171. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1


  • Meeting of President Thieu [less than 1 line not declassified]
President Nguyen Van Thieu held a two-hour tour d’horizon [less than 1 line not declassified] on 17 May 1972. After a review of the military situation, Thieu observed that the enemy’s objective was to take the Quang Tri/Thua Thien area and Kontum and Binh Long provinces, which would give them a “leopard skin” hold on the country. They would then call for a ceasefire and set up coalition administrations in those occupied areas. Thieu thought that they wanted to achieve that goal by August to enable them to present a package peace proposal at the Paris talks which, in view of the election period in the U.S., would be very attractive to everyone at that time. If the enemy attained their objective, South Vietnam (SVN) would be placed in a very weak position and would have to accept a coalition government or else lose everything. As far as neutralization was concerned, it was Thieu’s opinion that a neutral state could only be maintained if an area was “designated not to be used by any foreign power, including economically,” that is, no foreign power could be allowed to occupy an area or to exploit it. Thieu felt, however, that in any peace solution, the most SVN would agree to would be to hold elections. Thieu emphasized that SVN could not agree to the setting up of a coalition government.
Speaking about President Nixon’s stand on the war, Thieu noted that he was taking a strong position, but that because he was a Presidential candidate Nixon hoped that between the time of his Moscow trip and the elections there would be a breakthrough in bringing the Vietnam war to an end, thus eliminating it as a campaign issue. Thieu pointed out, however, that Nixon did believe in the domino theory and that although North Vietnam was making an all out effort to defeat [Page 622] Vietnamization, the U.S. was making an all out response to their aggression.
Referring to speculation that U.S. troops might be sent back to SVN, Thieu said he had told the Americans that he would never request U.S. troops to return, nor would he do anything to prevent troop withdrawals. He told [name not declassified] that only the U.S. Government could make decisions related to those two matters.
Lastly, Thieu spoke about the pending bill in the National Assembly (NA) authorizing him to assume special powers. Thieu said he had asked the Deputies and Senators if they wanted him to fail in the struggle against the enemy and lose the entire fatherland. He had explained to them that all he wanted to do was combat the Communists and that he needed the power to do so. During this difficult period, he needed the NA, all the nationalist political parties, and the people “standing behind him.” With that help, and the help being given by the Americans the nation could be saved. Thieu had assured the NA members that he would not sign any peace or war declarations without first bringing them before the NA and obtaining its approval. If the Communists agreed to serious negotiations, the NA would have a voice in any decisions, even though the South Vietnamese peace delegation in Paris already included some Senators and Deputies. Thieu said he would let the NA choose a “supervisory committee” with representatives from both houses to “go to Paris and Geneva to help us” in negotiations for a solution and to give their opinions on topics discussed. Thieu noted that in granting him special powers, if the NA wanted to put a time limit on those powers, that was up to the NA. Thieu told [name not declassified] that he had asked the NA not to consider whether the proposed bill would be helpful to him personally, but to consider whether it would be helpful or harmful to the nation. Thieu added that he thought the NA was afraid that he might use the special powers in some way detrimental to the nation’s best interests.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman, Records of Thomas Moorer, Box 28, Vietnam, May 1972. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. In the May 22 transmittal memorandum to Rush, Helms wrote: “Attached is a report from a very sensitive and reliable source in Saigon on a 17 May conversation between President Thieu and [1 line not declassified]. The conversation contains useful insights into Thieu’s thinking about North Vietnam’s current strategy and about the present policy of the United States toward Vietnam. Thieu also expresses very clearly his desire for National Assembly approval of the emergency powers which he has requested.” (Ibid.)