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

WHS 2264. Deliver immediately.

I met for several more hours today with Mr. Duc and Ambassador Phuong. This morning I saw them for almost two hours.2 The first hour was positive in tone as we discussed the modalities of a standstill ceasefire and specific aspects of the negotiating record on various issues. The talks on the ceasefire in-place included how to determine the location and the modalities for stationing of the forces for both sides, and I finally suggested that we meet in the afternoon on this question with experts from other agencies. They then asked a series of questions on the negotiations, including the ceasefires in Laos and Cambodia and unilateral statements which we plan to make on various subjects. This part of the discussions was very cordial and based on the implicit assumption that there would be an agreement. I later gave them copies of the unilateral statements we plan to make on Laos & Cambodia and NVN troops. During the last hour of the morning session, however, Duc returned to the two vital issues for the South Vietnamese, North Vietnamese troops and the National Council, on which he said the GVN must have satisfaction or face an impossible situation with its own people. They and we went through the familiar litany of arguments concerning the nature and viability of the agreement, the explanations of the agreement to the South Vietnamese people, the importance of U.S. support, and the unalterable determination of the President to proceed.

This afternoon Duc and I had a working session on ceasefire modalities attended by NSC and CIA experts.3 We discussed ceasefire concepts at length, taking the position with Duc that there were two conceptual approaches to a ceasefire. The first would be for the SVN parties to negotiate actual areas of control; the other would be to avoid [Page 508] the question of control itself but rather allow it to be determined by the military and administrative presence of each side in various localities.

We told Duc we believed the former approach far less desirable as it could ensnarl the South Vietnamese parties in endless debates involving wildly exaggerated claims and a “map war.” The latter approach on the other hand struck us as far more sensible and realistic. Under this concept the key factors would be thorough identification of military and paramilitary units on both sides and well defined rules of engagement for these forces. I suggested that what we needed to focus on urgently now was a refinement of what we already have broadly outlined in our four party military commission protocol. (For example, in what formations should regular, regional and paramilitary forces be grouped? What should be their permitted radius of operations? Should these vary for different kinds of forces? And so forth.) I said that this is something that MACV and JCS should be looking at urgently since we were not in a position to decide these matters at such a distance from the local scene.

There was also a brief discussion of discrepancies between MACV and JCS estimates of NVA strength figures. CIA will provide Duc with a memo explaining our data before he leaves tomorrow. I told Duc it seemed that the GVN is counting virtually all enemy forces as NVA whereas our estimates only count as NVA those units with more than 70 percent NVA effectives. Thus the real truth as to how many Northern soldiers are serving in the South probably lies somewhere in between our two respective estimates and, in any event, we seem to agree on overall enemy strength figures.

We also intend to provide Duc with our most recent SVN population and area control maps before his departure.


After this working session, I met again privately with Mr. Duc and the Ambassador. They once again were extremely firm on the two major issues. Both sides once again went over all the familiar ground. They continued to insist that we must have somewhere in the agreement the principle of North Vietnamese withdrawal and we must delete the reference to three equal segments for the Council. They indicated that if these two issues could be solved, all the other ones should not present difficulties. They called both the major issues of equal priority and refused to provide any fallback position for either issue.

It now seems clear that the GVN will not move any further before our negotiating session in Paris. Their present stance could be interpreted in two ways. They could very well be on a suicide course. If so, it is with full knowledge that we cannot gain them satisfaction on both issues and that we will proceed with or without them. They can be under no illusions after the unequivocal statements of the President and myself this week. The second interpretation is that for bargaining purposes [Page 509] they feel they just cannot whittle down their positions any further or choose between the two major issues prior to our negotiating with the North Vietnamese. Under this interpretation they wish to exert maximum pressure on us to make all-out negotiating efforts, and this includes not giving us the satisfaction of knowing in advance that they will join us regardless of the outcome next week.

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. Written on December 1.
  2. A memorandum of conversation of the December 1 meeting, 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.
  3. Carver, who attended the meeting, prepared a detailed summary of the session, which he sent to the Saigon Station. (Headquarters message 2630, December 4; Central Intelligence Agency, Files of the Deputy Director for Intelligence, Job 80–R01720R, Box 8, Folder 2, GAC [George A. Carver]Chronology)