124. Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

Hakto 25. Please immediately pass the following message to the President from me.

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Your messages have been invaluable. Haig and I have met with Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy for an hour and 20 minutes this morning2 and I covered your message of November 22 in detail.3 There is no question that it sobered him considerably. He drew heavily upon Communist jargon about oppressed peoples reacting strongly to threats but the manner in which he outlined his position clearly indicated that the message got through. He then, in a conciliatory rational way pointed out that North Vietnam’s problem was that they had emasculated their political demands, agreed to leave Thieu in office, met our demands with respect to the cease-fire in Laos and had now even agreed to the de facto removal of some troops from the northern part of South Vietnam. [Page 445] How, he asked, could they now be expected to leave thousands of their people languishing in South Vietnamese jails and agree to specific language with respect to North Vietnamese troops in the South. I impressed upon him that we were now at the decisive stage. He agreed and indicated a willingness to make another effort. I am meeting with the South Vietnamese Ambassadors at 6:30 tonight, Paris time and will cover with them your excellent message of November 24.4

The overall situation is now as follows:

After four meetings with the North Vietnamese and my private session with Le Duc Tho this morning here is where we stand in the negotiations and a suggested course of action.

We came into this round of talks with an agreement that we already considered excellent. This week we have further improved the agreement by securing roughly a dozen changes, some of substance and others more technical, but all in our favor. Following are the significant ones so far:

  • —We have inserted language which allows military aid replacements for material which has been “used up” as well as “destroyed” in South Vietnam. As Le Duc Tho pointed out, he recognizes that there are now no practical inhibitions on our military assistance.
  • —In several articles, including the first one, we have removed invidious references to the U.S. by changing purely American obligation to ones required of all foreign countries. This includes respect for the independence, etc. of Vietnam and not imposing a political solution on South Vietnam. Thus, the document has a better tone and the obligations are made on both sides.
  • —In the political chapter we have made a very slight improvement by deleting from the tasks of the National Council the “maintenance of the ceasefire” and “preservation of peace,” thus marginally reducing the Council’s prerogatives. We have also improved the tone of the article dealing with South Vietnam’s future foreign policy.
  • —We have achieved significant improvement in the chapter on reunification and the demilitarized zone, based partly on GVN suggestions. There is now a specific obligation for North and South Vietnam to respect the DMZ.
  • —We have obtained modest improvements in the chapter on Cambodia and Laos. There is new language which says that the parties shall strictly respect their obligations under the 1954 and 1962 Geneva [Page 446] Agreements, and making clear that the parties are not to encroach on the sovereignty and security of one another in Indochina. Finally, we have deleted the reference to “three” Indochinese countries, which the GVN felt strongly about; no number is now used.

In addition to the above, Le Duc Tho has offered to make understandings outside the agreement with respect to redeploying some North Vietnamese troops from MR–1 and making the Laos ceasefire closer to the Vietnam ceasefire than the one-month period that was agreed in October. However, these offers now are only part of an unacceptable package which would require freeing political prisoners in South Vietnam and no further changes in the political chapter.

We thus have improved somewhat an already sound agreement, despite Hanoi’s continual public insistence that the agreement should not be changed in any way. On the other hand, we face the problem of a balking GVN. Their resistance has centered on two issues, the political structure and the issue of North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam. With respect to the political issues, the GVN’s position is totally unreasonable. As Le Duc Tho has freely admitted, they completely collapsed on the political side in October with their dropping of demands for Thieu’s resignation and a coalition government, the maintenance of the entire GVN political and military structure, and agreement on a nongovernmental body which operates on the basis of unanimity. What could have been, and should have been, trumpeted as a major political victory Saigon has been distorting into a setback.
On the troop issue, the GVN does have a case. However I am convinced from years of negotiations with Hanoi and study of Vietnam, that the North Vietnamese will never agree to handle this issue directly in a document. We have built into the present agreement conditions which would effectively take care of this problem; the North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam could not be maintained if the agreement’s provisions on the DMZ, Cambodia and Laos are satisfactorily implemented. If they are not carried out, we would, of course, be vulnerable. But if these provisions are not carried out, adding another unenforced provision will not help matters much. We would have a public relations problem which Thieu would certainly magnify.
As you know from my previous message,5 we face a very tough North Vietnamese position, both with regard to any further changes that we want, and their own proposed changes to release political prisoners in South Vietnam in parallel with our own prisoners, and the withdrawal of U.S. civilians from South Vietnam. We have not as yet accepted any changes that the other side wants. In this morning’s [Page 447] meeting I rejected linking political prisoners to our prisoners. As for the withdrawal of civilians, we are examining our needs to see whether we can safely include certain categories without significant effects, in order to give ourselves some negotiating potential.
We must, however, keep North Vietnam’s present tough position in perspective. They first said they would not meet again and then said they would make no changes in the agreement if we did meet. They now have agreed to a dozen changes in our favor, some of them of substantive significance, which have further improved the agreement. Furthermore it is extremely interesting that for the first time in years of negotiations, they have been willing to discuss concretely the issue of their troops in the South. This has always been a matter of firm principle for them. While there is virtually no chance they will write anything specific into the agreement on this question, we now have an opening which we might be able to exploit to ease this problem for the GVN in a de facto way. In any event the present situation is still fluid. I believe with extremely hard bargaining that we might get some further improvements along the lines of my previous message to you. Together with the changes we have already attempted this week, we could then point with pride to an agreement that already satisfied us in October.
On the other hand, even this package would fall far short of Saigon’s minimum demands, not to mention their inflated public positions. We must face up to the reality that despite our intensive efforts over recent weeks and improvements in the agreement, a major break with Thieu seems all but inevitable if we completed the agreement this week. It is clear from cable intercepts, as well as Saigon press play, that Thieu is in a deliberate stalling pattern. He has refused to work effectively with us this week; his representatives here, though somewhat more sympathetic, have been given no flexibility; Mr. Duc did not attend last night’s meeting, etc.

I believe this situation argues for our asking for a break in the talks and resumption in a week. I would return home with Mr. Duc who would see you. Saigon would know unequivocally that you are in charge of these negotiations and that their delays must cease.

If we go home tomorrow there will, of course, be massive speculation concerning a breakdown or at least a deadlock in the negotiation, after our predictions that only one more session would be needed. However, we should be able to ride this out for a week, so long as we announce publicly tomorrow that we will meet again in a week. It would clearly demonstrate to Hanoi that we are not frantic, and that you have other options. It would indicate that we have reached the outer limits of our positions. It might therefore improve our chances to get the above package, which is no mean task in any event.

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Equally important we would significantly disarm Thieu and the GVN who now expect us to plough ahead this week to the finish line. Thieu’s representative Duc would see you personally before the agreement was locked; you would be conveying your position directly rather than through intermediaries; and we would once more be taking account of GVN concerns and giving it more time. We would, in short, be in a stronger position with the GVN once we had an agreement and subsequently with public opinion if nevertheless we have to break with the GVN.


I would appreciate your views on this.6

Warm regards.

End text.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 26, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Hakto, November 18–25, 1972. Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent via Kennedy.
  2. See Document 122.
  3. Document 118.
  4. Nixon sent Kissinger three messages on November 24. See Documents 121 and 123. The third message is in Tohak 84/WHP 149, 1455Z, which Kissinger read to the South Vietnamese Ambassadors in the meeting. See Document 125 and footnote 4 thereto.
  5. Document 120.
  6. In Tohak 94/WHP 156, November 25, 0032Z, Kennedy informed Kissinger that the President wanted the talks to continue: “If, however, you believe that there is no chance that further progress can be made there at this stage, then he agrees with your recommendation that we ask for a break in the talks with resumption in a week or ten days.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 26, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Hakto, November 18–25, 1972)