231. Minutes of the Secretary of State’s Regionals Staff Meeting1

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Indochina.]

Secretary Kissinger: Phil?

Mr. Habib: The Cambodian front still holds up, but it’s fading very fast this morning. It looks like the Khmer Rouge are right on the edge of Phnom Penh. There are still some of the enclave cities held, and they continue to shoot at each other. How long it can go on, I don’t know. We’re air-dropping rice into Phnom Penh and into the other places; and we’ll, unless you have some objection—I’ve told them go go ahead and put a small team of Air Force riggers to rig the parachutes into Saigon, to rig the planes that drop the rice on Phnom Penh, even though it’s a technical violation of the Paris Agreement.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, what does it say in the Paris Agreement—you can’t have riggers in Saigon?

Mr. Habib: Military personnel in Viet-Nam. But I didn’t think you’d object.

Secretary Kissinger: Once they’ve been sold out?

Mr. Habib: Things like that I didn’t think you’d object to, so I told them to do—

Secretary Kissinger: What is that—Article 4 of the Agreement.

Mr. Habib: Article 21, I think, or something like that. But, in any event, we’ve got rice; and most of it is in Viet-Nam, due for Cambodia, so we’ll just keep dropping it.

In Viet-Nam, the battle in Xuan Loc is in a slight lull, but I think it’s only temporary. It looks as if the North Vietnamese are positioning some forces to make a lunge into Saigon in a few days.

I don’t know, Bill, if that’s the way you read it; but that’s the way I read it.

So far, the Saigonese are doing fairly well, but they must be taking a heavy loss. What do you think?

Mr. Hyland: Now it’s turning into a decisive battle because of the road to Bien Hoa, which is open, and they will almost certainly attack Saigon. The ARVN holds, and it has heavy casualties so far. Then the North Vietnamese may have to regroup for a few weeks.

Mr. Habib: Or shift to another spot.

[Page 815]

Secretary Kissinger: What groups are in there?

Mr. Habib: The 18th Airborne Brigade, plus an armored brigade he’s taken away from one side.

Secretary Kissinger: But it shows what would have happened if they had stood and fought. I mean, they would have inflicted enough casualties up North to affect things later on, which we can’t tell.

Mr. Habib: John Dean has come in with a cable from Bangkok.

Secretary Kissinger: Can I stand it?

Mr. Habib: No. You’re going to throw it on the floor and stomp on it, I’m sure.

Secretary Kissinger: Oh—that he wants to negotiate with the Communists?

Mr. Habib: The Khmer Rouge.

Secretary Kissinger: Who the hell is he? He is accredited to the Phnom Penh Government. Why do we want him to negotiate with the Khmer Rouge?

Mr. Habib: Well, that’s only one of several possibilities.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, I want to make sure that gets out in its pristine form. I said who the hell is he to negotiate with him? Why should the American Ambassador—if we want to negotiate with the Khmer Rouge, why is he the one to do it?

Mr. Habib: Well, I think, very frankly, the Cambodians themselves will negotiate with the Khmer Rouge.

Secretary Kissinger: That’s fine with me.

Mr. Habib: And I think that’s the way it should end.

Secretary Kissinger: Should we be like the French, that we can hardly wait to shift over to the other side and use the French for both of them?

Mr. Habib: I think the French—their action was uncalled for the very day—

Secretary Kissinger: I’m just asking why the Ambassador who was accredited to the last government should be the one that does it.

Mr. Habib: Well, I think it’s out of a desire to see if we could be of some assistance—then feeding the people, taking care of them afterward, regardless of what the situation is in Cambodia. There’s going to be a helluva problem in Cambodia for about six to eight months until they either get food out—

Secretary Kissinger: If there is a bad problem, you don’t think they could come to us?

Mr. Habib: Well, I should imagine they would first go to Hanoi with the Chinese, who have plenty of rice.

Secretary Kissinger: And you don’t think the Chinese should give them the rice?

[Page 816]

Mr. Habib: I imagine they would. They might go to Phnom Penh—that’s another matter.

Secretary Kissinger: We’re perfectly prepared to consider it. But, (1), they’re coming to us and any other Ambassador you want to designate, but not John Dean—not the one who was accredited to the last Phnom Penh Government.

Mr. Habib: We’ll prepare a reply to show it. We were having—I’m testifying before the committees today, one on the refugee issue—

Secretary Kissinger: When is he coming back? I just want to prepare myself for testifying.

Mr. Habib: Who’s coming back?

Secretary Kissinger: Dean.

Mr. Habib: Dean? I thought we’d keep them back for a little while. We’ve got to get those people out of Thailand. That’s why I’m going over to the White House in a while to talk with Buchen. We’ve got to get a parole out of the Attorney General, which I think we can get. I talked to the Attorney General on Saturday. We’ve got to get him to parole these people into the United States, if they want to come here.

Secondly, we’ve got to break loose some of this refugee money so we can actually send them where they want to go.

Secretary Kissinger: I read your statement that you drafted for me for tomorrow.

Mr. Habib: I didn’t draft it.

Secretary Kissinger: My staff. It’s a good job. Now you’re intimidating me. (Laughter.) There are still a number of changes I want in it. For example, I would like to point out what caused this panic—that this has a long history for an army that for over a year hasn’t gotten any spare parts, whose casualties have been rising, which has rationed its ammunition to four shells per 105s and two for 155s a day is not likely to be the best fighting instrument, no matter what it was to begin with. It wasn’t much good to begin with. And, at any rate, I want to point out that Thieu didn’t just one day decide that the troops like the climate better on the coast.

Mr. Habib: On the other hand, you can point out that they didn’t fight.

Secretary Kissinger: You made that point amply clear in that statement. But I’m not going to run away from what we did to them.2

Mr. Habib: Yes.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Indochina.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Transcripts of Secretary of State Kissinger’s Staff Meetings, 1973–1977, Entry 5177, Box 7, 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. List of attendees attached but not printed.
  2. Kissinger testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 15 on the President’s request for aid to Vietnam. He also discussed the drawdown of American personnel from the Embassy in Saigon. (The New York Times, April 16, 1975)