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

421. Ref: WH31202.2

I met with Thieu at noon and made the presentation you requested. Thieu took it very calmly and was full of good humor. To my astonishment he agreed right away that the memorandum3 was not very forthcoming and even accepted that some of its positions were a step back from positions his people had already taken in other forums.
Thieu said that the key point for the GVN was to get zones of control delineated and that he was ready to go to considerable lengths to persuade the other side to enter into serious high-level discussions on this subject. While these zones remained vague there could be nothing but confusion and misunderstanding. “If you don’t know where my leg is you are going to stumble over it.” Once the zones were established then many other points could become simple; violation could be determined, freedom of movement could be assured, the ICCS could do its job better, etc.
Thieu asked if you had sent me any specific comments. I said that you had not, that as I had said you simply wished him to know that the memorandum could not be the basis for true negotiations. I added that I expected to get additional information from you but gave as my own view that such steps as expressing willingness for his high command to reissue cease-fire instructions, a willingness to move the PRG into better quarters, a willingness to make local arrangements at the regimental commander level and willingness to ease up on patrolling and pacification operations in contested areas were some changes which should be made in their position. Thieu replied that he was ready to do “many things” to get serious talks started on zones of control. “If they want a cup of tea before they get down to business I will give them a cup of tea.” The question of talks at the regimental commander level was, he said, irrelevant until general agreement at a high level on zones of control had been reached. It was not until General Vien and their commander had agreed on the overall picture that [Page 214]local arrangements could be made. The trouble was that the other side would keep on stalling. If they would start talking about zones of control he would be very flexible. On pacification operations Thieu bridled a bit and said ARVN was merely defending itself and responding to enemy mortar fire but that again this was a reason for getting the zones clarified.
I pointed out that time was short and that his staff would have to get cracking on a revision of the memorandum. Thieu said he would instruct Foreign Minister Lam to get in touch with us right way and start working on a new paper.

Comment. I am surprised at the cheerful way in which Thieu washed his hands of the memorandum. We will see what instructions he gives Lam but would guess that the thrust from here on will be an effort to establish linkage between the other side’s willingness to discuss zones with further GVN qte concessions unqte. I also take as a good sign that he is giving Lam the ball whereas the memorandum was clearly a Duc/Nha confection.

As things stand now the GVN is linking the zones issue to the following steps outlined in para 5 of WH 30984.4

(Local commanders)
(Military operations)
(Privileges and immunities)
(Democratic liberties/freedom of movement)

On the other steps:

(Point of entry) No problem.
(POW/detainees) We can probably get agreement on further releases.
(NCRC) GVN will probably stick to its present Paris position.
(Withdrawal of NVA) It is not yet clear how the GVN will handle this one.

Warm regards.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 415, Backchannel Messages, Bunker/Whitehouse, April–July 18, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Immediate. Sent with the instruction: “Deliver at opening of business.”
  2. Document 47.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 47.
  4. Backchannel message WH30984 to Saigon, May 4, outlined steps Kissinger wanted the GVN to accept during the Paris talks. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 415, Backchannel Messages, Bunker/Whitehouse, April–July 18, 1973)