Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 6 October 1972


Transcript

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

On the day before National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger flew to Paris for the pivotal round of negotiations during which the North Vietnamese agreed to settle the Vietnam War on President Richard M. Nixon’s terms, the two men had a brutally frank discussion in the Oval Office regarding the impact their terms would have on South Vietnam. Just prior to the following exchange, Nixon asked Kissinger if he had read the transcript of the briefing on these terms that Deputy National Security Adviser Alexander M. Haig Jr. gave South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu.

Henry A. Kissinger

I read [Alexander M.] Haig [Jr.]’s transcript, and these guys are scared. And they’re desperate. And they know what’s coming. And [Nguyen Van] Thieu says that, sure, this—these proposals keep him going, but somewhere down the road he’ll have no choice except to commit suicide. And he’s probably right. I mean, we—

President Nixon

Let’s talk among ourselves [unclear].

Kissinger

We have to be honest—

President Nixon

Right.

Kissinger

—among ourselves.

President Nixon

You know what I think, though, they talk about morality. Henry, if two less moral men were doing—had been here for the last three and a half years, what the Christ? All this is about is morality right now. [Unclear]

Kissinger

What’s our crime? That we don’t want to destroy—

President Nixon

[Unclear] that is the morality. We don’t want him to—him personally or the 17 million South Vietnamese collectively—to commit suicide!

Kissinger

That’s right.

President Nixon

Or to be murdered. Now, that’s all this thing is about.

Kissinger

That is true.

President Nixon

And goddamn, if that isn’t morality . . .

Kissinger

That’s—

President Nixon

I don’t see any of the New York Times or others write anything about those 200,000—I guess it was 100,000 like that asshole at State said—200,000 Burundi being eaten.

Kissinger

Yeah.

President Nixon

Goddamn it, they cut their heads off and eat them! That’s right. Oh, well.

Kissinger

Hell, there’s no . . . [chuckles] there’s no question.

President Nixon

Damn tiresome.

Kissinger

If we didn’t have a moral position, it’d be easy.

President Nixon

Well, ours is a moral position. It has been from the beginning—and, incidentally, it must be that the American people have a degree of morality or they wouldn’t have supported us.

Kissinger

Now, the thing that worries me—before we get to the specifics—is that we now got all the steam into the boiler. Everything—

President Nixon

I know.

Kissinger

—that we ever planned for is happening. The Russians are pressing them. The Chinese are pressing them.

President Nixon

The French?

Kissinger

VIP planes going back and forth between Peking, Moscow, and Hanoi. [Anatoly] Dobrynin was in again yesterday. I got another message from Le Duc Tho yesterday.[note 1] Le Duc Tho was a member of Hanoi’s Politburo and conducted the most important negotiation sessions with Kissinger. I’ve had five since the last meeting.

President Nixon

[Unclear.]

Kissinger

And I actually think we can settle it. On terms, however. We're—

President Nixon

On our terms, on—but not Thieu’s.

Kissinger

On close to our terms. But—and I also think that Thieu is right, that our terms will eventually destroy him.

President Nixon

You’re convinced of that, Henry?

Kissinger

Not that they shouldn’t. If, you know, [President Nixon acknowledges throughout] if this were . . . but given their weakness, their disunity, it will have that consequence.

President Nixon

And their fear. Fear. Fear. They’re scared to death of these people, the North.

Kissinger

And it will be the consequence. Not—we can defend it. Now, the thing that makes it anguishing is that, supposing we don’t settle . . .

President Nixon

Yeah.

Kissinger

I don’t see that we’re better off six months from now. [President Nixon acknowledges.] The only other thing we could—

President Nixon

I would raise one point—one question [unclear]. I would say that I would agree there’s no—there’s—the chances are better than even that we will not be better off [in] six months, but there is a chance that we could be better off. There is a chance. We must not underestimate what the—what we do in terms of military action, what its effect might be. It might be effective. We’ve never done anything militarily that’s worth a shit in North Vietnam, except the mining.

Kissinger

Yeah, but we won’t do it this time, either. I mean—

President Nixon

[Unclear.]

Kissinger

We can do some high-visibility things.

President Nixon

Let’s see. Let’s see what we’ll do.

Kissinger

I’ve had it studied. They’ve fooled our Air Force. They’ve lied to us again. They’ve substituted planes that they told us were better that Haig has found out aren’t nearly so good. We’re dealing with a sick military establishment on top of everything else. We’re going to have funding problems in January. But, of course—but then the dilemma that additional military operations produce for us is this: We can improve the situation in South Vietnam drastically, but we can’t get our prisoners back. And before they collapse they will offer us our prisoners for a—for a withdrawal. And in that case, we’ve got—I think at this point, we have to take that. I—

President Nixon

We will. I’d take it today.

Kissinger

So . . .

President Nixon

They’re not going to offer it, but I’d take it.

Kissinger

So that is—well, I don’t think that we can do before the election.

President Nixon

They’re not going to offer it. That’s what I mean. When I mean today, I mean, I’d take it in November, December, January. Any time.

Kissinger

Yeah.

President Nixon

That’s a deal we have to take, Henry.

Kissinger

That’s right, but that will also collapse the South Vietnamese, except we won’t be so responsible for the whole settlement.

President Nixon

No.

Kissinger

So as I look down the road, I think there is one chance in four.

President Nixon

Well, if they’re that collapsible, maybe they just have to be collapsed. That’s another way to look at it, too. I mean, we have to—we’ve got to remember, we cannot keep this child sucking at the tit when the child is four years old. You know? I mean there—

Kissinger

Well, it’s—

President Nixon

—there comes a time.

Kissinger

See, what we can get out of a settlement now—I’m not even sure it’s going to help you politically. You can judge better whether you will wind up like [Winston S.] Churchill having [unclear]

President Nixon

[speaking over Kissinger] I don’t want it before the election, Henry. But go ahead.

Kissinger

Well, if we keep going, you may have no choice. You may get it before the election.

President Nixon

Well, let’s try our best not to have it before the election. The better—the more that we can—the more that we can stagger past the election, the better.

Kissinger

You do not want it before the election.

President Nixon

Well, I don’t want it before the election with a Thieu blowup. If we do, it’s going to hurt us very badly.

Kissinger

Well, we may be able to avoid a Thieu blowup because what I'm thinking [unclear]—I'm thinking of another strategy now with—

President Nixon

[Unclear] thinking of a private deal.

Kissinger

No, I'm thinking of a strategy in which I present half of our political proposal. Tell them what we—else we can do depends on what security guarantees they give us. Get the security guarantees. Go out to Saigon and say, "We've gotten you all these security guarantees. Now you better come the rest of the way." I’ve taken the liberty of sending Thieu two letters from you in each of these last two days.

President Nixon

Well, you know what I think.

Kissinger

Because you told me, more or less.

President Nixon

Sure, sure, sure, [unclear].

Kissinger

And he’s calming down. He’s calmed down a lot.

President Nixon

And is [Ellsworth] Bunker [unclear] ?

Kissinger

Yes, [unclear] every day. I have told Bunker to see him every other day no matter what.

President Nixon

That’s right, that’s right.

Kissinger

Because we don’t want a blowup.

President Nixon

Bunker has a calming effect on people. The old man does.

Kissinger

And if you have a settlement . . . well, but even a settlement without a blowup might put you in the position of Churchill, where people say you’ve done what you’ve . . . supposed to, but I just don’t see them voting for [George S.] McGovern. You don’t think so.

President Nixon

No, but Churchill didn’t have as much left to do.

Kissinger

That’s right.

President Nixon

He really did. He really did. The making of the peace—that was when he was more desperately needed than any other time, as it turns out, because that poor damn [Harry S.] Truman didn’t know anything. [Josef] Stalin just pulled his pants off at that—

Kissinger

And also, Churchill was known as an arch-reactionary. And he had no domestic support.

President Nixon

Yeah, on his domestic problems. That’s right. He was considered to be just anti-folks.

The President turned the discussion to the public perception of his administration.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 6 October 1972,” Conversation 793-006 (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/4006749