181. Conversation Among President Nixon, Vice President Agnew, and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here are greetings and an exchange of pleasantries.]

Agnew: I wanted to see you, because after Henry had talked with me yesterday and briefed me, I mentioned a few things to him and then a couple of other things occurred to me—

Nixon: Good.

Agnew: —after he left, and I thought—

Nixon: When do you go on your—?

[Page 692]

Kissinger: 12:30.2

Agnew: —but were important. Maybe you’ve—

Nixon: Yeah, we’ve talked.

Agnew: —already related it to the President my—

Nixon: Yeah, we will to talk to—yes. Yes.

Agnew: —the concern about the Congress.

Kissinger: Yes.

Agnew: The other concern that I’ve got—and I think that’s real—you know, Mathias and Stevenson—3

Nixon: The Congress, in any event, is going to be a concern, and that asshole Percy4 is talking about cutting off aid, and anything they can do, really, to torpedo the whole thing. Isn’t that what it is?

Agnew: Well, as I see it, the Mathias-Stevenson thing, they’re working together on a restoration of Congressional prerogatives. They say the executive has usurped their power and gone beyond the constitutional intent—

Nixon: So what will they try to do, then?

Agnew: I think what they may do is, if we hammer both sides—in other words, a pox on the North Vietnamese, a pox on Thieu and his attitude—they’ll use this as a vehicle to say, “Well, what the hell are we doing there? McGovern was right.” What’s his name is—“Harriman’s right.5 Let’s get out,” and “There’s no real need to stay. It was a mistake originally,” and “Cut the funds off.” That’s what—that’s what I—

Nixon: Yeah.

Agnew: —feel they may do.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Agnew: The other point that I think is a real concern—as somewhat of a student of what happened in the past, there, particularly in the Diem time—I think that if it gets out that Thieu is—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Agnew: —verbally laced, I think there’s a good chance that somebody over there might try a coup on him—

[Page 693]

Nixon: [unclear] That’s why I think that it’s got to be handled. Let me ask you this: What’s your feeling if—well, if the Congress [unclear]? How do you think Congress will react to the fact that we may have to step up our military activities? I mean, nothing on the ground. As a matter of fact, I don’t—except when you think of stepping it up, I think we’re going to—you’re stepped up already. I see the big headline in the papers saying we bombed the hell out of North Vietnam. You see that?

Kissinger: This one—

Nixon: Do a little bit more—?

Kissinger: —is going to make a hell of—

Agnew: Yeah.

Kissinger: —a lot of noise.

Agnew: I tell you, a lot is going to depend on the way Henry handles this press conference, and—

Nixon: What do you [unclear]—?

Agnew: —how much he’s able to tell about this duplicity and the trickiness of—

Nixon: You think—how much—

Agnew: —[unclear]

Nixon: —should we lean on that, in your opinion?

Agnew: I think you should lean very heavily on it: the examples of inserting new issues, pulling them away, always leaving us on the brink of a settlement, reopening what has been settled. If you’re going to have any public sympathy at all, that has to be brought out. On the other side, instead of Thieu being treated rather harshly for intransigence, I think the time would be more productive to your interests—our interests—if someone went over there and stroked Thieu. I don’t mean—I mean, really consolidated the relationship and said something on this order: “We understand that a country that’s been torn by war for over—almost a quarter of a century, we feel it’s difficult for us to really appreciate the turmoil that those people are in, as we sit here more or less insulated from their everyday involvement in the horrors of war. And we understand that if the leader, the duly-elected leader of this country, is dealing with a constituency that’s entirely different from what we face in American politics. He’s been accused of being a tool of the United States, a puppet. It’s strictly obvious he isn’t. All of the criticisms directed against him, now, relate to the fact that he is not cooperative enough with us—”

Nixon: Hmm. Hmm.

Agnew: “That is truth enough of itself that he acts—”

Nixon: Yeah.

Agnew: “—for the Vietnamese people, and not for the United States.”

[Page 694]

Nixon: That’s true.

Agnew: And then I think we ought to say something to this effect: “Even though he has—he sees some of these things from a different viewpoint and is understandably concerned about any step that may assist in a North Vietnamese takeover of his country, we know him as a man of reason who, presented with a proper settlement, we believe could be convinced of the merits of it and accept it.” But that’s moot, because we don’t have the proper settlement, Doc. Isn’t that what, basically, what the situation is? In other words—

Kissinger: The harder part is the situation, the formal part of it—

Nixon: I told him a form of that.

Agnew: I’m just afraid that—

Nixon: I already wrote him a long letter, just exactly along those lines—6

Agnew: Did he—?

Nixon: —on the—and with that probably went even further than I should have. Promised every support, and I totally understood his problem, and so forth and so on. We’re going to try to do this. We should—we had been allies, that he could count on our friendship—

Agnew: Good.

Nixon: —and we’re very curious—

Kissinger: But in any event, there’s no intent—

Nixon: He’s basically using us, now. What he’s doing, basically, is he’s sort of kicking us because he thinks that’ll help him with some of his people at home, and that we have no intention of making him the culprit, because if it ever comes to it, if, as I’ve directed to Henry’s case over in Paris, and in a directive this morning, this must come out in a way that North Vietnam, rather than South Vietnam, is to blame for the delay in the talks. That’s the main point. And, as far as Thieu is concerned, the reason then would be he doesn’t want you to go right now, is that we got a long report from Bunker7—he’s close to him, knows him, perhaps, better than anybody else—he’s in a strangely irrational frame of mind, and he [Bunker] is fearful of how he [Thieu] would react. And we can’t put a big bullet there, and then be slapped, because then he’d fall. And if he falls, there’s nobody else better. We don’t want—we don’t want to have him to go through the Diem syndrome. That’s what my main concern is, so I’ve—we’ve got to keep him as happy as we can. I’m concerned [unclear]—

Agnew: [unclear] that I agree with [unclear]—

[Page 695]

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: I mean, we’ve treated him with tender, loving care up to this point—

Agnew: What I’m saying is [unclear]—

Nixon: —except, we have warned him—which is true—that there are elements in the United States Congress who, in the event they get the impression that Thieu’s intransigence is responsible for our not having our POWs home by Christmas, and that sort of thing, then there are allies that would cut off military aid to him. This is what I’d tell him we’ve got to avoid at all costs, because I—you see, when people talk—I mean, some of the right-wingers, for example, are writing on the—I mean, it’s—you would—you can see why they’re on the outside and will never get power—writing such nonsense to the effect: why don’t we just settle with North Vietnam and let Thieu handle his problems? How? I mean, they say: “Just get our prisoners, and we get out.” All right, fine.

Agnew: The only point—

Nixon: We—we’d—you realize if we made a commitment, if we make an offer today to North Vietnam for the prisoners and withdrawal of all Americans, and stopping the bombing, and stopping the mining, they would say, “No.” They would say, “No.” They’d say, “We will give you your prisoners when you not only do that, but when you get out of North Vietnam.” I mean, “get all of—what—when you withdraw all aid from South Vietnam, all aid from Cambodia, all aid from Laos, and all aid from Thailand.” That is their condition for the prisoners. That’s their condition, you see? And that is why this idea that we just go it alone and separate from Thieu is ridiculous. And Thieu has made the same suggestion. He said, “Well, we don’t care. We—you’ve fought long enough. You make a deal with the North and get out.” All right, we can make a deal with the North, but Thieu, you see, just couldn’t survive for one week, not one week—

Agnew: Without our—

Nixon: —after United States aid stopped.

Agnew: Absolutely—

Nixon: In fact, he wouldn’t survive one hour, because there’d be a coup, and they’d kill him. And then, we’d have the same goddamn thing we’ve had on our hands—

Kissinger: The biggest mistake that Thieu is making is this: with all its imperfections, this agreement would provide the legal basis for continued American involvement—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —in the name of protecting the agreement. Any other agreement that’s just bilateral gets us out totally. Then he’ll be—

[Page 696]

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —even with American military aid—

Nixon: The main—the main thing—

Agnew: But we don’t have the agreement to offer him.

Kissinger: No, no. Right now, we don’t have the agreement—

Nixon: Right now. But if we have an agreement, the beauty of it is—the beauty of the agreement that Thieu has really—between us, we know, he’s the fellow that torpedoed it. That’s just between us. He torpedoed it because, he said, “I will not sign this agreement, because it does not provide for the withdrawal of all North Vietnamese from the South Vietnam before I sign.” But, of course, that’s a total repudiation of what he said he’d agree to before. A cease-fire means exactly that. A cease-fire means everybody stays in place, and then they settle it politically. So the agreement was perfect on that. The beauty of the agreement that we had was that, not only, it provided for an immediate return of POWs, it provided for immediate cease-fire throughout Indochina including Laos and Cambodia, and it provided for, in addition to that, for a political settlement—political settlement for South Vietnam. See, the South Vietnamese, Thieu’s government, now retains 92 percent of the population. Thieu—it provided for Thieu staying in power and that, then, some gobbledygook kind of international supervisory body, or a body agreed powered by three parts, would then have some reconciliation meetings and, possibly, an election to determine who governs—

Kissinger: And operated by unanimity—

Nixon: —and Thieu would have the right to veto. And so, in other words, here we give Thieu—but—and in effect—and—and that, but more importantly, it provides for the United States the right to replace all kinds of matériel.

Agnew: Are you telling me—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Agnew: —Mr. President, that Thieu—we could not have sold that on—

Kissinger: No.

Agnew: —Thieu?

Nixon: [unclear] sold him.

Kissinger: No.

Nixon: I sat and talked to Duc, his principal adviser here. I went over this, point by point, myself.8 I said all this. Thieu [Duc] said, “No.” [Page 697] And then, then I went on to say—I said, “Do you realize it?” And he said, “But—but the North Vietnamese will still be there.” I said, “Well, what do you want us to do then?” And, so he said, “Well, President Thieu won’t feel—realizes you’ve fought long enough. Make a separate deal with the North Vietnamese, get your prisoners, and then continue to support us economically and militarily, and we’ll continue to fight the war ’til we drive the enemy out.” I said, “That’d be all ducky” I said, “but, do you know how much chance, how long the Congress would wait before they throw us out on that?” See, we can’t get that from the North Vietnamese.

Agnew: Of course not.

Nixon: See, the North Vietnamese, Ted, will not give us the prisoners, unless we give them the political settlement. So we’re giving them a political settlement in this which means nothing. It keeps Thieu in power, it provides for elections—between you and me—that will never take place—

Agnew: [unclear]—

Nixon: —I trust, and the North Vietnamese will wither away. But, in addition, there’s something else. We’re dealing with the Russians. We’re dealing with the Chinese. This is in the background. Henry was seeing Dobrynin this morning—frankly, at my direction—and I talked to Dobrynin on the phone while he was gone.9 Christ, the Russians want to get this goddamn thing over, for other reasons, because—

Agnew: Sure.

Nixon: —they hate the Chinese. The Chinese want to get it over, because they have other fish to fry with us. But neither of them can get caught not helping the North Vietnamese as long as it goes on. The moment you get this, we can pull the string on that side. And then it means that South Vietnam’s in—really has it made. It’ll be like South Korea. South Korea, now, has the second, incidentally, strongest, biggest army in Asia. South Vietnam has the strongest army in Asia. Here they sit, with the strongest army in Asia, we just put in a billion dollars more of stuff, we’ve given them this kind of an agreement, and Thieu will not accept it because, he says, “No, because the agreement provides for—or, it does not bring—it does not—it [unclear]”—he says that it implicitly provides, because it does not say that all North Vietnamese must leave, a lack of sovereignty of his government over South Vietnam. But his government stays in. We are going to issue a statement, the night of the settlement, that we recognize only his government, as far as that’s concerned. We are going to, of course, continue to provide aid for only his government, you know, on the military side, and here’s the opportunity. [Page 698] But that business is—and that is the agreement, which, of course, has been blown. That’s the reason that—

Agnew: Why won’t the North leave that agreement open for us?

Nixon: It is!

Agnew: Is there—?

Nixon: They’ll take that today.

Kissinger: Well—

Agnew: Well, why can’t we just sell that to Thieu?

Nixon: The October 8th one? They’ll take that today because ThieuThieu’s—but—has a stumbling block. This is the reason why. See, we were—we were improving that agreement [unclear] frankly. We’d gotten 12 improvements. Henry thought that when we went on Monday and Tuesday of last week, we’d get two more. And I had dotted the “i’s,” said, “All right, have the Vice President go out with the new agreement and say, ‘Here it is, now.’” And then, you’d tell them, speaking for—you could say, “Now look: I know the Congress must [unclear], Mr. President. You may not like this provision or that provision, you may disagree with this or that, but if you don’t take this, it’s going to become known that this agreement, which the President believes is the best we can get, which the Congress overwhelmingly will believe, which the country will believe, if you don’t take this, the Congress is going to cut off aid, much as we would want to help you.”

Kissinger: The trouble is, now, we could have lived perfectly well with the October agreement. [unclear]—

Nixon: But he won’t take it today.

Kissinger: But—

Nixon: That—they’ll go back to October 8th, right today, but—

Kissinger: Yeah, but if—

Nixon: —but Thieu won’t—

Kissinger: But if we go back—but if we go back to October 8th, now, it would be such a shattering defeat for him after all the fuss he made that—

Nixon: See?

Kissinger: —I don’t think he could survive that.

Nixon: See, he said, “We’ve already crossed the bridge,” and he wouldn’t take October 8th.

Kissinger: So we need some cosmetic [unclear]—

Nixon: Some, we’re trying to get some cosmetic—and we’ve got some, already. We can improve on October 8th.

Agnew: I thought we had the National Council of Reconciliation and Concord clarified in language.

[Page 699]

Kissinger: Sure.

Nixon: We did—

Agnew: That should be a hell of a big concern for him—

Nixon: We did.

Kissinger: But the trouble with the bastard, if you forgive me, is: we briefed him every evening in Paris of what went on.

Nixon: You won’t believe this.

Kissinger: Every time—

Nixon: You wouldn’t.

Kissinger: —we gave him something, he put it out on Radio Saigon—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —as something that really licked Hanoi.

Nixon: And then, Hanoi would withdraw it the next morning—

Kissinger: Then—then Hanoi withdrew the—withdrew everything.

Nixon: Well—

Kissinger: So we went. This he hasn’t said to anyone, of course, but he won’t say that—

Nixon: But, let me—let me say this—let me say this: we can get, we can get an improved agreement over October 8th. Let me say, first, October 8th was good enough, because—let me put—let’s be quite candid about this, about agreements. They’re not what counts. You know it as well as I do. They aren’t worth a goddamn. The trouble with Yalta, and I studied it at great length—I was—I re-read Churchill’s account, which, of course, is the most critical of Yalta of all, time and time and again. And I read Alger Hiss’s account, and Bohlen’s. Bohlen was, perhaps, the most objective. The trouble with Yalta was not the agreement; it was the fact that the goddamn Communists, the Russians, busted it.

Agnew: Yeah.

Nixon: They didn’t give the Poles the free elections. They didn’t provide for what they were supposed to in Czechoslovakia. Now, any agreement we make with these sons-of-bitches will be worth only the will of the people to keep it, and what we can have in the way of trip wires to smack ’em again. Now, this agreement that we’ve developed, I believe, has got so many landmines in it, where, if they start infiltration again, if they don’t set up the supervisory board—well, you know what I mean—where we can say, “They have broken the agreement. We’re going to start bombing ’em again.” Now, that is what’s going to make them come along. Plus, of course, the stroke we have with the Russians, the strokes we have with the Chinese, and the stroke we’ll have with North Vietnam, because at that point, presumably, we will be giving [Page 700] them some economic assistance that they desperately need. What you have here is a situation. It’s a curious one. However, and this the real point why that son-of-a-bitch Ser—Percy and Mathias, your Senator, whom I trust will have—without saying it, I understand there’s nobody—he’s got to believe they’re not running against him in the primary.

Agnew: We’ll get somebody out there.

Nixon: Well, get somebody. No, no, no. I don’t need John involved in that. We don’t want to make him another Goodell.10 But look, here’s the reason that that sort of thing hurts: put yourself in the position of Hanoi. They can say, “Here’s Henry in Paris. It’s two weeks before Christmas. It’s 10 days before Christmas. It’s two weeks before the Congress comes in.” And so, he says this: “Nixon’s miffed.” So they can say: “What the hell? We’ll diddle him along. We’ll wait.” We’re not bombing very much, not as much as we were. We may be bombing a lot more next week for this very reason. So you see, they say: “It doesn’t make any difference. Why do we make an agreement now, because the Congress will meet, it will be so mad because there is no agreement, that the Congress will proceed to cut off all aid?” You see, there is the danger. There’s the critical danger. And so, if they figure they turn it right over to Congress, they aren’t going to give it to us. That’s the thing. That’s the reason we’ve got to act this week. Henry, isn’t that really [unclear]—?

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: And then if—if, for example, I was delighted to see that Barry [Goldwater] has made the point on the other side, but that Barry also took [unclear] rest of it by saying, in effect, “Well look, if they don’t want to go along with a good agreement, we’ll do it alone.” [unclear] What he’s trying to do, really, is to build a backfire, as I see it, against the damn doves. See, the doves want to lose the war. They really do. Do you agree?

Agnew: Yeah. Sure—

Nixon: They don’t give a damn.

Agnew: They have a vested interest in it.

Nixon: So, what we need, now, at this time, we have got to convince the country, and it’s going to be tough as hell. We’ve got to convince the country, and Henry will get it across this morning, first, that it was—that the Russians, that the [unclear] that the Communists were duplicitous. He’s got to put in a line to the effect. He’s got to take no account of the fact, yes, it is true that the South Vietnamese had some disagreements [Page 701] with the text, which we have tried to improve. We’ve got to make it clear that’s all [unclear]—

Kissinger: I think it’s in Thieu’s interest that he is not made—

Nixon: The goat?

Kissinger: —the guy who has stopped the agreement.

Agnew: Oh God, yeah.

Kissinger: I think it is in our interest—

Nixon: [unclear] that it’s not—that he didn’t stop the agreement. Right.

Kissinger: What I think it is, it’s to our interest, is to say roughly what you said, minus that we are sure they’d accept it.

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah—

Kissinger: But we should say, “Yes, there were some disagreements with the South Vietnamese, but that is a moot question—”

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: “—because—”

Nixon: That’s—see, that’s the way he’s going to say it: “A moot question.”

Kissinger: “Because we never reached that issue.”

Nixon: We have never reached the issue, and we don’t know whether they’d accept it. But the other point is that we, above everything else, have got to get the goddamn Congress to stand firm.

Agnew: That’s not going to be easy, Mr. President.

Nixon: Well, it won’t be easy in the present context, but it will be if we get the POW thing up front and center, and let that be the only issue. That might help, too. Do you think—let me put a moot question to you, a moot point. Suppose we offer it today? We say, “All right, there is no political settlement. In return for all of our POWs, and accounting for our MIAs, we will stop the bombing, stop the mining, and withdraw all of our Americans within 60 days.”

Agnew: Then the question will come up: “How about economic and military assistance?”

Nixon: All right, on that point: don’t you think that the majority of the Congress would stay with us on the first point? As long as we will continue economic and military assistance to South Vietnam, as long as the Communists aid the North, but the point is, as far as the point of the Congress is concerned, the Congress would have to support the proposition of the prisoners for withdrawal.

Agnew: I think it could work—

Nixon: We’d be making—

Agnew: —but I think they’d also force us completely out of there very quickly after that.

[Page 702]

Nixon: Well, there’s the problem we’ve got.

Agnew: In other words, I think we could do it via—

Kissinger: But should we continue to play this game?

Nixon: Well, what would we do then?

Kissinger: The North Vietnamese would be delighted to let us play—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —another Paris session.

Nixon: Yeah. We can go through another Paris session. That’s true.

Kissinger: I mean, we can keep this peace move go—move going for another three or four weeks.

Nixon: [laughs]

Agnew: It seems to me, based on what you told me, Henry, that the only way we’re going to get negotiating in good faith is if the North Vietnamese think we’re fully ready to resume kicking the hell out of them and do it.

Kissinger: That’s right.

Agnew: Uh—

Nixon: Then [unclear]—

Agnew: Now, the question is: How do you keep things quiet here, while you’re doing it—?

Nixon: Yeah, but the point is, don’t you have to kick them some before they could know that?

Agnew: Oh, yeah. There’s no doubt about that.

[unclear exchange]

Agnew: That’s why it seems to me that if a consultation with Thieu, now, if Haig goes and he—unless he, he reveals—

Nixon: I mean, what would he say?

Agnew: I think what he really ought to say is that—

Nixon: See, we can’t—

Agnew: Be very conciliatory.

Nixon: There’s one danger—

Agnew: That we understand [unclear]—

Nixon: But, we are concil—no, we’re—we are terribly conciliatory—

Agnew: I think we ought to say it publicly that we’re there because the reasons we went in there to help the Thieu government are just as valid today—

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah—

Agnew: —as the day we went in there, and—

Nixon: The problem is that—well, there is one problem.

[Page 703]

Agnew: —it would sell it here—

Nixon: The moment we start kicking them again—here’s what Thieu wants. Thieu is afraid. Abrams believes that Thieu is simply afraid to go it alone, and I think what happens is that Thieu doesn’t want us out. And, he thinks—he just thinks that, because we’ve done it always before, that we’ll be able to carry it again. He doesn’t realize that there comes a time when the American people are tired of the goddamn war, and they want it over. And that’s what it is. Right?

Agnew: But if the North would let us get to the point where it wasn’t moot, then I can see how we—you can operate [unclear]—

Nixon: Wherewith? Like what?

Agnew: In other words, if they said, “Yes, the situation is open to settlement with some cosmetic changes”—

Nixon: Um-hmm.

Agnew: —that will allow us to say to Thieu, “Now look, we’ve gone back and we’ve—”

Nixon: That’s exactly what he was suggesting—

Agnew: “—we’ve clarified, and—”

Nixon: —but that’s what we had last week. Frankly, we’ve had it three times, presented it to Thieu, he said, “No.”

Kissinger: That’s right.

Nixon: Three times. And, believe me, they were good cosmetic [unclear]. They took out a lot of wording—

[unclear exchange]

Agnew: But I thought what I was supposed to do was to go say, “Now, damn it, here they are. This is the last time we’re going to present ’em to you.”

Nixon: What’s that?

Agnew: Wasn’t that what I was supposed to do?

Nixon: Yeah.

Agnew: “Here they are—”

Nixon: That’s right.

Agnew: “This is the last time,” with a high visibility, and—

Nixon: That’s right. You were, but, you see, we didn’t want to launch you.

Agnew: Yeah.

Kissinger: But we can’t do it [unclear]—

Nixon: [unclear] We didn’t want to launch you until we had the North on the dotted line.

Agnew: Yeah—

Nixon: And they didn’t sign on the dotted line because—

[Page 704]

Agnew: That’s what I’m afraid of—

Nixon: —you see?

Agnew: If we had them on the dotted line, we should—we should probably have gone ahead with that.

Nixon: We planned to.

Agnew: Yeah.

Nixon: That’s right. There, we were having you—you would have gone Wednesday.11 We expected to have the North on the dotted line on Wednesday and then, I’ll be damned if Thieu didn’t put out that. These are small things, it seems—

Agnew: Yeah.

Nixon: —but he put out a statement, Monday night.12 Well, we [unclear]—

Kissinger: See, the big issue is the recognition of the demilitarized zone.

Agnew: Yeah.

Kissinger: They had already accepted it—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Kissinger: —two weeks ago. Thieu put it out, so they withdrew it.

Agnew: Well, but, now, we’re looking at a situation where we don’t have them on the dotted line, so we can’t look at it in the same frame as we were looking at it—

Nixon: You know what I hope the situation is? Let me tell you this. It doesn’t make—I told this to little Duc—I said, “It doesn’t make any difference what—whether we recognize the demilitarized zone or not. It doesn’t make it. It’s a piece of paper. It doesn’t make any difference whether this is called a National Government of Concord or a National Committee of Concord or Reconciliation, or not. It depends upon what happens.” And I said, “If they come across that demilitarized zone, we’re going to bomb the hell out of them.” I said, “That, I gave you a promise to do.” [unclear] And, in the event that they try to treat this situation as a government, rather than simply a committee to set up an election, Thieu is going to veto it. So, tell me, what is wrong with that?

Agnew: Why isn’t it, Mr. President, to the North’s benefit to give us the agreement? Despite—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Agnew: —what Thieu’s saying about it—

Nixon: I think the main—

[Page 705]

Agnew: —so, we’re clearly placed in a position where we have to act, and we don’t have to—

Nixon: Why won’t—why—?

Agnew: Why won’t they do that?

Nixon: Why don’t they do the agreement?

Agnew: For their own benefit?

Nixon: Yeah. Congress is coming in on the 3d. They think they’re going to get them to knuckle. They—they think they might, at long last, grasp victory from the jaws of defeat. They’re hurting. Why are they talking? Because the bombing and the mining has brought ’em to their knees. This thing is over. It really is. Militarily, they wouldn’t even be talking if they weren’t hurting badly. But right now, you see, they see the deadline of the Congress coming back, and these assholes like Stevenson and Mathias are saying the Congress will cut off aid. What would you do if you were sitting in the North? Would you agree to anything?

Agnew: No, I just thought—

Nixon: There’s the point, see—?

Agnew: I thought I could get the Congress to—

Kissinger: Well, you see, their point is: this was a 50–50 deal. They had made major concessions, really big concessions, but Thieu would have had to make some concessions, too. They must have made the decision with a very narrow margin in October. One reason why we were so much in favor of pushing in October was because they were against a deadline on November 7th that they couldn’t change, and that we couldn’t change. Now, they feel if they diddle us along, week after week, they can always settle if things get too tough. They’ve—

Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —very cleverly maneuvered it into a position where, by sending one message, they can settle it.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: But they never send the goddamn message.

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: So, if we crack, they get the whole ball of wax. If we don’t crack—

Nixon: They still can [unclear]—

Kissinger: —they still have the option of settling, and—

Nixon: Let me tell you, there’s still a chance for a settlement. There’s still a chance for a settlement. The Russians are pressuring them. The Chinese, maybe. But, the main point is what is pressuring them the most is the fact that the military situation for them is damn bad. It’s bad and critical.

[Page 706]

Kissinger: If they are willing to cooperate—

Nixon: And we’re going to make it much more critical next week. We’ve got to. And, when the Congress comes back, if we have to have it out, we’ll have it out.

Kissinger: They are the tawdriest bunch.

Agnew: Yeah.

Kissinger: You know, we’ve dealt with—

Nixon: And incidentally, we may have to use you. But, I told Henry, I said, “I’m not going to send—launch the Vice President out there and have him rebuffed by this son-of-a-bitch.” I mean, either one. I mean, when I say, “Thieu’s a son-of-bitch,” I say it more in sorrow than in anger, because to Henry, he’s cutting his own throat. He doesn’t realize if you put the plebiscite up in this country: “Should we support Thieu?” We’ve polled this. Do you know what it is? Twelve percent.

Agnew: That’s bad.

Nixon: Twelve percent.

Agnew: Absolutely [unclear]—

Nixon: On the hand, if you put a plebiscite up in the country: “Do you favor the imposition of a Communist government on South Vietnam by—or a coalition government,” it’s 52 to 30, against it. You see? Thieu has now confused himself with the real issue, and he’s got to watch out. The American people don’t know that he is synonymous with whether they have a Communist government. There isn’t anybody else out there—

Kissinger: He doesn’t understand. I’ve tried to tell him through his Ambassador—

Nixon: Right. I’ve told Duc. You heard two hours of a lecture such as nobody has ever had in this office.

Kissinger: That’s right. If Thieu—if the American people felt that what came out of there is something they can be proud of, they’d defend it. They don’t give a good goddamn whether it’s called: “Council”—

Agnew: Of course—

Kissinger: —“Administration”—

Nixon: That’s right.

Kissinger: —“Committee.”

Nixon: And we’ll pay.

Kissinger: And all this baloney over these phrases that excite the Vietnamese so much wouldn’t make any difference.

Agnew: No doubt about that.

Nixon: Yeah.

[Page 707]

Agnew: If—but what I’m looking at, or trying to look at—and I agree 100 percent with your analysis, Mr. President—

Nixon: Yeah.

Agnew: —I think you’ve got—

Nixon: Yeah.

Agnew: —the thing right, right on key. What it appears to be—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Agnew: —what happens, in the event—

Nixon: Yeah?

Agnew: —that the American people and the Congress get the idea—

Nixon: Yeah?

Agnew: —that we are publicly wavering on Thieu? To me, that is—

Nixon: Well, no. They won’t get the idea we’re wavering on Thieu.

Kissinger: [unclear]

Nixon: Now, don’t worry about that. Huh? Never. Never.

Agnew: That would—that would cause—

Nixon: No—

Agnew: —a cut off—

Nixon: —we’re gonna put that—

Agnew: And a possibility of a coup—

[Omitted here are discussion of a memorandum Nixon was looking at and discussion of the President’s schedule.]

Nixon: Well, anyway, you understand, we’re not going to—we’re—we are trying [unclear] we’re not going to throw off on Thieu. That’s the easiest thing to do. And we can’t cut out from him. A separate peace is impossible. We all know that. He’s the one that’s talking about a separate peace, but the point that we have to do, is that we have to lay a foundation for what we have to do next week. And that is, we’ve got to give them a kick in the ass. And everybody’s got to stand firm for a week over Christmas.

Agnew: Yeah.

Nixon: Despite all of our talk about peace.

Agnew: We’ve still got the fund cut-off looking at us, I think. Regardless of what we do, it’s—

Nixon: Yeah, I agree. You mean, the fund cut-off that the Congress can still act upon?

Agnew: Yeah.

Nixon: It takes a little time, though. We’ll use what we’ve got—

[Page 708]

Agnew: Are you going to have Henry brief any selected—?

Nixon: Today?

Agnew: Or any time before they convene?

Nixon: No. No. Not, not now. I mean, what we’re going to do, today he’s going to brief the press on the status of the negotiations. We don’t want to escalate this to that point. Congress is spread all over hell, anyway. We couldn’t get them, anyway—

Agnew: No, I didn’t mean now. I mean, before they—

Nixon: Well—

Agnew: —before they organize.

Nixon: —the only purpose of doing that would be to indicate what we have to do over the next two or three weeks, and so forth. But, this is going to be—have to be watched week by week. Within a week, we’ll know whether the North Vietnamese [unclear]probably know that they’re going to just stone us through. We’re going to know, then, whether or not we have to submit to the Congress our own cut-off. See? We may have to submit a cut-off, and then everybody’s got to line up and fight for it. And the cut-off, however, has got to—one thing we cannot cut off is economic and military aid to the South. That’s another reason why we’re not going to piss on Thieu. You see?

Agnew: All right, sir.

Nixon: You got it?

Agnew: I have it.

Nixon: You agree?

Agnew: I agree entirely. I’m just concerned, you understand—

Nixon: Yeah.

Agnew: —about—

Nixon: Sure.

Agnew: From what Henry told me about how—

Nixon: Well, Thieu [unclear]—

Agnew: [unclear] the way it was going to appear was that our confidence in Thieu has been diminished.

Nixon: [unclear]

Agnew: I can even go with that, if I don’t think [unclear]—

Nixon: I understand.

Kissinger: We won’t even mention Thieu.

Nixon: That’s right.

Agnew: Thank you.

[Agnew left at 10:35 a.m. Omitted here is discussion unrelated to the Vice President’s conversation with the President.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 825–6. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Agnew and Kissinger met with Nixon in the Oval Office from 10:01 to 10:35 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editors transcribed the portions of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.
  2. As it turned out, the press conference started earlier. According to his Record of Schedule, Kissinger held it from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–76) See Document 182. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Kissinger met with Nixon in the Oval Office immediately after the press conference until 1:25 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  3. Anti-war Senators Charles M. Mathias (R–MD) and Adlai E. Stevenson III (D–IL).
  4. Senator Charles H. Percy (R–IL).
  5. Senator George S. McGovern (D–SD), Democratic Party nominee in the 1972 Presidential election; W. Averell Harriman, veteran American diplomat and head of the U.S. Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks under President Johnson.
  6. See Document 107.
  7. See Document 168.
  8. See Documents 131 and 134.
  9. Nixon called Dobrynin on December 10; see Document 155.
  10. Congressman Charles Goodell (R–NY) was defeated for re-election in 1970.
  11. December 13.
  12. Nixon was referring to Thieu’s December 12 speech. See Document 160.