50. 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 84/WHS 2282. Urgent immediate delivery.

Have just read Hakto 412 and must say that I disagree with the logic contained therein. We have long anticipated this outcome and anticipated before you left Washington that its likelihood was quite high. We had also concluded that in the event Thieu remained intransigent that the best interest of all would be served by using this intransigence [Page 265] to get a delay until after November 7. You should not underrate the substantive justification for Thieu’s intransigence. He, in effect, is being asked to relinquish sovereignty over a large and indiscript [indiscrete] portion of South Vietnamese territory. He has never agreed to such a concession and given his paranoia about what has brought us to this point, it is understandable that he would now accept an open break. It is essential that we do not lose all now out of pique over his inexcusable behavior during this past week. The real danger I see in the logic as you presented it is the conclusion that there is any way in the current framework of this agreement to work out a bilateral settlement with Hanoi. The essential issues are these. Hanoi has made political concessions in return for an improved de facto security situation on the ground which would enable them to maintain a strong presence in South Vietnam backed up by their divisions from the North. This is combined with the figleaf of an agreement in principle recognizing the reality of two governments, two armies, and an ultimate coalition which would be representative of that reality. Without Thieu’s cooperation, Hanoi will be unable to get from us the concessions from Thieu which they now see as impossible to obtain through their own resources. Thus, the only possible bilateral formula that could be worked out between ourselves and Hanoi must recognize that both ourselves and Hanoi are now dealing with our final chips. In the case of Hanoi, it is our POW’s. In our case, it is the bombing of the North. A simple swap of these two chips would require a further concession from Hanoi which is probably unrealistic in the short term. The only pot-sweetner now available to us if Thieu remains intransigent is a reduction in our military and economic support to South Vietnam. The realities are just that simple, and the degree to which we are willing to undermine Saigon in the interest of a settlement is a matter of the gravest concern which will require the most careful, detailed and unemotional consideration. To me, to now unilaterally throw our only remaining chip in the pot would be tragic. To further aggregate this step by winding down our air support in the South defies logic.3 It would be inconceivable to me that the American people would support President Nixon if he agreed to an option which unilaterally terminated the bombing of the North and reduced further military pressures in the South—all this combined with a public open break with Thieu. Were we to pursue the course outlined, we would forever [Page 266] destroy those forces here in America which have provided the basis of support needed to do what has been right about our policies in the past four years. This course of action would have an equally devastating effect on all of the countries in Southeast Asia which depend on our reliability and consistency for their future.

I urge you to rethink again the essence of this problem. Please study the scenario I sent you in Tohak 834 which is far more conservative and, I believe, far more realistic in the context of the issues we are now grappling with.

I know that together we can solve this problem and that you will come up with the right course to follow just as you always have in the past.

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. Sent via Lord.
  2. Document 43.
  3. The President decided later that day to leave in place American close air support of South Vietnamese operations, to continue bombing North Vietnam up to the 20th parallel, where North Vietnam had mounted military operations against the South, and to stop bombing north of the 20th parallel. The decision was relayed to Kissinger by Haig in Tohak 87/WHS 2286, October 22. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 59, Geopolitical File, Vietnam, Trips, Kissinger, Henry, 1972, October, Chronological File) For Kissinger’s account, see White House Years, pp. 1389–1390.
  4. Document 47.