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

WHS 2093. Deliver at opening of business. Concern is developing here that some let-up may be occurring in our bombing efforts against the North. The concern is centered especially on the crucial fixed target areas around Hanoi and Haiphong. I recognize that restraints applied from Washington as a result of earlier alleged incursions of PRC territory may have contributed to a degree of sensitivity which is influencing the conduct of the air campaign against the northern-most target areas. Explanations given here by the Pentagon refer to unusually bad weather and this may indeed be the overriding cause. In any event, the President is concerned that in the weeks ahead, the air campaign in the North be conducted in a most aggressive fashion consistent with existing constraints re civilian casualties and adherence to buffer zone restrictions which have been repeatedly promulgated through official channels. On the other hand, the President will not tolerate any additional restraints which might be applied to meet ordnance expenditure or fiscal ceilings. In the period ahead, our best hope for success in negotiations is the maintenance of a steady and effective level of military pressure against the North.

In order to reassure the President that all possible continues to be done within the political restraints he has imposed, I would be grateful if you would meet on a strictly unofficial basis with Gen Weyand and Gen Vogt and appraise them of our concerns. It is essential, however, that they make no reference to your discussions in official military reporting. If you consider that the risk is too high that this would occur the President would prefer that you defer making the contact and so inform him.2

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What we have specifically in mind is that you meet privately with Weyand and Vogt and point out that the President has noted an apparent pattern of the diversion of programmed strikes on fixed targets in the Hanoi–Haiphong area and what also appears to be a gradual drop-off in the overall sortie levels which have been maintained in the northern most target areas. He would, therefore, like to have both commanders’views on this trend and their estimate of the reasons for this drop-off if it is in fact occurring. We would also welcome their best unofficial recommendations for remedial action, if justified.

I know he can rely on you to handle this touchy issue in a delicate way. It may be that our concerns are not justified. On the other hand, past experience indicates that on occasion artificial constraints have been imposed.

Please discuss this issue privately with Weyand and Vogt and provide us with their reaction via this channel again cautioning them about the sensitivity of this inquiry and the absolute essentiality of confining knowledge of the inquiry and their response strictly to this channel.3

I am departing tomorrow for Paris and the next round and will advise you as early as possible of the results of Tuesday’s meeting so that you would be able to see Thieu prior to your departure for Katmandu and a well-earned respite.

Warm personal 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. In backchannel message 124 to Kissinger, Bunker reported on his meeting with Weyand and Vogt. Bunker conveyed to them Nixon’s instructions to press the air campaign in the North more aggressively and reported to Kissinger: “I reviewed with them the campaign against the North. I think it possible that some of the concern you mentioned may have been due to the situation which was encountered last week. For a period of five days we ran into extremely bad weather, unusual and unseasonable at this time of year; the Hanoi area was blanked out and could not be struck. Otherwise, with exception of today, targets in the area are being struck every day weather permits.” (Ibid.)
  3. Kissinger also directed Haig to run the question past Moorer. During a telephone conversation with Haig on August 3, Moorer provided a detailed explanation: “The weather is breaking now. They will be going back in there very heavy in the next two or three days. You take the Smart bombs they won’t work unless the pilot can see the target. We just don’t have the capability of dropping a bomb when you have all the restrictions about dikes, and dams and civilians, etc. If there were no restrictions they could go on up there and bomb blind but they will go up there at every opportunity.” After further elaboration, Moorer concluded: “So I am not making any excuses. The point is they can’t go in and there is no supportation in physics which will permit us to go in and hit something like truck parks that you can’t see. You got to identify them first and all the restrictions we have to worry about if we were just bombing Hanoi or Haiphong it would be all right but they can’t stay clear of Soviet ships, and dikes, and dams, and hospitals and everything if they can’t see the targets and can’t give assurance that they can do that with the weather the way it has been. Tell HAK that they are doing everything they can.” (Moorer Diary, August 3; National Archives, RG 218, Records of the Chairman)