Learn about the beta

192. Memorandum From the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • How to Proceed in My Private Meetings with the North Vietnamese

This memorandum is to submit for your approval the general lines on which I believe we should proceed in my next meetings with the North Vietnamese in Paris.

General Strategy

It is essential that our method of carrying out these meetings be as different as possible from the pattern of private talks during the past two years between our representatives in Paris and those of the other side. In the past, the U.S. has shown anxiety for progress. The North Vietnamese strategy has been to question our position without allowing exploration of their own. The effect of this has been movement on our side—such as the bombing halt—while their only “concessions” have been agreements merely to talk. We have never forced them to come up with really new formulations.

This secret channel has certain assets which should help us change this pattern:

  • —My position is not tied to the negotiations. They know that the only way I can justify my continuing participation in these meetings is if they show real progress.
  • —I speak directly for you. Therefore, anything I say has a final quality.
  • —Since the time and frequency of our meetings is necessarily limited, if there is to be progress the talks must be to the point. There is no time for traditional maneuvering.
  • —If they want us to appoint a new chief negotiator in Paris, they know there has to be progress in this channel.
  • —They have agreed in the last meeting to talk seriously and they did not insist on pre-conditions before doing so. They cannot, therefore, consistently now ask for concessions in return for serious talks.

[Page 631]

Issues

There are basically two issues involved in the talks:

  • —mutual withdrawal of non-South Vietnamese military forces, which we have raised; and
  • —political settlement in South Vietnam, which they have raised.

Agreement with the North Vietnamese on a verifiable mutual withdrawal is in our and the GVN's fundamental interests, even if there is no political settlement. But the North Vietnamese will almost certainly not wish to withdraw their forces until they have a good idea of the shape of a political settlement, since the GVN seems at the moment to have the upper hand over the VC.

As a general line of approach in the next meetings, therefore, I propose that I put forward a precise and fairly attractive proposal for mutual withdrawal, which could be negotiated with regard to timing but would necessarily include absolute reciprocity and devices for verification. I would seek to get from them a counter-proposal on this issue and a new proposal on political settlement.

At the same time, we must recognize that they may not really want to negotiate seriously or to reach an overall settlement despite what they say. They may merely want to see if they can gain some relief from our present military and diplomatic pressure so as to keep up the fight for a longer time at a different level. But, no matter what their purpose, they apparently want to maintain this dialogue and we can perhaps now elicit answers which they might not have given us otherwise.

Next Meeting

In line with this strategy, in our next meeting on March 16, I believe I should begin by saying that since I am there as your spokesman, the talks must be completely serious. There is no time in our meetings for traditional maneuvering. Both sides must come quickly to the points they wish to make. If they want slow private talks, there is no point in my taking part, and we can make arrangements to carry on at a different level.

Consequently, the position which we put forward, I would say, is not an opening bargaining position. It is a forthcoming proposal from which we will move little, if at all. I would make it clear that this statement is not a bargaining tactic, but a statement of fact.

After these introductory remarks, I would ask a number of clarifying questions on their statements at our last meeting on February 21.2 I would include a specific question on what they meant when Le Duc Tho [Page 632]said, “Neither party will coerce the other party to a solution by applying pressure. Because we understand that these are now negotiations.” I would also probe them on Laos.

I would then put forward a detailed mutual withdrawal proposal, stating that this is the chief thing we now have to offer. I would invite their reaction—noting again that we believe it is a forthcoming proposal from which we will move little, if at all. I would also invite them to make a proposal on political settlement, reminding them that the GVN must participate in any agreement.

I would refuse to answer their questions about our position until they had come up with a specific reaction to our mutual withdrawal proposal. Nor would I answer questions on the issue of a political settlement until they had made a serious proposal.

At the following meeting, we would be ready to answer their proposal on a political settlement, and they should be ready to answer our proposal on mutual withdrawal.

The Bureaucratic Problem

We do not have a precise negotiating position which has been agreed within the U.S. Government, or a general position agreed with the GVN. The Vietnam Working Group has moved very slowly in developing inter-agency drafts of our position since the Review Group meeting on the subject last July.3 I have not wanted to press them to move faster until we could heal the wounds inflicted on the GVN by the past administration, and for fear that State would turn coordination with the GVN into a pressuring exercise. We still have to move very carefully. I will indicate to Ambassador Sullivan in low key your desire that they give us a work schedule on preparing agreed positions, so that the NSC can review where we stand some time this summer. This should stimulate action without compromising secrecy or triggering State into putting pressure on the GVN.

In the meantime, our most urgent requirement is for a precise mutual withdrawal position, if you agree to my putting forward such a proposal at the next meeting. We would need questions designed to probe their position. We also would need a counter-proposal on political settlement for the following meeting.

The positions we develop should be reasonable enough to be attractive, but strong enough so we would not have to back away from them in another more conventional negotiating channel if this one should break down.

[Page 633]

Coordination with the GVN

The lack of an agreed position with the GVN will require you to make decisions on our position which could, if later revealed, embroil us in difficulties with Saigon. This is risky, but I see no other way to proceed if we are to maintain momentum and secrecy.4

Our relations with the GVN will require us, however, to avoid making concessions on a political settlement until it is clear that there is a good chance of an agreement. In addition, we must be particularly careful in the wording of our statements on this issue.

I will discuss this problem in detail with Ambassador Bunker.

Recommendation: That you approve this general procedure. I will, of course, present to you for approval the detailed talking points and statements which I would propose to use.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 852, For the President's File—Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David, Sensitive, Vol. II. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for action. An attached note by Alexander Butterfield to Nixon reads: “Mr. President—Henceforth these particularly sensitive papers will come to you in red folders—so as to be kept separate from all other. Henry or Al Haig will bring them directly to me—circumventing the Secretariat—and I will return them directly.”
  2. See Documents 189 and 190.
  3. See Document 96.
  4. Nixon wrote next to this paragraph: “OK, will do.”
  5. Nixon initialed the approve option and added by hand: “Don't haggle so much over ‘what did they mean by this or that'—they thrive on this kind of discussion. Come directly to the hard decisions on the two main issues & say ‘we will leave details to sub-ordinates'—otherwise you will spend two days on details & make no progress on substance. We need a breakthrough on principle—& substance—Tell them we want to go immediately to the core of the problem.”