38. Memorandum From President Nixon to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Looking ahead on Vietnam we must take several political factors into consideration as we draw near to the Democratic Convention in early July.

I would not be surprised if the Democrats might lie low a bit on Vietnam insofar as troop withdrawals are concerned with the idea that they would like to have a pretty large residual force in Vietnam at the time of the Convention so that they could make an issue of the fact that after three years we still have not ended the American involvement. In other words, we should not take any particular comfort in the fact that Vietnam at the moment is not an issue. It is not an issue only because they are not making it an issue and may not even want to do so on a massive scale at this point. We can be sure, however, that once their Convention meets with the anti-war crowd constituting a majority of the delegates they will have a platform plank and an acceptance speech on the part of their candidate which will take us on hard on this issue unless we have defused substantially by that time.

I do not want to do anything in the April announcement2 that will in any way reduce the chances for some success on the negotiating front in the meeting you have in Paris at that time.3 As you know, I have very little confidence in what such a meeting may accomplish and I do not believe that they are going to negotiate until after the election. But in any event, we have to play the negotiating string out but we must not let that string hang us in the fall by failing to do what we can to present the very best possible case for our position on the assumption that no negotiated settlement will have been reached.

As far as the troop announcement in April is concerned, whether it is for one month or two months or three months is irrelevant. What is vital, however, is that a final announcement of some kind must be made before the Democratic Convention in July. Either in April or in June when we return from Moscow our announcement must be one which indicates that all American combat forces have left, that the residual [Page 131] force will be retained there until we get our POWs, that the residual force will be a solely volunteer force, and whatever else we can develop along those lines.

What I am emphasizing is that for over three years and through 12 fruitless meetings in Paris we have pursued the negotiating front. I think we must continue to do so throughout May and June for reasons that we are both aware. But before the Democratic Convention we must make a final announcement of some type or we will be in very serious trouble.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 341, Subject Files, HAK/President Memos, 1971. Eyes Only.
  2. On April 26, Nixon announced that an additional 20,000 United States troops would be withdrawn during May–June, reducing the number to about 49,000 by July 1. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, p. 552)
  3. Reference is to a meeting between Kissinger and the North Vietnamese tentatively scheduled to take place in late April.