39. 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

The conversation began on the subject of the release of civilian detainees in South Vietnam by the two South Vietnamese parties, as covered by Article 8 (c) of the Paris Agreement. President Nixon asked how this was proceeding. President Thieu replied that over the course of fifteen years of war there were many prisoners. Everyone now in jail in South Vietnam was in jail as a result of the laws and the Constitution, but the GVN had released many thousands of them. Many key people of the Communist infrastructure were still imprisoned. The problem would be discussed between the two South Vietnamese parties in Paris, but the GVN could not agree to trade five thousand for only 200 in return as the Communists were demanding. After Tet 1973, the GVN had released five thousand civilian prisoners who had been arrested under martial law.

Dr. Kissinger commented that it was important to have all these releases on record so that we could send a message to Le Duc Tho stressing that we had complied with our obligations and demanding that they live up to theirs. President Thieu agreed, and said he would [Page 183]release another thousand civilian detainees to the other side and would give the United States a list of the five thousand who had been released in February.

President Nixon repeated the points he had made the day before. That the United States considered the survival of South Vietnam to be essential to our own foreign policy. In case the GVN needed assistance, we would act as the situation required. We should use our influence with the DRV, the PRC and the USSR. Vietnamization had clearly succeeded, and this must be shown. The South Vietnamese could hold the enemy unless the enemy had outside help. President Nixon then agreed to the military package of replacement assistance which had been worked out between the two sides. The main point he wanted to get across in this private talk was that we had made a solemn agreement with the North Vietnamese and the other side must abide by it.

There was a brief discussion of the Cambodian situation. Unfortunately the Cambodians did not fight, President Thieu observed. There were no good targets for the B–52s.

President Nixon then turned the discussion to economic assistance for South Vietnam. President Thieu explained his country’s economic requirements. His government’s objective was rapid economic development. He, therefore, wanted an increase in total funds so that the amount needed later would be less. Dr. Kissinger then discussed the table of data from the study by the Vietnam Special Studies Group.2 He indicated that we could find ways of doing it.

President Nixon advised President Thieu not to ask for the full 200 million dollars from the Congress all at once. He advised President Thieu to emphasize the destruction from the war and the need to rebuild. He should indicate his willingness for demobilization of military forces right away in South Vietnam. He should point to how this aid would reduce South Vietnam’s dependence on the United States. The problem was a pure PR problem. President Nixon then ordered the 160 million dollar figure and assured President Thieu we would do everything we could. He said he would tell our new ambassador, Graham Martin, to ride very heavily on the economic side. Martin knew what President Nixon wanted, and did what President Nixon said. Some of our opponents, the President continued, had created the impression that the Communists were all good guys and that Saigon was all bad guys. This was the problem.

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Mr. Duc then said that the economic budgetary support should be complemented by development funds. President Nixon agreed, and ordered expedited consideration of South Vietnam’s development projects. Mr. Duc asked about export support and investment guarantees. President Nixon urged President Thieu to present a maximum program to Mr. McNamara at the World Bank.

President Nixon then asked what President Thieu’s schedule was in Washington. President Thieu replied that he would be addressing the National Press Club. He had meetings scheduled with a number of Congressional leaders and also a meeting scheduled with Mr. McNamara. President Nixon observed that perhaps Julie Eisenhower could receive President and Mrs. Thieu.

The conversation then returned to the economic question. Mr. Duc asked about the possibility of getting 785 million dollars for 1974. President Nixon replied that we would agree to it as a goal, but not as a commitment. We would use the GVN’s numbers as a target. Mr. Duc expressed appreciation for this. He predicted that SVN would become self-sufficient in a shorter time than the Republic of Korea. President Thieu remarked that it really made no difference whether this assistance came in the form of loans or grants or soft or long-term loans. Mr. Duc mentioned that President Thieu planned to establish a committee for national reconstruction to plan the allocation of resources. President Thieu said that he thought such a committee would be most efficient if directly headed by him. There would be more coordination and better efficiency.

President Nixon then mentioned that President Thieu would likely be asked about US aid to North Vietnam. President Nixon’s own position was that he was willing to consider aid to North Vietnam if they live up to the agreement. President Thieu commented that the leadership in Hanoi was a very doctrinaire group. President Nixon asked if there were any revisionists in the Hanoi politburo. President Thieu replied that perhaps Le Duan was. But almost all the members of the politburo had committed themselves to conquering Indochina all of their lives.3

  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. A memorandum from Odeen to Kissinger, March 29, contained the VSSG approach to Vietnamese economic development, including a table of data entitled “Alternative Increases in Economic Support.” (Ibid., Box 163, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, January– April 1973)
  3. President Nixon and President Thieu released a joint statement at the conclusion of their talks on April 3; see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Richard Nixon, 1973, pp. 251–254.