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

Haigto 4/301. Ambassador Bunker and I have just completed a two hour and fifty minute meeting with President Thieu and Mr. Nha.2 Mr. Duc had been lined up to participate but I insisted on a private meeting with only Nha to interpret. Of course, I wanted Nha to hear the discussion. I presented to Thieu in the bluntest and most unequivocal way all of the considerations which made it imperative that he join with us in accepting the agreement if North Vietnam meets our minimum requirements. I outlined for him what those requirements were and the current state of the draft agreement. I noted specifically the actions President Nixon had courageously taken Saturday and this morning and the costs that these actions entailed for the U.S. in manpower, matériel and political good will at home. At the outset of the meeting, I handed him President Nixon’s letter which I told him had been dictated personally by the President in my presence before my departure on Sunday.3 I told him that no one else in the U.S. Government had a copy of this letter and that it represented the most painful and most deliberate judgment of his strongest supporter and friend in Washington. Thieu was obviously shaken. I then proceeded for over an hour and a half to outline all of the considerations which dictated his acceptance of the agreement.

When I completed my presentation, Thieu went on at great length and stated that it was obvious that he was being asked not to sign an agreement for peace but rather an agreement for continued U.S. support. I told him as a soldier and one completely familiar with Communist treachery that I agreed with his assessment. I added, however, that both you and the President would be equally ready to accept that assessment. Thieu stated that he was confident that the ceasefire would last at the most three months and would be followed by a resumption of guerilla warfare. During the first three months the enemy would use knives and bayonets. They would then take up their weapons after U.S. forces had been withdrawn and a period of peace ensued. He stated [Page 755] that Hanoi would never undertake actions which would justify U.S. retaliation.

I generally agreed with his assessment but pointed out that the situation was now the reverse of what it was in the early fifties, and he was far more powerful than was the Diem regime at that time. I pointed out that all our assessments—military, political and intelligence—confirmed that he would be victorious in a guerilla struggle and he conceded that this was so. I then told him that in any event the question was moot. We were at the final juncture at which he would have to speak in favor of moving with us or be prepared to proceed alone. He stated that he understood completely and while I suspect he may waffle his answer somewhat, I am equally confident that he will go along providing we achieve the minimum changes to the agreement which you and I have discussed. This would include the three document signature, the elimination of the term “administrative structure” and the return to the interim DMZ language which Hanoi gave us in November.

I know we have been around this track before and that I may be faced tomorrow morning with a response that is a total stonewall. Be this as it may, I told him at departure that I have been ordered not to participate in a meeting with his National Security Council and that our discussion tomorrow morning should again be with the same participants. Both Ambassador Bunker and I are of the impression that Thieu will come along even if he does not give us an affirmative answer tomorrow. There is no question in my mind that he understands completely the alternatives. I told him that if he did not give me an encouraging answer to provide to President Nixon Thursday night that we would consult our own interests and work out an arrangement that could only result in his downfall and the failure of all that we have worked for. He stated that the issue was simple and he understood it. I will give you a more detailed report tonight upon my return from Phnom Penh.

Concerning the air strikes against the North, I am scheduled to meet with General Weyand first thing tomorrow morning. Please do not permit Department of Defense concerns to deter us from what must be done. I feel that Thieu’s attitude which was cordial, frank and totally honest throughout the discussion was in large measure influenced by the President’s decision to move violently against Hanoi. He seemed reassured that we are not naive about the outcome of the agreement and very amenable to the reality that we must have a new basis for continuing our support to him.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 859, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXIII. Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. See Document 197.
  3. Sunday was December 17; for the letter, see Document 189.