Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 19 March 1971


Transcript

Edited by Ken Hughes, with Kieran K. Matthews and Marc J. Selverstone

The President and National Security Adviser complain that the Air Force has not conducted an air strike due to poor visibility. The President then turned to his upcoming troop withdrawal announcement.

President Nixon

You know, the thing that Bill [Rogers] says is a very interesting point, which you, of course, realized so clearly . . . is that the troop announcement itself is the best proof that Laos was successful.

Henry A. Kissinger

Yes.

President Nixon

It's all that we've got [unclear] prove it, right?

Kissinger

Well, I think you can give a very thoughtful speech. It doesn't have to be long—

President Nixon

No, no.

Kissinger

—in which you say, "This is—we believe Laos is"—I wouldn't say anything about troop withdrawals at the beginning. I'd just say, "We believe Laos has been a success for the following reasons . . ." And you can give them some figures: Last year they put that much through; this year they've had to consume so much more; Sihanoukville is closed. Just a few figures. They won't check them. I think we can make a most impressive case. As I told you yesterday, before I had the confirmation that they were pulling out, that I was actually . . . that once I worked through these intelligence figures, I got a more positive view [President Nixon acknowledges] than I had by working through the truck figures, because—

President Nixon

You see, here's—

Kissinger

—the truck figures don't tell you what's being handled within Laos—

President Nixon

[speaking over Kissinger] Henry, the main point, though, is this: They're going to be debating, however, [for] two weeks as to whether Laos was or was not a success. In my view, you end the debate dramatically—

Kissinger

That's it.

President Nixon

—only by announcing a bigger troop withdrawal.

Kissinger

That's why I'm—what I mean—and then at the end of that presentation—

President Nixon

That's why your thought, I think, is so right.

Kissinger

And then at the end of that presentation, you can say, "And to express—show my confidence in this [President Nixon acknowledges], after the most careful study, we have decided to withdraw—"

President Nixon

Exactly. "That we can increase our troop withdrawals [unclear]."

Kissinger

"And we will withdraw 100,000 troops by December 1st."

President Nixon

"Withdraw—we'll withdraw 100,000." That's all you need to say.

Kissinger

"We will increase the rate of troop withdrawal—"

President Nixon

And don't even say how much. Just say, "We will withdraw 100,000 by [unclear]—"

Kissinger

"Will enable us to withdraw another 100,000 by December 1st."

President Nixon

Got to do it, Henry.

Kissinger

We have no choice. You know my [unclear]

President Nixon

[speaking over Kissinger] Well, Henry, the whole point is [unclear]

Kissinger

—is to go low now and—

President Nixon

Yeah. But you see—

Kissinger

And this is still—

President Nixon

But on the other hand, you’ve got to remember this speech—it's your point. [Unclear] everything for Thieu. We've done everything for the military. We've done everything they've asked, all right, up and down the line. Now, we haven't done it just for the sake of proving it. We've done it because we think it's right. But we also have to realize, as you've pointed out, that the time has now come for us to look to a bigger picture. After all, you're meeting with [Anatoly] Dobrynin and all [Kissinger acknowledges] the rest, all these things, and also whether or not we survive is going to depend upon whether we . . . we hold public opinion. And we can do it with this.

Kissinger

And actually, if you can hold public opinion for some more months to give you more maneuvering room, that has to be weighed in the balance by the North Vietnamese. I mean, a small withdrawal that triggers a big public debate is actually less useful, even from a diplomatic point of view, than if we get ahead of the power curve with the announcement. And . . . so I think, all things considered—and basically it cannot make a hell of a lot of difference whether we pull out 20,000 more troops by December 1st or not. That's really all it amounts to—a difference of maybe 25,000.

President Nixon

[Unclear.]

Kissinger

And they'll just have to swallow it.

President Nixon

[Unclear.]

Kissinger

And I think they can. So . . . and it still gives us enough troops in the country to bargain about during the remainder.

President Nixon

Plenty.

Kissinger

Yeah. Then, I think, early in May, we ought to approach the North Vietnamese for another meeting.

President Nixon

Yeah. Did you say that . . . that [Vernon A.] Walters had told you some—

Kissinger

Well, Walters had sent in a cable that he has a North Vietnamese contact who, in turn—

President Nixon

This is ten days ago he did this.

Kissinger

Yeah, well, about a week ago—who, in turn, had had a conversation with a North Vietnamese who'd just arrived from Hanoi, who says they're taking tremendous losses in Laos, worse losses than they suffered at Dien Bien Phu, and [unclear] losses and that they’re—it's a terrible—

President Nixon

Worse than in Dien Bien Phu?

Kissinger

Yeah, it's a terrible tragedy that they're suffering, that so many of their best people are being killed. He just gave it as an account of the mood, that the Russians are pulling away from them, that the Chinese can't supply all the goods, and there may be some—something in that, because the Russians and the Chinese are really going at each other hammer and tong again, and the Russians are accusing the Chinese of trying to get them into a war with us, and the Chinese are accusing the Russians of selling out and of starting an arms race. And the Russians are almost incoherent. The Russians have just published an article, which they've even distributed in English, saying the Chinese—I'll get a memorandum made for you—that the Chinese are trying to get them into a war with us so that the Chinese can inherit the world. Alternatively, they say, the Chinese are pulling—creating enough nuclear weapons so that they can join with us against them.

President Nixon

Good God [unclear].

Kissinger

So their mentality is really . . .

President Nixon

You know, they must have problems, you know.

Kissinger

They have problems.

President Nixon

I think the whole Communist world is in a hell of a shape. What do you think?

Kissinger

Well, I think I—remember, I said in December, when these Polish riots occurred, I thought they would start opening to us again, and with all the zigzags, they've done it. Now, they’ve got Polish problems back. Oh, they've also declared that this [Alexei] Kosygin, that this easing of relations that started with Kosygin's visit after the Ho Chi Minh funeral, which was in '69, that that period is now over.

President Nixon

Mm-hmm.

Kissinger

So . . . so they're right back to where they were [President Nixon acknowledges] and . . . I think that there's a chance of a negotiation with some of them. Again, it's less than even, but it's—

President Nixon

Well, it might be. In a way, I think, Henry, I’ve never been much for negotiation, but I think when we finally get down to the nut-cutting, it's very much to their advantage to have a negotiation to get us the hell out and give us those prisoners.

Kissinger

That's right. That's why—

President Nixon

And we've got to do it. And, you know, if they—if they'll make that kind of a deal, we'll make that any time they're ready.

Kissinger

Well, we've got to get enough time to get out. It's got to be because—

President Nixon

Oh, I understand.

Kissinger

—we have to make sure that they don't—

President Nixon

[speaking over Kissinger] I don't mean [unclear].

Kissinger

—knock the whole place over.

President Nixon

What?

Kissinger

Our problem is that if we get out after all the suffering we've gone through—

President Nixon

And then have it knocked over. Oh, I think [unclear]

Kissinger

We can't have it knocked over—brutally—to put it brutally—before the election.

President Nixon

That's right.

Kissinger

And . . .

President Nixon

So that's why, that's why this strategy works pretty well, doesn't it?

Kissinger

That's right. You see, the thing—as long as we keep our Air Force there, I think if we do have these gunships, it's, of course, an absurdity that 12 gunships are accounting for 80 percent of the truck kills, while hundreds of planes are roaming all over the bloody place.

President Nixon

[Unclear] this goddamn many planes that aren't worth a damn for anything else. Isn't it awful?

Kissinger

Yeah. Yeah.

President Nixon

Twelve gunships accounting for 80 percent of the truck kills.

Kissinger

That's right.

President Nixon

[Unclear] those C-47s or is—

Kissinger

C-54s.

President Nixon

Jesus Christ. That gun's 25 years old!

Kissinger

That's right. Well, it's a modified version of the C-5[4]—but it's . . .

The President said he would go to Camp David to do some thinking in preparation for an upcoming television interview.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 19 March 1971,” Conversation 471-002 (PRDE Excerpt A), Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Fatal Politics, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006734