More Vietnam War Papers Released: Kissinger Told China U.S. Could Accept Communist TakeoverBy Calvin Woodward
May. 27, 2006
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Henry A. 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 Richard M. 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 in Indochina."
Kissinger's blunt remarks surfaced from a collection of papers released yesterday by George Washington University's National Security Archive. The collection, from his years of diplomacy, was made up of documents available at the 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, to save face, that happened long enough after a U.S. troop departure.
But Kissinger cautioned in an interview yesterday 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 said.
"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 about 2,100 memorandums of Kissinger's secret conversations with senior officials abroad and at home from 1969 to 1977 while he served under Nixon and President Gerald R. Ford as national security adviser, secretary of 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 Vietnamese offensive that began in the spring. China, North Vietnam's ally, objected to the U.S. course but was engaged in a historic thaw of relations with Washington.
Kissinger told Zhou that 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 insisted.
He complained that Hanoi, in negotiations, had made one demand that he could never accept -- that the United States 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."
In January 1973, the Paris Peace Accords officially halted U.S. action, left North Vietnamese troops in the South and preserved the Saigon government until it fell in April 1975.