43. 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 41/219. Deliver immediately.

It is hard to exaggerate the toughness of Thieu’s position. His demands verge on insanity. In addition to the points I mentioned in my previous message,2 he stated that we have been colluding with Moscow and Peking for months against him and that there has been an organized press campaign in America against him. He insisted that he would settle for nothing less than a document which legally recognizes the two Vietnamese states with the DMZ as their border. He is totally oblivious to the score of DRV concessions, the massive amount of equipment we are moving for him, the various Presidential guarantees, or the ramifications of the course he has chosen.
We are in the difficult position that to take him on publicly would demonstrate that our opposition was right all along. At the same time, we are running up against the deadline of the final leg. I see two choices as follows:

The first choice is for me to go through with the final leg, discuss our difficulties with the North Vietnamese leadership there, and offer [Page 246] to immediately negotiate a bilateral agreement which we would sign after the election.

This course has the following advantages. First, it would give us the maximum amount of time since Hanoi could not act until we were actually there. Second, it would give us the best opportunity to present our own case directly to Hanoi. Third, it would give us a face saving formula for stopping the bombing which I believe was to be an inevitable part of any scenario. Further it would give us a big boost in American public opinion.

The major disadvantages are as follows. Hanoi might present us with a draft agreement right there which would be difficult to handle. Secondly, given Thieu’s present state of mind, it is not at all certain that he would maintain his outward balance, and my trip might just push him over the edge. Third, it might lead to a total humiliation for the U.S. in being held up by both Vietnamese governments.


The second choice is for you to get in touch immediately with Dobrynin and hand him a Presidential letter to Breshnev to the following effect:

  • —We have encountered nearly insuperable obstacles in Saigon.
  • —We have always said that we would not impose a solution on our allies. Here you would add orally that, of course, the November 73 considerations must weigh very heavily.
  • —We are honor bound to present our allies’ objections to the other side.
  • —If the other side proves unable to meet these objections we would be prepared to work out a bilateral arrangement with them along the lines of the draft agreement.
  • —We, therefore, propose a meeting with Le Duc Tho in Paris at any time of his choosing.
  • —The rest of the scenario with the DRV would remain the same.
  • —The de Borchgrave interview was a breach of faith and terribly exacerbated the situation.
  • —In order to show our good faith we will stop our bombing of the North and significantly reduce air activity in the South while this situation is being worked out.

The advantages of this course are that it makes us least vulnerable to public pressure, is most honorable toward Saigon, and is one which we can best surface publicly. The major disadvantage is that it may run us right up against a deadline, and I have not yet figured out how to keep Hanoi quiet long enough in order to get it implemented. You [Page 247] would give the solemn assurance of the President to Brezhnev that this was not a stalling maneuver and that all provisions of the agreement that could be implemented in bilateral fashion would be done as soon as possible after the meeting with Le Duc Tho. You would add orally to Dobrynin in the strongest possible fashion the imperative that there be no public outcry. If North Viet-Nam were to go public we would have to stand by Saigon’s objections, which as we have mentioned concern primarily the withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces and there would be another round of war.


I know the President’s objections to ending the bombing, but I do not think they apply to the present situation. Ending the bombing would support the public impression that an agreement is near. Failure to end it would ask Hanoi to endure several more weeks of punishment because of a refusal by Saigon to go along with any agreement in which the DRV made almost unbelievable concessions.

Obviously I favor the second course, but have offered the first one for intellectual completeness.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 59, Geopolitical File, Vietnam, Trips, Kissinger, Henry, 1972, October, Chronological File. Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. Document 41.
  3. The date of the upcoming Presidential election.