Saturday, May 27, 2006 Last updated 2:01 a.m. PT
Kissinger told China communist takeover in Vietnam was acceptable:
By CALVIN WOODWARD
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
Dr. Henry Kissinger, left, U.S. Presidential National Security
Adviser, shakes hands with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai of the People's
Republic of China at their meeting at Government Guest House in Peking,
China, July 9, 1971. As the Vietnam War dragged on Kissinger told Zhou
in 1972 that "if we can live with a communist government in China, we
ought to be able to accept it in Indochina." (AP Photo/File)
WASHINGTON -- Henry Kissinger quietly acknowledged
to China in 1972 that Washington could accept a communist takeover of
South Vietnam if that evolved after a withdrawal of U.S. troops - even
as the war to drive back
the communists dragged on with mounting deaths.
President Nixon's envoy told Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai,
"If we can live
with a communist government in China, we ought to be able to accept it
Kissinger's blunt remarks surfaced in a collection of papers from his
years of diplomacy released Friday by George Washington University's
National Security Archive. The collection was gathered from documents
available at the government's National Archives and obtained through the
research group's declassification requests.
Kissinger's comments appear to lend credence to the "decent interval"
theory posed by some historians who say the United States was prepared
to see communists take over Saigon as long as that happened long enough
after a U.S. troop departure to save face.
But Kissinger cautioned in an interview Friday against reaching easy
conclusions from his words of more than three decades ago. "One of my
objectives had to be to get Chinese acquiescence in our policy," he told
"We succeeded in it, and then when we had achieved our goal, our
domestic situation made it impossible to sustain it," he said,
explaining that he meant Watergate and its consequences.
The papers consist of some 2,100 memoranda of Kissinger's secret
conversations with senior officials abroad and at home from 1969 to 1977
while he served under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford as
security adviser, secretary or state and both. The collection contains
more than 28,000 pages.
The meeting with Zhou took place in Beijing on June 22, 1972, during
stepped-up U.S. bombing and the mining of harbors meant to stall a North
Vietnam offensive that began in the spring. China, Vietnam's ally,
to the U.S. course but was engaged in a historic thaw of relations with
Kissinger told Zhou the United States respected its Hanoi enemy as a
"permanent factor" and probably the "strongest entity" in the region. "And we have had no interest in destroying it or even defeating it," he
He complained that Hanoi had made one demand in negotiations that he
could never accept - that the U.S. force out the Saigon government.
"This isn't because of any
particular personal liking for any of the individuals concerned,"
he said. "It is
because a country cannot be asked to engage in major acts of betrayal as
a basis of its foreign policy."
However, Kissinger sketched out scenarios under which communists might
come to power.
While American cannot make that happen, he said,
"if, as a result of
historical evolution it should happen over a period of time, if we can
with a communist government in China, we ought to be able to accept it
Pressed by Zhou, Kissinger further acknowledged that a communist
takeover by force might be tolerated if it happened long enough after a
He said that if civil war broke out a month after a peace deal led to
U.S. withdrawal and an exchange of prisoners, Washington would probably
consider that a trick and have to step back in.
"If the North Vietnamese, on the other hand, engage in serious
negotiation with the South Vietnamese, and if after a longer period it
starts again after we were all disengaged, my personal judgment is that
it is much less likely that we will go back again, much less likely."
The envoy foresaw saw the possibility of friendly relations with
adversaries after a war that, by June 1972, had killed more than 45,000
Americans. "What has Hanoi done to us that would make it impossible to, say in 10
years, establish a new relationship?"
Almost 2,000 more Americans would be killed in action before the last
U.S. combat death in January 1973, the month the Paris Peace Accords
officially halted U.S. action, left North Vietnamese in the South and
preserved the Saigon government until it fell in April 1975.
Whether by design or circumstance, the United States achieved an
interval between its pullout and the loss of South Vietnam but not
enough of one to avoid history's judgment that America had suffered
Kissinger said in the interview he was consistent in trying to separate
the military and political outcomes in Vietnam - indeed, a point he made
at the time. "If they agreed to a democratic outcome, we would let it
evolve according to its own processes," he said Friday, adding that to
tolerate a communist rise to power was not to wish for it.
William Burr, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, said the
papers are the most extensive published record of Kissinger's work, in
many cases offering insight into matters that the diplomat only touched
on in his prolific memoirs.
For example, he said Kissinger devoted scant space in one book to his
expansive meetings with Zhou on that visit to Beijing, during which the
Chinese official said he wished Kissinger could run for president himself.
At the time, Chinese-Soviet tensions were sharp and the United States
was playing one communist state against the other while seeking detente
with its main rival, Moscow. Kissinger hinted to Zhou that the United
States would consider a nuclear response if the Soviets were to overrun Asia
with conventional forces.
But when the Japanese separately recognized communist China with what
Kissinger called "indecent haste," he branded them "treacherous."
Massive Collection of Formerly Secret and Top Secret Transcripts of
Henry Kissinger's Meetings with World Leaders Published On-Line 28,000
Pages of Documents Show Kissinger as Negotiator and Policymaker in
Real-time, Verbatim Talks with World Leaders
For more information contact:William Burr
Washington, DC, 26 May 2006 - Today the National Security Archive
announces the publication of the most comprehensive collection ever
assembled of the memoranda of conversations (memcons) involving Henry
Kissinger, one of the most acclaimed and controversial U.S. diplomats of
the second half of the 20th century. Published on-line in the Digital
National Security Archive ProQuest) as well in print-microfiche form,
the 28,000-page collection is the result of a seven-year effort by the
National Security Archive to collect every memcon that could be found
through archival research and declassification requests. According to
Kissinger biographer and president of the Aspen Institute Walter
Isaacson, "Henry Kissinger's memos of conversation are an amazing,
fascinating, and absolutely indispensable resource for understanding his
years in power." Nearly word-for-word records of the meetings, the
memcons place the reader in the room with Kissinger and world leaders,
and future leaders, including Mao Zedong, Anwar Sadat, Leonid Brezhnev,
Georges Pompidou, Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Donald Rumsfeld, and
George H.W. Bush.
The memcons show Kissinger at work from 1969 to early 1977 as
policymaker, negotiator, and presidential adviser. They show him
pursuing detente with the Soviet Union, rapprochement with China, strong
ties with Europe and Japan, stability in the Middle East, and, most
important, a diplomatic resolution to the Vietnam War. The near-verbatim
transcripts vividly show Kissinger's style as negotiator, his use of
flattery and humor, his outbursts, and his musings on U.S. interests and
the use of power. They show Kissinger in the early days of the Nixon
administration as his influence was growing as presidential adviser, at
the height of power when he served simultaneously as Secretary of State
and national security adviser, and later after President Ford fired him
from his White House post. The documents are equally revealing of
Kissinger's numerous interlocutors.
A sampling of twenty of the newly-published memcons, posted today on
www.nsarchive.org, document a variety of episodes in Kissinger's career
* An early "back channel" meeting where Soviet ambassador Anatoly
Dobrynin showed concern that the Nixon administration might escalate the
Vietnam War: Kissinger replied that "it would be too bad if we were
in this direction because it was hard to think of a place where a
confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States made less
* In his first high-level secret meeting with the North Vietnamese,
August 1969, Kissinger warns Hanoi that without diplomatic progress, "we
will be compelled - with great reluctance - to take measures of the greatest consequence"
* Discussing Cuba policy, Kissinger asked an NSC committee to look at
"para-military options" because President Nixon was interested in, even
"leaning toward", them
* During a meeting of the Washington Special Actions Group on the 1970
"Black September" crisis in Jordan, Kissinger told the group that Nixon
"wants us to consider using aircraft against the Fedayeen"; if "Royal
authority" in Jordan collapsed, Washington might intervene.
* A meeting of the National Security Council showed the difficulty of
producing a "clear" nuclear weapons use policy in the event of a NATO
crisis; during the meeting Nixon argued that "We will never use the tactical nuclears, but we let the USSR see them there."
* During a discussion of policy toward Allende's Chile with U.S.
copper mining executives, Kissinger showed determination to wage
economic warfare: "if we agree to open up international credits, we may
be just speeding up the process of establishing a communist regime."
* After his trip to China, Kissinger had an uncomfortable meeting with
right-wing critics of detente and rapprochement with Beijing. While
Kissinger claimed to welcome "pressure from the Right", he preferred that his audience stay quiet: they were "too harsh" and should "stop
yelling at us."
* During secret talks with Zhou Enlai in June 1972, Kissinger
explained U.S. Vietnam strategy. Following his "decent interval"
approach, Kissinger argued that the White House could not accept Hanoi's
proposals to eject South Vietnamese leaders from power, but would accept
the political changes that could occur after the United States withdrew
forces from Vietnam: "if, as a result of historical evolution it should
happen over a period of time, if we can live with a Communist government
in China, we ought to be able to accept it in Indochina"
* During a Vietnam strategy session in August 1972, Kissinger had a
livid reaction to the "indecent haste" with which the "treacherous"
Japanese had just recognized China
* In the final stages of the Vietnam negotiations, South Vietnamese
officials objected strongly to proposed settlement with Hanoi. With the
agreement leaving North Vietnamese forces in the South, one official
complained to Kissinger about the "overwhelming problems. If you present
someone with a question, he does not wish to die either by taking poison
or by a dagger. What kind of an answer do you expect?"
* Meeting with Israeli ambassador Simcha Dinitz, Kissinger denounced
the Jackson-Vanik amendment to withhold trade concessions from the
Soviets unless they liberalized their policy on emigration of Soviet
Jewry: the "issue for American Jews is whether a major American foreign
policy can be wrecked"
* During and after the October 1973 Middle East war, Kissinger began
to squeeze the Soviets out of the Middle East; the Soviets understood
this and told Kissinger that he had gone back on his promise to include
Moscow in the negotiations. When Kissinger declared that the "United
States has no intention to exclude the Soviet Union," Leonid Brezhnev
suggested that he was not persuaded and spoke of the need for "good
faith, not playing games."
* A few days later Kissinger told Israeli officials: "we are squeezing
[Moscow]" but he worried about détente's future because "we are facing
these brutal bastards with nothing to offer them."
* During a discussion with State Department staff of the problem of
detecting military coups, such as the April 1974 coup in Portugal,
Kissinger asked "what do we do-run an FBI in every country? [W]e say
they're a dictatorship with internal security measures. The goddam
internal security measures couldn't find the bloody coup, so why the
hell should we find it?"
* Discussing Cambodia with Thailand's Foreign Minister, Kissinger
acknowledged that the Khmer Rouge were "murderous thugs" but he wanted
the Thais to tell the Cambodians "that we will be friends with them": Cambodia aligned with China could be a "counterweight" to the real
adversary, North Vietnam.
* During a meeting of the "Quadripartite Group"--the U.S., British,
French, and West German Foreign Ministers-which met secretly for
discussions of matters of common concern-Kissinger explained his
skepticism about Euro-Communism: "The acid test isn't whether they would
come to power democratically; the test is whether they would allow a
reversal. It is difficult for a Communist party to admit that history
can be reversed and allow themselves to be voted out of power." For
Kissinger, the European Communist Parties were the "real enemy."
* Meeting secretly with the Iraqi foreign minister in December 1975,
Kissinger declared that he found it useful to "establish contact" with
Baghdad because he wanted to show that "America is not unsympathetic to
* During a February 1976 discussion with the Pakistani prime minister,
Kissinger expressed concern about Pakistan's nuclear aspirations:
worried about a proposed deal with the French, "what concerns us is how reprocessing facilities are used at a certain point." After the
Pakistanis cited earlier assurances on safeguards for nuclear
facilities, Kissinger observed that "realities" mattered, not "words."
The National Security Archive and its co-publisher
ProQuest have published these and over 2,100 memcons in The Kissinger
Transcripts: A Verbatim Record of U.S. Diplomacy, 1969-1977, edited by
senior analyst, William Burr. A catalogue and index produced by the
expert indexers at the National Security archive provides easy access to
the wide-ranging material in the collection; the documents are
searchable by names, key-words, title, authors, and other elements. The
published guide includes a 305-page catalog, a 141-page names index, and
a 592-page index of subjects beginning with "Abu Dhabi (United Arab
Emirates)" and ending with "Zimbabwe." The collection also includes a
chronology for ready reference, a who's who of Kissinger's
interlocutors, a bibliography, and an introductory essay providing
perspective on Henry Kissinger's career in government.
as Negotiator and Policymaker in Real-time,
Talks with World Leaders