Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 6 October 1972


Transcript

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

The National Security Adviser suggests that he resolve half of the outstanding negotiating issues with the North Vietnamese first in Paris, then go to Saigon and get South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu on board, then return to Paris and resolve the remaining issues.

President Nixon

Could I suggest one thing that might be helpful? It’s a rather devious thing to do, but it works many times with others, to . . . well, to go in and see [Nguyen Van] Thieu and say, "Look, your proposal that you have made about two elections will not work, period. You claim that what we have suggested will not work, period. Now, we want you to use your mind and for you to suggest what will work. And to take as much of these points—the President insists some must be taken. Now, what will you suggest?" [Kissinger attempts to interject.] What I meant is, I’d like to get him on line on a few things that he’s agreed to previously.

Henry A. Kissinger

Right.

President Nixon

Is that worth trying, or not?

Kissinger

That’s absolutely worth trying.

President Nixon

And then if you could do that, I’d . . . [unclear]. I think that, well . . .

Kissinger

Now, on security, what we can—what we will try for is to get international control on all the infiltration routes.

President Nixon

Yeah.

Kissinger

A cease-fire in Laos. [President Nixon acknowledges.] In Cambodia, it’s hard to arrange, but—because there are no formal parties—a commitment by the North Vietnamese to withdraw from Laos and Cambodia. A—

President Nixon

I’d get the commitment. I wouldn’t worry about it. They’re never going to withdraw.

Kissinger

No, but I’ll get it in writing and we'll—

President Nixon

Right, right, right.

Kissinger

They withdraw from—some of their units from the South.

President Nixon

Some of their units, right.

Kissinger

They won’t withdraw them all, I mean—

President Nixon

Some [unclear].

Kissinger

And . . . as I look at it from a historical point of view, what did [Charles] de Gaulle do in Algeria, who everyone thinks a great man? Basically, he made a settlement that turned the country over to the—to his enemies.

President Nixon

Fedayeen—[unclear] the rebels.

Kissinger

Yes, the Fedayeen.

President Nixon

That’s not what they were called. Well, anyway—

Kissinger

In fact, that’s what they were called. They were called the Fedayeen.

President Nixon

Right. [Sighs.]

Kissinger

Now . . . why . . . still, he’s considered a great man.

President Nixon

That’s right.

Kissinger

Because he left under his own steam. Our settlement—I’d better not say now—not the next two weeks, necessarily. It can be the next four—three months. I would say a settlement any time before Inauguration [Day] . . . would mean that you have done exactly what you’ve said you’d do, that you [unclear]

President Nixon

Let’s come another way.

Kissinger

And you can come out as an act of policy—

President Nixon

And let it—let me gallivant around in a different way. . . . Vietnam is important because, of course, of our prisoners and, of course, because we don’t want 17 million people to come under Communists, but . . . However, those, basically, are not the really important issues. The important issue is how the United States comes out in two ways.

One: whether or not the United States in all parts of the world—whether our enemies, the neutrals, and our allies after we finish—are convinced that the United States went the extra mile in standing by its friends. That doesn’t mean we have to succeed. It does mean that we have to have done that.

Second point: Now, the historical process moves extremely slowly. Sure, somebody can retire, is going to be exiled. There could be a coup. Somebody could be shot. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And so, those things will happen. They are not as likely to happen, I think, as even Thieu thinks they’re likely to happen. Because if there’s one thing I’m convinced of, I think the North Vietnamese are hurting one hell of a lot more than the CIA indicates. I think our whole bureaucracy previously overestimated how badly they were hurting and now they’re underestimating how badly they’re hurting, because we’re doing it. The mining has had to hurt them. The bombing has had to hurt them. It’s supposed to be pretty good. It’s just got to have done it. And frankly, the South Vietnamese have not been hurt. The South Vietnamese can’t be taking 2[00] to 300 killed in action every week. Let’s assume that the North Vietnamese are taking only an equal amount. Leave out the bombing. Leave out everything else. Well, goddamn it, that’s a hell of a lot of people. Now, they’re hurting and hurting badly. [Unclear.]

Now, we come to another thing. How it comes out . . . let us suppose, putting it quite coldly, that we face a situation here where South Vietnam simply, over the long haul, cannot survive on its own as an independent entity. I don’t mean like Thailand, where we can get a guarantee. I don’t mean like [unclear]. But that South Vietnam, because of its—the nature of the South Vietnamese people, the nature of the struggle with the North and so forth, that inevitably, unless the United States can stay in there indefinitely, South Vietnam is going to fall.

All right, if that is the case, then what we have to look to is the bigger subject: How does the United States look in the way it handles this goddamn thing? So as I see it, the thing to do is to look as well as we can and hope and pray for the best. And then use our influence with the Russians and with the Chinese, which should be considerable at this point, and say, "Now, damn it, you push us here, you know, we contribute—we just cannot be pushed too far." Understand?

Kissinger

Yes.

President Nixon

I almost think that that’s what we’re looking at. My own view is this: that when Defense is planning for three more years of bombing, when they want to keep two more carriers out there, three more air wings and all that sort of thing, it makes me think that the military isn’t particularly interested in finishing this goddamn war.

Kissinger

The military are a bunch of selfish bastards.

President Nixon

They screwed up everything we’ve done, [Kissinger attempts to interject] except they did the mining OK.

Kissinger

If they had fought Laos well, we wouldn’t have this problem. If they had done their bombing this summer better, we’d be that much ahead.

President Nixon

We’ve done well, but let me say, that mining and that bombing, by—without that, South Vietnam would be under the [unclear] right now.

Kissinger

Of course, no question.

President Nixon

[Unclear.]

Kissinger

No question.

President Nixon

I’m tired of having them knock the mining and the bombing. The sons of bitches—

Kissinger

Well, you handled that beautifully yesterday.

President Nixon

Well, Henry, it’s true, isn’t it?

Kissinger

Absolutely beautifully.

Nixon then paraphrased one of his remarks from the previous day’s news conference. Kissinger said that at dinner the previous evening, he had heard praise for the President’s performance.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 6 October 1972,” Conversation 793-006 (PRDE Excerpt B), Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Fatal Politics, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/conversations/4006750