36. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1


  • Southeast Asia


  • Chairman
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State
  • Kenneth Rush
  • William Porter
  • William Sullivan
  • DOD
  • William Clements
  • Lawrence Eagleburger
  • Gen. Alexander Haig, Jr.
  • JCS
  • Adm. Thomas Moorer
  • Vice Adm. John Weinel
  • CIA
  • James Schlesinger
  • George Carver
  • William Nelson
  • NSC
  • Brig. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Richard Kennedy
  • John Holdridge
  • James Hackett


It was agreed that:

  • —A working group on Cambodia will be established immediately to prepare a list of options on the situation in Cambodia for the President’s consideration. The paper should include specific recommendations on possible U.S. courses of action with regard to adjustments of U.S. personnel in Cambodia, the composition of the Cambodian Government and military actions in Cambodia. Ambassador William Sullivan of the State Department will chair the working group. The objective should be, at a minimum, to prevent communist control of the waterways leading to the delta and otherwise to achieve results in Cambodia that will not lead to a serious new threat to Vietnam.2
  • —There are no restrictions on the movement of CIA personnel in Cambodia. The limitations on such movement caused by the restrictive 200-man ceiling on U.S. personnel imposed by the Cooper-Church amendment should be addressed by the working group as part of the review of U.S. personnel in Cambodia mentioned in the preceding paragraph.3
  • —State will make clear to the Polish and Hungarian governments that their desire for Most Favored Nation status and other economic benefits depends on the impartiality of their ICCS representatives.4
  • —The working group on Vietnam will prepare a paper listing military actions that South Vietnam might take in response to the ceasefire violations, for use in the discussions with President Thieu during his visit to San Clemente.
  • —There will be no public statements downplaying enemy infiltration.

Mr. Porter: Have you received the paper we sent over concerning the bombing of Cambodia?

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, but we had to do the justification of the Cambodian bombing ourselves.

Mr. Porter: Then it must be right.

Mr. Kissinger: Perhaps we should get some of the lawyers who kept the Thai regiments out of Cambodia working on it. Jim (Schlesinger), do you want to give us a quick rundown on where we stand?

Mr. Schlesinger read part of a prepared briefing (copy of complete CIA briefing attached, Mr. Schlesinger read to the double line on page 4, at which point he was interrupted).5

Mr. Kissinger: When will they launch the offensive?

Mr. Schlesinger: They will be ready in several weeks time.

Mr. Kissinger: What has (Ambassador) Godley found out?

Mr. Sullivan: Phoun Siprasouth (one of the representatives of the Laotian Patriotic Front—LPF) was expected back in Vientiane yesterday, but he didn’t show. Now we understand he will be arriving there today (March 28).

[Page 165]

Mr. Kissinger: Can someone talk to Souvanna Phouma?

Mr. Sullivan: Walter Cronkite did yesterday.

Mr. Kissinger: I didn’t see that, what did he say?

Mr. Sullivan: He’s very optimistic. He said he expects the LPF representatives to come back and for the government to be formed in the very near future.

Mr. Porter: Things look pretty bad in Cambodia.

Mr. Kissinger: Can someone give us an assessment of whether the Cambodian leadership is acting the way they are because of our pressure or their own paranoia? I can understand their situation. There are communists all around the capital trying to seize control and the American Ambassador comes in and tries to force the President to take the suspected plotters into the government. What are they to think? We did that in 1963 in South Vietnam and I don’t want it to happen again. We don’t want to overthrow anyone until we have someone to take his place.

Gen. Haig: I wonder if we aren’t putting too much emphasis on the wrong thing. We’re worrying about the composition of the government when enemy action is cutting off and isolating the capital.

Mr. Kissinger: How bad is it?

Adm. Moorer: Highways 1 and 4 are both interdicted and the Mekong River is cut, too. Only Highway 5 to the rice producing area is open.

Mr. Kissinger: Our behavior has been like that of a maiden aunt. We’ve been giving the Cambodians advice on how to constitute the basic political structure of their government when they have a knife at their throat. I don’t have any precise strategy for this situation, but I hope someone in this distinguished group has some ideas. What instructions is (Ambassador) Swank operating under?

Mr. Sullivan: We haven’t sent him any instructions in three weeks. He’s been playing it by ear since the bombing of the palace. Perhaps we should send him some guidance. The last instructions we sent him, on trying to get Lon Nol and Lon Non out of the country, were aborted by the bombing.

Mr. Kissinger: Do you have any instructions ready to go?

Mr. Sullivan: I don’t know what to send. Al (Haig), do you have any thoughts?

Gen. Haig: The situation is very, very serious. If they have the river blocked, we’re in serious trouble.

Adm. Moorer: With the Mekong River blocked and Highway 1 to Saigon and Highway 4 to Sihanoukville both blocked, Phnom Penh is really isolated. It’s hard for us to do much about it; thanks to Senator Church, our forces can’t cross the border.

[Page 166]

Mr. Kissinger: Does anyone have any proposals?

Mr. Schlesinger: We sent one to you last week but haven’t heard anything.

Mr. Kissinger: That’s no longer feasible; it had to do with getting Sirik Matak into the government.

Mr. Schlesinger: No, not that. I’m referring to our suggestion for an on-the-scene assessment of the situation. I think we need such an assessment badly. Why don’t you send Haig to Cambodia?

Mr. Porter: Are you going to leave him there to run things? It’s no good if he comes back; he would have to stay out there and run the army if he is going to accomplish anything.

Gen. Haig: Thanks a lot.

Mr. Kissinger: We’ve had enough assessments already.

Mr. Schlesinger: I’m convinced you won’t be able to get Lon Non out of the country while he is in office.

Mr. Sullivan: Our Cambodian Desk also suggested we send a White House emissary to Phnom Penh, but they were clever enough not to suggest anyone in particular.

Mr. Kissinger: They must really think this one is a loser! The preeminent agency of the government is suggesting a White House emissary?

Mr. Schlesinger: I think we should send someone.

Mr. Kissinger: What about winning the war?

Mr. Schlesinger: We can’t do that until we get the government straightened out.

Mr. Clements: What size forces would be necessary to open those roads that are cut?

Adm. Moorer: The Cambodian government has the enemy outnumbered 2 to 1 everywhere, but they launch hit and run strikes that effectively close the roads and waterways. We can get convoys of trucks in with area support by gunships, but the communists are spreading up and down the rivers and the situation is getting worse.

Mr. Kissinger: If Cambodia goes communist, can South Vietnam survive?

Adm. Moorer: If the communists range along that long border between Cambodia and South Vietnam, it would be very hard for South Vietnam to survive. An unfortunate characteristic of South Vietnam is its very long border with Cambodia and Laos.

Mr. Carver: South Vietnam will be in a very tough spot if the communists get control of the waterways and start bringing in supplies on the rivers again. I agree with the Director (of CIA) that we must have a more cohesive government in Phnom Penh.

[Page 167]

Mr. Kissinger: How much time do we have?

Mr. Carver: Sixty to ninety days at most. Lon Non has the military commanders in a state of apprehension. The Cambodian generals are all nervous, each thinking he may be next on Lon Non’s list. It’s having a very serious effect on military effectiveness. None of the commanders want to stick their necks out or take any initiatives.

Mr. Kissinger: Can we get a working group formed to prepare a few options for the President’s consideration instead of wringing our hands at every WSAG meeting or sitting around like a group of assistant professors trying to devise methods of re-constituting other governments? We need some realistic options. Perhaps we should put Lon Non in charge; that’s one of the options. We don’t want the whole situation to fall apart in Cambodia.

Mr. Schlesinger: Are we (CIA) still restricted in Phnom Penh?

Mr. Kissinger: You haven’t been restricted in Cambodia for at least two months.

Mr. Nelson: The big problem is that we are operating under the restriction of the Cooper-Church ceiling of 200 Americans in Cambodia.

Mr. Kissinger: What is the effect of that limitation?

Mr. Nelson: We’re operating now at the 200 limit. If we want to send in more intelligence people, we will have to take some others out of the country.

Mr. Kissinger: Can’t you put them in on TDY?

Mr. Nelson: The 200 ceiling includes TDY’s.

Mr. Kissinger: We’ve used TDY’s before.

Mr. Sullivan: Cooper-Church has been very narrowly defined in this regard. We’ve been through this issue before. We argued that TDY’s should not be counted under the ceiling, but our request was specifically denied.

Mr. Nelson: We can do some juggling. We could take the less essential members of the MEDT Group out.

Mr. Sullivan: We have about 70 of them there, although 100 are authorized. I think they can be moved to Thailand.

Adm. Moorer: We should move out those who are working on cultural and economic matters until the war is settled.

Mr. Kissinger: I would like some recommendations as soon as possible on adjustments of personnel, what you would suggest we do concerning the composition of the government and what military actions we might consider in Cambodia, so that the President can take some actions on Monday (April 2).

Adm. Moorer: The problem we have in Cambodia is that we just don’t have enough people there. Can we make some adjustments soon so we can get some more operational people in there?

[Page 168]

Mr. Kissinger: Moving people around involves the passions of the bureaucracy to an intense degree, which the loss of Cambodia doesn’t. The working group should make some recommendations on personnel adjustments.

Adm. Moorer: Who has the action on that?

Mr. Kissinger: Someone has to be chairman of the group, although no one seems very anxious. Bill (Sullivan), how about you?

Mr. Sullivan: I knew it!

Mr. Porter: We have no problem handling this. Maybe we should also try some other approaches. We might try to get Russia and China involved in some kind of conference on Cambodia. I don’t know if they will agree, or whether it will accomplish anything if they do, but we can’t stay where we are, the present situation is untenable. We may end up with something in Cambodia like we now have in Laos, which may not be so bad, comparatively speaking.

Mr. Kissinger: If something develops in Cambodia that permits the communists to use Sihanoukville, that will be unacceptable. In that case, we won’t be able to hold South Vietnam. We’ll be right back where we were in 1970.

Mr. Porter: But South Vietnam has some responsibility for its own defense. We don’t know what we may get in Cambodia; we may even get Sihanouk back again.

Mr. Kissinger: We need a result that meets our objectives. I could make a deal with Chou En-lai tomorrow to bring back Sihanouk, but we don’t want to do that.

Mr. Porter: In all my years of experience I’ve never seen a situation as bad as this, except perhaps for the situation in Laos a few years ago.

Mr. Sullivan: Not even Algeria?

Mr. Porter: I take no responsibility for what happened in Algeria. Actually, things haven’t turned out so bad there.

Mr. Kissinger: We’ve been meeting here for four years and we’ve been through it all. I’m not looking for alibis from you for losing this whole thing. There are a hundred ways we could make it look good while turning it over to the communists, but that’s not what we’re here to do. I don’t want them to get the waterways to the Delta. What can we do to prevent it?

Mr. Schlesinger: There is some interest in a possible coup.

Mr. Kissinger: By whom?

Mr. Schlesinger: By the military, or someone in the military.

Mr. Kissinger: You’d better finish your hearings before you start getting into these ideas. O.K. then, we will get a set of recommendations for the President’s consideration by Monday. Bill (Sullivan), you [Page 169] will chair the working group, and you have no excuse for not knowing what the general strategy is.

Mr. Sullivan: I may know the strategy, but I don’t have any answers.

Mr. Kissinger: We’ll rely on your Irish ingenuity. What is the situation regarding infiltration?

Mr. Schlesinger: We are not detecting any new large units entering the trail.

Mr. Kissinger: How come?

Mr. Schlesinger: Well, for one thing, it is the end of the dry season and it may be the normal tapering-off that occurs at the time, but we really don’t know.

Mr. Kissinger: Is total infiltration down, or have they just switched the rules and begun moving it across the DMZ or in some other way?

Mr. Schlesinger: The total appears to be diminishing.

Mr. Carver: It is diminishing, but they may not need any more right now. There are about 20,000 men still in the system and when they reach their destinations the enemy will be back up to his peak strength of last year, so it may not be necessary for them to send any more in now.

Adm. Moorer: But the logistics keep moving. On the 24th of March the logistics movement was the heaviest it has been at any time this year.

Mr. Kissinger: The logistics are continuing?

Mr. Carver: That’s right, it’s very heavy.

Mr. Kissinger: We have been talking about infiltration, but you are talking about personnel and supplies as different things. When you refer to infiltration do you just mean people?

Mr. Carver: That’s right. The movement of supplies is different. There has been a lot of truck movement.

Mr. Kissinger: I don’t know how you differentiate these things. How much movement of supplies has there been?

Adm. Moorer: Our estimate for March 24 was 1,000 tons of rice and 3,000 tons of other supplies.

Mr. Kissinger: Have we protested the violations of the DMZ?

Mr. Kennedy: Yes, we have.

Mr. Kissinger: I haven’t seen anything on that.

Mr. Porter: It’s difficult to say anything publicly. How are you going to prove it?

Mr. Kissinger: We have some evidence, haven’t we?

Mr. Porter: The trouble is that the evidence is such that it is not acceptable. We had that same problem in Laos.

[Page 170]

Mr. Sullivan: We provided the evidence to the Canadians, but they don’t think they can use it because it is from intercepts or sensors.

Mr. Kissinger: If I were sitting in Hanoi infiltrating men and supplies through the DMZ and no one protested to me, I would think it was being accepted. Are we sure of the evidence?

Mr. Carver: Those roads they built in that area were not public works projects.

Mr. Kennedy: We have protested the infiltration.

Adm. Moorer: General Van (ARVN Chief of Staff Gen. Cao Van Vien) has told us that military operations will be initiated in the near future in MR–1 and in the Plain of Reeds area of MR–4.

Mr. Kissinger: This whole town is looking for alibis instead of trying to get the enemy to implement the agreement. If we don’t protest to them on the infiltration, they will assume we don’t object to it. I don’t care what the press says about it; the New York Times and Washington Post have never been with us, anyway. Have the Hungarians and Poles been told that Most Favored Nation status will not be approved for them unless they show a more positive attitude on ICCS?

Mr. Porter: We’ve had several sessions with them, first here and later in Europe.

Mr. Sullivan: No threat concerning MFN was ever made.

Mr. Porter: Well, the issue of MFN applies to only one of them.

Mr. Kissinger: They both want plenty from us.

Mr. Sullivan: The head of the Polish delegation is being called back to Warsaw as a result of our démarches.

Mr. Kissinger: We are going to get action on this one way or another. We’ll call them to the White House and tell them right here if you won’t do it. If the North Vietnamese get away with this infiltration now there will be even more later on this year. The leaks to the newspapers that infiltration is down are the opposite of what we are here to do. There are to be no public statements or leaks that infiltration is down.

Mr. Porter: You gave them a hell of a diplomatic clout on infiltration. What else can we do?

Mr. Kissinger: We have to convince them that something else will follow. I don’t want to have to extort action from a reluctant department every time the President wants something done. Anytime the WSAG wants a meeting with the President, I’ll arrange it. Bill (Sullivan), I take the answers we have received on the extension of the Four Party Joint Military Commission to be a categoric turndown by Hanoi.6

[Page 171]

Mr. Sullivan: So do I.

Mr. Kissinger: What about the Two Party Joint Military Commission?

Mr. Sullivan: It should be constituted automatically when the FPJMC disbands. Some more PRG people are coming in to participate in it. Actually, it will be in-being contiguous with the departure of the FPJMC, so there will be no gap between them.

Mr. Kissinger: Will we be out tomorrow?

Adm. Moorer: All of our people have to be out by March 31.

Mr. Sullivan: Except for thirty people on the team that is working on the MIAs.

Adm. Moorer: That’s right.

Mr. Kissinger: What about the ICCS?

Mr. Sullivan: There is no relation between the ICCS and the military commissions. The ICCS isn’t too effective, but it is there.

Mr. Kissinger: What are the Canadians going to do after sixty days?

Mr. Sullivan: We think they will take a good look at the military situation at that time and if there is a lot of military action going on, they will probably pull out.

Mr. Kissinger was called out of the meeting at this point.

Mr. Schlesinger: (to Mr. Sullivan) What do you think of the situation in Cambodia?

Mr. Sullivan: I think Sirik Matak shot his gun and is all finished. Everyone I talk to, including the Cambodian military, is concerned about Lon Non. The military leadership is very concerned about what he may do. I don’t know how much Lon Nol really depends on Lon Non, do you (CIA) have any feel for that?

Mr. Carver: He’s got Lon Nol convinced that he’s merely protecting his elder brother against all sorts of plots and enemies.

Mr. Nelson: He (Lon Non) acts very decisively.

Adm. Moorer: In that case, maybe we should sign him up.

Mr. Sullivan: The Thai think he’s a big problem, too. Thanom suggested we offer Lon Non a lengthy training course that will get him out of the country. They prefer Hang Tung Hak (the Cambodian Prime Minister). They never did think much of Sirik Matak.

Mr. Nelson: That’s right. The Thai were opposed to our alleged approaches to him.

Mr. Kissinger returned to the meeting.

Mr. Schlesinger: Do we have any U.S. volunteers in Cambodia?

Mr. Kissinger: Volunteers? What do you mean, the Peace Corps? I don’t think we have any volunteers there.

Mr. Clements: The Thai have great interest in the situation in Cambodia.

[Page 172]

Mr. Kissinger: Of course they do, and they will turn against us if it all goes bad there. Then the Indonesians will follow suit. We have a lot more at stake here than just Cambodia. I want a paper from the working group with recommendations on what we should do in Cambodia. I also want a paper on what we should discuss with Thieu (during his visit to San Clemente) regarding military actions the South Vietnamese might take in response to the ceasefire violations. Perhaps the Vietnamese Air Force could do something about those missiles at Khe Sanh. Are we going to get a briefing book on Thieu, Dick (Kennedy)?

Mr. Kennedy: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: Is there any other business?

Mr. Schlesinger: There is another subject I want to discuss with you.

Mr. Kissinger: O.K., but I’ll see Ken Rush first. We’ll do it by rank.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–117, WSAG Meeting Minutes, Originals, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. During a discussion of Indochina on March 13, the WSAG agreed that the United States must prevent a major Communist offensive in 1973. It concluded: “The best military option appears to be a resumption of bombing the trails in Laos as soon as possible after the third tranche of POWs is released, possibly followed later by bombing of the DMZ and the area between the DMZ and the South Vietnamese lines, if necessary. The final decision will be made by the President.” Minutes of that meeting are ibid.
  3. CIA program plan, “Augmentation of Phnom Penh Station,” April 11; Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Files, Job 80–M01066A, Box 4, Cambodia, January–June 1973. The Cooper-Church amendment to the Supplementary Foreign Assistance Act of 1970 barred funds for the introduction of U.S. troops into Cambodia, including military advisers, without congressional approval.
  4. Documents on the U.S. approach to Poland and Hungary are in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL VIET 27–14.
  5. Schlesinger’s untitled notes, undated, attached but not printed.
  6. The Commission, as previously scheduled, disbanded on March 29.