292. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

339. Ref: WHS 3050.2

I delivered the President’s letter to Thieu this morning after encountering considerable difficulty in getting appointment due to fact that Thieu is engaged all day in religious ceremonies preliminary to his daughter’s wedding which takes place tomorrow.
After reading the letter, Thieu made a few comments on the text:
  • —He felt the statement regarding the protocols was unfair since General Vinh Loc’s group had encountered difficulties in dealing with MACV and it was only on January 12 that the protocol texts had been received from Paris. I pointed out that he had prohibited his people from meeting with us because of the fact that he considered the draft agreement unsatisfactory and considered it pointless, therefore, to discuss the protocols.
  • —The Communists have tried to gain in the protocols what they have been unable to secure in the agreement itself. The fact that the agreement is vague probably has advantages, but the protocols have the effect of law and must be strictly adhered to. For example, the prohibition against police carrying anything but hand weapons is impossible in a country like South Viet-Nam.
  • —There are still differences between the English and Vietnamese texts, e.g., in the first sentence of Article 12 b) describing the task of the NCRC the English text uses the word “promoting” whereas the Vietnamese text translates “supervising” (don doc).
  • —He welcomed the visit of the Vice President and the assurances he was prepared to give, but said that he had understood that the President would give these assurances personally. The effect on people in South Viet-Nam would obviously be greater if the assurances came from the President rather than through the Vice President.
  • —He noted that the President would “address the American people on the evening of January 23” and wondered what he planned to say.
Thieu then went over much of the ground that he had covered with General Haig and me last night3 in a somewhat less emotional and not unfriendly way. He repeated that he had only two choices:
  • —He could become a “so-called hero”, disavow the agreement, refuse to sign it, and say that South Vietnam had been betrayed by the Americans.
  • —Agree to go along with us and sign the agreement because American support is essential to South Vietnam’s survival.
He repeated that he would never compromise the interests of the South Vietnamese people; if he could not serve their interests he would withdraw. But the time factor (presumably if he is to sign the agreement) is important in gaining the approval of the people. If he acts alone without their approbation, how will he retain their support? He said to me, “How would you tell the people?”
I replied that if I were in his place I would say first that after twenty-five years of bitter struggle that I had brought peace to Viet-Nam, the overwhelming desire of the vast majority of the people; that the South Vietnamese people now had the opportunity to determine their future in free, internationally supervised elections; that the country had become strong, powerful, and self-reliant; that through the determination of the people and the courage of the armed forces and with the loyal support of its allies, South Viet-Nam had blunted and turned back the most massive attack the enemy could mount; that the other side had to recede from its demands for a coalition government and the overthrow of the present regime; that the people should not fear the risks of peace, but face the political contest to come with courage and confidence. No doubt he could articulate all this much better than I, for he would know how to address his people. But the important thing is to exhibit confidence, not fear.
Thieu again referred to the importance of timing in determining how to present the agreement to the people. (It is clear that he is wrestling with the problem of how to reconcile the decision to sign with the [Page 1060] uncompromising stand he has taken on aspects of the agreement. He said, “I am facing a crisis of conscience.”)
However, I am confident that, as I said in Saigon 0313,4 when Thieu knows that we are determined unequivocally to proceed only repeat only then will he decide to go along. Evidence is mounting that he understands this is now the situation and that he has reached the decision to sign the agreement:
  • —On the afternoon of January 17, Thieu called a meeting of the commanders of the military regions, General Cao Van Vien, Chief of JGS, General Khang, Special Assistant to the Chief of JGS for Operations, General Quang, General Nguyen Khac Binh, Director of the National Police, and several other high ranking military officers along with the Vice President, the Prime Minister, President of the Senate, and the Chairman of the Lower House for the purpose of briefing them on the text of the President’s letter and on his decision concerning the draft agreement. Thieu said that President Nixon was fully occupied with great economic problems which will continue for the next few years and for this reason wanted to end involvement in the war. He could understand the problem and the pressures which the President was experiencing from Congress and friendly governments and was willing to sign the ceasefire agreement. There were several technical points which he would like to see changed prior to the signing, such as a clarification of the DMZ, but these were not of major importance and the signing of the ceasefire did not hinge upon making these changes. Thieu reported to the meeting that the plans call for initialing of the ceasefire agreement in Paris on January 23 and the formal signing on January 27, with a ceasefire to become effective on January 28.5
  • —In confirmation of this report, we received word this morning that Lt. Gen. Truong, MR I commander, informed General Cooksey6 of the meeting with Thieu on January 17 and that Thieu has agreed to terms of ceasefire. General Truong reported that agreement to the ceasefire would be announced on January 23, signing will occur on January 27, and the ceasefire will go into effect at 0800 January 28. A similar report has come from General Minh, MR III commander.
  • —General Dan Van Quang, who was present at the meeting, reported to us that Thieu had called in the military and corps commanders, not to ask their views, but to inform them that he had decided to sign the agreement.
I think Thieu’s most recent letter to the President7 was motivated by the desire to gain as much time as possible (the practice he has consistently followed) and to enable him to say, when he announced his decision to sign, that he has done everything possible to defend his country’s interests. As I left, he said, “Well, I have two more days”. All the evidence points to his going along.
Warm regards.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 415, Backchannel Messages, From Amb. Bunker, Saigon thru April 1973. Top Secret; Operational Immediate; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. Document 290.
  3. See Document 285.
  4. Document 239.
  5. For a report on this meeting, see Document 286.
  6. Major General Howard H. Cooksey, USA, Commander, 1st Regional Assistance Command in northern South Vietnam until January 27, was General Troung’s senior American adviser.
  7. Contained in Document 285.