Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 14 December 1972


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

The President mentions the previous day’s column by Scotty Reston of the New York Times suggesting (correctly) that the Nixon administration is determined to have a Vietnam settlement by Inauguration Day 1973. National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger says that he did not speak to Reston.

President Nixon

This is the thing you’ve got to keep in mind: What would the country think? They don’t even care, except for the POWs. The country thinks the war is being brought to an end, and they think it’s very difficult. The Communists are sons of bitches, and [Nguyen Van] Thieu is difficult, and we’re working like hell to bring it to an end. And they’re not excited about it because, you see, they’re not seeing it on television every night. They’re not seeing Americans being shot. They’re not seeing American casualties being hauled out. They’re reading that the casualties one week are zero and the next week are one. [Kissinger acknowledges throughout.] And as far as the country is concerned, the war is out of their consciousness. So there we have a very different situation.

As far as the POW wives—[unclear] POWs—that will escalate as they do not come back, and will be a continuing, nagging problem. What I’m getting at is that, in terms of time, that is not our problem. In term of time, what our problem is—and this is what those bastards know—what our problem is—and I, in order to try to get Thieu aboard, deliberately overstated it to [Nguyen Phu] Duc—is the fact that they think that the Congress will say the hell with this war once we come back [into session in January 1973].[note 1] Nguyen Phu Duc was South Vietnamese president Nguyen Van Thieu’s adviser on national security issues—basically, Thieu’s Henry Kissinger.

Now . . . if we put it to the Congress straight out on the basis—and that’s why I wanted to be sure that at one phase of it you had a specific case in there where it was POWs for withdrawal, which they would turn down—[if] we put it that way, we can bomb them for ten years and have support from the Congress for Vietnam and for the bombing—provided it is not totally clear, I mean, that Thieu is to blame. That is the thing. Now, on the Congress—in other words, we’ve got a lot more stroke with the Congress than I want Duc to know. As you know, we were playing that.

Now, of course, the problem is—and you were very perceptive, and I read your note. [Slight chuckle.] I thought I was reading my own notes because I feel about the same way. My view is that the South Vietnamese are infiltrated. I think that what happened is that exact—everything we told Duc got to the North. The other possibility is that whether they were infiltrated or not, the North are smart enough to know that the Congress will pull the string on us, because [Melvin R.] Laird and others are putting it in their budget and talking a lot about it.

Henry A. Kissinger

I think they’re infiltrated.

President Nixon

Yeah. Infiltrated—don’t you? And another—and, Henry, there’s a third possibility . . .


Then it could have come from—

President Nixon

[speaking over Kissinger] That the left wing in this country is undoubtedly telling the North Vietnamese, “Hang tight. The Congress is going to screw these bastards. Don’t let them—” You see, the left wing, our friends in the press, can’t bear the thought of our ending this war. You see what I mean? They can’t bear it. And so they’re playing it.

Well, whatever the reason, though, we’ve still got chips. Now, they aren’t many, but they are there. And what we’ve got to decide is how to use those damn chips.

The President mentions a message Kissinger sent him the previous night and says there is no reason for the National Security Adviser to be discouraged.

Cite as

“Richard Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger on 14 December 1972,” Conversation 823-001 (PRDE Excerpt A), Presidential Recordings Digital Edition [Fatal Politics, ed. Ken Hughes] (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014–). URL: