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

Hakto 27/WH 29771. Please deliver urgently.

Please pass the following message from Dr. Kissinger to the President:

Begin report.

1. As you know, I decided to play for a week’s delay before seeking final agreement with Le Duc Tho. This decision was based on two major considerations: First, the still intransigent position of the South Vietnamese, especially Thieu and his closest advisors; and second, the rigidity of the North Vietnamese on the remaining issue—their demand that South Vietnamese civilian prisoners be released.

The South Vietnamese

Last night’s meeting was the first one with Thieu’s special emissary Duc, whom you will see, as well as the other Ambassadors. The session was lengthy, blunt and highly charged.2 I decided to read your [Page 461] message on Congressional attitudes, and it had enormous impact, so much so that I provided a copy for Mr. Duc to send to Thieu.

We reviewed for Duc all the strategic, military, security, and political factors which dictate Thieu’s acceptance of the draft agreement with modifications that are possible. These include continued retention of the political prisoners by Thieu for bargaining purposes, some modest additional changes in the political section, and a reference to the demobilization on a one-for-one basis of North and South Vietnamese troops during the post-settlement period. Duc was obviously still intent on quibbling over an array of details in the draft agreement and on delaying final signature rather than face Thieu with the political contest which the settlement will entail.

The discussion was prolonged and spirited. During the exchange I informed Duc in the strongest terms that time had run out for the South Vietnamese and that from this point on further delays would be at their own expense. I told him that you would re-affirm your personal determination to proceed with the agreement, with or without Thieu, and that in the latter case the outcome would be suicidal for the South Vietnamese Government. I emphasized that their protection was not this or that clause in the agreement but your determination to maintain the freedom of Vietnam.

In addition to the legislative realities so effectively presented in your message, I pointed out that the continued display of disunity between Saigon and Washington would result in strengthening Saigon’s enemies in the United States, thereby jeopardizing the support you needed to guarantee the agreement in the case of North Vietnamese violations. I also emphasized that this same disunity and an ultimate break with us provided the surest incentive for Hanoi to seek to violate the agreement and for the Soviet Union to back them up.

Duc and the entire South Vietnamese delegation were visibly shaken. I think for the first time they appreciate the true situation and the dilemma with which they are faced.

I saw the same group3 following this morning’s meeting with Le Duc Tho 4 and again reviewed all of the considerations impelling them to join with us. For the first time Duc showed an interest in the actions [Page 462] which South Vietnam should take following their acceptance of the agreement.

While the South Vietnamese representatives are now seized with the realities of the situation, I seriously doubt that President Thieu himself has yet grasped the problem accurately. For this reason, it will be essential for you to reinforce for Duc in the bluntest terms all that I have said to Thieu and his representatives. You will want to draw primarily on two themes: first your determination to proceed because it is a sound agreement and in the light of U.S. domestic realities as outlined in your message to me; and second, the essential role that mutual trust between you and Thieu will have in making the final agreement viable.

In sum, it is now evident that we have at least gotten the South Vietnamese attention. The Ambassadors who have been in Paris with us all week now seem definitely in favor of proceeding. Duc appears to be convinced. I suspect Thieu remains intransigent.

The North Vietnamese

The meeting between Haig and myself and Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy this morning was equally electric. For the reasons outlined in my message of yesterday5 I decided before the meeting that we should seek a week’s delay, although there was a risk the North Vietnamese would refuse.

I seized the initiative at the opening by accusing the North Vietnamese of leaking an account of this week’s meetings to the Washington Post, an article which also appeared in Paris this morning in the Herald Tribune.6 It was highly slanted in favor of the North Vietnamese; we had had a report last night that a member of the North Vietnamese delegation had provided it to Randal of the Post through a neutralist intermediary. I informed Le Duc Tho that in the future a violation of the confidence between us of this magnitude would prevent a settlement. He denied that the North Vietnamese were the source of the story but seemed somewhat defensive. From that point on I pressed home to him that if we were to hold a regular business session today it was apparent from my discussions with him yesterday that we would have quickly reached an impasse. The result would be a breakdown in negotiations and a resumption of military activity, this time on a scale not heretofore contemplated. Le Duc Tho reacted sharply, obviously greatly disturbed at the thought of another delay which he seemed to recognize placed [Page 463] the North Vietnamese in an even more disadvantageous position. Nevertheless, he grudgingly acceeded and agreed to another week’s delay, saying this would give the U.S. an opportunity to restudy the positions outlined by him and afford me an opportunity to consult personally with you and with our South Vietnamese allies. Le Duc Tho agreed for his part carefully to reconsider the adamant positions he had insisted upon on both 23 and 24 November. We agreed that both sides must return next Monday prepared to make a great effort in search of a final solution.

In my judgment today’s meeting enabled us to reseize the initiative with respect to the North Vietnamese, just as this week’s work with the South Vietnamese has provided us with the same advantage. I am now reasonably confident that with the toughest presentation by you to Duc we can succeed this coming week in bringing home to Thieu the precariousness of his own position. I feel equally confident that with some hard going we will be able to arrive at a final settlement during the week of December 4. I will provide you with a more detailed resume during our meeting in New York later tonight.

Warm regards.

  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; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent via Haig and Kennedy. A stamped notation on the message reads: “The President has seen.”
  2. See Document 125.
  3. A memorandum of conversation is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 858, Vol. XXI, Briefings of South Vietnamese. Kissinger also met briefly with Pham Dang Lam and Tran Kim Phuong before his morning meeting with Le Duc Tho. The Ambassadors informed him that they had received instructions from Saigon on the negotiations, which were a restatement of South Vietnam’s insistence that North Vietnamese troops must withdraw from the South as part of any settlement and that South Vietnam must have the right to determine its future. A memorandum of conversation is ibid.
  4. A memorandum of conversation is ibid., Vol. XXI, Minutes of Meetings.
  5. Document 124.
  6. The article, “Key Session Due in Paris: Snags Seen,” reads in part: “The North Vietnamese were said by the source to be so incensed by the toughening American demands that they, in turn, have insisted on major revisions of the draft which they had previously said was final, according to Randal.” (The Washington Post, November 25, 1972, p. A1)