WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2002 Henry A. Kissinger used his historic meeting with Prime Minister Zhou Enlai of China in 1971 to lay out in detail a radical shift in American policy toward Taiwan in exchange for China's help in ending the war in Vietnam, previously classified documents show.
The account of the meeting in the newly released documents contradicts the one that Mr. Kissinger published in his memoirs.
The documents also indicate that the Nixon administration was determined to withdraw from Vietnam even unilaterally, and even if it led to the overthrow of the government of South Vietnam.
The documents, released today by the National Security Archive, an independent research group, include the transcript of the meeting on July 9, 1971, in which Mr. Kissinger, then the national security adviser, pledged that the United States would not support independence for Taiwan.
The two documents were among 41 recently declassified documents released by the private, nonprofit organization relating to communications between the United States and China that led to Mr. Nixon's visit to China 30 years ago this month.
In the first volume of Mr. Kissinger's memoirs, "The White House Years," published in 1979, he gave the impression that the purpose of the crucial meeting was not to allay tension between the two countries on subjects like Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province. Rather, he wrote, it was "to discuss fundamentals."
In another document released today, the transcript of a conversation on April 27, 1971, between Mr. Kissinger and Mr. Nixon, Mr. Kissinger made clear that neither George Bush, then the chief American envoy at the United Nations, nor Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York would be an ideal choice to travel secretly to China to meet Mr. Zhou.
When Mr. Nixon raised the possibility of sending Mr. Rockefeller, Mr. Kissinger said of his former patron, "He wouldn't be disciplined enough, although he is a possibility."
Mr. Nixon agreed, describing Mr. Rockefeller as erratic.
To that, Secretary Kissinger replied, "I think for one operation I could keep him under control. To them a Rockefeller is a tremendous thing."
When Mr. Nixon suggested Mr. Bush, the secretary said, "Absolutely not, he is too soft and not sophisticated enough." At another point, he said that Mr. Bush "would be too weak."
Mr. Kissinger revealed extraordinary optimism that opening up the channel with China could bring the war in Vietnam to an end within months. "Mr. President, I have not said this before, but I think if we get this thing working, we will end Vietnam this year," Mr. Kissinger said.
Mr. Kissinger's meeting with Mr. Zhou in July also makes clear the secretary's eagerness to bring the Vietnam War to an end and to enlist China's help in making it happen. With or without negotiations with North Vietnam, he said, "we will eventually withdraw unilaterally."
Asked about the document, Stanley Karnow, the Vietnam historian, said: "There is no question that ever since the primaries of March 1968 the policy was peace with honor. When Kissinger was in China he said, 'Our plan is to get out.' Unilaterally is the key thing. This is new to me."
Mr. Kissinger also told Mr. Zhou that the position of the United States was to work out a military settlement, but not a specific political outcome.
"Our position is not to maintain any particular government in South Vietnam," he said, adding that if the government of South Vietnam "is as unpopular as you think, then the quicker our forces are withdrawn the quicker it will be overthrown. And if it is overthrown after we withdraw, we will not intervene."
By ELAINE SCIOLINO - NYT