60. Backchannel Message From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Sullivan) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

455. 1. Whitehouse and I had one hour session with Thieu morning May 24. Lam and Duc were present.

2. I went over U.S. political/congressional situation in some detail and explained need for constructive GVN action to forestall [Page 290]congressional cut-off on Cambodia, which would in all probability be followed by similar congressional revolt against aid for GVN. Thieu seemed not only fully aware of problem but inclined to be sympathetic.

3. I then discussed our objectives in Paris talks as primarily directed towards (A) Article 7, (B) Article 20, and (C) cease-fire. Thieu emphatically agreed with these objectives and dilated at some length on the need to clean up Cambodia. He asked whether we had anything concrete on Cambodia. I told him we did not, but that we had made clear there would be no aid while DRV troops remained there.

4. Thieu next asked whether we had any Chinese assurances re Cambodia. I told him cursorily of Chou conversation with Bruce 2 and said we intended to follow it up. Thieu expressed opinion this would be key element in our effort.

5. We then turned to draft which we have been negotiating in Paris. Thieu told me he had worked earlier in morning with Khiem, Lam and Duc on two-party text which we had supplied them. They had converted all “should” articles to U.S.-DRV “appeals”. They had also made a few minor changes in text.

6. At this point, I told them of our arrangement with DRV for four party document, stressing that there could be no rpt no real four party conference. I said DRV would accept idea of four party document provided GVN accepts text we have worked out with DRV without change. This produced much palaver, which resulted in consensus that four party document was preferable, provided PRG not named and provided signatures were on two separate pages. They also want to participate in at least one session before signature, so that they will appear to have participated in developing document, as well as signing it.

7. Once this premise established, I then gave them three copies of text which resulted from your final session in Paris,3 again repeating the injunction that it would have to be accepted in its totality if there is to be an agreed four party document. Thieu finessed this condition by saying that he and his collaborators would have to study our text.

8. I then reviewed with Thieu various considerations advanced in President’s letter which we regarded as favorable to GVN. I listed deferral of NCRC formation, indefinite time frame for agreement on internal matters, and withdrawal of TPJMC as indications that PRG was [Page 291]preparing to abandon political fight. I also thought insistence on ceasefire and agreement on delimitation of zones of control reflected intention to withdraw into defensive perimeters rather than press for military advantage.

9. Thieu agreed with general logic of these observations, but gave them a more ominous interpretation. He felt these PRG actions indicated an intention to carve out an area of control, contiguous to Communist areas in Cambodia and Laos, build them up into base areas, and prepare for a massive future assault against GVN territory. The lack of movement in the political process would then be blamed on the GVN (as it was when 1956 elections aborted) and used as an excuse to justify the attack. He therefore took no joy in the developments which we perceived.

10. Whitehouse, Bennett and I are to meet this afternoon with Lam, Duc, Thuan and a supporting cast of thousands in order to go over the text. They will doubtless demand many changes, and we will enter the familiar second Saigon phase, which at some point will probably have to be punctuated by the brutal bolt from highest authority.4

11. Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 415, Backchannel Messages, Bunker/Whitehouse, April–July 18, 1973. Secret; Flash. Sent through Scowcroft.
  2. Ambassador Bruce met with Zhou Enlai on May 18 and discussed, among other things, Indochina and Cambodia. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XVIII, China, 1973–1976, Document 33.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 56.
  4. Following the afternoon meeting, Sullivan reported in backchannel message 456 from Saigon, May 24: “Tedious GVN argumentation, which was led by Duc, concentrated most negatively on eight different paragraphs, with most of their proposals being trivia.” Sullivan continued: “I tolerated this lengthy boredom (and an endless Vietnamese meal) because it is clear the GVN wants to give the press the impression that I am willing to spend as long with them in my negotiating sessions as I do with Thach. I regret that I have only one liver to give to my country.” In backchannel message WH31445 to Saigon, May 25, Kissinger replied: “My concern in dealing with this trivia is that, as you well know, the possibility of reaching a satisfactory resolution of the Cambodia situation is substantially lessened if we spend all of our time on Vietnam nitpicks.” (Both in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 415, Backchannel Messages, Bunker/Whitehouse, April–July 18, 1973)