184. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Gerald R. Ford
  • Dr. James R. Schlesinger, Secretary of Defense
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

The President: How about Hersey?

Secretary Schlesinger: We can take up the sensitive ones first?

The situation in Phnom Penh is this: There is some problem holding the airport. We put a hold on Gayler who wanted to parachute in [Page 674]supplies. I think if we get to the point, we should forget it. We will run out of money.

The President: Why do we run out any more so that way?

Secretary Schlesinger: We won’t. It is just that this give us an excuse—if we have lost the airport.

The President: Is there a problem now?

Secretary Schlesinger: No. We are flying 130’s and some DC–8’s. They are more of a problem. The crews are reluctant. We sent [Maj Gen John R.D.] Cleland out there. He is more optimistic—they have a plan to recapture Tnol Leap. The problem is in their execution. Coordination is poor now.

The President: When will we know?

Secretary Schlesinger: Four or five days. If they don’t take Tnol Leap, we will be subject to fire. One hit on an ammo plane and WOW!

The President: What do the JCS recommend?

Secretary Schlesinger: They would keep on as long as physically possible, but it is a political position.

The President: What is your recommendation?

Secretary Schlesinger: If we can’t keep the airport open, that we execute Eagle Pull and withdraw.

The President: How much do you need to get by?

Secretary Schlesinger: About $100 million.

The probability of their survival is 5–10%. If we get aid, it gives them a better than 50–50 chance to get through the dry season. If we are going to lose it, it is best to do it in a way which best helps our foreign policy.

The President: I don’t think we should give the timid souls on the Hill the idea that we are quitting because they couldn’t keep the airport open. We have to put it on the basis that they lost the airport because of the supply shortage.

Secretary Schlesinger: They have a severe psychological problem but no actual arms shortages.

The President: How about Vietnam?

Secretary Schlesinger: I think our chances depend in part on Cambodia. The mood is not good.

The President: Suppose they don’t get the $300 million?

Secretary Schlesinger: They will draw down their supplies, there will be a shrinkage of pacification, they will pull back from some areas. If they have to pull back from areas, it creates signs that are very bad for the long term.

The President: Are your people working on getting it?

[Page 675]

Secretary Schlesinger: Yes. I have told Mahon we will go whenever he has a supplemental to put it on. Stennis is being urged to move the ‘76 along because if we got $1.3 billion, it would be a shot in the arm to cover the loss of the $300 million. The worst would be not to get the $300 million and have the $1.3 billion cut to $750 million or so.

The President: The $300 million is not in this supplemental coming up.

Secretary Schlesinger: No.

The President: Good, because I will probably veto it. That would be tough. I suppose the Senate could put it on.

Secretary Schlesinger: Preston was thinking of putting it on the pay supplemental.

The President: That would be good. Keep the pressure on. In the meantime, Church is working with Habib on a three-year deal. We are within range.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Indochina.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 10, 3/11/1975. Secret. The meeting was held in the Oval Office. All brackets, with the exception of those describing omitted material, are in the original.