158. 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 149/WHP 239. Deliver immediately at opening of business.

Thank you for Hakto 35.2 Just before its arrival, I had spent fifty minutes with the President and discussed many of the considerations which you and I had covered together. The President considers that if Hanoi remains unmanageably intransigent that in any event we should not break off the talks in a formal sense. Rather, we should recess, informing them that we believe that this past week’s discussions suggest that both sides should take some time for consultations and to reconsider the gravity of the situation. You are returning to Washington and will be prepared to meet with them again after Christmas or before if they believe it would be constructive. We would then reseed the mines and resume military activity at an intensified pre-October pace. (You should decide whether to tell this to Tho or not.)

In a public sense, we should take the same line, i.e., that both sides are recessing to consult and consider their respective positions on the remaining unresolved issues and that the talks will be reconvened at a date to be mutually agreed upon. In the interim the parties would remain in contact through normal channels. It is the President’s view that we can then lay on a full blown, massive series of strikes against military targets in the Hanoi area using B–52s. I have alerted Murphy to this possibility but believe we should withhold any action on this or the mining until you return. The President believes that most Americans do not consider that the bombing of the North has been halted since the newspapers continue to report heavy raids against North Vietnam and that this is primarily a problem of degree. This we will have to assess in the light of experience with the stepped up pace.

The President also believes that it is essential that we not formally discontinue the talks but, if necessary, convey to Hanoi that we are in absolutely no hurry or under any time pressure to settle. I informed him that it is very likely that Hanoi will go public and therefore some careful explanations will be called for from our side. He agreed.

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Thus, I believe the President is perfectly amenable to your returning home on Tuesday3 if in your judgment there is no hope of a settlement or if we would risk fundamentally our ability to ultimately achieve a workable settlement as a result of your staying longer. On the other hand, he is very clear that if you obtain sufficient movement tomorrow to indicate that a day or two more labor will resolve the matter, you should extend your stay. I told the President that this was precisely your view providing there is a real prospect that a settlement can result.

If tomorrow’s session demonstrates a more positive NVN attitude, you should keep in mind that Bunker may come back in the interim strongly opposed to a visit by the Vice President to Saigon. Therefore, you may want to soften our commitment on this contingency so that you can go either way, dependent on what Bunker and perhaps even Thieu prefer. As I mentioned to you on the telephone, the President also was increasingly dubious about the desirability of sending the Vice President if it would in any way jeopardize Thieu’s ability to accept the agreement. I have informed the Vice President that in any event his trip will not occur before Wednesday night.

It is especially difficult to discuss these sensitive matters with you over transatlantic telephone. I am concerned, however, that you may misread some of the Presidential views which I tried to double talk this afternoon. I am absolutely convinced that the President is fully aware of the seriousness of the situation and, especially, the difficulties which we have faced at the negotiating table. He is fully prepared to react strongly and to weather through a continuing intransigent position by Hanoi.

His major problem, and it is a strongly held view, has to do with last week’s proposal that he report to the American people on television in a high profiled way. It is his judgment that we should have the breakup occur more from erosion and de facto evolution of events than from a sudden rallying call to the American people. He believes that we can resume full-scale bombing and manage the heat. I believe he also realizes now that the possibility of Hanoi’s going public may demand an exposition from us as to what the negotiating situation actually is. In my view, this is not a matter which I can resolve in your absence.

I think it is important to keep in mind, as I am able to do now after reviewing our reporting cables from Paris, that the President has been exposed to a series of reports which go up and down on a daily basis but which culminated on Saturday with a fairly optimistic report that [Page 568] only one issue remained to be solved.4 To be told on Monday again that a breakup is at hand is something that requires a little time to adjust to and, in any event, is just as disturbing a turn of events for the President as it is for you.

As I told you Sunday, the President has complete confidence in what you are doing.5 He remarked again tonight that he is especially pleased that you are in charge of and handling them because only you understand the importance of maintaining a strong position. This may have been for my consumption but I am confident he genuinely believes that.

He has also just called again and urged that we reseed the mines tomorrow and be prepared to move immediately with around-the-clock bombing of the Hanoi area. I told him we should definitely hold on this until after tomorrow’s session and until you return. Based on the foregoing, I am convinced that there is absolutely no problem here with respect to our strategy and what must be done if it is forced upon us. The only gap involves the President’s major concern that he not go before national television and attempt a major rallying operation. You and I know that over time this may prove to be essential—certainly if the bombing exercise runs past the January 3rd period. In the interim, I think we will have to be prepared to present a low key reasonable exposition of what has happened in Paris and why the talks have recessed.

The only other issue which I feel the President and you may not be in full tandem on is the last sentence of Hakto 35 which I really believe is generated from a misunderstanding rather than a difference in point of view. The way we read your message here it suggested that you would leave the talks to normal diplomatic channels. After talking to you and rereading your message, I think you mean that we will recess the talks and that in the meantime we will be in close touch through diplomatic channels to continue the exchange of views but not to shift the entire venue to Avenue Kleber—a decision which would be interpreted as a collapse of our current efforts.

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I talked with the President after my telephone conversation with you and he agreed completely that I should stay in Washington until we see how tomorrow’s session develops.

I talked to Governor Rockefeller today reference the POW matter he had discussed with you yesterday and told him that the idea sounded fine but that he should hold up until we are sure the exercise is justified.

I have just received Hakto 36 and agree completely with its contents.6 As you will note from the preceding, the President understands that we must explain the true negotiating situation as a backdrop to the resumed bombing. I do think the President would expect you to stay on beyond tomorrow if there is a settlement and your presence was necessary to insure that the remaining issues of the protocols and the understanding be properly completed. You are the best judge of their current state and there will be no second guessing from here.

Concerning the Vice President’s trip, the President and the Vice President are prepared to proceed with it providing that is the best decision. We have, of course, continued to plan for the trip but as mentioned above you should be prepared to cope with the contingency that Bunker considers it to be a loser. My own view, if it’s worth anything, is that Hanoi can not be too concerned about the Vice President’s trip and that if everything is not wrapped up tomorrow, we can always tell them that their procrastination has resulted in its abandonment. In any event this is an issue which should be judged purely on its merits. I think our only concern is to do whatever is best calculated to bring Thieu on board. While I am not sure that Bunker’s views should be decisive, I do believe that we would wish to consider them before proceeding. Whitehouse made a convincing case today which should not be discarded lightly.7

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I am attaching for your attention FBIS 338 which could be rather significant. It could be that Peking is posturing us for a breakdown. On the other hand it suggest some basis for optimism. I still remain basically optimistic without having experienced firsthand yesterday’s session. One thing we must all remember is that the history books will care very little how quickly or how long it took us to settle. They will only judge us on the outcome of the settlement itself. I know no one is more conscious of this than you and therefore want you to be absolutely confident that there will be no nitpicking from me whatever course you decide on.

From my discussions with the President today I am also confident that you can be assured of his full support as well. I wish I could be with you for Tuesday’s session which has all the earmarks of a decisive one.

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 Lord. Written on December 11.
  2. Document 156.
  3. December 12.
  4. Haig was referring to Kissinger’s statement in his December 9 message to the President where he wrote that: “We [Kissinger and Le Duc Tho] then settled all the other remaining issues, except for the DMZ.” See Document 152.
  5. See Document 155. After a discussion at Camp David between the President and his political advisers on December 6 about the talks in Paris and actions the United States might take, Haldeman made the following entry in his diary: “The P sort of evaluated the whole thing and said the real problem is we have a weak link as a negotiator at this point.” And on December 8 Haldeman entered the following in his diary: “He [Nixon] wanted to be sure I read Hutschnecker’s book The Will to Live, because he thinks the thesis that Hutschnecker lays out is clearly related to K’s suicidal complex. He also wants to be sure I make extensive memoranda about K’s mental processes and so on, for his file.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) Arnold A. Hutschnecker, an internist by training, became a full-time psychosomatic specialist and psychotherapist in the mid-1950s. From 1951 on Nixon periodically consulted Hutschnecker.
  6. In the message, received in Washington on December 11, Kissinger observed: “The central reality is that we are now in our tenth day here and the discussions continue to sound like the opening day rather than an effort to bring matters to a conclusion.” He added: “The result is that it looks next to impossible to clean up the outstanding issues tomorrow unless their mood changes completely. Tho’s behavior is simply not that of a serious government attempting to settle.” (Hakto 36 from Kissinger to Haig, December 12, 0100Z; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 858, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXII (2))
  7. For Bunker’s views see message Tohak 179 from Haig to Kissinger, December 13, 1425Z, in which Haig forwarded Bunker’s message 295 from Saigon; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 27, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Tohak 1–100, December 3–13, 1972 [2 of 2]. For Whitehouse’s views see Tohak 144 from Haig to Kissinger, December 11, 1847Z, ibid., Box 858, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXII (2).
  8. Attached but not printed. FBIS 33 contains the contents of a December 11 article by a French journalist, in which Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was quoted as saying that a U.S.-Vietnamese peace settlement would be signed in two or three days.