311. Backchannel Message From the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1
Haigto 24. In conjunction with Haigto 23,2 I wanted you to have the following considerations. Both Bunker and I are in full agreement with following assessment. Thieu will unquestionably sign the agreement. We know he has so informed his entire bureaucracy and the word has now been disseminated down through division level that a ceasefire will take place on the morning of January 28. A careful reading of Thieu’s letter forwarded in Haigto 23 clearly indicates Thieu’s intention to do so while he at the same time makes a final effort to improve the agreement and protocols. It is important that we view Thieu’s response in the context of Oriental pride and face. Thieu has up until now dug in firmly against the agreement, especially with the GVN Assembly—both the House and the Senate. He now seems principally concerned about his ability to reverse field in those bodies. It is already apparent from intelligence that the military, the NSC and other personal advisers are having no problem with the prospect of Thieu’s signing.
The General [National] Assembly could be another problem because it contains political opponents. It is for this reason that Bunker and I believe that Thieu is going to make a fight right up until the last possible minute so that he can take the position with factual evidence to support it that he has done his absolute utmost to get the best possible deal for South Vietnam and its people. It has been evident to Bunker and to me as well, in our personal assessments of Thieu’s demeanor, that he has made up his mind to proceed. Since my first meeting with him this week, he has become relaxed and confident and reflects none of the tenseness you observed in October and I saw first-hand in December. I believe it is important that you bear this in mind in reading Thieu’s latest letter but, more importantly, in developing a response. Both Bunker and I believe that we should answer Thieu in a reasonable, sympathetic and understanding way while holding fixed to our decision to proceed. Thieu’s decision to send Lam to Paris should also be considered in the context of his own face saving. I am confident that he does not expect any changes because of Lam’s trip but it will be less difficult, [Page 1102] if Lam is in Paris, once he decides to formally notify us of his acceptance. For this reason, I do not think we should challenge his decision. I, therefore, recommend the following.
We should respond promptly to Thieu, patiently advising him that the chances for changes are slim if not impossible but agreeing to meet with Lam in Paris Monday night3 and further agreeing to make a final effort on remaining issues. You may wish to make it clear that the agreement itself is firmly locked although I would recommend doing so through Lam. I would also include in the response the essentiality of having a firm reply from Thieu one way or the other by 3:00 pm Paris time Tuesday. If by that time Thieu has not formally concurred via Flash message either through Bunker or Lam, the President will pinpoint the GVN as the sole obstacle to peace in his Tuesday night television address. You may also wish to refer in the reply to Thieu to his concern about next week’s sequence of events, i.e., the bilateral initialing on Tuesday and the release of documents Wednesday, with the signature occurring four days after the initialing. Thieu is obviously uncomfortable with the prospect of a U.S.–DRV initialing and subsequent announcement, together with the release of details, before the GVN has formally initialed or signed. This, of course, is another of the reasons why he is sending Lam to Paris. Again, Oriental face is a key factor. This is also another reason for not objecting to Thieu’s actions. You may wish to draw upon what I told Thieu and reported in Haigto 23 concerning the sequence in Paris. In my view, this affair has been brought to a successful conclusion even though we will need a degree more effort, patience and understanding before Thieu is finally fully on board. Despite the irritation caused by his performance, we must not lose sight of the fact that what is important now is to get him there, whether smiling or kicking and screaming. I suspect we will have to put up with the kicking and screaming until the very last moment when the smile will finally break through.
Habib informs me that I will see Park early Sunday morning. Both his Ambassador and senior military representative in Saigon were at planeside at our departure. I will finesse the Thieu issue with Park and merely suggest that I am confident Thieu will join us, without giving him any details. I will also touch upon the bilateral issues contained in your instruction to me. These will be very welcome by Park since I am highly suspicious that Habib has been making worrisome noises on all three (internal affairs, U.S. presence and future U.S. assistance).