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


  • Meeting with the North Vietnamese on April 4

Where We Are

The North Vietnamese behavior in the last two meetings has been consistent with a serious desire to negotiate a settlement. It has also, however, been consistent with a fishing expedition.

If they are on a fishing expedition, they are not getting much. They are not gaining time. They have not succeeded in putting pressure on us or in gaining greater U.S. restraint.

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Moreover, they are not in a position to make propaganda on the basis of our meetings. In fact, if the record were released the propaganda advantage would be on our side. It would be clear from the statements that it was we who had pressed for progress. We have given them a specific withdrawal calendar and reaffirmed our acceptance of the principle of total withdrawal, which they had said would lead to progress. Although the schedule we gave them actually covers a longer period of time than the period we have mentioned in the meetings at the Majestic, the significant facts on the record would be that we were specific for the first time and stated we were flexible on details. Although they have conceded more than we in this channel, their concessions have been more subtle and thus less susceptible to use for propaganda.

Although subtle, their concessions have been very real. In effect, they have scrapped the ten points, abandoned their refusal to discuss their own withdrawal—although they have not yet accepted reciprocity, and have agreed to discuss our proposals as well as theirs.

What We Should Hope to Accomplish

As I said in my memorandum reporting on our last meeting,2 the next two meetings should tell the story with regard to their intentions. We have now reached the point where each side has made clear its position on procedures, and has stated the necessity for going into substance. We have already gone into substance in making our proposal on withdrawals.

At this next meeting, therefore, we should concentrate on seeking to clarify their intentions. We can accomplish this in two ways:

  • —First, I should insist that they speak first. This is largely cosmetic, but it has important implications with regard to their intent.
  • —I should also insist that they respond substantively to our proposal on withdrawals at the last meeting, and indicate agreement to the principle of reciprocity. This is vital on substantive grounds, and it also would be an essential indication of their intent to negotiate seriously.

If their actions at this meeting indicate serious intent, I should try to draw them out further on their ideas regarding withdrawal and should also make a general political statement designed to draw them out on this second basic issue.

What I Propose to Do at this Meeting

With these objectives in mind, I would propose to do the following: [Page 751]

  • —In my opening statement (Tab A)3 I would firmly say that it is now time for them to speak first and to speak on substance, indicating that this is important if we are to make progress. We went into substance at the last meeting; now it is their turn. I would press them for a response to our withdrawal proposal.
  • —If they refuse to speak first, or if they say nothing new on their own withdrawal, I would make a statement to break off the meeting (Tab B).3 I would tell them that we continue to desire progress in this channel, but that we do not believe that repetition of standard positions and failure to meet new proposals with counter-proposals justify continuing our discussions. I would say that I would hope to hear from them when they had something new to tell us.
  • —If they speak first, and say something new and interesting about their withdrawal, I would make a statement indicating that we will study their proposal, and would try to draw them out further with questions about what they have said (Tab C).3
  • —If they make a statement containing something new about withdrawals, I would then propose to make a statement about political issues. This would be appropriate because we cannot expect them to say something new about withdrawals and lead off with a new political statement at the same meeting.
  • —My statement on political issues (Tab D)3 would be of a general and philosophical character, framing the issues as attractively as possible without giving anything away, in order to draw them out to the limit of their instructions on this subject and to encourage future proposals.

I would first state our understanding of the complexity and difficulties involved in finding a political process which fairly registers the relationship of political forces. I would then state a few basic principles. In summary, these are:

  • —We cannot accept their demand for the overthrow of the leaders of the GVN as part of the negotiating process, although after a settlement we would expect the control of power to be determined by the agreed political process;
  • —We support free elections, since the political process must reflect the will of the people. But they have questions about who would run them. We are willing to listen to proposals on alternative ways of determining the popular will; for example, there are many aspects to how a mixed electoral commission might work.
  • —Examples of what they might wish to discuss in considering the relationship of free elections to how political power is shared might include whether elections for the executive should be direct, or indirect through elections for a parliamentary body; how electoral districts would be drawn to afford a fair and realistic expression of political forces; and how elections would affect the future safety of the political forces on both sides.
  • —It is possible that a way to start the process is to begin in the provinces and locally before solving problems in Saigon.
  • —The shape of a political outcome would be influenced by the character of military agreements, e.g. you cannot have elections in some areas without local ceasefires.
  • —It is proper and natural that they should take the responsibility for making specific proposals on political questions.

I would then press again for our setting some deadline for reaching agreement, particularly on political questions. I would argue that since the act of making political proposals can have political consequences, issues could be considered if there were promise of rapid settlement which could not be as a part of a longer negotiating process.

Laos and Cambodia

It may be desirable for me to say something about Laos and perhaps Cambodia, depending on developments there.4 I doubt that they will want to talk about Laos very much, except in standard terms, but I think that we will want to make our position clear. I will seek your guidance on this at a time nearer the meeting.

Recommendation: That you approve the strategy outlined above and the statements developed in accordance with it.5

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 852, For the President’s File—Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. IV. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The memorandum is undated, but it was sent to Nixon before Kissinger left for Paris on April 3.
  2. Document 200.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. Nixon wrote “yes” in the margin next to this sentence.
  5. Nixon initialed the “approve” option and wrote: “Put a time limit on it.”