170. 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 187/WH 29892. As I told you on the telephone, the President reviewed with me this morning the contents of your Hakto 41.2 He appeared to be in complete agreement with your assessment although he would place greater priority to the assumption that Hanoi is stalling because they are aware of our difficulties with Thieu and the threats we have made and, therefore, believe that the longer they delay the more work we will do for them in the South by lessening support for Thieu and increasing tensions between us. He also believes that we should move immediately to reinstitute reconnaissance north of the 20th parallel and to reseed the mines. He does not agree with the stepup of bombing south of the 20th and was very strong about this. His logic is that we take the same heat for big or little blows and that the targets south of the 20th are of less consequence and, finally, that the signal given by such a step would be marginal at best and perhaps even counterproductive in the context of Hanoi’s assessment of what he is willing to do.

With respect to the three-day strike, the President agrees, providing it is as massive as can be mustered. However, with respect to the [Page 618] bombing itself, he stated that before we undertake this drastic step he wants to be sure that you and he carefully review all of our options and know precisely the outcomes we can achieve and the risks involved. In this regard, he also expressed some doubts about the Vice President’s trip. I strongly hit the theme that we had to at least concert with Thieu on future military operations, pointing to the difficulties which Thieu’s ceasefire proposal could cause in terms of our military options. I also pointed out that only the Vice President could posture us properly with the American Right, should Thieu force us to go all the way in our pressure on him. The President stated that he was not really sure about the outcome of the Agnew mission and wanted to have you think about this on the return flight and be prepared to discuss with him the following:

  • —What specific line should Agnew take in the light of the Paris stalemate?
  • —What outcomes can we anticipate from the line that Agnew takes? For example, where are we if Thieu turns him down completely? Where are we if Thieu agrees to acquiesce but not to sign?

The President had told me late last night to prepare a menu of economic and military pressures which we could apply to Thieu. The only thing we could get was the list similar to that which Alex Johnson showed you before you departed, plus a list from Secretary Laird which was designed to do all the things that he would like to do to save money, i.e., reduce ten thousand forces immediately, pull off two, three or four carriers, reduce the number of air sorties.3 I told the President that we should hold up on anything like this because it could be totally counterproductive and merely provide Hanoi with an incentive to hang tough and let us do their work for them. I believe this very strongly. The President then stated that we are obviously very much in a corner. It does not seem possible that we can break Thieu in the process of agreeing with Hanoi for this will ultimately lose us the entire game and if we are to do that it would be preferable to continue our alliance with Thieu and have the Congress do the evil deed. He stated as President it would be next to impossible for him to be the vehicle for Thieu’s destruction. I believe this is a correct analysis on the part of the President.

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As I mentioned to you on the phone, there was definitely some sensitivity at the beginning of the meeting about the Reston article and the President mentioned to me that it was obvious that he had talked to you.4 Later on in the discussion, when it got to the Agnew visit, he referred to the fact that it is apparently leaking and said that for this reason he wanted to have a lengthy discussion with you as outlined above on what we would seek to achieve and what alternative outcomes we could expect before deciding on whether or not to proceed with that visit.

As to the President’s mood, I believe he is genuinely concerned and somewhat uncertain as to where we go from here. He appeared to be fully in agreement with your analyses with the single exception of the tactics on bombing. On one hand, he is opposed to miniscule escalation and on the other is very leery of undertaking any additional bombing at all. At the same time, he recognizes that we are likely to be faced with continued stalling from Hanoi unless we can find a manageable way to apply additional pressure on them. With respect to Thieu, I believe he is in a genuine dilemma. He is extremely miffed at Thieu’s performance but understands cold bloodedly that the U.S., certainly the executive branch, cannot be the vehicle for crushing Thieu. It is my own frank opinion that all of the President’s concerns are purely substantive as they should be. There is absolutely no indication of a lack of confidence or a wish to nitpick what has been done thus far. For us to assume otherwise would be to crank in subjective consideration which can only risk the distortion of the kind of rational analyses which must determine our future actions. On balance, as I told you on the phone, I think the President was actually somewhat relieved after reading your carefully prepared Hakto 41. It tended to focus him entirely on substance and the issues which must really be carefully considered. Do not misread the President’s sensitivity about the Reston article. There was nothing substantively troublesome in the article. At the same time, it was quite evident to Ziegler and anyone else who knows what is going on that Reston was carefully postured.

Following my telephonic discussion with you, I told the President [Page 620] of your arrival time and he said that in view of the lateness of the hour you should meet with him Thursday5 morning rather than tonight.

We have also set up a meeting with you and our luncheon guest for tomorrow.

In summary, there are the following immediate problems:

  • —The President has ordered an immediate resumption of aerial reconnaissance north of the 20th parallel.
  • —He has also ordered an immediate reseeding of the mines. It will take about 48 hours from the time Laird is given the execute for this to occur. Please advise me urgently how I should handle both these items.
  • —The second problem is the President’s disagreement with the stepup of the bombing south of the 20th parallel. This is a problem that can obviously await your return.
  • —The third problem is the President’s uncertainty about Agnew’s visit and his wish to discuss with you what specifically Agnew should say and what outcomes we could anticipate, especially in worse cases. Please advise me as soon as possible as to how I should proceed on the reconnaissance and mining. I believe we should give the execute since this is totally consistent with your own thinking.

Warm regards.

End text.

  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. Sent via Guay.
  2. Document 163.
  3. The two lists are attached as Tabs A and B to a December 13 memorandum from Kennedy and Holdridge to Haig. Tab A is a Department of Defense paper entitled “US Military Actions to Sway President Thieu,” December 13, that details the Department’s measures. Tab B, December 13, contains the Department of State measures, which are in two sections: “Economic Sanctions” and “Diplomatic/Political Sanctions.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 162, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, Dec 1972)
  4. The article in question, “Current Peace Session Near End; Thieu’s Sovereignty Bid at Issue; U.S. Likely to Send Aide to See Him,” by James Reston, appeared in The New York Times, December 13, 1972, p. 1. Haldeman recorded in his diary that day: “The P was very disturbed by the Scotty Reston story today on Vietnam, which he feels had to come from K. The P said it was totally baffling to Haig as to why Henry would have done it. Haig called while I was in the office this morning and said Henry would be home late tonight, that he was very touchy in his phone conversation, that they’ve obviously had a rough time on the settlement. The P commented afterwards that K is showing too many signs of insubordination. That he’s got to realize that we can’t just increase the bombing below the 20th parallel, that if we want to step it up, we’ve got to make a major move and go all out.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition)
  5. December 14.