25. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1
- Meeting of President Thieu with the ROK Minister of Defense
1. On 11 February 1972 President Nguyen Van Thieu met with Republic of Korea (ROK) Minister of Defense Yu Chae-Hung to discuss Korean troop withdrawals from South Vietnam (SVN). Thieu began the meeting by apologizing for not being able to meet with Yu earlier and explained that he had just spent the previous two days visiting the troops in Military Region (MR) 1 and MR 2.
[Omitted here is material that Negroponte indicated was less important.]
10. Speaking then about the peace negotiations in Paris, Thieu explained that his position was very clear: he had said that he would do anything for the peace of Vietnam, but it had to be a peace which preserved the independence, the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of SVN and which included an international guarantee for a lasting peace. Thieu considered the fact that he would resign one month before a new election as the “last step” he could take in the settlement of the war, and he could do that only after there were international guarantees for peace in SVN. His resignation in these circumstances would be his personal sacrifice for the peace of the nation. However, he would never accept a coalition government or the dissolution of the SVN legal institutions or the abolition of the Constitution or abolition of Article Four of the Constitution. Thieu said that it seemed to him that some people did not understand what President Nixon and he had agreed on. Thieu further explained that never would he let the USG interfere with the internal political affairs of the SVN and that he would never interfere in the internal political affairs of the U.S. He would never permit the U.S. to deal on behalf of Vietnam on internal political affairs. President Nixon had assured Thieu that he would never make any agreements related to SVN in either Peking or Moscow without his consent, and Nixon understood Thieu’s position very clearly. Nixon had told Thieu that if the question of Vietnam arose in Peking, he would very clearly define the position of [Page 101] the U.S. and Vietnam to Mao Tse-tung. Nixon would say that, as for negotiations, Hanoi had to talk to Saigon. Thieu emphasized that Nixon was going to Peking “very well acquainted with my thinking, my position, and there was no confusion whatsoever.”
11. Thieu felt that the “situation” was now more complex than before. That is, the Soviet Union was now worried that Nixon and the PRC might make an agreement which would result in the PRC’s pressuring Hanoi to cease the war. Thieu noted that it was possible that China might promise to help the U.S. by refusing aid to North Vietnam (NVN) and agreeing to “bother” Soviet activity in NVN in some way. Then there might be some kind of reaction from the USSR, such as pushing Hanoi into stepping up the war this year to pressure Nixon into dealing with Moscow, not Peking, in regard to Vietnam. Now that the Soviets had supported India and Bangladesh, they would like to make a deal with Phnom Penh and Laos, in order to increase their influence in Southeast Asia. So, the problem no longer was between China and the U.S.; rather, it was between the U.S. and the USSR. The Soviets continued to support NVN, which meant that the U.S. had to deal with them. Therefore, Thieu thought it would be very difficult to reach any solution until Nixon went to Moscow and had an exchange of ideas with the Soviets. Thieu viewed President Nixon’s trips to Peking and Moscow as a “mobile summit” to arrange their positions and their zones of influence, as had been done at Yalta after World War II. Therefore, after Nixon’s trips, there might be some insights into the future.
12. Thieu pointed out that if Hanoi mounted an offensive in SVN during Nixon’s trip to Peking, it would not be because Peking told it to, but because Moscow told it to. The USSR would support NVN in order to suppress Chinese influence there. Thus, while Nixon’s trip to Peking might not help the SVN situation, his trip to Moscow could. Thieu noted that Moscow and Washington had many other problems besides Vietnam, e.g., in the Middle East and Europe. Thieu thought that Moscow must be very angry because Washington was dealing so much with Peking; it might be afraid the U.S. would give economic aid to China to the detriment of the USSR. Peking might block the roads from the USSR to Hanoi or interfere with the railroads; the USSR would then have only the Port of Haiphong to get supplies into NVN. However, the Soviets might still be able to get into Hanoi by a road through India and Bangladesh. Thieu noted that there was a strong pro-Soviet faction in Hanoi and that since the USSR gave so much aid to NVN and was working to strengthen its influence there, it was just possible that in time the pro-China faction in Hanoi might fade completely into the background.
13. Returning to the subject of Korean troop withdrawals, Thieu said that in talking with the Americans, he could not use words like “pressure” but that he could tell President Nixon very frankly that both [Page 102] Korea and SVN had problems and that if Korea could not continue to support SVN, it was because it felt that it did not have enough support to deal with its own problems, that is, with the North Koreans. SVN and Korea would like to support each other but to do so they needed help from the U.S. Thieu said that he understood that President Pak never wanted to create any difficulties for him, but he also understood that the ROK had both political and military problems. Thieu told Yu that even if the U.S. left 100,000 soldiers in SVN, it would not help, because the spirit of the U.S. soldiers was completely different than it had been two years ago. Thus, Thieu thought it was much better to help President Nixon by allowing the withdrawal of ground troops in exchange for full air support.
14. Thieu concluded the meeting by asking Yu to convey his best regards to President Pak.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 158, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, Jan–Feb 1972. Secret; Sensitive. In an attached covering memorandum transmitting a copy of the memorandum to Kissinger, Negroponte wrote: “Director Helms has sent you a report of conversation between Thieu and the ROK Defense Minister [less than 1 line not declassified]. The entire report is worth reading, with pages 15 through 23 [the section printed here] particularly noteworthy.” Kissinger initialed Negroponte’s memorandum.↩