172. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Gerald R. Ford
  • Graham Martin, U.S. Ambassador to Republic of Vietnam
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

The President: I wanted to chat a few minutes before you go back to that hot spot. How about your evaluation?

Ambassador Martin: It depends on what happens now. If we can pursue your Chicago Tribune proposal of a three-year appropriation,2 I think we can do it. Grants will be difficult in the recession. Until the ammo cut back in May, the initiative was clearly with the GVN. Thieu sensed the Washington mood better than I did. The initiative thereafter [Page 630]started to slip to the North. I think Hanoi didn’t decide on the offensive until after the vote on the $700 million. There has been some unravelling and they have cranked up a massive propaganda offensive including the January 27th demonstrations here. Our information indicates the focus here is on the 27th activities and on the Congress. If we could show the foreign connection to these demonstrations it would be very useful.

If we could get this Congressional trip out there I think it would be good. I haven’t lost a visitor yet except Abzug. But we need some of the leadership, and I gather they are opposed.

The President: Jack Martin told me that Mansfield is opposed and I gather the Speaker also.

Ambassador Martin: Flynt is good. I’m sorry that Case and Fascell backed out.

[The President discussed Case and Turkey aid with General Scowcroft.]

Ambassador Martin: It would be good if you could talk to Symington.

The President: I think it would be bad if I do. If they turn it down and go public, it looks bad. I don’t know Stuart on a very personal basis.

This is not a bad list.

Ambassador Martin: I think it would be a mistake to cancel the trip.

The President: I agree with that. Cambodia looks bad.

Ambassador Martin: Yes, but don’t count them out. Even if they do collapse, it won’t make that much difference in Vietnam.

It won’t even be the end if we don’t get the $300 million. But they will be using bodies instead of ammunition.

The President: What would be the effect of a Saigon bombing of Hanoi?

Ambassador Martin: There would be a short-term psychological benefit—like Doolittle said—but no lasting benefit.

The President: What about the Toan appointment?3 I’ve been reading about that.

Ambassador Martin: His predecessor hadn’t had that much experience and he was getting cold feet. I thought he should be replaced, and Thieu said Toan was the only one he had. He is aggressive.

The President: What about the charges of corruption?

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Ambassador Martin: Yes, in the context of that area. He is a bit excessive, but what we need is victories. He can do that.

The President: I talked to Sam Nunn. I plan to read his report.

Ambassador Martin: He has a variant of your plan. I think your idea is better so we don’t get accused of gimmickry. I think the synergistic effect of a big program like this is great. I haven’t even taken account of oil, and the finds look good.

There is some debate among your advisors about anything which might cause trouble. But Thieu is an attractive personality and I think he would refute the opinions about him if he came back here.

The President: I entertained him here on his last trip. Is there any danger of a coup?

Ambassador Martin: No. It is well in hand. But he would get 80 percent of the vote.

The President: I will talk to Henry. What about Ky and Minh?

Ambassador Martin: Ky is a farmer north of Nha Trang. He is not in politics any more. Minh is a rallying point, but he is very indecisive. A coup would come out of the army.

The President: What about the problem of demonstrations?

Ambassador Martin: This is a moderate non-Communist group which has its own arms and Thieu feared they might be co-opted into a neutralist movement. It is not a serious problem.

If the GVN could get assurance of supply, the North Vietnamese would have a serious problem. They are not getting all the aid they want. Kissinger’s diplomacy has been successful there. The Chinese don’t want Hanoi to dominate the whole area and greatly fear Soviet influence on the North Vietnamese. But the Soviet Union doesn’t want to contribute to a PRC-dominated Hanoi.

In the 1973 ceasefire, they had 20 times the arms and supplies the GVN had, because we had ruined the supply lines. So even if they didn’t get resupplies they are far better off.

On the economic side, we could see the kind of advance Taiwan and Korea had. Inflation now is only nine percent. They have cut imports drastically and have to import now only oil and fertilizer. They could export a million tons of rice in three years—for $900 million. Modernizing the fishing fleet would bring in $150 million more. Timber more. There is also a big pool of skilled educated labor. Other countries, once the economy starts moving, will start to fill the gap. That is why we can stop after three years.

So if we could take $6.5 billion and divide it, $4 billion for the military and $2.2 billion for the economy, we could walk away in three years.

The President: We keep being pressed—is there anything new on MIAs?

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Ambassador Martin: No. Only when the North decides it can’t use them for bargaining.

The President: It is a tragedy.

Ambassador Martin: I think we should encourage them to keep pressure on Hanoi.

The President: Maybe we could use them to help get our program through. Maybe Thieu’s trip could be generated by the Congressional group. Jack Kemp could ask Thieu to come back here to tell his own story.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 9, 2/15/75. Confidential; Nodis. Brackets are in the original. The meeting was held in the Oval Office.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 171.
  3. On February 5, President Thieu named Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Toan to replace Lieutenant General Du Quoc Dong as commander of the III Corps area around Saigon.