298. Minutes of National Security Council Meeting1


  • Seizure of American Ship by Cambodian Authorities


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger
  • Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger
  • Acting Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff General David C. Jones, USAF
  • The Director of Central Intelligence William Colby


  • State
  • Deputy Secretary of State Robert Ingersoll
  • Defense
  • Deputy Secretary of Defense William Clements
  • Admiral James L. Holloway
  • WH
  • Donald Rumsfeld
  • John Marsh
  • Robert Hartmann
  • Philip Buchen
  • NSC
  • Lt. General Brent Scowcroft
  • W. R. Smyser

President: Bill (Colby), can we have your report on the latest situation?

Colby: Mr. President, we have some new information on the status of Khmer Communist forces in the Kompong Som–Koh Tang area.

[Page 1022]

The most recent reconnaissance concerning naval craft indicates that there are 24 armed ships in the vicinity of Kompong Som—13 coastal patrol boats, 10 riverine patrol boats, and one submarine chaser.

In addition, there are 3 utility launching craft (LCUs) at Kompong Som, and one LCM at Ream.

As for air strength, our preliminary analysis of 12 May photography showed three T–28 fighters and a total of six transport aircraft at Kompong Som airfield next to the port. There is also a substantial remaining number of some 100 T–28 aircraft left at Pochentong Airfield near Phnom Penh when it fell.

For air defense, the Communists have apparently deployed anti-aircraft artillery near Kompong Som and Ream. Preliminary analysis of 13 May photography shows that there is one 37-mm antiaircraft position just south of Kompong Som, and two 37-mm positions southeast of Ream.

These weapons are some threat to aircraft flying within 3 nautical miles of their location, and under 14,000 feet.

In ground strength, KC combat forces at Kompong Som total some 2,000 troops. This force could be quickly augmented by the remaining 14,000 troops scattered throughout southwestern Cambodia.

An intercepted KC message from southwestern Cambodia indicated that on 14 May 400 additional troops were to be sent to help the “mission.”

We assume this refers to something in the Kompong Som area, though we do not know.

Photoreconnaissance of 13–14 May identified a probable 105-mm howitzer position and a possible coastal artillery position of unidentified caliber just south of Ream.

We have now observed one more large landing craft (LCU) at Kompong Som than reported in last night’s briefing. This ship could transport 800 troops. This gives the KC the ability to move about 2,400 troops simultaneously.

These landing craft, if unopposed, could reach Koh Tang Island in a little over 4 hours.

The Cambodians have apparently transported at least some of the American crew from Koh Tang Island to the mainland, putting them ashore at Kompong Som port at about 11:00 last night, Washington time.

Kissinger: How do you know that?

Colby: From observation.

President: Of the boat last night?

Clements: That would be just the pilot report.

[Page 1023]

Colby: There is some more information.

According to an intercepted message from an unidentified Cambodian authority, a Cambodian outstation—probably a boat—was informed that it would be met by another boat, and was instructed to keep the Americans “toward the enemy.”

Bringing at least some of the crew ashore suggests that the Cambodians appreciate the value of the American crew as hostages, offering hope that they will be kept alive by their captors to preserve their usefulness as bargaining chips.

The Americans taken ashore may have been transported further inland by the Cambodians, and at present there is no way of telling where they may be.

According to another intercepted Cambodian message, the Cambodians anticipate a possible attack against their naval base at Ream, south of Kompong Som, and are alerting the antiaircraft batteries there.

Of the five Cambodian gunboats that were deployed as of last night (Washington time) around Koh Tang Island, three have been sunk by American aircraft.

At latest report, only one gunboat remained a little over a mile south of the island.

We have one KC intercepted message of 13 May which instructs the unidentified recipient “to successfully solve this problem politically according to the guidelines of the organization”.

This message could relate to the Mayaguez incident, but it seems more likely that it is addressed to a low-level commander dealing with his Vietnamese opposite number in a local dispute over border territory.

Around midnight (Washington time), a U.S. tanker enroute to Bangkok reported that a Swedish-registered refrigerator ship near Panjang Island, well south of Koh Tang, had been attacked and shot at by a Cambodian boat. At 5:00 a.m. a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft observed the ship. It showed no sign of distress, and now appears on its normal course to Bangkok. A small boat, not believed to be a gunboat, was sighted 3 miles away, following the ship’s same course and speed. According to press reports from Thailand, a Panamanian freighter was detained for almost two hours in the same area today.

The Thai have reacted sharply to the movement of U.S. Marines to Utapao. Prime Minister Khukrit presented an aide memoire2 to the U.S. Embassy today stating that unless the Marines are withdrawn immediately, the “good relations and cooperation existing between Thailand and the U.S. would be exposed to serious and damaging consequences.”

[Page 1024]

Khukrit undoubtedly feels he will have to make some public gesture that will take him off the hook with the Cambodian government, and his own population.

Army commander Krit Siwara has said in private that he was “extremely pleased” that the U.S. was acting in a decisive manner. In public, however, he has taken a line similar to that of the Prime Minister.

Should public pressure build on Khukrit, he has several options open to him:

  • —to encourage student demonstrations against the U.S.,
  • —to order the closing of Utapao air base, and
  • —to speed up the timetable for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces in Thailand.

President: Is the Holt there now?

Jones: Yes. The Wilson is there too.

President: Is this also a destroyer or a destroyer escort?

Admiral Holloway: This is a destroyer. It will be on station by 1750 Eastern Daylight Time. That means we will have two ships on station before we begin our operations.

Kissinger: Why are we not sinking the boats?

Jones: The report we have did not indicate it.

Kissinger: What mission has been given to the Holt and to the Wilson?

Jones: The Wilson is just coming on station. We will instruct it.

Kissinger: Is the Holt instructed to stop ship movement to the island?

Jones: The Holt is now about 12 miles out beyond the island. It is not able to stop movement to and from the island. The reason it is that far out is that we did not want to tip our hand to the operation.

President: I had the impression that the Holt would station itself between the ships and the land. I am amazed at this.

Jones: It is night, Mr. President. I do not recall any specific instructions to this regard.

President: It does no good to have the destroyer 12 miles out. It can’t stop a boat. Why did we hurry to get it there if it is going to stay that far out?

Jones: We got it there because we wanted it to help in the operations we will conduct.

Rumsfeld: How about the T–28’s that are now at Phnom Penh airport? Could they help oppose our operation at Kompong Som?

Colby: Yes, but they could not remain in the air for long at that distance from their base.

Jones: They are not a real factor.

[Page 1025]

Rumsfeld: I am thinking of the airport. If they could use it, then we would have a stronger argument to hit the airport.

Jones: Theoretically they could, but they would not have much time on station.

President: When does the Coral Sea get there? What about the Hancock or the Okinawa?

Admiral Holloway: Coral Sea aircraft are now within the range of the objective area. So it’s on station.

The Holt is also on station. She stayed out beyond the island because of the plan to put Marines on her. That is why she is over the horizon.

The Coral Sea is within the range of tactical air and can put them in. The Hancock could arrive on the scene around noon of the 16th, D.C. time. She is loaded with helicopters.

The Wilson will be on station this evening.

President: So, as of now, the Holt is there, the Coral Sea is ready, and the Wilson will be there soon.

Admiral Holloway: In two hours.

President: What is the recommendation of the Defense Department now regarding operations?

Schlesinger: Dave (Jones), please give it.

Jones: (Showing a chart) We recommend that we land tonight on the island and on the ship. We can do it with high assurance of success. We have the B–52’s on alert but we do not recommend using them. From the targeting standpoint, is represents overkill. We might use them for political or diplomatic reasons, though that would seem mixed.

President: Are all the chart numbers in our time?

Jones: Yes.

We would send people as follows:

The Marines to recapture the boat and to dismantle any explosive agents.

The helicopters can go at first light. They can get people onto the Holt. It would take two hours for people to get organized and cross to the Mayaguez. They could start out with riot control agents. This probably would not incapacitate them long, perhaps for about 10 minutes. The Holt would then come alongside and all the Marines would come over and hopefully seize control of the vessel. Our Marines would inspect it, so would an OD team. Then it would be moved out.

President: The helicopters come from where?

Jones: From Utapao.

Next, the tactical air. We have tactical air on the scene now. We have gunships, fighters, etc. We can suppress fire. We have instructions to minimize fire in case the Americans are there, but to protect the people who are landing.

[Page 1026]

Eight helicopters with 175 Marines abroad will land on the island around sunrise. There is a four-hour recycle time to Utapao. The next wave of 235 or more would then come to give us over 600 Marines on the island by dark.

The 175 can secure themselves, with gunships and tactical air. When the second group arrives, we can cut off the neck of the island and move out.

President: I understand our time for this is 1845, but that it is already the 15th over there. Is that 0645 or 0745 over there?

Jones: It is about 0545. It is around sunrise.

Here is a picture of the island. The Marine in charge has reconnoitered it.

A close check indicates an open area with trails leading into the woods. This is the preferred landing zone. Also, they might land on the beach. It is wide enough. It is the only opening on the island. Later, we would want to cut the island in two.

With somewhat over 600 Marines by nightfall, we should have a good feel for what is there.

We can perhaps withdraw the next day. We could bring the Marines out to the Coral Sea. This gets them out of Thailand. Or, of course, we could go back by Thailand.

Tactical air based in Thailand would provide most of the cover. It has the gunships and the riot control agents.

That is the operation as we recommend it, as a joint recommendation from all the Joint Chiefs.

President: What about the Coral Sea and B–52’s?

Jones: There are three targets:

  • —First, the airfield at Kompong Som.
  • —Second, the naval port.
  • —Third, the regular port.

There is not much to hit on the airfield. There is not much around the naval port. Greater targeting is around the other port. We have found two ships of unidentified registry, with other craft around also. There are about 10 boats there. Eight of them look like fast patrol craft; one is unknown; one other is a medium landing craft.

President: Where are they located?

Jones: They are along one dock.

There are buildings, POL, and other things in the area.

If we choose to apply the B–52’s, we could put three on one target, three on the other, and six on a third. This would cover the area of the targets.

[Page 1027]

President: Does this include the breakwater also?

Jones: We would cover the breakwater in one portion of the target area. But it would be very difficult to damage it. You would have to have a direct hit.

The B–52’s would take about six hours from Guam. They fly at a high altitude so there is no threat to them.

Vice President: I thought they would be on their way by now.

President: No.

Schlesinger: No. We just put them in readiness.

With a unit of three aircraft, there would be about 125 weapons. The concentration is in the center. They would probably not hit the breakwater.

Jones: As for the Coral Sea, it has about 48 aircraft. About 100 smart bombs are available, such as laser guided or Walleyes. They could be used with great precision. We would first send armed reconnaissance and then go for heavy targets like construction, POL, and warehouses, etc.

Admiral Holloway: We have 21 F–4’s, 24 A–7’s, and 6 A–6’s. There are 81 guided munitions on the Coral Sea. They are about halfway split between laser and the Walleyes.

President: What will be the extent of the damage from the Coral Sea as compared with the B–52’s?

Jones: With the bombs from the carrier you could take out key targets. With the B–52’s, you get more bombs, interdiction of the runway and of the port, etc. We would get additional buildings, including collateral damage.

The key targets you could get from the Coral Sea. With B–52’s, you will get mass.

President: What would be the altitude?

Admiral Holloway: About 6000.

Kissinger: How is the weather?

Admiral Holloway: It is now suitable. It might be cloudy from time to time, but not for long.

Jones: The prediction is for patchy areas.

With the Coral Sea, we would have a continuous flow shifting from target to target.

Kissinger: How long will the operation continue?

Jones: From about 2250 tonight until the end of the day (6:00 a.m. tomorrow).

Kissinger: How many aircraft?

Jones: About 70 percent of the aircraft. We would use a lot at first, and less later.

[Page 1028]

President: They could reload and come back.

Jones: That’s right. They could recycle.

Rumsfeld: What is the purpose of having it go 8 hours?

Jones: To hit all the targets. It could be less.

Kissinger: Would we keep it up while the Marines are on the island?

Admiral Holloway: The operation on the island is being supported from Thailand. We would have, from the Coral Sea, a number of aircraft and targets.

You would have, with those aircraft, enough to hit all the targets?

Jones: Not the breakwater or the runway, but everything else.

Vice President: But they would have time to get all the ships into action. As it stands now, the B–52’s would not get there until later.

Jones: We could start from the Coral Sea earlier.

Kissinger: I have a question. You are landing on the island at 6:45 a.m. and on the ship at 8:45 a.m.; could they not sink the ship?

Jones: As for the island, our timing decision is based on the capacity of the helicopters and on the cycles we need to run. It is already sliding slightly.

Kissinger: This helps you with the bombing.

Schlesinger: That has already slid.

Vice President: Then you won’t get all the Marines from Thailand?

Schlesinger: We cannot. There are 1200 of them.

President: Is this your recommendation on how it should be handled, and is it just a matter of time?

Jones: We would need to get the order out as soon as possible.

President: They should launch both operations as quickly as possible.

Admiral Holloway: At first light.

Jones: That’s right. But that may be a moot question.

We will have good communications in order to be able to follow everything.

Clements: On the Holt, let’s be specific. We are supposed to have real time voice, as well as two-minute interval coded communication.

President: How soon do you estimate that the three helicopters, with 63 Marines, will be airborne?

Jones: It should be within an hour.

President: They are about 40 minutes behind your schedule.

Jones: They should still make it.

Kissinger: They are leaving simultaneously.

Jones: The Holt is first.

[Page 1029]

(At this point, Admiral Holloway leaves the room to communicate instructions.)

President: Now, regarding the B–52’s and the Coral Sea.

Jones: There are various possible times on this.

Marsh: Are you taking the island to get it or the people?

Schlesinger: Because of the people there.

Rumsfeld: We will plan to take off from the island in 24 hours.

Kissinger: I would not answer how long we will stay there. We should say that we will try to find our people. We are not sure how long it may be.

Rumsfeld: Privately, we should say we will not stay long enough so that we would lose face and have to get off too late.

Kissinger: There is no point in staying on the island after we have searched it for our men. But I think we should not assure anybody ahead of time when we will leave. We will move at our own pace.

Schlesinger: What about any prisoners we take?

Kissinger: I would keep them.

Colby: Remembering what happened at Son Tay, I would say that we are planning to look for people who might possibly be there. We should not be too positive that they are there.

President: The point is that we are going there to get our people, not the island.

Jones: With the Coral Sea, one suggestion that has been made is to issue an ultimatum that would say that within so many hours, unless you tell us you are releasing the Americans, there would be air strikes. We could also do that with the B–52 strikes.

Rumsfeld: Regarding the ultimatum, I think there are three ways to do it:

  • —First, publicly.
  • —Second, privately or diplomatically.
  • —Third, you can get into a taffy pull with the people on the scene.

I think one and three are bad ideas. The best is the second. It must be specific and must have a diplomatic initiative.

Kissinger: We sent a message to the Secretary General today.3 We could not get a better way to communicate with the Cambodians.

That message was delivered at one o’clock.

We thought of giving an ultimatum in Peking, but it is too complicated in terms of the time involved.

[Page 1030]

Schlesinger: How about a local ultimatum?

Kissinger: I have no objection. But I do not believe that our action should be dependent on an ultimatum.

Fundamentally, the purpose of our strikes is to protect our operations. I could be talked into taking out the 100 aircraft at Phnom Penh, but I do not want to upset people too much.

But we should move massively and firmly. We should say that we are going to protect the operation to get out our people.

Buchen: I do not agree. If they are not there on the island, you then issue the ultimatum.

President: Supposing we do not find them all? If the operation is carried out in proper time sequence, they will land on the island at 1845 and on the Holt earlier. (Points to General Jones’ chart) On the schedule you have there, the Coral Sea is about two hours after the Holt, and about 4 hours after the island operation. In that space of time they can find out whether the Americans are on the ship or on the island.

Kissinger: The first group cannot search.

President: No, but it can perhaps find out if the Americans are there. That gives us some flexibility.

But I do not think we should delay. I think we should go on schedule. Then, whether or not we find the Americans, you can strike.

Buchen: But an ultimatum may be the only way to get the Americans out.

Kissinger: Rather than have an ultimatum, I would advance the strikes.

I think it is essential in situations of this kind to make clear that it is we who define the hazards. We can argue that we are doing this to protect our operations. What we have to get across to other countries is that we will not confine ourselves to the areas in which they challenge us.

So I think we should do the strikes at the time of the operation. Then, if we have not found our people, we can mine or do other things.

We can also issue an ultimatum. We can say that the 100 aircraft was a protective operation. Of course, we would have some difficulties with people on the Hill and with others.

Colby: The problem is that the KC could put 2,400 people on that island within 4 hours, if they are not blocked.

President: So we have two reasons to speed up the Coral Sea operations, so that its first attack coincides with the attack on the island and on the ship. If we use the Coral Sea, you are then using it to protect the people on the operation. Second, if you use the Coral Sea with the smart bombs, you are hitting military targets and you will not possibly do harm to Americans.

[Page 1031]

Rumsfeld: There are only 80 smart bombs.

Jones: But we have other armaments.

Buchen: You have two neutral ships. With an ultimatum, they have a chance to get out.

Jones: I suggest we expedite the Coral Sea as soon as possible. It cannot go before the other operations, but at the same time. It would go after mobile targets at first, and other targets later.

Rumsfeld: The logic is to protect the operation.

Buchen: But we should avoid the neutral ships.

President: If they are Cambodian ships, we should sink them.

Schlesinger: The leak regarding the B–52’s is not too bad. It shows that the President will use them if necessary.

President: I think you should reexamine the Coral Sea operation with the expectation to keep it going. Henry, what do you think?

Kissinger: My recommend is to do it ferociously. We should not just hit mobile targets, but others as well.

Schlesinger: We will destroy whatever targets there are.

President: And they should not stop until we tell them.

Buchen: You have the requirement for consultation with Congress. If you hit buildings, you might hit Americans.

Schlesinger: I think they would have moved the Americans 20 miles inland as soon as possible.

Admiral Holloway: If we now go to use the Coral Sea it will hit before we take the ship. The first wave will hit targets connected with the operation. Later waves will hit other targets, including the three that we have discussed: the airfield and the ports.

Schlesinger: They cannot fracture the runways.

President: Can you get the boats?

Schlesinger: That is possible.

President: I think we should hit the planes, the boats, and the ships if they are Cambodian.

Schlesinger: We will make a positive identification that they are Cambodian.

Admiral Holloway: On the first operation, the fighters will come back and report. First, you can go for the runways; second you can come back with the required strikes.

Schlesinger: How soon?

Holloway: Three hours.

Schlesinger: That would be about 7 o’clock.

Kissinger: They should not strike at the mainland before the Holt can get to the ship.

[Page 1032]

Schlesinger: So we will go with a 2045 time.

Admiral Holloway: O.K.

(Admiral Holloway leaves again to pass on instructions.)

Schlesinger: Is there any change in our estimate regarding the forces on the island?

Colby: No.

Hartmann: Do we have any estimate of American casualties?

Jones: It is very hard to make a precise estimate. We do not know what there is. Saying that there would be ten people killed would be too precise.

Schlesinger: It might be 20 to 30.

Clements: Sooner or later you will get a linkage with the 23 already lost at NKP.

President: Any other questions?

Schlesinger: We are in position to do the SAR operation. If we hit against Kompong Som, will our people go in over land if they are hit?

Jones: We will have SAR aircraft. They could go down over land. It is conceivable.

President: What is the distance between the targets and Kompong Som itself?

Colby: About 15 kilometers.

Jones: About 10 miles.

Rumsfeld: Did you say that the Marines could be recovered on the Coral Sea? Is this an option?

Jones: No plan is yet finalized.

Kissinger: They could go on the Hancock.

Rumsfeld: Our preferred option is not to have them return to Thailand.

President: According to the schedule, the Hancock will arrive at 0400 on Friday. It could be the recovery vessel for the Marines being taken off.

Schlesinger: Augmenting the B–52 picture of being ready is that we are continuing to amass forces.

Rumsfeld: We should not announce the termination.

President: Will the Wilson link with the Holt?

Jones: Yes; also the Coral Sea. The Hancock may be delayed. Even so we will not take the Marines back to Thailand.

Rumsfeld: Did you decide on an ultimatum after the strikes?

Kissinger: We could use the bullhorns to inform the Cambodians on the island. They should not negotiate. They should just state our demands. I think that once we start we should finish and get out.

[Page 1033]

Ingersoll: Shouldn’t we remove the Marines out of Thailand once the operation has been launched?

Schlesinger: It is not necessary.

Ingersoll: We will have riots tomorrow.

Jones: We have 1200 at Utapao. I suggest we undertake an airlift to get them out, once we decide we do not need them.

Kissinger: Then we can announce that we have withdrawn them.

Buchen: I have not understood how Henry (Kissinger) is planning to proceed.

Kissinger: I think it will not work unless we hit. Then we can give an ultimatum that is credible. We have many things we can still do later. We can mine, or we can take out the planes at Phnom Penh. Then we will be in a long test. We will not have gained by not hitting Kompong Som.

Rumsfeld: Tomorrow Congress is back in session.

President: We have a lot of activity going. Let’s see it then.

Kissinger: We should not give the impression that we will stop.

Hartmann: How will the Cambodians know what to do if they decide to let our people go?

Jones: We will have a bullhorn. We can tell them what to do.

Kissinger: The odds are that the people of the island have no orders and will sit tight.

Clements: I don’t think the Americans are there anyway.

Kissinger: They could be. We do not know.

President: We are speculating on how many there were in the ship that got away.

Colby: The pilot said he saw eight or so. He said there were others in the Holt. He speculated it might be the full 39.

Jones: We should word our release carefully so we say that we want to remove the Americans and get information on their whereabouts. There may also be value in capturing Cambodians.

Kissinger: The problem is that we do not know that they are not there. Taking the island if they are not there is easier to explain than failing to take it if they are.

Hartmann: Could a gunboat carry 39 people?

Colby: Yes.

Jones: We should say that we wanted to get the Americans. Even if we did not get them, it would be useful to talk to the Cambodians to find out what they know.

Kissinger: We should have one clear line on this.

Colby: We need to be braced against that pilot.

[Page 1034]

Schlesinger: We have an obligation to get the Americans or to see if they are there.

Rumsfeld: We need to make plans on press handling between now and midnight.

Hartmann: We should talk a little about Congressional consultation.

Last night, we gave the leadership information on your actions. They agreed. They said that they were advised, but not consulted. We reported the attacks to them. Again, they supported you. Today, in the House, people are saying that there was no consultation under the War Powers Act.

I have a summary of the Congressional response. I also have a summary of the House and Senate responses to our statements. During the afternoon, it was agreed to provide limited briefings to the House and Senate Foreign Affairs Committees. They want more information. We are sticking to the leadership. We have not expanded on the earlier material.

The question now is what notification and consultation should proceed. There is a suggestion that you call Mansfield and Albert, but then others will be mad.

We can bring the people over here, or we can call them.

President: What does the law say?

Buchen: The law says to consult before the introduction of forces and then to consult regularly. There is also a requirement for a report 48 hours after an action. We have to get that report in tonight.

Kissinger: When did this action start, from the legal standpoint?

Buchen: When you got the gunships in.

Kissinger: Maybe you should get the leadership in tonight.

Buchen: That is what the Congress really wants.

President: How soon could they be down here?

Marsh: By 6:30 p.m.4 Rumsfeld: As I understand it, consultation means telling them in time so that they can oppose the action. But we cannot worry about it, though they will complain that it is not consultation.

Kissinger: I think we should give them the history of the diplomatic effort. We should tell them that there was no response and that we had to go ahead. I do not think we should give them details on our strikes.

President: We should say that we will land on the ship and on the island.

[Page 1035]

Rumsfeld: From the political standpoint, we should get your friends and brief them, so that they can stand up and fight for you.

President: Jack (Marsh), can you ask them to come down here? Whom would you ask?

Marsh: I would ask the leadership, such as the Speaker, the Floor leaders, the Whips, and others. I would also get the Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committee leaders and ranking Minority members of both Houses.

Rumsfeld: I would do Anderson separately, perhaps at 7 o’clock.

Schlesinger: The plans regarding air strikes should be presented to show that the targets will be carefully selected. We should not just talk about “a few” strikes, but about “selective” strikes.

I would recommend that the Republican leadership be among the group you are briefing.

Kissinger: But we must ask them to keep quiet. They will be briefed before the operation starts.

Vice President: Perhaps 10 o’clock would be better.

Kissinger: How about 10 o’clock?

President: Would it be to our benefit to delay?

Buchen: I would not.

Marsh: The statute says to consult before initiation of action.

Vice President: You have already done that.

Marsh: But we have not yet told them that we are executing.

Vice President: What if the group is opposed? What should the President do?

Kissinger: He would have to go ahead anyway.

Vice President: I was asked today by a business group when you would react. They applauded when I said that you would be firm.

President: I have had similar reactions.

Kissinger: What about informing the public? Should be use national television?

Hartmann: Perhaps after it’s over.

Kissinger: Let us do the beginning low key, and then go to a fuller description. Perhaps we should just do a brief announcement at first. (To Schlesinger) I thought your statement read well.

Rumsfeld: You do not want to look as if, in being firm, you are being crimped by the Congress.

Regarding the B–52’s, the Congress would say you should not use them. Then you stand them down, as if in response to Bella Abzug. Should we perhaps stand them down now?

[Page 1036]

Kissinger: I would ignore Bella and then explain the B–52’s. If it works, it will not matter. If not, we will have other things to worry about. You will look implacable and calm and in control.

Perhaps you should give a ten-minute speech.

Hartmann: How about other countries?

Kissinger: That is a good idea.

Rumsfeld: You should let NATO know, for once.

Hartmann: Are there any press on board?

Kissinger: (To Ingersoll) We should get Sisco to organize messages. We should not use SEATO.

Vice President: I think that’s good.

President: What do we want when the leadership is here?

Kissinger: I think we should have no military men, but just Jim and myself. I could brief on the diplomatic steps. You would say what you have ordered.

Schlesinger: What should we say?

Kissinger: We should tell them about the island, about the ship, and about the related strikes on military targets to make the operation succeed.

Rumsfeld: The first question will be, will the Marines land on the island.

Kissinger: We should not say yet.

Vice President: They will know about the ship three hours in advance. They can scuttle it.

Kissinger: Is it better to wait until 10 o’clock?

Buchen and Rumsfeld: No.

President: You go ahead.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Meetings File, Box 1. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Cabinet Room.
  2. See Document 296.
  3. See Document 297.
  4. Ford met with bipartisan Congressional leaders between 6:40 and 8 p.m., May 14. A memorandum for the record of the meeting is in the Ford Library, NSC Press and Congressional Relations Staff Files, 1973–1976, Box 8, May 14, Bipartisan Leaders, Memcon, Mayaguez.