198. Minutes of the Secretary of State’s Regionals Staff Meeting1
[Omitted here are a table of contents, list of participants, and discussion unrelated to Indochina.]
Mr. Habib: The North Vietnamese will now undoubtedly shift their pressure down the coast.
Secretary Kissinger: Has Da Nang fallen?
Mr. Habib: Da Nang has definitely fallen. And I think Qui Nonh will follow. We haven’t had any report of any people visiting out there.
Secretary Kissinger: Why don’t they fight any place?
Mr. Habib: What started out to be a phased withdrawal for defensive purposes turned into a rout, psychologically and militarily.
Secretary Kissinger: But, as I understand it, Phil, they are not being attacked very much.
Mr. Habib: That is correct. There have been only a few places where there have been any battles; but now there is a battle shaping up in Qui Nhon, and the latest reports indicate they are gong to crumble. And what happens is—they’re a good division and they’re in place—but—
Secretary Kissinger: What did you say—they’re a good division; they’re in place?
Mr. Habib: They have a reputation for being good, the latest reports indicate to me.
Mr. Enders: Have you had any other leadership out close to the battle line with the troops?
Secretary Kissinger: Truong was on a goddam barge in the harbor.
Mr. Habib: There was no reason for him to stay in the city. The city was gone. The two divisions defending the city had just caved. One of them retired and had to get half of its troops out—the marine division. The other one just disintegrated.
Secretary Kissinger: My question is: “Why?”
Mr. Habib: Because they were told to withdraw. And when they were told to withdraw, it turned into a rout.[Page 715]
There’s another factor that you have to remember about Vietnamese troops. That is, their families are right behind them. And what a lot of them did is get their families out, take care of their families.
There’s a report now talking about Vietnamese troops, officers dying. The First Division Commander got killed. The First Division Commander got killed shot down in a helicopter over Da Nang. That isn’t true at all. The first report is his helicopter ran out of gas at Quan Long. It carried him and his family and his staff officers and it crashed. So what you’re doing—what you’re seeing—is a disintegration of a fighting force.
Secretary Kissinger: Don’t they know how much gas to put into a helicopter?
Mr. Habib: No. A helicopter can fly only so far in the first place. They have to take off in a hurry. Who the hell knows why? But the important thing to watch now—
Secretary Kissinger: Don’t they have fuel gauges on their helicopter?
Mr. Habib: Yes. We gave them good helicopters. They lost a lot of them too up around Da Nang and other places. The thing to watch now is whether or not they’ll be able to form a reasonable defense—III and IV Corps areas—and I think—
Secretary Kissinger: My conviction is no.
Mr. Habib: We’ll wait for Freddy Weyand’s report. My information, just from the sketchy information we have, is that there’s a chance. Secondly, I think—
Secretary Kissinger: I don’t see how half the remaining divisions can find all of the North Vietnamese divisions.
Mr. Habib: They can’t. I say there’s a chance of holding a lot. The rainy season starts in about a month. Then it really starts. And the next question one is to look at is survivability of the Thieu Government in terms of leadership. I think the pressure against it is going to be very great. The first signs of generals feeling unhappy about it is, to me, very significant.
Secretary Kissinger: Isn’t there anybody else?
Mr. Habib: Well, there’s always somebody else. I’m not saying that we should be in favor of it. Obviously this is not the solution, but those things get out of hand. The answer is—what will happen—
Secretary Kissinger: It would be sort of ironic if they overthrew this government because they wouldn’t negotiate with the North Vietnamese, having overthrown the last one. Of course, it might negotiate with the North Vietnamese—
Mr. Habib: That isn’t why this government is overthrowing it. We wouldn’t have anything to do with this one, I hope. If it goes, I hope [Page 716]it would go by virtue of its inaccuracies and failures, as indicated by the Oriental mind—
Secretary Kissinger: But do you have any question in your mind that we triggered them into this rout—they didn’t have to move, they didn’t have to move, they didn’t have to have any attacks?
Mr. Habib: I don’t buy that line. Thieu followed this line just because the senate democratic caucus voted. No way. I don’t buy that line. There’s a long-standing affair to this thing. Obviously, the absence of U.S. aid had weakened their expectations sufficiently that he decided, strategically—in terms of the strategic battle—to take his forces and redispose of them. Tactically, he failed.
Secretary Kissinger: Of course tactically he failed; but if he had been assured of adequate American support, there was no need to take their decision so rapidly.
Mr. Habib: Right. My guess is he probably would have had to take it anyway, given the strength of the North Vietnamese forces against him, because even if his forces had stood in place the probability is he wouldn’t have had such a disastrous situation. But the probability is he would have been beaten because the forces against him were overwhelming—at considerable loss—and it would have slowed him down, which wouldn’t have been what it is now—which is disaster facing them in the immediate future.
I agree with you completely on that, but there’s no such thing as a trigger on this thing. At least, that’s not the theory I buy. But it’s going to be written about, after we have examined it more carefully, for the next decade or two.
On the other hand, the GVN has made a strong appeal for certain support on the refugee situation; and we should support that ourselves very strongly.2
There’s a message from you to Scali to Waldheim.
Secretary Kissinger: Yes, I know.
Mr. Habib: I think we should do it.
Secretary Kissinger: Of course we’ll do it. That takes no guts. Mr. Habib: On the Cambodian situation, Lon Nol leaves tomorrow from Cambodia; and that probably will turn out to be a catastrophe because it’s a catastrophe in the first place.[Page 717]
Secretary Kissinger: We are a disgrace to be an ally. As soon as somebody gets in trouble, they get the hell out of there.
Mr. Habib: Very strangely, they want to take the ICCS team out of there.
Secretary Kissinger: They’re right.
Mr. Habib: And one of the reasons is they have to start thinking about how to take care of themselves.
Now, that’s official from one of our people in the latest conversation. That’s the sum total of what he was saying to them. And the PRG issued an interesting statement.3 Of course, they tried to psychologically take advantage of the situation. And their statement is if they get rid of the Thieu, the Government of National Concord—
Secretary Kissinger: Oh, come on! We’ve heard that.
Mr. Habib: I’m just telling you what their position is. We’ve heard all these words before—that they would then be prepared to negotiate.
Secretary Kissinger: If you put into place a government in which they have the dominant role, they would negotiate with that government—we went through that for four years. Their proposal was always to get a government into South Viet-Nam that they would control—that that government would then negotiate with whatever else existed. First the Viet Cong was going to get into the Saigon Government. Then that government, dominated by the Viet Cong, would negotiate with the PRG—that can only fool the Washington Post.
Mr. Habib: That was stupid as a negotiating position—aside from us, a long time ago—but what I’m trying to say is they’re reviving it in a very clever way, designed to appeal to South Viet-Nam opinion.
Secretary Kissinger: I don’t want our putting out all these clever psychological analyses.
Mr. Habib: We’re doing analysis partly because we’re not sufficiently informed about the situation.
Secretary Kissinger: You’re sufficiently informed about the essence of the situation to put out the correct analysis.
Mr. Habib: Well, the correct analysis at this stage would be that the situation is deteriorating and is likely to deteriorate further.
Secretary Kissinger: There were three elements to that. First of all, the agreement was violated totally from the beginning. Secondly, we lost the ability to enforce it in July ‘73. And we then cut aid from then on every year by enough to compound the demoralization.[Page 718]
I’m not saying that these units could have stood up to the North Vietnamese anyway, but we’ll never know.
Mr. Habib: They could have done enough to have preserved a substantial position. What they’ve done is lose a substantial position.
Secretary Kissinger: Not just over the last four weeks but over the period. For them, history began last May when they were getting nothing but fuel, ammunition and a few spare parts and no new equipment. And this gradual rundown is what compounded the demoralization.
[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Indochina.]
Secretary Kissinger: O.K., Bill. Do you have anything to add?
Mr. Hyland: On Viet-Nam?
Secretary Kissinger: On anything.
Mr. Hyland: No. On Viet-Nam, one interesting sidelight I think is several clandestine reports that the Chinese were very unhappy with this offensive. They supposedly advised, after they were briefed on it, last January, the North Vietnamese not to do it.
Secretary Kissinger: Their contempt for us must be total at this point.
Mr. Hyland: The Chinese?
Secretary Kissinger: Yes.
When do you think the North Vietnamese decided to—
Mr. Hyland: I think they changed their plan in December. Up to December, the kind of offensive they had in mind was another kind of high point with creeping forward. Then they sent out a new resolution that said much more massive attacks. They vastly increased the infiltration, the training time.
Secretary Kissinger: What happened in December that changed their mind?
Mr. Habib: They had some successes and we saw the change. We could see it beginning in January. With the first movements of the reserve divisions, communications began—indicating some movement. They called up a bigger number of people for conscription, shortened the training time—as you say—and then—and then putting them down.
Mr. Hyland: Yes. And in MR–III—what was it, the Binh Loc Province?
Mr. Habib: Phuot Long.
Mr. Hyland: Yes, the Phuot Long—you let the regional forces make somewhat of a bit. But I think that was a tip-off to them that in the face of an offensive that he would give up substantial territory—as he decided to do—and that they would take advantage of that to push as far as they could push.[Page 719]
Now, even the intelligence indicates that they were surprised at how rapidly the situation unraveled. They’re having a helluva time reorganizing just to catch up with the Viets.
When is Weyand coming back?
Mr. Habib: Well, he was originally supposed to come back Wednesday, but I heard over the weekend that he wouldn’t come back until Friday.4 I suggested to Weyand, “How many days do you have to assess the situation?”
I would say he’s had enough time. He ought to be back about Wednesday. That’s plenty of time. The sooner the better. I think we’ve got to prepare for the Congress the following Monday.
[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Indochina.]
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Transcripts of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Staff Meetings, 1973–1977, Entry 5177, Box 6, Secretary’s Staff Meetings. Secret. Kissinger chaired the meeting, which was attended by all the principal officers including the assistant secretaries for the regional but not functional bureaus of the Department or their designated alternates.↩
- Foreign Minister Vuong Van Bac sent a message to UN Secretary General Waldheim on March 29 requesting that he appeal to all UN members for assistance to Indochinese refugees. (Telegram 3753 from Saigon, March 30; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files) Waldheim issued the appeal the evening of March 31. (Telegram 1038 from USUN, April 1; ibid.)↩
- The PRG spokesman made the statement at a press conference in Saigon on March 29. (Telegram 3742 from Saigon, March 29; ibid.)↩
- April 4. See Document 208.↩