270. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1


  • Vietnam: Talking Points for Your Meeting on May 24

I. The Great Power Relationship

  • —We cannot allow localized situations to threaten Soviet-American relations and the prospects for a new era. Great powers must exercise their influence and restraint to prevent such situations from getting out of hand and undermining the very bilateral principles which we have been working on.
  • —When nations directly challenge the interests of major powers, the latter must move decisively. We both understand this.
  • —The Soviet Union must assume a responsibility, whenever they supply massive armaments, and they must be prepared to deal with the consequences when they fail to exercise such a responsibility.

II. The Reasons Underlying Our May 8 Decision

  • —While continuing our course of unilateral disengagement from Vietnam, we pursued every conceivable avenue of negotiation. And we exercised the utmost restraint over a period of months while North Vietnam prepared for its massive conventional invasion of South Vietnam. Hanoi’s answer to every peace offer we have made has been to escalate the war.
  • —I have repeatedly warned of the potential consequences of Hanoi’s negotiating intransigence, its continued insistence on imposing its political will on South Vietnam through the use of force, and the resultant threat to U.S. forces remaining in South Vietnam. This point was made especially clear to the Soviet leaders in Dr. Kissinger’s April meetings in Moscow2 and our subsequent exchanges through private channels.
  • —Despite professions to the contrary, Hanoi refused to negotiate seriously. It continued to abandon all restraint, throwing its whole army into battle in the territory of its neighbor.
  • —We were thus faced with an entirely new situation. As a result, on May 8 I announced my decision to take the steps necessary to deny Hanoi the weapons and supplies it needs to continue the aggression. These measures were not directed at any third country and designed in such a way as not to interfere with freedom of navigation on the high seas.3
  • —We will persist in these and other measures against North Vietnam until our prisoners of war are returned and an internationally supervised ceasefire has begun. However, as evidence of our good will, we have restricted bombardments in the Hanoi area for the duration of my trip. I have also given American commanders strict instructions to ensure that no attacks will be directed against foreign vessels remaining within North Vietnamese harbors. We will do everything possible to avoid involving your ships.
  • —I want to emphasize that the U.S. is not seeking to impose its will or to humiliate North Vietnam. We took these actions because they were forced upon us.
  • —We are willing to conclude a settlement that meets the legitimate concerns of all parties including North Vietnam.

III. Specific Negotiating Issues

A. Legality of the May 8 Actions and Delivery of Civilian Cargoes.

[This is an issue you will not wish to raise yourself, but the Soviets probably will, attacking the mining of approaches to DRV ports as illegal and depriving the DRV civilian cargoes for its people. If they raise these questions, suggested talking points are:]4

  • —Mining is not illegal and both sides have previously used it in the present conflict. The actions we have taken are entirely within the internal or territorial waters of North Vietnam and carefully designed to uphold our legal obligations with respect to freedom of navigation on the high seas.
  • —For these same legal considerations, there is no way to differentiate between various types of cargo without taking measures interfering with third country shipping beyond North Vietnam’s claimed territorial waters.
  • —If these actions bring some suffering to the North Vietnamese people, this flows directly as a consequence of the suffering they have chosen to inflict on South Vietnam.
[Page 1045]

B. Internationally Supervised Ceasefire and Prisoners of War.

[The Soviets have evidenced some interest in what kind of cease-fire we have in mind. Brezhnev mentioned an in-place ceasefire at my meetings with him in April. After your May 8 speech Dobrynin asked what type of ceasefire we had in mind—whether it could be in-place or whether there were other conditions, i.e. withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces. You do not want to restrict our flexibility on this since the Soviets have probably just been probing our position and it has become quite apparent they can’t speak for Hanoi. Your talking points:]

  • —We are prepared to discuss the modalities of an internationally supervised ceasefire with the DRV. Thus far we have had no indication they are prepared to enter into such negotiations.
  • —By prisoners of war we mean all American military men [and innocent civilians] held prisoner throughout Indochina, namely North Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and South Vietnam. Concurrent with their release we will insist on a complete accounting of all those missing in action.
  • —We are prepared to discuss the modalities of prisoner returns immediately with the DRV.
  • —We urge the Soviet Union, as a humanitarian matter, to use its influence with its allies to secure humane treatment for Americans held captive throughout Indochina and the immediate release of those who are sick, wounded and have been held for more than four years.

C. Withdrawals

  • —No one can claim that we seek a permanent presence in South Vietnam when we have already withdrawn 500,000 men.
  • —Once prisoners of war are released and the internationally supervised ceasefire has begun, we will proceed with a complete withdrawal of all American forces from South Vietnam within four months. There would be no American residual force.
  • —We will not retain any U.S. or allied bases, but we will not dismantle any GVN bases.

[The Soviets could raise the question of U.S. forces stationed outside of South Vietnam, e.g., Thailand and the 7th Fleet. Again, we want to retain our freedom of maneuver. If raised, your talking points:]

  • —We will not negotiate with Hanoi about our forces stationed outside of South Vietnam. Obviously, the activities of such forces against communist military activities in Indochina will be halted as part of an internationally supervised cease-fire.
  • —Some of these forces could eventually be withdrawn once effective and viable guarantees have been established to ensure the status of Indochina.
[Page 1046]

D. Political Questions.

  • —The North Vietnamese pose unacceptable demands by insisting on the dismemberment of the present GVN as a precondition for talks leading to the settlement of internal political problems.
  • —We and the GVN have made extremely generous offers. We are prepared to listen to constructive counter-proposals. We will endorse and abide by any political arrangement that South Vietnamese political forces can work out peacefully between themselves.
  • —We believe, however, that the political issue is stalemated. The most rapid way to end the war is to settle military issues alone and leave the political questions to the Vietnamese themselves. This is the fundamental approach embodied in my May 8 speech.
  • —If Hanoi is holding up progress on the negotiating front in the hope of further political concessions by the U.S., then the Soviet Union could serve a useful role and perhaps help speed the negotiating process by disabusing the DRV of any such expectation.

E. Resumption of Talks, Public and Private.

  • —We always remain prepared to hold serious negotiations and have always believed that the best forum for progress is through private meetings. We offered through you to meet privately with the North Vietnamese on May 215 but we never received a reply.
  • —We are opposed to resuming plenaries prior to secret negotiations because they have proven an even more sterile forum than private sessions. Their resumption without private meetings would raise false hopes and mislead public opinion.

[The Soviets may apply great pressure for the resumption of plenaries and, depending on the tenor of the conversations, they may press for such meetings as a minimum they must accomplish on behalf of the North Vietnamese, or even a fig-leaf for not doing more. If their approach appears to fit the above-described pattern, you could say:]

—We will agree to resume plenary meetings with the understanding that private talks will resume as well.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 487, President’s Trip Files, The President’s Conversations in Salzburg, Moscow, Tehran, and Warsaw, May 1972, Part 1. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. A notation on the paper indicates the President saw it.
  2. For Kissinger’s discussions of Vietnam during his secret trip to Moscow, see Documents 134, 139, and 159.
  3. See Document 208 for Nixon’s speech on the mining of Haiphong harbor.
  4. All brackets in the source text.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 226.