185. Memorandum for Record1

On February 12, 1970, I received telephonic instructions from Brig Gen Haig to contact Mai Van Bo and to tell him that I would be leaving Paris around February 20th and that Dr. Kissinger would be willing to meet with his visitor (Le Duc Tho) if latter were still here.2 I called the General Delegation of North Vietnam and asked to speak to Mai Van Bo. The Vietnamese girl who answered asked who was calling and I told her. In a moment she said she would take the message. I told her that I would be leaving Paris around the end of the forthcoming week. That was all I told her. That evening at my home she called back and said that the Delegate General would receive me on Monday February 16, 1970, at 1730.

On that date and at that time I went to the DRVN house at 78 rue Jules Lagaisse in Choisy-le-Roi. I was cordially received by Mai Van Bo who took out of his pocket a piece of paper and read it to me. I copied it down in French and at the end read it back to him. He agreed that it was an exact copy of what he had read to me.

[Page 577]

The text is as follows:

“Following the American proposal of 14 January 1970 Minister Xuan Thuy and Delegate General Mai Van Bo would be willing to meet with Mr. Henry Kissinger on the 20th or 21st of February at 11 rue Darthé in Choisy-le-Roi.

“We continue to feel that the United States should adopt an attitude of understanding and realism and should offer new and reasonable proposals, if they are really desirous of achieving a peaceful solution to the Vietnamese problem and advancing the negotiations.” End text.3

Mai Van Bo then said that this offer had been made as they believed that Dr. Kissinger would prefer to come on a weekend. I then said that if their visitor was still here, Dr. Kissinger would be willing to meet with him. Mai Van Bo hesitated for a minute and then said that he did not know whether Le Duc Tho would still be here but if he were, he would take part in the meeting.

Tea was then served and I said something about a Vietnamese poster on the wall. Mai Van Bo asked me if I was studying Vietnamese and I said I was. He said that he was also trying to study English.4 Our countries would not always be at war and he might some day go to the United States. He said his people were fighting for what they thought was right and had taken a greater tonnage of bombs than any other people. I said that no one could challenge the courage of the Vietnamese people. As a soldier I took off my hat to them but we too were fighting for what we thought was right. My country four times this century had poured forth its blood for what it thought was right. He shook hands and poured me another cup of tea. I asked him what the proposed location was. He said it was a house they used. It was discreet and it was here that they had received Governor Harriman for his private meetings with them.

We had a brief non-political discussion on the Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese languages and I promised to telephone Mai Van Bo an answer as soon as I got one.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 106, Kissinger Office Files, Country Files, East Asia, Vietnam, “S” Mister, Vol. 2. No classification marking. Drafted by Walters.
  2. According to an unattributed memorandum for the record, February 16, Walters called the White House at 1:05 p.m. that day to say that he had met with Mai Van Bo who told him that Xuan Thuy and “their visitor” [Le Duc Tho], if he was still in Paris, would like to meet privately with Kissinger in Paris on February 20 or 21. According to this memorandum, Walters reported that “he was given tea, treated amiably and that the other side hoped that the U.S. would make some conciliatory moves which could get the negotiations off dead center.” Mai Van Bo added he was working on his English because the “world is changing and he may be, in the future, working on our side.” (Ibid., Box 852, For the President’s File, Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. II)
  3. Walters sent the text of the Mai Van Bo démarche to Haig in a telegram on February 16. (Ibid.) Walters recounts that he had a special code to communicate with the White House about meeting with North Vietnamese representatives and that he had to do the encoding and decoding himself. He also recalls that Kissinger enjoined him to tell no one in the Embassy or the Department of Defense about these arrangements. (Vernon Walters, Silent Missions, p. 510)
  4. On February 16 at 9:05 p.m., Kissinger and the President discussed this meeting between Walters and Mai Van Bo. Kissinger stated that he “had the feeling they were in a much different mood than any time we had seen them previously. One of the North Vietnamese said he is learning English because the world is changing and he may one day be working for the Americans. They have never talked this way before. I [still?] don’t think much will come out of it.” Nixon responded: “Well, you have always said nothing will come of the first meeting, but if you just stake it out you may get a nibble.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 362, Telephone Conversations, Chronological File)