieu, he’s . . .

K: No, Hanoi has to think it will be worse later.

P: And Thieu has got to think it’ll be better.

K: I won’t tip my hand to Hanoi at all; if there is no settlement then they won’t have to know that we disagreed with Saigon. If by the end of the second or third day we have agreed, then I have to tell them okay gentlemen now we got this problem, now to manage it. And you better hold still and you’ve got to let me handle this. But if they’re going to turn it down, no sense telling them Saigon didn’t agree with us.

P: I agree.

K: And then we’re in the best possible position. Then we can go back to Thieu and say that’s it now, we don’t need any more, we’re in a good posture.

P: Right. When does Haig get back?

K: About midnight tonight, he’ll be available tomorrow.

P: Well there’s really nothing to talk to him about is there?

K: No. No, I’ll be working with him tomorrow.

P: You can talk to him. I’ll talk to him, of course but I mean the point is there’s nothing that’s going to affect anything we do, is there?

K: Well, he may change our minds, but . . .

P: Who? Haig? No.

K: Well he thinks, in his preliminary reaction, he thinks we ought to restore Thieu’s confidence. We haven’t got that much time; I mean we have a deadline of Monday, of Sunday. You can’t cancel this meeting without a catastrophe.

P: Oh, yeah.

K: And also the meeting plays in beautifully into our considerations. No matter what McGovern does now, even if he gives his speech tomorrow, it would be washed out by the meeting in Paris.

P: I don’t know what he could put in his speech, but we’ll see.

K: He can put nothing in his speech . . .

P: I just hope he puts it in in a very very dovish way, that’s all I hope.

K: Well, the one thing we can be sure of is unless he’s had coaching, his speech will be more forthcoming than the North Vietnamese ever offered. And once we got him in that position [less than 1 line not declassified]. If he offers the enemy more than the enemy is asking for.

P: Right, right. Just don’t spend too much time on these, cause I just intend to finesse most of them anyway.

K: Yeah, well on Vietnam really what chances we have for the thing to get unstuck, you get to the no comment line we can manage it.

P: Oh yes, we can except for on the one point and the POWs.

[Page 1067]

K: Right.

P: Okay, good luck.

K: Right, Mr. President.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 253, Geopolitical File, Vietnam, Trips, Haig, Alexander M., October 1972. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon was at Camp David when he placed the call, and Kissinger was in Washington. The call began at 10:21 and ended at 11:05 a.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  2. See Document 278.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 280.
  4. On the President’s press conference, Haldeman related the following on October 4: “We had a big flap with Henry last night and carrying on today. He’s in a complete tantrum that the P should not have a press conference, because he’s sure to give the wrong answers on Vietnam and blow the whole negotiation right as Henry is about to go into the crucial final stage. Henry actually believes still, even though Thieu has completely refused to go along with anything Haig has proposed, Henry believes that we still have a 50–50 chance of pulling something off with the North Vietnamese this weekend and he’s scared to death that the P will louse it up. Actually, I think he’ll use anything that comes up as an excuse if the thing blows up, so it works out pretty well for him. The P doesn’t feel that there’s any chance of settling, and that probably it’s not desirable anyway, because any possible interpretation of a sellout would hurt us more than it helps us.” The next day, Haldeman wrote: “Press conference this morning went extremely well. One of the best he’s done in the office.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, October 4 and October 5) For a transcript of the press conference, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 952–962.
  5. Patrick Buchanan, Special Assistant to the President, worked in the White House speechwriting unit.
  6. October 8, 9, and 10.
  7. There is an apparent omission in the text. Staff in Kissinger’s office produced the transcript printed here from a tape recording or from a stenographer’s notes, or both. Neither record, nor any other record of this conversation, has been found.
  8. McGovern intended to deliver a speech on October 10 detailing his plan to end the war.
  9. Jay Lovestone, Director, International Affairs Department, AFL–CIO.