90. Memorandum From William Stearman of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

SUBJECT

  • Current Situation in Vietnam

Overview

The June 13 Communiqué2 has resulted in the lowest overall levels of fighting since the January 28 cease-fire. However, the implementation of other aspects of the Communiqué still leaves much to be desired. (A separate report on this is being prepared.)3 While we are adhering to schedules in respect to mineclearing and the JEC talks, the Vietnamese parties seem far from implementing the Communiqué in respect to such matters as infiltration, deployment of joint teams, release of prisoners and MIAs—to name only a few. In general, however, both sides now seem to be moving towards a stabilization of the military situation and increasing economic and political competition.

Military

Since the new “strict” cease-fire went into effect on June 15, the overall level of fighting throughout South Vietnam has reached the lowest [Page 365]levels since the January 28 cease-fire. The principal exceptions to this trend have been in MR–II, where ARVN forces have been trying to retake villages northwest of Kontum which were lost just before June 15, and in Chuong Thien Province (MR–IV) where the Communists have tried to expand their holdings and where the ARVN has been conducting an active “defense.” However, even in these areas fighting has slackened in recent days.

The latest COSVN directives call for a minimum of military action and for increased emphasis on political struggle and economic viability. Since the GVN also seems to be seeking only minor adjustments of the present military status quo, prospects for relative stability and a continued low level of fighting are probably good in the coming months.

Infiltration

Despite the decreased level of combat, there has been little change in North Vietnamese infiltration activities since the Communiqué. Large amounts of war supplies are still illegally crossing the DMZ into northern MR–1—although rains have forced a drastic reduction of infiltration via the Ho Chi Minh trail. The North Vietnamese are continuing a major “transportation offensive” into Quang Tri Province (which they are actually annexing). For example, 4,300 vehicles reportedly transited a DMZ-associated checkpoint in northeastern Quang Tri in the period June 14–20. (Although the 15 day period has now elapsed, the other side still has not designated additional points of entry and has not yet introduced any war matériel through a designated point of entry under supervision.)

Personnel infiltration into South Vietnam since the Communiqué seems to be confined to small special purpose groups.

Two Party Joint Military Commission

The TPJMC has made little progress in implementing those parts of the Communiqué affecting the Commission due to varying interpretations of the Communiqué reflecting basic policy differences between the two sides.

Meetings of local commanders (which were to occur within 24 hours of the cease-fire) have not yet taken place. The GVN insists on beginning such meetings at the division commander level and then working down the chain of command. The PRG insisted on meetings at the squad and platoon leader level but has now shifted up to the company commander level. The GVN has proposed inspection of cease-fire positions by TPJMC teams, but this has been rejected by the PRG.

There is still fundamental disagreement on team deployment. The GVN insists on initial deployment to the 26 sites specified in the Agreement with possible later deployment to the Communiqué border sites when zones of control have been delineated. The PRG insists they will [Page 366]deploy only to the new sites to be designated on the borders of areas of control.

On privileges and immunities, the GVN has taken the position that these should be granted when the PRG agrees to deploy to the team sites designated in the Agreement.

The GVN on June 18 began discussions with the PRG on selecting a new headquarters in Saigon proper which would be jointly occupied by both delegations. The PRG “noted” this proposal, but has not yet replied.

Four Party Joint Military Team

The other side is clearly stalling on its undertakings in respect to Paragraph 8 (e) (MIA’s) of the Communiqué. We are no nearer than before to our objectives of repatriating the remains of those who died in captivity, obtaining an accounting for MIA’s and investigating crash sites in contested and Communist-controlled areas.

The other side is, inter alia, using the MIA issue to further other objectives. For example, the PRG representative told his U.S. counterpart on June 27 that the PRG could guarantee the return of some U.S. remains if we would put pressure on the GVN to release civilian detainees. The PRG is also insisting on visiting and maintaining graves in GVN territory in an obvious attempt to establish a presence in Government-held areas. (The GVN insists on disinterment and removal of remains to PRG areas.)

Most recently, the other side has refused to sign flight safety certificates instituted after a minor explosion in the luggage of a North Vietnamese passenger on the June 8 JMT liaison flight from Hanoi to Saigon. This has effectively suspended U.S. liaison flights between Hanoi and Saigon since we will no longer fly this route unless the DRV/PRG passengers will certify they aren’t carrying dangerous objects in their luggage. (Polish and Hungarian ICCS passengers have not hesitated to sign these certificates.) Our Embassy believes the DRV is using this issue to pressure the GVN into accepting liaison flights by North Vietnamese aircraft.

Detainees

So far there has been little movement towards releasing more civilian detainees. To date, the GVN has released more detainees than has the other side (714 versus 385). There is presently disagreement on places of release, and the PRG has reduced the number of those it is willing to release.

While the GVN has told us that the TPJMC has reached agreement in principle on National Red Cross visits to places of detention, the modalities of such visits remain to be worked out. The main difficulty [Page 367]is PRG insistence that there are no detention camps in its area. The GVN objects to inspections restricted only to its detention facilities.

ICCS

Little has changed in respect to the ICCS. Plenary sessions continue to be suspended (as they have been for weeks) because the Communist members insist that the principle of unanimity must apply to the investigation process if results of investigations are to be forwarded as ICCS documents. (This is contrary to Article 3 (b) of the ICCS Protocol.) The Hungarians and Poles continue to be as obstructionist as ever, and the PRG continues to restrict safety guarantees for ICCS flights; moreover, Communist forces have, since the Communiqué, continued to fire on ICCS helicopters (e.g. on June 17 and 26).

The search for a replacement for Canada goes on with Malaysia indicating it could only provide 50 to 60 people for an ICCS delegation (of the some 300 required). Should Malaysia persist in its position, we have instructed our Chargé in Saigon to consult with the GVN on another candidate.

The GVN is about to table a draft on safety assurances for ICCS travel.

Negotiations

The GVN/PRG bilateral talks resumed on June 28 (the first meeting since May 30). Although both sides presented “new proposals,” their presentations differed little from earlier offers. The GVN repeated its proposal to create four commissions (for democratic liberties, elections, NCNRC and armed forces) and updated its previous timetable for removing restrictions on democratic liberties, withdrawal of non-SVN forces, NCNRC formation and elections (to be held December 25, 1973).

The PRG’s proposal called for the early formation of the NCNRC which would monitor the cease-fire and democratic freedoms and organize elections “when an effective cease-fire has been applied and democratic liberties fully guaranteed.”

The DRV flatly rejected the GVN proposal for bilateral GVNDRV talks on reunification and other matters involving relations between the two countries.

Internal Political Developments

The political situation in South Vietnam has changed little since the January cease-fire. Over the past six months, Thieu has strengthened his control of the country’s political institutions through aggressive electioneering by his party (the Democracy Party) at Senate and village council levels. The Democracy Party captured up to 90% of the village council positions so far elected this year and Thieu’s slates certainly will take control of the once-obstreperous Senate when elections [Page 368]for one half of its members are held in August. A victory in the Senate elections will allow Thieu to press his efforts to amend the constitution to permit a third presidential term and to continue the appointment versus election of province chiefs.

The expansion of the Democracy Party has occurred at the expense of the non-Communist opposition which remains as divided and ineffectual as ever. The moderate opposition has organized two political parties under the 1972 party’s law—the Catholic-based “Freedom Party” and a collection of moderately critical former parties called the “Social Democrats.” (These two groups plus the Democracy Party so far are the only legal parties under 1972 political parties law.) These parties, however, were unable to agree on candidate lists for the Senate election and therefore have forfeited the contest. The An Quang Buddhists remain quiescent and internally divided. Former Vice President Ky plays tennis, and General Big Minh speaks of forming a “third force” but appears no closer to success than four years ago.

In addition to strengthening his political hold, Thieu understandably is intent on maintaining the GVN internal security apparatus and the vigilance of the general population. He has repeatedly warned his people to keep up their guard and has continued to apply the full range of security measures, including a low-key Phoenix program and a ban on all contact with the enemy, from economic dealings and commanders meetings, to refugee return.

Thieu’s tactics have not aroused much controversy among the general public. South Vietnamese appear deeply skeptical of the cease-fire and fearful of the Communists. Although somewhat more hopeful that the “new” cease-fire will bring peace, the public continues fully to accept the GVN’s wartime restrictions as necessary; there has been no outcry against the Democracy Party’s eclipse of the opposition politics. However, the public is still deeply troubled by the issues of corruption and administrative efficiency. Although Thieu has promised action and has spoken out far more strongly on both scores, his efforts so far have yielded few results.

In summary, we see no threat to Thieu’s power which continues to grow and little internal pressure for the GVN to ease its policy of tight population control viz-à-viz the Communists. Ultimately only long term economic considerations—such as the GVN’s ability to pay its large military and police forces—can cause the government to modify its current policy.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 164, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, May–September 1973. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. Kissinger’s initials appear at the top of the page. According to the attached correspondence profile, he noted the memorandum on July 11.
  2. See Document 83 and footnote 2 thereto.
  3. Memorandum from Stearman to Kissinger, July 4; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 164, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam, May–September 1973.