Richard Nixon photo

The President's News Conference on Foreign Policy

March 14, 1971

THE PRESIDENT. Won't you be seated, please.



[I.] Mr. Cormier [Frank Cormier, Associated Press].

Q. Are any of the difficulties that the South Vietnamese Army have encountered in Laos in recent weeks going to cause you to slow down the rate of American troop withdrawals?

THE PRESIDENT. No. As a matter of fact what has already been accomplished in Laos at this time has insured even more the plan for withdrawal of American troops. I will make another announcement in April, as I have previously indicated. And the disruption of the supply lines of the enemy through Laos, which has now occurred for 3 weeks, has very seriously damaged the enemy's ability to wage effective action against our remaining forces in Vietnam and assures even more the success of our troop withdrawal program.

One other point that has been assured. I just had a report from General Abrams today with regard to the performance of the South Vietnamese. You ladies and gentlemen will recall that at the time of Cambodia I pointed out that the South Vietnamese Army had come of age. But then they were fighting side by side with American ground forces. Now in southern Laos and also in Cambodia, the South Vietnamese on the ground by themselves are taking on the very best units that the North Vietnamese can put in the field.

General Abrams tells me that in both Laos and in Cambodia his evaluation after 3 weeks of fighting is that--to use his terms--the South Vietnamese by themselves can hack it, and they can give a better account of themselves even than the North Vietnamese units. This means that our withdrawal program, our Vietnamization program is a success and can continue on schedule, and we trust even ahead of schedule, assuming that there is more progress in Laos.


[2.] Q. Mr. President, this is a question that you addressed yourself to, at your last news conference, but I would like to ask it again in view of the fact that President Thieu has publicly said several times--has publicly raised the possibility of South Vietnamese forces invading North Vietnam. Would the United States support such an invasion of North Vietnam by the South Vietnamese?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Risher [Eugene V. Risher, United Press International], I think it is important to restate the answer that I gave at the last news conference, because you will recall that was in the office where only you ladies and gentlemen who regularly cover the White House were present, and the television audience did not hear the answer.

To restate it completely, let me break it down into its component parts. First, the question is: What will President Thieu in South Vietnam do? The second question is: What will the United States do? And third: What might we do together?

Now, on the first question, President Thieu has stated that he would consider the necessity of invading North Vietnam. Let's look at his position. There are no South Vietnamese in North Vietnam. There are 100,000 North Vietnamese in South Vietnam, and they have already killed over 200,000 South Vietnamese. Therefore, President Thieu has to take the position that unless the North Vietnamese leave South Vietnam alone, he has to consider the possibility of going against the North. That is his position, and I am not going to speculate on what position he might take in the future in order to defend himself, the right of self-defense, in view of the fact that he is being attacked, he is not attacking North Vietnam.

The second part of the question deals with what we will do. And there, as you will recall, I stated that American policy is that we will have no ground forces in North Vietnam, in Cambodia, or in Laos, except, of course, for rescue teams which go in for American fliers or for prisoners of war where we think there is an opportunity in that case.

On the other hand, I have stated on 10 different occasions, usually before press conferences in which you ladies and gentlemen have participated, that in two respects we would use air power against the North. One, that we would attack those missile sites that fired at our planes, and we have been doing that. We will continue to do that.

Second, that if I determined that increased infiltration from North Vietnam endangered our remaining forces in South Vietnam at a time we were withdrawing, I would order attacks on the supply routes, on the infiltration routes, on the military complexes, and I have done that in the past. And I shall do so again if I determine that such activities by North Vietnam may endanger our remaining forces in South Vietnam, particularly as we are withdrawing.

Now, the third question is this one: whether or not the United States, through its air power, might support a South Vietnamese operation against North Vietnam. And the answer to that is that no such plan is under consideration in this Government.


[3.] Q. Mr. President, on the subject of enemy missiles, the North Vietnamese seem to be using more and perhaps a different type of missile shooting at American planes supporting the Laos operation.

I am wondering if this is of unusual alarm to you and if you have any special retaliation other than bombing that you intend to take?

THE PRESIDENT. We are following that very closely, and it is not unusually alarming. We expect the enemy to improve its capabilities just as we improve ours. And we are prepared to take the protective reaction measures which will deal very effectively with it. But I can say it will not be tit for tat.


[4.] Mr. Horner [Garnett D. Horner, Washington Evening Star].

Q. In view of recent remarks by Senators Symington and Fulbright, can you define for us the roles and the relative influence in the formulation of foreign policy of Secretary of State Rogers and of Dr. Kissinger?

THE PRESIDENT. Well, Mr. Horner, you have been around Washington even a little longer than I have, and, as I am sure you will agree, this game of trying to divide the President from his Secretary of State or to create a conflict between the Secretary of State and whoever happens to be the President's Adviser for National Security Affairs has been going on for as long as I can remember, and I understand it has been going on long before I got here.

I think that Senator Symington's attack upon the Secretary frankly was a cheap shot. I say that not in condemnation of him for making the statement, but I say it only because he knows the relationship between Secretary Rogers and me. He knows that Secretary Rogers is my oldest and closest friend in the Cabinet. I have known him for 24 years.

I not only respect his ability and take his advice in the field of foreign policy; I also ask his advice and often take it in many domestic concerns as well. He is the foreign policy adviser for the President. He is the chief foreign policy spokesman for the President. He participates in every decision that is made by the President of the United States. He will continue to participate in those decisions.

Now, the role of Dr. Kissinger is a different one. He is the White House Adviser to the President. He covers not only foreign policy but national security policy, the coordination of those policies. He also gives me advice, just as Secretary Laird gives me advice, in matters of defense. I would say that I respect his advice as well.

As to whether either Secretary Rogers or Dr. Kissinger is the top adviser, as to who is on first, the answer to that, of course, is very simply that the Secretary of State is always the chief foreign policy adviser and the chief foreign policy spokesman of the Administration.

At the same time, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs does advise the President, and I value his advice very much.


[5.] Q. Mr. President, there is some feeling in this city and perhaps around the country that you are trying to prepare the American people for the possibility that between 50,000 and 100,000 American troops will still have to be in South Vietnam by election time next year. Is that true?

THE PRESIDENT. I really can't tell you what the feeling is in this city. I can tell you what my own plans are.

We are for a total withdrawal of all American forces on a mutual basis. As far as those forces are concerned, I have stated in this press conference that Gene Risher referred to a moment ago, I have stated, however, that as long as there are American POW's--and there are 1,600 Americans1 in North Vietnam jails under very difficult circumstances at the present time--as long as there are American POW's in North Vietnam we will have to maintain a residual force in South Vietnam. That is the least that we can negotiate for.

1 White House Press Secretary Ronald L. Ziegler later stated that the figure cited by the President referred to the total number of those who are either prisoners of war or missing in action in Southeast Asia.

As far as our goal is concerned, our goal is to get all Americans out of Vietnam as soon as we can, by negotiation, if possible, and through our withdrawal program and Vietnamization program, if necessary.

Now, as to when we will have them out, I will make the announcements in due time. I have another one coming in April, and I will be making other announcements. And I think the record will be a pretty good one when we have concluded.


[6.] Mr. Bailey [Charles W. Bailey 2d, Minneapolis Tribune and Minneapolis Star].

Q. Sir, in speaking of the potentialities of action against North Vietnam, you were talking on the third point about the possibility of American air support for a South Vietnamese attack. You said that no such plan is under consideration in this Government. Can you go any further than that, or is that all you wish to say about it?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Bailey, I can say further that no such plan has ever been suggested by President Thieu to us. None has been considered, and none is under consideration.

I am not going to go further than that, except to state what I did state in that press conference where you also were present again, that the test as to what the United States will do in North Vietnam, in any event, will always be not what happens to forces of South Vietnam, but it will be whether or not the President as Commander in Chief considers that North Vietnamese activities are endangering or may endanger the American forces as we continue to withdraw.

It is then and only then that I will use air power against military complexes on the borders of North Vietnam.


[7.] Q, Sir, if all of the North Vietnamese troops were to be withdrawn from South Vietnam, would we still insist that American troops could not be withdrawn until North Vietnamese troops also left Cambodia and Laos?

THE PRESIDENT. The proposal we have made, Mr. terHorst [J. F. terHorst, Detroit News, North American Newspaper Alliance], is, of course, for a Southeast Asia settlement, one in which the North Vietnamese troops--there are 40,000, approximately, as you know, in Cambodia, there are now approximately, by latest estimate, 90,000 to 100,000 in Laos and, of course, there are 100,000 or so in South Vietnam. It is a one-package situation.

As far as we are concerned, that is the proposal and that is the one that we will stick by in Paris.


[8.] Q. In your foreign policy report, you invited better relations with Communist China, which is being interpreted in Taiwan, I believe, with a little bit of apprehension. Are you actually moving toward a two-China policy?

THE PRESIDENT. I understand the apprehension in Taiwan, but I believe that that apprehension, insofar as Taiwan's continued existence and as its continued membership in the United Nations, is not justified. You will also have noted that in my foreign policy report I said that we stood by our defense commitments to Taiwan; that Taiwan, which has a larger population than two-thirds of all of the United Nations, could not and would not be expelled from the United Nations as long as we had anything to say about it; and that as far as our attitude toward Communist China was concerned that that would be governed by Communist China's attitude toward us.

In other words, we would like to normalize relations with all nations in the world. There has, however, been no receptivity on the part of Communist China. But under no circumstances will we proceed with a policy of normalizing relations with Communist China if the cost of that policy is to expel Taiwan from the family of nations.


[9.] Mr. Lisagor [Peter Lisagor, Chicago Daily News].

Q. You said also in your foreign policy report that even if the North Vietnamese negotiate seriously in Paris, there will be serious problems left in Laos and Cambodia, and that on the battlefield there would be some hard options to be made about deploying allied troops. Could you clarify those statements, because it suggests that we are going to be there a much longer time than your earlier answer did?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Lisagor, our goal is a complete American withdrawal from Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam. As you know, that is the proposal I made on October 7 [1970]. I made it, however, on a mutual basis, that we would withdraw, but that the North Vietnamese would withdraw at the same time.

Now, as to what happens after we withdraw, we cannot guarantee that North and South Vietnam will not continue to be enemies. We cannot guarantee that there will not continue to be some kind of guerrilla activities in Laos or even in Cambodia. As far as our own goal is concerned, our proposal is clear, and we ask the enemy to consider it: a mutual withdrawal of forces, our forces and theirs. If that happens, we will be glad to withdraw, and then these other nations will have to see whether or not they can handle their own affairs.


[10.] Mr. Theis [J. William Theis, Hearst Newspapers and Hearst Headline Service].

Q. Do you see any limit on the exercise of executive privilege?

THE PRESIDENT. The matter of executive privilege is one that--it always depends on which side you are on. I well recall--and, Mr. Theis, you were covering me at the time when I was a Member of the House--that I raised serious questions as a member of an investigating committee about the executive privilege that was at that time, looking back in retrospect, properly insisted upon by President Truman. And, as President, I believe that executive privilege is essential for the orderly processes of government.

Now, let me just point out, however, what it does not cover. I was very surprised to note the suggestion the Secretary of State was not available enough for testimony. I checked it out. Over the past 2 years, State Department officials have testified 499 times before the House and the Senate. The Secretary of State himself has testified personally 14 times in 1969 and 15 times in 1970. He has had 167 private meetings in addition to all that with individual Senators or in groups of Senators at the State Department or at his home. As a matter of fact, I don't know how he has had time to talk to me with all the time he is talking to the Congress.


[11.] Q. Mr. President, you said earlier that there will have to be a residual force staying in South Vietnam as long as the North Vietnamese continue to hold prisoners.

You have also said on previous occasions that you will not hesitate to take any strong action in order to protect whatever troops remain in South Vietnam, whatever of our troops remain in South Vietnam.

Does this, in effect, mean that despite your Vietnamization plan that you will have to have, in a sense, an indefinite commitment to South Vietnam with troops there indefinitely, determined only by Hanoi and their actions?

THE PRESIDENT. I would suggest that you ladies and gentlemen all have always pretty much underestimated what I am capable of doing in terms of withdrawing forces and so forth.

Let me just put it all in perspective, as I can. We have had a great deal of discussion about Laos at the last press conference, and I can see that it is still an interest here, and the question of Cambodia still troubles many of you.

I recall at the time that we went into Cambodia--and all of you out there looking on television will remember what I said--I said the purpose of our going into Cambodia was to cut American casualties and to ensure the success of our withdrawal program.

Many of the members of the press disagreed with me. They thought that was not an accurate description of what would happen. They were entitled to that view. Night after night, after I announced the decision to go into Cambodia, on television it was indicated that that decision would have the opposite effect: that it would increase American casualties and that it would mean that it would prolong the war.

Now we can look at it in retrospect. Casualties are one-half of what they were before Cambodia, and our withdrawal program has continued, and actually we were able to step it up some during the last of 1970.

In Laos, the purpose of the Laotian operation was the same as that of the Cambodian operation. This time no American ground forces, only American air power.

I said then, and I repeat now, the purpose is not to expand the war into Laos; the purpose is to save American lives, to guarantee the continued withdrawal of our own forces, and to increase the ability of the South Vietnamese to defend themselves without our help, which means, of course, their ability to help our Vietnamization program and our own withdrawal program.

I realize that night after night for the past 3 weeks on television there is a drum. beat of suggestion, not from all but from some commentators. And I can understand why they disagree, from the same ones who said that Cambodia wouldn't work, that this isn't going to work.

Well, I had analyzed the thing very carefully when I made the decision. I have had reports all day today from General Abrams and, speaking today, I can say there is some hard fighting ahead, but the decision to go into Laos, I think, was the right decision. It will reduce American casualties. The 200,000 rounds of ammunition, the 5,000 heavy and light guns that have already been captured and destroyed, the 67 tanks that have been destroyed are not going to be killing Americans.

And, most significant, I checked the flow of supplies down the trails from the area in which the North Vietnamese and and the South Vietnamese are engaged. And General Abrams reports that there has been a 55 percent decrease in truck traffic south into South Vietnam, which means that those trucks that do not go south will not carry the arms and the men that will be killing Americans.

We can all, of course, here in a press conference--we can debate as to whether or not my view of it is right or the rest. I hope for the good of the country mine is, and if it is right, what you say now doesn't make any difference.

I am only suggesting while the jury is still out, remember the purpose of this, like the purpose of Cambodia, is to reduce American forces, to reduce our casualties. And I should point out that that is exactly what this Administration has done. We have kept every promise that we have made. We have reduced our forces. We have reduced our casualties. We are going to continue to reduce our forces, and we are getting out of Vietnam in a way that Vietnam will be able to defend itself.


[12.] Mr. Healy [Paul F. Healy, New York Daily News]

Q. Mr. President, terrorists in Turkey have kidnaped four of our fliers and are holding them for $400,000 ransom. Do you think the Turkish Government should negotiate with the terrorists and is there anything that you think we can or should do in a situation like this?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Healy, we have had that situation with several other governments. And I would not suggest that the Turkish Government negotiate on this matter because I believe that is a decision that that Government must make, having in mind its own internal situation.


[13.] Mr. Semple [Robert B. Semple, Jr., New York Times]

Q. Mr. President, if I may turn to the Middle East just for a minute. The Arabs have reportedly agreed to sign a peace treaty with Israel in exchange for certain withdrawals by Israel from territory occupied in 1967. Is it not now time for the Israelis to make some concessions of their own, and will you be asking them publicly or privately to do so?

THE PRESIDENT. Mr. Semple, as you well know, because you are sophisticated in this area, the question there is whether or not the United States will impose a settlement in the Mideast, and the answer is no. We will do everything that we can to urge the parties to talk. And, incidentally, when we talk about the problems in the Mideast, let it not go unnoted that we have made some progress. There was 4 years of fighting up until August of last year, and for 7 months no guns have fired in the Mideast. That is progress of a kind.

We hope that the cease-fire either by agreement or de facto will be extended. We hope that the Israelis and the Egyptians and, for that matter, the Jordanians will continue some kind of discussion. As far as imposing a settlement, however, we can only say that we can make suggestions, but we are going to have to depend upon the parties concerned to reach an agreement.

We, of course, will be there to see that the balance of power is maintained in the Mideast--which we will continue to do-because if that balance changes that could bring on war. And also we are prepared, as I have indicated, to join other major powers including the Soviet Union in guaranteeing any settlement that is made, which would give Israel the security of its borders that it might not get through geographical acquisition.


[14.] Q. May I ask you, sir, when you said earlier about Communist China--at least you were not perfectly clear about your position on Communist China, about seating in the United Nations. Somebody asked you if you would favor a two-China policy, but you were not completely clear about that. Could you say, sir, if Taiwan maintained its position on the Security Council, if it maintained its position in the United Nations, if you would favor seating Communist China?

THE PRESIDENT. That is a moot question at this time, because Communist China or the People's Republic of China, which I understand stirred up people in Taiwan--because that is the official name of the country--but Communist China refuses even to discuss the matter. Therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to suggest what we might agree to when Communist China takes the position that they will have no discussion whatever until Taiwan gets out. And we will not start with that kind of a proposition.


[15.] Mr. Warren [Lucian C. Warren, Buffalo Evening News]

Q. Mr. President, a few months back, you were quite optimistic about the successful conclusion of SALT talks. Are you less optimistic now?

THE PRESIDENT. I am just as optimistic now as I was then about the eventual success. As you will note from our world policy report, the two great super powers now have nuclear parity. Neither can gain an advantage over the other if the other desires to see to it that that does not occur. Now, under these circumstances, therefore, it is in the interest of both powers to negotiate some kind of limitation, limitation on offensive and defensive weapons. We will be stating a position on that on March 15 when the new talks begin in Vienna. As far as when an agreement is reached, I will not indicate optimism or pessimism. As far as the eventuality of an agreement, my belief is that the seriousness of the talks, the fact that there are great forces, the danger of war, the escalating costs, and the fact that neither power can gain an advantage over the others, I think that this means that there will be an agreement eventually between the United States and the Soviet Union. Yes, sir.

Q. On both offensive and defensive weapons?

THE PRESIDENT. I should add that I know that the suggestion has been made that we might negotiate a separate agreement on defensive weapons alone. We reject that proposal. We will negotiate an agreement that is not comprehensive, but it must include offensive as well as defensive weapons, some mix.


[16.] Mr. Kaplow [Herbert Kaplow, NBC News]

Q. Mr. President, I would like to go back for a moment to your first answer in which you said that what has happened in Laos has already assured more troop withdrawals.

Were you saying that on the basis of what you obviously consider a success in the Laotian operation will allow you to withdraw American troops at at least the present rate, twelve and a half thousand men a month for 12 months?

THE PRESIDENT. What I am saying, Mr. Kaplow, is that our troop withdrawal schedule will go forward at least at the present rate. It will go forward for at least the present rate.

And when I make the announcement in April, that, of course, will cover several months in advance. More important, however, is the troop withdrawal schedule for next year because, as you will note in my foreign policy report, at least the oral report I made, I pointed out that the Laotian operation this year would save American lives, save American lives by destroying or capturing equipment that otherwise might move into I Corps where a number of Americans are located. And that next year it would serve to guarantee the continued success of our withdrawal program.

The more that the disruption of the complex of trails leading from North Vietnam to South Vietnam occurs in the operation now being conducted on the ground by the South Vietnamese in southern Laos--the more that that occurs, the more successful that it is, the greater the possibility that the United States may be able to increase the rate of its troop withdrawal.

I am not prepared to make that decision yet, but we can say at this time the troop withdrawal will continue at its present level. I can say, incidentally, that even since the Laotian operation began, with all the news, 10,000 Americans have come home in this period.

Mr. Cormier. Thank you, Mr. President.

Note: President Nixon's fourteenth news conference was held at 9 p.m. in the East Room at the White House on Thursday, March 14, 1971. It was broadcast live on radio and television.

Richard Nixon, The President's News Conference on Foreign Policy Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives