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

[Omitted here are the table of contents, list of attendees, and discussion unrelated to Indochina.]

Mr. Hyland: The military situation in South Viet-Nam has changed significantly for the worst, as of yesterday. Whatever pause there had been was ended with heavy attacks on Bien Hoa, attacks on the road between Bien Hoa and Vung Tau—which is now cut by sizable—

Secretary Kissinger: Are the South Vietnamese fighting?

Mr. Hyland: No. And the 18th Division, which was more or less guarding Bien Hoa and the road between Vung Tau and Bien Hoa has dissolved the MR–3 headquarters, and the MR–3 commanders have left for Saigon. The headquarters are deserted. And it sounds to me likely they had thrown in the [towel.]

Mr. Habib: We had some reports that the troops had actually been looting in Bien Hoa itself.

[Page 913]

Secretary Kissinger: What the hell could you be looting a month before the Communists take over?

Mr. Habib: They’ve got, you know, bags of rice, clothing. Well, in effect, as I read the report yesterday, what had happened is that the North Vietnamese tightened their hold—didn’t go for Saigon itself but had taken care of Vung Tau and Bien Hoa. And they have probably already taken Tay Ninh. There are some reports that they’re in Tay Ninh City and have moved in closer to the southwest approaches. So, in effect, what they’re showing is it’s not a simple matter of negotiations; it’s not a simple matter of negotiating surrender.

Mr. Hyland: There are no roads south cut by the Communists.

Mr. Habib: They can cut it any time, if they want to.

Mr. Hyland: Well, if it’s open or not is questionable. It may be passable in places, but it’s certainly cut and it’s under attack.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes. But what conclusion do you draw from that?

Mr. Hyland: Well, I think it’s going to be fight-talk—that the pressure will increase every day on the terms that Minh offers, or what the Communists tell him to offer. They may well contact him and maybe negotiate on stated terms of getting rid of the Americans, dismantling the machine.

I think what Phil is saying is correct—“Lay down your arms and we’ll install a new government of national reconciliation.” But until that comes about, I think they’ll tighten the noose every day, like Phnom Penh. There’ll be no way out of Saigon. That means within a few days there will be increasing panic, especially if the armed forces either revolt against the government or they just quit fighting or walk away.

Mr. Habib: I don’t think it will be like Phnom Penh. I think they’re not going to fight like the Cambodians or the Khmer Rouge. They’re a helluva lot tougher.

Secretary Kissinger: But the Khmer Rouge are pretty tough now.

Mr. Habib: Yes, they’re pretty tough now; but all the Cambodians held the Khmer Rouge off in that perimeter with practically nothing but their bare hands, for week after week after week. It’s an amazing stand, considering what they had.

Mr. Hyland: I think Tansonnhut will remain open.

Secretary Kissinger: For how long?

Mr. Hyland: Well, I think it could remain open indefinitely. I don’t think the attacks are against Tansonnhut for various reasons—including political ones—but the sense of panic is more dangerous.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes, but we may not be able to get in there.

[Page 914]

Mr. Habib: My feeling is that the panic will begin to rise in the city now. It will be complicated by the fact of bombings by the Vietnamese air force itself. That is going to cause a degree of panic.

Secretary Kissinger: Well, it’s bound to create a certain sense of insecurity when you get attacked by both sides. That would do it even. (Laughter.)

Mr. Habib: War is hell on civilians.

[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. All brackets, except those describing omitted material, are in the original.