147. Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) in Moscow1
Sitto 34. I have had long and frank discussion with President2 and I believe he is completely satisfied with proposed concept of operations and with the superb manner in which you have conducted meetings thus far. He is, in fact, becoming increasingly optimistic that the delicate balancing act which you have established is getting us the best of all worlds by (1) inflicting maximum psychological and military pressure on Hanoi, (2) enabling him to reassure hawks here that punishment of Hanoi will continue while (3) totally disarming doves who will be completely puzzled by implications of Moscow visit and commencement of plenaries.
President wants very much to modify slightly the game plan to insure that the announcement of your visit to Moscow gets solo ride on Tuesday evening news cycle. In this way, broadcasters will speculate constructively about the implications of your talks in Moscow.
He would accomplish the foregoing by witholding the announcement of our decision to attend the plenary session on Thursday until 7:30 pm Washington time Tuesday evening. We could make changes in messages to our customer in Paris and to Bunker and Thieu and [Page 562] others if you agree. If not, please advise by Flash message3 and I will urge President to return to original game plan. I do believe, however, that he has a good point. His main concern is that the Soviet visit get the major ride and appropriate speculation and that we use another news cycle to surface the plenary decision. He also plans to follow up immediately on Wednesday evening prime time (9:00 pm), with a brief ten minute television address in which he would explain the situation in Vietnam, what actions he has taken and the reasons therefor, refer to Tuesday’s announcements on your meetings in Moscow and the decision on the plenary sessions and make specific mention of the fact that he will continue with strikes in the North against targets which are sustaining the massive invasion of the South and that these strikes will continue until the enemy desists. He would also, during his ten minute address, make his next troop withdrawal announcement.
Concerning the troop withdrawal announcement, General Abrams sent in a message4 which strongly recommends against any further withdrawals beyond the 1 May 69,000 level until the situation clarifies. Laird, in turn, has forwarded to the President a multi-page analysis5 which in general sustains Abrams’ position but which recommends that the President announce a new force goal of 15,000 U.S. forces remaining in country by the end of the Calendar Year (31 December 1972). As you know, Abrams informed me he could probably live with 20,000 drawdown between 1 May and 1 July providing we hold at that level until at least September. Thieu is also comfortable with this order of magnitude. Laird’s recommendation is a disaster in my view since it ignores the psychological impact that such a sweeping announcement would have on Saigon even though it is spread over a long period. Furthermore, I do not believe a 15,000-man force constitutes much, if any, leverage on Hanoi and on the POW issue at a time when we wish to be as threatening as possible while still maintaining an acceptable momentum for the President’s withdrawal program. I have discussed this with the President and he is still firm on going with 20,000 between 1 May and 1 July. If you have any contrary views, please advise before he gets further set. This would certainly be my recommendation.[Page 563]
Attached is a new back channel to you from Gerry Smith which further supports impressions you have gained there. Finally, Bob Haldeman called and asked that you be made aware of the strong position Chapin is taking on the administrative details of the trip so that you do not inadvertently sing from another sheet of music if Gromyko should approach you on these matters. Along with the strong guidance Chapin was given, as outlined in my earlier message, he was also told not make any final commitments while in Moscow but to wait until his return to Washington where these decisions will be made.6
Warm personal regards.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [2 of 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only; Flash.↩
- Nixon called Haig at 2:35 p.m. on April 22 and the two men spoke for 23 minutes. (Ibid., White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) No further record of the conversation has been found.↩
- For Kissinger’s response on this point, see Document 151.↩
- Backchannel message 0071 from Bunker to Haig, April 21. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 414, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages 1972, From: AMB Bunker—Saigon)↩
- Memorandum from Laird to Nixon, April 21, on force redeployment. (Ibid., Box 159, Vietnam Country Files, Vietnam April 1972)↩
- Reference is to Nixon’s instructions for Chapin, see Document 145.↩
- Another copy is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages SALT 1972.↩
- In an April 24 memorandum to Kissinger, Odeen and Sonnenfeldt assessed the Semenov proposals, explaining that the formulation on Other Large Phased Array Radars (OLPARs) “essentially accepted our proposal,” while the formula on multiple ABM interceptors “showed movement.” (Ibid., Box 718, Country Files, Europe, USSR, Vol. XXIA)↩
- In an April 8 backchannel message to Kissinger, Smith asked for informal authority to probe Soviet interest in allowing an anti-ballistic missile defense for two sites, the national capital and an ICBM field. (Ibid., Box 427, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages SALT 1972) “This was authorized two days later,” he later wrote, “on a ‘highly tentative personal’ basis.” (Smith, Doubletalk, p. 363)↩
- Reference is to NSDM 158, March 23, which set parameters for flexibility in the American position on Modern ABM Radar Complexes (MARCs). The text is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXXII, SALT I, 1969–1972.↩
- In telegram 1261 from Helsinki, April 14, the SALT delegation submitted its recommendations on SLBMs, ABM limitations, and provisions for the duration of and withdrawal from the proposed agreement on freezing offensive weapons. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 18–3 FIN(HE))↩