109. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Cambodia


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Kenneth Rush
  • Curtis Tarr
  • Arthur Hummel
  • Defense
  • William Clements
  • Robert Hill
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas Moorer
  • V/Adm. John Weinel
  • CIA
  • Gen. Vernon Walters
  • George Carver
  • NSC
  • Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Don Stukel
  • William Stearman
  • James Barnum


It was agreed that:

. . . CIA would prepare an up-to-date estimate of Prince Sihanouk’s in-country support and the extent of his popularity.2

[Page 438]

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Cambodia.]

Gen. Walters briefed from the attached text.3

Mr. Kissinger: Why is that, because of the rainy season? (referring to the statement that most of Phnom Penh’s supplies are coming via Mekong River convoys, which are having little trouble getting through.)

Gen. Walters: No, it’s because the Mekong is wide open.

Adm. Moorer: It’s not that they can’t get upriver, they can’t get rice in the first place (referring to the airlift of rice from Battambang).

Gen. Walters continued to brief.

Mr. Kissinger: Who’s he referring to when he talks about the Phnom Penh Government? (referring to a statement by Sihanouk that he would be willing to deal with “any other Cambodians”.)

Gen. Walters: Fernandez (General Sosthene Fernandez) probably.

Mr. Carver: It’s rather unclear what Sihanouk is talking about. In my opinion I think he’s doing a little public posturing, trying to put some distance between the Council members and others in the government. This may be the result of some clear planning, but it’s unclear.

Gen. Walters continued to brief.

Mr. Kissinger: Why did they (the insurgents) try to bring about the collapse of the government by 15 August?

Mr. Carver: It’s psychological. They have tried to do it before. They try to capitalize on the psychological letdown of government forces. They tried it at Kompong Cham, but it didn’t work. FANK did a hell of a job up there.

Mr. Kissinger: A few weeks ago it was all gloom and doom around here. What is CIA’s prediction now. A few weeks ago you said that it would take from six weeks to six months for the government to collapse. What’s your prediction now?

Gen. Walters: Personally, I think CIA was more pessimistic than I would have been. I really didn’t believe deep-down they (the insurgents) could do it.

Mr. Carver: The General’s right . . .

Mr. Kissinger: Boy, you have two brilliant careers ahead of you, disagreeing with your own Agency’s views!

Mr. Carver: Actually, we were not that far off. We were agreed that it was touch-and-go. But I thought they could last until the dry season. The swing factor in the whole thing was that the North Vietnamese didn’t help out.

[Page 439]

Mr. Kissinger: Why didn’t the North Vietnamese put their forces back in?

Mr. Carver: We’re not sure. That’s still open to speculation. There’s this mutual hatred thing between the Cambodians and the Vietnamese. Perhaps they were afraid to use North Vietnamese troops. It’s a big nationalism issue.

Gen. Walters: We saw some evidence of this—nationalism—in Kompong Cham. Women and children were helping out, running ammunition.

Mr. Kissinger: To what extent has the rainy season contributed to the stalemate?

Mr. Carver: The rainy season broke the Communists’ momentum. It’s really a war of psychology that’s going on over there. The government has 180,000 or so men under arms with plenty of guns. But, FANK won’t move. It all goes back to Chenla II, in which FANK got clobbered. They’ve been afraid ever since. The catatonic effect of Chenla II has been with them for two years. Now, perhaps, they are starting to take hold.

Adm. Moorer: Kompong Cham was the best thing that has happened to them for a long time. Their morale is way up.

Mr. Kissinger: What do you think’s going to happen, Tom?

Adm. Moorer: I don’t really now, but I think they can hold until the end of the year. If the North Vietnamese come in full force, that’s a different story.

Mr. Kissinger: If the North Vietnamese come in, do you think the South Vietnamese would too?

Adm. Moorer: I don’t know for sure. There’s North Vietnamese sappers there already, as you know. They were the ones who blew up the power house a while back. I don’t think they will risk anything that would result in a lot of casualties. They don’t want bodies all over the battlefield where they can be identified as North Vietnamese. Small stuff is okay, but they don’t want it to be known that they are in Cambodia.

Mr. Kissinger: Does Saigon have contingency plans if the North Vietnamese move in?

Mr. Carver: No. As far as we know, they don’t. They’re not prepared for any major ground attack.

Mr. Kissinger: Because we have told them not to?

Mr. Carver: Partly.

Adm. Moorer: Because they know they would lose our support if they move in.

Mr. Kissinger: No, I mean do they have contingency plans to move in when the North Vietnamese move in?

[Page 440]

Gen. Walters: The South Vietnamese must have some plans.

Mr. Kissinger: If North Vietnamese units move into Cambodia, would South Vietnam be willing to move in to help?

Adm. Moorer: I think they would be willing to move in if they are assured of US support. The big thing they are worried about is that we would cut off that $900 million worth of aid.

Mr. Clements: That’s right. I’m convinced they are willing, but not unless they have our okay. They’re worried about that $900 million.

Gen. Walters: I believe they have plans. It’s too important to their own security for them not to.

Mr. Kissinger: What’s that route to An Loc?

Mr. Carver: Route 13.

Mr. Kissinger: Is it open?

Mr. Carver: No, it’s still closed.

Adm. Moorer: I think there would be little trouble getting the South Vietnamese to move, if they are assured aid wouldn’t be cut off.

Mr. Kissinger: What do we do if the North Vietnamese move in? What makes the North Vietnamese believe, for example, that we will do anything, given the present state of play?

Adm. Moorer: I think the South has plans to move into Cambodia in force. The thing to do is to assist them in population control and beef-up the perimeter of Phnom Penh. Make it so they can’t take the capital. We should talk to them (the South Vietnamese) and tell them to do it (invade) if there are no long-range political implications.

Mr. Kissinger: (to Mr. Rush) Ken, do you have anything to add?

Mr. Rush: No, only the funding problem, but you’re going to discuss that today at lunch.4

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, let’s skip that for now. What can we do about strengthening the government for the coming dry season?

Adm. Moorer: Give them money.

Mr. Kissinger: Money? What do you mean, money for ammunition, new equipment, the whole gamut?

Adm. Moorer: Money. They can’t do anything, can’t get equipment, ammo, anything without money.

Mr. Clements: There’s the possibility that we might try putting more pressure on the Thais to get more rice into the country, in larger quantities. We can try to accelerate that program. We also might try to accelerate the training prior to the dry season, get them out in the field sooner.

[Page 441]

Mr. Kissinger: Is there any problem on getting equipment into Cambodia? Can we get the right amount, or do we have to borrow on future funds?

Adm. Moorer: We can’t get it unless it’s at the expense of other programs.

Gen. Walters: Besides, it would take 2–3 months for the artillery to get there.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we do part of it through MAP?

Adm. Moorer: Yes, if you decide what you want to take from the other countries. You would have to re-allocate everything and take away the equipment promised to those countries. We’re operating under a continuing resolution. Look at the figures—$52 million in the first quarter, $70 million in the second quarter. At that rate, every other program would be in jeopardy. It would destroy our long-range programming.

Mr. Kissinger: It’s been my experience that whenever we’ve gone back to them (Congress) for something, they tack something else onto the bill. If we fail in Cambodia, our opponents will say that our entire policy isn’t working.

Mr. Clements: I agree.

Mr. Kissinger: Isn’t there anything between everything and nothing?

Mr. Clements: I think there is some middle-ground.

Adm. Moorer: Look what we’re up against. They need $226 million the rest of the year. $174 million goes for ammunition . . .

Mr. Kissinger: The other $50 million is for the other items, I presume.

Adm. Moorer: Yes, in 15–30 days they will be desperate. They need: $6.6 in military equipment; eight river craft; two 155mm howitzers. That’s what they want now.

Mr. Clements: That’s true, but those are priority items. There must be some middle-ground. The top priority is artillery.

Mr. Kissinger: How much does the artillery cost?

Mr. Clements: I don’t know off-hand, but it’s a low cost item.

Mr. Tarr: I think that all we can do at the absolute minimum is to provide them enough to survive.

Gen. Walters: That’s right. As of today, they have only four days worth of artillery.

Mr. Tarr: They are using it up at the rate of $800,000 a day.

Mr. Clements: Look, I was up on the Hill the other day, and John Tower and others advised me not to talk about an amendment. It just won’t walk. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of getting an amendment (to the Defense Procurement Authorization Act) through [Page 442] Congress. We just have to devise some way around it. They say to wait until things cool off.

Mr. Kissinger: What, wait until the war cools off? What do they mean? You want me to wait until the war cools off to try to save that country? That doesn’t make sense.

Mr. Clements: I’m just parroting what they told me. They said we’d be lucky to get a 70–20 vote. It just won’t walk up there. Korologos, Stennis, Tower—all agree that it won’t work.

Mr. Kissinger: Well, we’ll leave this until I have lunch.

Adm. Moorer: After Kompong Cham, FANK is in the best shape it’s been in a long time. We just can’t let them down.

Mr. Carver: I agree, it would ruin them.

Mr. Kissinger: I’m prepared to fight Congress on this matter. It would be a national disgrace to cut off the bombing and then cut off their supplies. I know the President is prepared to fight Congress on this matter—even go public on it.

Mr. Tarr: Congress has the say since it’s a continuing resolution.

Adm. Moorer: We could take MAP funds and put them in there. Otherwise, it’s going to go from worse-to-worse.

Mr. Kissinger: And recoup later, huh.

Mr. Carver: If we let that Cambodian coalition down on the ammunition, our credibility with them will be zero—and elsewhere as well.

Adm. Moorer: That’s right, it would ruin our credibility and cause serious problems in other countries.

Mr. Kissinger: Like where, Jordan?

Adm. Moorer: Everywhere—Korea, Turkey, Indonesia, Jordan.

Mr. Clements: It’s not impossible to get an amendment. I don’t think we really have any choice.

Mr. Kissinger: Why can’t we get a supplemental appropriation?

Mr. Tarr: We can’t until after we receive authorization.

Mr. Rush: The bill would have to be vetoed under Section 13, anyway.

Mr. Tarr: We could just hope that by the end of the fiscal year things (in Congress) would begin turning our way.

Mr. Rush: It seems to me we would be better to try to get it through a continuing resolution than through a new bill.

Mr. Tarr: A new bill wouldn’t help now.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, we’d lose in Congress and then all the ammo would be cut off. It just can’t be done.

Mr. Clements: Well, after your lunch we’ll know better what to do.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes. I suppose you’ve talked to them about rice.

[Page 443]

Gen. Walters: It’s going to take a giant effort if they get in trouble.

Mr. Tarr: We need to take $60 million out of MAP funds now, even more for the next quarter. At least we’ll give them a breathing spell.

Mr. Kissinger: It’s a psychological matter. It’s important to meet their requests while their morale is up.

Mr. Rush: We might as well give up on Cambodia if there is no MAP.

Mr. Clements: I don’t think we have a choice.

Adm. Moorer: We should be able to work out some in-between position.

Mr. Rush: Are they wasting that much ammunition?

Mr. Clements: Sure, they’re shooting it up like crazy.

Mr. Kissinger: We could send them some advisors . . .

Adm. Moorer: They’re not firing it at such a high rate. With the end of the bombing, they pooled their artillery and are using it as a substitute for air power. With the bombing way down, they’re using more ammo, and there is no way of converting the ammunition—bombs to shells. The transfer of ammo is our problem.

Mr. Clements: Henry, let me say one thing. When we were over there, we spent a lot of time at (General) Vogt’s headquarters. Those guys are just doing an outstanding job there. They broke some of the artillery out that had been sitting around in depots, serviced it, and got that organization moving. They are doing a beautiful job. Vogt and his men ought to be commended.

Adm. Moorer: That’s not for quotation, is it? (laughter)

Mr. Kissinger: On the credentials issue, how do we stand? Ken, (Mr. Rush) would you like to comment on that?

Mr. Rush: I’ll let Art here talk.

Mr. Hummel: There are signs that the Chinese are lobbying for a serious challenge. The members of the Algiers Conference are also heavily engaged in lobbying on behalf of Sihanouk. The credentials committee route is out—the committee is stacked too much in our favor. They could push a resolution through the general committee inscribing the request as an agenda item. This is the most likely, and doesn’t look good for us. If it (request that Sihanouk be seated instead of GKR) becomes an inscription item, it could be challenged on the floor. The Khmer are lobbying actively, and have a good team. Our fall-back position might be to insist that it be treated as an important question. We figure a split vote of, say, 50 to 51 percent. We might prevent the seating of Sihanouk this way, but it doesn’t look good.

Mr. Kissinger: We would lose a vote if it is not an important question?

[Page 444]

Mr. Hummel: I don’t know—it’s very flabby. Inscription of the item in the general committee might win. We just don’t know how certain countries are going to vote and who will abstain.

Mr. Kissinger: Sihanouk’s recent overtures. What are your judgements?

Mr. Rush: I really don’t know what to make of them.

Mr. Hummel: I might add—perhaps you didn’t know—about his approach to the Australians.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, I’m aware of that.

Mr. Carver: We find ourselves in a position where our ally’s morale is up for the first time in a long time. The question is whether the US should deal bilaterally with Sihanouk. I think that we ought to exert pressure behind the scenes to get the government to name an intermediary.

Gen. Walters: There’s no question that Sihanouk is taking a less rigid position than before. Maybe it’s time to fan out some feelers.

Adm. Moorer: Other than a few peasants scattered around, Sihanouk has no power base. I think his support would blow up like a balloon.

Mr. Kissinger: (To Mr. Carver) Have you people done an estimate lately on what Sihanouk represents?

Mr. Carver: Not lately. He has some peasant support, but little of it is organized. A lot of people like him, but wouldn’t like him as their leader. Besides, many feel he is just carrying out orders from Hanoi.

Mr. Kissinger: (To Mr. Carver) Can you give us an up-to-date estimate of where Sihanouk stands?

Mr. Carver: Sure.

Mr. Kissinger: Bill (Mr. Clements) do you have any views?

Mr. Clements: No.

Mr. Rush: I think the other side is re-evaluating its position. I think they think that Phnom Penh may be about as strong as it’s going to be, and may not be willing to let an opportunity like this go by. We have this indication from Moscow that Hanoi may be interested in talking.

Mr. Kissinger: From Moscow?

Mr. Rush: I mean from the Soviet ambassador in Hanoi. What do we have to lose if we take the initiative?

Gen. Walters: Phnom Penh. The morale of FANK, at the least.

Mr. Rush: Why? Not if you tell them about it.

Gen. Walters: If you tell them it lessens the danger, but they’ll read the message that we’re backing out.

Adm. Moorer: Look, we supported Lon Nol, and now we push Sihanouk. How’s that going to appear to them?

[Page 445]

Mr. Rush: Unless Phnom Penh holds out, the overall chances of saving Cambodia are not good anyway.

Mr. Tarr: It might be worthwhile for the Embassy to take a sounding on the feeling there toward talks.

Adm. Moorer: The problem is that we’re dealing with faceless people. We don’t know who is running the insurgency.

Mr. Carver: Three of the four High Council members want to talk. We ought to encourage them.

Gen. Walters: We could query the Embassy to see what the effect would be.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s think about that for a while.

Mr. Tarr: We have only nine months to act on this. Experience has shown the longer we wait the dimmer the prospects.

Mr. Kissinger: My experience has shown that if you show anxiety to Indochinese, you’re dead.

Mr. Carver: Sihanouk’s current pattern of behavior is similar to that of the past. When he’s asking around—putting out feelers—he’s feeling pressure from somewhere.

Mr. Tarr: We ought to take a long look at what we can do to get something enacted in Congress (referring back to ammunition funding).

Mr. Rush: The situation could change drastically in the coming months.

Mr. Kissinger: The question is, how do we make the approach? Let’s do some thinking about it, but not talk about it. No statements now, Bill!

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Cambodia.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–117, WSAG Meeting Minutes, Originals, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Not found.
  3. Walters’s briefing, “The Situation in Cambodia,” October 2, attached but not printed.
  4. See Document 110.