156. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Vietnam and Cambodia


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Robert Ingersoll
  • Philip Habib
  • Winston Lord
  • Robert Miller
  • Defense
  • William Clements
  • Morton Abramowitz
  • Erich von Marbod
  • JCS
  • Gen. George S. Brown
  • Lt. Gen. John W. Pauly
  • CIA
  • William Colby
  • William Christison
  • Ted Shackley
  • NSC
  • M/Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • William Stearman
  • W.R. Smyser
  • Lt. Col. Donald McDonald
  • James Barnum


It was agreed that:

  • —Defense and the JCS will provide, within 48 hours, their best judgement of how much supplemental aid we should request for South Vietnam and Cambodia;2
  • —State and Defense will explore with their legislative people, and the NSC Staff with White House officials, what would be the best timing for requesting the supplemental appropriation for Vietnam and Cambodia;
  • —Secretary Kissinger will check with the President on recommendations to move a carrier task force into the Gulf of Tonkin, and to deploy additional B–52s to Guam or Thailand or both;
  • JCS would instruct General Jones to visit South Vietnam during his present tour of Southeast Asia;3
  • —President Thieu would be told, through Secretary Maw, of our decision to seek a supplemental appropriation;4
  • —State would draft a strong note to the members of the Paris Conference conveying our concern about the situation.5

Secretary Kissinger: Bill, would you like to brief?

Mr. Colby briefed from the attached text.6

Secretary Kissinger: They have breached or reached? (In reference to a statement in the briefing that the Khmer Communists have breached Phnom Penh’s outer defenses in several places.)

Mr. Colby: Reached (sic). Finished his briefing.

Secretary Kissinger: What I would like to discuss today is what we think can be done to improve the situation in Vietnam and Cambodia. I had a talk earlier today with the President, and he said that he wants to take a forward-leaning position consistent with legislative considerations. The President wants to do as much as possible to restore the situation in South Vietnam and Cambodia.7 He is very positive about that. He indicated that he is prepared to support a supplemental appropriation for those countries if we think it is needed. He did say that he thought it would be wise to touch base with (Congressman) Passman and Mahon on the timing. I also think that we should tell (President) Thieu that we are asking for a supplemental appropriation. I think it would be good for his confidence and also send a signal to the North Vietnamese. Is General Jones still in the Pacific?

General Brown: Yes, I think he is still there.

Mr. Clements: Nunn is there now.

Secretary Kissinger: Who?

[Page 584]

Mr. Clements: Senator Nunn.

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t know if that’s a plus or a minus.

Mr. Clements: Overall, I think it’s a plus. He’s a pretty good guy.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, Nunn is a good fellow.

Mr. Clements: I think it would be a good idea for General Jones to go to South Vietnam during his trip.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, I do too. I think it would be a good signal to the North Vietnamese.

General Brown: We can get ahold of him and tell him to go as soon as we leave here.

Mr. Habib: Who’s going to tell Thieu? (Carlyle Maw is there now, he could do it.

Secretary Kissinger: He’s there now?

Mr. Habib: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Could you (Mr. Habib) draft up something for me to send Maw by this afternoon? We’ll want to be careful about what he is to say to Thieu.

Mr. Habib: Yes, we can get the story out today.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, let’s get the story out to him today. Brent (Gen. Scowcroft) You can fill Phil (Mr. Habib) in on our conversation with the President after the meeting.

Mr. Clements: Do I understand that you plan to talk with Passman and George (Mahon) about the timing?

Mr. Habib: Passman is in the Far East right now and won’t be back until late next week, I believe. By the way, can I tell him that he got part of the rice he was asking for?

Secretary Kissinger: Sure, tell him today. I thought he already knew. I have no interest in holding it up.

Mr. Clements: Henry, in our supplemental request . . . When the decision is made to go, we would like to know prior to that time. We would like to clue (Senator) Stennis in first.

Secretary Kissinger: Oh, yes, we’ll let you know. Stennis has promised to support us on a $300 million request.

Mr. Habib: Can we identify the exact amount we want to request first? I’m not sure we are all agreed on exactly how much we want to ask for.

Secretary Kissinger: What was the $300 million for? Vietnam only?

Mr. Habib: Yes, but I don’t think that figure is sacrosanct. That is just sort of a round figure—a minimum, I believe.

Mr. Clements: That $300 million figure dovetails pretty close to what we believe will be required. Now, Graham (Amb. Martin) wants $500 million.

[Page 585]

General Brown: Let’s see now, $1.4 billion was programmed and the authorization was $1.0 billion.

Mr. Ingersoll: Is $300 million enough?

Mr. Clements: It’s the minimum.

Mr. von Marbod: It’s the absolute minimum, but if you will allow me, Mr. Secretary, we feel that we will be in a better position to request more as the situation in South Vietnam matures.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, but that also has the opposite effect that our opponents in Congress will say that we can go to hell. I mean, they will just say let Vietnam go down the drain today rather than later.

Mr. Colby: Do you think that a supplemental request will have that much impact on the North Vietnamese?

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t think you get any impact by asking for a supplemental. You have to let them know that we are going for a supplemental. It has been my experience that the North Vietnamese only understand an actual event. They do not understand an intent. They won’t pay attention if you just indicate that you intend to do something. You have to do it and present it to them as an accomplished fact.

Mr. Habib: Do you think we can get any indication from the (Congressional) leadership on the chances of having a supplemental approved?

Secretary Kissinger: Never!

Mr. Clements: You can get a sense . . .

Secretary Kissinger: The only way you can get the North Vietnamese to understand is to use affirmative language. We have requested a supplemental, not that we intend to request a supplemental. It’s the only way.

Mr. Habib: You can say that Vietnam is in desperate straits and that we may need $600 million in FY75 to bail them out.

Secretary Kissinger: You don’t gain a god-damn thing by showing uncertainty. What we do need to do is go up there and tell them (Congress) that the cuts they made last year have resulted in a deterioration of the situation and that it is their god-damn fault. You have to make it clear to Congress that they have to take full responsibility for the fact that 50,000 men died in vain. That they understand.

Mr. Lord: How can $300 million be enough? That figure was based on needs before the present level of fighting.

Secretary Kissinger: What is it we are asking for?

Mr. Clements: Our best judgement is that $300 million will get us by. If you think we need to ask for more, then I think we should ask for it.

[Page 586]

Mr. Habib: I don’t think that we’ll have a better opportunity than now to ask for more.

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t anticipate that we will have trouble asking for more. George (Gen. Brown), what is your judgement?

General Brown: We think the $300 million is a minimum. The thing is that if we think we need more, we ought to ask for it now. Next year it will be even tougher to get, in my opinion.

Secretary Kissinger: My impression is that the President will ask for whatever figure we think is needed.

Mr. Colby: It is a message to the North Vietnamese . . .

General Brown: We’ll take a specific look at what we need and let you know this afternoon.

Secretary Kissinger: We’ll get in touch with the leadership (Congressional) on the timing. I don’t know when the best time is to go forward with the request. We’ll just have to see.

Mr. Clements: The timing is of some concern to us. We’re afraid that the supplemental and all the controversy that will go with it will get mixed up with our budget request and the whole thing will come unglued.

Secretary Kissinger: We can handle that. We have to tell Thieu, and that will also give a signal to the North Vietnamese. We’ll ask for the supplemental.

Mr. Habib: One thing, are you thinking of asking for the Cambodia and the South Vietnamese supplementals together, or as different packages?

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t know, what do you think?

Mr. Clements: Well, there are two different committees involved.

Mr. Habib: The Cambodia package is the more critical. The figures we are working with now are impossibly low.

Mr. Clements: That’s true. I think that the manner in which we handle the leadership will be the critical factor.

Secretary Kissinger: I think we should lay it out as soon as possible. We have taken the stand that we are going to support the independence and integrity of South Vietnam, and I think we should let them (Congress) take the responsibility for its survival or demise.

Mr. Habib: And we are going to ask for $75 million for economic aid to Cambodia as well?

Secretary Kissinger: (to Mr. Clements) Can you give us an estimate of what you will need on the military side?

Mr. Clements: Well . . . There is already a Presidential Determination on the request for the drawdown.

Secretary Kissinger: (to General Scowcroft) Do we have it here?

[Page 587]

General Scowcroft: Yes, we have it here.

Mr. Colby: You do have a clearer case on the request for Cambodia.

Mr. Habib: The timing on the Cambodian request is more urgent than on South Vietnam.

Secretary Kissinger: Let me worry about that (the timing on the Cambodian package) later. It strikes me as very curious that the notion of a military stalemate means you can throw your ally to the wolves. That is a new political theory.

Mr. Habib: I only bring it up as a problem that has to be considered.

Mr. Clements: How much in terms of dollars do you need, Phil?

Mr. Habib: We need $75 million on the economic side—that’s Cambodia. On the military side we have a series of different estimates. But even with the additional $75 million they won’t have enough. That would bring it up to $350 million. They need a total of at least $400 to $500 million.

Secretary Kissinger: Okay. Can we get from you (Gen. Brown and Mr. Clements) your best judgement, within 48 hours, on: (1) how much of a supplemental you need for South Vietnam, and (2) what is needed in Cambodia. We’ll explore with the legislative people what would be the best timing to introduce the supplemental. When we make the actual request we will regroup here to work out the specifics. I think that the President should first talk with the leadership to get their sense of the timing. Is there anything else? Should General Jones stop by? Where is he?

Mr. Smyser: He’s in the general area until the 20th, I believe.

General Scowcroft: He’s due into Thailand on the 15th or the 16th.

Secretary Kissinger: Good. I think he should go. George (Gen. Brown), will you take care of that?

General Brown: Sure.

Secretary Kissinger: Are there any other things that you think we could do?

Mr. Clements: We could increase the number of reconnaissance flights.

General Brown: We’ve already done that. There is something like 52 flights of all types scheduled for January.

Mr. Clements: There are some other things here that our people have recommended, but I don’t know if you want to consider them or not.

Secretary Kissinger: Like what?

Mr. Clements: Sending a task force into the Gulf. The Enterprise went by the Gulf, but did not go into it.

[Page 588]

General Brown: It would be an opportune time to send a carrier into the Gulf. We’ve been talking about an exercise in Thailand. Or, we could move some B–52s back and forth from Guam to Thailand. That would send a signal.

Secretary Kissinger: I’d be in favor of that.

Mr. Habib: Do you want to wait until after the elections to do that?8

Secretary Kissinger: Why? What is all this concern about the elections?

Mr. Habib: Well, it’s just that we don’t want to disturb the election . . .

Secretary Kissinger: Who are we for (in the elections)?

Mr. Habib: That’s difficult to say. There are 41 parties vying—a mixed bag.

Secretary Kissinger: Why all this concern about the elections and what we do?

Mr. Habib: It boils down to a question of the bases. There are a number of parties that are just looking for an issue, and the bases might just be the excuse they are looking for. I think we should wait for a few weeks—it’s not that long until the elections are over.

Mr. Smyser: I think we should wait until after the elections . . .

General Brown: And the threat from North Vietnam may be more pointed by then. It’ll have more impact.

Secretary Kissinger: Do we have the foggiest notion, really, of what impact it will have on the Thai elections?

Mr. Habib: Well, it’s just deemed to be a political issue with potential conflict. The Embassy, and others, feel that the base issue would feed the radicals opposed to us and give them something to flog us with. I don’t think we should give them anything that would help them.

Mr. Clements: I agree, Henry. When I was out there in September, they made this very point. Everybody recommended that we wait on the base issue until after the elections.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, but you were briefed by the very people who were making the recommendation.

Mr. Clements: That’s true, but I still think we should wait. There are about thirty parties out there looking for a good issue; this could be it. I don’t think we should take the chance.

Secretary Kissinger: Can six B–52s really become an issue?

Mr. Colby: Yes, it could.

[Page 589]

Mr. Clements: Everybody agrees that some of these radical groups will pick it up and make an issue out of it. The newspapers there will make a big to-do about six B–52s.

Secretary Kissinger: It’s been my experience that when we move timidly, we lose. When we are bold, we are successful. If we send more B–52s to Guam will the North Vietnamese pick it up?

General Brown: Sure, they’ll know right away.

Mr. Clements: But sending them to Guam won’t effect the same purpose as it would to send them to Thailand.

Mr. Habib: If we wait until after the elections—that’s only until February, and the North Vietnamese are not supposed to go into full swing until February.

Secretary Kissinger: And then we are into the rainy season.

Mr. Abramowitz: Of course, we don’t know how they are going to form their government. That may take a long time.

Secretary Kissinger: I’ll raise the question of the B–52s with the President tomorrow.

General Brown: We could do more in the Gulf (of Tonkin). We could put another carrier in there.

Secretary Kissinger: Where is the Enterprise now?

General Brown: It’s in the Straits of Malacca.

Mr. Clements: We could divert it and send it back up.

Secretary Kissinger: I was told it (the Enterprise) was in the Tonkin Gulf.

Mr. Habib: No, it stayed south of the 17th Parallel.

Secretary Kissinger: On whose orders?

General Brown: I don’t know.

Secretary Kissinger: I thought it was in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Mr. Stearman: No, it was off the coast of South Vietnam.

Secretary Kissinger: That I didn’t know.

Mr. Clements: We could divert it.

General Brown: I’m told that the orders read, “in the vicinity of . . .”, which means, “do not go north of the 17th Parallel.”

Secretary Kissinger: I was under the impression it was in the Gulf.

General Brown: We can leave the Enterprise where it is and put something else in, like the Midway.

Mr. Habib: Yes, but what effect would this have on our supplemental request?

Secretary Kissinger: They (Congress) are certainly not going to give us the money if we act like a bunch of pacifists.

[Page 590]

Mr. Habib: We certainly need the money. I’m just thinking of the headlines, “US moves in carriers.”

Secretary Kissinger: What, have we lost our ability to move carriers around without being questioned?

Mr. Habib: Well, you know about the carrier story that broke today.

General Brown: To answer your question, yes, we have lost our ability to move carriers around.

Secretary Kissinger: Why? Is there nothing sacred anymore?

General Brown: There are a number of reasons. One thing is that we have to notify the littoral states of our movements.

Secretary Kissinger: Why do we have to notify littoral states?

Mr. Habib: International law or something.

Mr. Stearman: Hanoi knows of our every move. They are the ones who let it out first about the Enterprise.

Mr. Clements: I think we should do it (send in a carrier(s)). If we don’t send that signal to Hanoi, then we become vulnerable to questions of why we didn’t.

Secretary Kissinger: I’ll check the question of the B–52s and the carriers with the President. I think if we . . . If North Vietnam makes the judgement that they can take South Vietnam there is nothing much we can do. We have to scare the North Vietnamese out of that judgement. Even that may not do it, though. Are there any other measures we might take?

General Brown: We could move some F–4s into Clark Air Force Base for exercise purposes. They could go on exercise for 8 to 10 days.

Mr. Colby: If you do put a carrier into the Gulf, you will get better SIGINT coverage in the north.

Secretary Kissinger: How?

Mr. Colby: Better coverage, more flight time.

Secretary Kissinger: Let me check all this with the President tomorrow.

Mr. Habib: I don’t think we ought to do anything to jeopardize the money.

Secretary Kissinger: Alright. What else here. I’ve got a list of State proposals here (Tab C of briefing book).9 I have serious questions about communicating with Hanoi at this time. I think it would be a mistake. It would just be a way for them to get our attention.

[Page 591]

Mr. Ingersoll: I don’t think we should make any contact with Hanoi now.

Secretary Kissinger: I think a meeting with Le Duc Tho now would be very bad. Contacting Moscow and Peking? I don’t think that would be productive.

Mr. Habib: That is just a listing of what we might do—suggestions, not recommendations.

Secretary Kissinger: I’m just against yielding when we are under attack. Resumption of GVNPRG talks? What would that do?

Mr. Habib: There is no chance of those being reconvened. There is one additional possibility—some sort of communication to the twelve endorsers of the Agreement. We could express our concern about the offensive and point out that the North Vietnamese are violating the Agreement.

Secretary Kissinger: I’m sympathetic to something like that.

Mr. Habib: I think a letter of some kind to each of the twelve endorsers might do it. We could express our views as to the seriousness of the situation.

Secretary Kissinger: It would have to be slightly threatening.

Mr. Habib: Yes. We have already been working on something, and if you accept it, we will circulate it for your (the table’s) concurrence.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s a good idea, I agree.

Mr. Clements: We could have a conference of the signatories to the Agreement. Such a conference at the right moment could do a lot of good.

Secretary Kissinger: What do you mean? My God, look who would be at such a conference. How can such a conference result in more positive than negative good? We don’t have an ally among them. What could we ever get out of such a conference? A conference cannot be in our interest. France, Great Britain, nobody supports our view. Iran will not support us. They are not hostile, but they would just pray to God that the whole problem would go away.

Mr. Habib: How do we provide for the contingency that we don’t get the money.

Secretary Kissinger: We don’t consider defeat now.

Mr. Lord: We should have some sort of contingency.

Mr. Habib: I hope you will permit us to look into the alternatives in the event we don’t get the money.

Secretary Kissinger: Look. How to lose in Vietnam is easy, winning is something else. If South Vietnam loses, we will just have to adjust to that. We can have a WSAG after we don’t get the money to plan our strategy, but I don’t want you thinking now that we can’t get it. There is plenty of time later.

[Page 592]

Mr. Clements: I agree, Henry. I’m optimistic about our getting the money. The North Vietnamese are really helping us right now.

Secretary Kissinger: It’s going to be tough to get the money, I’m sure of that. If things start to unravel we will have the time later to plan our moves.

Mr. Clements: To change the subject for a moment—the Thai elections. When I was there in September, there was a strange sense of the possibility of a military coup if things didn’t turn out right. Do you have any rumblings, Bill?

Mr. Colby: We think they will go through with the selection process. The army, of course, will be behind the scene, watching closely. If the situation begins to unravel, there might be an indirect take-over—a civilian at the head, but the military as the real power.

Secretary Kissinger: By the way, have we given those mines (MK–36 DST) to the Vietnamese yet?

General Brown: No. We’ve given them some training, but have not yet delivered the mines.

Secretary Kissinger: How about the LSTs?

Mr. Habib: That’s another question. We would like to civilianize those.

Secretary Kissinger: But that would be breaking Article 7, wouldn’t it?

General Brown: Yes.

Secretary Kissinger: Is there anything else we’re doing in violation of Article 7?

Mr. Clements: Just the LSTs.

Secretary Kissinger: I just can’t see how anybody can claim that we must stick to Article 7 when the North Vietnamese are violating it every day.

Mr. Stearman: It’s the impact our violation of Article 7 will have on the Hill. That is what Defense is so worried about.

(Secretary Kissinger was called out of the meeting at 11:39, returned at 11:46)

Secretary Kissinger: Okay. Now, we’ll get from Defense and the JCS their best judgements on the military requirement for Vietnam and Cambodia. We’ll also get your recommendations on when the supplemental should be put forward. I will check with the President tomorrow on what type of military signals he would prefer. Thieu also has to be informed.

Mr. Clements: We’ll have to get something out to the Enterprise if we want her to turn around.

Secretary Kissinger: Can we wait until tomorrow to do that?

[Page 593]

General Brown: Yes, there is enough time.

Secretary Kissinger: Are there any other carriers that we could send?

General Brown: The Coral Sea. It’s somewhere around Subic Bay.

Mr. Ingersoll: The Coral Sea would be best.

Mr. Clements: Yes, that would be the best one. Then, we don’t have to explain the Enterprise business.

Secretary Kissinger: Why is Embassy Saigon making statements without checking here first?

Mr. Habib: Those statements on the Enterprise were attributed to a “diplomatic source.” The Pentagon actually denied it first. The Embassy denied it only after the Pentagon had made a statement.

Secretary Kissinger: I thought our policy was not to discuss military maneuvers. I thought we just had no comment or used the statement that we do not discuss military maneuvers. That is our basic position. Now, can we stick to that and not make up other stories?

Mr. Clements: Sure.

Secretary Kissinger: One final issue. To what extent do we want to be inhibited by Article 7. I’ll take this up with the President, too.

General Brown: We would rather have the LSTs than the mines.

Mr. Von Marbod: The LSTs are more urgent—they can use them. I doubt the South Vietnamese would ever use the mines anyway.

Secretary Kissinger: Why choose between the two? Why not both?

General Brown: I think the LSTs would have more impact on the situation.

Mr. Abramowitz: If we go for a supplemental, we can make the case that we have abided by Article 7.

Mr. Habib: Let us give you some alternatives on the LSTs. We can civilianize them as coastal transport. AID is the one that is holding it up. All of us here agree that it can be done. AID, however, is arguing that they would be accused by Congress of violating the Agreement and would therefore lose their appropriations. You, as head of AID, could make that final decision.

  1. Source: Ford Library, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box 18, WSAG Meeting Minutes, Originals, 1/7/1975. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Document 160.
  3. The instructions, according to telegram 262 from Saigon, January 8, were relayed to Jones in a JCS message of January 7. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files) Jones was in Saigon on January 11.
  4. Under Secretary of State Maw visited Saigon January 6–8. In telegram 3608 to Saigon, January 8, Kissinger assured Thieu: “The President is firm in his resolve to provide as much additional assistance as is necessary at the earliest possible time. We will be meeting with the congressional leadership in the near future to inform them of our intention to request such supplemental military aid and to persuade them that it is needed promptly.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for East Asia and the Pacific, Box 21, Vietnam, State Department Telegrams, From SEC-STATE, Nodis)
  5. On January 11, the United States sent a note to the UN Secretary General and the guarantors of the Paris Agreement charging North Vietnam with truce violations. The text was published in The New York Times, January 14, 1975.
  6. Colby’s untitled briefing, January 7, attached but not printed.
  7. The President and Kissinger met that morning; a memorandum of conversation is in the Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 8, 1/7/1975. In his statement on signing the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 on December 30, 1974, President Ford expressed his conviction that the levels of economic and military aid to both South Vietnam and Cambodia were inadequate. See Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Gerald R. Ford, 1974, pp. 778–780.
  8. Thailand held a general election on January 26.
  9. Department of State paper, “Contingency Action on Vietnam,” undated, attached but not printed.