272. Editorial Note

In backchannel message WHS 2171 to Saigon, September 27, 1972, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry A. Kissinger, instructed the Ambassador to South Vietnam, Ellsworth Bunker, to inform South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu about the September 26–27 meeting in Paris with the North Vietnamese. [Page 1016] (See Document 267.) Bunker was also to tell Thieu the reason for the upcoming visit to Saigon of the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs, Major General Alexander M. Haig.

Regarding the meeting, Kissinger wrote: “There was no significant progress and no agreements of any kind were reached. We held firm on our basic program including political questions.” Kissinger added: “DRV side did, however, table yet another proposal which will be transmitted in immediately following telegram. It should be provided to Thieu for his comments and study prior to Haig’s arrival. Our preliminary assessment is that DRV offer represents no major shift but, in respect to political matters, there is modest though discernible trend toward diminishing scope and functions of proposed provisional government of national concord.”

Kissinger concluded: “Looking to the immediate future, we see practically no possibility of a settlement between now and November unless Hanoi totally reverses its position. What we must look to now is how best to insure that we keep situation under control in this interval and best position ourselves for post-November strategy along lines I discussed personally with Thieu when last in Saigon. [See Documents 243 and 245.] You should tell Thieu that purpose of Haig’s forthcoming trip is to pursue our discussion of this strategy and how we propose to handle continued private talks in this context.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 869, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord) China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David Cables, August–September 1972)

On September 27, Kissinger sent Bunker additional instructions in backchannel message WHS 2174, received in Saigon on September 28: “When you see Thieu you should brief him only on the basis of the highlights given you in our cable WHS2171. You should not repeat not draw upon or hand over the text of the DRV proposal which is being transmitted to you separately in our cable WHS 2173. You can indicate to Thieu that you expect to receive the new proposal soon and give it to him the next morning. We feel however it is better to give him just the highlights of the meeting in your first session with him rather than overloading the circuit with the proposal itself.” (Ibid.)

On September 28, Kissinger sent further instructions to Bunker in backchannel message WHS 2212: “You should tell Thieu as soon as possible that at today’s meeting [September 27] the other side pressed very softly on political issues and major concentration was on military and security arrangements. This means that the other side may surface a ceasefire proposal during these meetings [the forthcoming October talks]. While we certainly will not agree without further consultation, it is essential that Thieu instruct his commanders to move promptly and seize the maximum amount of critical territory.” (Ibid.)

[Page 1017]

Bunker reported on September 29, in backchannel message 169, that he had met Thieu the previous day and informed him of the highlights of the September 26–27 talks in Paris. However, he had not been able to schedule a second meeting to give Thieu the full text of the North Vietnamese proposal. Therefore, he transmitted it to Thieu through his adviser, Hoang Duc Nha. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 48, Geopolitical File, Vietnam, Peace Talks, Chronological File, 27–30 September 1972)

Meanwhile, Haig departed from Washington for Saigon. En route, on September 30, he made the following observation to Kissinger in Tohak 1: “There appears little doubt that they [the North Vietnamese] have structured their entire strategy to achieve de facto ceasefire in place at the end of October. My intensive review since departure of all current available intelligence on battlefield situation also confirms careful orchestration of battlefield situation to support Paris initiative.”

Consequently, he continued: “From my perspective, the enemy will decide in connection with the next meeting [in Paris] whether or not to launch this offensive. If we are very forthcoming and they feel we are headed for agreement in principle, they will probably proceed. If not, they will probably continue to attempt to husband their dwindling resources. I believe this factor should be included in your assessment of next week’s presentation [at Paris]. I also will impress upon Weyand the essentiality of carefully assessing the GVN’s capability to react to a highpoint, the character of which will no longer be designed to destroy the ARVN but rather to optimize areas of control at the time of an overall agreement.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 869, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David Cables, August–September 1972)