258. Memorandum for the Record of National Security Council Meeting1

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Ford
  • Vice President Rockefeller
  • Secretary of State Kissinger
  • Secretary of Defense Schlesinger
  • Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, General George S. Brown
  • Director, Central Intelligence, William Colby
  • Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Ingersoll
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense, William Clements
  • Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • W. Richard Smyser, NSC Staff

SUBJECT

  • Vietnam Evacuation
[Page 899]

President: As you know, before we got into the Phnom Penh evacuation, we had a meeting. I wanted to know what our plans were. It took place at the right time and in the best of circumstances.2

I have kept in daily contact with Henry and Brent on where things stood in Vietnam. I know the Congress has been on us on this, to get it off their back. I think it is very important to stay there as long as we can contribute, to evacuate in a way that will not promote panic, and to contribute as much as possible to a peaceful solution.

Now, I understand we are down from 6000 to 1600.

Schlesinger: It has gone up to 1700.

President: I have ordered a reduction by Friday night of to 1090.3

Schlesinger: That is a lot in one day.

President: That is what I ordered. There will be another order that by Sunday4 non-essential non-governmental personnel must be out of there. The group that is left will stay until the order is issued to take them all out.

We just got a reply from the Soviets to a request we made. Henry, give us the background and the message.

Kissinger: At the President’s request, I contacted Dobrynin Saturday to request their assistance to permit a safe evacuation and the beginning of political discussions and asked them to help create the conditions where this would be possible. [See U.S. oral note at Tab A].5 We also told him specifically on Monday that we would take a serious view of an attack on Tan Son Nhut. We have received the following reply.

[He reads from the Soviet message at Tab B.]6

This means, in effect, that if we keep the dialogue going we have an assurance against military action as we pull our people out. On the political side, the tripartite arrangement gives us the hope of a coalition solution which can be better than surrender. We will go back to [Page 900]the Soviets to find out what they mean by implementation of the Paris Accords and to say we will cooperate. We will say we won’t take precipitate action and we assume they won’t.

President: My interpretation is that the lull which we have is a result of this. You could assume they weren’t yet ready and would move when they are ready. This looks like they are willing for an agreement within the framework of the Paris Accords and that we can keep our people there, and reduce them until such time as we decide to remove them.

We have been through a difficult time. It was a risk and a gamble but it was my responsibility and I didn’t want to do anything to risk the situation. I think I was right, and I will continue to act that way.

Everyone should be guided by the 1090 and the further removal of non-essential, non-governmental people. These are Americans, not Vietnamese dependents, who I assume are adding to the list everyday, in a ratio of about four to one.

Brown: About 15 to 1 in the last few days.

Kissinger: You asked the Soviets about American and South Vietnamese evacuation and they only answered about American citizens.

Vice President: How do you read that?

Kissinger: I read that as they are tacitly saying “Get them out” but they can’t give us approval.

President: I take it to mean we can’t use force.

Schlesinger: We are delighted with such restraint.

President: But I want to do whatever is needed to secure the American evacuation. George, would you review the plan for us?

Brown: The first stage we are in now. In the second stage we would send two companies in just to keep order. If we lost the airfield we would go to helos. We have two landing zones—one at old MACV compound and one at the Embassy. We can put about six helos down at once. We would put 1100 Marines in with the first wave. The helos would come in and evacuate the 1100 people in an hour and 15 minutes. Then they would go back for the Marines.

President: Then the total is about 2½ hours.

Kissinger: Graham [Martin] said he had a deal with the airborne commander and he would keep order.

President: How about the typhoon?

Kissinger: There is no danger now.

President: I think these orders to Martin will get us within the 1100 required.

Clements: How many Vietnamese are we talking about?

Kissinger: We don’t know.

Colby: I think we should move a soon as possible for the high-risk people.

[Page 901]

Kissinger: We told him yesterday and today to get moving on the high-risk people.

Brown: I think we should keep mixing the loads—Americans and Vietnamese—so we don’t get criticized for leaving American personnel there as hostages.

Schlesinger: Henry’s message is a source of reassurance, but there are some sources of concern. Their control might be limited; there are reports of sappers going in; and reports of attempts to stir up unrest; and there are some risks of attempts to go after Americans. In light of Henry’s message, that appears manageable. A more difficult problem is population control, especially in conditions where they might have to fire on Vietnamese. You know we have favored going down to minimum levels. We should consider what we do if Americans are held hostage. We could say no ships will go into Hanoi until the hostages are released. So we should reduce as low as possible.

Colby: We have some people who are prisoners now.

Schlesinger: Just missionaries.

Colby: No. Also some advisors.

President: I understand the risk. It is mine and I am doing it. But let’s make sure we carry out the orders.

Vice President: You can’t insure the interests of America without risks.

President: With God’s help.

Vice President: It takes real courage to do what is right in these conditions.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Meeting File, 1974–1977, Box 1, Chronological File. Secret. The meeting was held in the White House Cabinet Room. Brackets are in the original.
  2. See Document 196.
  3. See Document 257.
  4. April 27.
  5. Text of the oral note, undated, attached but not printed. The communication urged the Soviets to “use its good offices to achieve a temporary halt to the fighting” so interested parties could discuss a settlement to the Vietnam dispute. According to backchannel message WH50755 to Martin, April 23, Kissinger handed the note to Dobrynin on April 18. (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Backchannel Messages, Box 3, Martin Channel, April 1975, Outgoing, 3)
  6. Text of the Soviet response attached but not printed. In the message, the Soviets assured the United States that the North Vietnamese would not interfere with the U.S. evacuation; it also asserted that the DRV “do not intend to damage the prestige of the United States.” A handwritten notation at the top of the page reads: “Delivered to the Secretary at State Dept. 4:00 p.m., April 24, 1975.”