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

120. Ref: WHS 2090.2

1.
I reviewed again today with President Thieu our plans for the August 1 meeting. He has no problem with our first two points, i.e., A) a cease-fire and withdrawal from South Viet-Nam of U.S. and allied forces to begin when the overall agreement is signed; B) the details of the political principles agreed to are to be worked out within a three month period.
2.
With reference to the third point, i.e., that the President and Vice President would step down two months before the election, he would prefer to have this presented not as a definite proposal but to have you say that you “have reason to believe” that the President and Vice President would be willing to resign two months before the election. Thieu said that as he had mentioned to me and to General Haig the question of whether he resigns one or two months before the election presents no problem. He is not categorical on the deadline for his resignation; [Page 769]on the contrary he considers it an entirely negotiable point. He said that on the other hand if it is made as a firm offer and is not publicly revealed, it would cause him embarrassment. On the other hand if it should be revealed publicly in the present conjuncture it could cause internal political problems while efforts are being made to unite the people in support of the front.
3.
He feels also that if his offer to resign were made formally to the other side now they would regard it as an indication that the United States is less firm in its support of South Viet-Nam. Two other points which he put forward were that to offer his resignation formally would reflect upon the legal regime of the nation and that it would encourage the other side to discuss South Viet-Nam political matters with the U.S., thus encouraging them to ask us to overthrow his regime.
4.
What this adds up to is the fact that Thieu does not object to resigning two months before the elections, but is concerned about the way in which we put it before the other side. He said that when you used the phrase “have reason to believe” that he would resign two months before the election, the other side would be clear about its meaning.
5.
Thieu handed me memorandum which I am sending by immediate following message since it will give you some of the flavor of his thinking.3 He expressed approval of our general approach, especially the point that the details of the political principles should be worked out within a three month period. A prompt settlement, with a short period between the cease-fire and a political settlement he views as highly desirable. I said that I would inform him promptly of the outcome of the next meeting.4
6.
Warm regards.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 414, Backchannel, Backchannel Messages, To Amb. Bunker—Saigon 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive; Immediate; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. Document 217.
  3. Backchannel message 121 from Saigon, July 27. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 414, Backchannel, Backchannel Messages, To Amb. Bunker—Saigon 1972)
  4. After reading Bunker’s messages 120 and 121, Haig wrote the following to Kissinger in a memorandum, July 27: “We must be very careful to recognize that Thieu’s confidence and overall demeanor has changed substantially as a result of recent events. The sacrifices that he considers South Vietnam has made undoubtedly have contributed to this attitude. Additionally, however, he recognizes two other things: (1) the South Vietnamese are winning and are in a far better strategic position than ever before; and (2) he is smart enough to know that President Nixon cannot afford a major break with him or chances of a sellout before an election.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 48, Geopolitical File, Peace Talks, Chronological File, 2 June–31 July 1972)