Saturday, January 6, 1973 - 3:39pm - 3:44pm
Richard Nixon, Alexander Haig
Camp David

President Nixon: Hello. . . . Hello?

White House Operator: General Haig's on the line, sir.

President Nixon: Yeah.

General Alexander Haig: Hello?

President Nixon: Hi, Al?

Haig: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: How do you like your new job?1 [Haig laughs] Fine.

Haig: Like a fish out of water here at first.

President Nixon: Yeah. I was thinking that if you haven't done so, you might give Henry [Kissinger] a call before he leaves and, you know, buck him up a little.2

Haig: Oh, right, sir. As a matter of fact, I've just spoken to him.

President Nixon: Oh, good. Good.

Haig: I did talk to him.

President Nixon: He's all right. I mean, I saw him this morning but, you know, he's carrying a heavy load and he's more susceptible to the Congressional actions and also the damn columns and so forth, some of which he--

Haig: They're pretty vicious these days.

President Nixon: Yeah. Well--

Haig: He seems in pretty good shape.

President Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Well, yeah, sure. He was--we had a good talk today and he knows what we--what our options are and so forth. And, also, despite all the--you know, the yacking around, I--it seems to me that we have followed the only course of action we could and--

Haig: Yep.

President Nixon: --and you having been over there, you know, all this nonsense which has been written to the effect that Henry wanted to continue negotiating and I drew him off and decided to bomb.3 Of course, it's the other way around, as you know. But, nevertheless, he was right. And my own feeling is that I'm utterly convinced that had we not done what we've done, we just have no bargaining chip at all at this point. What do you think?

Haig: We would have been stalled out. No question.

President Nixon: Don't you agree? Don't you think so?

Haig: That's right. That's right.

President Nixon: Now, whether this is going to produce a settlement remains to be seen. It could. It could. What's your guess at this moment?

Haig: Well, I'm inclined to think they're going to settle. There may be a couple of false starts, but I think by the end of the month we'll have a settlement. That's my own judgment.

President Nixon: Yeah. Well, they--

Haig: I think they want it.

President Nixon: Frankly, they either have to settle or we just have the thing where they have to settle or take some consequences for it. That's what they've got to think in their own minds, despite--

Haig: That's right.

President Nixon: --despite the shenanigans of the Congress. They know we've gone through that before, at least I would think they would remember that.

Haig: Well, I think they know it. There's nothing the Congress can do in the immediate sense in any event.

President Nixon: That's right.

Haig: And I don't think they'd ever get around to doing it in any event given the situation, especially if they--

President Nixon: Provided if they--

Haig: --stonewall.

President Nixon: --if they stonewall. That's right.

Haig: And then we just have to go out and lay it out.

President Nixon: That's right. That's right. Well my feeling is too--I've never been, as you know, much of an optimist about settlement, but I think at this point the chances are much better for settling than they were when he [Kissinger] went over there in late November--

Haig: Yes, sir.

President Nixon: --December. Don't you think so?

Haig: I think so.

President Nixon: Because then I think they were sort of floating along there with the assumption that we sort had to [settle] and they didn't.

Haig: Exactly.

President Nixon: They weren't hurting too much.

Haig: You know, I think they realized that the way these Congressional things are turning, they're going to end up with a purely military option which they don't want.

President Nixon: Yeah. That's true. That's true. If they don't want a military option, Al, they'll damn well better settle now because that's the way the Congress would force us to move.

Haig: That's exactly right.

President Nixon: And of course, as you know, it's the way we will move, too, on our own without telling them. In any event, we'll keep him bucked up and hope for the best. As you know, if we do get any kind of a breakthrough, you'll have to get in your horse and go out and see brother Thieu again.

Haig: Yes, sir. I'm all--

President Nixon: This time--this time, though, there's no nonsense.

Haig: No, no.

President Nixon: He's--and I think he's going to have to--he'll be in a different mood, too. That's my guess.

Haig: I think so. I think he's--

President Nixon: We've had some indications, apparently, as you know, that he's changing his mind.

Haig: That's the benefit of this activity if there is any. He at least learns a lesson.

President Nixon: Well, when he sees the Congress jumping up and down, he knows that after the stop of all military activity, the next is to stop all aid to South Vietnam in order to get the prisoners back. That's the next step and you know that's exactly where that road's going to lead.

Haig: That's right, sir.

President Nixon: That's the reason it isn't a very good one for us, either.

Haig: No.

President Nixon: Because--but, in any event, when we go this time, if it comes to that point, whatever the settlement is, we're just going to put it right to him. That's it. And then he takes it or leaves it.

Haig: I think that's the only alternative.

President Nixon: Don't you agree?

Haig: Yes, I do. And even if we have to go public--

President Nixon: Oh, we will.

Haig: --[unclear]. He'll buckle.

President Nixon: Right. OK. We hope you [unclear] the trip. OK. Bye.

Haig: Yes, sir, Mr. President. I want--

  • 1. The President had appointed Haig Army Vice Chief of Staff.
  • 2. The national security adviser was headed to Paris to resume negotiations over U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.
  • 3. At Kissinger's urging the President had ordered the bombing of North Vietnam in December of 1972. While the North had accepted Nixon's settlement terms in October, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu and his government continued to resist the deal. Thieu believed its terms would destroy the South. Privately, neither Nixon nor Kissinger believed the South would survive for long following U.S. military withdrawal under their settlement terms, but they tried to convince Thieu they were committed to defending his government. The bombing of the North was aimed at reassuring the South. "I sense a strong resistance [on Nixon's part] to undertake the turn to the right now," Haig cabled Kissinger on Dec. 13, 1972. "The President then went through a long exposition of the fact of how difficult this would be. The American people would not understand and the realities were that it was the U.S. and not Hanoi that was backing away from the agreement because we had, in effect, placed additional demands on them. He also added that the other culpable party was Saigon and not Hanoi . . ." Deputy National Security Adviser Alexander M. Haig to National Security Adviser Henry A. Kissinger, 13 December 1972, "Sensitive C.D. - Volume XXII (2)" folder, National Security Council Files, For the President's Files-Lord, Vietnam Negotiations, Box 858, Nixon Library.

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