57. 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 90/WHS 2291. We are obviously being victimized by lagging communications, and I suspect a degree of weariness on both sides.2 Tohak 843 was prepared in direct response to Hakto 414 following a meeting with the President in which he read Hakto 41 in its entirety and took special exception to option 1 which you indicated you did not favor but you did not make the point very strongly if you will reread the cable. The problem which really got to the President, and frankly it is the only really substantive discussion I have had with him, was the last talking point for Dobrynin in which you suggested that today I commit us to stop our bombing of the North and significantly reduce air activity in the South while this situation is being worked out. This triggered a strong reaction which I attempted to outline in Tohak 84. I am confident that if you reread Hakto 41, you will see some grounds for the President’s concern. He also took exception to your [Page 279] judgment that if we stopped bombing the North it would give us a major boost in American public opinion. As you know, he has always claimed that he had something like 80 per cent in the polls for this action. You can be sure that I offer each and every cable to the President to read when they are obviously designed for that purpose. More often than not, he does not wish to do so. My main purpose in Tohak 84 was to register not only the President’s but my own concerns with the logic outlined in your Hakto 41. Your subsequent messages 42 and 435 much more clearly point out your thinking. While the President has not read them, I did tell him that I felt they were much closer to his thinking. I want to be sure that the record is straight with respect to my views on the agreement. I think it is an excellent agreement. I have been, however, from the outset concerned about the North Vietnamese forces in the South and have expressed those concerns to you repeatedly both during the meetings in Paris and subsequently. Secondly, I have always been dubious that Thieu could accept the proposal for the reasons I cited in Tohak 84. Thirdly, it has always been clear in my discussions with you that a settlement after elections would eliminate many of the artificial pressures and deadlines which we have been faced with. At the same time, I was in full agreement with proceeding, especially in the light of the forthcoming posture demonstrated by Hanoi, with the very clear understanding that we had prior to your departure that if Thieu reneged, we would have to accept this setback and seek means for delaying the settlement until after November 7. I am not aware that I have changed that view one iota. The problem I had with Hakto 41, I would still have. I do not have the same difficulties with your subsequent messages as it appears to me and to Jon Howe that there has been a very decided clarification of and shift in your approach which we welcome.

Again, I am sorry that communications have lagged to the point that you may finish one set of logics only to receive comments from me on logics that were furnished to us much earlier. I recognize this is disconcerting. We have found it the same at this end. The only thing that matters is that we do what is right and that, above all, we do nothing precipitously, the consequences of which we haven’t considered most carefully beforehand.

At 10:15 tonight, I have just received Hakto 466 after four days with little more than two to three hours sleep a night. As you must understand, there is no one here writing or working except Howe, myself and, to a lesser degree, Kennedy. I think I still have enough confidence in my ability to read the English language to understand the nuance of [Page 280] most of your communications. I also believe that thus far my judgments on this issue have not been too far off. For that reason, I will refrain from commenting on Hakto 46 and go home and get some sleep. If we think for a moment that either Hanoi or Moscow believe the delay is occasioned by anything but Thieu, then I indeed question what the exercise is all about. Two minutes with Dobrynin tonight made that patently clear. As I reread your 41, 43 and 44,7 I find no reference to time schedules of any kind. Thus, your readers here can only divine what is stated in black and white. Dobrynin has been approached and there is a separate reporting cable for you.8 I am not aware of one deviation from your instructions. I am sorry you did not find the letter to Thieu up to your standards of toughness.9 The next time, I suggest you have Win draft one at your end since you can far better appraise what is required under the circumstances. Your associates join you in decrying the degree of misconceptions that currently divide us. The two of us are doing our best. Please understand that that includes always attempting to present your positions in the most honest, forthright, and protective manner with the President. If you have ever found evidence to the contrary, I suggest you let me know.

  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; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent via Lord. Written on October 22.
  2. Kissinger later characterized his communications with Washington from Saigon during this exchange of messages in the following terms: “Our headquarters was my small bedroom in Bunker’s residence. We had no rapid means of communication with Washington. The secure phone did not work; the open phone was not secure. The double-coding system slowed communications to a point where Washington was generally responding to a message that had already been overtaken by another one.” (White House Years, p. 1387)
  3. Document 50.
  4. Document 43.
  5. Documents 46 and 48.
  6. Document 55.
  7. Documents 43, 48, and 52.
  8. Document 56.
  9. See footnote 4, Document 55.