168. 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 179. Deliver immediately.

Following is Bunker analysis of Thieu’s future posture. It seems to me I have seen an analysis like this one before. It’s a variation of the theme “if it works I’m for it; if it fails I’m agin it.”

Begin text. (Saigon 0295)

I have not replied earlier to your 22702 since I have wanted to get a reading if possible on any further moves Thieu is contemplating following his speech of December 12. You were correct in assuming that my 02943 was written after his speech.
Thieu’s speech, I think, can be seen, as reported in ref B,4 as an effort to make the National Assembly share responsibility with him, particularly if he should decide that he must sign the agreement.
Thieu is intelligent enough to have known that his proposals for a temporary truce and exchange of prisoners and consultations with the other side were unsaleable and can be read, I think, as an effort to extricate himself from the position he has gotten himself into giving the [Page 614] appearance of plausibility. Six of Thieu’s close advisers have expressed their disappointment in the speech, viewing it as unrealistic.
We now have a report of Thieu’s briefing of 60 to 70 pro-government Senators and Deputies on the afternoon of December 12 in which he listed points he considered essential to any agreement—the withdrawal of all foreign troops, including North Vietnamese; demobilization of ARVN armed forces corresponding to the number NVA withdraws from South Viet-Nam and the NLF demobilizes; non-recognition of PRG, but willingness to recognize existence of the NLF and negotiate with it.

Thieu concluded by saying that there were two alternatives available to him:

to sign the agreement as presently constituted, which would be deliberately willing death;
not to sign the agreement, which would be equivalent to accepting slow suffocation as a result of the cut-off of military and economic aid by the United States.

Thieu noted that the second alternative had been his choice and he would not sign. He said that the effects of such a decision could be extremely difficult, there will be heavy pressure to force him to change the decision, but that he would not revise his position without a major change in the negotiating position of North Viet-Nam.

A different version of Thieu’s thinking is Nha’s statement on December 10 that Thieu had decided not to sign the cease-fire agreement, but to “accept” it as a “reality”. In “accepting” but not signing Thieu will assure the USG that he will implement the cease-fire as signed by the Americans and the North Vietnamese. Nha added that Thieu believes that pressures for him to sign have become so public that it would mean his loss of any nationalist political support if he yields to U.S. pressures and would also jeopardize discussions he might enter into with the North Vietnamese or the NLF since both would consider him an agent of the USG.
I think there are a number of considerations to take into account in trying to form a judgment concerning the decision Thieu is ultimately likely to make.
  • —There is a substantial body of influential opinion, including the Prime Minister, Minister of Economy Ngoc, Tran Quoc Buu, Head of the CVT and of the Farmer Worker Party, leaders of the PNM and Senators and Deputies who have indicated that they consider Thieu’s posture unrealistic, that the draft agreement represents the realities and should be accepted.
  • —It is clear even to Thieu that going it alone is a short-term ploy without any future.
  • Thieu’s resigning in order to let the Vice President or the Prime Minister sign the agreement in the expectation that he can return to power seems unrealistic. Thieu is not DeGaulle.
  • —It is already clear that Hanoi won’t buy his truce and prisoner exchange proposal.

Given these considerations, it seems to me a development along the following lines might be envisaged:

—The Vice President would visit Saigon. Thieu could say that he brought new, firm assurances from the President for continued support and assurances of our prompt and strong reaction if the agreement is violated. The points made in para 3 of ref B would apply.

Thieu might then take one of several courses:
Sign the agreement with a demurrer saying that he does not recognize the right of the NVA troops to be in South Viet-Nam and mentioning any other principles to which he takes exception.
Refuse to sign the agreement, but say that he has no alternative but to abide by its terms.
Resign and let the Vice President, or, if the latter also resigns, the Prime Minister take responsibility for signing.
If any of the above conditions seem likely to apply, I think the Vice President’s visit could be helpful. If Thieu’s decision, however, is completely negative and he refuses to sign, then I believe the Vice President should not come to Saigon. I realize the above is not very satisfactory and will try to communicate further thoughts as we acquire more information.
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; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent via Guay.
  2. In backchannel message WH 2270 to Bunker, December 12, Haig asked Bunker to provide Kissinger with a “frank appraisal of Thieu’s ability to accept the draft agreement in light of his National Assembly speech.” (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 858, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXII (2))
  3. See footnote 4, Document 159.
  4. Message 294.