87. Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and his Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

[Omitted here is discussion of the decision to have 12 B–52s bomb supply depots near Vinh, a port below the 19th Parallel in North Vietnam. The strike, which took place on the morning of April 10 (afternoon of April 9 in Washington), was the first time the long–range bombers were used north of the Demilitarized Zone by the Nixon administration.]

P: I think we have to go forward. We have to put the chips in the pot. The pot is too big now. We can’t get out. This is something—many other things have been suggested: truck parks, Haiphong. Why not this?

K: Actually, we have a curious situation. Joe Kraft2 called Haig the other day saying I was too soft on the Soviets. That is a new situation. He called again this morning and asked me some questions.

P: Soft how?

K: I told him it was not a conspiracy—but incompetency. He is going to write a column.

P: We all know what this is. It is a damn conspiracy. The Indian thing, the UAR and this is a massive attempt on the Soviet part to put it to us.

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K: They haven’t understood all the implications. I don’t believe they would put the test to us into an area where their intelligence is so bad. They don’t know how this can be going. I think they saw a chance of picking up a cheap trick against Peking and blundered into a confrontation with us again. That is more worrisome than the other. If it is a conspiracy, we could turn it off. I think they are to blame—no question.

P: We are coming to the point—with Safire working on the draft3—of knocking off of the Soviet Summit becomes more and more a possibility.

K: I am afraid so. I do not have another view. I do not think we can survive a Soviet Summit as a country if we are humiliated in Vietnam. Unless they accept rules of conduct, we may have to confront them. It is easy for me to say. But if one looks at an election on that platform …

P: The country would be done then.

K: I think our bargaining position in Moscow, if it came out of a position of total weakness, would be hopeless.

P: I have been arguing for sending more carriers, planes, etc. and taking the heat on it because I realize everything rides on this. If we lose this one, the other stuff won’t hold up. Our great China initiative—we at least opened the door, and handle ourselves as gracefully as we can—and quietly leave the scene.

K: That is essentially it. It is easier for me to say how I feel.

P: With that much on the plate, we have to take whatever risks we can. I think we many times have done things like Menu4 which didn’t have a psychological effect.

K: That had an effect but never decisive enough. And this won’t be decisive.

P: But it will have some effect.

K: If we hadn’t acted the way we have …

P: We have to look closely at our whole American purpose as to whether or not it is possible for one Communist country to defend itself and leave. We know it is possible for a Communist country to do that. I am not sure. We shall see. All right; we will go forward now.

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K: It doesn’t require an additional order.

P: We told them. Laird won’t run out?

K: I have him on tape. I called him. He said if we want to get the message across, we do it.

P: All right. How is everything going? Are Safire and Lord working?

K: They are waiting for me now. [Omitted here is further discussion of the military situation in South Vietnam.]

P: As Al says, everybody gets alarmist when an offensive begins. Considering the South Vietnamese are fighting in all territories with American air support, they should be able to hold it. Is it still your view we should do it Wednesday night?5

K: Absolutely. It should be tough.

P: When I do it it will be tough.

K: I think I have found a way of mentioning the private things without blowing it. We have to shoot the works now. The main thing is to rally our people. If the North Vietnamese want to settle, they will.

P: We have to get the Goldwaters, Towers, Buckleys.6

K: We have those. We have to get the confused middle ground. We will get them. There’s a different mood. Max Frankel with a little coaching from me has an article on the front page which is not bad at all.

P: You keep that up.

K: He printed it pretty much as I gave it to him.

P: Call Dobrynin in and tell him.

K: He is coming in to see the Chinese films this afternoon.

P: Tell him the summit is on the line now. I think he has to know with this going as it is that we are under enormous pressure. The whole Summit is being jeopardized. Our hole card is to play more with the Chinese.

K: I have talked to him sternly twice last week.7 I sent a message to Bahr.8 They requested a letter from you recommending ratification of the treaties. I was against it and sent a message saying under the circumstances—since this is the second time Soviet arms are engaged in an offensive—we are reassessing the whole policy. He will run to the Soviet Ambassador—we have some intelligence on him. He gave back exactly what we gave him here.

P: I wonder if I shouldn’t send a message to Brezhnev.

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K: The danger is if they don’t see a way out they may have to confront you. They got the message and I would save this. Let me work out a scenario for you.

P: We both agree to go ahead under those circumstances. I wondered if you could maybe on a line out there have a talk with … get a report directly from Bunker as to how the South Vietnamese are fighting and how their morale is.

K: It’s better by backchannel. I will do it from here.9

P: In the meantime, we will keep our chins up and keep kicking them in the balls. I made a decision no summit if this thing goes. We have no other choices now. We can’t be in a position of letting our whole policy be hostage to a couple of summits.

K: That’s the difference between us and the Democrats.

P: Did anybody attack Teddy10 yet?

K: Agnew and Goldwater.

P: Okay, Henry.

K: Right, Mr. President.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 371, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File. No classification marking. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Kissinger placed the call. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files) Nixon was in Key Biscayne, Florida; Kissinger was in Washington.
  2. Joseph Kraft, syndicated columnist with The Washington Post, Chicago Daily News, and other newspapers.
  3. On April 8 Nixon tentatively decided to explain his position on Vietnam to the public in a speech on April 12; Haldeman relayed the necessary instructions that afternoon to William Safire, a senior speechwriter at the White House. (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) The President planned to emphasize in the speech the importance of using American air power to stop an invasion supported “with the most modern Soviet equipment.” (Safire, Before the Fall, pp. 417–420; and Kissinger, White House Years, pp. 1116–1117)
  4. Reference is to the secret bombing from March 1969 to May 1970 of North Vietnamese bases areas in Cambodia, collectively called “Menu” after the code names for the individual missions, “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” “Dinner,” etc.
  5. See footnote 3 above.
  6. Senators Barry M. Goldwater (R–Arizona) and John G. Tower (R–Texas) and William F. Buckley, Jr., editor–in–chief of the National Review.
  7. April 3 and 6; see Documents 80 and 84.
  8. See Document 86.
  9. Kissinger sent the backchannel message to Bunker that afternoon. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 414, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages, 1972, To: ABM Bunker—Saigon)
  10. Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D–Massachusetts).