210. Editorial Note

President Nixon’s May 8, 1972, speech generated a mixed response. “Initial reaction to the President’s speech from the communist world has been fairly cautious, except for Hanoi which immediately and vigorously denounced it,” Deputy Assistant to the President Alexander Haig noted in a May 9 memorandum to Vice President Agnew. “The Hanoi reaction was notable primarily for its hint that it wanted a strong and swift expression of support from both Moscow and Peking.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Subject Files, Box 127, Vietnam, President’s May 8, 1972 Speech) In a May 17 intelligence memorandum, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research suggested: “In private, Hanoi is probably seriously concerned about the weak tone of statements issued in Moscow and Peking.” (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27–14 VIET) In an undated memorandum (I–35473/72) to Secretary of Defense Laird, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs G. Warren Nutter assessed the areas of the world where the Soviet Union would react to the mining of North Vietnam. “In sum, the Soviets may decide that the only course to follow is confrontation because the costs of doing anything else are too great in terms of their world position,” he concluded. “Or, they could try to have it both ways—reacting in a seemingly tough manner, but keeping that reaction within limits.” (Attached to memorandum from Haig to Howe, May 23; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 160, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, May 1972)

The Soviet Government adopted a mild if ambiguous response. In a note to Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger, May 9, 10:30 a.m., Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council staff wrote: “Soviet reactions thus far are quite inconclusive. The incidents at sea talks were postponed by the Soviets for two hours this morning but are now in progress at the Soviet Embassy; the maritime talks have been postponed by the Soviets for a day. The head of their delegation refused to tell State whether this was on instructions [or] are his own decision; SALT proceeded this morning; the commercial talks at Commerce are in progress this morning; [Soviet Minister of Defense] Grechko has left Moscow for Syria; Tass has briefly reported the President’s speech in a Washington dispatch; it is nasty but not excessively so.” (Ibid., Box 1086, Howe Vietnam Chronology, May 9, 1972) In a May 9 memorandum to Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Johnson entitled “Possible Soviet and Chinese Reactions to our Vietnam Program,” William I. Cargo of the Policy Planning Council staff noted actions that the Soviets might take in Vietnam but also pointed out that “they could react in other areas of the world, including canceling Moscow summit, suspending SALT and other bilateral negotiations, blockading Berlin, [Page 790]assuming an increased role in Cuba, and supporting of North Korean harassment and incursions across the demilitarized zone.” (Ibid., NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–088, WSAG Meeting) In his diary entry for May 9, White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman recorded a more optimistic perception of the Soviet reaction from Nixon, who insisted on the position that “if the Russians cancel, we should say we expected it, we can’t endanger American lives and sacrifice America’s interests for the sake of the Summit with the Soviets,” but also recognized that the garnering of extensive domestic support for the military actions in Vietnam might help to convince the Soviets to avoid cancellation. (The Haldeman Diaries: Mutlimedia Edition)