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

364. Ref: WHS3133.2

The Vice President left this morning after two useful and productive days in Saigon. The visit was extremely well received by President Thieu and the GVN and came at an opportune time psychologically, bringing assurances of support in a period of continuing hostile action and violations of the ceasefire (obviously there have been violations by both sides although most RVN actions have been in response to enemy attacks).
The visit also undoubtedly had a steadying influence although the confidence of the GVN that they will be able to deal with the military situation has grown steadily. Throughout the two meetings which the Vice President had with Thieu, the latter was relaxed, exhibited an air of confidence and was obviously pleased. His main concerns in much of the discussion were related to the need for continued and substantial economic assistance, especially over the near term to cope with the urgent problems of rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Upon arrival, the Vice President and I met for an hour for a general review of the situation, following which he met with senior Mission officials, including Generals Weyand, Vogt, and Woodward. The Vice President was given a review of the military situation and of the status of the ICCS and Four-Party Joint Military Commission. Mossler and Cooper provided him with a review of the economic situation and the immediate as well as longer range economic problems which South Vietnam would face.
The Vice President’s first meeting with President Thieu took place at 1830 followed by dinner at the palace at 2000. In addition to Thieu, Vice President Huong, Prime Minister Khiem, Acting Foreign Minister Thu and Nha were present. Our side included Whitehouse, Negroponte and General Dunn. At the dinner which followed, the Vice President had an opportunity to meet the Chairmen of the Senate and House, Chief Justice, and the Ministers of Economy, Finance, Public Works, Agriculture and Land Reform and National Development.
The meeting concentrated largely on economic questions with reference primarily to the needs for the remainder of the present fiscal year and for the ensuing fiscal year. Thieu said that he sees the Vietnamese economic problems as involving two phases:
Rehabilitation, recovery, and reconstruction covering a period of one year.

A longer phase of economic development requiring planning over a four or five year period.

The first phase he sees divided into two six months periods:

  • —In the first six months, the government must move ahead rapidly on programs of rehabilitation and reconstruction, assure security for the people, and maintain political and psychological stability so that people can go about their work with confidence. Economic stability must be maintained by measures to control inflation and prices. All these steps are important, especially in preparation for elections which Thieu hopes can come sooner rather than later.
  • —The second six months will involve a continuation of reconstruction and measures to meet the problem of demobilization which will require provision of employment for the demobilized military personnel. (Negroponte took notes and will provide more detail.)

On Wednesday morning, the Vice President met with the members of the Mission Council for a further review of the current situation, including political developments, VC, and VCI activities and further briefing by Mossler and Cooper in preparation for his meeting with the GVN Ministers which followed. Present for the GVN were the Ministers of Economy, Finance, Agriculture and Land Reform and Public Works and Planning. The discussion in general followed the outline which had been developed by Thieu in the previous day’s meeting with the Vice President, but went into considerably greater detail. This will be reported separately.
In his final meeting Wednesday afternoon with President Thieu, the Vice President remarked that he had been much encouraged by what he had learned of the progress which had been made since his previous visit. He referred to the excellent meeting with the economic ministers and complimented Thieu on the competence and expertise of these young economic experts. The Vice President then emphasized the importance of creating a favorable image of the GVN and of Thieu himself in the United States. This will be helpful in the coming struggle with Congress over aid, a subject which is always hotly contested, especially military assistance. Consequently, anything that can be done to create a positive image will be helpful. The Vice President assured Thieu that the President is fully aware of the need to assist the Vietnamese economy as the government undertakes the tasks of rehabilitation and reconstruction as well as the need for development in order to provide jobs for the demobilized military personnel. He assured Thieu that the U.S. has no intention of withdrawing its presence from Asia or retreating on its commitments and cited the continuing presence of our air power in Thailand, the B–52’s in Guam and the Pacific Fleet.
Thieu commented that problems in the months ahead depend greatly on the attitude of the Communists. He hopes that political solutions can be found quickly followed by elections. He repeated his customary recital of the danger posed by the presence of NVA troops in South Viet-Nam, providing the means to conduct guerrilla warfare should they wish. He admitted that the GVN is now strong, but adverted to the fact that until now the Communists had had to fight on four fronts, whereas now with their withdrawal from Laos and Cambodia and with U.S. forces leaving, they will have only one front. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for the U.S. to react unless there is a return to a large scale conventional war. Nevertheless the threat of U.S. reaction will be an important factor in dissuading the Communists; and the Soviet’s influence on Hanoi can also be important as a deterrent. Thieu said that he pledged to engage in sincere and substantive talks in order to reach a political solution; stalling would not serve the interests of the GVN.
The Vice President commented that when elections are held, it is important that the international supervisory organization should be in place so that there will be no question of the fairness of the elections; it is also important to avoid frictions with the press. He agreed that the NVA could be difficult, but believed South Viet-Nam to be in a much stronger position than it had ever been.
Thieu agreed that if peace is maintained in Laos and Cambodia, problems in South Viet-Nam would be greatly lessened and would be manageable. If the situation develops favorably in South Viet-Nam, the GVN’s military outlay must be reduced and steps taken to create employment for the demobilized personnel. He remarked again on the importance of speeding recovery in the next six months.
The Vice President then informed Thieu that an announcement would be made of your forthcoming visit to Hanoi that evening, Saigon time, and explained that the purpose of the visit was to discuss economic assistance, but most importantly to try to influence the DRV to act responsibly. We hope also to influence the Soviet’s attitude toward South Viet-Nam. The important thing now is to get the ICCS teams in place and to make the ceasefire effective.
Thieu exhibited no concern on being informed of your visit to Hanoi. In fact, the tone of both meetings was extremely cordial and I think the whole exercise has been most useful and reassuring to Thieu and the GVN.
The Vice President asked to meet for a few minutes alone with Thieu in order to talk with him about things he believed Thieu could do when in the United States in order to improve his own and the GVN’s image.
In addition to these meetings, the Vice President had a working luncheon Wednesday which included Generals Weyand and Vogt, other members of their staffs, and Lt. Gen. Minh, MR 3 Commander. He also had a working dinner which included all members of the Mission Council and which provided an opportunity for further briefings and discussion. The Vice President departed at 0930 today for Phnom Penh.3
Warm regards.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 415, Backchannel Messages, From Ambassador Bunker, Saigon, Through April 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Immediate; Exclusively Eyes Only.
  2. In backchannel message WHS3133 to Saigon, January 31, Kissinger wrote to Bunker: “We are very much in need of a report on the activities of the Vice President, and also of the reaction of President Thieu to my trip to Hanoi.” (Ibid., Backchannel Messages, Box 415, To Ambassador Bunker, Saigon, Through April 1973)
  3. Agnew discussed the visit to Southeast Asia with Nixon in San Clemente on February 10, 10:05–11:30 a.m. (Ibid., Box 1026, Presidential/HAK Memcons, January–March 1973) Agnew’s written report on the tour, February 9, is ibid., RG 59, Records of the Executive Secretariat, Entry 5037, Box 170, Visit of Spiro Agnew to Southeast Asia. See also Department of State Bulletin, March 12, 1973, pp. 294–297.