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

[Omitted here is discussion of the President’s schedule.]

Nixon: Have you done any further thinking on—

Haig: Yes. I figured—

Nixon: Have you talked to Dobrynin again or not? Or—

Haig: I’ve got a call in to him. He went out for [unclear]—2

Nixon: Now, the other thing, the only thing that I was thinking there, if you want to play it at a higher level, I almost think I might have to talk to him at this point, in other words, to keep this lid on.

Haig: Yes.

Nixon: And I will do it. I mean I have a—what I have in mind is this: I think we just simply have to tell him, “Mr. Ambassador, we’ve—because of what happened in Hanoi, because of what—of your people blowing this, I mean, and then show him the papers—that this is—Thieu has reacted as we would expect: negatively. We had it all set, because, that is, he was provided, you know, that so he could play a part in it. But they were going to have a victory celebration, they’ve played this, he put the whole thing out and now he’s thrown up his hands. Now, we do not think this permanent. We think we can handle it, but the main thing is that—two things: One, we will settle on the basis that we have described; two, we have to have a time to settle and you must not push us; but that, but—and, three, you need not be concerned about the election deadline.” Remember? Because he knows that—

Haig: Um-hmm.

Nixon: And that’s a total commitment that you can pass on.

Haig: Well, I’m not sure I would—

Nixon: Go far?

Haig: —make a commitment to go along the route outline, because he knows that without Thieu there is no commitment.

Nixon: Well—oh, I see your point—

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Haig: Well, I think that’s the—

Nixon: I mean, that’d be dumping him. Yeah, yeah. Tell him we’ve got a—we will say that basically, on all the military sides and so forth and so on, that’s a deal. And we’re ready to—

Haig: Right. So he’s not worried we’ll stay—

Nixon: Yeah. And we’ll see—and we’ll work with you to see what we can work out.

Haig: Right. That’s sensible—

Nixon: We have to—we may have go our own. We understand that we’ll have to go our own way, but we haven’t given up on Thieu. We’re still working on it.

Haig: That’s right. That’s right.

Nixon: We’re still working on it, but we’ve got to put the lid on this thing and hold it.

Haig: That’s right. And we need them to—

Nixon: And we need you—and just say our relations, the two great powers, must not be affected by the fact that these two pipsqueaks are acting the way that they are. And that, now, let’s keep our heads. And you keep theirs down and we’ll keep his down, but that’s the responsibility. I really feel that I had—that if I told him that that could have quite an impact on him.

Haig: Yes, sir. I do, too. I do, too.

Nixon: So, you think about it and I’ll be there at 12:15.3

Haig: Okay.

Nixon: And if we think well of it we’ll call him in and just lay it out like that. But we’ll talk it through first.

Haig: All right, sir.

Nixon: Fine. Good. But you had no other thoughts since we’ve talked? The other thing is that I—I just had lunch with it, doing a little more thinking about one thing: I am just really adamant on Henry not going to Hanoi with this thing in mind because, basically, the way it will look is a complete surrender.

Haig: Yep.

Nixon: You know what I mean? It’ll be played that way. And also it’ll look like Ramsey Clark, going to Hanoi, hat in hand, making their deal. Sure, we’re going to get the prisoners back and sure, you know, but they’ll say, “What the hell have we fought for? The prisoners?”

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Haig: I agree.

Nixon: You see the problem?

Haig: Oh, absolutely. I do.

Nixon: His going to Hanoi can do it now. To do it, I think, another—however, a part of the game plan, he can make a commitment to go to Hanoi later.

Haig: Later?

Nixon: Yeah. You know, say, “All right, let’s meet in Paris.” And then he’ll come to Hanoi later.

Haig: Exactly.

Nixon: And then we can. Then there’s no problem, but it must not be before the election. It must not be. Third point is this: I strongly feel that if we could make the case that we really would prefer not to do this before the election, I mean not just politically, but not to do it because, basically, one hell of a lot of people in this country and, frankly, in Vietnam—the South, particularly—think that we are doing it, doing the wrong thing, because of the election.

Haig: Exactly.

Nixon: And I think we just ought to say, you know, we—we’re just not going to be able to do it, but I think that point has just got to be made, that this isn’t the right time.

Haig: That’s right. No, this is right and in many respects this has pulled us back from what could have been a more troublesome [unclear]—

Nixon: Yeah. Yeah. Who knows? [chuckles]

Haig: Right, sir.

Nixon: But we’re going to work it out in the end. The main point is we’ve come a long way on these negotiations, as you well know. The war has got to be ended, Al, and we’re now at the point where we’ve got a basis for ending it. We know that the enemy’s hurting, or they wouldn’t be talking. The Soviets—

Haig: That’s right.

Nixon: The Soviets helping. In other words, they haven’t got all the cards either. And we’re still bombing. And that’s the way it’s going to be. And so, therefore, we’ll end it. But, I think, the sad part of it is that I just don’t know how South Vietnam—I don’t see any leadership other than Thieu. I don’t see any other horse, looking to the—do you look—do you see this Diem syndrome starting again?4

Haig: No. No, he’s going to come out of this very, very strong.

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Nixon: Thieu will?

Haig: Oh, yeah.

Nixon: Yeah. I know. But then what happens? How can he be strong if we cut off assistance to him?

Haig: Well, what we’ve got to do is work with the same parameters we’ve put on the military side and—

Nixon: Yeah.

Haig: —and keep the economic in, and—

Nixon: Yeah.

Haig: —and—

Nixon: In other words, keep—

Haig: —maybe we can work another deal with Hanoi.

Nixon: With Hanoi, without the political?

Haig: Without the political.

Nixon: Huh. That’s true. Well—

Haig: They’re hurting so badly—

Nixon: That may be.

Haig: —that they may pay the price.

Nixon: Right. Okay.

Haig: Right, sir.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation 151–11. No classification marking. Nixon was at Camp David; Haig was in Washington. The editors transcribed the portions of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon spoke with Haig from 10:10 to 10:16 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files)
  2. Despite Haig’s call, Dobrynin did not make himself available until 8 p.m. that evening. See Document 56.
  3. According to the President’s Daily Diary, Nixon arrived back at the White House at 12:09 p.m. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)
  4. Former South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated in a military coup in 1963.