161. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • French Foreign Minister Schumann
  • French Ambassador Kosciusko-Morizet
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • Helmut Sonnenfeldt

Kissinger: We very much appreciated President Pompidou’s statement on Vietnam.2 What is your impression of the North Vietnamese?

[Page 581]

Schumann: I saw Madame Binh and Xuan Thuy on Tuesday3 and the Russian Ambassador on Monday,4 the day before. The Russian for the first time told me what is happening in your talks with Le Duc Tho. He said that the US attitude was very intelligent. My impression was that he wanted to see me before I saw Madame Binh and Xuan Thuy and that the Russians are trying to help you. You know that I see the delegation heads regularly. But your Ambassador, Mr. Porter, has never asked. Of course it isn’t up to me to take the initiative.

Kissinger: Well, that will change. What is your conclusion from the Russian account?

Schumann: Well, I think the chances are better than 50/50 that there will be an agreement. There is no point playing games and I might as well give you an account of what he said. First about the withdrawal, he said there was the issue of 45 days vs. 3 months.

Kissinger: That is not insuperable.

Schumann: Then there is the question of your military assistance to Saigon. When Madame Binh the next day talked about the time limit I just listened and said nothing. I stayed silent. On the political side he mentioned the question of 5 months instead of 6 and the US proposal for a Presidential election and a Tripartite Commission.5 I said nothing but it was the first time I heard that this was the position of the US. Of course the North Vietnamese want the election to be for the Assembly and a Tripartite Government rather than a Commission. Then he told me that on Thieu the Vietnamese still want him out on the settlement date while the US rejects this but agrees that he will go at some point. Then he said there would be a general agreement first, then a ceasefire, then release of prisoners and all this was now agreed. But for obvious reasons I asked no questions except to say, “Isn’t it encouraging!” and he said, “Yes.” But then the Vietnamese turned up in my office the next day and said there was no improvement and no encouragement. I said to them that this was the third time they had said this but wasn’t there going to be another meeting. They said yes indeed, next week. My impression is that they are now clear that the Administration is here to stay but they are scared.

Kissinger: That’s right. They shy away. I would appreciate it if you do not say anything to anyone on this because only the President and I know about our proposal.

[Page 582]

Schumann: Obviously. I told Pompidou about it and advised him to take the position he did yesterday in his press conference.

Kissinger: Well the South Vietnamese know nearly everything. But we really don’t want this discussed in the newspapers as has been the case with the European Conference and MBFR. Since the Soviets have told you I will send you the exact text of our proposal so that you will know what it is.

Schumann: I have asked myself why Abrasimov did it. Was it spontaneous or some other reason. I think it was obviously intended to be done before Madame Binh and Xuan Thuy came to see me.

Kissinger: This was on Monday? Well it could only have been based on information from the Vietnamese because I did not talk to Dobrynin until Monday our time.6 We do very much appreciate President Pompidou’s attitude. Outside proposals at this point can only be distracting. We will give your Ambassador summaries of what is happening from now on. You know they are the ones that have insisted on secrecy and by and large they have stuck to it. Incidentally, I have never met Madame Binh.

Schumann: Well, she is better to look at than to listen to. She is very forceful but they never reveal anything and they never give anything away.

Kissinger: Actually, they really have never gone public. We have done it a few times when they have tormented us too much. For example, when they were giving us one proposal in private and beating us over the head with another in public. But they now give us much more detailed documents than before.

Schumann: In connection with our President’s statement—there will be no public statements by us that interfere.

Kissinger: Yes, he was kind enough to say this to me when I saw him last week.7 We’ll keep you informed.

Schumann: We have no one in Paris to give information to. Can we make some arrangement.

Kissinger: Well, I could meet you at the end of the meetings with the Vietnamese. This is easier now that secrecy is no longer a problem. Also, when we change Ambassadors you will have a contact. But now [Page 583] we will use your Ambassador here if you like, but it would have to be for President Pompidou only.

Schumann: Well, the trouble is that we cannot telegraph if we don’t want anybody to know.

Kissinger: We have a channel to one man in Paris and we will give you his name.

Schumann: Well, I had wanted to tell you about what the Russians said because I thought it might strengthen your hand.

Kissinger: I appreciate it very much and it is very interesting because the Soviets could have given you a different nuance in their account.

Schumann: As you know I have been in China. Mao was really fascinating. I spent an hour and a half with him. He is obsessed with the Russians and he kept mentioning Czechoslovakia. I said about that that there were three differences. First, Czechoslovakia only had a population of 15 million. Second, the Soviets had kind of a mandate from the other Communist states that what they were doing was not an imperialist venture. The Chinese answer to that was that the Soviets might try to associate their European puppets with some action. Incidentally, we did recently get some information that East European troops are being sent to Mongolia.

Kissinger: I don’t think we had heard that.

Sonnenfeldt: I think the only source of that information was when the French told us about it.

Schumann: The third difference I said to the Chinese was that in China there could be no Husak after Dubcek.8 That was when Mao got talking about Lin Piao.9

Kissinger: Was Chou with you?

Schumann: Yes.

Kissinger: He is less impressive when he is with Mao.

Schumann: With me he actually injected himself into the conversation. Mao said that Lin Piao was against better relations with the West.

Kissinger: I found Mao very impressive. The conversation was like an overture to a Wagnerian opera. Chou always referred to it later. It really was a great intellectual performance to get all the points that later [Page 584] turned up in the talks with Chou into this first conversation as if it was spontaneous.

Schumann: My guess is that after Vietnam the CPR will openly lead a policy of rapprochement with the US.

Kissinger: I think that may be right. Even now we have three delegations coming and there is the grain deal. But trade is not our motive. Your guess sounds right to me. It is of course partly because of the Russians.

Schumann: Only partly?

Kissinger: Mainly.

Schumann: About Japan, the Chinese said that the 1952 treaty10 has to go. They insisted on it. Chou asked me about Tanaka and I said I had only met Ohira. Then I asked again about the 1952 treaty and Chou said it will be taken care of in the negotiations. I found this change from the previous insistence interesting.

Kissinger: We are trying to keep out of the Sino-Soviet dispute, particularly out of the border dispute. They have made several attempts to discuss it with us.

Schumann: When Mao dies it is of course possible that there would be a pro-Soviet general or somebody like that who would take over.

Kissinger: I think a Soviet military attack would be a very serious event indeed. Don’t you agree?

Schumann: When we saw Brezhnev and Podgorny China was a bee in their bonnet. Did you find the same thing?

Kissinger: They are very emotional about it.

Schumann: When we were in a plane with Podgorny he kept saying that all the land below is on Chinese maps as their territory. Of course, he said, they are not yet dangerous because they are only producing 12 million tons of steel but later they will be very dangerous. When we were at Baikanur they were telling us about their rocket and said they had stopped it after 4 thousand miles but that it could have gone 8 thousand and would have dropped between Canton and Peking.

Kissinger: That is really something.

I saw a report that you had doubts about our Moscow talks on the European Conference and MBFR.11

Schumann: Well it looks like you agreed not only on preliminary talks but on the full conference. Don’t you think that is a problem?

[Page 585]

Kissinger: Well that was a Soviet note and those were target dates.12 They are not agreed. In the White House we have no overwhelming urge to have a conference but we were driven to it by the Allies including you.

Schumann: Guilty.

Kissinger: For us the dates on MBFR are very useful with the Congress. They buy a year or even two and take us through a whole Congressional session. To get that we are willing to talk about June for the European Security Conference. But if you or others at Helsinki say that the conference is not warranted I can assure you you will not have a US-Soviet condominium. But my impression is that since the business of the agenda will not be too tough there probably will be a conference. But you won’t be confronted by us with a decision.

Schumann: Abrasimov said about the dates that there was no agreement but there was an understanding.

Kissinger: That just isn’t true. You recall the conversation our Ambassador Beam had with Kuznetsov.13 After that conversation we faced the problem that we didn’t want a European Conference without MBFR. So we wanted some parallel phrasing in the communiqué and the question was how to break the deadlock. So I told them that they should make us a proposal for what would happen next year so we could take it up with our allies and they did. We told them how we would interpret the question of the force reduction area but that this was subject to the views of the allies. If the Helsinki preparatory talks do not go well we are ready not to have a conference. But I think the Soviets won’t let it fail. So we should go with the attitude of what is it we want, since the Soviets will probably meet it rather than with the idea that a US/Soviet agreement already exists. What I am afraid about is that we will end up with the European Conference but not get MBFR.

Now in regard to MBFR. I sympathize with the French views. In fact, we have assisted you to be an independent military power. And maybe we can do even more after the election. I have always been, as you know, sympathetic to you on this. I also understand your worry about MBFR being cover for unilateral troop reductions. Of course, if McGovern is elected all bets are off anyway.14 But assuming the President is reelected, which is now probable, we want the conference on [Page 586] MBFR mainly to prevent unilateral cuts. Secondly, it is an educational device for the Europeans about the real military balance and what changes might be tolerable. I’ll tell you, it has been the best educational device for us. We discovered that the threat may be a little less than we thought but also that NATO is much weaker than we thought. The idea to get at is not what’s negotiable but what’s best for security. For that reason we resisted on proposals for quick small cuts, for a 10% cut. We want painstaking work, detailed concrete work, and not the psychotherapeutic approach of the Scandinavians or the Belgians. And we want you in this because you take defense seriously—you are the only ones, and Britain. What we want is the basis for a middle-term US commitment without having it challenged every year. How France associates itself with this is up to you. I told President Pompidou we will give you all our data and our thinking. So send someone over and we will give them to him and talk to him. A 10 to 15 percent cut is very dangerous but we don’t want to say it publicly. But if you say “cut 10% by individuals” you are actually saying nothing because of the margins of error in the intelligence. The basic point is that we want to have detailed careful technical negotiations. Your position would be closer to ours than that of anyone else—if you took a position. We would like to see you mitigate your opposition without giving up your anti bloc-to-bloc approach. Your forces might not even be involved if the cuts turn out to be in the 10 to 15 percent area. But even if you don’t associate yourself with MBFR you should not have reservations, because our whole purpose is to strengthen the alliance.

Schumann: This is very important. I must discuss it with Debré. You know, he is very anxious to improve relations with you. But he is afraid of any neutralization of a special area in Central Europe.

Sonnenfeldt: This could only happen if the reductions were drastic.

Kissinger: We should use the next four years to put our relations on a basis that cannot be shaken by a change in Administrations. The Soviets obviously want to create a mood of détente to undercut defense efforts, but we should find a solid basis for working together.

Schumann: You know I am not sure Debré is right about neutralization. That reminds me of Malraux who has always said that the Russians want to swallow Europe.

Kissinger: That is just what the Chinese say.

Schumann: Well, I am not so sure. The question is whether they want to have a secure Western Europe because of China or whether they want a neutralized Western Europe. The discussion of FBS in SALT may give some kind of a clue.

Kissinger: In that they have not tipped their hand yet. Brezhnev was not well prepared when I saw him. He did make some general [Page 587] comment about air bases but I said maybe it would be better to count airplanes rather than bases. We would then count only 60 F–111’s but not the bases. They said they would study this. In other words, we won’t make a distinction between bases but between categories of weapons. But of course we would not talk about your weapons. Anyway, we’ll be in touch. It really is intellectually difficult.

Morizet: About your press conference. What you said on US/European relations—what exactly did you have in mind?

Schumann: I was deeply impressed.

Kissinger: In the first term we created a lot of fluidity, but fluidity is not an end in itself. So we need to build on it. That was the reason I suggested a meeting between President Pompidou and President Nixon and President Pompidou was very sympathetic. I was very uninterested in economics originally. But now it is different. But we need a political context. The agreements of the Azores would not have been possible without involvement of the political level. Our trade negotiations with the Soviets are the same way. We need an overall context in which to settle economic problems. We are planning to create a little task force and then we want to exchange views with you.

Schumann: This is absolutely essential.

Kissinger: We want your ideas.

Schumann: Above all we must avoid a major clash on trade and economic questions.

Kissinger: That is right. It is essential to get started and last year we just managed to prevent it. If things like soy beans are discussed by themselves they present a great problem. The same is true of monetary matters. We need the political context. Now, we have to make a proposal at the IMF but it will not be conclusive.

Schumann: Let’s be careful. We should not have a crisis before the election.

Morizet: I will see Shultz today after what you said in our telephone call yesterday.

Schumann: President Pompidou wants what we call a Christmas truce. We should not let a bone of contention on the table before the election.

Kissinger: We will not force any issue.

Schumann: Well, I had lunch with Pompidou and Giscard D’Estaing and that is what we concluded.

Kissinger: After the election we very much want to consult with you and have a special channel to do it.

Schumann: You can always come to see me privately in Paris.

Kissinger: If the Soviet Ambassador is right I’ll come back more frequently. I would like to see you.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 679, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. X. Secret; Nodis; Exclusively Eyes Only. Initialed and probably drafted by Sonnenfeldt. The meeting took place at the French Ambassador’s residence. The arrangements for this meeting are documented in the transcript of a telephone conversation between Kissinger and French Ambassador Kosciusko-Morizet on September 19, 2:55 p.m. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 374, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)
  2. On September 21, the French President stated that France continued to support the proposal for a settlement outlined by de Gaulle in his September 1, 1966, speech at Phnom Penh. Pompidou’s statement was reported in “No Change in Positions Seen at Session of Paris Talks,” New York Times, September 22, 1972, p. 3.
  3. September 19.
  4. September 18.
  5. Documentation on the many proposals for a settlement in Vietnam and the course of the Paris Peace Talks is in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972.
  6. Kissinger and Dobrynin spoke by telephone twice on September 18, at 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Transcripts of their conversations are in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 373, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File.
  7. They met on or about September 15 in Paris. Kissinger related some parts of his discussion with Pompidou in his telephone conversation with the French Ambassador (see footnote 1 above), but no record of this discussion between Kissinger and Pompidou has been found.
  8. Reference to the 1969 replacement of Czech reformer and Party Secretary Alexander Dubcek by the pro-Soviet Gustav Husak.
  9. Lin Biao, Mao’s designated successor, was allegedly involved in a failed coup against the Chinese leader. The aircraft in which he was attempting to flee China was shot down or crashed in Mongolia on September 12, 1971. U.S. information on this incident was still sketchy. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVII, China, 1969–1972, Document 157.
  10. Reference to the June 1, 1952, Japan-China trade agreement.
  11. Kissinger discussed the European Security Conference and MBFR with Brezhnev in Moscow on September 12; see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXIX, European Security, Document 112.
  12. The Soviet note was transmitted in telegram Hakto 22 from Moscow, September 13; see ibid., Document 113, footnote 3.
  13. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Jacob Beam met with Acting Soviet Foreign Minister Kuznetsov on August 21 to ask whether the Soviets were ready to accept an invitation for balanced force reduction talks. See ibid., Document 106.
  14. Senator George S. McGovern (D–SD) was the Democratic Presidential candidate in the 1972 election.