126. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • NSC Weekly Report #66

1. Opinion: Choices

In four key policy areas—China, the Middle East, Africa, and the Soviet Union—we are at the point where some basic choices need to be made. If we do not make them explicitly and consciously, we are likely to find it more difficult to attain our key objectives.

Let me state them very concisely:

A. China

We have embarked on a course that could have very great international consequences. U.S.-Chinese normalization could open the doors to a political-economic relationship with one-fourth of mankind. It could alter the international balance. Success here would be a very major and historic accomplishment for you.

However, in seeking it, we should avoid actions that convey to the Chinese insensitivity to their concerns. The issue of Vietnam is very germane here. The Chinese see Vietnam as veering towards the Soviets, and they are genuinely alarmed and outraged. A Soviet presence in Vietnam would provide the Soviets with a strategic springboard, as threatening to China’s security as are the Soviet forces now in Mongolia.

The Vietnamese, probably encouraged by the Soviets, are now making noises about U.S.-Vietnamese normalization. The State Depart[Page 509]ment said yesterday, “Our policy is clear. We are prepared to normalize relations.”2

This willingness comes at the wrong time and in the wrong context. It will reinforce Chinese concerns, and thus needlessly complicate the more important task—normalizing with Peking. You need to choose: Vietnam or China, and China is incomparably more important to us.

If you agree, you might wish to have me send a note to the State Department, asking that efforts to normalize relations with Vietnam be postponed until the other issue is resolved.

[Omitted here is material unrelated to China.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 41, Weekly Report [to the President], 61–71: 6/78–9/78. Secret; Sensitive. On the first page, Carter wrote, “Zbig—1. I should think that a U.S.-VNam relationship would be better for PRC, worse for USSR. I agree with State, but don’t wish to push any effort now. J.”
  2. Brzezinski is apparently referring to the Department of State’s “Press Guidance on US–VN Relations,” which states, “Our policy with regard to normalization of relations with Vietnam is clear. As we have stated at each of the three rounds of talks with the Vietnamese in Paris last year, we are prepared to normalize relations at the diplomatic level and to exchange embassies and ambassadors. Once Embassies are in place, we would lift the trade embargo.” (Telegram 170745 to CINCPAC Tokyo, July 6; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780278–0662)