49. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker) to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1

223. For immediate delivery.

Dr. Kissinger met with Thieu at 1700 this afternoon on his return from Phnom Penh. He reported that Lon Nol’s reaction to our proposal, like Souvanna and Thanom, had been extremely favorable.2
Dr. Kissinger then said he had been wondering how to deal with the two issues which President Thieu had raised this morning.3 In Washington we have had another approach from the Soviets indicating their nervousness and their anxiety to move along in the signing of the agreement.4 Dr. Kissinger said he was contemplating informing Hanoi that he would arrive Wednesday instead of Tuesday and would bring with him a number of changes:
  • —A formula for the NCRC which gets away from the three-segment language. For example, the two sides will discuss with each other and agree on composition representing all political and religious tendencies.
  • —Propose to Hanoi that some divisions be pulled out of MR 1; we would rely on Article 7 of the agreement to keep them from returning.
  • —He would also suggest that President Nixon write to Brezhnev saying that Dr. Kissinger was going to Hanoi as an evidence of our good faith.
Should Dr. Kissinger return without an agreement delay for some period of time could be justified although in the long run we would have to cave. Dr. Kissinger said he would propose to follow this course unless President Thieu had something different to propose.
Thieu said that the reactions of the Thais, Laotians and Cambodians were predictable. Laos and Cambodia both have reason to believe they are not being asked to sacrifice anything. They achieve both cease-fire and a withdrawal of foreign forces from their territories. Therefore, they are not being sacrificed by their allies.
Concerning South Viet-Nam our position is very unfortunate. We have been very faithful to the Americans and now feel that we are being sacrificed. The proposed agreement is worse than the 1954 agreements. It is clear that the U.S., Soviets and China have agreed that there are three countries of Indochina; that Viet-Nam stretches from the Chinese border to Ca Mau. The disguised coalition embodied in the agreement will lead to the collapse of the GVN. There are two points applied in the agreement:
  • —The legal one. Since the North Vietnamese are here they will have the right to remain in South Viet-Nam.
  • —The practical one. Since they are they will not withdraw.
Thieu said “I have a right to expect that the U.S. has connived with the Soviets and China. Now that you recognize the presence of North Vietnamese here, the South Vietnamese people will assume that we have been sold out by the U.S. and that North Viet-Nam has won the war.”
Furthermore—“I do not recall whether President Johnson or President Nixon said it”—if North Viet-Nam wants to deny its presence in South Viet-Nam and withdraws without an undertaking to do so, we can accept that as withdrawal.
Dr. Kissinger said the other day that Le Duc Tho had burst into tears, but I can assure him the South Vietnamese people are the ones who deserve to cry, and the man who should cry is I.
There are three problems which I discussed with the NSC this morning,5 and we came to the conclusion that there was no way out. The three problems are:
Viet-Nam was separated as a result of the 1954 agreements, and now is the time to officially confirm that there are two separate states [Page 262] pending reunification as recognized by the 1954 agreements; and that the DMZ divides the states in order to insure that North Viet-Nam cannot violate South Viet-Nam.
That we cannot accept the presence of the North Vietnamese army in the South. As a soldier, I have been fighting Communism for 25 years. As a soldier and as President, I cannot accept it. The North Vietnamese have broken down their forces into small units so as to South Vietnamize their army. I do not believe that North Vietnamese forces in South Viet-Nam number less than 300,000.
The political solution. I have reaffirmed my position that a tripartite CNRC is totally unacceptable.
If the President and Dr. Kissinger think they can help us, we welcome it. But if the U.S. wants to abandon the South Vietnamese people, that is their right.
My last comments concern my own person. Ever since the U.S. asked me to resign and bargained with me on the time of my resignation, had I not been a soldier I would have resigned, because I see that those whom I regard as friends have failed me. However great the personal humiliation for me I shall continue to fight. My greatest satisfaction will be when I can sign a peace agreement. I have not told anyone that the Americans asked me to resign, since they would share my humiliation, but have made it appear voluntary on my part.
Dr. Kissinger said, “I admire the courage, dedication and heroism which have characterized your speech. However, as an American, I can only deeply resent your suggestion that we have connived with the Soviets and the Chinese. How can you conceive this possible when the President on May 86 risked his whole political future to come to your assistance. When we talked with the Soviets and Chinese, it was to pressure them to exert pressure on Hanoi. We genuinely believed that the proposed agreement preserved South Viet-Nam’s freedom—our principles have been the same as yours and we have defended them. You have only one problem. President Nixon has many. Your conviction that we have undermined you will be understood by no American, least of all by President Nixon.
As to specifics: We have not recognized the right of North Viet-Nam to be in the South. We have used the language of the Geneva Accords, since we thought this the best way to work out a practical solution. Had we wanted to sell you out, there have been many easier ways by which we could have accomplished this. We do not regard the agreement as embodying a coalition government, but as a major Communist defeat.
With respect to the DMZ we may be able to add another sentence which would clarify this point.
We are faced with a practical problem. Concerning the immediate situation, it is imperative not to have a confrontation. Should the U.S. withdraw, it will affect all of your neighbors.
The longer term problem is what happens to our relationship? I do not see how the U.S. can justify to the Congress what it is we are fighting for. We have not destroyed your government; we have obtained better terms than any American would have believed possible. Concerning your resignation, we think that the January 25 speech got us through this Congressional period and enabled us to get appropriations in an election year.7 It is impossible to say that President Nixon who risked the summit meeting with the Soviets could conceivably undermine you. It is clear now that we cannot continue with the present negotiations. I would like to know how you view that we should proceed from here.
President Thieu said that despite all that has happened, I wish to express gratitude to President Nixon for all that he has done for South Viet-Nam. I know that he has to act in his own interests and the interests of his people. I also have to act in the interests of my people. I have been the subject of organized slander in the U.S. press and pictured as an obstruction to peace. As for me, my obligation is to defend my country. I recall that the U.S. asked me to help Cambodia; now we find that we have to be sacrificed.
The U.S. has been negotiating on our behalf. If you now tell North Viet-Nam that they have to talk to us, that will be very good. Recently the PRG has wanted to negotiate directly with the U.S. and Pham Van Dong has spoken of us and of me in very derogatory terms. This has been a great humiliation. If I can negotiate with North Viet-Nam, I will do so in the spirit of reconciliation.
Dr. Kissinger said that he must return to Washington and must try to find some way to prevent publication of the proposals. He asked to see Thieu briefly before his departure and said that he considered Thieu’s present course suicidal for him and for his country. “We have fought for four years, have mortgaged our whole foreign policy to the defense of one country. What you have said has been a very bitter thing to hear”. Dr. Kissinger said he was convinced that the proposal would have achieved our mutual objectives. Had Thieu spoken openly in the beginning, we could have spent the past four days in making plans on [Page 264] how to proceed; now we are totally on the defensive, a situation doing enormous damage to us without benefit to yourself. Had I known of this attitude, I would not have sent emissaries to the other countries.
The question now is where do we go from here, for you must not believe that this is a matter that can be easily repaired. Thieu said that on the question of the time spent here in Saigon, he would like to ask how many months Dr. Kissinger has spent on this agreement. After having been presented with the document in a general manner, and after having discovered the tricks of the Communists, it is not conceivable that the GVN can be accused of failure.
“Perhaps we have two different concepts. Let me ask you, if you were a Vietnamese, would you accept the fact that the Geneva agreements have not been restored in the agreement in a clear manner? Would you accept the fact that the North Vietnamese can have 200,000 to 300,000 troops in the South and can you accept the fact that the CNRC should be composed of three segments? Regarding the accusation that I am sabotaging the countries in this area, if I were Korea and Thailand or Laos and Cambodia, I would ask for nothing more than they are securing. But if we accept the document as it stands, we will commit suicide—and I will be committing suicide.”
Thieu said that he would be free tomorrow until 1000 hours. We agreed to meet at 0800.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 857, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitve Camp David, Vol. XX [1 of 2]. Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. A memorandum of conversation of Kissinger’s October 22 meeting with Lon Nol, in which Kissinger explained the proposed settlement of the war in Indochina he had negotiated in Paris, October 8–12, is ibid. Sullivan met with Souvanna and Thanom. Kissinger later recorded that: “I had sent Bill Sullivan to Bangkok and Vientiane, because he knew the leaders of Thailand and Laos, having worked with them when he served as Ambassador to Laos. He had returned with their enthusiastic endorsement.” (White House Years, p. 1383)
  3. See Document 42.
  4. See Document 40.
  5. After meeting with Kissinger at 8 a.m., Thieu met with his NSC while Kissinger traveled to Phnom Penh to meet with Lon Nol.
  6. In his May 8 speech Nixon announced his decision to bomb Hanoi and Haiphong and to mine Haiphong Harbor.
  7. In his speech on January 25, Nixon made public Kissinger’s secret meetings with Le Duc Tho as well as the U.S.-South Vietnamese peace proposal.