153. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Thieu’s Reactions to His Negotiations With President Nixon Concerning the Ceasefire Agreement
Summary: Based on the negotiations which President Thieu’s Special Assistant for Foreign Affairs, Nguyen Phu Duc, had in Washington with President Nixon and other U.S. officials, Thieu has advised the top leadership of the Government of Vietnam that the U.S. position leaves him no choice but to sign a ceasefire agreement which he considers unsatisfactory. Not to sign the agreement, according to Thieu, would mean “sudden death” for South Vietnam. End summary.
President Nguyen Van Thieu briefed key government leaders on 6 December 1972 on the results of the conferences in Washington during the preceding week between President Richard M. Nixon and Thieu’s Special Assistant for Foreign Affairs, Nguyen Phu Duc. Present were: Vice President Tran Van Huong, Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Tran Thien Khiem, Minister of Foreign Affairs Tran Van Lam, Chairman of the Senate Nguyen Van Huyen, Chairman of the Lower House Nguyen Ba Can, Chairman of the Supreme Court Tran Van Linh, Chief of the Inspectorate Ngo Xuan Tich and Duc.
Duc gave a general briefing on the contents of his talks with President Nixon, and on the long personal letter he had conveyed to President Nixon from Thieu setting forth the latter’s reservations on the ceasefire agreement being negotiated between Washington and Hanoi.2 Thieu then personally elaborated on the two main points of his objections.
Thieu said that there is no reason for the aggressive forces of North Vietnam (NVN) to stay in South Vietnam (SVN) while the liberation forces of the United States (U.S.) are withdrawn. Accepting this in the ceasefire agreement is accepting the basic view of the North Vietnamese that the U.S. forces have been the aggressors. The cause of SVN, the U.S. and their allies was and is a just cause; the terms of the agreement [Page 550] sacrifice the justness of that cause. Thieu said the agreement formalizes an inversion of realities: based on the terms of the agreement, NVN can announce to the world that it has ousted the aggressor; that it has the further right to oust the puppet, Thieu; and that Hanoi is the sole legitimate government in Vietnam.
Thieu continued: The agreement uses the terminology “Provisional Revolutionary Government (PRG)” rather than “National Liberation Front (NLF).” PRG implies the existence in SVN of two governments, rather than an established government and a revolutionary movement. In NVN there is only one, uncontested government. In no country in the world are there two coexisting governments. It is thereby established in the eyes of the world that the Government of SVN is not clearly sovereign, and Hanoi can therefore claim to be the sole, just, and uncontested government for all Vietnam.
Duc then reported in more detail on his talks with President Nixon.
With respect to the withdrawal from SVN of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) forces, Duc stated that President Nixon said that this could not be written into the agreement, but that the terms of understanding could be revised so as to have NVA forces withdrawn after the ceasefire. President Nixon repeated his promise to guarantee military aid in case of serious violation of the ceasefire.
With respect to the National Council of Reconciliation and Concord, Duc said President Nixon maintained his support of a three-part council to function at all governmental levels down to and including the villages and hamlets. Speaking on Thieu’s instructions, Duc had proposed to President Nixon that the latter return to his 8 May 1972 proposal to stop the bombing and mining of NVN if NVN would release U.S. prisoners of war. If President Nixon would do this, Thieu would release to NVN the more than 10,000 NVA prisoners of war held by SVN; this to be done as a military action only, without accompanying political settlement. President Nixon responded that we have now come a long way from the 8 May proposal.
With respect to Thieu’s desire to meet personally with President Nixon, the latter, according to Duc, said that he will meet Thieu only after President Nixon has signed the ceasefire agreement. President Nixon said that he will continue to support the Saigon government as the only legitimate government in SVN. President Nixon softened his position to the extent that he said that he could meet Thieu before the signing of the agreement if Thieu would bind himself to accept the terms and sign it. President Nixon added that the Congress wants an early termination of the war; President Nixon expressed his fear that if no progress on negotiation has been made by the time the Congress convenes on 3 January 1973, it could cut off all support for SVN.
When Duc had concluded his detailed report, Thieu said that because of the U.S. position he had no choice: he would have to sign the agreement. Not to sign it would mean “sudden death” for SVN.
Thieu said that his message to President Nixon, and Duc in his conversations with President Nixon, referred to the Thieu-Nixon agreement at Midway on Vietnamization of the war and the withdrawal of American forces.3 Thieu pointed out that 30 years after World War II, U.S. forces are still in Europe; 18 years after the Korean war, U.S. forces are still in Korea. Here in SVN the war is still going on, but SVN is asked to assume full responsibility for the conduct of the war. Thieu said he told President Nixon that he has kept his promise to take over the ground war in 1972; now President Nixon should keep his promise of maintaining air, logistics and financial support.
Thieu concluded his briefing by saying that he will appear before a joint session of the National Assembly on 12 December 1972 to brief the legislature on the situation, in order that they may share the responsibility of the decision with him. In his talk, he will avoid public confrontation with the U.S. and will not reveal the actual differences in the U.S. and SVN positions. He will emphasize the intransigence of NVN.
Thieu will also propose to the Assembly that the Assembly send a message to the U.S. Congress explaining the situation and asking for continued aid to SVN.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 27, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Tohak 100–192, December 3–13, 1972. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. In a covering memorandum to Kissinger in Paris, December 9, Kennedy in Washington observed that the memorandum provided Thieu’s latest views on the agreement being worked out in Paris and on his intentions for his December 12 speech.
  2. For Duc’s meetings with Nixon, see Documents 131 and 134; for the letter to Nixon, see footnote 3, Document 131.
  3. Presidents Nixon and Thieu met at Midway Island on June 8, 1969. A joint statement was released at the end of their meeting; for text, see Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 445–447. See also Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970, Documents 7981.