310. Backchannel Message From the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Haigto 23/346. For immediate delivery.

Attached is the text of Thieu’s reply which was delivered to me at approximately 3:00 pm this afternoon Saigon time. After being informed that I would see the President at 11:00 am, we heard nothing until around 1:00 pm at which time we were informed that the meeting would be at 2:30 pm or thereafter. We then received a call to the effect that President Thieu was furnishing a written reply to the President. The question was asked whether or not it would be necessary to have General Haig meet with the President. I told Ambassador Bunker to inform Mr. Nha, who made the call, that I had been instructed by the President to convey a message to President Thieu. We were then told to wait. Shortly thereafter, we received another call to the effect that the meeting would be sometime after 2:30 pm. Finally, at 2:45 pm, we received [Page 1096] a call that the meeting would be at 2:50 pm, all this despite the fact that the Palace was well aware that I had scheduled an appointment with President Park for late Saturday afternoon in Seoul. When I saw President Thieu along with Ambassador Bunker and with Mr. Nha in attendance, I informed him that the President asked me to convey to him general outlines of the speech he planned to give on Tuesday evening following the initialing which would take place on Tuesday morning. I then carefully touched upon each of the themes contained in your instruction.2 I also touched upon the themes which the Vice President would touch upon during his meeting with President Thieu and noted that the President would be willing to meet with him sometime around the first of March.

Thieu listened and then stated that he wondered why we selected the scenario we had with an initialing on Tuesday and a release of the text of the agreements and protocols on Wednesday—four days before the formal signing. He stated that this gave him considerable difficulty but that he understood that we were probably influenced by the fact that it was important to explain the agreements before misinformed speculation took place. I told Thieu that this was precisely correct. I also pointed out that this was almost the same schedule that had originally been discussed with him in October. I said it was most important that we positively and precisely outline the provisions of the agreement as well as publish the text as soon as it was known that agreement in fact exists and it had been initialed. Otherwise, the Communist propaganda machine might portray it in inaccurate terms and forever more we would be in a position of trying to correct false initial impressions. I mentioned to Thieu that the President was anxious to have him make a parallel statement with respect to the settlement on the morning of the 24th in Saigon. I then mentioned to President Thieu that I was somewhat concerned about the manner in which I, as an emissary of the President of the United States, had been personally treated and noted that while I recognized that this was a difficult period for all of us, I nonetheless would be remiss not to point out than an emissary of the President should be more carefully handled. Thieu pretended not to understand and asked Nha in Vietnamese for elaboration. He then replied that he regretted the delays in our meeting which were occasioned by the extension of the NSC meeting that morning. I then added that this was certainly understood but it was less easy to understand the message that our meeting would not be necessary at all. I told Thieu that I thought it was quite important that matters of protocol not be permitted to influence vital substance which at this time required the most intimate communication between our two governments. I then [Page 1097] told President Thieu that I understood he had a response prepared to President Nixon, noting that I was prepared to deliver it and convey any other additional messages which President Thieu might have. Thieu then stated that he was exceedingly grateful from the bottom of his heart for President Nixon’s assurances on what he would say on Tuesday night and with respect to what the Vice President would convey while in Saigon. He stated that despite this fact he had to deal with his conscience and there were still matters of grave concern. He noted that he had written a very lengthy letter which I may want to send electrically to Washington. He said he had to make this additional expression of his views to the President. As the meeting adjourned, after some 15 minutes, Ambassador Bunker commented on the previous day’s wedding ceremonies and I noted the unfortunate timing of all these events which coincided in a way which further complicated an already difficult task. President Thieu smiled at me and said, “You are very fortunate to be a General.”

From the attached letter it is obvious that Thieu intends to play the situation right to the wire. There is no doubt in either Ambassador Bunker’s mind or mine that Thieu is using these exchanges so that he can demonstrate to his own constituents that he has done absolutely everything possible to improve the agreement. You will note that he states in the letter that he intends to dispatch Foreign Minister Lam to Paris, departing Saigon on Sunday,3 with the view towards meeting with you in an effort to achieve the improvements outlined in his letter. I see no alternative than to permit Lam to proceed if Thieu insists. Although Thieu did not want us to read the letter in his presence, it was made categorically clear to him during the meeting that we were going to proceed with the schedule as outlined with or without him and I am convinced he knows this. Given the current state of play, I do not believe it will be of any value for me to talk to Thieu again. He knows our position. I believe he has made up his mind to join us since intelligence confirms he has so stated to both his civilian and military advisers but I am equally convinced that he is going to play every card until the last minute so that he can tell his constituents he has made every effort to improve the agreement. I will proceed to Korea tonight with the view towards seeing Park tomorrow. Should you wish me to return to Saigon, I will be prepared to do so. However, I think from this point on the best procedure is to deal with Thieu via Bunker. Both Bunker and I recommend that we stay absolutely firm and give Thieu no basis for encouragement that he could change the schedule or the realities with which he is faced.

Warm regards.

[Page 1098]

Saigon, January 20, 1973.

Nguyen Van Thieu

President of the Republic of Viet-nam

Dear Mr. President,

I received on January 18, through Ambassador Bunker, your reply4 to my letter of January 17,5 and appreciate greatly the promptness with which you gave me your response to the statements of the position of the Republic of Viet Nam on the restoration of peace.

The basic principles which, in our view, should be taken into consideration in the agreement, and which are a matter of life or death for the Republic of Viet Nam, have been known to you for a long time.

With respect to the protocols, you said that the GVN observations came “extremely late” as we allegedly have been asked to make comments on them for two and a half months but have not done so earlier. On this, I am obliged to point out that this was an inaccurate assumption, because in fact we received the latest draft of the protocols, in English, only on January 11. As for the Vietnamese text, it has not yet been communicated to us at the time of this writing. By a memorandum dated January 19 to Ambassador Bunker, we have provided to your government substantiated information on this question, with detailed facts and specific dates.

The latest draft of the protocols contains many important innovations, especially those relating to the police force and Communist areas of control. These points had not been mentioned in earlier texts, and actually are matters of substance. Also, the latest text has only a tentative outlook because many clauses still contain different U.S. and North Viet Nam versions.

As for the Vietnamese text of the document which we have not yet received, we consider that it is important for us to have it, because the Communists used to insert to their advantage, in the Vietnamese texts, words the meanings of which differ from those in the English text. As I mentioned in my letter of January 17, there still exist in the principal agreement a number of important discrepancies between the English and the Vietnamese texts which have not yet been ironed out.

In recent months, in our discussions with your government on the negotiations, we concentrated on the basic principles only because we consider that it is important to have first agreement on large principles. Then it would be easier to adapt various clauses to these guiding principles. Since the protocols are supposed to implement only the principles [Page 1099] laid down in the agreement, logically the discussions on the protocols have to await prior accord on the basic principles.

In the course of the negotiations with the other side through your government, I would not attempt to list in this letter all the successive very important concessions which the GVN has made for a prompt restoration of peace.

In comparison with the positions which our two governments have held together for many years, and emphatically stated on various occasions, and the large number of clauses which the GVN had strongly opposed in recent months, I hope that you have noticed the extreme good will of the GVN when we have drastically reduced our reservations to only 4 points, in my letter of January 17.

I have weighed very attentively the considerations you raised in your reply of January 18. I understand your view that the present circumstances seem to make it necessary for our two governments to build a new basis for continued U.S. assistance to the RVN in our struggle to defend and preserve freedom. However, I must confess that I do not comprehend why the paraphing6 and the signing of the agreement have absolutely to be done on January 23 and January 27, while there are many vital points which leave much to be desired.

With this in mind, in case you consider that it is too difficult to obtain satisfaction on all four points I mentioned in my letter of January 17, I accept to reduce them, as the last resort, to only two points, each of which will also be reduced in its substance, as follows:

— With regard to the NVA, the words “one to one basis” and “return to their homes” are to be added to the clause on the demobilization of the Vietnamese armed forces.
— In the protocols, we insist on leaving out the wordings which would hamper the GVN police force in its responsibility to maintain law and order. This is a very reasonable demand, the more so that it relates to an innovation made by the Communists in the latest draft.
Concerning the point 1 above, relating to the NVA, if Hanoi adamantly turns down the suggested wordings on demobilization, I propose a mutual understanding, even without formal changes in the present text, on the following three alternatives:
— The NVA will be regrouped immediately after the cease-fire, and will withdraw at the conclusion of the political solution in SVN.
— The NVA units will remain in place following the signature of the cease-fire, to be regrouped later at the conclusion of the political solution in SVN, and will withdraw from SVN before the elections are held in SVN.
— De facto withdrawal of the NVA by mutual understanding, according to a schedule agreed upon, but not later than the day before the elections to be held in SVN in the framework of the political solution between the two South Vietnamese parties.

One of the major reasons why I propose various alternatives on the questionof the NVA presence in SVN is that it will be impossibleto implementa political solution based on the principle of self-determination of the South Vietnamese people, while the South Vietnamese people have to remain under the latent threats of the NVA.

I deeply believe that these proposals are most reasonable and are the very strict minimum indispensable to give the RVN a chance for survival, and therefore they deserve a last supreme effort vis-à-vis the Communist side.

Given the importance of the matter and the fact that the protocols have not been adequately discussed and we have not yet received the Vietnamese texts of the protocols, and there is still the question of discrepancies between the English and Vietnamese texts in the principal agreement, in order to speed up a peace settlement by the participation on the scene of a fully competent member of our government, I am sending Foreign Minister Tran Van Lam to Paris tomorrow, for him to cooperate closely with Dr. Kissinger in these crucial negotiations.

In the name of the long standing and very close friendship and solidarity of our two nations, sealed in blood, sweat and tears of our soldiers and citizens for so many years, I look forward to your favorable response.



His Excellency Richard M. Nixon
President of the United States of America
The White House, Washington, D.C.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1020, Alexander M. Haig Special File, Gen. Haig’s Vietnam Trip Haigto 1–26 and misc. memos, January 14–21, 1973. Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. In Tohaig 72/WHS 3081, January 19, 1630Z, Kissinger informed Haig: “I have just talked to the President and he has asked me to tell you that you must be sure to tell Thieu that no delay is possible. The President will definitely go ahead and initial the agreement. If he cannot say that he is going ahead together with the South Vietnamese the Congressional actions foreshadowed in the Stennis and Goldwater comments which we sent to Bunker may start Wednesday, January 24, and the President would not be able to give assurances that he now plans to make in his speech.” (Ibid., Box 860, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXIV)
  2. For the instructions, see paragraph 3, Document 302.
  3. January 21.
  4. See Document 290.
  5. See Document 285.
  6. Initialing.