294. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

P: Hello.

K: Mr. President.

P: Hi, Henry, are you in the Situation Room or something?

K: No, I was—I had Elliot in my office.

P: Oh, fine.

K: Elliot Richardson. And I wanted to get rid of him before I spoke to you.

P: No, I just didn’t want to bother you when you were in something else.

K: No, no, I am …

P: Ron is all on salvo for everything today?2

K: Yes, he is all on …

P: What is the answer in the event they raise the question about the objections that—Thieu’s objections in the protocols and all that sort of thing? What does he say. Frankly, I think this is the key question I think a press man will put. Or suppose they don’t go along. What are you going to do, Mr. Ziegler?

K: I think he should say we are discussing with them the outline of what we consider …

P: We are not going to comment on what—on that at this point.

K: No, no, we don’t comment on the hypothetical situation.

[Page 1063]

P: On a hypothetical question you don’t comment—I will prepare him for that.

K: I think that is better.

P: Well, that’s what I intended but I just want him to be sure. That’s the kind of question that he is likely to get and I don’t want him to get in any muddy ground on that sort. Just say that while our discussions are underway we are just not going to comment on the progress of negotiations.

K: Exactly.

P: We are just making an announcement with regard to the fact that Dr. Kissinger will return to meet with Le Duc Tho for the purpose of completing the text of the agreement. Period.

K: Exactly.

P: And beyond that I have nothing further to say.

K: Exactly.

P: As to hypothetical questions, I am not going to comment on them.

K: On the other hand, Mr. President, when you talk about newspapers, Washington Post has a big headline going across the front page saying Thieu ready to accept ceasefire.

P: Yep. You understand I don’t pay any attention to, Henry—the only thing I see here is the Herald Times this morning. It doesn’t bother me any. I just want to be sure that we don’t get trapped on one of those questions of that sort so that—and therefore, egg Thieu out in the open before the 20th or before the 23rd for that matter.

K: As I said yesterday, I think it is highly unlikely because it is never to his advantage to be at an open break with us.

P: Yeah, yeah, I agree, I agree.

K: I mean.

P: You know, I am just figuring that what people do when they are not rational and history is rather full of instances when they are not. Right?

K: That’s right.

P: Don’t we know? (Laughter)

K: We certainly have got plenty of experience …

P: Right.

K: Haig had a good talk with Lon Nol who—he’s the guy with respect to whom the agreement is least satisfactory because it’s a series of indirect understandings.

P: Right.

K: And, nevertheless he’s the man, I mean, he’s absolutely enthusiastic, he says the North Vietnamese have suffered a shattering defeat [Page 1064] and he thinks he can live with it, a great improvement of the situation, and so on and so forth.

P: Good, good.

K: And I know we know what Souvanna thinks.

P: Yes, he’s told us he won’t change that.

K: He won’t change that, and this new agreement is better.

P: And about the Thais—

K: Well he’s going there tomorrow, there’ll be no problem with the Thais.

P: No problem, but they are the ones you want to put the arm on Thieu.

K: Absolutely.

P: All right.

K: And we sent the letter off to Thieu, we haven’t had a report from Bunker yet.

P: Well, he may not get it, isn’t that correct, did you say he’s only going to deliver it and walk out, then maybe Thieu will give it to Haig when he arrives. But that’s not our trouble, as I said I’m only getting the contingencies ready and getting on with things—you know, at least they don’t turn out that way. And we’ll just be prepared to go out on the contingency plan if necessary.

K: Exactly.

P: But we might be ready to go on that, that may make it unnecessary to use it. But in the meantime, I’m like you, I cannot see under the circumstances how he could run away from this. Also it’s interesting to note the story that is carried here in the papers this morning, that they go on that version, and he says that the agreement is all right but it is the protocols that worry him.

K: But that’s what we expected.

P: Yeah, I know you said that, but nevertheless that is a rather significant step from what it was before. Isn’t that true?

K: Oh, yes. And again when you speak about—

P: And the letter that we sent off to him answers some of that stuff on protocol.

K: Yes. That’s just a delaying action. Now, he, moreover he had 2½ months on the protocols. All last week we were pleading with him for comments and they wouldn’t give them to us.

P: Yeah.

K: But the protocols, Mr. President, will in fact turn out to be one of our strong points, because everybody—Rowland Evans I don’t know who talked to him, but it is somebody who has access to the agreement [Page 1065] because he has a column today that’s very accurate, very favorable to you.3

P: Is that right?

K: Sure, oh yes, saying that your cold blooded decision improved the agreement tremendously, and then he tries reverse from some paragraphs of the agreement. Specifically the protocols.

P: That’s good. Would it be useful, the only thing I wonder, would it be useful to have Goldwater take a little—say look, come along boy.

K: I think that might do some good.

P: Well, then, you give Colson a call and tell him that, huh.

K: Right. I had a good talk with Colson yesterday too.

P: Right. Good.

K: Of course, he’s enthusiastic.

P: Yeah. What I meant is if—you remember I raised this before—as to whether we wanted some of our hawks and, and you said yesterday you didn’t think any breaks from the right would do any good.

K: Well, Goldwater might do us some good.

P: He just ought to say, I think if Goldwater could just come out and say it’s time to quit this nonsense, stop all this jabbering and this and that and—

K: And say that the major concern is now to close ranks. That is more important.

P: This or that clause and the interpretation of the agreement that we done and it’s time to go forward. You give Colson a call and tell him to—understand, the only one it’ll help with—I don’t want one of the left to do it, but somebody like Goldwater from the right, should say it.

K: Exactly.

P: And maybe Stennis will say it if he won’t. Stennis should be another good one.

K: Right.

P: But I only suggest it, I just have a feeling it might have some effect on people out there.

K: I think you are right.

P: The only other one that could help would be, in terms of the newspaper types, is somebody like Buckley.4 But—

K: Buckley has already said it.

[Page 1066]

P: His lead time is so long—

K: And also he’s already said it.

P: Yeah, I know. I’m just thinking of saying it now at a time that is more timely. But let me say, let Goldwater take a pop at it. Now the only risk there is that we pop them and they got to answer, but I don’t think they are going to answer.

K: No, no, they won’t answer Goldwater, certainly not.

P: But my point is that when they were here they saw the likes of the doves, which is good, Javits and the rest scared them to death as to what would happen, and here’s Goldwater, their staunch man, and the other one is HebertGoldwater, Hebert and Stennis are the three best names I can think of.

K: Let me talk to Colson. Should he make the calls to them or should I?

P: No, no, no I think Colson, well. In this instance I think you could. Talk to him about it, I just, I think actually it would be better—

K: None of them would say they had talked to me, they keep their—

P: Yeah, well you can tell them that it’s very important that this not appear to come from the White House.

K: Right.

P: But that you feel it would be helpful if they could just say that, that we think they are going to come along, but it would be helpful if they could say that. The only reason I suggest the—working with Colson is that with these fellows you’ve damn near got to write it out for them and take it down, or they—you see what I mean.

K: Well what I should do is talk to Colson and then work with him on what should be said.

P: Right.

K: My instinct as to Stennis

P: I take it you think better of him, I know. And Goldwater will too, they all will. I would try all three though. I would try Goldwater and Stennis, in other words let’s have two people get that thing out there two different ways.

K: And keep Hebert in reserve.

P: Well Hebert is in the House, so it isn’t going to make that much difference over there. I think you might just let the three of them, you know, and maybe only one of the three will hit. But the point is by having three out there, one of the three damn well will hit.

K: Right.

P: I have a feeling, just a hunch, that that sort of thing coming from here could shake these people a little bit.

[Page 1067]

K: I think today is the right day for it. Yesterday would have been premature.

P: Yeah, today—the announcement is at 12:00 Noon, right?

K: Right, he should make it a little earlier because the—

P: Oh sure, 11:00 briefing, of course, 11:30.

K: Right.

P: And we’ll be prepared. I’m going forward myself, I think we’ve got—you know you’ve got to take some gamble—I’m going forward on positive upbeat without going all the way of course, upbeat line in the inaugural.

K: Right.

P: Because failing to do that would be immediately interpreted as a lack of confidence in what was going to happen.

K: I would do it, Mr. President.

P: And I feel, first I think it’s going to come out, but second, even if it comes out with Thieu dragging his feet, it’s still a peace, right?

K: It’s got to end now, Mr. President, and it will one way or the other.

P: It’s over, huh.

K: The only thing I would perhaps mention is, but that’s more for your speech on the 23rd than for your inaugural, I don’t know whether I would nail myself so much to the word lasting peace or guaranteed peace because this thing is almost certain to blow up sooner or later.

P: Well I think rather than lasting and guaranteed in relation to this in the inaugural I’m not going to speak of this specifically, I’m going speak of this in conjunction with our whole policy as being a structure of peace in the world, see my point.5

K: No, no, the inaugural is fine. I was thinking more of the 23rd.

P: No, I wouldn’t guarantee that this was a lasting peace, I’d, as a matter of fact we’ve got to say that this will depend upon the intention of all parties to keep this. The fact that we sign an agreement does not mean that peace can be lasting.

K: But one thing the agreement will do is to put Indochina into the perspective of a world wide structure for peace.

P: Yeah, yeah. I agree with you. But you work on that, I will not bother my mind with it. I will not need that, incidentally, I don’t want to even see it until about 7:00 Sunday night.6 See I will have inaugural [Page 1068] affairs all day long, so by 10:00 pm Monday night I want to see the draft of whatever you think we ought to say Tuesday, see.

K: Right, I’ll have it.

P: And then—when do you have to take off?

K: Monday morning.

P: Monday morning, oh God. Oh, well, that’s all right. I know what to say in that and it’s going to be so brief and serious and everything that—

K: Will you send me any draft text. We have a very secure channel.

P: Oh, sure, sure. I will have to do my major modifications of whatever I get in and get it in my own language. I’d do it all day Monday, so I will send you a text Monday night.

K: That would be fine. And then I could get you my comments. On the rhetoric I won’t really say I have a great deal to contribute.

P: I don’t believe we should actually make a lot of rhetoric. I think it should be more like China. I don’t think we should stand up there and say, God isn’t this great and so forth, I think it’s going to speak for itself.

K: That is my very strong view.

P: I do feel that we should say—to call on all people to adhere and the North, the South, and thank our own people for going through this long and difficult experience.

K: I was very interested—David Bruce whom I saw yesterday—

P: I’m glad you saw him.

K: You acted like a great man. Anyone else would have said let’s rush it through by the 20th. You are obviously moving at a measured pace, you don’t get rattled toward peace, you don’t get rattled in military actions.

P: Yeah. What was his reaction about the whole thing, Henry, did—how did he feel.

K: He says it is the greatest diplomatic feat in American history. I mean, that’s a little—

P: He overstates a bit.

K: Well, why did you ask—

P: Why does he—because of the—

K: He says because you have two maniacal Vietnamese parties—you have 2 major communist countries at each other’s throat whom we got to bring influence to bear, we negotiated a—

P: Also we got a—enormous opposition in this country. Part of which don’t want us to succeed.

K: That’s right. And he’s after all dealt with these people for a year. He said when he reads the newspapers—he sat across the table with [Page 1069] these men for a year—they are meanest, toughest bastards he’s ever dealt with in his long career. He is ecstatic.

P: What does he feel, to go in with him Henry, about the—if Thieu doesn’t go along.

K: He says we then better go alone.

P: Uh huh. Well my view is yours. The signs still indicate that they are preparing to go along.

K: Oh, yes.

P: If anything happens, I—

K: Quite different. Anytime we said something positive, they said that’s a lie. The first time now, their foreign minister said yesterday peace is very near. Their radio said yesterday every war must end, this one too cannot escape this law.

P: Fine.

K: I think step by step they are entering into it.

P: Yes, but I suppose Henry, the thing we are going to have to roll them on is the inevitable request for delay to work the protocols and I understand it Haig has already told them that my letter clearly says there will be no delay, correct?

K: And so did your first letter and the second one does it even more strongly.7

P: Good, good. The second letter put in a little sugar by saying I look forward to hopefully we will get together—

K: And then put in that you’ll meet with him in—

P: In March.

K: Yes. That will be weeks after the signing.

P: Well I hope your morale is all right.

K: My morale couldn’t—

P: You’ve been through a lot haven’t you.

K: Well we’ve all been through a lot, but I think—

P: Well that’s my job, I mean, you’re just a paid hand, you know.

K: Now, Mr. President.

P: I’m the guy that gets all the glory.

K: No, Mr. President, you get—no President has taken such a beating, on the contrary, whenever you do something great, the press is looking for some way to take away the glory from you.

P: Yes, that’s right, I know.

K: You haven’t suffered from an excess of—

[Page 1070]

P: Did you ever get that book?8

K: Yes, I have it.

P: Well, be sure to read chapters 11, 12 and 13, just those three.

K: Right, Mr. President.

P: And, I’d be very interested in your comments. Okay, Henry, I’ll tell Ziegler to go forward and to say nothing about the South Vietnamese attitude.

K: Exactly.

P: All right.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 18, Chronological File. No classification marking. Nixon was in Key Biscayne, Florida; Kissinger was in Washington.
  2. At noon on January 18 the White House announced that Kissinger and Le Duc Tho would meet in Paris on January 23 “for the purpose of completing the text of an agreement.” See also Carroll Kilpatrick, “Drafting Session Tuesday: All Prisoners To Be Freed After Signing,” The Washington Post, January 19, 1973, p. A1.
  3. Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, “A Chance for South Vietnam to Survive as a Nation,” The Washington Post, January 18, 1973, p. A23.
  4. William F. Buckley, Jr., editor-in-chief of the conservative political magazine National Review.
  5. Nixon opened his inaugural speech on January 20 declaring, “We stand on the threshold of a new era of peace in the world.” For text of his speech, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1973, pp. 12–15.
  6. January 21.
  7. The first letter is Document 278 and the second Document 290.
  8. Nixon was referring to The Kennedy Promise: The Politics of Expectation by Henry Fairlie (New York: Doubleday, 1973).