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

WHS 3098. 1. Following is letter from President Nixon to President Thieu. As we have told you we must have an answer by noon Sunday2 our time. If any sentence strikes you as particularly offensive please feel free to edit it before delivery.

Begin text:

Dear President Thieu:

Thank you for your January 20 letter,3 which I have carefully read.

No point is served in reviewing the record of our exchanges regarding the agreement and the protocols. While it may be true that the latest texts of the protocols did not reach Saigon until January 11, it is also true that your representatives in Paris were continually without instructions during the various negotiating sessions in November and December. We were thus forced to proceed according to our own best judgment. During this process we kept your representatives fully informed, while continually asking in vain for your government’s suggestions.

In any event, all these considerations are now beside the point. The essential fact is that the situation in the United States makes it imperative to put our relationship on a new basis. It is obvious that we face a situation of most extreme gravity when long-time friends of South Vietnam such as Senators Goldwater and Stennis, on whom we have relied for four years to carry our programs of assistance through the Congress, make public declarations that a refusal by your government of reasonable peace terms would make it impossible to continue aid. It is this situation which now threatens everything for which our two countries have suffered so much.

Let me now address the specific proposals you have made in your letter. We have made innumerable attempts to achieve the very provisions you have proposed with respect to North Vietnamese forces, both in the text of the agreement and in formal understandings. We have concluded that the course we have chosen is the best obtainable: while [Page 1113] there is no specific provision in the text, there are so many collateral clauses with an impact on this question that the continued presence of North Vietnamese troops could only be based on illegal acts and the introduction of new forces could only be done in violation of the agreement. It seems to me that the following clauses in the agreement achieve this objective:

  • —The affirmation of the independence and sovereignty of South Vietnam in Articles 14, 18 (e), and 20.
  • —The provision for reunification only by peaceful means, through agreement and without coercion or annexation, which establishes the illegitimacy of any use or threat of force in the name of reunification (Article 15).
  • —The U.S. and DRV, on an equal basis, pledging themselves against any outside interference in the exercise of the South Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination (Article 9).
  • —The legal prohibition of the introduction of troops, advisers, and war material into South Vietnam from outside South Vietnam (Article 7).
  • —The principle of respect for the Demilitarized Zone and the Provisional Military Demarcation Line (Article 15).
  • —The prohibition of the use of Laotian and Cambodian territory to encroach upon the sovereignty and security of South Vietnam (Article 20).
  • —The fact that all Communist forces in South Vietnam are subject to the obligation that their reduction and demobilization are to be negotiated as soon as possible (Article 13).

In addition, we are prepared to give you a unilateral U.S. note which sums up our understanding on this issue. Ambassador Bunker will show you a draft of a note which we will deliver in Saigon on the day of signature of January 27.

With respect to your concern about the protocols, it seems to us that Article 6 in the ceasefire/joint commission protocol would permit your police forces to continue carrying carbines and rifles since the continued presence of North Vietnamese forces obviously constitutes “unusual circumstances.” Nevertheless, I shall instruct Dr. Kissinger to seek a change in this Article in an attempt to remove its ambiguity. I cannot, however, promise success.

The key issue is different, however. We have now reached a decisive point. I can no longer hold up my decision pending the outcome of further exchanges. When Dr. Kissinger leaves Washington Monday morning, our basic course must be set. As I have told you, we will initial the agreement on January 23. I must know now whether you are [Page 1114] prepared to join us on this course, and I must have your answer by 1200 Washington time, January 21, 1973.

I must meet with key Congressional leaders Sunday evening, January 21 to inform them in general terms of our course. If you cannot give me a positive answer by then, I shall inform them that I am authorizing Dr. Kissinger to initial the agreement even without the concurrence of your government. In that case, even if you should decide to join us later, the possibility of continued Congressional assistance will be severely reduced. In that case also I will not be able to put into my January 23 speech the assurances I have indicated to you, because they will not then seem to have been a voluntary act on my part. Needless to say, I would be most reluctant to take this fateful step.

Let me therefore sum up my position as follows: first, I welcome your decision to send Foreign Minister Lam to Paris, and I will instruct Dr. Kissinger to have the fullest and frankest discussion with him. Dr. Kissinger will see him both before and after his meeting with the North Vietnamese to make clear your government’s full participation in our actions. Secondly, I have instructed Dr. Kissinger to seek the change in the protocol regarding police forces. Thirdly, with respect to North Vietnamese forces, I can go no further than the draft note that I am asking Ambassador Bunker to transmit to you and which we will hand over to you officially on January 27, the day of signing. Fourthly, if you join us we shall announce the Vice President’s visit to Saigon before the date of signing though he could not leave Washington until January 28.

Finally, and most importantly, I must have your assurances now, on the most personal basis, that when we initial the agreement on Tuesday we will be doing so in the knowledge that you will proceed to sign the agreement jointly with us.

This agreement, I assure you again, will represent the beginning of a new period of close collaboration and strong mutual support between the Republic of Vietnam and the United States. You and I will work together in peacetime to protect the independence and freedom of your country as we have done in war. If we close ranks now and proceed together, we will prevail.


s/Richard Nixon

End text.

2. When you talk to Thieu you should add your own strongest recommendations to him to give a favorable reply. You can also assure Thieu that we would announce between the initialing and the signing that Agnew is going to Saigon, leaving Washington on January 28. You should also tell Thieu that the President’s speech will make clear that we have proceeded in full consultation with the GVN. You should also [Page 1115] call Thieu’s attention to the three references in the President’s inaugural address concerning the imminent end to the Vietnam war. We are absolutely committed to our course of action.4

3. When you deliver this letter to Thieu, you should also give him the following draft U.S. note on North Vietnamese forces. We would give this to the GVN officially on January 27.

Begin text of note:

Draft Note to the GVN Regarding North Vietnamese Armed Forces in South Vietnam

The following statements were made by DRV Special Adviser Le Duc Tho in the course of the negotiations with Dr. Henry Kissinger:

  • —South Vietnamese who return to South Vietnam and a number of North Vietnamese volunteers organize themselves into units and go south to fight the Americans. (September 15, 1972)
  • —The Regular Army of North Vietnam is in North Vietnam. (September 15, 1972)
  • —Over half a million of South Vietnamese regrouped to North Vietnam, and now these South Vietnamese go south as volunteers and organize themselves into units. (September 27, 1972)
  • —Literally they are children of the South Vietnamese regroupees. These people are organized into units and go south. These forces now belong to the People’s Liberation Forces of South Vietnam. (November 21, 1972)
  • —These are voluntary troops and these are the children of South Vietnamese regroupees. They have been organized into units and go and fight in South Vietnam. Now these troops are under the command of the PRG of the Republic of South Vietnam (November 23, 1972)
  • —Now if the war is ended, all countries shall undertake not to introduce armaments, troops, etc., into South Vietnam.
  • —The PRG will no longer accept the introduction of troops, war materials and weapons into South Vietnam. This is the greatest respect of the DMZ. (December 7, 1972)
  • —We put down a provision saying that the way to reunify the country is through peaceful means and step by step restoration, [Page 1116] through agreement between the two sides. Then how can there be a use of military means by one side against the other side? (September 27, 1972)

The United States considers these statements by the DRV to have the following consequences:

  • First, the DRV’s claim that all Communist forces in South Vietnam are southerners or volunteers and are under the command of the so-called PRG confirms that all Communist forces in South Vietnam are subject to the obligations of the agreement: for example, the ceasefire in place (Article 3), the prohibition of reinforcement and resupply (Article 7), and the requirement that their reduction and demobilization be negotiated as soon as possible (Article 13).
  • Secondly, the DRV’s assertion that there are no North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam confirms that the DRV is claiming no right to maintain armed forces of its own in the territory of South Vietnam. The United States has made clear to the DRV in the course of the private negotiations that no provision of the agreement confers or implies any such right. The United States, in any event, does not recognize any such right derived from any source.

End text of note.

4. Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 860, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXIV. Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. January 21.
  3. Contained in Document 310.
  4. In backchannel message WHS 3100, January 20, 2140Z, Kissinger sent the following additional instruction to Bunker: “When you see Thieu with the President’s letter you should make clear to him that we want his concurrence even if we cannot get the change [regarding the right of South Vietnamese police to carry carbines and rifles] we are trying for in Paris. You should make clear that we will attempt to get the change but we need his concurrence now in any event. He must realize that no further delay or evasion is acceptable.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 860, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXIV)