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

Nixon: What I am concerned about is something you talked about on your schedule. I thought that when you talked to Dobrynin, you only gave him assurance that we would not hit the Hanoi–Haiphong area—

Kissinger: That is correct.

Nixon: —while you’re there. Well, the feeling that we’re going to sort of keep the level relatively—

Kissinger: No, no—

Nixon: —down. Let me tell you that we have a desperately difficult problem with our domestic situation if there is any indication—

Kissinger: Right—

Nixon:—that we aren’t bombing the hell out of them now.

Kissinger: No, no.

Nixon: It would be just—you see, what ruined Johnson was to start and stop; he—you remember how many bombing halts he had. Now, we cannot be in that position, even though you’re going, because you don’t know what you’re going to—what we’ll be doing here. I’d—what I’d like to see is, in this next week, I mean this week while you’re gone, I think on the battlefront, I think everything that can fly [Page 286] should be hitting the whole battlefront, including the stuff up to the 19th Parallel.

Kissinger: Of course.

Nixon: Just be sure they understand that.

Kissinger: Oh, no. When—

Nixon: But you see I don’t [unclear]—

Kissinger: The point is, Mr. President, if you say—

Nixon: You see, the story out of Saigon indicated two things: one, we would not hit Haiphong–Hanoi; and that we would cut the number of sorties in the South. Now, we must not do the latter.

Kissinger: I—I have had a talk with Moorer, and I’ve had a talk with Rush this morning, with exactly this theme. My concern was, Mr. President, that when you say, “maximum effort,” they will interpret this to mean that they should go slow in the South and put it all into the North. Then we are going to have stories to the effect—

Nixon: Yeah—

Kissinger: —that you are detracting from the battle. They have—they are flying—

Nixon: I don’t mind that. I just want them to hit there. I—I have to get it to say drop it all in III Corps, if necessary. All of it. But I want—I want what appears to be a maximum effort some place.

Kissinger: All over the country.

Nixon: Let’s hope—

Kissinger: Yeah.

Nixon: Let me put it this way: a concentrated effort. So they say the biggest strike, concentrated strike—so we get a story or two out like that in the South. I don’t care. I—

Kissinger: Yes—

Nixon: —just want it definitely to be in the North.

Kissinger: Actually, Mr.—they have—are—what they are doing in the North now, they haven’t done it the last two days but they are starting again tonight, and they haven’t done it because of some monkey business that Laird must have been engaged in.

Nixon: What’s this?

Kissinger: They are flying about 150 sorties, Mr. President, in the North. That’s more than we ever flew on any protect—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —protective reaction strike—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —that you ordered. So this is pretty massive.

Nixon: Yeah.

[Page 287]

Kissinger: That’s—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: That’s in the area south of 19th. On top of it, they’re flying about 600 in the South and the distribution now is they’re making massive—the biggest effort is in Military Area Region 3.

Nixon: All right.

Kissinger: I genuinely believe they—that—

Nixon: You mean [unclear]—

Kissinger: —the battle is going so well all over the country that we ought not to give them bombing targets. I think—

Nixon: No, I, we—I think we never do.

Kissinger: I think they’re doing really—I get a detailed briefing of every B–52 strike—

Nixon: Let me tell you one point that I emphasized to Moorer which we have never done in this war to date, is that if the—when the enemy starts to break off, instead of reducing the bombing, increase it.

Kissinger: And, of course—

Nixon: You understand, that is when you really can punish an enemy. When an enemy is in retreat, you can kill him.

Kissinger: And, of course, we are getting another bonus. This week, ten more destroyers are going to get on that line. And that we should go forward on.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: I mean, that’s not affected by anything.

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: But tonight they are starting again hitting the North with at least 150 planes.

Nixon: That’s the stuff south of the 19th?

Kissinger: South of the 19th.

Nixon: Fine. I don’t want anything in the Haiphong–Hanoi. I think that’s a fair deal with, with, with the Russians.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to criteria for bombing North and South Vietnam.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 711–5. No classification marking. The editors transcribed the portions of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume. The transcript is part of a larger conversation, 11–11:24 a.m. Portions of this conversation are printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 123.