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

WH31728. 1. Please have following text of Presidential letter sent without delay because we need a complete turnaround with Saigon prior to 0100 Washington time June 13.

2. Dear Mr. President,

Your letter of June 122 came as a sharp and very painful blow to our friendship and mutual confidence, and to our common interests. In the light of the sacrifices we have made and the risks we have run in your behalf it seemed inconceivable that you would respond in such negative fashion. I cannot hide from you the strain on our relationship caused by the fact that you would totally ignore the offer of assurances I was prepared to make if you signed the communiqué in its current form.

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Nevertheless, because the consequences of failure of the negotiations risk making a mockery of so much heroism and suffering, I instructed Dr. Kissinger once again to delay his initialing of the text and to seek some satisfaction on your “minimum” conditions, even though I do not consider them of sufficient intrinsic merit to justify the risks you have pressed me to take or the attitude you have adopted toward my government.

Dr. Kissinger spent a long and bitter session with Le Duc Tho in Paris today.3 In this session, he has been unable to achieve any change whatsoever in the paragraph concerning the location of the Two Party Joint Military Commission teams.

That paragraph, as it now stands, commits you to nothing concerning the team locations and preserves entirely your authority to control their location by stipulating that you must agree to the selection of their locations in the Commission itself. You do not have to agree either that any areas adjoin or that any teams should be stationed there. It is therefore inconceivable and unacceptable to my government or US public opinion that this paragraph should be made an issue of success or failure in these negotiations.

On the other hand, my negotiators have succeeded in obtaining a significant change in the paragraph concerning the South Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination by obtaining a verbatim inclusion of Article 9 (b) of the Agreement in that paragraph. You suggested in your letter that this text precede the paragraph on democratic liberties, presumably because of the numerical sequence of articles in the Agreement. However, it is my sincere feeling that its location in the paragraph on self-determination is better. In that location, it is tied in directly with the functions of the National Council, and by having it precede the sub-paragraph on the Council, makes clear that the functions of the Council are subordinate to the election process. Moreover, by disengaging it from the paragraph on democratic liberties, it deprives the Communists of the tactic of using their own interpretation of democratic liberties as a block to the holding of elections. I am attaching the text of that paragraph.4

Mr. President, this is frankly more than I thought we could achieve on your behalf. But, in order to accomplish this, I have had to give my personal word to the North Vietnamese that this is the last change we [Page 339]will seek. If you refuse to accept these results and continue to decline to instruct your representative to sign the communiqué, you will have repudiated my entire policy of constant support for you, your government, and your country.

If you choose this course, Mr. President, you will have determined the future of my administration’s policy with respect to Viet-Nam. I will be forced to follow American congressional and public opinion by supporting only marginal humanitarian necessities with respect to your people and will be able, with justice, to forego all the hard decisions and tasks which would have been involved in the military and economic programs we discussed in San Clemente. Needless to say, it will be the end of our effort elsewhere in Indochina. I will regard such a choice as being directed at my personal judgement and my personal commitments.

This has ceased to be a matter between negotiators, or lawyers, or experts. This is now a matter directly between the two of us. The choice is yours. Please give me a positive, unequivocal answer before 0100 Washington time June 13, so that I can confirm my instructions to our negotiators. I have ordered Dr. Kissinger to sign, together with Dr. Vien, at 1600 Paris time June 13 and to return to Washington that same evening. Prior to that time, he must initial the text with Le Duc Tho and our staffs must prepare the documents. Please understand that I will regard any qualifications, requests for further changes, delays, or other deviations from a simple affirmative agreement as a direct and deliberate decision to end the existing relationship between the US and the GVN.

Dr. Kissinger has been instructed to return to Washington by tomorrow evening. No further delay or evasion for whatever reason is acceptable. I expect that your representative in Paris will be adequately instructed by the morning of June 13 Paris time.

End text.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 415, Backchannel Messages, Bunker/Whitehouse, April–July 18, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only; Flash. Sent through Scowcroft.
  2. Thieu’s June 12 letter demanded additional changes to the joint communiqué; Whitehouse sent that letter to Kissinger in backchannel message 511 from Saigon, June 12. (Ibid.) Kissinger instructed Whitehouse in backchannel message WH31715 to Saigon, June 12: “You are to see Thieu or highest available authority immediately and tell him in strongest terms that the President is outraged at the position taken by the GVN, and at the utter failure to even refer to the public assurances we had offered. Our negotiator has been publicly humiliated; the publication of the text of the communiqué is an outrage while the negotiations are still going on. It is a total breach of faith.” (Ibid.) The contents of the draft communiqué were leaked in Saigon. See The New York Times, June 13, 1973.
  3. The memorandum of the June 12 conversation is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 114, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, Paris Memcons, May 17–23, 1973.
  4. Kissinger sent the revised text to Whitehouse in backchannel message WH31729 to Saigon, June 12. (Ibid., Box 415, Backchannel Messages, Bunker/Whitehouse, April–July 18, 1973)