61. 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

794. 1. Whitehouse and I spent one hour with President Thieu this morning immediately prior to my departure for Phnom Penh.2 Duc was also present.

2. I began by explaining that I had received a number of proposals from the GVN for improvements to our document. I pointed out that the document itself was the product of about 40 hours of intense negotiation with the North Vietnamese and did not pretend to be the optimum we would have produced if it had been purely a U.S. product. Therefore, while it clearly could be improved to GVN advantage, Thieu had to understand that such improvement could only be extracted from the DRV at a price, and that the price might be too costly for the effort. Therefore, rather than looking at the paper from the point of view of its perfectability, Thieu should examine whether it contained anything which would be seriously damaging to GVN interests.

3. In response, Thieu gave a general overview of the document from his perspective, stating that it was too vague, did not establish precise enough obligations (especially for the Communists), and that it omitted any reference to the requirement for elections in the political paragraphs. Stripped of all the verbiage, his remarks amounted to a request to insert a specific reference to elections in paragraph 7.

4. I told Thieu I had done this in a “fix” which I had given Lam last night. Thieu said he had seen that text, but had not had a chance to read it. (Obviously not true, since his copy was lying on the table, covered with notes.) I take this to mean that he would eventually buy the “fix”, even though he would prefer a much more specific paragraph.

5. We then went through the various changes GVN had proposed and I ticked off those which were possible and those which were impossible. The only demurrer they made to this effort was a request that [Page 293]we seek to add a phrase about “respect for the DMZ” in our paragraph on Article 15.

6. Once again, Thieu repeated his willingness to have a four-party document and his desire to have the GVN seen as “participating” in the development of the communiqué. He did not rpt not specifically give me his concurrence in the text as it now stands or in the “fixes” which I prepared on paragraphs 7 and 8. Instead, he fell back on statement that he wanted to study these paragraphs and would be in touch with Charlie Whitehouse. We therefore are far less precise in our current position than I had hoped we would be on my departure. However, I don’t think our positions are unbridgeable.

7. I did not, incidentally raise the question of a four party document which includes a reference to the PRG. In your last message to me, you suggested I get GVN acquiescence in such a paper. This confuses me since I had already, on the basis of previous messages, gotten their acquiescence to the preamble drafted by Aldrich which you told me Le Duc Tho has accepted. If there is to be another type preamble which mentions the PRG, it will be difficult to explain to GVN, which will probably insist on a clause disclaiming recognition.

8. It would be my recommendation that we send Le Duc Tho a message containing the changes we are prepared to endorse and see what we can sell that way. If we get something which we can report to Thieu as responsive to his requests, then we will have to resort to the Presidential letter to saw it off before we actually go back to Paris. I will develop the draft of a message from you to Le Duc Tho on the plane and give it to you when I arrive in Washington.

9. Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 412, Backchannel Messages, Southeast Asia, 1973. Secret; Flash. Repeated Immediate to Saigon for Ambassador Whitehouse.
  2. From Saigon, Sullivan traveled to Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand to discuss the communiqué and its regional implications. Summaries of those meetings are in backchannel message 793 from Vientiane, May 26 (ibid.), and Sullivan’s memorandum to Kissinger, May 27. (Ibid., Box 286, Agency Files, Department of State, January–May 1973)