261. Message From the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) in Paris1

Tohak 70. Deliver opening of business.

Attached is a message from the President which was dictated in substance following a lengthy and tortuous meeting2 between the President, Haldeman and myself addressing Hakto 14.3 The President was very concerned that his public statement following the initialing in Paris would be a total flop. It would occur after all of the peace euphoria had peaked off. He was also adamant about making the announcement if we succeed prior to the inaugural. He recognizes, of course, that this will depend on substantive events there and in Saigon.

In any event his main concern is that he, the President, be the first to announce that a settlement has been or is about to be arrived at. My efforts throughout the discussions were to insure that you could participate in inaugural events here. This took some doing as repeated alternative schedules were discussed.

I recognize that the attached message may be troublesome. It is evident to me that the President is flexible providing the two principles of perserving his posture during the inauguration and having him in the forefront on the announcement are met. In the interest of time, I will not further elaborate on the meeting since its conclusions are contained in the attached Presidential message.

January 10, 1973

To: Henry A. Kissinger

From: The President

I have read your latest message carefully and agree completely that the revised schedule which would have the initialing occur in Paris in lieu of Hanoi with a subsequent post-settlement trip by you to Hanoi is far preferable to the earlier schedule. In discussing this with Le Duc Tho, you may wish to emphasize that this alternative is far more in Hanoi’s interest since you will then be able to spend more time in their capital to work out the provisions of our future relationships and the issue of economic assistance.

[Page 937]

With respect to the possible schedule, I have some reservations about the specific timing and sequence of events. The major problem involves the current high level of Congressional concern and the resulting need to telescope events as much as possible so that the Congress does not get out of hand. There is a similar problem with the press, although I do not consider this a matter which should influence our actions in any way. We are now faced with two alternatives, Thieu may join us, in which case the settlement will be assured and it is in our best interest to compress the time between your return from Paris and a public announcement by me to the effect that an agreement has been reached. The second alternative involves a situation in which Thieu refuses to accept the settlement, in which case we are faced with delays and possible serious complications with Hanoi. Under this alternative, we are also faced with the possibility of a repeat of the events of October which could peak just at the time of the inaugural. For this reason, I would like you to consider carefully two modified alternative gameplans—one which visualizes Thieu’s acquiescence and the second which would be based on his continued intransigence.

An additional problem is posed by the probability that once you return and Haig leaves for Saigon, speculation will mount that a settlement in principle has been achieved. This will all but be confirmed by the announcement on January 15 of a bombing halt. From that point on, the focus will be on Haig’s return and subsequent travel by you. The events which have brought us to the present situation are somewhat different than those in October, and therefore I believe a White House announcement on January 19th that you are returning to Paris on Monday followed by a speech by me on Monday evening, January 23, after the initialing would be anti-climactic and serve no useful purpose. Assuming Thieu accepts the agreement, I believe it would be preferable for me to personally announce immediately after Haig’s return from Saigon that I have instructed you to return to Paris with the view toward initialing the agreement. You could then either depart immediately for this one-day requirement with a prompt return to Washington or, if the weekend intervened, wait until Monday, January 22. I have considered the possibility of making this speech on Friday, January 19, but because of inaugural activities, I am convinced that this speech must be made before Friday and, ideally, on Thursday, January 18. This modification would be facilitated by some compression in your schedule this week in Paris and an earlier departure by Haig. Therefore, I would hope that it would be possible for you to conclude your business, perhaps as early as Friday of this week so that Haig could travel to Saigon on Saturday. If this is not possible, we might still telescope the time between your return and Haig’s departure. Under this modified schedule and under the assumption that Thieu accepts, we should make every effort to have Haig return to Washington by [Page 938] Wednesday or Thursday morning at the latest. I would then deliver a brief television address of approximately 10 minutes to the American people announcing that an agreement in principle had been reached and that you were departing either Friday or, if you prefer, Monday for Paris with the view toward initialing the document. We would need to determine based on Haig’s discussion with Thieu and your discussions with Le Duc Tho when the ceasefire could actually take effect so that this fact could be included in my announcement. I visualize that the ceasefire would take effect on noon, Monday, January 22, or Tuesday, January 23.

Under the second alternative; i.e., Thieu remains intransigent, I would visualize the same schedule up through Haig’s departure for Saigon. Should it become evident to Haig that Thieu will not agree it would then be advantageous for Haig to delay his return to Washington until Saturday, January 20, or Sunday, January 21. In this case, there would be no Presidential statement made on Thursday. Instead, I would announce on Monday or Tuesday that we had arrived at an acceptable settlement with Hanoi but that President Thieu has refused to accept, we are publicly urging President Thieu to reconsider, and you are continuing discussions with Hanoi in Paris in the light of these circumstances. Because this situation might well develop, I anticipate that you will discuss this possible contingency with Le Duc Tho before you return to Washington, but at a point in your discussions when you are convinced that an acceptable settlement has been achieved and revelation of the fact that Thieu is still in doubt will not jeopardize its success. In this way, Hanoi cannot again claim bad faith. You may have a different perspective of this problem. If so, please advise.

In sum, I would visualize the following two alternative schedules:

  • Option 1—Thieu agrees
    • —Friday, January 12, Kissinger returns to Washington.
    • —Saturday, January 13, Haig leaves for Saigon.
    • —Monday, January 15, announcement of bombing halt due to progress in Paris.
    • —Wednesday, January 17, Haig returns to Washington.
    • —Thursday p.m., January 18, Presidential announcement that agreement in principle has been reached between all parties and that President has directed Dr. Kissinger to proceed Paris on Friday, January 19, or Monday, January 22, to initial final text. The announcement should also include a statement on when cease fire would come into effect.
    • —Friday, January 19, or Monday, January 22, Kissinger initialing in Paris.
    • —Friday, January 26, four-party signature of agreement in Paris.
    • —ca February 1, trip to Hanoi.
  • Option 2—Thieu intransigent
    • —Friday, January 12, Kissinger returns to Washington.
    • —Saturday, January 13, Haig leaves for Saigon.
    • Haig extends visit in Saigon to include stops in Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Bangkok and Seoul.
    • —Saturday, January 20, or Sunday, January 21, Haig returns to Washington.
    • —Monday, January 22 or Tuesday, January 23, Presidential television address announcing agreement between Washington and Hanoi, and Thieu’s refusal to come along.

Under this option and dependent on your discussions with Le Duc Tho, I would visualize additional discussions in Paris between you and Le Duc Tho designed to cope with Thieu’s intransigence but to preserve the essence of the Hanoi/Washington accord and perhaps to permit time for worldwide pressures to bring Thieu along. This option also would give us the flexibility to hold for a time if it appears that Thieu is really going to come along but needs a few more days or even a week or two to do so.

Both of the schedules outlined above are based on perspectives here which may overlook other considerations there of which only you are aware. My principal concern is that the public and especially the Congressional mood is such that if we succeed, we must proceed with as compressed a time-schedule as possible. In the event of success in Paris and Saigon, it is no longer viable to delay a Presidential announcement until after the initialing, since that announcement would be meaningless and anti-climactic. On the other hand, if you succeed in Paris but Thieu remains intransigent, it is then essential that we continue the appearance of movement through the inaugural weekend. This would be followed early during the next week with a public statement by me which would be designed to place massive world pressure on Thieu.

Please give careful thought to how we can deal with the contingency of continued intransigence by Thieu without jeopardizing what you have so skilfully achieved during this week’s talks. Your accomplishments this week have been remarkable and most encouraging. You may be assured that knowledge of this progress is being strictly confined to Haldeman, Haig, Kennedy and Scowcroft. Please give me your views on the above considerations.

Warmest personal regards.

End of message.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 28, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Tohak 67–146, January 7–14, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent via Guay. Written on January 10.
  2. For Haldeman’s account of the meeting, see Document 259.
  3. Document 258.