81. Editorial Note

On April 4, 1972, the Washington Special Actions Group (WSAG), chaired by Assistant to the President Henry Kissinger, met in the White House Situation Room from 10:50 to 11:47 a.m. to discuss the North Vietnamese offensive, including the impact of Soviet military supplies. Kissinger emphasized that the U.S. response to the invasion must include a strategy to influence decision–making not only in Hanoi but also in Moscow and Beijing. “We have issued many warnings and said many times that we will not be run out of Vietnam,” he declared. “We want the Russians and Chinese to understand that we are serious. We want to jolt them. If we get run out of Vietnam, we won’t have a foreign policy. I don’t know if the Russians want to risk everything under these circumstances.” After considering the effect of weather conditions on military operations against North Vietnam, Kissinger advocated political pressure against the Soviet Union, issuing instructions for Robert McCloskey, the Department of State spokesman, to emphasize the role of Soviet equipment during his daily press briefing. “We want the Soviets to realize that they are involved—because the North Vietnamese are using Soviet tanks, trucks, and supplies,” he explained. “We don’t say the Soviets are directly responsible for the offensive, but they do have the supply responsibility.” (Minutes of WSAG Meeting, April 4; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–115, WSAG Minutes, Originals)

During his briefing of the press that afternoon, McCloskey stated that North Vietnam had clearly diverged in military strategy from guerrilla to conventional warfare. The source of divergence was equally clear. “These units are supported,” he explained, “in a very large way by heavy military equipment from the Soviet Union.” Although determined to underscore its effect on Vietnam, McCloskey was reluctant to discuss the effect this equipment might have on Soviet relations with the United States.

“Q: Bob, in raising the Soviet supplies here it raises the question: Is there any consideration now to looking at our relationship with the Soviets—particularly, in light of the trip to Moscow that’s planned?

“A: There is no reconsideration on the projected visit of the President to the Soviet Union, and I wouldn’t want anything I say to directly confirm an affirmative response to the other part of the question.

“Q: Bob, you said here that all options remain open. Now, is the option open of cancelling the trip to Moscow, or isn’t it?

“A: No, no; And I don’t think that anyone in this room—I’d be surprised if they included that as one of the options that I’ve been talking about here for two days.” (Transcript of Press, Radio and Television [Page 257]News Briefing, April 4; ibid., RG 59, Records of the Office of News and Its Predecessors, Records Relating to Press Conferences, Transcripts of Daily News Conferences of the Department of State, Jan. 1946–Dec. 1980, Vol. 69 of 137, Mar.–Apr. 1972)

Kissinger later wrote, however, that McCloskey “carried off the assignment so well that he triggered a series of confirming comments from other agencies, raising speculation that the entire US–Soviet relationship, including the summit, was in jeopardy. This was a little more than we wanted, but it erred in the right direction.” (White House Years, page 1115)

The WSAG members continued to discuss the role of Soviet decision–making on Hanoi during its meeting at 10:08 a.m. the next day. Kissinger asked whether the Soviets might try to slow the North Vietnamese advance, particularly before the rainy season. Director of Central Intelligence Helms said that there was no evidence that the Soviets were trying “to control the North Vietnamese.” The discussion then proceeded as follows:

“Dr. Kissinger: Assuming Hanoi wins, we can’t make any concessions in Moscow. Therefore, I don’t see why these operations are in the Russian interest. If the situation is inconclusive and if we are popping North Vietnam while we are in Moscow, that won’t make Moscow look very good.

By the way, I want to mention that we have been handling the press and other aspects very well.

“Mr. Irwin: McCloskey, as you know, brought the Russians into this during his briefing yesterday. What should we say now?

“Dr. Kissinger: I talked to the President about this. He wanted to fire a shot across the bow, but we don’t [want] to say anything more now. We don’t want to keep escalating the situation.

“Mr. Irwin: I agree.

“Dr. Kissinger: If a question comes up, just say that we pointed out the facts and that we stand on what we said.” (Minutes of WSAG Meeting, April 5; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–115, WSAG Minutes, Originals)