142. Editorial Note
Between the first full session of the December negotiating round in Paris on December 4, 1972, and the second full session on December 6, the American contingent in Paris debated the next step with the White House group. President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry A. Kissinger led the Paris contingent, which also included President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs Alexander M. Haig, and staff members of the National Security Council, while President Richard M. Nixon led the White House group, which included Assistant to the President H.R. Haldeman, Counsel to the President John D. [Page 523] Ehrlichman, Special Counsel to the President Charles W. Colson, and National Security Council staff member Richard T. Kennedy.
After the first session on December 4 (see Document 139), Kennedy sent a message to Kissinger that included a note from the President that reads as follows: “I know how difficult these negotiations are and I have every confidence in your judgment and ability to bring this to a successful conclusion if at all possible. We must adhere to the honorable course and the negotiating Option 2, which you recommended, is just that.” Kennedy went on to write:
“The President then asked Mr. Kissinger’s judgment on the following:
“—Whether we should alert Admiral Moorer to be ready to move immediately. He would do this so that no time would be lost after a break but only if this would not be harmful to the negotiating situation there. He would do it if it could be in any way helpful. He realizes that most of the forces are already in place and thus it could only give a limited visible signal. But when alert was issued the word would get out and send a signal in that way.
“—Whether it would be useful to delay the next meeting for two days instead of one as Mr. Kissinger is now considering and in the interim for Mr. Kissinger to return for consultation. He realizes that this would be a strain on Mr. Kissinger and would generate intense press speculation. On the other hand he suggests that it would be a further evidence of the painstaking and serious way in which all issues and positions have been examined and discussed.
“The President emphasized that as to both of these thoughts he only wanted Mr. Kissinger’s judgment and would rely on it.” (Message Tohak 28 from Kennedy to Kissinger, via Guay and Haig, December 5, 0515Z; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 27, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Tohak 1–100, December 3–13, 1972)
“I don’t believe there is a need to talk to Admiral Moorer until I get back. We are ready to move militarily on very short notice in any event. I believe suspension of the negotiations for a couple of days and my return to Washington would generate a crisis atmosphere that would only work against us and strengthen Hanoi’s hand. The postponement of the meeting until tomorrow should allow enough time for any help we might get from Peking and Moscow as the result of our representations and give Hanoi enough time to reconsider where we are.
“Assuming the negotiations do break off, here are my further thoughts on our course of action. We will have to take the initiative both on the military front, by drastically stepping up the bombing, and [Page 524] on the public relations front, by seizing the initiative with respect to explaining the negotiations. I should of course give a detailed briefing on the negotiating record which I will make as impeccable as possible from our standpoint before any breakdown. We have a strong case.
“I still believe however that precisely because we are at a critical juncture we will need a personal address by you to the American people. We obviously face a major domestic problem and we should start out strongly in order to get on top of it—especially as we can expect Hanoi to launch a broadside. Thus I think it is imperative that you talk briefly for 10 to 15 minutes with calmness, reasonableness and determination. I would then follow up next day with the details of the record. I fully agree with you that the American people must be given hope that this situation is not open-ended and that we are close to the end of our involvement. This you can do in your address by stating clear achievable objectives which would essentially add up to trading the end of our involvement for the release of our prisoners. We would say that we had made a maximum effort to arrange a comprehensive peace for all parties but that it proved impossible to get the Vietnamese together. It was now up to them to settle their issues. This seems to be what Thieu prefers and the extra time we have bought and will buy would allow the GVN to survive on its own. As for Moscow and Peking, we will in any event face problems with them, and your message can be phrased so as not to directly challenge them. As always, we will have to work intensively with them behind the scenes.” (Message Hakto 13 from Kissinger to Nixon, via Guay and Kennedy, December 5, 1435Z; ibid., Box 858, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXII (1))
With the ball in its court, the White House group discussed Kissinger’s reply and considered a course of action. Haldeman recorded the December 5 Washington deliberations in his diary:
“Then got into the Vietnam problem and wanted to discuss it in some detail. The question of whether he should go on TV or not. He had K’s cable, which pushed hard on his going on again. Also, he got word that today’s meeting had been canceled. They were going to meet tomorrow.
“This led to a discussion later in the day with Colson on the same subject. He had Colson read the cable and discussed it. Chuck felt as I do and as the P does, that he should not go on. You can’t rally the people again, and so on. Then he told me to go over this with Connally before his meeting with John [Ehrlichman], which I did. He also had Ziegler go over it, on the basis of whether there is anything that the P can say now that’s new. The question is—who is to blame for the breakdown? K wants the P to blame North Vietnam and then pick the thing up. The P’s concern is that this just ties him in with a failure and doesn’t [Page 525] really accomplish anything. Connally felt the same, after we had talked about it a bit. He feels that this is going to be a serious blow to the American people, when we can’t rely on the translation excuse, and that TV’s not the answer. If there is an alternative, we should low key it as much as possible as being an interruption, not a breakdown or a breakoff. K has to take the heat, not the P, but he should not do it in despair or frustration. He should make the point that they have backed off. So then the P told me to send a message to K to tell North Vietnam tomorrow, first, that it’s his belief now, that—in view of the fact that North Vietnam’s reneging on the October 26 agreement and their intransigence—that the P will be able to get funds from Congress to continue military action and military and economic support for South Vietnam. Also, that we should avoid a dramatic breakoff by us, should treat it as a case where we reached an impasse at this time, and each side has gone back for consultation; we’ll resume when it appears productive to resume. Indicate it’s the unanimous opinion here that it would be a mistake to break it off and the P to go on TV with chapter and verse as to why the negotiations have failed. Instead, you should go as hard as you can. If you can’t do it, go home and consult further to see what the next course is, without saying anything regarding a short military step-up. K should do a very short, matter-of-fact briefing, not with huge buildup. Say North Vietnam backed off their commitment, we’ll bargain in good faith whenever they’re ready. Don’t use the translation excuse. They insisted on North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam and a formula that they interpret as a coalition government, which we cannot accept. The P should not get into any details, nor should K—we’re in the Christmas season now, people feel good, and so on, they don’t want to hear all this. We should keep the hopes alive. We need to get K into a different frame of mind. We can’t rally people back to negotiations that failed. K’s TV idea would be a mistake. A briefing by you [Kissinger], at low key, is the way to handle. As a bargaining point, make the point that the P now believes that he can get the funds from Congress. I should cover all these points in the message; that he must not assume that the gun is there to be fired. Henry’s got to be turned off on dealing with this, so that he won’t take the position when he gets in the meeting with North Vietnamese and lock the P into it. The P called me later and said that I should add to the cable a thing that says ‘Incidentally, the P and all of us here, feel that any discussion of your resignation is totally out of order,’ and then he agreed that it be razed. K is overdramatizing that whole thing.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, December 5) Haldeman drafted a message based on the President’s instructions and sent it to Kissinger. (Message Tohak 49 from Haldeman to Kissinger, via Kennedy and Haig, December 6, 0228Z; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger [Page 526] Office Files, Box 27, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Tohak 1–100, December 3–13, 1972)
Kissinger replied: “We had better face the facts of life. If there is no agreement in the next 48 hours, we may be able to pretend that the talks are in recess long enough to permit me to give a briefing after my return. But soon after there will be no way to keep either of the Vietnamese parties from making the stalemate evident. Furthermore if we resume all-out bombing this will be even more true. Thus in the event of a stalemate we have only two choices: to yield or to rally American support for one more effort which I do not believe the North Vietnamese can withstand. If we are to attempt to rally the American people only the President can adequately do that eventually. But if it is your judgment that I should go on first, I will of course be glad to attempt it. We can then discuss the President’s possible involvement later.” (Message Hakto 15 from Kissinger to Haldeman, via Haig and Guay, December 6, 0929Z; ibid., Box 858, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXII (1))