44. Backchannel Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) in Saigon1

Tohak 82/WHS 2280. Urgent deliver immediately. Ref: (A) Hakto 37, (B) Hakto 38.2

Reference Hakto 38, have alerted Dobrynin. He is standing by.

Reference Hakto 37, Thieu has performed identically with previous pattern he employed on me. Major problem now is not to kick the traces of the cooperation we have been able to achieve thus far from Moscow and Peking and to limit the damage to the degree possible in [Page 248] pre-election period here. There seems to be little hope that we now can ever bring this off in the framework in which it has been conceived. The difficulties of working bilaterally with Hanoi for the purpose of working out a purely military extraction achieves viability only to the degree that we are willing to cut off Thieu’s water and increase the risk of Communist takeover in the South or jeopardize his incumbency.

You should look carefully at the contingency plan we prepared which we considered to be the most likely; i.e., Hanoi’s acceptance of our demands, Thieu rejects, Hanoi goes public and we are confronted with a massive challenge in both the diplomatic and public areas.3 I believe we will have to tell Hanoi that if they blow, we have no alternative but to take them on publicly and to employ maximum military pressure. In the case of the Soviet Union, we must emphasize the impact that Hanoi’s breach of faith had in the final crucial moments of our work in Saigon. This is, of course, a weak reed, but I set the base for it last night. We must also in my view level completely with Dobrynin that the cause for the current collapse was Thieu’s unwillingness and subjective inability to shed even temporary sovereignty to the NLF.

As the first order of business, I believe it is equally essential that we consider carefully whether we should turn off the expedited flow of material to Thieu which will only serve to feed his intransigence.4 Except for last night’s false start,5 I believe the President has been well prepared for this contingency. It is essential that he be advised as soon as possible and that Bill Rogers and Mel Laird be informed and brutalized in the context of security. In our message to Hanoi, we should agree to maintain the reduced level of air activity against the North until we have had an opportunity to meet again in emergency session in Paris following a discussion between you and President and mutually explore what additional measures might be undertaken to arrive at a cessation of the hostilities. In this same message, we should urge Hanoi to refrain from vitriolic reaction and warn them clearly that were this to occur in the face of this setback that we would be forced to adopt stringent measures which would be totally counter-productive to all that we have labored to achieve.

With respect to the PRC, I believe we should follow much the same line as we use with the Soviets although perhaps we can afford a degree [Page 249] less urgency since we have been less intimately involved with them in the hour-by-hour manipulation of the project.

I know you will be strongly inclined to proceed with the Hanoi leg in the light of events and in an effort to limit the damage with Hanoi while taking advantage of the continuing momentum it would suggest in the context of the current round and in an effort to keep things together up to November 7. I see the following complications with respect to this course:

The President will be adamantly opposed and difficult to manage on this issue.
It is probable that Thieu will make clear to all concerned the position he has taken and you will be in Hanoi in the context of a major break with Thieu with all of the disturbing implications this will have here in the United States and with our Asian friends.
The bombing will have to be temporarily stopped and the let-down resulting from its resumption could peak off just before the election here, resulting in a sharper crystallization of the hawk-dove split which events thus far have served to erase.
You place yourself in a high-risk position in which the North who will have the capability of depicting your visit in a weak and plaintive context with their conduct during and following your visit being fully amenable to their whims and propaganda apparatus.

I believe we now have no alternative but to avoid sharp over-reaction to what is a devastating disappointment to all who have worked so tortuously over the past eight weeks. Above all, we cannot lose perspective of the realities of our relative strengths. There may be some hope for a purely military solution. Certainly if Hanoi were willing to abandon the main outlines of its political demands, it may be in the final analysis equally susceptible to paying the price to obtain a cessation of U.S. actions against the North. Any course of action which you consider will have to give appropriate weight to this remaining bluechip which is the only viable pressure-point we have to obtain the release of our prisoners and the honorable extraction of our remaining forces.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: 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). Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent via Lord.
  2. For Hakto 37, see Document 41. In Hakto 38/216 from Saigon, October 22, 1132Z, Kissinger told Haig to have Dobrynin stand by for an “urgent message.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 59, Geopolitical File, Vietnam, Trips, Kissinger, Henry, 1972, October, Chronological File)
  3. See footnote 7, Document 36.
  4. In Hakto 40/218 from Saigon, October 22, Kissinger suggested “slowly” and “inconspicuously” turning off the movement of equipment to South Vietnam; in Hakto 39/217 from Saigon, October 22, he discussed stopping all American bombing north of the 20th parallel. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 59, Geopolitical Files, Vietnam, Trips, Kissinger, Henry, 1972, October, Chronological File)
  5. See footnote 2, Document 42.