103. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet Minister Counselor Vorontsov
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

I read the attached oral note to Vorontsov who took it down very carefully. I then added comments to the effect that we had exercised great restraint during March in order not to jeopardize the Soviet Summit. Our military leaders had watched this build-up and three times had recommended attacks on the North to prevent it. Each time it had been rejected by the President. Now we were in the position where we had jeopardized the whole security of South Vietnam and we were not prepared to take any further steps.

Vorontsov said that the reason the negotiations were so difficult now was our having gone public on the other channel. I told Vorontsov that this was an absurdity; he knew very well that the North Vietnamese had proposed the March 15 date because they had expected to launch their offensive before it, and they had pushed back the date consistently in order to gear it to the preparation of their offensive. If he wanted to talk to me in this channel there was no sense repeating all the things that were already said in propaganda.

Vorontsov said he knew the attack on Haiphong would raise the most serious problems in Moscow. I said we were aware of that. Vorontsov asked whether I was still coming under these conditions. I said “Let’s hope that it is still possible, but the situation has greatly worsened.”

The conversation then ended.

[Page 338]


Oral Note From President Nixon to the Soviet Leadership

In their discussions, Ambassador Dobrynin and Dr. Kissinger agreed that the private meeting scheduled between the North Vietnamese and the United States in Paris on April 24, 1972 could represent a decisive turning point.2

On April 15, 1972, the North Vietnamese informed the United States that Hanoi was calling off the April 24 meeting and made its attendance at a future private meeting conditional on a resumption of the public meetings on April 27, 1972.3

The President wants to emphasize to the Soviet leadership the extreme seriousness and urgency with which he views the current situation. The President agreed to send Dr. Kissinger secretly to Moscow to talk to the Soviet leaders in order to see whether the two great powers could bring about a rapid end of the war on a basis just to both sides before the great objectives they have set themselves are irrevocably damaged. Dr. Kissinger was also to be authorized to prepare for the Summit meeting on the most comprehensive possible basis and in the most generous spirit.

The North Vietnamese April 15, 1972 message cancelling the April 24, 1972 private meeting raises new obstacles to this proposed mission. The President questions what progress can be made in Moscow if the Soviet Union cannot assure even a meeting on an agreed date. The President remains prepared to send Dr. Kissinger to Moscow to see whether a basis can be found to bring the war in Vietnam to a rapid and just conclusion and to seek to prevent consequences which could jeopardize what both sides have worked so hard to accomplish and brought so near to fruition. Needless to say, Dr. Kissinger will be instructed to deal with the Summit agenda in a constructive, comprehensive, forthcoming and generous manner.

The President would appreciate the Soviet view on these considerations as soon as possible before proceeding further.

[Page 339]

For the information of the Soviet Government:

The United States side is proposing to the North Vietnamese the following compromise: The United States is prepared to state that it will agree to resumption of the plenary sessions on April 27, 1972 if the North Vietnamese attend the private meeting agreed upon for April 24, 1972. The United States would be willing to announce publicly its agreement to a plenary session on April 27, 1972 as soon as the North Vietnamese indicate that they will attend the private meeting on April 24, 1972.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 493, President’s Trip Files, Dobrynin/Kissinger, 1972, Vol. 10. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Map Room at the White House. Before meeting Vorontsov, Kissinger conferred with Sonnenfeldt for 40 minutes. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule) Although no other record of their conversation has been found, the two men presumably drafted the oral note, which contains several of Kissinger’s stylistic handwritten revisions.
  2. Dobrynin and Kissinger reiterated this point in their meetings on April 9 and 12; see Documents 88 and 94.
  3. A copy of the North Vietnamese message, forwarded to Haig by Guay on April 15, is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1041, Files for the President, Vietnam, USNVN Exchanges, January–October 5, 1972.
  4. In a backchannel message to Guay on April 16, Haig forwarded this proposal to the North Vietnamese. (Ibid.)