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

WHS 2263. 1. The President saw Duc for a second time this morning [November 30] for 40 minutes, and I met with him separately for 45 [Page 494] minutes as well.2 The President reaffirmed his determination in the strongest possible terms to proceed toward conclusion of the agreement. Just prior to the meeting Duc had told me that President Thieu had considered carefully the current state of negotiations and now suggested that the United States should proceed bilaterally essentially along the lines of the May 8 proposal, as an alternative to giving up on any of the three principles which Saigon insists it cannot compromise. The President rejected this option as disastrous and one which would result in a cutoff of U.S. support. He told Duc that we will try to get a few selected changes that may still be possible in the December 4 round and then consider the agreement final. He emphasized again his firm determination to stand behind the GVN and Thieu, and to react with strong measures to any violations. He pointed out that he had met with the JCS this morning and had told them to prepare contingency plans to this end.3 He emphasized that the support of the United States was much more vital than particular clauses in the agreement and that a split between our countries would be fatal. The President offered to meet with Thieu before signing the agreement, provided we were assured in advance that GVN would sign the agreement as well; and after the agreement he suggested a conference of friendly Asian nations, including such countries as Korea, Thailand and the Philippines as well as the GVN and the U.S. Thus, the President is prepared to meet with Thieu both before and after the agreement to demonstrate our solidarity. Our position remains firm, however, that a meeting between the two Presidents without prior assurance that the GVN would sign the agreement is out of the question since failure would be disastrous. The President insisted unequivocally that Duc now provide the United States with the priorities that it attaches to the very few remaining changes that can realistically be achieved next week. The President conducted the meeting in a forceful and uncompromising way and there is little doubt that Duc at least understands that there are no options short of suicide for Thieu. It remains to be seen whether or not Thieu will test the President’s word.

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[2.] In my meeting with Duc I tried to bring home the fact that the GVN must establish priorities for a few selected changes in Paris. It is obviously a painful process for Duc to hold discussions in this fashion, but I think he and the Ambassador are slowly becoming aware of realities. It is apparent, however, that they have so far made little impact on Thieu and Nha. GVN central concerns revolve around three questions. First is the North Vietnamese troops in the South, on which Duc emphasizes that the principle of withdrawal is even more essential than limited de facto withdrawals. Second is the composition of the National Council on which Duc continues to underline the psychological impact of the provision for three segments despite all our arguments concerning the powerlessness of the Council and its obvious non-governmental nature. Third is mention of the PRG by title in the document, which they say will establish the principle of two governments in the South. I have emphasized to Duc that we cannot possibly get satisfaction on all of these and they must choose priorities carefully.

3. I will meet again tomorrow morning with Duc to continue our efforts to hammer out precise agreed positions for December 4 as well as GVN agreement in principle to buy the agreement after this final round. I have emphasized that we must know their positions no later than Saturday morning our time. We obviously still have a long, painful way to go.

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; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. Kissinger and Haig met with Nguyen Phu Duc and Tran Kim Phuong in Kissinger’s White House office from 11:55 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. A memorandum of conversation is ibid., Box 859, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXII, Meeting with GVN Advisor Duc, Washington. At 12:25 p.m. the four men met with the President in the Oval Office. A memorandum of conversation is ibid. Kissinger misspoke when he characterized the meeting as a morning one. As the President’s Daily Diary notes, it began at 12:26 p.m. and ended at 1:02 p.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files) According to undated talking points prepared by Kissinger: “The purpose of this brief meeting is for you to reaffirm your determination to proceed on the course that you outlined to Mr. Duc yesterday.” A stamped notation on the talking points reads: “The President has seen.” (Ibid., Box 862, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David Memos, September–December 1972)
  3. See Document 132.