97. Minutes of a Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • U. Alexis Johnson
  • William Sullivan
  • DOD
  • Kenneth Rush
  • G. Warren Nutter
  • Rear Adm. William Flanagan
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • CIA
  • Richard Helms
  • George Carver
  • William Newton (stayed only for Mr. Helms’ briefing)
  • NSC Staff
  • Major Gen. Alexander M. Haig
  • Richard T. Kennedy
  • John Negroponte
  • Mark Wandler


It was agreed that:

  • —State and Defense will draft a letter from the President to President Park of Korea, urging more ROK activity in MR 2.
  • —Admiral Moorer will check on the report that North Vietnamese troops machine-gunned refugees south of the Dak To area.
  • —We will reassess our PR position tomorrow, in the light of the President’s speech tonight.
  • —The State, Defense and CIA papers on a cease-fire will be discussed at Friday’s meeting.

[Omitted here is discussion of the military structure, the ROK forces in Vietnam, and the international attitude to U.S. policy in Vietnam.]

Mr. Kissinger: What about the papers on the political and military aspects of a cease-fire proposal? Have they been done?

Mr. Johnson: We have a first draft of our paper.2 Bill [Sullivan] worked on it last night, but we feel it needs some more work.

[Page 325]

Mr. Kissinger: I would like to take a look at it, anyway.

Mr. Johnson: Okay.

Mr. Kissinger: I won’t be here tomorrow, so I would like to have a full discussion of the papers on Friday.3 Is that alright with everyone?

All agreed.

Mr. Helms: We also are preparing a paper. George [Carver] is ready to brief on our paper, if you want.4

Mr. Kissinger: That’s a good idea, especially since the President will probably ask me about the papers. By the way, I don’t want to mislead you about the cease-fire proposal. We have no inclination to propose a cease-fire, but we just want to be ready for all contingencies.

Mr. Carver: In our paper, we look at two basic issues: (1) whether the other side can offer a cease-fire and (2) whether it would be to our advantage to accept it. The other side has already made a proposal which also stipulates withdrawal of U.S. forces. Technically, they have an offer on the table. The question is would they broaden that offer to include the GVN as well as the U.S.? Would they include all of Indochina, instead of just Vietnam? Would they separate out the cease-fire proposal from the entire package? We don’t think they are very likely to do these things.

Mr. Kissinger: Would it be fair to say that in the improbable event they do decide to discuss a cease-fire separately, we would have a situation where they recognize GVN control of a substantial portion of South Vietnam? This would untie and separate out the issue of territorial control.

Mr. Johnson: The North Vietnamese don’t have to untie that issue.

Mr. Kissinger: They could go back to our May 31 offer.

Mr. Carver: There are two historical considerations we have to bear in mind. Up to now, they have been very cautious—but that could change. The present leadership in Hanoi is adverse to taking gambles. They were burned badly in 1954, when they gambled and lost. Le Duan was hurt most of all. In 1965–66, they could have gotten the U.S. out of Vietnam. But they didn’t display interest in achieving a solution which did not guarantee them a shot at taking over power in South Vietnam.

Second, the North Vietnamese negotiating posture is that everything should be considered in one package—including the dismantling of the GVN and the cessation of U.S. support, particularly air support. They want this whole package to be considered. They have insisted [Page 326] that we meet certain conditions which would in effect give them power in South Vietnam.

Mr. Kissinger: You are saying, then, that they will not propose a cease-fire.

Mr. Carver: I’m saying that if they do propose a cease-fire, it would be a radical departure from their past policies. In addition, the cadres in the South have been told that Hanoi is not in favor of a cease-fire. Their people have been told that the offensive will bring much larger results to them, and it is not billed as a temporary measure.

Adm. Moorer: A COSVN paper said that the offensive is a make or break effort.

Mr. Carver: The North Vietnamese have said these things fairly consistently.

Mr. Kissinger: And what would happen if the offensive doesn’t succeed?

Mr. Carver: They would have a lot of explaining to do. They have made the point internally and in their propaganda to the South Vietnamese that the offensive is a major effort designed to bring total success to the North.

Mr. Kissinger: If they don’t achieve more than they have up to now—if they just have small victories here and there—will it be a major setback for them?

Mr. Carver: Yes.

Mr. Johnson: How will they see it?

Mr. Carver: Privately, they will of course realize they were defeated. Publicly, though, they would have to put their best face forward.

Mr. Kissinger: Being the devil’s advocate for a moment, couldn’t they argue that since they knocked off the 3rd, 5th and 22nd ARVN Divisions in a month, they will knock off the other ARVN divisions in another month? Would that be a tenable position for them to take?

Mr. Carver: Yes. Some people are probably arguing for that position in Hanoi right now. However, if after two more months, they haven’t achieved more than they have up to now, the offensive will not be regarded as a success.

Mr. Kissinger: The key date is July 1?

Mr. Carver: Yes.

Adm. Moorer: You could turn the argument about knocking out divisions around. If they have knocked out the divisions, why haven’t they penetrated any deeper into South Vietnam?

Mr. Kissinger: They could say that when they’ve knocked out a few more divisions, all the ARVN forces will collapse.

[Page 327]

Mr. Carver: The 3rd ARVN Division has not been destroyed. And more important, from Hanoi’s point of view, the North Vietnamese have not made any political gains.

Mr. Kissinger: Have the North Vietnamese suffered the equivalent division losses of the ARVN?

Mr. Carver: In terms of the number of casualties, the North Vietnamese have suffered an equal or greater loss. In terms of unit integrity, we don’t know yet. We do know, though, that they have a command and discipline problem the same as we do.

Adm. Moorer: There’s no question that they have suffered greater casualties than the ARVN.

Mr. Kissinger: It’s statistically improbable that we never hit anything with all the strikes we’ve flown.

Mr. Carver: Remember that Dong Ha has not fallen, nor has Quang Tri. An Loc is still in South Vietnamese hands, despite enemy claims to the contrary. The enemy is getting no nourishment in the Delta, and he is making a big effort now to take Kontum—but so far hasn’t succeeded.

The North Vietnamese may therefore reformulate their position in Paris, perhaps putting the cease-fire as point number 1. We don’t feel, however, that they have to call for a cease-fire. But, if they did, we should exploit it as a defeat for the North Vietnamese. Their call for a cease-fire would be an admission of defeat. I want to emphasize, however, that it is unlikely they will call for a cease-fire. We shouldn’t bite if they do offer one. Instead, we would be well advised to insist on our conditions.

Mr. Johnson: That gets to the heart of the issue. When the point comes that we are talking about a cease-fire, will it be to our net advantage or to the other side’s net advantage to accept?

Mr. Carver: I’m talking in more indefinite terms. I don’t mean to say that if Hanoi proposes a cease-fire on Thursday, we should stop firing on Friday.

Mr. Sullivan: Assuming they propose a cease-fire under the best case—when they control several provincial capitals—they will probably tie their usual conditions to the cease-fire, such as a dismissal of the Thieu government. The proposal would be unacceptable to this Administration, but it will very likely be supported by other people, including, for example, the French.

On the other hand if the North Vietnamese offer came when they didn’t control any provincial capitals, we would read it as their admission of defeat. South Vietnam would then want to tie in our conditions. In other words, Hanoi would make an offer, but Saigon would say it isn’t time to consider the offer. We could be caught in the middle.

[Page 328]

If you go back in history, you see in 1953–54 Pham Van Dong insisted for the better half of the Geneva meeting on first achieving a political solution. Then Chou and Molotov came around with a territorial solution. They were looking for a political solution in those days because they realized they were overextended as a result of Dien Bien Phu.

Mr. Johnson: They also attempted to get a cease-fire in place in 1954.

Mr. Kissinger: Let me see if I can sum up briefly. (to Mr. Carver) You are saying the North Vietnamese will not offer a cease-fire proposal. In the unlikely event they do, the offer will have conditions which are unacceptable to us.

Mr. Carver: That’s right.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Sullivan) You are saying if they do offer a proposal, it would be an admission of defeat.

Mr. Sullivan: Yes.

Mr. Carver: In the best case—where they hold Quang Tri, Hue, An Loc, Kontum and possibly other cities—the offer would be keyed to us: perhaps a trade off of the POWs for a cease-fire. They will try to cause a split between us and the GVN.

Mr. Kissinger: We would never accept that.

Mr. Helms: We have to keep in mind what they would regard as a defeat. The media in Hanoi have been filled with stories about great victories in the South and popular uprisings. When they can’t produce these victories, this will be seen as a defeat in the eyes of the people.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s go through the papers systematically on Friday. In the discussion, we should also talk about the military implications of the cease-fire under various hypotheses.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–116, Washington Special Actions Group, WSAG Minutes (Originals) 1–3–72 to 7–24–72. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. All brackets, except those that indicate the omission of material, are in the original.
  2. Sullivan’s paper, entitled “Possible North Vietnamese Call for a Cease-Fire,” April 25, is ibid., Box H–086, Washington Special Actions Group Meetings, WSAG Meeting Vietnam 5/1/72.
  3. April 28.
  4. The April 27 paper is in the Central Intelligence Agency, Files of the Deputy Director for Intelligence, Job 80–T01719R, Box 3, Likelihood and Consequences of a Sudden Vietnamese Communist Cease Fire Offer—27 April 1972.