197. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker
  • Major General Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
  • President Nguyen Van Thieu
  • Press Secretary Nha

General Haig noted that the President had asked him to travel again to Saigon to explain to President Thieu the current situation in Paris and future U.S. intentions. General Haig pointed out that President Nixon had worked intensely on the Vietnam situation ever since General Haig returned to the United States from Paris on Saturday, December 9th.

President Nixon had, just prior to General Haig’s departure for Saigon on Sunday night, dictated a personal letter to President Thieu. Only General Haig, Dr. Kissinger and the President were aware of the contents of this letter and no copies would be distributed in the U.S. bureaucracy. President Thieu should understand that President Nixon had written this letter only after the most careful and painful reappraisal of the situation in Southeast Asia, the current state of negotiations and especially President Thieu’s attitude with respect to them. The President is confident that President Thieu will treat this letter with the greatest secrecy.

[Page 739]

General Haig handed President Nixon’s letter to President Thieu which President Thieu read very carefully, obviously somewhat shaken by its contents.2 General Haig stated that President Thieu had been meticulously briefed each evening in Paris as to the outcome of each day’s meetings between the U.S. and the North Vietnamese. On several occasions during the negotiating sessions, it appeared as though a final settlement would be arrived at. At times, there were only two or three outstanding issues remaining. President Thieu would recall that on Saturday, December 9, his Ambassadors were informed that only one issue remained to be resolved before the agreement was concluded. However, at the subsequent meetings, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Le Duc Tho recalled many of the North Vietnamese concessions, going beyond even the provisions of the original draft agreement which had been tentatively reached in October. At the outset of the second Paris round, in the latter part of November, it appeared as though Hanoi was still genuinely interested in arriving at a settlement but during a meeting held on the U.S. Thanksgiving Day, November 23rd, Le Duc Tho received a message from Hanoi which caused him to visibly blanch and call for a recess.

Following that session, Le Duc Tho’s negotiating tactics shifted dramatically from what had been a conscious effort to arrive at a settlement to what was an equally conscious effort to delay, procrastinate and frustrate the arrival at an agreement. The North Vietnamese tactic was a careful blend of cordiality sufficient to prevent a breakoff of talks, combined with a hard-nosed intransigence which never permitted the final accord to be achieved. In the final days, the North Vietnamese settled most of the remaining issues in the agreement itself but then attempted to reopen major issues of principle in the associated understandings. When the understandings themselves were largely ironed out, the pattern then turned to reopening substantive matters of principle in the related Protocols. We now had to ask ourselves what Hanoi’s intentions were and what strategy they were pursuing. There seemed little question that Hanoi now believed time was on its side. It may be that Hanoi still wishes to consummate the agreement but to defer doing so in order to improve their position. It was the U.S. view that Hanoi has been encouraged by the growing drift between Washington and Saigon. It is obvious that they may have concluded that the longer they delay the wider the gap will become and the greater the possibility that time will accomplish for them what they have been unable to achieve on the battlefield or at the negotiating table. However, [Page 740] there are other factors that may be influencing their conduct. It is obvious that they must be keenly aware of the euphoria that followed the announcement that peace was near. They, therefore, may believe that President Nixon is unable to diverge from the path towards peace.

Thirdly, they have been under no military pressure north of the 20th parallel and they might well believe the Christmas season, the peace euphoria and the upcoming Presidential inauguration all converged to deter President Nixon from taking the positive military steps which their intransigence at the negotiating table has more than justified.

A fourth factor might be their realization that all the preceding factors will contribute to great frustration in the U.S. Congress which is due to reconvene on January 3rd. This frustration will result in renewed efforts to pass disabling resolutions designed to terminate U.S. participation in the war and support for the Government of South Vietnam and especially the Thieu Regime.

On the other hand, it could be that Hanoi was merely undecided or that the advantages gained by President Thieu’s own delays had contributed to uncertainty in the Politburo as to their ability to manage a ceasefire under the provisions now contained in the draft agreement. It is the general impression in Washington, however, that President Thieu had been the main cause for the turn in Hanoi’s attitude. President Thieu should be conscious of the fact that while this is the U.S. official judgment, Dr. Kissinger had carefully avoided placing the onus on President Thieu for the current stalemate in his briefing to the American press and the American people the previous Saturday.3 Dr. Kissinger had gone to great lengths to develop a sophisticated exposition which placed on Hanoi’s doorstep full responsibility for the current stalemate. He had done so in the most sophisticated and credible way so as to avoid a buildup of resentment against President Thieu in the American body politic. Despite these efforts, however, this resentment was inevitable if the talks were to break down.

As a result of Dr. Kissinger’s briefing, the disappointment in the U.S. had been considerable and was growing with each passing hour. Despite what is an apparent judgment in Hanoi that President Nixon would be unable to resume pressures against North Vietnam, the President had again made the courageous decision to renew the air war at a scale heretofore never contemplated. On Saturday last, the U.S. had reseeded all of the large magnetic mines in the Haiphong channel. Concurrently, manned reconnaissance over the entire length and breadth of North Korea [North Vietnam] had been reestablished. This morning, the [Page 741] U.S. launched a series of air raids against targets in the Hanoi-Haiphong area utilizing over 120 B–52 aircraft, together with F–111 and A–6 all-weather fighter bombers—strikes which would continue throughout the day. The target list was expanded to include targets which had heretofore been forbidden to the military. President Nixon was determined to continue these strikes at this maximum intensity for a three-day period, after which a more normal but intense pace would be maintained. This action, on the part of the President, would be strongly resented by many in the U.S. and especially those in the Congress who had long opposed the bombing of North Vietnam. It was designed to again convey to Hanoi that they could not trifle with President Nixon. More importantly, however, the action which was now underway would underline to Hanoi the determination of the President to enforce the provisions of any political settlement that might be arrived at. President Thieu also should draw appropriate conclusions from the President’s actions. There is little doubt that these actions would prove to be another severe political liability in the United States. Again, however, the President was willing to stake domestic tranquility against the proper and correct action. At the same time, President Thieu must not misread the implications of this decisive U.S. decision.

The President was now more determined than ever to proceed with an agreement if Hanoi again demonstrated the reasonableness which it had shown in October. Were President Thieu to view the current state of affairs from any other perspective it would be a grave mistake. Thus, as President Nixon’s letter confirmed, President Thieu should take no comfort from the present turn of events. There will be even greater domestic pressure upon President Nixon because of the military escalation. When combined with the letdown which had already occurred due to the peace stalemate, it was likely that a hue and cry would develop for an early settlement at any cost, including the termination of support to President Thieu. The President’s position will continue to be that he will settle for an agreement which is correct and manageable. This draft is totally consistent with the U.S.–GVN joint proposals of October 1970 and January and May of 1972 which were fully endorsed by President Thieu. The President, under no circumstances, will accept a veto from Saigon on his actions. Thus, President Thieu should be fully aware that Hanoi might well in the immediate future return to the negotiating table prepared to settle. President Thieu cannot lose sight of this fact. Hanoi is aware of our requirements. Should it wish to settle, it can be done very quickly.

The issues that remain are few and manageable. During the last two rounds in Paris and despite certain equivocations during the last three days, the following achievements have been arrived at: The DRV has agreed to the deletion of the phrase “administrative structure” [Page 742] which removes any remaining ambiguity about the fact that the National Council is not a government. This is precisely in accord with the position taken by Mr. Duc during his visit to Washington.

Furthermore, it should be noted that Dr. Kissinger fought doggedly for each and every change recommended by President Thieu and his government. While all of these were not accepted, they were not presented in pro-forma fashion. In some instances, matters of principle were haggled over for two and three days at a time.

A second accomplishment was an initial agreement by Hanoi to accept a sentence obligating both North and South Vietnam to respect the DMZ. We achieved greatly strengthened provisions on Laos and Cambodia, including a specific obligation to respect the Geneva Accords. We managed to have reference to three Indochinese countries deleted from the text of the agreement in conformance with GVN objections. While we were unable to have a reference made to four Indochinese countries, the elimination of any numbers certainly enabled President Thieu to maintain that four countries did, in fact, exist. We obtained Hanoi’s agreement to compress the time between the ceasefires in South Vietnam and those in Laos from 30 days to 20 days and we were going to continue to press for further compression to ten days. We had obtained an approved military replacement provision which gives a greater assurance that we can continue to provide all the military aid needed by Saigon under the ceasefire conditions. There were also numerous other changes made to improve the tone and precision of the document.

With respect to the signature itself, Hanoi had agreed and later withdrawn a proposal through which there would be three documents. One containing the preamble listing all four parties would be signed by the U.S. and the DRV. A second containing only the agreement itself, less the preamble which contained no reference to the PRG, would be signed by the GVN. A similar document without the preamble would be signed by the so-called PRG. Thus, the three documents when merged would constitute the instrument.

General Haig asked President Thieu to comment specifically as to whether or not such a signing procedure would be acceptable since, in effect, it meant that President Thieu would not be affixing a GVN signature to a document which specifically recognized the PRG as a Government. Furthermore, if such a solution were acceptable to President Thieu, the U.S. for its part would insist on a footnote which specifically makes the point that the U.S. signature did not constitute recognition of the PRG. The U.S. side believes that if all of these changes were to survive a suitable agreement would result, and it is President Nixon’s intention to proceed with it or to seek another alternative which could only be at the expense of GVN interests.

[Page 743]

Furthermore, President Thieu should be very much aware that in addition to the improvements in the text of the agreement itself, the 60 days delay has enabled us to provide President Thieu with over $1 billion of additional equipment. The delay has disrupted enemy military plans geared to a late October agreement and ceasefire. President Thieu has been able to demonstrate before his own countrymen and world opinion at large that he is anything but a puppet of the U.S. We have also insured that at least some of the international control machinery will be in place at the time of the ceasefire.

And, finally, President Thieu has managed to unify support in his own country to a degree heretofore unmatched. For all these reasons, President Nixon is convinced that President Thieu and his government can no longer objectively oppose a settlement which offers a reasonable chance to the people of South Vietnam to avoid the disastrous consequences of a communist imposed regime. In President Nixon’s view, and that of Dr. Kissinger and General Haig as well, it is difficult to understand why President Thieu persists in describing the political formula in the agreement as the imposition of a disguised coalition government. The facts are clear and incontrovertible. On the political side, the communists have dropped their long and insistent demands for a coalition government and President Thieu’s resignation. As President Thieu has long insisted, the political future is left to him to negotiate with the other side, with all of the assets of his governmental structure, his Army, police and other branches kept intact. The only political provisions are for a National Council which President Thieu has unfairly and incorrectly portrayed as a forerunner of a coalition government. Were he to continue to do so, he would psychologically endow what is no more than an Advisory Committee with the very governmental functions that its authors had eliminated from its character. Even Hanoi’s negotiators had conceded explicitly and repeatedly that the Committee lacked any governmental power. It is clear that the Council is little more than a dressed up electoral commission along the lines of the U.S.–GVN January 1972 proposal. President Thieu would control at least one-half the membership and the Committee will operate on the principle of unanimity. Its only tasks were to supervise an election whose nature and timing are left to the South Vietnamese parties to decide. It was also to help promote implementation of the agreement. Thus, to claim a simple Advisory Body was endowed with governmental powers was self-defeating in the extreme. On the other hand, President Nixon, Dr. Kissinger and General Haig understood completely President Thieu’s concerns on the military side, especially those generated by the continuing presence of North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam. Certainly, President Nixon, who has been in the forefront of anti-communist battles throughout his political career was not naive about this issue.

[Page 744]

The reasons why Hanoi wanted to maintain its troops in the south were clear. A case could be made that the political concessions that Hanoi made also make it imperative that they maintain forces in the south to be sure that the NLF, the VC or the PRG, whatever nomenclature was given to the communist indigenous elements, would not be totally destroyed by the GVN. Beyond that, however, it is evident that the North Vietnamese forces had to provide the strength to expand communist control because indigenous guerrillas had no hope of doing so. It was evident in 1968 that they lacked the power but, more importantly, this past spring they failed totally in carrying out their end of Hanoi’s strategy to overcome the GVN.

President Thieu should think carefully about this current situation. In the early 1960s, President Diem with far less political and actual power than President Thieu was able to contain guerrilla warfare by indigenous forces and, in fact, was winning the struggle against subversion. For this very reason, Hanoi opted to reenforce indigenous guerrillas in the south and ultimately to undertake a mix of conventional and guerrilla activity. Now the situation was reversed. President Thieu, with U.S. help, had been able to defeat large scale North Vietnamese reenforcement of a greatly weakened South Vietnamese communist infrastructure. The very fact of this defeat had resulted in a conscious decision by Hanoi to negotiate and to again return to guerrilla warfare. President Thieu, with his Army, police and security forces would be more than a match for the enemy in this kind of a struggle. In fact, President Thieu should welcome this shift in Hanoi’s strategy as a major victory which indeed it is.

Recent events in MR1 confirm that the conventional battle against a heavily equipped North Vietnamese invading force was far more risky than the kinds of battles that have been so successfully waged in the Delta. Thus, it was Hanoi’s failure that has caused it to shift to a less effective combat strategy and, if anything, progress made in South Vietnam since 1965 and especially under the Vietnamization Program which commenced in 1969 should absolutely guarantee President Thieu’s success if he has the will and wisdom to recognize his current advantage.

President Thieu nodded and agreed that he felt confident the GVN could indeed easily stamp out a guerrilla insurgency. General Haig continued that what was important for President Thieu to remember is that President Nixon was not naive about Hanoi’s intentions. There were, however, considerations which President Thieu must understand if the U.S. and Saigon were to prevail. The facts are simple. For the past four years, General Haig, Dr. Kissinger and President Nixon have been the principal personalities in the U.S. Government who have worked against a majority consensus to discontinue the struggle and [Page 745] terminate support for President Thieu. As early as October 1970, President Nixon was uniformly counseled by his Cabinet and his Congressional Leadership to cut U.S. losses in Southeast Asia and to withdraw from the conflict. Despite this counsel, President Nixon rallied the American people to continue the struggle and justify the sacrifices of the then 49,000 American dead.

Since that time, President Nixon has moved against this consensus in his government and his Congress to react vigorously at the time of Cambodia in May of 1970, in Laos in the spring of 1971 and, finally, to react even more violently despite his upcoming election when he mined and bombed North Vietnam in the wake of Hanoi’s massive invasion in March of 1972. President Nixon had been able to execute these acts by staying just one step ahead of his domestic opponents throughout the past year. This last October, at a time when the American people were greatly distressed at President Thieu’s handling of his Presidential elections, General Haig and President Thieu worked out a strategy in Saigon which enabled President Nixon to overcome an inevitable cutoff of support to President Thieu. General Haig and President Thieu worked out a strategy which culminated in the revelations of January of this year during which the secret negotiations with Hanoi were revealed by Dr. Kissinger and a new forthcoming political proposal was tabled. This strategy defused U.S. critics and enabled President Nixon to continue to support the war through this past spring and beyond the decisions of May 8th. It was evident to President Nixon as early as last spring that somehow a new basis would have to be found to enable him to continue with the conflict. The old rationale and logic was no longer adequate for continued U.S. sacrifice and support.

Thus, President Nixon instructed Dr. Kissinger, in July of 1972, to work intensively in an effort to achieve an agreement with Hanoi. And by October of this year, when the full results of the decisions of May 8 began to be felt in North Vietnam, Hanoi finally offered a workable proposal. President Nixon now firmly believes that this proposal which meets our minimum requirements of October 1970 and January and May of 1972 cannot be rejected. Frankly, President Nixon could not understand how President Thieu could be insisting on guarantees which exceeded the joint U.S.–GVN proposals of two years earlier now that a settlement was within grasp.

Nevertheless, the simple facts are these. Unless the U.S. finds an entirely new basis to justify the sacrifices that the American people have been asked to bear, there is no hope that the American Congress will be willing to continue to do so. Thus, it is not because we are naive and expect that peace will automatically follow the agreement; rather precisely the opposite motivations underlie President Nixon’s desire to have President Thieu’s concurrence in the proposal. It is the President’s [Page 746] view and one shared by Dr. Kissinger and General Haig that if we have an agreement, then those elements in the U.S. who have long supported the war effort and President Thieu will be able to claim, with obvious justification, that they have been right all along and that continued support for Thieu has finally brought Hanoi to the peace table. With this agreement, the anti-communist elements in America will have a sense of pride in what has been done up until now and, more importantly, the American people can rally behind an agreement which has been achieved through the President’s persistence in doing the correct thing. With this renewed sense of pride, the American people will be willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to insure that the agreement succeeds. Thus, continued support, economic and military, for South Vietnam will be assured. But even more importantly, should Hanoi violate the agreement, then the legal, psychological and patriotic basis will exist for prompt and brutal U.S. retaliation. Without this kind of modified platform, President Nixon cannot hope to retain Congressional support in the U.S. In recent weeks, the elements in the American Congress who have traditionally supported President Thieu have turned against him. Such leading Hawks as Barry Goldwater, Senator Stennis and Representative Hebert have told President Nixon that they will lead the fight to cut off support to President Thieu should you surface as the sole obstacle to peace.

The facts are indeed simple. President Thieu cannot rationally deprive President Nixon of the platform he must have to continue to support President Thieu. Were he to do so, the outcome would be inevitable and prompt a total cutoff of U.S. support. This is not the desire of President Nixon and is not presented to President Thieu as a threat but merely a recitation of simple objective reality. Careful analysis of the current agreement confirms the following. Contrary to President Thieu’s allegations, there is no language in the draft agreement which authorizes the continued presence of North Vietnamese troops in the south. On the other hand, we do not believe that it is essential that there be a specific prohibition, given the other interlocking aspects of the agreement which affect the troop issue. The fact that infiltration of men and material is specifically prohibited, that North Vietnamese troops must withdraw from Laos and Cambodia and that the DMZ must be respected all demand that the agreement be specifically violated if Hanoi is to maintain a viable North Vietnamese force in the south. More importantly, however, President Thieu, within the provisions of the agreement, has been armed with adequate leverage to force Hanoi and PRG compliance with the demobilization provisions. For example, President Thieu retains between 30,000 and 40,000 political prisoners, an asset of major concern to Hanoi. These prisoners can be released as a direct condition of confirmed demobilization.

[Page 747]

Of equal importance is President Thieu’s ability to govern in the political process in direct proportion to Hanoi’s willingness to demobilize or displace its forces in the south. This should be carefully considered by President Thieu. Certainly, over the past eight weeks, he has clearly enunciated the principle that Hanoi has no right to be in the south. Furthermore, President Nixon has committed himself to support this same principle, in a speech after the settlement or in a statement following a meeting with President Thieu in the wake of an agreement.

Thus, the principle is clearly established in the eyes of the world. President Thieu has the leverage to insist on its implementation and there are interlocking provisions within the agreement itself to make the principle binding. President Thieu has also been repeatedly assured by President Nixon that should Hanoi fail to demobilize or relocate its troops, this will provide a firm basis to delay on any political provisions, including the creation of the committee or ultimately the initiation of national elections.

President Nixon has also stated that he will support President Thieu should this situation develop. Thus, President Thieu himself is the deciding and governing factor and has all the assets to insure the ultimate withdrawal or neutralization of North Vietnamese forces. More importantly, it is clear that if Hanoi opts to maintain these forces in the south and is unwilling to risk a violation against which the U.S. will retaliate, these forces must be attritted. Finally, it is inconceivable that Hanoi will be able to maintain indefinitely forces in the south which cannot be replenished or rotated and which have no hope for ultimate return to their homeland. How can the morale, let alone the fighting spirit of such an expeditionary force be sustained? President Thieu agreed that he could more than manage a North Vietnamese expeditionary force under these conditions.

General Haig concluded by again emphasizing the absolute essentiality of changing the fundamental character of the conflict in such a way that a whole new basis can be found for U.S. support. It is President Nixon’s considered judgement that this basis is provided for through the draft agreement which includes the minimum demands listed earlier in the discussion.

President Thieu then asked General Haig to tell him exactly where the draft agreement now rested. General Haig proceeded to go through the draft agreement as of December 12, explaining the following:

  • —The language of the revised preamble, reviewing the proposed three-document-signature-alternative.
  • —Revised language of Chapter I on which the U.S. seeks to return to the November 23rd version.
  • —The controversy over the term “destroyed” in Article 7 of Chapter II.
  • —The DRV effort to telescope three months to two months in Article 8(c) of Chapter III.
  • —The language controversy in Article 12(b) of Chapter IV.
  • —The DRV attempt to delete “as soon as possible” in the last sentence of Article 3.
  • —The DRV modification to Chapter V on the DMZ.
  • —The DRV proposal to modify Article 20(a) of Chapter VII.

General Haig then recapitulated the existing divergencies between the U.S. and DRV as of General Haig’s departure from Washington. These included:

  • —Controversy over the DMZ (Article 15).
  • —Procedures for signature of the agreement.
  • DRV wish to change three months to two months in Article 8(c).
  • —The controversy over the translation of “promote” in Article 12(b), and the DRV insistence on linking the Protocols in the agreement to Article 12(b).
  • DRV effort to remove Indonesia from the ICCS.

General Haig then reviewed the questions raised by the DRV on December 13th in which the DRV opened several additional issues in the guise of an experts’ meeting that took place prior to the negotiating session. These included:

  • —The change in the preamble to show that the U.S. and DRV act with the concurrence of rather than in concert with their allies.
  • —Deletion of the title of the Republic of Vietnam throughout the text, except in one article.
  • —In Article 7, deletion of the word “destroyed.”
  • —In Article 20(a), a change in language which would have the effect of highlighting the parties’ specific obligations under the 1954 and 1962 Accords.
  • —Efforts to provide for in the understandings the withdrawal of all U.S. civilians and the release within 60 days of civilian detainees held by the GVN.

General Haig then explained in detail the differences between the U.S. and DRV on the ICCS and two and four-party Protocols.

President Thieu stated that he understood General Haig’s concerns and pointed out that General Haig had to understand that President Thieu had the responsibility for the security of the people of South Vietnam, and, therefore, had an obligation to improve the agreement to the degree possible. He then asked if General Haig [Hanoi] would be willing to accept it. General Haig stated that no one could be sure but that most of the minimum provisions that General Haig had just outlined had at one time or another been accepted by Hanoi and, therefore, [Page 749] if Hanoi decided to settle, it would most likely be willing to settle on these terms. President Thieu then asked whether Hanoi would actually accept withdrawal from Laos and Cambodia. General Haig pointed out that the specific language of the agreement explicitly required the total withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces from both Cambodia and Laos. The time sequence, however, was still not firmly settled. In Laos we had been assured of a ceasefire within 20 days compressed from the original 30 days. The U.S. would continue to try to compress this further to ten days and following the ceasefire Hanoi was obligated to withdraw its forces. In the discussions between the Pathet Lao and the Royal Laotian Government discussions were directed toward withdrawal of all foreign forces within sixty days of the ceasefire. General Haig noted that he would be speaking with Prime Minister Souvanna the following day and would urge him to compress this time even further. More importantly, he would urge Souvanna to not accept any political provisions or to not withdraw allied foreign forces until the North Vietnamese withdrawals were underway.

In the case of Cambodia, withdrawal provisions are less finite. Hanoi has stated that it cannot dictate to the parties there since other factors are involved. On the other hand, it has given the United States firm assurances that with the ceasefire in South Vietnam there is no need for the conflict to continue in Cambodia. The U.S. in turn has put Hanoi on notice that any change in the military balance in Cambodia following the ceasefire in South Vietnam would be interpreted as an abrogation of the overall agreement. This understanding will be appendixed to the basic agreement. Furthermore, the United States has warned Hanoi that all U.S. air assets in Southeast Asia can be concentrated in Laos and Cambodia if the fighting does not terminate there. Finally, the U.S. would press for a cessation of offensive operations in Cambodia within 48 hours of a ceasefire in South Vietnam. President Thieu then asked if Hanoi agreed to withdraw its troops from Cambodia and Laos to North Vietnam. General Haig stated that the discussions were explicit and that the provisions of the agreement prevented the movement of troops in these two countries into South Vietnam. President Thieu then asked what kind of international supervision would exist in Laos and Cambodia. General Haig stated that we now visualize reestablishing the ICC as established in the earlier Accords and President Thieu noted that the ICC had been ineffective before and wondered how it could be effective now. General Haig stated that the U.S. was not naive about this issue and therefore we would retain a unilateral U.S. surveillance reconnaissance capability which would permit up to 40 flights a day to ensure that the North Vietnamese were being withdrawn and that violations were not occurring. Only in this way could proper supervision be ensured. Experience had certainly shown [Page 750] that no international body could prevent violations if the intent to do so existed.

President Thieu asked General Haig to explain again how we could get the North Vietnamese troops withdrawn from South Vietnam if the agreement lacked specific provision for their withdrawal. General Haig stated that the interlocking provisions of the agreement which were explicit about infiltration, the use of Laos and Cambodia territory and base areas, and the demobilization principle were the clear vehicle. Furthermore, as General Haig outlined earlier all the leverage was on Thieu’s side both in terms of the political prisoners held by President Thieu and his control on the governor on the political provisions wanted so badly by the Viet Cong. President Thieu asked how shipment of matériels from North Vietnam to South Vietnam would be controlled. General Haig stated that here again a unilateral U.S. capability to surveil the infiltration routes would be retained. Additionally, we would hope that the ICCS and the two and four party mechanism would offer additional assurances. President Thieu stated that it was very clear to him that there would be no peace as a result of the agreement but more importantly that while the United States’ intention to retaliate might be clear, Hanoi would never risk actions which could provoke U.S. retaliation. The period after the ceasefire would be very quiet during which the enemy would not use fire arms. They instead would spread out their troops, join the VC and use murder and kidnapping with knives and bayonets. Then after U.S. troops had been withdrawn they would again take up their weapons and resort to guerrilla warfare. This would inevitably occur if President Thieu did not meet their political demands but always at a level which would not justify U.S. retaliation. General Haig stated that this was probably true but that as he had pointed out earlier, President Thieu, the ARVN, the police and RF and PF could more than cope with these tactics just as they had successfully for the past four years. President Thieu agreed that he and his forces could manage such a situation very well.

President Thieu then asked General Haig how the United States visualizes it would get its prisoners back. General Haig stated again that the obligation was specific in the agreement, that all the U.S. prisoners including those in Laos and those held by the VC in South Vietnam would be released within sixty days and this was a specific obligation of the DRV. During the recent Paris talks Hanoi had attempted to link the release of American prisoners with the release of political prisoners held by the GVN. This was in fact the subject of one of the remaining contested issues. However, the earlier agreed language of Article VIII made it clear that the release of all U.S. prisoners and the accounting of all U.S. missing in action had to be completed within sixty days regardless of the issue of VC prisoners or North Vietnamese [Page 751] prisoners held in the South. President Thieu then asked whether or not demobilized North Vietnamese troops would be sent back to their homes. Mr. Nha added his own question, i.e., what would be the U.S. attitude towards this tactic. General Haig stated that Hanoi had maintained that North Vietnamese troops in the South were actually not theirs but rather South Vietnamese nationals who volunteered while living in the North or the sons of such volunteers. General Haig stated that this was patently untrue but at the same time the very fact that Hanoi denied that it had any troops in South Vietnam served to preserve the principle that they had no right to be there.

President Thieu stated that in his view, guerrilla warfare will last for many years and that this agreement would not settle the problem. Nevertheless, this would be an acceptable risk. It took twelve years in Malaysia to stamp out guerrilla warfare with a troop ratio of ten to one. He noted that it was obvious to everyone that the warfare would continue. The GVN’s difficulty involved signing an agreement that recognizes that Hanoi has a right to be in South Vietnam. As the President of South Vietnam, it is perfectly clear that everything must be done to insure continued U.S. support to permit South Vietnam to survive. It is important that the President do everything possible to get as many favorable changes as can be achieved in the draft agreement. It now appears that South Vietnam has two choices:

  • —First, to sign the agreement and thereby receive continuing U.S. support but with the full knowledge that the war will not end and guerrilla conflict will continue.
  • —The second alternative is not to sign the agreement and thereby to lose U.S. support.

The alternatives are very clear.

President Thieu then asked General Haig what the United States would do if Hanoi would not accept the changes which the United States negotiator had demanded. General Haig replied that it would then be obvious that Hanoi had saved us from our current dilemma. Although the tasks would be difficult, we would have to take the position that Hanoi was insisting on a disguised surrender and, therefore, the conflict would have to continue in its present form until there was a change in Hanoi’s attitude.

On the other hand, if Hanoi were to return to a more reasonable posture and accepted the changes proposed by the United States, the lines would be clearly drawn and it would be next to impossible not to have President Thieu surface as the sole obstacle to peace, with all of the serious implications which would result.

President Thieu asked whether or not the United States and Hanoi negotiators had discussed the Protocols associated with the agreement. General Haig stated that as President Thieu was aware, the U.S. side [Page 752] had tabled several Protocols, including the ICCS Protocol, early in the negotiations. Hanoi had not commented but then in early December, during the last days of the last round, they cabled a counter draft which sought to totally emasculate the effectiveness of the international body, while placing great emphasis on the two-party machinery. This was an obvious effort to extend VC influence and presence throughout the GVN controlled area. The U.S. had no intention of accepting Hanoi’s approach and would continue to insist on the effective international control body. Hanoi had also tabled several other Protocols involving procedures for the removal of the U.S. mines which were not especially troublesome and an additional Protocol covering the modalities of the withdrawal of U.S. forces. This Protocol again reopened the issue of the residual U.S. civilian presence and was, therefore, also unsatisfactory. During the meeting of the technical experts over the past few days, very little progress had been made with respect to the Protocols, with Xuan Thuy maintaining the position that the agreement itself would have to be ironed out before finite work could be done on the Protocols.

President Thieu then asked General Haig if Hanoi had agreed to the 11 December draft which had been provided to his Ambassadors in Paris. General Haig reviewed again the status of the negotiations as of 12 December. When this review had been completed, President Thieu stated that given the realities of the situation, what he was being asked to sign was not a treaty for peace but a treaty for continued U.S. support. There would be no peace but North Vietnam would not be able to take over South Vietnam, even with the agreement. However, Hanoi will have the capability to wage war for a long time. Under the provisions of the treaty, Hanoi will never take an action which would provoke a U.S. response. Nevertheless, the agreement will not provide a lasting ceasefire. If Hanoi were to abide by the prohibitions against infiltration, it would be tantamount to suicide for Hanoi.

Certainly, as the President of Vietnam his first thoughts have to be for all of the people of South Vietnam and not just his own future or survival.

President Thieu stated that it was very clear to him that President Nixon had no desire to take action against him. On the other hand, the draft agreement affects the whole South Vietnamese nation and had to be considered in that context. President Thieu asked General Haig when he would return to the U.S. General Haig stated that he had planned to return by Thursday4 night at the President’s direction, noting that he would travel to Phnom Penh that afternoon, return to Saigon that evening and depart for Vientiane around noon, with the [Page 753] view towards arriving in Bangkok on Wednesday night for a meeting Thursday morning with Prime Minister Thanom and a departure from Bangkok Thursday afternoon.

General Haig again reiterated the sensitive nature of President Nixon’s letter to President Thieu, noting that if the fact of the letter or its contents became public that President Nixon could only consider it to be a serious act of bad faith on the part of the Government of South Vietnam. In this regard, it was also important to future relationships which were now strained that there be no public utterances about the nature or contents of the discussions between President Thieu and General Haig.

General Haig added that he had personally requested President Nixon’s permission to deliver the letter to President Thieu because General Haig, as well as Dr. Kissinger, had been President Thieu’s staunchest allies in the U.S. General Haig would soon be departing his post to return to the U.S. Army and for this reason, he had specifically requested President Nixon’s approval to carry the communication to President Thieu and to explain its implications with the same spirit of frankness that has always characterized his discussions with President Thieu. The situation had become sufficiently grave that there was no longer time for diplomatic talk or delicate maneuvering between two governments whose continued unity and cooperation was essential if the fruits of a victory which had been jointly achieved through sacrifices, courage and extreme energy by both partners were to be realized. The most serious single outcome of the current dilemma would occur if the drift between Washington and Saigon were to continue. Certainly, challenges of far greater gravity have been met in the past with unified action based on cooperation and mutual trust. A departure from that framework now could risk everything that had been achieved at the very moment that both parties were nearer to a substantial victory than they had ever been.

President Thieu stated that he would have to think very carefully about President Nixon’s letter and General Haig’s presentation.

General Haig stated that he hoped that he would be able to return to Washington with some kind of a reply for President Nixon. It was essential that the United States be armed with the benefit of President Thieu’s thinking so that its future strategy could be determined.

The meeting adjourned at 12:50 p.m.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 860, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXIII, Haig-Thieu mtgs. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the Presidential Palace. In message WHS 2274, December 15, Haig told Bunker that the purpose of his impending trip to Southeast Asia would be to explain current American actions to allies in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. Specifically: “My objectives in discussions will be to provide a first-hand description of our current negotiating strategy, to indicate the President’s displeasure with Thieu’s inflexibility and to again underline our unequivocal determination to proceed with an agreement along the lines of the October 26 draft if Hanoi’s current delaying tactics come to an end.” (Ibid., Box 858, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXII (2))
  2. Document 189. Haig later wrote: “Thieu was shaken by what he read when I gave him Nixon’s letter …. I am not speaking figuratively; a shudder ran through his body.” (Inner Circles, p. 309)
  3. See Document 182.
  4. December 21.