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

347. Deliver at opening of business.

Refs: A) WHS 3079; B) WHS 3098; C) WHS 3100.2

I thought the President’s letter excellent and, therefore, delivered it to Thieu unchanged together with the draft note to the GVN 3 regarding North Vietnamese armed forces in South Viet-Nam at 1000 this morning. Thieu read the letter carefully and reviewed the scenario, i.e., your departure for Paris, the initialing January 23, the President’s statement evening of January 23 Washington time, and the signing January 27.

Pending his reply, Thieu has asked me to transmit the following message to the President:

He recognizes the President’s problems, is confident of the President’s support, and understands that if the President rejects his latest proposals it is because he cannot do otherwise. He recognizes that the President has been frank with him and has been loyal in his support of Viet-Nam and the cause for which we have been fighting together. He hopes that the President will understand, however, that there are some things in the protocols which are compromising and difficult for the GVN. While the agreement is vague and subject to interpretation, the protocols have the effect of law, are not subject to interpretation and must be strictly adhered to. In some ways, therefore, they are more important than the agreement itself. It is because of the importance of the protocols that he is sending Foreign Minister Tran Van Lam to Paris and hopes that Dr. Kissinger will work frankly with him. The Foreign Minister has been working with the Prime Minister and General Vien on the protocols and is fully aware of the GVN’s concerns regarding them. He (Thieu) appeals to the President “to save the face of his ally” and not to reject flatly the Foreign Minister’s proposals.

Thieu asked whether it would not be possible for the GVN to accept the draft agreement, agreeing to go with us on the initialing January 23, but to continue talks on the protocols on the points which are of great concern to the GVN. He pointed out that the Vietnamese texts had been received only this morning and, as with the agreement itself, there is no doubt that the English and Vietnamese texts will need to be conformed. (He cited again the difference between the texts in Article 12(b) of the agreement in describing the task of the NCRC.)
Thieu made the following additional comments:
  • —Draft note to the GVN regarding North Vietnamese forces in South Viet-Nam: Thieu considers that the draft note as it stands will not be helpful as far as the South Vietnamese people are concerned. While it may represent the U.S. view (or a “global view” of the situation) it does not represent the view of the South Vietnamese. The statement that the troops are children of the South Vietnamese regroupees who have organized themselves into units and have volunteered to go South is not true and will not be credible to the South Vietnamese people. Neither will the statement that the regular army of Viet-Nam is in North Viet-Nam be believed since it is clear that the vast majority of North Vietnamese troops are outside of North Viet-Nam. The statement that these forces belong to the People’s Liberation Forces of South Viet-Nam is a recent ploy by the North Vietnamese to legitimize these forces in anticipation of a ceasefire. Thieu concluded, therefore, that it would be preferable to leave the problem of NVA troops in the South pending rather than to attempt to cover it in the terms of the proposed draft note.
  • —Problems posed by agreement to sign: Thieu said that he was facing an extremely difficult decision, i.e., how to explain to the country adherence to an agreement which will be considered in many respects unsatisfactory. The difficult problem he will have to face is how to consolidate the people’s morale and to prevent its deterioration. They will know that a political solution must come within a few months either through a Presidential election or in some other form of election. The problem he will face is how to maintain national discipline; strong measures will be needed to achieve the kind of discipline necessary if the people’s freedom is to be protected.
I replied that it was obvious that there would be problems, but that he had the resources to cope with them and there was no one better able to do it than he. He should approach the problem with confidence in his ability to succeed; his past performance and achievements over the past five years have demonstrated his ability. He should say to his people that after a quarter century of bitter struggle he had brought peace to Viet-Nam, the overwhelming desire of the vast majority of the people. The South Vietnamese people now have the opportunity to determine [Page 1121] their future in free, internationally supervised elections. Through the hard work of its people and the courage of its armed forces the country has become strong, powerful, and self-reliant. Because of the determination of the people and the fighting qualities of the armed forces, with the loyal support of their allies, South Viet-Nam has defeated and turned back the most massive attack the enemy could mount. The other side has had to recede from its demands to which it had adhered stubbornly for four years for a coalition government and the overthrow of the present regime. They should not fear the risks of peace, but face the political contest to come with courage and confidence.
I appealed to Thieu in the strongest possible terms to give a favorable reply to the President, for only thus could the President be in a position to provide the kind of support so essential to Viet-Nam and to the cause for which we had both struggled together so long, so painfully, and so courageously. If we held together now, all that we have striven for could be brought to a successful conclusion. Through Thieu’s own determination and untiring efforts he had brought the country to the point where it could determine its own destiny and he must not turn back now.
Warm regards.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 415, Backchannel Messages, From Amb. Bunker, Saigon thru April 1973. Top Secret; Immediate; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. Reference A, WHS 3079, is wrongly numbered and should be 3097. In the message, January 20, 1524Z, Kissinger told Bunker a Presidential letter was on its way to him for delivery to Thieu. (Ibid., To Amb. Bunker, Saigon thru April 1973) Reference B is Document 313, and for Reference C, see footnote 4 thereto.
  3. See Document 313.