148. Memorandum of Conversation1
- President Gerald R. Ford
- Vuong Van Bac, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Vietnam
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President
- Tran Kim Phuong, Ambassador of the Republic of Vietnam
- Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
Kissinger: Minister Bac was in Paris keeping an eye on me during the negotiation. Ambassador Phuong also.
[The press was admitted briefly to take photographs.]
President: We think you made a fine agreement.
Bac: It was mostly Dr. Kissinger. President Thieu and Madame Thieu send their best wishes and their wishes for the recovery of Mrs. Ford.
[The press was ushered out.]
President: I want to reassure you we will support President Thieu in every way—economically, politically, and diplomatically. Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.
Bac: We are very grateful for your efforts and U.S. efforts and we hope they can be kept at adequate levels.
President Thieu has asked me to give you this letter. [Tab A]2
President: Our people are not as enthusiastic about aid, but I will do my best to get adequate levels. The attacks on aid are not just aimed at Vietnam, but across the board. When I first came to Congress, the aid bill was $7 billion.
Kissinger: Which would be $15 billion now.
President: But there was strong support for it.[Page 570]
Kissinger: And it shows if you start strong you can taper off.
Bac: We are making that point too.
President: What is the current situation in Vietnam?
Bac: It is difficult, but not critical. The economy measures are difficult. We have to cut down on our use of ammunition and so on, and that is costly in terms of casualties. The most intense conflict is around Kontum and the supply line.
Kissinger: The Vietnamese strategic problem is they must defend a 400-mile border and the Communists can hit anywhere.
President: How is the military morale?
Bac: It is good in the regular forces, but has been affected in the regional forces. What we don’t know is whether we should use all we have now or be cautious.
Kissinger: We will try to get you what you need. You know of the American baseball manager, Leo Durocher, who said “Nice guys finish last.”
President: How is the economy in Vietnam?
Bac: Our inflation is about 30 percent but it is not so catastrophic as the kind in Africa and Italy. The country is basically rich in resources, and in a year or two we should be self-sufficient in rice.
President: Are you close now?
Phuong: Yes, and in some areas the Communists prohibit collection and try to drain it off.
Bac: There should be good crops this year, and our oil prospects are good.
Kissinger: We may have to have a confrontation on oil prices! Negotiations with the North Vietnamese in the morning and the South Vietnamese in the afternoon is a wearing experience.
Bac: We should know soon whether oil is present in commercial quantities. The companies are sanguine, but that won’t solve our current problems.
I’m trying to get increased aid now. I have visited Japan, and am going to France and Germany. All together last year we got about $100 million. It was substantial, but not compared to US levels.
President: We will do our best. We admire President Thieu and want to be a good partner.
Bac: President Thieu just heard that you will visit Japan and Korea soon. We would like to invite you to visit Vietnam on the way.
President: That is unfortunately not possible on this trip. Please don’t misinterpret this; it is only a time problem. Another time I will do it. We will do our best.
Bac: We know you are very busy. Maybe you could visit President Thieu along the way to Japan.[Page 571]
President: I will talk to Dr. Kissinger about it. But it is likely to be very difficult.
[The meeting ended with warm handshakes and farewells.]
- Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 6, 10/5/1974. Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. Brackets are in the original.↩
- In his letter to Ford, September 19, attached but not printed, Thieu speculated that “the increasingly defiant and bellicose attitude of the Communists resides in their believing that the United States is now wavering in its dedication to our common goal, namely a South Viet-Nam capable of defending itself and deciding its own future. The utterly inadequate amount of military and economic aid to the Republic of Viet-Nam which has been voted by the U.S. Congress might have induced the Communists to make such speculations.” Thieu concluded: “Therefore, it is essential that the United States unmistakably demonstrates once again its attachment to a serious implementation of the Paris Agreement and its support for the Government of the Republic of Viet-Nam, if peace is to be restored in South Viet-Nam and in South East Asia.”↩