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

K: Mr. President.

P: Did you enjoy it, Henry.2

K: I think it was really very nice.

P: Which one did you go to?

K: I went to the Symphony Concert and—

P: Yes, I was—I saw the last part of it. It was very nice. Boy, that Ormandy knows how to play up to a piano doesn’t he.

K: Beautifully, that is really hard to do.

P: The thing of course is a famous—every pianist loves to play it, but orchestras usually overwhelm it, and of course, this was never better, Cliburn, and Ormandy, they are both great actors.

K: It was done with great—very beautiful.

P: And I thought that all the choral groups, and then that—

K: Yes, I thought it was a great evening. I liked the spirit of the people who were there, they were our people.

P: Yeah. Actually, I compared with four years ago, I went to the symphony down at the Constitution Hall, and they were all, they were caring and everything, but this time there’s more shouting.

K: And when tremendous pride when people walk through these halls, people come up—

P: I bet you really needed your Secret Service guys last night. But they were nice, I mean, all the people.

K: Oh, it was really moving, because—

P: Yeah, they see through a lot of this stuff.

K: Oh, God, I mean everyone says tell the President Thank God, and really it’s a very moving thing.

P: What is the word from Haig?

[Page 1104]

K: Well, he’s had a session and Thieu has written you another letter,3 but—

P: Oh, God.

K: But it’s important I think that we are patient because what the guy is doing, he’s obviously posturing himself step by step, he’s now at the—in his last letter he made four conditions, now he’s reduced them to two. And, one we can’t even consider, and one we can probably get him. He’s also sending his Foreign Minister to Paris to meet with me.

P: Oh, God.

K: Well, Mr. President, it has an advantage. My first reaction was exactly like yours. I’ve been in now for two hours, analyzing it, because—together with my staff, and we all have come to this conclusion—the problem with him is if we initial an agreement on Tuesday without physical participation by them, it’s a great loss of face, if he has his Foreign Minister there then he can claim he participated.

P: Yeah. The Foreign Minister’s his nephew?

K: No. The nephew is that little bastard who is the Minister of Information. The Foreign Minister’s an ass, and he won’t be able to do anything.4 Now what I thought, Mr. President, that we should do is this, we should send him a letter by you in reply. You are delighted his Foreign Minister will be there, and of course, I’ll talk to him and brief him fully, but you have instructed me to proceed with initialling. I will try to get that one change in the Protocol that they want, and on this they are not wrong. I think Sullivan goofed on that, it’s not a major point, but the problem is Sullivan put into the protocol and I didn’t watch that, that the police should carry only pistols. They point out that their police carry carbines, and M–16 rifles. Now I think we can probably get something done, but even if we can’t, at least we can tell him we are going to make the effort. But what we should put in the letter from you is that you must have an answer from him by Noon tomorrow whether, even though you have instructed me to seek that change, he will concur in letting us initial it—I mean he will concur in our initialing it. Because, if not, you will have to initial it unilaterally.

P: Yeah.

K: And you would then have to call the Congressional leaders in Sunday night5 prior to my departure and inform them of that fact. I mean, you don’t have to do it, I just want to give him an explanation why he has to answer tomorrow.

[Page 1105]

P: Yeah.

K: But once the Congressional leaders are informed, aid will become difficult even if he then still finally comes along.

P: Yeah. That the Congressional leaders will, in my opinion, be adamant. Then we should go unilaterally and not seek further cooperation.

K: My worry is if we don’t give him an absolutely unshakable deadline, he will yield, I will not bet it, I would say the chances are 99 out of a hundred.

P: It’s a question of which day. Guess we all thought he’d yield Tuesday, and now we thought he’d yield Saturday.6

K: No, I never thought he’d yield Tuesday, I thought—

P: No, I mean some did.

K: I thought he’d yield either today or next Tuesday.7 What we have to bring home to him is that Tuesday is too late.

P: That’s right. Yes.

K: But Haig and Bunker and our intelligence people there, all their units have already been informed that the ceasefire will go in effect—

P: Why don’t you say this, that before you leave for Paris on Sunday evening, I have to meet with Congressional leaders, that at that time they are going to ask whether—that I will have to tell them yes or no whether or not he will concur in the initialing. That we will do our best, but I cannot guarantee, but in any event we will try. But if I tell the Congressional leaders he will not concur, then it is my judgment, I am convinced after having talked to Sen. Goldwater and Sen. Stennis, who are his major supporters in the Senate, that they will throw up their hands, they will in effect inform me that the Congress will not go along with further aid unless he goes along on Tuesday.

K: Right.

P: How about putting it that way.

K: Exactly.

P: Tell him I’m going to have a meeting with Congressional leaders. You see, he doesn’t know whether we have it or not.

K: I think—we’ll say you’ll have a meeting and at that time we’ll have to tell them on what basis we are proceeding.

P: Tell him I’m going to have a meeting on Sunday with Congressional leaders before you leave. We should say with selective Congressional leaders before you leave. At that time the question will be—I [Page 1106] have been informed that the question will be raised as to whether or not he will concur to our initialing of the agreement. If his answer is that he will not concur in initialing of the agreement, that the Congressional leaders without question will move to cut off assistance. Is that going too far?

K: The way to put it, Mr. President, is to say that even if he should later come along, our assurances will do him no good because it will look as if they’ve been exploited.

P: Yeah. The problem is that if he waits, then I feel it is imperative that when I meet with the Congressional leaders, tell him that I’m going to meet with the Congressional leaders, that I am going to inform them then that I have been in consultation with President Thieu, that Dr. Kissinger will go to Paris Tuesday, that he will initial the agreement on Tuesday. At that time, unless I can tell, they will inevitably ask whether or not President Thieu despite some differences he has mentioned, whether or not he will concur. If I’m unable to tell them he will concur, his going on later will appear to them to have been an extortion and will, I think, without question result in Congressional cutoff of aid. How’s that sound.

K: That’s right, that’s what we should do.

P: And without question, I feel it is imperative that confidence that I be able to tell the Congressional leaders that he has objections, that we will do our best on them to try to get those objections dealt with. We will raise his objections, but we are going to initial, but I must have a private assurance from him that I can pass on to them in total privacy, selected leaders, that he will concur. Otherwise, the aid which I very much want for Vietnam will be in very, very deadly jeopardy.

K: Right. I completely agree.

P: Well, whatever it is, I—we’ve had so many disappointments in this thing—

K: Well, nothing comes easy, but let me find here what Bunker is saying.

P: That Bunker, I’m not much in touch with him anymore.

K: Oh, this is from Haig.8 He said it is important that we review Thieu’s response in the context of Oriental pride in face. Thieu has, up until now, dug in formally against the agreement. It is already apparent from intelligence that the military and other personal advisers are having no problem with the prospect of Thieu signing. Bunker and I believe that Thieu is going to make a fight right up until the last possible minute so that he can take the position with factual evidence that he has [Page 1107] done his obsolute utmost. At the same time, it has been evident to Bunker and to me as well in our personal assessment that he has made up his mind to proceed. Since my first meeting with him this week he has become relaxed and confident. I believe it is important that you bear this in mind in developing a response.

P: I see. How do you want to go then with the—

K: Then he says, I’m confident that he does not expect any changes because of Lam’s trip to Paris, but it will be less difficult if Lam is in Paris once he decides to formally notify us of his acceptance. For this reason I do not think we should challenge his position. I completely agree with him on this.

P: All right. Just say that I would say that I believe that Lam’s going to Paris is a very good idea, that it will be a message to the world and to the North Vietnamese that we are in the closest of cooperation. It will also be a very salutary message to the members of our Congress and to the American people, as well, of course, the Vice President’s trip at a later time, and his and my meeting this spring. Let’s say on the other hand, I think that we must not wait until Tuesday for his—I’d like for him to convey to me in the most secret channel, through the back channel, his assurance that we are going ahead and sign on that day. We will make an effort, after your conversation, to work out—but I must have his understanding that after we have made every effort and after—we agreed to initial and we must go along, and I must be able to tell the selected Congressional leaders, those who are particularly his supporters like Sen. Stennis and Sen. Goldwater that we are going ahead. Otherwise I feel if we wait until then that it will appear that he went along unwillingly and that would give basically his enemies and the Congress a chance to slow aid to Vietnam which is, of course, something that I’m desperately trying to save. Something like that.

K: Exactly. I agree completely.

P: Okay, if you can get the tone of that, that’s fine.

K: Right, Mr. President. And I think it is on course and it will go through. That’s nothing with these bloody Vietnamese works simply.

P: Well, at least though, Henry, the North Vietnamese you knew damn well were coming along on the 9th,9 Tuesday, it took you four more days. This fellow doesn’t let you know anything.

K: Well, we know about as much from him as we knew from the North Vietnamese on the 9th. It’s just with the North Vietnamese we couldn’t [could] meet 10 hours a day, and with this fellow we have to do it by cable. It’s about the same process, once they agree in principle then they start hackling over petty—

[Page 1108]

P: Well, he has agreed in principle hasn’t he. In fact, you pick up the morning paper, even the Washington Post, and they say agreement in principle has been reached—ah, there is agreement on the agreement but they still have some objections to the protocol.

K: Exactly.

P: You and I know the protocols don’t mean a God damned thing. I agree Sullivan did goof on that, but how the hell, Henry, can we watch everything, I mean, I would have known that, but he’s a good man, but I would have known that you cannot—let me put it this way—Sullivan, was he ever in the Service?

K: He was in the Navy.

P: So was I, let me tell you something, the point about the pistols, do you realize that you have the problem with any police force that where you have a police force which is Army based, then an enlisted, it’s only officers that carry pistols, they don’t even issue them to enlisted men. They carry carbines. That’s what this is all about. Thieu’s got a hell of a point there. You’d have to give every one of the men pistols and of course that’s a dangerous damned thing. A pistol can be concealed, it can be used to rape—

K: For riot control, you can’t really use pistols.

P: I know that. I was sort of raising an esoteric point, which anybody could raise and say, look, the guy is carrying a carbine at least you know it’s out there in the open where you are not going to see somebody with stealth, with a pistol that only is the prerogative of an officer.

K: Exactly.

P: Well, that was a mistake.

K: Well, I think we may be able to do something, but if not, we can’t hold up the agreement on that point.

P: Yeah. What’s the other point he wants.

K: All North Vietnamese leave, but he’s now made a number of—that we can handle, I’ve figured out a way—we can’t change anything in the agreement, but we can—

P: Well you can’t even change anything in the protocols as I understand it, you’re just going over there to initial it.

K: Well the protocols we have a little more flexibility with because those were still being negotiated last week and we can still say that I had never put my thumb print on those.

P: Well, you can be very positive about it, and say, look we’ve got a lot of objections to the protocols, you could talk to the North Vietnamese and the President just said the hell with them all, but there is one here that we feel is, it’s fair enough, we ought to have.

K: Right. That we can do. We probably won’t get it but at least there we have a chance. On the North Vietnamese troops I won’t even [Page 1109] raise it. The way to handle it is to give Thieu a note saying we do not construe anything in the agreement that gives them the right to have troops there.

P: Right, then we will so state at the proper time.

K: Right. After the agreement is signed. But I wouldn’t say it before.

P: Yeah. Just say that we will make that position public after the agreement is signed.

K: Right.

P: Without equivocations.

K: Right.

P: Right and that is it. The key thing is that we do not recognize that right and that when we don’t recognize it—well I have a feeling, I don’t know, I’ve always said that he’s got to go along apart from all these intercepts and the rest. One thing that sort of got into my mind last night which perhaps has occurred to you, I’m not sure how much you can rely on these intercepts. After all, these people are not stupid and I remember when I was in Moscow and Peking, knowing the rooms were bugged, I use to say outlandish things sometimes just for the purpose of putting them on the wrong trail. These characters may be doing this in order to set us up for a fall, has that occurred to you.

K: Well, if it were only one bugged room, Mr. President, I would agree with you and I thought that for a long time, but when corps commanders, regional commanders, other people have been given instructions, if it were only one source, but when you get five or six sources all coming together saying the same things, what you would then have is a massive deception campaign which is not totally impossible but which is totally suicidal.

P: And tells all his corps (end of tape)

K: I mean if he now tells his corps commanders that he has decided, he the man who has prided himself on his friendship with America, that he has now decided to kick America in the teeth, to cancel his orders, it would be impossible.

P: Can he not be unaware of the enormous expectations that have now been raised here. Can he not be aware that not only is hisjeopardized but that there’s no way that we can reverse this course. You remember I never did like and neither do you Rogers’ constant use of the word irreversible, remember.

K: Yeah.

P: On Vietnamization, but now it is irreversible. You and I both know it.

K: No question.

[Page 1110]

P: You can carry a country just so far. And, understand, it isn’t irreversible if there was a horrible rate on the other side, but here when the rates themselves have been irreversible.

K: But then the other side has been very restrained this week.

P: Well, even so, but you do see what I mean.

K: Oh, yes, yeah.

P: We can do anything if there’s an invasion or that sort of thing. Then we can always send up people. But if on the other hand, simply for the sake of fighting for a word in the protocol to the effect that police could carry carbines and also that the principle, an esoteric principle that the North Vietnamese have no right to be in the South, do you think people are going to want us to bomb Hanoi for that? Hell, no, they don’t give a damn about it.

K: Well.

P: There’s no use to rationalize and kid ourselves about it to convince ourselves. We’re all convinced. I think it should be a rather soft answer that will turn away wrath, but very firm that I have to have an answer by Sunday that I can convey. Shall we say that I will convey this to Congressional leaders or do you want to say that I need an answer or I will have to call, call in the Congressional leaders. And then if I don’t get an answer, it’s more of a threat calling them in, you know a couple of selected ones. Which do you think is the better way to play it?

K: I think your suggestion is the better way of playing it.

P: Just to say that before you go that I have to call in some selected Congressional leaders, a very small group who are his best friends, including men like Senator Goldwater and Senator, uh, that I need to inform them that, at that point, and will, of the problem. But I also will tell him that we are going ahead to initial. If he’s going to meet with the Foreign Minister, I’m delighted if he’s coming because I think it’s important that we have a consultation, which we have had, we’ve had a public fill of it right up til the last, up til the time of thebut I needn’t tell them that, or they will not be able to stop the irresistible tide of these enemies who would say that South Vietnam did not go along. That they were forced to go along and that therefore are not dependable allies. Okay, well, you know, just work the language out. I think if you want me to look at it I can.

K: Mr. President, considering your schedule today, I think I have your thoughts very well now.

P: Yeh, well, you know, it’s just a question of …

K: I think it’s more important …

P: Oh, sure, sure, sure.

K: I’ll show it to you right after the …

[Page 1111]

P: Oh, no, no, I really don’t need to see it unless you think I need to.

K: I think that we discussed exactly what we put in there.

P: Well, fine, you go right ahead and send it off then. The important thing is to get the darn thing over there, Henry.

K: Right.

P: And I realize, uh, don’t worry about me. I read the thought across. And when you finally come down to it, it’s more the mood than anything else, and the deadline. Now, just to go down the road on the contingencies, suppose he wires back and says no, if he says that he cannot agree until we see what the final …

K: Then we can still give them until noon on Tuesday.

P: All right, until noon on Tuesday. Then we would have to go …

K: I would still announce the agreement.

P: In other words your view is you’ll come back and say, uh, you wouldn’t say that he wasn’t going along. You would say that he was. And the other contingency we have to have in mind. This I know you have always ruled out. Suppose … are we inviting him to come out and make a public statement before TV that he won’t …

K: No, he will never be worse off. This will be so much the worse for him, Mr. President.

P: Yeh.

K: That he will never be better off making it early rather than late.

P: Yeh. In other words you believe that his interests will require him to put his objections in private channels, at this point.

K: That is right, until we absolutely force him to go public by some irreversible action on our part.

P: Oh, that’s going to be Tuesday, isn’t it.

K: It will be after Tuesday. He won’t do it.

P: Oh, no, no, but I have to go public Tuesday, that’s my point.

K: That’s right.

P: And your initialing of course will go and then I announce it publicly and then I would just put it coldly that you will go there. You will meet, you’ll do the best you can. You’ll meet with his Foreign Minister. You will work on the protocols. And then that I have directed you to initial it, at that point and I will announce it Tuesday night.

K: Right.

P: Fine. OK. Any other wars in the world you’ve started?

K: [laughs] No, I thought we should get the Inauguration behind us before starting another one.

[Omitted here is discussion of when senior members of the government and allies should be informed of Nixon’s speech to the nation scheduled for January 23.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 18, Chronological File. No classification marking. All blank underscores are omissions in the original. All brackets, except those describing omitted material, are in the original.
  2. Reference here is to the President’s second inaugural concert, performed January 19 at the Kennedy Center by the Philadelphia Orchestra directed by Eugene Ormandy.
  3. Included in Document 310.
  4. The nephew referred to was Hoang Duc Nha; the Foreign Minister was Tran Van Lam.
  5. January 21.
  6. Tuesday was January 16, Saturday was January 20.
  7. January 23.
  8. See Document 311.
  9. January 9; see Document 256.