102. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Cambodia and Thailand


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • William Porter
  • Arthur Hummel
  • George Aldrich
  • Defense
  • William Clements
  • Robert Hill
  • Benjamin Forman
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • Vice Adm. John Weinel
  • CIA
  • William Colby
  • George Carver
  • NSC Staff
  • Brig. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Richard T. Kennedy
  • Lawrence Eagleburger
  • William Stearman
  • Jeanne W. Davis
[Page 413]


Cables were cleared, as revised, on the following:
  • —to Saigon and Phnom Penh on Mekong River escort;
  • —to Saigon on Congressional considerations involved in Mekong escort;
  • —To Phnom Penh, Saigon and CINCPAC on training assistance for [less than 1 line not declassified];
  • —to Saigon and Phnom Penh on GVN material support to [less than 1 line not declassified];
  • —to Phnom Penh, Saigon and [less than 1 line not declassified].
It was agreed to provide PIO’s with information on the improved situation around Phnom Penh for publication within the next few days.

[Omitted here is a conclusion unrelated to Vietnam and Cambodia.]

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Colby) May we have your briefing?

Mr. Colby briefed from the text attached at Tab A.2 He also briefed on the results from the first bucket of photography over North Vietnam [2 lines not declassified].

Mr. Kissinger: (referring to photographs) What altitude are these taken from?

Mr. Colby: [2 lines not declassified].

Mr. Kissinger: So they are not receiving heavy military equipment from the PRC or the USSR?

Mr. Colby: There is no evidence that they are.

Mr. Kissinger: You mean they are telling us the truth? That would be a major development. (to Adm. Moorer) In your minesweeping operation, isn’t one of your mines going to blow up a ship some day?

Adm. Moorer: Probably—it will probably be the dredge.

Mr. Kissinger: I would hate to think that our one perfect military operation is the deactivation of the mines.

Mr. Clements: I would stay off that dredge. That dredge sucks up sand off the bottom like a big elephant snout. It could suck up one of those mines and BOOM.

Mr. Kissinger: If the dredge sank wouldn’t that block the harbor again?

Mr. Colby: If we ruin the dredge the entrance will silt over again.

[Page 414]

Adm. Moorer: (to Mr. Kissinger) If you want we could have those mines back in 12 hours.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Colby) How often do you schedule over-flights of North Vietnam?

Mr. Colby: We have another one due the middle or late next week; it will take two or three days for the read-out. Then we have one scheduled for September 1 and another one for September 20. [3 lines not declassified]3

[1 page not declassified]

Adm. Moorer: We have counted 5,000 trucks up there. It looks like the Pentagon parking lot.

Mr. Colby: We estimate there might be as many as 23,000.

Mr. Clements: (to Mr. Kissinger) [1 line not declassified].

Mr. Kissinger: In the usual way, but it will only take one or two days, won’t it? (to Mr. Porter) Do you agree? If so, let’s go ahead and do it if there are no SAMs on the islands.

Mr. Porter: I don’t see anything wrong with it.

Mr. Kissinger: Now may we look at what can be done about Cambodia. We have a draft cable here for (Ambassador) Graham Martin in reply to his requests. I understand the consensus is that we cannot replace SVN losses sustained in providing escort to Mekong River convoys. Martin points out that we owe the Vietnamese 29 fixed wing aircraft and 31 helicopters which they have lost and have not been replaced.

Mr. Porter: If they want to protect the Cambodian convoys they will have to do it on their own.

Adm. Moorer: We can’t use MASF funds but we could use Cambodian MAP for replacements.

Mr. Kissinger: You can use Cambodian MAP to replace South Vietnamese equipment?

Mr. Aldrich: Only if Vietnam transfers the equipment to us and we then transfer it to Cambodia. Then we can replace it.

Mr. Clements: But those Cambodian MAP funds are tighter than hell.

Mr. Porter: Cambodian MAP is not unlimited.

Mr. Kennedy: We have a request in now to increase the amount by $10 million.

[Page 415]

Mr. Kissinger: Why have the Vietnamese not asked for replacement of those aircraft?

Mr. Hummel: We don’t know why.

Mr. Kissinger: Do they understand that they can?

Mr. Carver: They are having their own problems with pilots and maintenance. Maybe they don’t need them.

Mr. Stearman: Also, it would be expensive. It costs $34 million to replace 60 aircraft.

Mr. Kennedy: Maybe they don’t want to draw down their MASF.

Mr. Kissinger: As long as they understand they can.

Mr. Kennedy: The cable will refresh Martin’s memory in this regard.

Mr. Kissinger: I have no trouble with the cable. Are there any objections?

Mr. Porter: We would like to add another paragraph at the end asking our people to give us their estimate as to the North Vietnamese reaction in Cambodia if South Vietnam gets into the act there. CIA does not think there will be a problem, but we would like to ask for an estimate.

Mr. Kissinger: I have no problem with that. I have no impression that Thieu is that eager to do this.

Mr. Porter: I think he will be reluctant in the light of the Congressional attitude.

Mr. Kissinger: I don’t think this cable will trigger a Thieu decision to escort the convoys.

Adm. Moorer: My lawyer says we could replace the equipment with MASF if the Mekong is an international waterway.

Mr. Aldrich: But the point is that Vietnam would be assisting the Cambodians with supplies. That’s a hard case to make.

Adm. Moorer: What else would you be going down the river with rice for?

Mr. Kissinger: You mean they can’t help the Cambodians—they can only sail around in the open sea?

Mr. Aldrich: That’s Fulbright’s proviso. We can’t help South Vietnam give assistance to Cambodia.

Mr. Kissinger: This cable won’t trigger convoy escort.

Mr. Clements: Thieu will be ultra-cautious.

Adm. Moorer: We are taking the most conservative interpretation of the limitations.

Mr. Kissinger: Our overwhelming fear is that Congress may cut off all the funds. I would be willing to take a liberal interpretation otherwise.

[Page 416]

Adm. Moorer: It would be a real blow in the belly if we lose overall funding.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s the real worry—not the legal interpretation.

Mr. Clements: If we skate on too thin ice we are asking for trouble.

Adm. Moorer: We would have to talk to the Congress about it. They are in such a genial mood these days.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Kennedy) Have they all seen our addition to the cable on escort?

Mr. Kennedy: We had a slight addition to paragraph 6 d.

Adm. Moorer: (Referring to the draft cable) These Swift boats only have 50 calibre machine guns and no armor. They could not defend themselves against shore batteries.

Mr. Carver: The Swifts carry a mortar.

Adm. Moorer: They have twin 50 calibre machine guns, a 181 mortar, no armor, a high silhouette, and an aluminum hull. Also, there are no river bases equipped to maintain them. They would be extremely vulnerable and MEDT does not recommend their use.

Mr. Kissinger: In the new draft concerning Congressional attitudes, we are merely saying what was in the original paragraph 7 only stronger. The worst problem is psychological. We only want to assure South Vietnam that we are still behind them.

Mr. Clements: I like the statement “we are not able to assure Thieu . . . etc.”

Adm. Moorer: The Swifts were only designed for coastal patrol—to prevent the North Vietnamese from using small boats to get ashore.

Mr. Hummel: (Referring to the revised draft on Congressional attitudes) What would this do?

Mr. Kennedy: We would plan to send this as a separate telegram replying to Martin’s paragraph 7. This is our proposed substitute for the draft sent over last night by Marshall Wright.

Mr. Porter: This is better than the Wright draft.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Porter) Are you all right? This is an historic moment.

Mr. Hummel: Shall we send it out?

Mr. Porter: Yes, mark it cleared.

Mr. Kissinger: Has everyone seen the draft on training assistance for [less than 1 line not declassified]?

Mr. Clements: How can we do this within the limits of the funds available?

Adm. Moorer: Article 7 of the agreement prohibits the reintroduction of all foreign forces, according to paragraph 2 of this message. But trainees are not a force.

[Page 417]

Mr. Kissinger: You could also argue that the Cambodians are not soldiers. I am beginning to see where we got the term “sea lawyer.”

Mr. Aldrich: Article 7 says “military personnel.”

Adm. Moorer: Are they military personnel?

Mr. Porter: They would have to be, whether they can fight or not.

Adm. Moorer: This telegram says “foreign forces.”

Mr. Kissinger: As one of the drafters of Article 7, your argument would be hard to justify. Of course, if massive violations continue, I don’t know how strictly we should observe Article 7. But I am not sure now is the time to try it. I am primarily concerned that we don’t pull out American forces too fast. (to Adm. Moorer) Under your argument we could put in 50,000 Americans and say they are trainees. We may come to that point if the violations are too severe. Are any Cambodians being trained in South Vietnam now?

Mr. Forman: No.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Clements) You say we can’t [less than 1 line not declassified] for financial reasons? Don’t we have enough funds?

Mr. Clements: We will run damn short of money.

Mr. Kissinger: We either have to use [1 line not declassified]. Which would you choose?

Adm. Moorer: The illegal.

Mr. Kissinger: The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer. That’s a joke, you understand. How much money will it take—let’s get an estimate.

Mr. Kennedy: There is a CINCPAC conference on Monday that will be looking into this.

Mr. Kissinger: Let him proceed—let the message go.

Mr. Kennedy: We have made a few non-substantive changes which we will take up separately with everyone.

Mr. Porter: That’s okay.

Mr. Kissinger: With the few changes which everyone will see. How about the resupply procedure outlined in the State cable? Can we live with that with the Congress?

Mr. Aldrich: Legally there is no problem. But to the greater extent you do it, the more attention it will attract in Congress. They will see it as a way to get around their limitations.

Mr. Kissinger: Our hearts are pure and our conscience is clear.

Adm. Moorer: And they’re out of town.

Mr. Forman: We intend to send an implementing message giving some additional guidance.

Mr. Kissinger: What quantities are you talking about?

[Page 418]

Mr. Kennedy: They can’t be large except in those situations where the Cambodians get close to the Vietnam border. Or if they supply South Vietnam boats on the river or get the boats themselves. They are actually doing it now.

Mr. Kissinger: So we are talking about very small amounts. Can we defend this with the Congress?

Mr. Clements: It will fall out about as you would expect. Some of them, like Mahon, will say okay; others will raise hell.

Mr. Kissinger: Won’t we have some idea in a month what the situation in Cambodia will be even if it should drag on for a while?

Mr. Colby: Yes, we will have a indication.

Mr. Kissinger: What about pilots for Cambodia?

Mr. Kennedy: We just received another message on the LDX (attached at Tab B).4

Mr. Porter: We have been through DOD on this.

Mr. Clements: It has not come to me yet.

Adm. Moorer: This last sentence—Fulbright asked me about this—who funds it? That’s where you will get an argument. How can we separate this from MAP? Fulbright would argue that if Cambodia can pay for this then they can cut MAP.

Mr. Clements: Are these [less than 1 line not declassified]? I am suspicious.

Mr. Kennedy: They are [less than 1 line not declassified]. They were trained for Laos.

Mr. Porter: Who funds them? Could it come from Khmer funds? They have some cash of their own if they care to use it.

Mr. Hummel: There are international contributions to FEOF. The whole thing is fungible and we are the main contributors.

Mr. Carver: [1 line not declassified].

Adm. Moorer: The problem is to prove that it didn’t.

Mr. Clements: We could provide a cover—that would be relatively simple.

Mr. Kissinger: What, the White House ordered it?

Mr. Clements: If the funds are co-mingled, okay, if it would be that much help.

Mr. Kennedy: It would provide pilots in the interim period while we train Cambodians.

[Page 419]

Mr. Kissinger: The critical period will be for the next few weeks. It is partly a psychological problem.

Mr. Stearman: Also, they have planes that can’t fly if they have no pilots.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Hummel) You handle it. That’s all for today except for the daily injunction to the Embassy that we don’t get awards for losing in a low profile. Who is talking with the Cambodians these days?

Adm. Moorer: Johnny Vogt has been like a bulldog. He hasn’t quit a second. Highways 4 and 5 and the Mekong are all open now. The rice and oil situation is pretty good.

Mr. Kissinger: It may fall apart next week.

Adm. Moorer: They have cleared up the West Bank. Now they are working on the area between the Mekong and Bassac Rivers. When the bombing stops the Cambodians will be in pretty good shape.

Mr. Kissinger: They must be made to understand that we will do the best we can for them under the congressional restrictions.

Adm. Moorer: The insurgents are being chopped to ribbons—four to five hundred a day. The government is moving out to defend the airfield. The situation today is far better than it was four weeks ago.

Mr. Kissinger: It is hard to tell whether this is because of what we did or because the other side is pulling back.

Mr. Colby: It is partly our bombing and partly the other side catching its breath.

Adm. Moorer: But as of the 15th the pressure on Phnom Penh had decreased and the other side was moving away.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s get that word out through the PIO’s.

Adm. Moorer: If they come back in, it will be clear that it was the lack of bombing that made it possible.

Mr. Kissinger: Most people don’t understand how much things have improved. Let’s get out some of the details to the public no later than Monday.5

Mr. Hummel: Murrey Marder6 is printing some pieces on Sunday and has been talking to me about them. I will try to get this in.

Mr. Kissinger: If he uses that I would like to see it! (to Mr. Hummel) If you are in touch with him, get this to him.

[Page 420]

Mr. Hummel: I won’t be responsible for any part of the story that doesn’t come out right. (to Mr. Kissinger) It would be better if you could get it to Marder.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Hummel) I know Marder and I understand your position. If he calls me I will do it, but since he has already been in touch with you, it would be better for you to do it.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Vietnam and Cambodia.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–116, WSAG Meeting Minutes, Originals, 1973. Top Secret; Codeword. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Colby’s briefing, “The Situation in Cambodia,” August 10, attached but not printed.
  3. A paper entitled “New Satellite Photography of North Vietnam,” August 21, is ibid., Box H–94, WSAG Meeting, Cambodia, August 1973.
  4. Attached but not printed.
  5. August 13.
  6. Diplomatic correspondent of the Washington Post.