Saturday, November 18, 1972 - 12:45pm - 12:49pm
Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger
White House Telephone

President Nixon: Yeah.

White House Operator: Mr. President, I have [National Security Adviser] Dr. [Henry A.] Kissinger for you. There you are.

President Nixon: In the event that we have to go bilaterally—

Henry Kissinger: Yes, Mr. President.

President Nixon: —the question that is raised is what then happens to the aid programs for South Vietnam.

Kissinger: That’s right.

President Nixon: And I think what will happen is that the Congress then will—

Kissinger: Cut them off.

President Nixon: —cut them off. And I think . . .

Kissinger: We’ve made that clear to them.

President Nixon: Well, be sure [U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Ellsworth F.] Bunker makes it clear again.

Kissinger: What we thought, Mr. President, is we would draft a message from you to [South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van] Thieu saying . . . You see, what they’ve done here—I don’t want to plague you with it—they have collected every comment they’ve ever made—we’re just now vetting it—

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —and put it into an endless memorandum. Some we have already accepted. Some parts are irrelevant because the text has changed completely. One or two we can accept. But we’ve reached now a point where the accumulation of their proposals scuttles the agreement. What we should do is send a message to them, from you, reciting all the changes we’ve already made.

President Nixon: Right.

Kissinger: And saying, “We can only conclude that this latest message, sent to us 24 hours before, would have the objective consequence of scuttling the agreement. It’s no longer a negotiation.”

President Nixon: And that’s not acceptable.

Kissinger: “And that we cannot accept.” That secondly, having sent [Deputy National Security Adviser Alexander M.] Haig three times, me twice, Bunker always available, and four letters, you see no need to receive any emissary.

President Nixon: No.

Kissinger: You fully understand their position. You’ve read every memorandum and every letter. You have personally drafted the letters—

President Nixon: And that we’re going to—it takes two to make a deal, and there must be give-and-take on both sides, that I’m convinced that the agreement as modified and as we will modify it is a good one. We can make it better, but we cannot scuttle it. And I will not do it.

Kissinger: And if we don’t give them some shock—

President Nixon: Yeah.

Kissinger: —this is just going to go on and on—

President Nixon: But that under the circumstances, that I don’t want it to come to the point where we have an open break about this, but we have to remember that even that I cannot, with the makeup of the new Congress—I could say, with the makeup of the new Congress, there is . . . if we do not now go forward and get the agreement, that then the responsibility for not getting it will fall upon him and that the programs of assistance, military and economic, have not one chance of getting through the Congress. Period.

Kissinger: That’s right. That’s right.

President Nixon: Lay it right out there.

Kissinger: I think we have to.

President Nixon: Make it tough.

Kissinger: We have no choice, Mr. President.

President Nixon: Make it tough. That’s right. We’ll see. They’re bargainers. They’re bargainers.

Kissinger: Oh, yes.

President Nixon: Just like this North, and we’ll see what they come up with.

Kissinger: Exactly.

President Nixon: And frankly, I’m just thinking, you know, thinking it over more. Suppose we do just go forward without him. We can—then, by God, we will blame him.

Kissinger: But we have [unclear]—

President Nixon: But if it gets too bad, I—if the record and so forth is small, frankly, small solace in the event—

Kissinger: Of course.

President Nixon: —that North Vietnam—South Vietnam goes down. We don’t want it to. You see, that’s the thing that bothers me about the whole thing. I’m just—I don’t want to be right on the record. What I want to do is to be right on what we achieve.

Kissinger: Well, what worries me, Mr. President, is that these guys are talking themselves into such a frame of mind where they may not be able to handle the agreement when it does come even if they do agree to it.

President Nixon: Hmm. What do you mean by that?

Kissinger: Well, if they conducted themselves aggressively, confidently, and positively, they would come out as the victors in this agreement. I’ve had the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] prepare a control map of South Vietnam as it stands today—

President Nixon: I’d put that in there.

Kissinger: —and I must tell you, it is absurd. Ninety-five percent belongs to the GVN [Government of (South) Vietnam]. We can’t even find in most areas any North Vietnamese.

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Of course. Of course. And there will be less if they conduct themselves aggressively. But, OK. Lay her right out there. We’re going to play the game hard now. He just acts as if the election has not been held, doesn’t he?

Kissinger: He acts as if the election had not been held and—

President Nixon: And as if he had a bargaining position.

Kissinger: That’s right.

President Nixon: OK.

Kissinger: Right, Mr. President.

President Nixon: Way it’s going to be.

Original tape courtesy of the Nixon Library. This transcript is a working draft. Please let us know if you find important errors.