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

563. Ref: WH37474.2

I have just read the December 4–6 exchange with Le Duc Tho. In order to decrease to the minimum any possibility of leaks I had not planned to inform President Thieu until the meeting was firm and then only on the day of the announcement to insure that our friend, Nha, could not prematurely release it. However, last night General Quang asked Acting DCM Bennett whether there was any truth in the story from Paris in yesterday’s Le Monde forecasting a meeting later this month between you and Ducky. Bennett said he knew nothing about it.
If Phuong has not yet been informed and if you do not plan to mention it to FonMin Bac when you see him today,3 I will adhere to my original plan. However, Thieu should have it first from me if I am to preserve and increase the increasingly good personal relationship with him. Therefore, please let me know in time how you are handling it there.
On the meeting itself, I cannot question your judgment on the factors which led you to go ahead with it. I think I can surmise what they were. But I do believe it essential that you maintain your determination not to be drawn into even a two day discussion at this time. As the Le Monde article clearly attests Ducky’s main objectives are largely psychological. Although he may have hopes, he simply must be aware that there are absolutely no more concessions you can bring to the table at this point, except perhaps some motion on Article 21 although even he must realize the impossibility of Congressional approval of economic aid to the DRVN just now.
The crucial and determining factor in your evaluation of their intentions should be your own estimate of the validity of your understandings with the Soviets and Chinese precluding open-ended resupply of military hardware to Hanoi. My own guess is that they will hold. If this is also your estimate, I believe the danger of failure of a major force attack by Hanoi is so great that it will not be undertaken, although we can confidently expect a rising level of violence between now and December 20, or whenever you decide to meet. I assume your staff was aware that December 20 is the PRG Liberation Day.
On the military side, our military colleagues have consistently underestimated both the capability and the will of the ARVN to resist, and always will. What happened in Dinh Tuong in the Base Area 470 operations, the tenacity in retaking Dak Song, and in Quang Tri late last year is more indicative of the present quality of new ARVN than the occasional reverses which are inevitable when the enemy has the initiative. In accordance with your private instructions to me I have encouraged the GVN to defend itself strongly. At the same time, we have been successful, working together, in reversing the propaganda advantage the other side has heretofore monopolized. Consequently, the strong GVN response has been regarded in most of the world press as a normal, wholly proper and natural response to DRVN aggression. On the ground the DRVN has made none of the gains they expected. Tom Polgar tells me the ICCS Polish and Hungarian contingents quite clearly recognize it is the GVN who are gaining, not the DRVN. While we should expect Hanoi to make a heavy investment in freeing up their lines of communication in the highlands, we should not overlook the fact that the cost is heavy and they cannot afford this kind of attrition as well as the GVN.
On the economic side I have no worry about an economic collapse. I do worry that resources now available will not permit an accelerating development momentum which will not only add to confidence but will attract other donor nations to greater participation. I am asking today for speedy decision to present $150,000,000 supplemental for FY 74 economic aid program. I think we can get it, but if not the psychological effort of merely presenting it to the Congress will be well worth the effort. The IMF team leaving today will present an optimistic report and give high marks to the new GVN economic team.
The greatest single deficiency is in intelligence coverage, particularly technical collection. If you can insure the provision of the coverage I outlined in my 05554 to you, it would help a great deal. The other critical need is greater mobility for shifting reserves in country [Page 468]and the provision of the small list of screened items we culled out of the last GVN military shopping list. I will go over all these with John Lehmann when he arrives on the 15th.
In sum, I believe the danger of a major force push this dry season to be minimal and highly improbable until infiltration of personnel now in process builds up in the late winter or spring. Therefore, you should enter this meeting with no sense of pressure and be tough as you wish to be. You said it all pretty well yesterday when you observed in your press conference that “we have succeeded with a settlement, not in guaranteeing necessarily a permanent peace, but in moving the decision to a Vietnamese decision, which is what we always said our objective was.”5
If you can get the various elements of the executive branch working together to implement our recommendations from here, you can let Ducky try for a “Vietnamese decision” any way he likes. And we, and the GVN, will come out of it all right.
Warm regards.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 416, Backchannel Messages, Martin, Saigon, July 19–December 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only; Immediate.
  2. Scowcroft relayed the details of the exchange of notes concerning the forthcoming KissingerLe Duc Tho meeting to Martin in backchannel message WH37474, December 7. (Ibid.)
  3. See Document 118.
  4. In backchannel message 555, November 19, Martin urged Kissinger to consider ways to improve U.S. intelligence gathering in Vietnam. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 416, Backchannel Messages, Martin Channel, Saigon, July 19–December 1973)
  5. Kissinger’s news conference on December 6, most of which concerned the Middle East, was reported in The New York Times, December 7, 1973.