163. Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1

Hakto 41. 1. After morning meetings of the experts, at which both sides exchanged their understandings and some technical progress was made in conforming the texts, we had a full meeting with Le Duc Tho this afternoon which lasted four-and-a-half hours.2 He repeated his now familiar tactic this round of preventing either a settlement or a breakoff. We meet again tomorrow morning to go over the understandings and their response to our protocols and I will then leave in the [Page 593] afternoon. He returns to Hanoi on Thursday.3 We will be in touch by messages, while Sullivan/Porter and Thuy/Thach work on the protocols. It is now clear that they are getting things to a point where they can be settled by one exchange of messages. But they will not send this message until they see what happens in Saigon and in the United States and what pressures we can generate on them.

2. Tho started the meeting by saying that he had finally received instructions from Hanoi. He offered a sentence which we had proposed last week which reads, “Among the questions to be negotiated are the modalities of movement across the provisional Military Demarcation Line.” We had withdrawn this sentence of course in favor of our compromise one on Saturday dealing with civil movement and which he ignored. He would agree to separate his new sentence from the respect for the DMZ sentence and put it where we want it, i.e. after the sentence on negotiations in various fields. But they condensed over two paragraphs into one. He then said that in return for this concession there had to be a four-party signing with proper titles, thus withdrawing his formula of yesterday which might have been workable. He absolutely refused to insert the word “civil” before movement. Later on in the meeting, as we went over the remaining questions in the text, he continued to insist that the PRG should be mentioned once in the actual text, thus nullifying their earlier concession that it be mentioned only in the preamble. He tried this ploy first in the Sunday experts’ meeting and is now sticking with the PRG title in Article 17.

3. We spent the rest of the meeting conforming the text which we largely accomplished, and on understandings in which we made some progress on Cambodia and Laos as well as minor ones of interest to them, like reconnaissance. Tho offered to shorten the Laos ceasefire interval to 20 days. I tried for a shorter period. He demanded a shorter period for the withdrawal of our civilians in return. In addition they raised Articles 8 (c) and 5 again, asking for understandings on civilian withdrawal and South Vietnamese civilian prisoners. They refused to accept any linking of the latter with either redeployments or demobilization. None of this was pressed insistently. Consistent with their apparent strategy, they were pleasant and subdued, and even invited us to stay for dinner. But I am sure if I had accepted their proposals they would have raised new objections.

4. Tho indicated early in the meeting that he would go home on Thursday, taking four or five days to get there. He mentioned both during the meeting and in a private talk that a settlement was not possible unless he could speak to his colleagues who constantly keep him [Page 594] from concessions he wishes to make, expecially on the DMZ. He suggested he would be prepared to come back to Paris but that it might be quicker to settle the few remaining issues through messages and that a schedule could then be made on this basis. He offered to tell the press upon leaving Paris that we would be staying in touch through messages and that we might meet again depending on these exchanges. Tho gave us protocols on the ICCS and four-party military commission and offered to have our deputies work on them so that the international machinery could be brought into operation simultaneously with the signing of the agreement.

5. All of this sounds mildly encouraging; but I have come to the following conclusion. Hanoi has decided to play for time, either because of the public split between us and Saigon; or because they have a pipeline into the South Vietnamese and know about our exchanges;4 or because their leadership is divided and they are still making up their minds on whether to conclude the agreement. Their consistent pattern is to give us just enough each day to keep us going but nothing decisive which could conclude an agreement. On the other hand, they wish to insure that we have no solid pretext for taking tough actions. They keep matters low key to prevent a resumption of bombing. They could have settled in three hours any time these past few days if they wanted to, but they have deliberately avoided this. For every one of their semi-concessions they introduce a counter-demand. Thus their sentence on the DMZ, which in itself is unacceptable, was counterbalanced today by the withdrawal of their proposal for the signing procedure made yesterday. Moreover, the DMZ sentence, as you recognize, takes away the significance of the respect for the DMZ. I tried in innumerable ways to get the word “civil” included but they totally refused this. Thus what they offered after supposedly more than two days of communication with Hanoi was to move a still objectionable sentence further down in the text, and even here they link all the sentences by semicolons in the same paragraph.

6. We now find ourselves in an increasingly uncomfortable position. We have no leverage on Hanoi or Saigon, and we are becoming prisoners of both sides’ internecine conflicts. Our task clearly is to get some leverage on both of them. I therefore believe we should take the following steps:

  • —As soon as Tho has left Paris we should reseed the mines, as heavily as possible including of course north of the 20th parallel. This is [Page 595] desirable in any event because the longer the mines are in DRV ports the less likely they are to violate the agreement if it is finally concluded.
  • —We should take off all restrictions on bombing south of the 20th parallel and step up our attacks, particularly by B–52s.
  • —We should resume reconnaissance activities north of the 20th parallel immediately which would serve as a warning to Hanoi.
  • —We should plan a two or three day strike including B–52’s north of the 20th parallel for early next week. Please get plans. The power plants seem attractive.
  • —I would like you to look at the bombing situation in southern Laos. Yesterday’s noon report mentioned the fact that infiltration was much heavier because the bombing in that area had fallen off.

It is essential that the military perform effectively for once in the above tasks. I would not resume daily bombing north of the 20th parallel at this point until we can discuss it.

7. The North Vietnamese strategy seems to me to be as follows: they have reduced the issues to a point where a settlement can be reached with one exchange of telegrams. I do not think they will send this telegram, however, in the absence of strong pressures. These pressures in turn cannot really be applied now because of Thieu. If Thieu had adopted a common position with us we would have an excellent ground on which to stand now with North Vietnam’s insistence on maintaining troops in the South and total refusal to recognize any aspect of sovereignty for South Vietnam. What makes it intolerable is the inability to defend an agreement that Thieu attacks. Moreover his short-sighted device for preventing a settlement has deprived us of the pressure which could bring us a settlement. His offer of prolonged Christmas truce almost guarantees that Hanoi will wait on sending the telegram until the truce breaks down or Congress is heard from. This is why the visit with Thieu is now essential and I know no one else than Agnew who can possibly do it. The present course will guarantee that Congress will cut off the funds and that everything we have striven four years to avoid will be imposed on us. If this is to happen we are better off knowing it early on than to die the death of a thousand cuts.

8. Thus I feel as Bunker does that the Vice President and you should go to Saigon, but there is now less time pressure and I believe we should consult before you take off. The Vice President and you should plan to leave, however, no later than this weekend.5 You could probably stay an extra day in Saigon now and visit other countries in order to bring them aboard on a contingency basis. The presentation to Thieu must be brutal. If we can bring Thieu aboard, this will give us a [Page 596] platform for exerting pressures on Hanoi. If we cannot bring him aboard, we should find out now and we will have to consider going for a bilateral deal. In any event the Vice President’s trip would have the advantage of calming press speculation. It will fill the gap if the other side does conclude an agreement and give us a base for tougher action against Hanoi if the agreement aborts.

Warm regards.

End message.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 27, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Hakto and Memos to Pres., etc., December 3–13, 1972. Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. A memorandum of conversation, December 12, 10:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m., of the experts’meeting summarized below is ibid., Box 859, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXII, Minutes of Meetings, Paris, December 4–13, 1972. A memorandum of conversation, December 12, 3:07–7:35 p.m., of the second meeting is ibid., Box 865, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David Memcons, December 1972 [1 of 3].
  3. December 14.
  4. In a December 12 memorandum to Nixon summarizing this report, Haig reported that Kissinger had indicated this possibility. The President wrote in the margin: “most likely.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 27, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Hakto and Memos to Pres., etc., December 3–13, 1972)
  5. December 16–17.