35. Backchannel Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1
Hakto 26/204. White House Situation Room: Deliver this cable to Haig at opening of business. Make sure he reads it before talking to the President.
- I would like to make clear my views on where we now stand and my recommendations on how to proceed.
- The first thing to keep in mind is that we have an excellent
agreement within our grasp:
- —There are some soft spots which are inevitable in any negotiated settlement short of total victory. But it is clear to us, and will be clear to the public, who made the major concessions.
- —I do not doubt we will be exposed to the usual nitpicking about certain aspects of the settlement, but we should be able to override it fairly easily. It will far exceed the expectations of the American public. We should be greatly bolstered by the support of people like Souvanna Phouma and the Thai leaders, who seem to be enthusiastically aboard.
- —I think you will recognize better than anyone the tremendous movement that has occurred in the North Vietnamese position. On top of their retreat on political issues, and some marginal movement overall on October 17, they have now caved in completely on Articles 7 and 8, in effect leaving 40,000 of their people in South Vietnamese jails. If they now confirm all the understandings I cabled to them yesterday,2 their collapse will be total.
- —There is no conceivable way to make the GVN enthusiastic about the withdrawal of American forces and the beginning of a political contest that they have been dreading for many years. It is in Thieu’s interest, and I have so told him, that if and when he finally agrees to the settlement, he take a public position of strong support and claim it as a victory. The agreement yields him many inherent advantages. Half the battle will be for the GVN to act confidently and boldly in political and psychological terms.
- —There is no possibility of Thieu blowing; the real danger is that he will stall without giving us an answer.
- —There is no question of making the deal if Thieu refuses or stalls. In that case we must decide how best to accomplish the stalling.
It is against this background that we must consider the final leg. Assuming the other side agrees to all the understandings, I believe our best course is to proceed with the itinerary. I recognize the arguments against going. But in cancelling now we would pay the almost certain price of a public confrontation with Hanoi and being put on the defensive publicly. In going ahead we might get the agreement now or within weeks. Thieu does not object and our domestic opinion could be handled.
More specifically the following are my reasons for moving ahead with the trip:
- —In the context of a near total collapse by the other side, to cancel the final leg when they no doubt have informed many of their friends about it would almost surely be construed as an intolerable loss of face as well as proof of U.S. duplicity. We are already stretching the fabric with our several postponements of the schedule. They are apt to consider a last minute cancellation a deliberate stall to get past November 7 and will move violently to forestall an onslaught.
- —Cancelling the trip now could well have a backlash in Moscow and Peking as well.
- —Thieu has no objections to the final leg and in fact it seems to be one of the easiest parts of the scenario for him. He has already told me that he has no problem with a trip that concluded an agreement he could live with. I am confident as well that he would have even less difficulty with a trip that failed to consummate an agreement.
- —To cancel the trip now would not only pay a maximum price with our hosts, but also maneuver Saigon into becoming the clear target for having blocked an agreement.
- —If we want to delay to bring Saigon aboard after the election the last leg of the trip could enable me to position our hosts. The only alternative is an approach through the Soviets which is much less reliable.
- —If the South Vietnamese objections are not too extreme I will be prepared to take them with me to the final stop after warning the hosts ahead of time of their nature. This would no doubt produce some static, but I have never guaranteed them verbatim acceptance of the text by Saigon. If the other side accepted the GVN changes, we would have a completed agreement, and the GVN would have had a sense of participation. If the other side refused reasonable changes, we would be merely carrying out the President’s oft-stated commitment not to impose a solution on our ally. We could return to Washington and aim for another round after the election.
- —In short, if I am allowed to go to the final stop without being under an absolute Washington mandate to settle, we might just pull it [Page 223] off, and in any event this course would be much less risky than cancelling the trip.3
- —As for the bombing we would have to resume after my return at a reduced rate.
In recent weeks we have played a tough, ruthless game of using our election deadline as blackmail against the other side. In this process we have obtained concessions that nobody thought were possible last month, or for that matter last week. We cannot turn away from that course now which, while still precarious, holds such great potential promise. Washington must understand that this is not a Sunday school picnic. We are dealing with fanatics who have been fighting for 25 years and have recently lost the cream of their manhood in the war. They have taken very painful decisions to make the major concessions they have. We cannot be sure how long they will be willing to settle on the terms that are now within our grasp. To wash out the final leg could cost us dearly. To carry through with it is not incompatible with our need to get the GVN aboard as enthusiastically as possible.
Every major decision on Vietnam has involved high risks. And every time we have acted boldly, we have succeeded.4
End of text.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 25, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris/Saigon Trip Hakto, October 16–23, 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.↩
- See Document 30.↩
- In backchannel message Tohak 65/WHS 2262 to Kissinger, October 21, 0516Z, Haig stated: “we have always discussed the final leg in the context of a settlement, never in the context you now pose. Were you to go there to keep the North on board with the view toward settling after election with a presumably reluctant or even an intransigent Thieu, then given the rampant speculation already running here I believe that on the surface the trip could be undertaken without undue risk.” Later in the message, however, Haig concluded: “In my view it would be a mistake which would pose us with more serious dilemmas than we are now faced with. The specter of your trip combined with a halt in the bombing while fighting continues in the South is anything but comforting.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 25, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris/Saigon Trip Tohak, October 16–23, 1972 (1 of 2))↩
- In backchannel message Tohak 70/WHS 2266, October 21, 1415Z, Haig responded: “In the last paragraph of Hakto 26 you quite correctly recall that every decision on Vietnam has involved high risks and that every time we acted boldly we have succeeded. I would suggest that every time we have acted correctly we have succeeded.” Haig concluded: “This has been a searing experience for all of us. We have moved mountains and can continue to do so if we don’t lose sight of our overall position of strength.” (Ibid.)↩