327. Editorial Note

After his meeting with Chinese Ambassador to France Huang Chen on September 13, 1971, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger met privately that afternoon with Xuan Thuy, Hanoi’s plenipotentiary in the formal peace negotiations, at the North Vietnamese Residence in Paris. As Kissinger recalled in his memoirs: “The meeting adjourned after two hours, the shortest secret session ever. We parted with the understanding that either side could reopen the channel if it had something new to say.” (Kissinger, White House Years, page 1036) Kissinger refused, however, to abandon hope for a settlement, developing instead a diplomatic strategy to influence Hanoi through Moscow. White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman described the situation in his diary entry for September 14: “Henry got back from Paris last night and reported to the P. Came in, saw me this morning, went over the plans. The North Vietnamese have closed off the negotiations in effect, because of the screw-up on Thieu’s election. [Page 985] At least that’s Henry’s view, and he in turn has basically turned off the talks. He now wants to go to Moscow and work the same kind of deal there, or at least make a record for it, so that when we do the pull out in January, we’ll have that as a final wrap-up attempt to settle by negotiation. His logic is that if we’re going to pull out anyway, we might as well try to get all the mileage out of it that we can.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries, page 353)

In a memorandum for the President on September 18, Kissinger reviewed the options for American policy on Vietnam, including his proposal for “another major negotiating effort.” The proposal was, in effect, a revised version of the eight-point plan Kissinger had given Le Duc Tho in Paris on August 16. The suspension of the secret talks in Paris, however, raised the question of how to deliver the message to the North Vietnamese. “There are only two logical candidates for the role of intermediary, China and Russia,” Kissinger explained. “They each have some influence in Hanoi and an approaching summit with us.” Since the Chinese had neither sufficient interest nor substantial leverage to intervene, Kissinger turned his attention to the Soviets:

“Based on their track record and standard approach, we can be sure that they have no great desire to help us, suggestive hints by Ambassador Dobrynin notwithstanding. But there are some factors which could nevertheless motivate Moscow to play a constructive part in arranging an Indochina peace. These include enhancement of their prestige and the establishment of their claims to a Southeast Asia role.

“With these incentives already present we might be able to play on the Russians’ paranoia about our rapprochement with Peking to enlist their assistance.

“When Gromyko is here at the end of this month, we could appeal to him for a Soviet intermediary role. You would introduce the subject with him in a private meeting. I would subsequently speak to him along the following lines:

  • “—We have two interests in improving our relations with China: our desire to communicate with 750 million people and our Southeast Asian concerns.
  • “—On the first count, despite her massive population, China is essentially a regional power at this stage in history. For the near future peace on a global scale requires the cooperation of the Soviet Union and the United States.
  • “—As for Southeast Asia, the conflict there makes for a distortion in our relationship, one that we wish to erase.
  • “—We are prepared to make one last extra effort for a negotiated settlement to the conflict that would, in the bargain, improve Moscow-Washington relations and enhance Soviet prestige and influence.
  • “—We would outline our eight point proposal, ask that the Soviet Union forward it to Hanoi and suggest it arrange a secret meeting in Moscow between North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong and myself. We would both be authorized to make a settlement based on this proposal within three days.
  • “—As a global power, Russia could lend its broader perspective to Hanoi’s natural preoccupation with its own struggle and morbid suspicion of the West. Moscow will understand that the U.S. is not withdrawing all over Asia so as to hang on in one small corner of the continent, and that the real problem is to avoid a total vacuum that would only invite Chinese dominance.

“We would tell Gromyko that it would be helpful to have an answer within two weeks, or before I go to China. This timing would be both an incentive and pressure on Moscow. The Russians would get an institutionalized role in Southeast Asia, a secret trip and the prospect of some voice in our China policy.

“If the response from Moscow and Hanoi were positive, I would brief Chou En-lai on the project while I am in Peking and secure benevolent Chinese abstention.

“Sometime during November I would go to Moscow for the clandestine meeting and try to hammer out an agreement with the North Vietnamese.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 872, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Encore, President’s Speech January 25, 1972) The full text of the memorandum is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 257.

Although the President did not indicate a decision on the memorandum, Kissinger recalled in his memoirs that “Nixon approved this offer on September 20.” (Kissinger, White House Years, page 1039) Nixon, however, modified his instructions when Congress began to consider a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Michael Mansfield to withdraw American forces from Vietnam. As Haldeman reported in his diary on September 25: “I gave him [Nixon] a report on the Mansfield amendment, that the leadership in the House feel they aren’t going to be able to hold the line against it this time around. So he wants Henry to develop a revised game plan for his idea of going to Russia now, to assume that Congress passes the Mansfield thing in October—and what does that do to our bargaining thing, what effect on our position, and so on.” (Haldeman, Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)