223. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1
- My Meeting with Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy, April 4, 1970
I met again with Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy for about five hours on April 4.2 I took a strong line as you had instructed, stressing that there was no sense in another meeting unless they were prepared to say something new. Though they were obviously prepared to meet again, without precondition, they were not prepared to promise this. Therefore, we agreed not to set another date now but to get in touch when either side was ready to meet next.
Because of the importance of this meeting, my report is longer than usual.
I. What Was Significant:
- —When I refused to open, they spoke first, which they have not done before in any private talks in any administration.
- —They indicated a readiness to discuss the withdrawal of their forces linked to ours, though they were ambiguous about with whom to do it and though they evidently want to negotiate our schedule first.
- —They went somewhat further than before in indicating their readiness to recognize the GVN, calling it an “objective reality.” They asked for the removal of Thieu, Khiem, and Ky but not the abandonment of the GVN. (We shall review their earlier statements to determine the precise nature of this modification.)
- —They have thus made two significant concessions, which they would not have done if they had wanted to break the channel. At the same time, these concessions are so subtle that they cannot easily be exploited in propaganda with our doves.
- —They did not state that the “Provisional Coalition Government” would run the elections.
- —They made a change in the composition of the “Provisional Coalition Government” from their previous proposals, especially recognizing the GVN as a participating entity.
- —They agreed to our point that a settlement had to express the balance of political forces.
- —They did not reject our proposal for a deadline out of hand.
- —They were extremely concerned about the Thai troops and the bombing in Laos, abandoning the cocky confidence of three weeks ago for a somewhat plaintive and bellicose defensiveness.
- —They seemed deeply disturbed by events in Cambodia, and uncertain how to reconcile this new problem with their previous plans and assumptions. They were so confused about it that when I offered to discuss strengthened neutrality and guarantees, they said neutrality meant something different to them and to us.
- —They did not mention our air attacks on the Barthelemy Pass, probably because it might have obliged them to break off the contact.
- —They refused to entertain any discussion of cease-fire, either in Laos or Vietnam, saying that fighting could not stop until all our forces were withdrawn.
- —They established a clear link between the conflicts in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, though they did not indicate any readiness to negotiate with us on Laos or Cambodia at this time.
- —We have established a good public record. We have offered everything except unilateral withdrawal and replacement of the leaders of the GVN before the political process begins—though we made clear we would accept their replacements as a result of the political process.
- —The general tone of the meeting was harder than in the past two.
II. Reasons for the Failure to Set Another Date:
- —They are now so obsessed with the Cambodian situation that they cannot say much more until they can see the prospects there more clearly.
- —They have to consider that what happened in Cambodia was done by us.
- —They have gone to the limit of their present instructions.
- —The fact that our meetings are interrupted may be more helpful for the future than if they had kept going. We have got across to them that these meetings are not the place for pointless exchanges and they therefore have to develop a concrete position.
- —Nonetheless, they did not want to break off or interrupt the meetings.
- • If they had wanted to do this, they would not have made the concessions which they made in this meeting.
- • They had several chances to break off the talks, but they would have been ready to meet without preconditions if we had suggested another meeting.
III. What We Have Achieved in These Meetings So Far:
Since we are obviously at the end of a phase (and perhaps at the end of the meetings), it may be useful to sum up their results.
- —We have gained some significant concessions. They have abandoned the ten points, indicated their readiness to talk about their own withdrawal, and softened their position on political settlement somewhat. This is still far from enough to bridge the gap between us, but it is more than we have given them in terms of basic positions.
- —We have established a good public record because their concessions are more subtle than ours and because our moves all appear very reasonable. We went as far as the liberals can ask, without giving away anything.
- —We have interrupted the discussion on the basis of two issues on which we have a good position with public opinion: (1) we have given a detailed, short schedule of our withdrawal, and they have refused to be specific about theirs; and (2) we have indicated that we are not wedded to any government, only to a free political process. We have a good record: (1) vis-à-vis public opinion, and (2) if we have to go hard as is very likely.
- —We have a good basis for not replacing Ambassador Lodge.
- —When Le Duc Tho returns to Hanoi—as I expect he will—they will have some difficult problems to sort out. This may add to the current confusion on their side, and help prevent them from taking extreme steps.
- —It is probably just as well that there is not another meeting soon, since we would have been hard put to develop further proposals at this time.
IV. What Happened:
- —After I insisted that they should speak first, there was a somewhat protracted fencing which ended with Xuan Thuy making a speech in which he said that my withdrawal proposal of last week amounted to a mutual withdrawal and said that they “cannot accept this principle.” He also presented their political proposal in somewhat fuller terms than in the past and with some change in substance.
- —Thuy said that they recognize the GVN as a “reality,” and that a political settlement should take place in three phases. First, Thieu, Ky, and Khiem should be changed, and a new Saigon administration [Page 796] formed; second, a “Provisional Coalition Government” should be formed, consisting of the PRG, the Saigon administration without Thieu, Ky, and Khiem, and representatives of all other political favors; third, there should be elections, after U.S. withdrawal, to elect a national assembly.
- —At the end, Thuy said that they were prepared to discuss their withdrawal after political and military issues had been agreed to, but he did not say with whom they would discuss it, though he strongly implied that it would be this forum. He repeated Mme. Binh’s proposal for U.S. withdrawal in six months, and proposed the sequence in which U.S. forces should withdraw. He also said that we should replace Ambassador Lodge.
- —I then presented our political proposal. In response to Xuan Thuy’s statement, I said that we could not accept their demand for the replacement of leaders of the GVN, though we could accept that the control of power after a settlement would be determined by the process agreed in the settlement. I also stated that the Electoral Commission could be given important functions. I said that we were now well represented in Paris for the current discussion, and repeated that we would be prepared to appoint a successor to Ambassador Lodge when it was appropriate.
- —I then listed the six proposals we had made in these talks: (1) we have agreed to the principle of total U.S. withdrawal; (2) we have presented a flexible schedule for a short time; (3) we have said that we are not committed to the maintenance in power of any political force after a settlement; (4) we have presented methods for determining the popular will; (5) we have said that we are prepared to discuss precise terms for the distribution of power; and (6) we have said that we are prepared to link military and political issues, both in general and in connection with a cease-fire.
- —I again proposed a deadline. They did not agree to one, though they did not reject the concept as they had done before.
- —I then stated our position on Laos and Cambodia, repeating that we were prepared to reduce our military operations in Northern Laos if they would stop offensive operations. (I later said that we would be prepared to negotiate a cease-fire in Northern Laos.) I then said that we were prepared to work out arrangements to guarantee the neutrality and inviolability of Cambodia.
- —I pointed out to them that they had started new military operations in South Vietnam just four days before this meeting.
- —In reply to a question by Xuan Thuy, I said that we would be prepared to hold elections before or after withdrawal of all non-South Vietnamese factors.
- —Xuan Thuy made a speech in which he said that he and Le Duc Tho had good will, and that he wished to continue to talk with me. He denied that the timing of the offensive in South Vietnam had any significance in terms of our discussions, saying that wars go up and down.
- —Le Duc Tho then made a very long and tough speech in which he said that our views of the situation in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia differ greatly from theirs. He said that we had escalated the hostilities in Laos by taking the Plain of Jars last year and by bombing, and he charged us with the coup in Cambodia. He said that the people of Indo-China were united against us and would fight until victory.
- —Tho also said that they agree with our statement that the settlement of the political problem must be based on the relation of political forces but that so long as we maintain Thieu, Ky, and Khiem, it shows that we want to keep up the war.
- —I replied to his statements on Laos by pointing out that Hanoi’s troops were doing the advancing. I said there was a simple way of solving the problem: negotiate an immediate cease-fire in Northern Laos.
- —I replied to his remarks on Cambodia by indicating our readiness to discuss measures to guarantee the neutrality of Cambodia. I indicated that we would not be the ones to expand the war to Cambodia, to threaten Cambodian neutrality, to augment our actions there, or to threaten them from Cambodia. But I said it was not admissible that they should define what government should be in power there and that they should use Vietnamese troops to make changes in that government.
- —I said the key points which divide us are: (1) with whom they are prepared to discuss withdrawal of their forces, and how to establish a relationship between their withdrawal and ours; and (2) how to define a political process which does not prejudice the outcome in advance.
- —We then went into the exchanges resulting in the decision to leave the request for another meeting to either party. They said they would be in touch with General Walters.
- 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. Sent for information. Handwritten notes at the top of the page read: “8:25 am, April 7” and “Camp David File.”↩
- Document 222.↩