17. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) and the Soviet Ambassador (Dobrynin)1
D: Hello, Henry. You are already back?
K: Yes, Anatol.
D: Have you had a chance to look through it?2
K: Yes. I had a chance to look through it.[Page 154]
D: Do you have any additional comments?
K: Well, here is the comment I have to make. We have had a study made of all the prisoners there and of course we haven’t been able to approach the Saigon government yet.
D: Uh, huh.
K: Because I want to present the agreement to them myself. And I think something can be done but first the other side must work with us realistically.
D: Uh, huh.
K: Now the biggest problem I have concerns their own forces in the south because the practical consequence of their proposal is that not only do they want to keep all of their forces in the south, they want Saigon to release 40,000 people whom they consider, you know, guerrillas, to then join those forces. And that is an almost impossible product to sell. Now you know if we spend 6 weeks on it we can probably get something done.
K: If you are going to do it in 2 or 3 days they have to be concrete in one of two ways. If they pull some of their units out, then I have a much better basis to talk.
D: You mean along those lines you mentioned.
K: Along the lines I mentioned. Let them move some of the divisions. My proposal to them was that they should move the divisions that were never in the country before March 25th. That they moved in after March 25th. Most of them are in the northern part of the country so they wouldn’t really have to go all that far to go back.
D: You mean, oh, much rather, very much symbolic to begin with.
K: Because, my impression was you said …
K: I am talking about, they have about 10 divisions there more or less. If they kept 7, that would be … I don’t want to say exactly how many they should move.
D: It’s a rather difficult thing for us to be involved in all this … how many really.
K: But I don’t even want to tell them how many they should move.
D: I understand.
K: It should be a noticeable number.3 If we can get some assurances of that we are in a much better position to bring about the release of [Page 155] some of these prisoners. I do not believe, I honestly do not believe that Thieu will release them if the North Vietnamese forces stay. If we get out, he is losing all our forces, he is losing the military strength, we are pulling all our air force out. Now the other route is that they could enter the agreement, I don’t know, we have sent them yesterday a phrase which is not in the text you have, at the end of paragraph 8(c) we have added a phrase that says the two parties will do their utmost to achieve an agreement within three months.4 I have already told you orally. We have said that we will do our best and make a maximum effort. Now I think I can do even better. I think we can get about, just looking at the list, we might be able to get 10,000 released fairly quickly.
D: What is the essence of your second proposal?
K: The essence of my second proposal is if they gave us a combination of the withdrawal of some forces then I could make more complete my assurances.
D: It seems the second is the same as … because you said …
K: The other route is … there are two routes. If they pull out their forces we can release more of their forces faster.
D: Yes. And what is the second route?
K: The second is that we forget about their forces in which case their releases will be more along the lines we proposed to them.
D: You mean within the three months.
K: Within the three months [of] an agreement.
D: Oh, an agreement.
D: And if you are going to do something then it will be within the first months so to speak.
K: That’s right, within the first months.
D: Oh, I see. But I will not argue with you about the difference.
K: But there’s a big difference because our present proposal is, not that anyone should be released but that an agreement should be reached within a three months period.
D: You mean the agreement on …
K: On the release schedule.
D: But not the releases within the three months.
D: Oh, I see. Then I misunderstand you.[Page 156]
K: And we are willing to give them an additional assurance that that we are willing to use our maximum influence that these releases take place.
D: You are speaking about within three months you will reach agreement or within three months you are going to release them?
K: The present proposal is that within three months we will reach the agreement. And the second route is if they pull something out we will have substantial releases within three months.
D: Well it is difficult these combinations, particularly in terms you discussed with us, because you mentioned to us the suggestion from your side for our consideration, but now it’s rather the second of your proposals. At first I really thought you were proposing something noticeable from the point of view of air force—and then which gave all of you something to begin, but now you are rather tied up not with the show of willingness from their side to withdraw something for the time being but rather commit themselves to a certain number of divisions. This is rather difficult for us to do anything.
K: No, no, you don’t have to get into the divisions at all.
D: Yes, but you mentioned …
K: But you asked me for an idea.
D: But the idea is now …
K: The idea is that they should withdraw some forces. How many let them discuss it with us.
D: I understand. But I think I had better leave it on this basis without going into all the details.
K: I don’t think you should go into any details. You could say first they want to move at the schedule they have established then we have the massive problem of how to bring Saigon along with this.
D: No, I understand. But first there really is now the question with which you are tied up with troop withdrawal one way or another, but it is up to them to discuss it with you.
K: It is up to them.
K: But you can tell them this. Even without a withdrawal we will make some efforts in that direction. It will just be harder.
D: Well, I understand. But in order to make it more quicker and sure …
K: That’s right.
D: OK. And this I will mention to Moscow. Of course my impression is whether Moscow will look into this. And to take all the proposals, I said this because just make it on the second part about troop [Page 157] withdrawals as a token of a show of willingness or which now no need at all. Because I understood your proposal …
K: A show of willingness would be very helpful.
D: But just a question of withdrawal …
K: It would be very helpful.
D: But it is argued a show of willingness in terms of divisions, because it is difficult from our side I am thinking about.
K: You don’t have to give them the numbers.
D: So I leave it as it was. On a new question you are tied up with this new thing and I thought you preferred to discuss even without this side of it.
K: Without the prior agreement.
D: It would make it too difficult, otherwise you could be in a deadlock.
K: Well, if we are in a deadlock that’s not the worse thing that can happen to us.
D: Well some kind of things are relevant since we are going deeper into other things (laughs). This is the point.
K: We take your views very seriously, but …
D: That’s what you really listen to.
K: But we have made absolutely the maximum concessions that’s possible to make.
D: No, no, I am not arguing with you, but I simply tried to make it clear our point of view and then I would like to be ready more what you are really up to.
K: What we are up to without any withdrawal on their side we are willing to make a big effort in Saigon, but I am not very optimistic. With some withdrawals on their side we can make a bigger effort and we can have bigger numbers released right away.
D: I understand.
K: That is a fact of life.
D: No, no, I would like to hear more your position a little more. OK, Henry and you are leaving tomorrow at 10?
D: 10:30. Well, in the morning we will have time to say hello.
K: Well, absolutely, Anatol.
D: I will telephone you. All right?
K: Good. And tell Gromyko not to coach them. They are tough enough without it.
D: Well, we know this. This we know. Bye, bye.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 27, Dobrynin File. No classification marking.↩
- The October 14 DRV note; see Document 14.↩
- In a 9:55 a.m. telephone conversation on October 15, Dobrynin asked Kissinger if the North Vietnamese would have to acknowledge that they were pulling out troops (even if only a “token” withdrawal) from the South. Kissinger responded: “No, no, they just do it. Our intelligence will pick it up.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 27, Dobrynin File)↩
- See Document 14.↩