274. Memorandum From John D. Negroponte of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Policy (Kissinger)1
- Vietnam Meeting—May 24, and Where We Might go from Here
Part I of this paper attempts to analyse what transpired on Vietnam last night;2 Part II discusses where we might go from here.
Despite the filibustering tone of our meeting last night and the for the record quality to which you yourself have referred, the session gave us some interesting insights into just how mildly the Soviets are playing the Vietnam issue. To me at least it seemed that the overall tenor of their comments was in some respects even less vigorous than the public protests they have made.
Looking back at the session, a few elements of major significance stand out:
Part I: May 24 Meeting
- No Explicit Mention Was Made of the Mining: This is hard to explain except if you postulate that they couldn’t mention the mining unless they were ready to really do something about it. One might thus infer that they have no ace up their sleeve as regards mining and, of course, the more time goes by the less likely that they will find one.
No Concrete Retaliatory Course of Action Was Seriously Intimated: The Soviet leaders made some vague observations about the possibility of third country intervention if things continued to go badly for the DRV; but the most serious explicit consequence they could point to of continuing on our present course was the opprobrium it would bring upon President Nixon and the U.S. from U.S., Soviet and world opinion.
[They alluded to the unpredictable reaction of the PRC and other countries, even non-Socialist ones, to the course of events, although presumably they must be aware of the mounting number of reports we have that rail traffic is now backing up at the PRC/DRV border, there may be a shortage of PRC rolling stock, and the Chinese are reportedly [Page 1079]not permitting Soviet vessels with cargoes for the DRV to call at PRC ports.]3
They Stressed Past Theme That Vietnam War Essentially a Matter Between U.S. and DRV : Brezhnev did this in his talks with you in April and it was essentially the theme of yesterday’s meeting. The war is between us and the DRV even though Brezhnev acknowledged they were an ally and the USSR would “back them to the hilt.”
The Soviets made no new proposal of their own; they did not even repeat the de facto ceasefire suggestion Brezhnev made in April;4 and the rather circumscribed role they seem willing to play was characterized by limiting themselves to acting as a transmission belt for any new proposal we might wish to make.
Based on the conversations last night, therefore, the Soviets seem to be indicating that they plan to confine themselves to an essentially procedural role.
They Supported the DRV Negotiating Position: They fully supported
the DRV negotiating stand. By issue:
- POWs: They said we would get them back when the war was over.
Political Settlement: They fully supported the DRV/PRG proposals for a three-segment government of national concord, repeating what is now a familiar DRV/PRG theme that whether the resultant regime in the South is communist or non-communist is not at issue.
They said that nowhere in the DRV/PRG position is there a demand for reunification and that the DRV/PRG were willing to make a pledge to this effect.
This contention in itself is inaccurate, as Point 4 of the PRG 7 Points refers to reunification [although the DRV 9 points do not]; but this can only be viewed as a debater’s point, just like the question of whether the emerging regime would be communist, since acceptance of the communist political proposals would result in a communist takeover in the South and reunification with the North in very short order.
- Ceasefire: They made no mention of this aspect, unlike at your April meetings. It is unlikely that this was an oversight and I can think of only two explanations: (1) their April suggestion was unilateral and they subsequently found the DRV not amenable; (2) the military picture has changed sufficiently to make such a proposal appear inexpedient at this time.
- Safety of Soviet Shipping: Even though Kosygin was forceful, as noted above, no explicit reference was made to the mining and Brezhnev took the opportunity to point out that damage to Soviet vessels and wounding of crewmen had been kept out of the Soviet press.
On balance, they appeared more concerned about accidental damage to Soviet ships by our bombing than by the overall implications of our actions which they repeatedly brushed away as likely to be ineffectual against the DRV in the long run anyway.
Part II: Where We Go From Here
The Soviets have asked us to put our minds to a new proposal which they would be willing to convey to the DRV. It has also been suggested to you that Gromyko will have something new for you on Vietnam.
- Substantive Proposal Unlikely: It is doubtful that either we or the Soviets would come up with a mutually acceptable substantive proposal in the remaining time available, let alone one that could form the basis for further talks.
Appearance of High Ranking DRV Official in Moscow: This is improbable but not inconceivable. Were Le Duan or Pham Van Dong to appear, you would meet them and we would hear them out.
In reflecting on this possibility, I come down hard against the President seeing either of these two men for the obvious reasons—there’s a shooting war going on with an ally and the President has never met Thieu, at least not while in office. This is not to mention the military, political and psychological reverberations of such a meeting on what we are trying to accomplish in the South.
- New Procedural Initiative Most Likely: The Soviets may come up with another request to get the Paris sessions going again. If they could get a pledge from us to have the plenaries resumed, they could at least show they had delivered something for their DRV friends and it might grease the skids somewhat for any other problem areas you are having. It could also provide a fig leaf for the Soviets continuing to take their lumps on the more substantive Vietnam issues, as they have been doing so far.
On balance, I think a proposal to resume plenaries at this stage might even be a useful initiative on our part. It costs us nothing, provided it is unconditional and does not inhibit our military options. It would also be a minimum achievement which both sides could point to in the absence of any greater Vietnam breakthrough. We could then use the plenary forum to table the President’s May 8 speech5 and if we agreed to resume the meetings say two weeks from now—June 8—I suspect the military situation will be well enough in hand to press the ceasefire theme in all earnest.