79. Letter From President Nixon to South Vietnamese President Thieu1

Dear Mr. President:

I have just completed a careful reading of the October 28, 1972 memorandum entitled “Memorandum Re: Radio Hanoi’s Broadcast on October 26, 1972 and Dr. Kissinger’s Press Briefing on October 26, 1972.”2 As I have informed you, Dr. Kissinger has spoken and continues to speak on my behalf. There has not been nor will there be any distinction between his views and mine. As I wrote to you in my letter of October 16, “Dr. Kissinger’s comments have my total backing.”3

With specific reference to the points raised in this memorandum, we are astonished to be asked to comment on claims emanating from Radio Hanoi. Dr. Kissinger gave a full and detailed explanation of the ad referendum character of his discussions with the representatives of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Therefore, the Government of South Vietnam should not ask itself why theoretical planning dates were given to the DRV; it is patently obvious that they were ad referendum since none of these dates have been carried out.

With respect to your concerns about my messages of October 20 and October 22 to the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam,4 you will recall that Dr. Kissinger specifically referred to the content of these messages during his discussions with you in Saigon. These messages essentially concerned three matters concerning South [Page 321] Vietnam and two matters concerning Laos and Cambodia. With respect to South Vietnam, we informed Hanoi that we rejected any claim regarding your resignation and insisted on the replacement and prisoner provisions which you have seen. With respect to Laos and Cambodia, we demanded assurances with respect to ending the conflict in these countries. Dr. Kissinger, in the presence of Ambassador Bunker, told you that in their replies the North Vietnamese yielded on all these points. I consider that you were fully informed.

Concerning the current status of the draft agreement, Dr. Kissinger has made a solemn commitment to you to obtain the maximum number of changes reflecting the views expressed to him during his visit to Saigon. With respect to the inclusion of reference to the “three” countries of Indochina, Dr. Kissinger explained to you that the use of “three” was simply inadvertent and we would demand of the North Vietnamese to have it deleted from the present text.

With respect to the National Council, Dr. Kissinger made amply clear in his press conference, as he did in his talks with you, that it has no governmental functions. All American and foreign observers have seen its real meaning—a face-saving device for the communists to cover their collapse on their demands for a coalition government and your resignation. It is therefore incomprehensible to me why your government has chosen to portray the Council as a structure which encompasses governmental functions. This constant reiteration by your officials of misleading comments may bring about what we have struggled so hard to avoid.

Our position continues to be that we can live with an “administrative structure” which in English clearly implies advisory functions and not governmental ones, but that we reject the North Vietnamese translation which would imply that the structure is endowed with governmental powers and functions. This is precisely what Dr. Kissinger meant when he referred to language problems in his press conference. This is what we will clarify when we meet the North Vietnamese next. We chose the phrase linguistic ambiguity to give everybody a face-saving way out. You and I know what is involved.

Dr. Kissinger’s press conference was conducted on my detailed instructions. He was doing his utmost to prevent you from being portrayed as the obstacle to peace with an inevitable cutoff by Congress of U.S. funds to the Government of South Vietnam and the creation of unmanageable impediments to continued U.S. support for you and your Government. Constant criticism from Saigon can only undercut this effort. We will continue our efforts to present a united front, but they cannot succeed without the cooperation of your associates.

Beyond these specific points I cannot fail to call to your attention the dangerous course which your Government is now pursuing. You [Page 322] know my firm commitment to the people of South Vietnam and to you personally. As Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Bunker have informed you, I would like to underline this commitment by meeting with you within one or two weeks after the signing of this agreement. It is my conviction that the future depends on the unity which exists between us and on the degree to which we can make clear our unequivocal support to do what is necessary in the days ahead to insure that the provisions of a peace settlement are strictly enforced. Just as our unity has been the essential aspect of the success we have enjoyed thus far in the conduct of hostilities, it will also be the best guarantee of future success in a situation where the struggle continues within a more political framework. If the evident drift towards disagreement between the two of us continues, however, the essential base for U.S. support for you and your Government will be destroyed. In this respect the comments of your Foreign Minister that the U.S. is negotiating a surrender are as damaging as they are unfair and improper.

You can be assured that my decisions as to the final character of a peace settlement are in no way influenced by the election in the United States, and you should harbor no illusions that my policy with respect to the desirability of achieving an early peace will change after the election. I have taken this opportunity to comment on the memorandum of October 28 so that there can be no doubts in Saigon with respect to the objectives sought by me and my Government.

I urge you again, Mr. President, to maintain the essential unity which has characterized our relations over these past difficult four years and which has proven to be the essential ingredient in the success we have achieved thus far. Disunity will strip me of the ability to maintain the essential base of support which your Government and your people must have in the days ahead, and which I am determined to provide. Willingness to cooperate will mean that we will achieve peace on the basis of what I consider to be a workable agreement—especially with the amendments which we are certain to obtain. From this basis, we can move with confidence and unity to achieve our mutual objectives of peace and unity for the heroic people of South Vietnam.


Richard Nixon
  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). No classification marking. In a conversation with U. Alexis Johnson on October 31, 6:15 p.m., Kissinger commented: “Yeah, we sent a really scorching Presidential message to Thieu.” (Transcript of telephone conversation; ibid., Kissinger Telephone Conversations, Box 16, Chronological File) Reviewing the letter at Kissinger’s request, Bunker wrote: “I think the President’s letter could not be improved upon in substance or tone. It is exactly what is needed at this moment if Thieu is to be prevented from painting himself inextricably into a corner.” (Backchannel message 241 from Saigon, October 30, 1055Z; ibid., NSC Files, Box 857, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXI (1))
  2. In transmitting this South Vietnamese memorandum to the White House in backchannel message 240 to Kissinger, October 28, 1245Z, Bunker noted: “This is obviously an elaboration of some of the points Thieu raised with me this morning, as reported in my 0239 [Document 77]. It is clear that Thieu seems to be obsessed with the idea that the Council of National Reconciliation and Concord is a disguised coalition government.” (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))
  3. Document 20.
  4. Respectively, Documents 30 and 51.