143. Oral Note From President Ford to Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev1

The President wishes the following brought to the urgent attention of General Secretary Brezhnev.2

For the past three years Soviet-American relations have proceeded from the Basic Principles of May 1972, and above all from the principle of restraint. The situation in Viet-Nam has now reached a point, that the United States and the USSR must consider the long term consequences of further developments there for Soviet-American relations and3 for the international situation as a whole. There is little to be gained from a debate over the origins of the present situation or over which parties must be held responsible.

Under present circumstances our overriding concern is to achieve controlled conditions, which will save lives and permit the continued evacuation of American citizens and those South Vietnamese to whom we have a direct and special obligation. This can only be achieved through a temporary cease fire.

We urgently request that the Government of the USSR use its good offices to achieve a temporary halt to the fighting. In this connection, we are prepared to discuss the special political circumstances that could make this possible. We request the most expeditious answer.

Talking Points

—We are not going to the Chinese or any other intermediary; nor are we willing to approach the DRV.

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—We are going to Moscow because it is in our long term mutual interest that the situation be brought to its conclusion in a manner that does not jeopardize Soviet-American relations, or affect the attitude of the American people toward other international problems.

—If there is a temporary cease fire, we would be prepared to convene the Paris Conference immediately, or we can consider alternatives that the Soviet Union might work out with Hanoi.

—During the period of a temporary cease fire we would be willing to halt military supplies.

—But we are concerned that there will be attacks on the airfields, that will make it impossible to continue an orderly reduction in American citizens.

—Moreover, we have detected Soviet surface-to-air missiles within 50 miles of Saigon; any attack on passenger aircraft would create a most dangerous situation.

—In light of the developing military situation, we need to know now whether there is a chance for a temporary halt in the fighting that might permit a political process to start.

[—The Soviets’ answer will have a significant bearing on our relations.]4

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 7, Soviet Union, Apr–May 1975. No classification marking. The date is handwritten. According to marginalia, the note was “given by HAK to Dobrynin 4/19 9:30 a.m., with agreement that bracketed clause can be omitted by D when transmitting to Moscow.” The talking points that follow the note were presumably prepared for Kissinger’s use during the meeting.
  2. Ford and Kissinger discussed the oral note during a meeting at 9:12 a.m. on April 18: “President: What about China and the Soviet Union. Kissinger: I think we should send them a message. Say they have responsibility for what they put in. We have responsibility because if we had held our end up, what they sent wouldn’t have mattered. I think we should go to them and say we are interested in getting our people and some Vietnamese out and we are prepared to discuss the situation. President: How about Thieu? Kissinger: I think we should keep Thieu there until we get a response from the Chinese and the Soviets. Thieu will go in any event, but it may be followed by chaos. We could approach the Chinese and Russians tomorrow and then see about Thieu. We could have a three to four week holdout, but the fear in South Vietnam could mean three to four days.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977, Box 11)
  3. Kissinger bracketed by hand the previous words in this sentence: “of further developments there for Soviet-American relations and.” See footnote 1 above.
  4. Brackets in the original.