...heavy bombing of the North is probably not a viable option for us.
When the US and North Vietnam returned to the bargaining table in Paris, both sides proposed new terms and reneged on issues already agreed upon in October. The President and Kissinger did not talk by telephone, which might have left us with an audio record. As they sought to rescue the talks, the President and his National Security Adviser communicated by cable. On November 23, Kissinger laid out his assessment of US options. "Barring a sudden give by the North Vietnamese, we do not have an acceptable deal," Kissinger warned the President. As a result, he saw two options going forward:
- Option One – Break off the talks at our next meeting
- Option Two – Go back to the October 12 agreement with slight modifications to placate Thieu.
Kissinger was also the first to suggest that the United States would have to resort a military response, if the US chose Option One and the talks broke down. In the same cable where he laid out the two options, Kissinger wrote, "it is very possible that we will have to face a breakdown in the talks and the need for a drastic step-up in our bombing of the North."6
President Nixon was not prepared to consider a military response to the diplomatic stalemate in Paris. He instructed Kissinger to seek an agreement based on what had been achieved on October 12, adding, "heavy bombing of the North is probably not a viable option for us."7 Nixon made clear that if the North Vietnamese backtracked and insisted on an agreement that was worse for the United States than what had been achieved on October 12, then he would "authorize a massive strike on the North."8 But Nixon gave no indication that he was eager to use force, or indeed, thought it would be likely. In his cables to the US delegation in Paris, President Nixon repeatedly instructs Kissinger to keep the negotiations going and that if there is any break or recess that it should not last long.
On November 25, Kissinger and Tho completed a new draft of the October agreement, that differed in a few respects from their October 12 agreement. The North Vietnamese moved the cease-fire in Laos closer to the South Vietnamese cease-fire. There were also small technical and translation changes. Although Hanoi agreed to a de facto removal some of its troops from the South, they would not put it in writing. It was clear to American negotiators that not all of their troops would to be removed as part of the agreement. In addition, the size of the ICCS was being disputed, with the US favoring a larger, more effective coalition while the North Vietnamese wanted a smaller, more constrained force. The November 25 agreement was also silent on another matter of great concern to the South Vietnamese. There was no recognition of the DMZ as an international border, but only as a provisional border. Nevertheless, Washington believed that the agreement was acceptable.
Kissinger asked for a one-week recess to see whether Saigon could be brought around to accept the agreement. On November 29, Special Advisor to President Thieu, Nguyen Phu Duc, met with President Nixon to explain why this agreement was no more acceptable than the October 12 agreement. Duc explained that President Thieu would not sign any agreement unless it included some "reference to North Vietnamese withdrawal" of all troops from South Vietnam.9 Up until that point neither the October draft nor the November draft had included language about North Vietnamese withdrawal. Both drafts left that issue to be resolved by the Vietnamese. Frustrated by the intransigence of Saigon, the Nixon administration undertook another review of its approach to the Paris negotiations. At a meeting the next day with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Nixon signaled that he was worried that some hawks at home were not supportive of his efforts in Paris. He assured the Joint Chiefs that he wanted very drastic military plans to use in the event that Hanoi broke any future agreement. In that case, he wanted to go "all out" with a "massive" retaliation against Hanoi.10 However, he seemed much less interested in contingency plans for a drastic attack on Hanoi just because the talks were failing. As was clear to the administration, by this point it was Saigon and not Hanoi that presented the roadblock to a final agreement.
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