38. Memorandum for the President’s Files by the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

SUBJECT

  • The President’s Meeting with President Nguyen Van Thieu of the Republic of Vietnam and Special Assistant, Nguyen Phu Duc

PARTICIPANTS

  • The President
  • President Nguyen Van Thieu
  • Nguyen Phu Duc
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

After escorting President Thieu into his office, President Nixon asked President Thieu for his analysis of the situation in Indochina.

President Thieu began by pointing out that the Communists had been forced to launch an attack in an election year as an attempt to change the situation in their favor. The failure of this offensive then [Page 180]caused them to sue for peace. Now the North Vietnamese needed time to rebuild their army. They had to rebuild their forces; this is why they were infiltrating from the North. They were preparing something else and infiltration was continuing. They were even refilling their units with prisoners of war released by the GVN. They had built a logistic zone north of the DMZ. All of the North Vietnamese were being put into NLF uniforms. They had rebuilt their sanctuaries along the borders of Cambodia and Laos. They were also attacking GVN posts to try to seize more hamlets and were putting a special effort into the northern part of MR1 in order to acquire control over more population for a possible election. The Communists thus seemed to be prepared for two possible solutions, President Thieu concluded: either a political or a military one.

Since the ceasefire, President Thieu continued, they had done more to grab territory in Cambodia. But in Laos they were quite restrained. Marshal Lon Nol had sent a special envoy to President Thieu to convey his views. If they had conducted a good pacification program the Cambodians would have succeeded, President Thieu believed. The other side felt very strong. President Nixon then asked how President Thieu foresaw the evolution of the situation in Cambodia. President Thieu replied that the best position for them was to deal with one man. President Thieu emphasized that the North Vietnamese had to withdraw from Laos and Cambodia. The Pathet Lao and Khmer Rouge were completely dependent on the North Vietnamese.

The strategy of the Communists was to gain time, President Thieu concluded, because they were not yet ready for either a political or a military contest. Therefore they were dragging their feet on elections in South Vietnam, and they may have needed to gain time even for their military purposes. President Nixon remarked that the GVN side should take the initiative on proposing elections. President Thieu said that he did not want the Communists to be able to pick one issue at a time. Therefore, he would make a package proposal of everything. He was ready to accept an election immediately. He did not want to give them time. Demobilization of forces within South Vietnam was very important, and he would emphasize this issue.

President Nixon commented that President Thieu should know that we had had great difficulty with the Canadians to get them to stay in the ICCS. We had also called in the Hungarians and the Poles to tell them that the future of our bilateral relations depended on their carrying out their ICCS obligations responsibly. He, therefore, urged President Thieu to cooperate with the ICCS and the Two-Party Commission. The enemy always used the big lie technique. The American press was furious at the outcome of the war and would be looking for things to discredit us. We both had to be sure that in the eyes of this country the Communists were at fault for anything that happened.

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President Thieu commented that he had been very satisfied with the performance of his soldiers after January 27. There had been no increase in desertions or mutiny; on the contrary, discipline had been maintained and the soldiers fought very well. President Thieu felt that the present infiltration was not decisive. An enemy offensive was not yet possible. In three or four months, if present infiltration continued, we would be in trouble. Had the enemy concentrated in one place, he might have won. President Thieu expected the enemy would try to hold down the best ARVN troops in one place, such as Quang Tri, and then attack in the Highlands.

President Nixon assured President Thieu that we conditioned our better relations with the Chinese and the Russians on the scale of their arms deliveries to North Vietnam. The Russians had responded and promised that there would be no further military supplies to Hanoi. The price of what we were doing for them was military cooperation in Indochina. President Nixon then told President Thieu about the long session he had had with Brezhnev at the dacha during the Moscow summit in May,2 and how he had made this point forcefully. This would be an important issue of US-Soviet relations.

Before the January ceasefire, President Nixon continued, he had given President Thieu the firmest assurance of our desire to support him in the new conditions of peace. He wanted to repeat this assurance now and to make three points: 1) President Thieu should do all he could to keep the Communists on the political defensive. 2) Our common enemies wanted President Thieu to say that the United States would have to come back in. 3) In the event of massive Communist offensive the American reaction would be sharp and tough. The Communists were presently trying to nibble at us. American public opinion was very important in all of this.

The conversation then turned again to Cambodia. President Thieu remarked that it was important to find one Khmer Rouge to negotiate with. President Nixon asked if he had any confidence in the Cambodians. President Thieu replied that there were only two factions in Cambodia: the Communists and the Army. The Vietnamese were very disappointed in Lon Nol. The Vietnamese had trained most of the Cambodian army but the Cambodians had not done an adequate job. Our side had to do what it could to weaken the other side. President Thieu did not know what could be done to repair the situation. Sirik Matak and In Tam were good men. There were two questions about restoring the situation in Cambodia: Could it be done? and Who could do it?

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President Nixon thanked President Thieu for his analysis. He emphasized our assurance of support and expressed his view that President Thieu personally was the key to the strength of our side.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 104, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, GVN Memcons, November 1972–April 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the President’s office in the Western White House.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XIV, Soviet Union, October 1971–May 1972, Document 271.