President Nixon to President Thiêu Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In a January 5, 1973 letter to Nguyen Van Thiêu, President of South Vietnam, President Richard Nixon explained his position on a number of issues emerging from peace negotiations taking place in Paris between representatives of the United States and North Vietnam. The two nations were trying to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. It is clear from Nixon's letter that Thiêu had continually voiced concerns about the terms. Thiêu feared that the United States would sign a treaty that would not require the North to remove 150,000 of its troops from South Vietnamese territory. Nixon's letter informed Thiêu that not only was North Vietnam inflexible on the issue, but also that he would not allow Thiêu's concerns to complicate, delay, or destroy the pending peace agreement. He also flatly warned Thiêu that should he choose not to support the agreement negotiated with the North, he should expect an end to American support for his government and his country. Nixon was clearly more interested in securing an American exit from the war than defending the interests of South Vietnam.

Summary Overview

In a January 5, 1973 letter to Nguyen Van Thiêu, President of South Vietnam, President Richard Nixon explained his position on a number of issues emerging from peace negotiations taking place in Paris between representatives of the United States and North Vietnam. The two nations were trying to negotiate an end to the Vietnam War. It is clear from Nixon's letter that Thiêu had continually voiced concerns about the terms. Thiêu feared that the United States would sign a treaty that would not require the North to remove 150,000 of its troops from South Vietnamese territory. Nixon's letter informed Thiêu that not only was North Vietnam inflexible on the issue, but also that he would not allow Thiêu's concerns to complicate, delay, or destroy the pending peace agreement. He also flatly warned Thiêu that should he choose not to support the agreement negotiated with the North, he should expect an end to American support for his government and his country. Nixon was clearly more interested in securing an American exit from the war than defending the interests of South Vietnam.

Defining Moment

Nixon's letter to Thiêu occurred within the context of ongoing peace negotiations between the United States and North Vietnam. It reveals that considerable tension existed between Nixon and Thiêu. Beginning in late September 1972, American representatives, including National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger began negotiating with their counterparts in North Vietnam, led by Le Duc Tho to end the Vietnam War. However, reaching an agreement acceptable to all parties proved elusive, especially since the North represented the interests of the National Liberation Front (NLF; but known by this time as the Provisional Revolutionary Government, or PRG), the primary domestic opponent of South Vietnam, while the United States represented the interests of South Vietnam. The major barriers to a potential settlement were North Vietnam's insistence that Thiêu be removed from power and that his demand regarding the removal of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers from South Vietnam be ignored. Not surprisingly, talks between the two sides broke down a number of times.

Although the North Vietnamese eventually dropped their demand for Thiêu's removal, Thiêu refused to compromise, insisting that he would never support any agreement that allowed for the continued presence of NVA troops in South Vietnam. On December 18, Nixon, hoping to place pressure on the North Vietnamese government and convince Thiêu of his sincere support for the South, ordered a sustained bombing campaign of North Vietnam known as Operation Linebacker II, or the “Christmas Bombing.” During the twelve-day bombing campaign, American pilots dropped 20,000 tons of explosives on North Vietnam, the most concentrated bombing campaign of the entire war.

The Christmas Bombing had considerable repercussions in the United States, particularly since Nixon had announced months earlier that peace was at hand. The response from Congress was swift. On January 2, 1973, the House Democratic Caucus voted to cut off all funds to fight the war and two days later the Senate Democratic Caucus concurred. Nixon pointed this out to Thiêu, likely to show him that congressional support for continued American assistance was all but dead.

Nonetheless, Thiêu continued to insist that he would not support any peace agreement that did not address his concerns about the presence of NVA forces. Nixon lost patience completely. His letter informed Thiêu in no uncertain terms that if he did not change his mind and support the agreement, the United States would sign the agreement anyway.

Biography

Born in Yorba Linda, California, on January 9, 1913, Richard Nixon, a California Republican, was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1946 and to the Senate in 1950. He served as vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower for two terms (1953–1961). In the 1960 presidential election, he lost narrowly to John F. Kennedy. Promising “peace with honor” and an end to the stalemate in Vietnam, Nixon defeated Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey for the presidency in 1968 in an amazing political comeback. Nixon's Vietnam policy was multifaceted: he wanted to train South Vietnamese soldiers so that they could replace most American military forces in Vietnam, a program called “Vietnamization.” At the same time, he escalated the war by expanding bombing campaigns in Vietnam and, most controversially, into neighboring Laos and Cambodia. Nixon's administration eventually negotiated an end to the Vietnam War. On January 27, 1973 the United States and the North Vietnamese signed a peace agreement officially bringing an end to the war. Nixon resigned as president as a result of the Watergate crisis on August 9, 1974.

Historical Document

Dear Mr. President:

This will acknowledge your letter of December 20, 1972.

There is nothing substantial that I can add to my many previous messages, including my December 17 letter, which clearly stated my opinions and intentions. With respect to the question of North Vietnamese troops, we will again present your views to the Communists as we have done vigorously at every ether opportunity in the negotiations. The result is certain to be once more the rejection of our position. We have explained to you repeatedly why we believe the problem of North Vietnamese troops is manageable under the agreement, and I see no reason to repeat all the arguments.

We will proceed next week in Paris along the lines that General Haig explained to you. Accordingly, if the North Vietnamese meet our concerns on the two outstanding substantive issues in the agreement, concerning the DMZ and type method of signing and if we can arrange acceptable supervisory machinery, we will proceed to conclude the settlement. The gravest consequence would then ensue if your government chose to reject the agreement and split off from the United States. As I said in my December 17 letter, “I am convinced that your refusal to join us would be an invitation to disaster-to the loss of all that we together have fought for over the past decade. It would be inexcusable above all because we will have lost a just and honorable alternative.”

As we enter this new round of talks, I hope that our countries will now show a united front. It is imperative for our common objectives that your government take no further actions that complicate our task and would make more difficult the acceptance of the settlement by all parties. We will keep you informed of the negotiations in Paris through daily briefings of Ambassador [Pham Dang] Lam.

I can only repeat what I have so often said: The best guarantee for the survival of South Vietnam is the unity of our two countries which would be gravely jeopardized if you persist in your present course. The actions of our Congress since its return have clearly borne out the many warnings we have made.

Should you decide, as I trust you will, to go with us, you have my assurance of continued assistance in the post-settlement period and that we will respond with full force should the settlement be violated by North Vietnam. So once more I conclude with an appeal to you to close ranks with us.

Sincerely,

RICHARD NIXON

Document Analysis

President Richard Nixon's letter to Nguyen Van Thiêu, president of South Vietnam, occurred in the context of ongoing negotiations between American and North Vietnamese representatives in Paris to end the war. Nixon's letter deals almost exclusively with the details of this agreement. It reveals that Nixon and Thiêu had dramatically different expectations as to what an acceptable peace agreement should look like. Nixon clearly believed that any peace agreement, which alleviated American concerns and allowed the United States to exit the conflict was acceptable, while Thiêu wanted to make sure that the agreement adequately addressed his concerns and secured a future for his government and country.

It is clear from Nixon's letter that Thiêu was particularly concerned with the continued presence of 150,000 NVA soldiers in South Vietnamese territory, a concern that he had voiced many times. Nixon attempted to assuage Thiêu's fears by promising that “the problem of North Vietnamese troops is manageable under the agreement.” Nixon clearly expected nothing less than complete support from Thiêu for the American position on any peace agreement. He warned Thiêu that “the gravest consequence would then ensue if your government chose to reject the agreement and split off from the United States.” He also made it clear that the United States would sign the agreement with or without the South Vietnamese government's support.

Nixon's statements reveal how little influence Thiêu and his government had over the details and nature of the peace negotiations and agreement. This is noteworthy because the initial justification for American military intervention in Vietnam had been to ensure the survival of a non-communist government in South Vietnam. However, by 1973, the United States seemingly cared very little about South Vietnamese concerns about the peace agreement or even if the peace agreement would potentially compromise its future independence. Nixon expected South Vietnam to show a common front with the United States, warning that Thiêu must “take no further actions that complicate our task and would make more difficult the acceptance of the settlement by all parties.”

Nixon's letter concluded with a promise of continued American aid for Thiêu if he supported the peace agreement, suggesting that if he chose not to support the agreement, American support would end and South Vietnam would be abandoned. However, Nixon promised to meet the North Vietnamese with military force if they chose to violate the terms of the peace agreement, a promise he nor his successors would be able to keep in 1974–1975.

Essential Themes

Nixon's frank letter to Thiêu provides a window into the complex nature of American foreign policy and the negotiations, which led to an end to American involvement in Vietnam. The letter also reveals that relations between Nixon and Thiêu's government had frayed considerably. The two governments were supposedly allies, but the letter demonstrates that the two leaders' priorities and expectations regarding an acceptable peace agreement were far apart. Thiêu had long refused to support any agreement which allowed for NVA troops to remain within his nation's borders. The North Vietnamese had refused to sign any peace agreement that required them to remove their soldiers. The Christmas Bombing on December 18, 1973 was an attempt to reassure Thiêu and place more pressure on the North.

However, as Nixon's letter demonstrates, in spite of the sustained bombing of North Vietnam, Thiêu remained unwilling to support an agreement that did not require the removal of all NVA forces. Nixon, facing congressional and popular opposition to the war and influenced by his own desire to extract American forces from Vietnam, was no longer willing to humor or address Thiêu's concerns about the agreement. He bluntly warned Thiêu that if he did not support the peace agreement reached between the United States and North Vietnam, he would sign the agreement anyway. He also suggested that this would be the end of American financial support for Thiêu. Nixon's reaction demonstrates that he did not view the relationship between the United States and South Vietnam as an equal partnership. He expected Thiêu to follow his lead and sign the agreement, regardless of whether it was in Thiêu's or his country's best interests.

Not surprisingly, Nixon got his way, and on January 27, 1973, representatives from the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government signed the Paris Peace Agreement, officially “ending” the Vietnam War. The agreement did not require the removal of NVA forces, a fact that would have grave consequences for the future of South Vietnam. The Paris Peace Accords ended American military involvement in Vietnam, but it did nothing to end the war for the Vietnamese. Thiêu had good reason to fear the continued presence of 150,000 enemy soldiers in his country, as fighting resumed a short time after the Paris Peace Accords were signed. The war ended when the NVA toppled the South Vietnamese government on April 30, 1975. By this time, Nixon had already resigned, having been undone by the Watergate scandal; Gerald Ford, Nixon's successor, was unable to persuade Congress to provide further aid for South Vietnam.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Berman, Larry. No Peace No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger, and Betrayal in Vietnam. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. Print.
  • Kimball, Jeffrey. Nixon's Vietnam War. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998. Print.
  • Hung, Nguyen Tien & Jerrold L. Schecter. The Palace File. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1986. Print.
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