37. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1

GH: Mr. President. We have the DRV response as we predicted that completely met our request.2

[Page 227]

RN: They have? Everything?

GH: Everything—written assurances on Laos and Cambodia.

RN: Except the assurances on Laos and Cambodia?

GH: No, they have given us that, and they said again in the interest of good will in settling the war they have met our demands.

RN: Uh, huh.

GH: And that they also accept the 48 hour delay in what they call the work schedule.

RN: Yeah.

GH: So we are in a damn tight bind here with Thieu being really the only legitimate obstacle.

RN: Hum.

GH: And I think we are going to pay a hell of a price with the Soviets on this thing. Dobrynin came in with a message from, oral message for me for you.3

RN: Yeah.

GH: In which he said the DRV has notified them urgently that they are beginning to suspect that we are not sincere and that if this opportunity is not grabbed, the chances of the war being prolonged are serious.

RN: Right.

GH: Of course, that’s the initial pressure.

RN: Yeah. What?

GH: The initial pressure from the Soviets. Henry meets at 8 with Thieu,4 and of course if we had Thieu happy and on-board we would be in clover. So we are faced now with his not being on board and giving Henry some finely-honed guidance with respect to this meeting. And I think he will probably want some to know just how sure he can be, how tough he can be on Thieu, and my instincts would be to be pretty tough.

RN: That’s fine. Incidentally, have you been in any correspondence with Rogers at all on this stuff?

GH: He’s been out of town. I’ve kept Alex Johnson fully abreast except with this latest event.

RN: Yeah.

GH: If Thieu won’t go along, we have no agreement, in effect because his cooperation is an essential aspect.

RN: We have to deliver that, do we?

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GH: We have to deliver it.

RN: And if we can’t deliver it maybe we could …

GH: We just have to go back and tell the Soviets and the other side that we will have to work out a new arrangement, and we’ll do it bilaterally after November 7th. We don’t want to use that benchmark, but …

RN: Just say in two weeks. I’d say by November 15th.

GH: Right. No, I think that’s what we have to reckon with here.

RN: Yeah.

GH: Discounting Hanoi under any circumstances.

RN: What’s that?

GH: He shouldn’t go to Hanoi under any circumstances, I don’t think.

RN: No, he can’t do that—unless Thieu just folded, then I suppose he could.

GH: Yeh, he could if Thieu folded.

RN: But that isn’t going to happen.

GH: No, it’s not.

RN: So—

GH: So I think the best way to do it is to play it straight from the shoulder with these guys—as hard as we can—it has had plenty of time to think about it now and we’ve been very cooperative with him and we haven’t had a real confrontation.

RN: Time has come for it.

GH: Yes, I think so.

RN: Incidentally, to come back to this—you remember our talk with Westmoreland.5

GH: Yes, sir.

RN: I personally think on reflection on that that he’s being just hardlined for—

GH: He has no responsibility.

RN: He has no responsibility and there is another point that should be made too. You know he talks about the fact that we have to tell them that if they don’t comply then we’ll resume this and that. There’s no credibility to that. Do you realize that?

GH: Yes sir.

RN: We of course—talking that way and so forth, but what I mean is that when Westmoreland is sort of acting as if there is you could really do these in a political vacuum—do you get my point?

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GH: Exactly.

RN: That’s why when you talk about whatever we’re doing now, we cannot give anything up now and expect to resume it Al. It’s not going to happen. That’s why we have to be very tough now in what we give up.

GH: Well—right sir. What I’d like to do now with your permission is to tell Henry to be tough as hell, to give him a message from you—6

RN: Yeh. I think the message should come this way—that in view of the fact that they have now complied with—give me a little bit—I don’t know whether there is enough substance to what they’ve complied with to make it worthwhile.

GH: Well, they have committed themselves to an end of the war in Laos within the month of November—the return of our prisoners in Laos—of course they don’t care about that and termination of the war in Cambodia and a withdrawal of their forces from Cambodia, in writing.

RN: Hm huh. And withdrawal of their forces—but not withdrawal of [from] South Vietnam?

GH: No, it’s reciprocal—we have to take—no not South Vietnam.

RN: What do they commit on with withdrawal from South Vietnam?

GH: Well, all they have in—both sides should reduce their forces and they said that means if Thieu reduces some of ours they’ll go home.

RN: Yeh. yeh. Well my view is that now that they have come through with this without much of a concession that we are in a position where we can’t—can’t really do anything else but say all right, this is it—.

GH: He’s got to do it—now he won’t so then we have to tell him—we don’t want to leave him so bruised that he’ll perhaps go public—I don’t think he will but leave him just enough sure that he knows that we’re going to work without him. The trouble is that goddamn—the north can’t have the kind of settlement they want without the cooperation of Thieu.

RN: Let me do a little thinking—what time do you have to send this message? It’s 5:30 now—

GH: It’s a quarter of six.

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RN: So you have to get one off perhaps in the next five or ten minutes. I’ll call you back—I just want to make a couple of notes.7

GH: Fine sir. Good.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 998, Alexander M. Haig Chronological File, Haig Telcons, 1972 (1 of 2). No classification marking. Nixon was at Camp David; v was in Washington.
  2. Guay conveyed the North Vietnamese message to the White House via Haig on October 21, 1945Z. (Ibid., Box 857, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XX [1 of 2])
  3. See Document 40.
  4. In the morning of October 22, Saigon time.
  5. See Document 33.
  6. In backchannel message Hakto 30/208 from Saigon, October 21, 1215Z, Kissinger wrote to Haig: “It would be very helpful if you could generate a strong message from the President to Thieu to help keep him in line. I’ll need it for the 8:00 [a.m.] meeting.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 59, Geopolitical File, Vietnam, Trips, Kissinger, Henry, 1972, October, Chronological File)
  7. See Document 38.