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

181. Ref: WHS2209.2 Subject: Assessment of situation concerning negotiations.

I think a number of factors have contributed to the present attitude of Thieu and the GVN concerning negotiations, and more specifically concerning our proposals, as outlined in their various memoranda and Thieu’s letter of September 16 to the President.3 These are:
Tripartite formula. In and of itself, whether as CNR or GNR, Thieu believes it will undermine the morale of both the military and the populace; that it will have an adverse effect on political stability, on the willingness of the troops to fight, and on the confidence of the people in the U.S. It will make people apprehensive of the kind of settlement which may evolve and hence more hesitant to provide outright support to the government—they will be inclined to hedge their bets.
Speed. I think it is clear that we have moved too rapidly for them. This has made them apprehensive that we are so anxious for a settlement that we will concede too much. In fact I sense that they feel we have already conceded too much. Also, they lack the organization and facilities to move as rapidly as we. For example, they must translate English into Vietnamese and vice versa and [verify?] that Vietnamese and English words have the same connotation.
Thieu’s suspicious nature—a characteristic of all Vietnamese, but developed to a high degree in Thieu. It probably accounts for his survival and in part for his present dominating position. He can’t completely rid himself of this characteristic even when he considers relations with the U.S. For example, he mentioned to General Haig that he “has the impression that Dr. Kissinger doesn’t deign to accept GVN views, but goes his own way.” Again in a statement to General Haig, he said that some opposition elements have been discussing among themselves and with the French the principles of a GNR, inferring that they were working against the interests of the GVN.
Mistrust of the Communists. This obviously is deeply ingrained by the recollection of the events of 1968, which bring it clearly to mind today. As Vice President Huong said in our meeting October 4, “we should ask ourselves whether we can still believe what the Communists say. They have done nothing in return for cessation of the bombing in 1968. In getting the U.S. to agree to accept the NLF as a participant in the negotiations, the latter has gained recognition as a political entity and has subsequently gained widespread recognition and stature.”
Face. In the Asian concept and the Mandarinal structure of society, this assumes importance. For example, Thieu remarked to General Haig that if Dr. Kissinger plays the role of middleman, we will be confirming that the GVN is a lackey of the U.S.
I think the first thing we should do, if it can be done in consonance with our strategy between now and the election, is to slow the pace, to give the GVN more time in which to consider our proposals and to give us more time for persuasion and argument. We clearly cannot be in a position of permitting them to call the tune; we must be firm, but at the same time not let them get the impression that we are attempting to force the pace. We must also not let them paint themselves into a corner as they did in 1968. I think what will be needed is more painstaking explanation and persuasion, while at the same time letting them know we have our own imperatives which we intend to follow and which indeed are essential if they expect our support.
I am afraid this is not very helpful, but I shall be giving the matter more thought and communicating with you. I want to say that Al Haig did a masterful job in his presentation to Thieu and the GVN in the two meetings we held with them.
Warm personal regards.
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 48, Geopolitical File, Vietnam, Peace Talks, Chronological File, 5–14 October 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive; Immediate; Exclusively Eyes Only. A copy was sent to Haig, Howe, Lord, and Negroponte.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 280.
  3. See footnote 9, Document 277.