170. Backchannel Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker)1

This message is designed to provide you with insights on the President’s current thinking with respect to the next troop withdrawal announcement. [Page 515] The information contained herein is known only to the President and myself and must, therefore, be held strictly to yourself. Secretary Rogers is the only other government official who has an indication of the President’s thinking. I anticipate that Secretary Laird and the Chairman, and consequently General Abrams, will not be informed until just prior to the President’s announcement.

The President now plans to announce the withdrawal of 100,000 or 104,000 additional U.S. troops through December 1, 1971. He contemplates that perhaps 48 hours in advance of his announcement which is now scheduled for April 7th in Washington that you inform Thieu of his decision. You could concurrently advise Thieu that we will retain more than 200,000 troops in South Vietnam through his election and that the heaviest withdrawals will be made during the latter part of October and November.

I would foresee no difficulty in Thieu’s emphasizing the 200,000 figure sometime in July to meet his own political needs. It may be possible to arrange a meeting between President Nixon and President Thieu in July somewhere in the Pacific. However, the President has not yet agreed to such a meeting so its possibility must be confined strictly to you. Should such a meeting be held, I would visualize the following sequence of events:

  • —On April 7, the President will announce his intention to withdraw either 100,000 or 104,000 U.S. troops from South Vietnam by December 1, 1971.
  • —Sometime in July, President Nixon and President Thieu would meet somewhere in the Pacific.

In conjunction with this meeting, President Thieu might announce that he has informed President Nixon that ARVN forces will be prepared to take over the ground security of South Vietnam effective 1 January 1972, and that he has been assured by President Nixon that U.S. force levels will remain above 200,000 through October 15, 1971. President Nixon, of course, would have to make the point that although the ground security mission will be turned over to the South Vietnamese by the first of the year, U.S. forces will continue to take whatever local security measures are necessary to provide for their own security. This would mean that active patrolling and offensive action would still be required of U.S. forces to the degree that enemy action makes this necessary. The President might again include a stiff warning to Hanoi with respect to his determination to prevent the enemy’s taking advantage of our withdrawals. The President would also reaffirm his intention of providing necessary air support to the South Vietnamese for the indefinite future.

Before proceeding further with this plan, I would be grateful for your personal views on an urgent basis on the following:

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The timing and modalities of your coordination of the President’s announcement with President Thieu.
The desirability of a meeting between the Presidents sometime in July, to include your thoughts on the venue, precise timing and the agenda and related announcements which might be expected to result from the meeting.

I am sure you recognize that the withdrawal announcement contemplated by the President is a large one. However, it has become all the more necessary in view of the mixed results of the Lamson 719 operation and its unexpected conclusion which has placed the President under increasing political pressure here.

For this reason, the President is determined to proceed with an announcement of at least 100,000 through December 1, 1971. This exceeds the withdrawal rates contained in General Abrams’ recent submission to Secretary Laird2 and will undoubtedly pose some difficult political problems for President Thieu. At the same time holding public opinion here after Lamson is an absolute imperative and is in the long run more useful to Thieu than anything else we might do. It is therefore necessary that we have your best thinking on how to limit the damage in the process of coordinating the President’s decision.

Best regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 85, Vietnam Subject Files, Special Operations File March 20 on. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Drafted by Kissinger and Haig. The original is the text as approved for transmission. It was sent as message WHS 1026.
  2. According to memorandum CM–766–71 from Moorer to Laird, April 1, Abrams agreed with Moorer’s recommendation for the following minimum force levels through 1971: 255,000 by June 30; 233,000 by October 31; and 199,000 by December 31. He also recommended that the following monthly sortie levels be approved: 10,000 tactical air and 1,000 B–52s through FY 1972; and 8,000 tactical air and 1,000 B–52s through FY 1973. (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–76–207, Box 5, 337 WH)