208. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • President Thieu Turns Down Draft Agreement

In a brief December 20 meeting, President Thieu gave General Haig a letter for you whose text is attached at Tab A.2 In the letter President Thieu makes clear that he cannot accept the Draft Peace Agreement unless it includes a parallel withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops from the South under effective supervision and removes any references to the Provisional Revolutionary Government. Although his letter is couched in terms of making further concessions by accepting the political provisions of the Agreement, Thieu’s demand for North Vietnamese withdrawal, of course, makes a comprehensive settlement with Hanoi impossible, as he well knows. He has thus rejected your final appeal in your letter and General Haig’s forceful presentation yesterday, during which Ambassador Bunker and General Haig had been encouraged by Thieu’s apparent pragmatism.

President Thieu claims that he and his Government are making important concessions and asks us to present his scaled-down position to the Communists. He emphasizes, however, that the withdrawal of the North Vietnamese forces is indispensable and that his Government and people “absolutely cannot go beyond these new important concessions, because otherwise it would be tantamount to surrender.”

Elsewhere in his letter President Thieu thanks you for your four years of support, maintains that the South Vietnamese are successfully shouldering the military burden and have fully cooperated in the negotiations, and contrasts the unreasonable positions of the Communists with his own forthcoming attitude. He recalls the three major principles that should be embodied in the Agreement, i.e. North Vietnamese withdrawal, no recognition of the PRG, and no interpretation of the Council as a coalition government. In effect, President Thieu is sticking with the first two principles while saying that he can reluctantly live with the Agreement as it affects the third principle.

[Page 775]

He also states that it would be unfair to present an ultimatum to his Government and people either to accept the Draft Agreement or to face the sudden termination of our assistance in the face of a ruthless enemy aided by its allies.


President Thieu’s reaction thus seems to leave us little alternative except to move toward a bilateral arrangement. The basic choice is how we go about this. We could stick with the present Agreement in the hopes that Hanoi will return to the conference table and meet our minimum requirements. There is a very remote chance that once presented with a fait accompli, President Thieu might grudgingly accept the Agreement. However, given Thieu’s consistent position and the categorical stance in his letter, we can no longer harbor any illusions about the likelihood of this happening. Thus this course would almost certainly lead to Thieu’s rejection of the completed accord, thus forcing us to proceed bilaterally either to implement what is possible in the Agreement or to strike a new deal with Hanoi.

The other choice is to decide within the next week or two to move immediately to the bilateral route and to drop our efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement involving all the Vietnamese parties. This course would involve the public redefinition of our terms. It would be based on the assumption that since we will inevitably end up with a prisoners-for-withdrawal/cessation-of-bombing arrangement, we might as well chart this course now for all our audiences.

  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; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. A stamped notation on the first page reads: “The President has seen.”
  2. The letter, December 20, is attached but printed in Document 206.