192. Memorandum From the Special Assistant to the Ambassador (Polgar) to the Ambassador to South Vietnam (Bunker)1



  • Indications of a Possible Change in Communist Negotiating Position
Three reports from separate sources (and subsources) have recently stated that the Communists have dropped their insistence that President Thieu be removed as a sine qua non to substantive negotiations. In addition, the French Ambassador has reported through Embassy channels that the North Vietnamese Chargé in Vientiane in a recent conversation failed to mention the removal of Thieu as a condition of political settlement, something on which he had always insisted in the past. Finally, the unofficial joint USSR–North Vietnamese statement at the conclusion of Podgorny’s recent trip to Hanoi failed to mention Thieu’s removal and, in fact, dealt only generally with conditions for a peace settlement.
Two of our reports on this subject are fairly well sourced. One is from a VC cadre in Saigon, who received his information from a medium level VC functionary who returned in early June from a meeting in Cambodia of other cadre. The subsource appears to have reported accurately what he was told in briefings while in Cambodia, including the fact that Thieu’s removal is no longer a prerequisite. Some of the things he was told in the briefings are clearly propaganda (e.g., that North Vietnamese aircraft might be introduced to the war in South Vietnam) but the item about Thieu was presented in some detail, with supporting explanations why the change in negotiating position was made. It appeared as if the briefer knew the change would surprise and perhaps dismay his listeners and that therefore prompt explanation would be required.
The second fairly well sourced report is from a former VC who rallied and was later cooperative with us in recontacting former VC colleagues.2 The VC are currently in the process of trying to re-recruit this man and occasionally his VC contacts feed him tidbits of information as part of their recruitment process. He, too, received his information from a medium level cadre who in turn learned of the change [Page 676] in negotiating position at a cadre meeting he attended in June in Cambodia near the Tay Ninh/Cambodian border. (The timing and location indicate that the meetings mentioned in the two reports, though similar, were distinct and separate gatherings. Thus, the ultimate source of the information in the two reports is almost certainly different.) This second report states a settlement with the U.S. could come without a ceasefire. The information in both reports seems for the most part quite reasonable and consistent with what we know and/or believe about Communist feelings on important subjects. Both, for example, display concern about U.S. diplomatic maneuvering with China and the USSR, but both attempt to make the case that North Vietnam will be able to overcome any resulting problems. There is nothing in the reports to make them mutually exclusive.
A third report mentioning the change in negotiating posture is less well sourced. It comes from a Saigon cadre who learned the information from a village level cadre in Dinh Tuong Province. Unlike the other two reports, it adds a condition to the retention of Thieu, that he would accept the NLF 7-point peace proposal.3 This report also states that the acceptance of Thieu is a temporary, tactical decision to facilitate his later removal, a point allegedly made at the cadre meeting in Cambodia reported by our first source.
On balance, it appears that at least some VC are being told that Thieu’s removal is no longer a sine qua non for substantive negotiations. They are being told this despite the deleterious effect such a statement might have on their morale and the questions it might raise. Thus, there is a ring of truth to the statements. And while the reports are second or third hand, they do appear quite specific on the point of a change in policy toward Thieu’s retention.
There has not yet been a positive shift in Communist propaganda to reflect the possibility of change of policy but there have been some interesting omissions in the propaganda on the Podgorny visit and the statement of the NVN Chargé in Vientiane reported through Embassy channels. The change is far from a confirmed fact but it is an intriguing posssibility.
Thomas Polgar
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1016, Alexander M. Haig Special File, Haig Trip to Vietnam, June 29–July 4, 1972. Secret. A copy was sent to Whitehouse, General Weyand, and Bennett.
  2. The report, June 20, is in the Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry, Job 80–R01284A, Box 6, 1 June–31 July 1972.
  3. The heart of the July 1, 1971, proposal was that the United States and its non-South Vietnamese allies would withdraw their troops during a specified time period and, in the same period, the Communists would release the American prisoners. See footnote 4, Document 26.