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

WHS 2261. Deliver immediately.

Presidential meeting with Duc and Phuong on November 29 [Page 482] lasted some two and a half hours.2 Duc presented President Nixon with a 24-page double-spaced letter from President Thieu3 which attacked North Vietnamese intransigence, emphasized the unsatisfactory character of the current draft, noted inevitable North Vietnamese duplicity and the essentiality of the principle of North Vietnamese withdrawal and the inadequacies of the current language on the political solution. Thieu’s letter also emphasized the GVN had been making major efforts to put forth constructive formulas, denied provoking a press campaign, hinted that it was time for the two leaders to discuss frankly the objectives of a satisfactory peace settlement and offered to release immediately 10,000 NVA prisoners in a separate arrangement which would permit return of U.S. prisoners. We will send you the full text.
The President emphasized that he intended to proceed with the schedule outlined by me in Paris and urged Duc to inform Thieu that it is essential that the U.S. and the GVN proceed together. He made the following specific points:
  • —I always speak for him.
  • —President Thieu’s and Mr. Duc’s presentations were moving and perceptive; however, the time has come to face up to certain realities.
  • —The draft agreement meets U.S. and GVN mutual objectives and the U.S. fought hard for all GVN concerns.
  • —He is instructing me to make final settlement at the session next week.
  • —The GVN must decide whether we are to proceed jointly or whether the U.S. must proceed alone. In the latter case, the U.S. Congress will cut off all military and economic aid within weeks.
  • —President Nixon provided strong personal assurances to President Thieu that he will respond with full force should the settlement be violated by North Vietnam and committed the United States to continued assistance in the post-settlement period.
  • —Finally, the President promised to take the following steps if the GVN joins the U.S. in a positive fashion:
    • 1. He will make a statement at the time of signing that the U.S. recognizes the GVN as the only legal government of South Vietnam;
    • 2. The U.S. does not recognize the right of any foreign troops to be present on GVN territory;
    • 3. The U.S. will react strongly in the event of violation;
    • 4. The President is prepared to meet with President Thieu personally within two weeks after the agreement is signed.
Duc argued persistently and effectively, and suggested an early meeting between President Nixon and President Thieu. President Nixon insisted that such a meeting should occur after a settlement has been arrived at since a summit between the two leaders that failed would be disastrous.4
Following the meeting, Duc and Phuong met with me in my office for an additional hour and 45 minutes,5 during which Duc suggested that there were three basic issues on which we would have to obtain additional concessions from Hanoi:
  • 1. Some articulation of the principle that North Vietnamese troops have no right to be in South Vietnam. This principle is more crucial than limited actual withdrawal.
  • 2. Elimination of the tri-partite character of the CNCR and a proper description of it, and
  • 3. No mention of the PRG in the text of the agreement.

I explained to Duc the impossibility of achieving all of these things and insisted that he consider carefully the absolute minimum essential concessions which the GVN must have and meet with me again on the morning of November 30 to complete the final strategy for next week’s session. I am meeting with him at 9:15 a.m. on November 30 and will bring him in to the President later this morning to be sure that there are absolutely no misunderstandings about the President’s determination to proceed.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 858, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXII (1). Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. A memorandum of conversation of the meeting is ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 104, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, South Vietnam, GVN Memcons, November 20, 1972–April 3, 1973 [2 of 3].
  3. The letter, dated November 26, is ibid., Box 858, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXII (1).
  4. Haldeman assessed the meeting in these words: “Apparently the meeting with the South Vietnamese envoy didn’t go very well. The P spent a long time with him, about two and a half hours. The net result was the P softened a little bit, which was bad. They’re going to have to meet tomorrow to try to clean that up, but the South Vietnamese, after the meeting, came back and told Henry to tell the P they would probably have to go it alone. And that we should just go in, make a settlement to get our prisoners back, and stop fighting as far as we’re concerned, and let the Vietnamese go on fighting it out. They don’t seem to understand that our Congress won’t continue to supply them, if they take that route. And that they have to go along with us on a settlement, a point which Henry would like to get across to them (and the P) in the meeting tomorrow.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, November 29)
  5. A memorandum of conversation of the meeting is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 104, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, South Vietnam, GVN Memcons, November 20, 1972–April 3, 1973 [2 of 3].