48. Memorandum From John D. Negroponte of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Bombing and the Talks

A couple of aspects of your conversation with Porter yesterday set me to rethinking about the relationship between bombing the DRV, continued talks public or private, and the timing of their meeting requests:

  • Porter seems to feel what they want as a quid pro quo for private talks is a resumption of plenaries. On the face of things this is true but evades the issue of why they want resumed plenaries. Porter believes, and I think incorrectly, that it is because they want their propaganda forum back. I think it is because they have some new public formulation to advance. (My own hobby-horse is that they will this time separate points one and two so we can then get down to haggling over the meaning of “withdrawal”.)
  • —The timing of their original request for a private meeting in February closely followed the PRG 2 point elaboration of February 3 which more than any previous formulation lends itself to our trying to separate the two points. They may have hoped to have an offensive off the ground by that time which, if moderately successful, would then have provided them a rationale for splitting off the military issues and saying to themselves that the political issues will work out once we get the Americans out militarily (including air from Thailand and the Gulf of Tonkin which will be the obvious sticking point). The offensive was delayed; but it is now clearly gaining momentum.
  • —My reading is that at this point they are eager to talk to us and place higher priority on the symbolic value of steadily recurring plenaries (as a cover for Tho’s presence in Paris) than they are in whatever military measures we take in the interim. The one part of Porter’s scenario which disturbs me is that at the April 13 plenary he would not agree outright to a plenary on the 20th but pose for discussion at the next session some topic such as the situation in the DMZ. If they balked, he would say that they could also propose a topic and the matter could be worked out by liaison officers in the following days. This involves a risk of no plenary on the 20th and possible cancellation of your meeting by the other side. I think you should consider the merits of simply scheduling plenaries for the 13th, 20th and 27th without conditions. If your private session goes badly then we can cancel the meeting on the 27th.
  • On the military side, the resumption of plenaries is going to look like we are returning under military pressure in any event. By assaulting through the DMZ and now making full use of their new logistics system there which runs all the way to Khe Sanh, they could hardly be surprised if we retaliate—in fact they probably expect it and I don’t think it would affect their willingness to meet with us. We met for 6 months under those conditions in 1968 and they have only occasionally walked out of the talks because of our protective reaction strikes and for only one meeting at a time.
  • —Another factor is the Chinese. Their denunciations of our air strikes over the DRV have been perfunctory and pro forma. But they have vigorously denounced our suspension of the meetings, as have other bloc countries. On balance therefore I believe we can and, in fact, should make heavy retaliatory strikes against what is now the most blatant violation of the understandings reached in 1968.2 As long as we agree to reschedule plenaries, I don’t think such actions would jeopardize the whatever prospects there may be for progress at private sessions. After all, they have now been conditioned to the fact that we will do what is militarily necessary until a settlement is reached and that it is not our habit to restrain ourselves simply for agreement to talk—particularly during a rather critical three week period. If we uncork a few good ones at the DRV it might even make them more anxious to tell us whatever it is they have to say as soon as possible, particularly if one accepts the hypothesis that whatever new formulation they advance will have as a principal design the curbing of U.S. air power.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 5, Chronological File, April 1972. Top Secret; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for information. Kissinger initialed the memorandum.
  2. See footnote 5, Document 2.