237. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • My Meeting with the North Vietnamese July 26, 1971

I had another meeting today with the North Vietnamese.

Although we did not achieve a breakthrough, we have clearly narrowed the issues to one question—the replacement by us of Thieu—and have now left Hanoi to make a decision between this meeting and the next one.

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What Was Significant. The meeting revealed the ambivalence of the North Vietnamese position in very stark terms.

  • —They clearly want a settlement and an early peace, and they want an agreement with us:
    • • They tried hard to preserve a forthcoming spirit throughout the meeting going far towards our position on all non-political points
    • • When I suggested breaking off, they repeatedly indicated a desire to continue
    • • They did not harp on U.S. public opinion during the meeting, and it is also clear that in the last two weeks they have heeded our complaint about propaganda.
  • —But they are still unable to decide to abandon their demand that we get rid of Thieu by some conspiratorial device rather than leave it to the electoral process. Their ambivalence and confusion were reflected in the wide variety of suggestions they made:
    • • For example, they said we should make a secret agreement to get rid of Thieu, which they would not reveal.
    • • However, before then they had said that it was not just Thieu who mattered but also the policy of the South Vietnamese government, which had to be a government of peace.
    • • They said other candidates in the upcoming elections had positions which favored “peace, independence, and neutrality” and suggested that a victory by one of them, presumably Minh, would do the trick.

It is clear that they were unable to make a decision during the past two weeks. The shock of your impending Peking visit probably complicated their decision,2 as did the reported illness of Premier Pham Van Dong, who is one of the key men in the regime.3 We have just gotten a report that a VIP plane from Hanoi touched down briefly in Peking (probably refueling) and is going to Moscow.

Their Dilemma. They now confront, even more dramatically than a few weeks ago, a dilemma which faces them with real anguish and confusion.

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This dilemma is that they have fought for many years to gain control over South Vietnam or at least a friendly government, and they cannot clearly see how they will achieve that aim if they stop fighting. On the other hand, they do not see how they can achieve it if they continue.

  • Tho reflected this when he said that “no Vietnamese” would accept an agreement without knowing the political future of South Vietnam.
  • —Their cadres and their public opinion, who have fought so hard and lost so much, may find it very hard to swallow a settlement under which Thieu remains.
  • —This dilemma was further reflected in their desire not to hold our next meeting for another four or at least three weeks. It is possible that Tho will return to Hanoi in the meantime to discuss the options. In any event, the Politburo requires the time to think things over.
  • —We have given as positive a position as we can toward having the election genuinely free and to keep our distance from Thieu, offering to make a public pledge of South Vietnamese neutrality, our total non-interference in the political process, our readiness to limit military aid, and a withdrawal deadline. Nonetheless, I made it very clear that we would not, because we could not, overthrow Thieu.
  • —They said they would study our position further, but I am not sure whether they have the imagination and the confidence to go our way.

As we expected earlier, this meeting did not bring a final result. But they now know that the next one must, and they know the parameters of what is possible and impossible for us to do.

What We Have Gained. Although the political issue is still in doubt, this series of meetings has gained us the following:

  • —A superb public record of genuine willingness to compromise differences and to let the South Vietnamese people decide their future freely. We have conceded everything even remotely reasonable short of a coup against Thieu—neutrality, limitation on military aid, a withdrawal deadline, a large economic aid program.
  • —Also, a record of willingness to take steps and make efforts greater than those demanded by our domestic opposition.
  • —A commitment by the other side stated even more clearly today by Le Duc Tho to release our POWs in exchange for a date. Though this is not enough today we can return to it in the fall.4

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What Happened. In addition to the above, the following were the key developments during the meeting:

  • Xuan Thuy began in a very friendly tone, saying that we had made some progress even though not yet on the key issues. He said that they were prepared to “consider” the remaining differences on other issues, and confirmed that they would consider them “positively.”
  • Tho followed up somewhat harder, emphasizing the remaining differences—including a lack of withdrawal deadline—and saying our negotiating tactics were aimed at getting a settlement which would promote Vietnamization. He also said that our agreements were on secondary points, but not on the crucial issues of a withdrawal deadline and replacing Thieu, the “spinal cord” of a settlement.
  • —Referring indirectly to the Peking trip, he said there was no “magical way” of settling the Vietnam problem, and that only the participants could end the war. He emphasized their independence and the support they were getting from “socialist countries.”
  • —In response to Tho’s question of how we should proceed, I suggested that we try to reach agreement on a statement of agreed principles, with considerable detail, in our channel. The remaining details could be negotiated in the regular forum, using our channel to break any deadlocks. They agreed to this procedure.
  • —I asked about release of our POWs throughout all Indochina, to which they would not commit themselves. I also asked some questions on their political proposals.
  • —I then told them we were prepared in the next five years to provide $7.5 billion in aid to Indochina, of which $2–2.5 billion could go to North Vietnam.
  • —I told them we were prepared to give a withdrawal deadline of nine months after an agreement is made. In addition, we would:
    • • Indicate that South Vietnam would be neutral, as stated in Mme. Binh’s Point 5;
    • • Pledge to accept restrictions on our future military aid to South Vietnam;
    • • Declare our total neutrality in all political processes;
    • • Not only make all these statements, which would have a political effect, but also carry them out, which would have a greater effect.
  • —I made clear that we were not prepared to replace the South Vietnamese government for them.
  • —I also said we were planning to negotiate a settlement with them and not with anybody else.
  • —After a long break of almost an hour, they came back and Xuan Thuy asked whether we would be prepared to withdraw all our forces. I said we would be, but that we would want to leave a small number [Page 840] of technical and logistic advisors to assist in maintenance of our equipment left with the GVN. I said the number would be less than 10,000 at the outset and would decline to a Military Attaché office of much less than one thousand.
  • Thuy then said that they wanted a specific date rather than a date which was dependent on an agreement. In the course of this passage, he pledged to release our POWs if we were to give a date “today,” and he said that the date of the end of 1971 was flexible.
  • —I pointed out that we could not give a fixed date so long as we did not have an agreement, since we would be withdrawing forces against the deadline while they were “considering” our proposals.
  • —I again reiterated that we could not replace the GVN, and warned them that if we did not make an agreement now they would find that in a year they would have to deal with a stronger GVN which we would have even less chance of influencing, if only because our forces would be so much smaller.5
  • —I also told them that Ambassador Bruce would be leaving soon but that this was not a political act and resulted purely from his state of health. I told them Porter would succeed Bruce; in reply to a question, I said that Habib would leave.
  • —I made clear that our meeting again would be a waste of time if they did not rethink their political position and consider new formulations. In turn I would try to be helpful on our residual technical/logistic presence. When I pointedly asked Le Duc Tho whether it was worth continuing the channel on this basis, he said that it was.
  • —We then agreed to meet again at 10:30 on August 16.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1039, Files For the President, Vietnam Negotiations, HAK II 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for information. There is no indication that Nixon saw it. Kissinger forwarded a slightly different version to Rogers under a covering memorandum, July 27, on which there is a handwritten note indicating that Rogers reviewed it and returned it that day. (Ibid., Box 861, Camp David Memos, July-Dec 1971)
  2. On July 15, Nixon announced that Kissinger had secretly visited the People’s Republic of China, that Premier Zhou Enlai had invited the President to visit China, and that Nixon had accepted. (Public Papers: Nixon, 1971, pp. 819–820)
  3. Message C–6074–AR from the Defense Attaché’s Office in Paris to the JCS, July 28, reported that Pham Van Dong was very sick and was expected to live only a few more months. Walters commented that this would be a great loss because Pham Van Dong was “the catalyst to bring conflicting views and groups into alignment for a DRVN government position.” In addition, it would complicate Le Duc Tho’s role as a negotiator because he would have to return to Hanoi for most consequential decisions and Hanoi would have difficulty making them without Pham Van Dong. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 869, For the President’s Files—Lord, Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Cables, 10/69–12/31/71)
  4. The last sentence of this paragraph was not included in the copy provided to Rogers.
  5. In backchannel message WHS 1070 to Bunker, July 27, Kissinger noted that the North Vietnamese were concentrating on Thieu as the “sole obstacle to peace” and wrote: “We are thus concerned about reports that Ky may not qualify as a candidate, despite necessary endorsements, because of technicality of lack of provincial counter-signatures and other alleged maneuvers by Thieu’s forces.” He asked for Bunker’s opinion on these issues. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 854, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. X)