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

P: Hello, how are you? What is the situation with regard to that Vietnam thing? You say Moorer believes no extensive strikes are necessary?

K: No. Moorer would like to make extensive strikes, but I think it would be a mistake. If they are going to attack they have moved supplies into position now. We don’t have to attack North Vietnam to knock out supplies for whatever offensive they do next week.

P: I am not talking about North Vietnam. I am talking about attacks in South Vietnam.

K: In South Vietnam they are going full blast.

P: Are we trying to concentrate in B–3 area, or just dazzling around as usual?

K: I will have to check.

P: I understand they can’t hit everything but if they will just hit something instead of just sporadically.

K: They are doing 50% more now than before the NSC meeting.2 I will give Moorer a call.

P: Pound him in terms of hitting the South—that is where supplies and personnel are. Get in there and do something about it.

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K: If they find military things in the DMZ north of the line that is technically North Vietnam but it is a violation of the DMZ.

P: Yes. I think the North Vietnamese strikes can come. I don’t think they are going to do a lot of good but if they come have them come after the offensive breaks.

K: I think so, because then we can put it on the basis that they tricked us. We made every effort to talk to them. We told them there would be no escalation and nevertheless they hit us.

P: How do you go about that?

K: We would have to decide whether we want them to blow the channel again but we could gear that to the intensity of the attacks. But we could just hit them. We told the Chinese and the Russians we would do it.

P: That’s right. The point of hitting them we have to weigh in terms of what good it does. As far as psychological good, I don’t know at this point.

K: I think not hitting them would be psychologically weak.

P: In that case we do it, but if we do it we have got to make it worthwhile. Since they sent those MIGs up we should take out 2 or 3 airfields.

K: They would like to take out MIGs and SAMs.

P: Certainly we ought to be able to do something in the general area.

K: I think it is further south.

P: The airfield?

K: Yes, I think in the Dong Hoi area about 30 miles north of the DMZ.

P: When we do hit it I think we should let [tell]the Chinese particularly, and the Russians—it doesn’t matter, the Chinese immediately when it is done. They call off their dogs, otherwise they take the consequences.

K: We should do it not more than 3 days or a 2-day package and let it sit for a while.

P: It doesn’t make any difference whether 2 or 5, two is enough psychologically. I think we have got to get that across to the Air Force people—the psychological effect would be just hitting the North. But it is not going on for several days. They must remember that. They don’t have the weather problem, do they? Or do they always have the weather problem?

K: We haven’t had a month they didn’t have the weather problem. From the middle of the month it should be improving in the North and getting worse in South Vietnam. That is why I think if they do attack it will be over by May 1.

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P: Sure. The thing I was going to say—Thompson’s evaluation—did it take into account this attack? He believes the attack can be contained?3

K: He wants an attack. He thinks it will be badly defeated.

P: He told me it would be contained. He even goes further with you.

K: He thinks it will be badly defeated. The South Vietnamese fight well according to him. After that the North Vietnamese will be finished until well into 1974 and after that we won’t even need much airpower. I know his predictions usually sound wild but they are almost always right.

P: We know. He never missed a thing. Haldeman was just telling me Humphrey said yesterday he would withdraw all Americans ten days after he was elected.4

K: Sickening. That is not the issue. The issue is will he overthrow Thieu and cut off economic aid.

[Omitted here is discussion of China, including the logistics of the upcoming trip to China by Senators Michael J. Mansfield and Hugh D. Scott.]

P: They [Mansfield and Scott] did not discuss Vietnam with us. If he [Mansfield] says what will you do with Vietnam it must be that—and Sihanouk.

K: Only he [Mansfield] will see Sihanouk, and I can’t control Sihanouk.

P: I think it is important for them to understand that under our system only I can talk about Vietnam and they must give them nothing on Vietnam. Mansfield is likely to come back and say the President [Page 134] was unable to get anything done but I got an arrangement with the Chinese where if we will do this and that the Chinese will release . . .

K: That’s not possible.

P: You can’t trust Mansfield. Mansfield, as a Democrat, is likely to come back and say he was able to negotiate with the Chinese better than we were.

K: I will make the Chinese understand that we will take it very ill if they get involved . . .

P: . . . in any substantive discussions on Vietnam—right?

K: Right.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 13, Chronological File, March 11–17, 1972. No classification marking. Nixon was at Camp David; Kissinger was in Washington.
  2. See Document 13.
  3. Kissinger forwarded Sir Robert Thompson’s trip report to Nixon three days later with the following comment: “If the coming offensive is defeated with heavy losses to the enemy, as Sir Robert expects, he believes North Vietnam will be thwarted in its purpose and the threat of its marauding army will be indefinitely containable with only limited American aid and assistance in accordance with the Guam Doctrine. Protracted war will have been defeated by stable war which is more peaceful and prosperous for the people of Indochina than a losing peace.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 21, Chronological File, 1–27 Mar. 1972) Beginning in 1969, Thompson, a British counterinsurgency expert, traveled to Vietnam as a White House consultant and then reported to Nixon and Kissinger. The trip report referred to was the result of a February visit to Vietnam by Thompson. The Guam Doctrine, better known as the Nixon Doctrine, came into being on July 25, 1969 when the President announced that henceforth the policy of the United States in conflicts would be as follows: “we would furnish only the material and the military and economic assistance to those nations willing to accept the responsibility of supplying the manpower to defend themselves.” To this Nixon made only one exception: if a nuclear power attacked ann American ally or friend, the United States would “respond with nuclear weapons.” ( RN, p. 395)
  4. Former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey was a contender for the Democratic nomination for President.