108. Letter From the Head of the Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks on Vietnam (Lodge) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1

Dear Henry:

Herewith our analysis of your discussion with Xuan Thuy:

Thuy gave every sign of being intensely interested in all that you said. He surely did not miss the basic thrust of your message—including the reference to “Mr. Nixon’s war” and to the deadline, although he obviously cannot know just what these statements mean.

He will report your statements to Hanoi. Nothing will happen until Hanoi completes its study of the President’s letter, your message, and the other signals which it has been given—notably the President’s statements in Saigon and the actions which we have been taking on the ground.

The North Vietnamese will surely not ignore the threats in your statement, even though Thuy did not respond directly to your words and did not discuss what should happen after November 1. To the extent that he did mention the date it was only to ask about what would be done before November 1.

But in two places he replied, although making sure each time to express good will and a preference for peace. Once he said, “If the war goes on, or is expanded, they would be forced to continue fighting in order to reach their objectives. They had sufficient determination to do so but they were also rich in good will.” (page 5 of your notes) And again, after speaking of agreement on the basis of the 10 points, he said “If this were not possible, then the war would go on but they want the first possibility, as peace is much better.” (page 12)

In this way Thuy is saying, and Hanoi will probably do the same, that they are prepared to negotiate (on terms which I will discuss below) but that they are also prepared to go on fighting.

Thus, while they will recognize the threat, they probably will not react by making a major step toward meeting our position on the issues. They are more likely to make tactical moves in order to hold off [Page 345] the “consequences” of which you spoke to Thuy. They might for example, begin to negotiate more actively (even with a special emissary) but not give away any substance. They may even calculate that we are bluffing. They could hold to their positions right up to the deadline and see how we act, knowing that a change on their part at the last minute might get us to hold off. Alternatively, they could refuse to make a major change and in effect dare us to act, believing that we could not sustain an escalation of the war, but being themselves ready to pay a short-term price, however high.

As regards negotiating, he did not give much. He recognized that you were not negotiating the issues with him at that moment, but he did wish to make some things clear.

One was their willingness to talk with us about everything. This suits them: they do not wish to talk with the present GVN about anything.

He also was quite interested in making sure that he understood the offer that emissaries should meet at a higher level. But he later emphasized the responsibility given to him and Le Duc Tho. This may be his way of knocking down the idea without, however, formally rejecting it. He would not have the authority to do this last out of hand.

He was probably not clear as to what the future at the Paris Meetings would be. Your explanation that we could narrow the issues of disagreement would not mean much to him. The issues of disagreement are already narrowed—what he is looking for is a further move on our part in their direction.

Thuy made a great point of singling out the two key issues. This is not new. But he explained what he meant in a way he has not done explicitly before and thus underlined the nature of their position and its significance.

Thus, on withdrawal he used some new words when he related points 2 and 3 of the ten points. This has always been implicit in their formulation of the ten points, and we have read it so, but he carried the argument a step further with you. In doing so, however, he was careful not to indicate in any way that they were prepared to engage in a step by step tacit withdrawal process. He left their withdrawal open, but gave no sign that it would be phased and geared to our withdrawal.

As regards a political settlement he went further than previously in explaining how a provisional “coalition government” could be formed. He did not wipe out the entire GVN—just decapitated it, while making clear that all the remaining administration would have to do would be to negotiate a provisional “coalition government” with the PRG. Note that the task for Saigon is to “talk” with the PRG. When he says the Saigon administration (renovated and decapitated) and the [Page 346] PRG would “form” the provisional coalition government, he means they will decide on who shall be in it.2

It is not clear whether the PRG and the renovated Saigon administration would share in governing or just share in picking the provisional “coalition”. On page 7 he says the “coalition” will be “composed of the PRG and the remainder of the Saigon government” but elsewhere (page 8) he says “the remaining administration could talk to the PRG.” Further, he did not answer your question on the bottom of page 8 with a clear affirmative. Instead, he said the two “would form the provisional government.”

I stress this because in the past the DRV and PRG have said that the PRG need not be represented in the provisional coalition government. Although Thuy usually chooses his words carefully, it is not certain what he means in this instance. He may be leaving the choice open (for what it may be worth) between a coalition of the PRG and of the remaining Saigon government, or the formation of a “coalition government” by means of the two sides choosing individuals for a temporary and limited purpose.

That is a detail, but one which I thought worth noting because of the trouble we have always encountered when we try to figure out exactly what they mean when they are being a bit ambiguous.

In any event, his attitude toward the present GVN is clear. However he dresses it up, he is calling for the removal of ThieuKyHuong (by us) and the formation of the “peace cabinet” of which they have spoken before. And he adds the proviso that this “remaining administration should change its policy and stand for peace, independence and neutrality.” In other words, not only must the present leadership go, but the “remaining administration” would have to be composed of people acceptable to the other side.

The emphasis on “provisional coalition government” is also nothing new. It is also the keystone of Hanoi’s policy. Thuy’s words make it even more evident that a political settlement goes before all. Withdrawal—even mutual withdrawal dressed up and camouflaged—is negotiable. [Page 347] But the hardness of the position on a political settlement emerges nonetheless.

Thuy also was careful to say (twice) why it would be “difficult” to settle the Viet-Nam problem with ThieuKyHuong. It is because they are warlike; because they claim to be legal and have the right to organize elections; it is because they are against coalition, neutrality and democratic liberties. The stress is on “coalition” and who organizes election. Could it be that Thuy is saying that if Thieu would change his policy and accept a “provisional coalition government”, then it would be possible to settle the problem with the present government? This is a question which has always been lurking in the background. I see no way of getting an answer now without playing into Hanoi’s hands—even if we were to be willing to consider such a proposition.

It is clear that they are firm on a “provisional coalition” now. They leave a few cracks, but their objective is obvious. They heard you out on our unwillingness to replace the GVN leadership. Phil thinks that they do not yet believe us on this point. But they will think about it and they will also think about your statement (repeated) that “any settlement must reflect the existing balance of political forces.” That will puzzle them—and they will try to parse it out and then relate it to their ideas.

Finally, they will think it all over carefully. We will get some answers—maybe here—but they will dribble out their response always trying to get us to be more “concrete”. They are always seeking details and new formulations. That is as close as they seem ever to come to negotiation.

They will have well noted all that you said, particularly the points listed on page 2 of your notes and for which you cited specific Presidential approval. Some of this is new to them, for example, the statement on withdrawal of all forces “without exception”, on registering the existing relationship of political forces, and not asking them to disband organized Communist forces.3 They will think about these things, about “Mr. Nixon’s war” about the November 1 deadline, and then they may make a small move. We will need to be alert to all shadings, but I do not anticipate any major breakthrough.

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My broad assessment as a result of the above analysis, therefore, is that no essential change of the DRV position emerges from what Xuan Thuy said to you—simply a few hints and shadings. What you said to him, of course, goes much farther than we have ever gone and is very new and important.

If this analysis and assessment of the meeting are correct, the question arises: what next?

One possibility is that the DRV will take the initiative to answer the President and you by a letter or by a request for a meeting.

If, on the other hand, Hanoi does not reply, we should consider whether I should ask for a private meeting with Xuan Thuy after I return here in late August. I would tell Thuy at such a meeting that we are interested in learning his government’s reaction to the President’s letter and to your presentation.

The DRV may reply by calling for a renewal of the Habib/Lau meetings on which they are now holding back. If they do, we should go ahead with our presentations and rebuttals as already approved. Habib might question Lau on Thuy’s formulations with respect to a new so-called “coalition government”. This should, of course, be cleared in advance with Thieu.

Another new element would be our confirmation, if asked by Lau, of the two new points you made to Thuy (without referring to your conversation): 1) that the US is prepared to withdraw all its forces if the DRV does so; and 2) that the US does not require that all Communist forces in the South be disbanded.

I believe that these actions would be our best sequel to the initiatives which the President and you have taken.

With warm regards,

As ever yours,

Henry Cabot Lodge 4
  1. Source: Massachusetts Historical Society, Henry Cabot Lodge II Papers, Reel 9. Top Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. On August 7 Kissinger wrote Lodge a letter enclosing the memorandum of conversation of his August 4 meeting with Xuan Thuy (see attachment to Document 106). In his letter Kissinger requested Lodge and Habib’s “assessment of the discussions as soon as practical.” This letter was Lodge’s response.
  2. On August 12 Lodge sent Kissinger “a sequel to my letter of August 9,” in which he noted that Xuan Thuy went “into greater detail regarding a political settlement than ever before, particularly as to the provisional so-called ‘coalition government.’” Lodge suggested a “counter idea” which matched Xuan Thuy’s details—a series of specific issues to be discussed with the GVN in an attempt to answer certain questions: Who would organize elections and under whose laws? How would the electoral commissions be chosen and what authority would they have? What kinds of elections—presidential or national assembly? What would the armed forces (including police) on both sides be doing? Lodge suggested clarifying these details with Thieu and then deciding with him what to tell Hanoi. (Massachusetts Historical Society, Henry Cabot Lodge II Papers, Reel 9)
  3. On August 11 Kissinger sent Lodge a letter thanking him for “his excellent analysis.” Kissinger stated: “I am concerned, however, that there is one misunderstanding which probably resulted from imprecision in the transcript. When I spoke of ‘organized forces’, I was referring to organized political forces—the NLF. The point I was attempting to make was that since we have not insisted on dismemberment of the political forces of the other side, it is totally unacceptable that they, in turn, should insist on dismemberment of the current regime in South Vietnam. In this context I do not believe I have made any concessions beyond which have already been approved.” (Ibid.)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature. The signed copy is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 861, For the President’s File, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memos, 1969–1970.