38. Transcript of a Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1
H: Yes, Mr. President.
N: Seems to me that if they have accepted those—those proposals2 were the ones that Henry developed after the last deal, in other words, he just laid down all these conditions right?
H: That’s right sir.
N: Now let’s examine it now for a moment in terms of that. Did Abrams say take it?
H: Yes, he’s already said take it.
N: Even without this?
H: Even without it.
N: With this he would say it even more so, would he?
H: I am sure of it.
N: What would you say?
H: I would say no question how I felt about it and that’s to take it. I think we are taking some risks in doing it, but I think it’s acceptable. But again I’ve always done this with the assumption that we could get Thieu to come along, while at the same time being skeptical about that. Now as it turned out he’s been goddamn tough.
N: Well Al, when you say that he is not going to take it, I would say—is there a meeting tomorrow with him alone?
H: Just Henry. Private.[Page 231]
N: And you would say that Abrams has already worked him over, huh?
H: Yes, he has. Henry said he made a very good case. And I think he can make one given especially now with these new assurances on Cambodia and Laos, my God, there—
N: I think the message to Henry should be now that I—in view of this that I am convinced that Thieu should take this and that—you want to put it in that context so that he just hands it to Thieu and that’s in effect a confrontation now, that’s one way.
H: No, I think that’s the best way of doing it—
N: Yeh, then if he says well no, then what do you say?
H: Say this cannot but have a most serious effect on our ability to support him from this point on.
N: Don’t you think he has to say that to him?
H: Yes sir.
N: No way you could work out a further delay of a week.
H: Well, I think we can. But I think we have to have a game plan that’s firm in doing so. Christ we have gone back three times to these people and they’ve met each requirement.
N: That’s right.
H: So if they go public, we are going to look pretty damn foolish.
N: Yeh, that’s the point.
H: On the other hand—
N: Wait just a second. Yeh, on the other hand—
H: On the other hand, if Thieu doesn’t agree the provisions of the agreement are meaningless because it requires him to cooperate with the DRV in a series of measures and without that cooperation we’ve got no agreement.
N: Hm, huh.
H: So the only alternative would be if he goes—if he refuses to do it, then for us to turn around and work out a bilateral arrangement with Hanoi which I think he must know we will offer to do, if he can give us no hope.
N: Yeh. We would put it this way—well if you don’t want to go along, then we will have to work out a—go on our own—that’s in effect what we would say to them, right?
H: That’s right and not only do that, but he’s going to be without our support.
N: Yeh. And that we, well, when you say that, what does he do?
N: I don’t think he’s got a [choice but to?] cave. What the hell can he do?[Page 232]
H: He’s got to cave or commit suicide. He might decide though that he can blow. He might go public and just say he’s not going to be forced into this and hell or high water he’ll fight it out on his own. This means that Henry has got—
N: Can we just say this—tell Henry that I realize that there’s a risk in how he’s going to handle this—not being there I cannot judge from here, what he should do, but that I think that he should make the strongest possible statement indicating that I now have personally examined it and believe that if this goes public, which it will, if he doesn’t take it, that there will be enormous demand in this country that we go unilaterally and that we dump Thieu. I think that he should say that we cannot handle it here, if this offer gets public. How does that sound to you?
H: I think it’s fine.
N: That there is a grey [grave] risk of that, that under the circumstances I feel that we should—now the thing that he is insisting upon are what—what are the things?
H: Well Thieu wanted some changes which got the troops out of the South—
N: Well we can’t get that.
H: And which deleted some of this tripartite thing so he really wanted to emasculate the whole thing.
N: What is your reaction to what he’ll say when that’s put to him that way? Of course it’s the total truth—we are simply saying I think he should know that the risks we have here is that if this—they are likely to go public with it.
H: We should put it not as a threat from you but as a reality. When—
N: Right as a reality—and when it does [become public] there will be an enormous demand to drop him and accept—
H: Right, exactly sir. I think that that’s the best he can do.
N: Tell him (Henry) he has the most liberal ground rules and play it as best he can and I’ll back him whatever the judgment is. I mean if it doesn’t turn out we understand.
N: The only thing I could think of of course is the possibility of delay I mean—but really the best of all worlds Al is to put this damn thing off until the day after the election.
H: Um, God yes.
N: And tell the—that I think they have to be told that now—the North—
H: They do. They must be told and the Soviets must be told.[Page 233]
N: All right, it’s a deal, but that they must be told that if it blows we’ll deny it. They have a commitment, that’s the way I think I’d do it.
H: Right. The real problem now is to get him through this next meeting and I think this is right—he’s got a damn good feel—he’s got to know that you are going to back him, that he can use as much pressure as possible—
N: In view—yeh. In view of these latest concessions—use all the pressure that he can—okay and that that’s a personal message from me. Tell him I have studied it all day here, thought about it, examined it from one end to the other and no deal is perfect but that he has our continued assurance that we’ll see that the deal is kept. Okay?2
H: Fine sir.