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

WHS 2090. Ref: (A) Saigon 0116.2 (B) White House 2089.3

Our message to you on plan for next meeting unfortunately misled you by use of the term Quote statement of principles Unquote which understandably suggested to you a return to something like last fall’s plan of two formal stages. Thus because of our cable you may have unnecessarily confused Thieu. You should clarify our intentions as follows.
The only changes we contemplate in January plan are those outlined to you in our message. Our new approach, like the January plan, would be an overall agreement but, also like the January plan, the political aspects in effect would involve guiding principles only. The details of paragraph 3, such as the composition of the electoral commission, would still have to be worked out by the South Vietnamese after the agreement is signed and other operative elements are under way, such as ceasefire, withdrawals and prisoners. This, in fact, was one of the other side’s objections to the January plan since they feared that the political discussions would be open-ended in length. In our new approach we would introduce three month deadline for political negotiations to meet this concern, at least cosmetically.
In addition, as outlined in our message, we make explicit that ceasefire will come into effect when agreement signed, with details of political settlement still to be worked out. Although this was implication of January plan, just how much of the political details would be completed by time of ceasefire was deliberately fudged.
In short, in our new approach an overall agreement, which we misleadingly called statement of principles, would be signed and cease-fire, withdrawals, and prisoner release would all begin. On the political side there would in effect be principles agreed to but the details would still have to be worked out in the three-month period which is now stipulated. As we outlined in our message, the election would still be six months after all political details are worked out, or nine months after the overall agreement is signed. Thieu would step down two months before this election or seven months after the overall agreement is signed.
Our idea now is to present this new approach in course of discussions but we would probably want to call it a new proposal to bolster our negotiating record.
Please clarify this for Thieu and report his reactions.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 44, Geopolitical File, Cables, 24 June–29 August 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. Document 215.
  3. Document 212.