80. Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1

Nixon: Well, I guess Henry’s having a hell of a time. Huh?

Scowcroft: He’s having a hell of a time.

[Page 332]

Nixon: Yeah. Has he—has it broken up yet, or—?

Scowcroft: No, they’re still meeting. They’re still meeting. So—

Nixon: What are they meeting about?

Scowcroft: Well, the, the GVN came in with, with two propositions.

Nixon: Yeah, I heard.

Scowcroft: One was to insert the article from the agreement about elections into the communiqué.

Nixon: I know.

Scowcroft: And, the other one was a complaint about the, the terminology of zones-of-control.

Nixon: Yeah.

Scowcroft: Joining zones-of-control.

Nixon: Yeah.

Scowcroft: That, I think, they’d fall off on. My guess is that what, what Henry’s working on is to try to get a statement on elections inserted into the communiqué, in hopes that the GVN would then buy it. It’s fairly innocuous. You know, we’ve—I’ve quoted—the communiqué, now, does contain other quotations [unclear].

Nixon: Sure.

Scowcroft: But, of course, elections is one that the DRV is, is sensitive about right now.

Nixon: Well, there’s not going to be any elections. They know that.

Scowcroft: Of course—of course not.

Nixon: So why even say it?

Scowcroft: Well—

Nixon: Why do they object? We could easily put it in ways that it could be handled, simply. We could say this communiqué, in no way—it, it abrogates any of the subjects that are covered in the previous communiqué, and not mentioned in this one. Now, that’s it—

Scowcroft: And—and, as a matter of fact, it does contain language like that. And, of course, both sides are equal on the idea. I called Ambassador Phuong again today, and I said, “You know, look: whether it’s in, or whether it isn’t in, the agreement is still completely valid—

Nixon: And the President will say so.

Scowcroft: —“and”—that’s right—

Nixon: Why don’t you just—?

Scowcroft: —“and we have given them those”—

Nixon: Yeah. All right, why don’t you tell him—or, call him on the phone and tell them that you’ve talked to me, and that I will make a public statement to the effect that the article with regard to elections is, is in—

[Page 333]

Scowcroft: [unclear]—

Nixon: —or something like that. And I will say it in a public statement that I—that the President, himself, will say that the article with regard to that is in.

Scowcroft: [unclear]—

Nixon: I will write to President Thieu a letter to that effect, too. And I’ll tell him that—tell him they’ve got to get this thing done.

Scowcroft: Well, it, it, it really mystifies me why they’re hung up on these two points; neither one of which means anything in comparison to what—

Nixon: I know [unclear] the reason for this in their relations, and not ours. Well, it’s in ours because we don’t want them to fall, but you know very well that there has got be—the Congress will go up the wall—

Scowcroft: No question.

Nixon: —and they’ll play right in to the hands of our enemies if Hanoi is able to blame South Vietnam for failing to agree to strengthen the agreement on everything, like MIA, and everything else like that.

Scowcroft: That’s right.

Nixon: And good heavens! And the Congress doesn’t want to give them aid any way—either side.

Scowcroft: That’s right.

Nixon: Either side.

Scowcroft: That’s right.

Nixon: And we’re going to have a terrible fight. And if he thinks for one minute that he’s just going to sit there and get it, he’s out of his mind. So, they’re, they’re looking down, they’re looking down the gun barrel right now.

Scowcroft: There’s, there’s no question on it. And—and we know, for example, that Ambassador Phuong has reported quite accurately—

Nixon: Yeah.

Scowcroft: —the conversation with you, and the ones that we’ve had—

Nixon: Yeah, yeah. How come—?

Scowcroft: I think it’s just hard to figure out what’s in their minds.

Nixon: Yeah.

Scowcroft: They just seem to be—

Nixon: Would it be helpful—I don’t know; maybe it isn’t helpful. If you want, though, you can tell the Ambassador that the President will make a statement to that effect, or the White House will make a statement to that effect. Or do you think it’s worthwhile?

[Page 334]

Scowcroft: Well, I’ll—

Nixon: Don’t do [unclear] this goddamn thing.

Scowcroft: Let me—let me see what—where we are. I suspect, you know, that, that by the time he could get back there—

Nixon: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Scowcroft: —with a message and get turned around in Paris—

Nixon: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Scowcroft: —it’s probably going to be—

Nixon: Too late.

Scowcroft: —over one way or another. But, I’ll, I’ll hold that, and if it looks like, if it looks like that’s—that will turn the trick, then we can do it. But, it’s—but it’s either, it’s either—that’s what Henry’s working on now, or, or trying to figure out some formula for a two-party document that we could agree to without [unclear], but, I, I don’t think that—

Nixon: They couldn’t agree with [unclear]—

Scowcroft: I don’t think so. And, and, and that’s—

Nixon: [unclear]—

Scowcroft: —that’s of no real value to us, anyway, because—

Nixon: No.

Scowcroft: —because it’s the other two parties that, that have to commit themselves.

Nixon: Well, suppose we don’t get it. Then we go back to one of the previous agreements, huh?

Scowcroft: That’s right. That’s right.

Nixon: It just says that we were unable to reach agreement; we’ll continue to work on it.

Scowcroft: That’s right, that’s right. I think—

Nixon: It’ll be a, it’ll be a—all the sophisticates will say you’ve made a terrible, terrible thing. It isn’t terrible. No, no, no—I mean, it is—it’s too bad among certain areas, but as far as the public interest in this is concerned, believe me, it is zilch.

Scowcroft: Ok.

Nixon: They don’t—clearly don’t want to hear about the war. They don’t want to hear about Paris. [unclear] They want that we’ve got the POWs back, and our troops out of there, and [unclear] over. Good heavens. They think, “Thank God.” You know, let’s face it.

Scowcroft: Oh, there’s no question about that.

Nixon: So, we, we don’t need to be as desperately concerned as we were in January—December and January.

Scowcroft: Oh, oh, it’s an entirely different—

[Page 335]

Nixon: I’d much like to get it done, but if we don’t get it done, we don’t. Then, we go on to meet with Brezhnev.

Scowcroft: That’s—I, I think the chief problem if, if we don’t get it done is, is going to be with the Congress, and it’s going to be—there’s going to be growing opposition to South Vietnam, and [unclear] to our doing what we can to help them.

Nixon: All over Southeast Asia. It isn’t just Cambodia.

Scowcroft: Of course.

Nixon: South Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, everything. The Congress wants to get out, alone.

Scowcroft: They want to get out, and this will be another argument to get out: “We’ve tried, and we can’t do any more. Let’s just get out and cut our losses.” I think that, that will be the impact.

Nixon: So, in the end they would have won the battle that we’ve fought for four years to keep that in play. In other words, their battle all along has been to sink the whole thing, get out and let it go down the drain.

Scowcroft: Well, then, of course, that would be the tragedy if this—

Nixon: That’s right.

Scowcroft: —this—

Nixon: Tragedy.

Scowcroft: —contributes to it on such—

Nixon: Hmm. On the other hand, I think that [unclear]. The GVN’s going to survive for a while, don’t you think so?

Scowcroft: Oh, yes, sir.

Nixon: They should—

Scowcroft: Effectively, sir. They’re—they’re quite strong. I think their army has now quite a, quite a of good deal of esprit. I think they—

Nixon: Yeah.

Scowcroft: —they think they can handle it. And I think they’re in pretty good shape for now. But, over the long term, if we can’t shore them up, it’s—it’s hard to be really optimistic.

Nixon: I know. They’ve always known that. On the other hand, we’ve been—we’ve gone the extra mile.

Scowcroft: Oh, there’s no question about that, no question on that. And, this communiqué, how much it would help, it’s, it’s difficult to say. But—so, I think there’s still an outside chance that we might get something there. They wouldn’t still be meeting if it would really help us. And, as I say [unclear]—

Nixon: It’s, now, about 4:30 in Paris—five hours difference, you say?

[Page 336]

Scowcroft: It’s five hours difference. So, it’s—

Nixon: 4:25.

Scowcroft: 4:25. So, there’s no question that they’re, they’re grappling with, with the substance, and I guess it—my guess is, it’s on this one point on that—which is of no significance, one way or another, really.

Nixon: Yeah, with either one.

Scowcroft: It just doesn’t matter whether it’s in, or whether it’s—

Nixon: Well, the zones-of-control, I understand. They think that’s a partition. [laughs] It couldn’t—of course, it’s a partition. Wasn’t it?

Scowcroft: Well, they’re, they’re so confused on that. It is a, it is a partition—but it’s, in fact, a partition, right now. They came out, last month, and started pressing for defining “zones-of-control.”

Nixon: The GVN did?

Scowcroft: They did. And—so, then, we, we said, “Fine, that’s, that’s a good idea.” And now, now, they’re afraid at legitimizing the split of the country in—into two parts. But, it’s very carefully caveated in the communiqué. The two parties have to agree on who controls what, and that, they’ll never be able to do. They’ve agreed on where they’ll station these two-party teams, it doesn’t have to be along the zones-of-control. So, it, it really does not tie them down anymore. It’s a psychological problem.

Nixon: Yeah.

Scowcroft: And I can understand the concern on, on that point.

Nixon: Sure—

Scowcroft: By—by comparison to what they’re risking.

Nixon: They’d better take a hard look at the American psychology, at the moment, which is a, basically, a new isolationist bug-out psychology—not only with them, but for Europe.

Scowcroft: Exactly.

Nixon: That’s our problem we have—

Scowcroft: Exactly.

Nixon: These enormous cuts in defense that they’re talking about is—I mean, there is a feeling of withdrawal in this country, which, except for us, would lead us to a disastrous policy of weakening ourselves, and of isolationism that—and, frankly, giving the Russians a free hand to do it—[unclear exchange]

Scowcroft: That’s right. I don’t think there’s any—

Nixon: We’re fighting a desperate battle—

Scowcroft: And if—if it weren’t—as you say, if it weren’t for your strength, we’d already be way down the road.

[Page 337]

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah.

Scowcroft: And I think it would just be a disaster.

Nixon: Yeah.

Scowcroft: But how do you convince the GVN?

Nixon: Well, we’ve tried to. I couldn’t have said it more bluntly to the Ambassador.

Scowcroft: You couldn’t have.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation No. 937–15. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon met with Scowcroft in the Oval Office from 11:17 to 11:31 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) The editor transcribed the portion of the tape recording printed here specifically for this volume.