155. Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) in Paris1

Tohak 132/WHP 232. Deliver to Winston Lord immediately upon receipt.

I just completed an hour and 15 minutes with the President. Bob Haldeman sat in since he was there and when the President asked my view, I agreed that he should stay. I described to him at great length the brutal atmosphere of the negotiations and the incalculably frustrating tactics which had been used by the other side. I pointed out how carefully you had played the scenario with absolutely nothing but bluff, skill and determination to elicit what is now a very substantial list of North Vietnamese concessions. At the same time I pointed out that we had been able to do more in terms of concessions which improved the document and strengthened U.S. interests and something less to satisfy Thieu’s emotional hangups. The President was most laudatory about your achievement in deleting the term “administrative structure.” I then told him how you had on Saturday managed to resolve the civilian advisor issue2 and he was especially delighted with this achievement. Finally, I outlined for him the key aspects of the remaining issue, pointing out that this issue was not so much a substantive matter of concern, but rather a problem intimately related to our ability to bring Thieu aboard. I described for him the contents of my discussion with Dobrynin. He agreed completely with the tactics that you had adopted on this issue and was especially pleased that you had sent the message following the session on Saturday night. He then picked up the phone and called Dobrynin and told him that he had informed you on Saturday night that he was not favorably disposed towards the compromise language which the United States side had tabled on Saturday and that he wished to reiterate this to Mr. Brezhnev. On the other hand, he pointed out that we were very close to a settlement and that the success of the negotiations would now depend on our ability to implement whatever came out of the Paris talks. It was his view that successful implementation was intimately linked to the remaining issue on the DMZ and he felt very strongly that Hanoi should abide by the original DMZ language as agreed with you during the earlier November [Page 556] round in Paris. He stated that it was definitely in Moscow’s interest to wind up the negotiations now and not to let them falter on this issue since both Moscow and Washington had bigger fish to fry and that it was in our mutual interest to eliminate this irritant in order to enable our mutual relations to continue to improve. The President pointed out that in his judgment Hanoi’s preoccupation with this language problem on the DMZ could risk an overall settlement which has now been largely achieved. Dobrynin appeared sympathetic and begged for some time for his communications between Washington and Moscow, between Moscow and Hanoi, and thence to Paris to be completed. He urged that we do our best to delay Monday’s meeting until 4 o’clock Paris time and the President asked me to pass this on to you immediately.3

We then held a lengthy discussion on the Thieu issue and the President stated to me that John Ehrlichman was very much opposed to Vice President Agnew’s proceeding to Saigon to bring Thieu aboard. Although the President did not say so, he was obviously telling me that Ehrlichman favored John Connally for this mission. I immediately retorted that Agnew was by far the best Presidential emissary since he was long considered to be the spokesman of the U.S. Right and that I was confident he would accept the role of a messenger rather than one of a negotiator. This is apparently the President’s key concern. He is afraid that the Vice President will resist this role and perhaps even attempt to bargain with the President in favor of Thieu. I told the President that I was confident that Agnew would do exactly what he was told and that I would insure that he understood this before he left Washington. As a related matter, we are completely redoing Win’s4 second draft talking points for the Vice President. They are in my view far too complex and far too sophisticated for him to handle. I propose to give him a set of talking points which place the Vice President in the position of unequivocally telling Thieu that we are proceeding with or without him, that as the spokesman for U.S. hawks he has carefully assessed the American Right and is totally convinced that Thieu’s acceptance of the draft agreement is the only possible recourse if Thieu is to be assured of essential continuing U.S. economic and military support and more importantly if President Nixon is to have a firm, essential legal [Page 557] basis for policing the agreement. Finally, I will ask Agnew again to restate the President’s commitment to massively retaliate in the event of a North Vietnamese provocation during the post-settlement period. This retaliation will not be tit-for-tat but go directly to the vitals of North Vietnam’s homeland.

The President now appears to be comfortable with the Agnew option although he said to me at the end of our discussion that if Agnew quibbles with respect to his mission that he will then send John Connally. In conclusion, I told the President that in any event the issue was a moot one since we had already committed ourselves to Hanoi with respect to the Vice President’s visit to Saigon to emphasize that we are using our biggest gun and that if we were to change this now, it would only be interpreted as another sign that the U.S. could not be trusted. Furthermore, I emphasized only the Vice President could represent an official U.S. view as well as the de facto essential U.S. constituency. I will meet with the Vice President tomorrow morning and apprise him in the bluntest terms of what we must do in Saigon. Based on Kennedy’s readout of his earlier discussions with Agnew, I am confident he will play the game completely. This will enable us before departure for Saigon to meet briefly with the President for a pro forma instruction session. It is very obvious that the President cannot stand the thought of a possible confrontation with Agnew.

Concerning the negotiations from this point on, the President suggests the following strategy which I believe is consistent with your own outlook. He understands, of course, that you must have sufficient leeway to manage the tactics. Assuming you are able to slip Monday’s meeting to late Monday afternoon, you should then hold tough on the DMZ issue confirming that the President remains adamant. If Moscow’s assistance is evident, we may then find Hanoi caving. If not, the President believes, and I know you do as well, that we must not break off the talks on Monday. In that event you should return for a new session hopefully as early as possible on Tuesday5 morning thus giving me maximum time to leave Tuesday night with the Vice President. This will enable us to manage the Vice President’s personal schedule, the low keyed announcement and coordination with Bunker and Thieu. Also on Tuesday you should again enter the talks in a tough posture by which time Moscow’s ultimate leverage should be evident if, in fact, they exercise it at all. If Le Duc Tho is still intransigent, you should then try our compromise as the final U.S. concession. If even this fails, the President, as we predicted, would even be willing to cave completely with the hopes that we can still bring Thieu around. It is now obvious that for us to hold to the pre-Christmas schedule it will be necessary to [Page 558] settle by Tuesday or Wednesday at latest. I believe you are correct in stressing the need for your return by that date since it contributes to maximum pressure on Hanoi. Nevertheless, your pre-Christmas schedule provides some slight cushion between your return to Washington and the President’s announcement on December 23rd. We could compress this by having the announcement the day you return and gain 24 hours. We could also have another emissary take care of Saigon, Bangkok and Vientiane, as well as Phnom Penh. This would also gain you an additional one-half day. Finally, if worse comes to worse, you could leave Washington while the Vice President and I are still airborne from Saigon. This could perhaps pick up another additional day.

In summary, I find the President extremely impressed with all that you have accomplished at the negotiating table. Your handling of the situation here in Washington has also obviously impressed upon him the absolute necessity of maintaining a hair trigger to retaliate brutally in event of North Vietnamese violations.6 However, there is no question that the President now believes that with or without the additional concessions on the DMZ we must settle. I have convinced him that we must do this only as an absolute last resort and that between now and then we should stay as tough as possible. My frank view is that there is no hope of obtaining Presidential support for the alternate course unless it were to be done with your carrying the total brunt of the aftermath. Under those circumstances and in view of recent reports of Thieu’s softening, I think we should hang tough on Monday and initially on Tuesday and then on Tuesday make an all out effort to get our compromise language as the tie breaker. Failing this, I believe I would painfully cave late Tuesday or even Wednesday with the agonizing realization that I would prefer to see you managing a bad deal than the alternative which could only result in the inefficient management due to your absence of what might be the right course.

Warm regards.

  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. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent via Guay.
  2. See Document 152.
  3. Nixon later wrote: “That afternoon I decided to stir things up and remove any doubts about our resolution. I telephoned Dobrynin and told him that I personally did not favor any of the compromise language that Kissinger was suggesting regarding the DMZ.” ( RN, p. 732) Kissinger found Nixon’s action “bewildering” (White House Years, p. 1438) but Haig considered it “an exercise in Nixonian guile designed to use the Russians to put the North Vietnamese on the wrong scent” regarding what the United States might do (Inner Circles, p. 307).
  4. Winston Lord.
  5. December 12.
  6. Haldeman later wrote in his diary: “Haig is very much concerned about maintaining the cease-fire, feels we want to be prepared to react hard if they violate. And he’s sure they will—and by react he means bombing the North. The P then took a very strong position, saying about violations, it should be clear that it will not be on a tit-for-tat basis, it’ll be all-out, regardless of potential civilian casualties, if we have a provocation.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, December 10)