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

WHS 2302. 1. Thank you for your Saigon 0238.2 For your planning purposes only, I thought you should have the benefit of our best thinking on how we intend to proceed from here:

  • —We are seeking another meeting in Paris toward the end of next week (week of October 29th). We believe that Hanoi will continue to negotiate, despite recent fits and starts and public pressure tactics. At that meeting, which we envisage would take about three days, we would seek whatever changes we can get in the text based on GVN comments to help at your end. We would keep in close touch with you and Thieu. When we leave Paris the text would be considered absolutely final.
  • —By the end of the following week (week of November 5th, say around November 10) I would return to Saigon for three or four days to pave the way for implementation of the agreement.
  • —I would then proceed to Hanoi for two days to discuss the post-war situation.
  • —I would return again for two or three days in Saigon to make final preparations for implementation of the agreement.
  • —The foregoing schedule could bring us to an announcement as early as November 20, with the implementation of a ceasefire on November 21 and signing around November 25.

This revised schedule would have bought us and Thieu a month’s additional time beyond the time visualized in the original game plan.

By the time of my return to Saigon, during the latter part of the week of November 5th, Thieu should be postured to assume a highly supportive role, and specifically portray the modified agreement as being totally responsible [responsive] to his tailoring and requirements. The next meeting with Thieu will have to be conducted in an atmosphere of reconciliation and total unity. Only in this way will we be able to maintain the kind of long term economic and military support which is essential to the future viability of the GVN. In the interim, we are [Page 311] proceeding here to move the promised new equipment on an expedited delivery schedule. There are, of course, risks associated with this in terms of mutual trust in Hanoi.

3. I wanted you to be fully aware of this game plan as you orchestrate your pressures on Thieu in conformance with my WHS 2300 and 23013 of yesterday. With respect to Thieu, you will have to make the delicate judgments of when and how far into this schedule he can be brought. Perhaps initially you will want to discuss it with him as a contingency, the planning for which he cannot afford to overlook. You should make the following points to Thieu when you discuss the game plan.

He is being provided planning information so that he can use this time to place himself in the best possible position for the implementation of a cease-fire as early as November 21st. He should use this time to seize as much territory as possible and to make all other essential preparations.

You can assure Thieu that we will work persistently with Hanoi to get as many of the changes he has asked for as are possible, but we should be under no illusions that we can get them all. Thieu should also understand that the President is fully behind the agreement and schedule. He is firmly determined to proceed toward a settlement in accordance with the schedule that I have outlined. It is also essential that Thieu not build up the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord as a coalition government. It patently is not, as all American and foreign observers easily see. Such Thieu tactics only serve to confuse the meaning of the settlement and erode the confidence of his own supporters in what should instead be portrayed as it is—a major political victory over Hanoi. In discussing the contingency plan schedule with Thieu, at a time of your choosing, you should also reiterate that the President is committed to meeting him a week or two after the final settlement is signed for the purpose of strongly underlining his commitment to Thieu and his future.

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4. As you discuss this game plan with Thieu, I am again asking you to tread the fine line between generating an open break on the one hand and failure to make essential preparations on the other hand. Presenting it initially as a contingency so that he does not delay in any way in launching his preparation may be the best course to pursue, but we leave this to you. This initial approach would, of course, be followed by gradual crystallization and affirmation of the game plan as final.

With respect to Thieu’s activity which runs directly counter to this game plan such as the dispatch of his emissaries to Asian capitals with the view towards generating opposition, he must understand that this activity has to stop. This topic can be discussed in somewhat more forceful terms. Thieu has to understand that activity of this kind designed to sabotage our efforts to arrive at a settlement will not be tolerated and will surely force us to painfully but unhesitatingly opt for other alternatives. At this juncture, there is no possibility whatsoever that the President will turn from his present course. Flagrant sabotage on the part of Thieu will irrevocably terminate US support for him. This is a reality he must understand.

Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 857, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXI (1). Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. In backchannel message 238, October 27, 0500Z, Bunker provided additional detail about his meeting with Thieu on October 26. (Ibid.)
  3. In backchannel message WHS 2300, October 26, 1335Z, Kissinger informed Bunker that he would hold a press conference on October 26 and that one of his main purposes would be to make certain that Thieu would not be highlighted as the chief obstacle to a timely settlement. Kissinger’s last words to Bunker were: “The essential thing now is to prevent Thieu from publicly breaking with us and keeping ourselves in close tandem. Please tell Thieu that it is essential that in this phase we proceed as comrades-in-arms.” After the press conference, in backchannel message WHS 2301, October 26, 2315Z, Kissinger told Bunker of the need to convince Thieu that independent diplomacy would only create difficulties for both governments. More generally, he wrote: “you have the exceptionally difficult task of preventing Thieu from nourishing his current illusions but doing so in a way which will not drive him into an equally suicidal open break with us.” (Both ibid.)