78. Backchannel Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to the Acting Ambassador to Vietnam (Whitehouse)1
WH31692. Please deliver following Presidential message to President Thieu immediately.
Dear Mr. President:
I have read your most recent letter2 with great care and given it the most serious study. I appreciate how difficult this whole issue has been for you and your government. I share many of your general concerns about the evolution since the signing of the Paris Agreement. I only wish conditions had permitted us to respond more completely to those concerns.
As you know, my negotiators and I have scrupulously attempted, over the course of these negotiations, to obtain the changes to the communiqué that you have requested. We have, as you also know, successfully made many of these changes though perhaps not as fully as we both wished.
But this is not the issue before us. We now face a deadline we have changed three times and which cannot be changed again. I have, therefore, instructed Dr. Kissinger to return to Paris this evening so that he can initial the communiqué at noon tomorrow Paris time, and participate in the Four-Party signing ceremony at 4:00 p.m. the same day. Dr. Kissinger will be instructed to initial in any event.[Page 327]
Nevertheless, I have instructed Ambassador Sullivan, who is now in Paris, to seek to obtain the agreement of the other side to changing the word “territory” in paragraph 8c to “area.” This change should meet the major concern you have expressed to me.
Mr. President, I see no possibility of obtaining the other changes you suggest. It is clear to me that the other side will never agree to drop paragraphs 10 and 11 of the communiqué. We have tried three times; we have failed three times. I am not prepared to instruct my negotiators to try again.
Nor, Mr. President, would it be useful to propose the changes in paragraph 12b that you have suggested. The language you propose, “. . . an area under the military control of one . . .”, is inconsistent with the language found throughout the ceasefire protocol. For example, Article 2 reads, “. . . extend each party’s area of control . . .” Article 3 speaks of “. . . areas under their respective control . . .”
As you know I do not agree with your interpretation of the communiqué. But in an effort to meet your oft repeated concerns, the U.S. Government will be prepared, if you authorize signature of the communiqué, to issue a public declaration this week stating that the political provisions of the communiqué do not qualify the January Agreement in any way, and that Chapter IV remains the basis for a political settlement. Similarly, we would interpret “territory” or area as being an area under the military control of the other side. Finally, we would emphatically reiterate that your government is the only legitimate government of South Vietnam, and that we do not and shall not recognize two governments on the territory of South Vietnam.
Mr. President, the time for further fruitless debate between us is clearly past. The press in this country is already blaming Saigon for the delays that have plagued us thus far. The Congress is about to consider a series of legislative proposals that would make it virtually impossible for us to conduct any military operations in Indochina; if we cannot resolve our differences now that legislation will certainly pass. Further delay—or adamant refusal on your part to sign the communiqué—would only lead to the disastrous consequences I have so often described to you.
The choice is up to you whether you wish now publicly to disavow my negotiator, who is publicly known to have returned to Paris to sign a communiqué, or whether you are prepared to accept the assurances I have given you of our continued readiness to see that the January Agreement is enforced.
I ask that you now instruct your representative in Paris to sign the communiqué. I must have your answer by 8:00 a.m. Paris time. I ask, as well, that instructions be sent to your representative in Paris so that he can carry out the agreed schedule. We can then go forward with the united front that has marked our course over the past many years.[Page 328]
Sincerely, Richard Nixon
For Whitehouse: There is some variation in paragraph numbers between the text Thieu quotes and our latest draft (the Vietnamese text you have is up to date). You will need to point out the correct paragraphing when you deliver this letter. We have used the paragraph numbers contained in Thieu’s letter in our own reply to avoid confusion.