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

164. Refs: (A) WHS 2165;2 (B) WHS 2166;3 (C) WHS 2167;4 (D) WHS 2168.5

I met with Thieu this morning and first gave him amplified report of the last meeting as contained Ref A. I described the other side’s defensive attitude, the absence of their usual bravado and their professed eagerness to set the earliest possible deadline for an overall settlement. I said that you had the impression that they were grouping for their next move and did not seem to have a clearcut strategy.
I then went over with Thieu our peace proposal as tabled, pointing out that it was as agreed with the GVN with the exception of two items in Point 4, i.e., in 4A) the reference to “review of the constitution” and the composition of the CNR.
We believed that reinstatement of the phrase “review of the constitution” in 4A) was consistent with its use later in the same point. Concerning the CNR I pointed out that we did not make any reference to equal representation on the committee, neither had we tabled any procedural proposal in view of the various objections raised by the GVN. We had tried to go as far as we possibly could to meet their concerns without undermining altogether the strategy which you had outlined when you were here. Had we not tabled Point 4 as we did, we would have had really nothing to point to in our political offer. We had been careful also to word the functions of the CNR so as to avoid any of the meaningful administrative functions of the GVN. As worded it becomes an essentially supervisory committee with carefully circumscribed powers. In any event, our new proposal does not seem acceptable to the other side.
Concerning the new substantive and procedural proposals tabled by the other side, we took the position that these contained political demands which are unacceptable and that they would have to modify them. I added that you had strongly criticized the recent public statements by the other side, especially the PRG statement of September 11. At our next meeting we will not table any new proposal, but will attempt to force further movement by the other side.
As evidence of their impatience, the other side suggested meeting September 22 and were clearly disappointed when we suggested the 29th. We finally agreed to meet September 26 and to continue on the 27th. We think that a meeting for two days will be extremely helpful in the U.S. I handed Thieu memorandum with the wording of the changes in paragraph 4A) and in the composition of the CNR which he accepted without comment. He raised no objection and I do not believe he will do so, having made his views clear in his letter to the President.6
I also gave Thieu substance of your report on Soviet attitudes (Ref A, paragraph 11) and emphasized that this information was strictly for him alone.
I then said that I wished to talk with him very frankly about a situation which is important to our mutual interest. This had to do with the effect of some of his public remarks on negotiations. I said that I recognized that he was addressing an audience different from ours, in most cases his military forces who had been fighting tough battles continuously for six months; this, of course, was especially true of the troops in MR 1. On the other hand, he must realize that his remarks are reported all over the world and especially picked up by all the media in the United States. What concerns us is the fact that their increasingly uncompromising tenor and hard line can seriously harm our position. It can play into the hands of our critics at home and abroad while we are engaged in a very delicate process. I said that the President with great skill had mustered support for our Vietnam policy and we are concerned lest the tenor of Thieu’s remarks alienate support for it.
I said that concern extended to Congressional as well as public opinion, for in the American system the President is not a free agent; the Congress shares equal responsibility. Funds for support, military and economic, must be authorized and appropriated by the Congress and unless the legislation is forthcoming from the Congress, there is nothing which the President can do to provide support. Consequently, it is extremely important that the President should be in a position to [Page 977] carry through on the strategy which you had outlined when you were here if we are to achieve our mutual objectives.
Thieu said that he had talked as he had, first because he was talking to troops, wanted to recognize and praise their achievements yet emphasize the fact that there was much fighting still to do. Secondly, there had been current—he described it as a fever or flu—rumors about an imminent settlement and cease-fire and he was fearful that this would undermine morale and the will to resist. The third point which he wanted to emphasize was the fact that if a political settlement is to be reached, the Communists must be willing to talk to the GVN. I said that I understood these concerns, but it is essential that we maintain a flexible posture and a forthcoming attitude toward negotiations, especially in the next six or seven weeks. We must give the impression that we are sincerely seeking a negotiated peace, that we want reconciliation, not extermination. Thieu said that he understood our problem and concerns and I feel certain that he will be guided accordingly.
Finally I passed on to Thieu the report (Ref B)7 of your talk with Pompidou and noted the result which had already become evident in the latter’s press conference. Thieu was pleased by the result of your talk although obviously resentment at Schumann’s attitude and statements still smolders.
Warm regards.
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 44, Geopolitical File, Vietnam, Cables, 5–30 September 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only; Immediate.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 265.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 265.
  4. In backchannel message WHS 2167, September 21, Kissinger informed Bunker that French President Pompidou had, as Kissinger suggested, backed away from endorsing a tripartite coalition government for South Vietnam. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 414, Backchannel, Backchannel Messages, To Amb. Bunker—Saigon, 1972)
  5. Document 265.
  6. A reference to Thieu’s September 16 letter to Nixon. (See Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1334)
  7. This is an error. The reference should be to Ref C.