181. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Gerald R. Ford
  • Senator Frank Church (Dem.–Idaho)
  • Senator James B. Pearson (Rep.–Kansas)
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Max Friedersdorf, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs
  • Mr. John O. Marsh, Jr., Counsellor to the President
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

SUBJECT

  • Three-year aid program for South Vietnam

The President: My understanding is that you wanted to talk about trying to find a key to the amount and time of aid to Vietnam. I made the statement in the Chicago Tribune,2 which you read, I’m sure. Based [Page 658]on our analysis and Ambassador Martin’s views, a three-year commitment would get them over the hump and give them a reasonable chance, except for cash Foreign Military Sales. Martin thinks $6.5 billion should be the figure. We think maybe $6 billion.

Senator Church: I saw two accounts, one with two years and one with three years. I thought it might be possible to work out a statutory scheme for phasing out both Cambodia and Vietnam. We thought we should come down and discuss with you. Now you are faced with ceilings and there is a strong chance that Congress won’t grant relief. I wanted to break the stalemate and see if there is some way out of this open-ended subsidy of an ongoing war. I spoke with Jim on whether we could formulate something which would be acceptable. I think it has to include a phasedown to be credible.

The President: I agree. There must be an ironclad assurance.

Senator Church: If it were a phaseout backed by you, we might be able to sell it. But when you get to the detail—that is where the discussion begins. The first question is on economic assistance—because assistance is fungible. But I thought we should at least present it to you.

Senator Pearson: I did an analysis. I doubt if the additional aid will go, but there is a gnawing conscience at work on the Hill—not really connected to current arguments or a “commitment.”

As I understand it, the Administration’s idea is from 1976–78, $6 billion, with only Vietnam involved. Frank is thinking ‘75–’77 for all Southeast Asia, and around $2.5 billion. These all relate to each other. I think there is a chance in the Senate. I don’t know about the House.

Senator Church: If it were linked with the base closing in Thailand—they have called for it, and Nunn says they are bases without a purpose. I don’t see why we need them. If you did that, we could sweeten it.

The President: We would have to tie it in with worldwide MAP.

Senator Church: I think your proposal should be tied to the $300 million for Vietnam.

Secretary Kissinger: If some relief is not taken in Cambodia within the next two or three weeks, Cambodia is through. I don’t think we could work out a scheme like this by then. I haven’t discussed it with the President. In Laos, for example, if we give economic aid to a friendly, coalition government, the Communists don’t object.

Cambodia is the urgent issue. In 1973 we had a negotiating situation when the bombing halt killed it. If we can get them through the dry season, we can negotiate. It will be a lousy one, but something. But we can’t wait on Cambodia.

The President: I feel an obligation. We must make a last massive effort to negotiate. If we can get to the wet season, there is a chance for [Page 659]negotiation. Our people say that with the supplemental there is a chance to get through the dry season. I can fill you in on the House situation. Otto is marking up today with an amendment lifting the ceiling—with support by the Foreign Affairs Committee for a rule. Doc [Morgan] doesn’t want to go through the Authorization process. That is the quickest in the House.

Senator Church: I don’t think that would work in the Senate.

Senator Pearson: What is your reading of the Senate?

The President: I don’t have one.

Secretary Kissinger: A negative vote would probably lead to a collapse in Cambodia. Doing nothing would let it unravel more slowly so we can get some people out.

Senator Church: I would guess it wouldn’t go in the Senate. No one can be convinced it is not the last and won’t be followed by more. That is why I wanted to tie it to a termination.

Senator Pearson: If that is not doable, I think Cambodia is better by itself than tied to Vietnam.

What would a phaseout look like to foreigners?

Secretary Kissinger: Honestly, I don’t like it. I can’t say at the end of three years we won’t face a serious situation. The best is to do what is required each year. But rather than face this each year, this is an alternative. If the levels were adequate, this would be more bearable than for Congress to appear to be stabbing an ally in the back. If it is done over three years, our diplomacy and other countries could adjust to it. It is not the best way, but it is acceptable. I don’t like it, but I don’t like the whole debate.

Senator Church: I don’t like the whole policy which got us there. But if we were to phase it out, wouldn’t it alert the people out there to the necessity to bargain?

Secretary Kissinger: A three-year program which doesn’t look like a sellout, I would support.

The President: I share Henry’s view. I have always supported aid. I believe that under the circumstances, if we get a three-year program, adequately funded, it is the best way to save the American perception in the world, and the commitment to an ally. I will work with you. I don’t know how the leadership would react.

How could we proceed?

Secretary Kissinger: I think we could hold on the $300 million, but we must move on Cambodia. We maybe could piece together something on Cambodia which would avoid a flat money increase.

Senator Pearson: What would we put it on?

Max Friedersdorf: Maybe just handle it separately. It can’t be hidden.

[Page 660]

Senator Church: Unless Cambodia were a part of a phaseout, I couldn’t vote for it. But I would still be willing to work on the Vietnam package.

Senator Pearson: There is no way to get Mansfield to support this.

Senator Church: Humphrey might.

The President: Who can we get to work with them?

Secretary Kissinger: Habib, Maw and Graham Martin.

The President: It is worth a try. We have nothing to lose.

Secretary Kissinger: Let’s have them work together to see if we can put together a package.

Senator Pearson: I will take soundings if the concept is acceptable.

Senator Church: Then it would apply only to Vietnam?

Secretary Kissinger: I don’t object to including Laos, but you may find . . .

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 9, 3/4/1975. Secret. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. Brackets are in the original.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 171.