25. Editorial Note
During their March 8, 1969, conversation (see Document 24), Secretary of State William Rogers and Soviet Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin also discussed recent developments in Vietnam, including the possibility of U.S. retaliation for North Vietnamese attacks on South Vietnamese cities. Rogers raised the option of engaging in private talks with North Vietnam and four-party talks among the United States, Republic of Vietnam, Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and National Liberation Front on political issues. Dobrynin stated that he considered this an important change in U.S. policy and he would report it to Moscow. A memorandum of their conversation is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970, Document 32.
Later that evening, from 6:25 to 7:10 p.m., Henry Kissinger spoke on the telephone with President Nixon, who was in Key Biscayne, Florida, about a number of issues including Vietnam. Kissinger complained to President Nixon about Rogers’ volunteering four-party talks to Dobrynin: “We weren’t saying we didn’t want to discuss political questions. I think, myself, we would have wound up, in this first testing period, in a weak position in a tough sequence of events. My concern is they will now feel free to press us along in these private talks.” Nixon responded, “We can’t be boxed in where we are at the [Page 93] mercy of the fact that we can’t hit the north and we can’t have private talks. We will have no bargaining position.” Kissinger stated that after 4 weeks of pressing publicly for military and political talks, the North Vietnamese had achieved that and “they can go to private talks and string them out.” Nixon suggested that Kissinger “can cut that down by making clear to the Soviets and I will say so in my press conference, there will be no compromise on this coalition government [within South Vietnam].” Kissinger suggested that, “I don’t believe it will be easy for you to attack Cambodia while private talks are going on and not much is being done in South Vietnam.” Nixon replied that, “My point is if, while the private talks are going on and they are kicking us, we are going to do something.” Nixon and Kissinger returned to the Rogers–Dobrynin conversation. Nixon stated that “There is not going to be any de-escalation. State has nothing to do with that. We are just going to keep giving word to Wheeler to knock hell out of them.” Kissinger suggested that, “If they hit us again, we must refuse to have private talks for another week.” The President stated: “We cannot tolerate one more of these without hitting back. We have already warned them. Presumably they have stopped. If they hit us again, we hit them with no warning. That is the way we are going to do it. I can’t tolerate argument from Rogers on this. You warn once. However, if they don’t hit us, we are screwed.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 359, Telephone Records, 1969–1976, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File, 3–13 March 1969)
On March 9, Haldeman described Kissinger’s reaction to Rogers’ conversation with Dobrynin:
“K called me early in great distress because Rogers had reversed United States policy in his talks with Dobrynin yesterday. K feels it is disastrous and is really upset, but will spend today developing recovery plan and come down tomorrow to see P. K feels the policy question is so serious that if continued he’ll have to leave. Can’t preside over destruction of Saigon government. Feels we have great chance to take hard line and Rogers gave it away.… K felt Rogers, (by alluding that we would stop the private talks with the North Vietnamese) had given Dobrynin the stance that the U.S. wasn’t fully backing the Thieu government, K also felt this would lead to the destruction of Saigon, and was against current policy.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) (Ellipsis in the source text)
On March 10, Kissinger sent Nixon a memorandum following up on their telephone conversation 2 days before and recommending remedial steps to counter the Dobrynin–Rogers discussion. This memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970, Document 35.