Nixon ready to 'cut off head' of South Vietnam leader
The National Archives released more than 150 hours of new tapes from Nixon. -AFP
WASHINGTON - Despite pleges to protect South Vietnam, former US president Richard Nixon privately vowed to "cut off the head" of its leader unless he backed peace with the communist North, tapes released Tuesday showed.
The tapes appear to confirm charges by South Vietnam's late president, Nguyen Van Thieu, who tearfully accused the United States of breaking its word to protect Saigon when the southern capital fell in 1975.
The National Archives released more than 150 hours of new tapes from Nixon, who notoriously recorded his conversations. Nixon is heard railing against the media and Congress for allegedly undercutting the war effort in Vietnam.
Hours before his second inauguration in January 1973, Nixon telephoned top aide Henry Kissinger and urged him to press Thieu to back the Paris Peace Accords which ended most US military involvement in Vietnam.
Nixon asked Kissinger to tell the South Vietnamese -- truthfully or not -- that the US Congress would cut off aid to the Saigon government unless it supported the accords.
"I don't know whether that threat goes far enough or not but I'd do any damn thing that is -- or cut off his head if necessary," Nixon said.
Kissinger indicated it would be easy to strong-arm South Vietnam's foreign minister, Tran Van Lam, who was in the French capital for the talks.
"The foreign minister is an ass and he won't be able to do anything," said Kissinger, then Nixon's national security adviser, who sealed the agreement in Paris three days later with top diplomats from the two Vietnams.
But Nixon met the foreign minister later that month at the White House and promised to do "everything that we can" to assist South Vietnam, according to another tape released Tuesday.
"Your independence -- your ability to keep the communists (inaudible), your ability to keep South Vietnam under your control, the opportunity to have an international agreement of their own choice -- this for me is very important," Nixon said.
"The main thing to remember: we know who our friends are," Nixon said.
North Vietnamese troops seized Saigon in 1975, after Nixon had resigned in the Watergate scandal.
Thieu in a bitter farewell address called the United States an "inhumane ally," saying the Nixon team forced him to sign the Paris Peace Accords under false promises to assist South Vietnam.
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