45. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1
- My September 27 Meeting with the North Vietnamese2
My four and one half hour meeting with Xuan Thuy and Mai Van Bo was thoroughly unproductive and we adjourned without setting a new date.
After listening to Xuan Thuy’s opening statement and his answers to my questions it was clear that there was no reason to continue the channel at this time. His presentation of Madame Binh’s eight point proposal and responses to my probing revealed little or nothing that could not have been expressed in other channels. As I have told him on previous occasions and reinforced with your hand-written comments on my September 23 memorandum,3 this sort of session is not worth the time of the President’s Assistant.
Accordingly, I had no choice but to suggest that we discontinue this channel until either side had something to say to the other. We agreed that the two sides would maintain contact in the other two forums, i.e. the public sessions and possible private meetings between Xuan Thuy and Ambassador Bruce.
What Was New or Significant
The problem with the meeting was precisely the fact that there was very little that was new. The major information that emerged was a better picture of the eight points. You will recall my memorandum to you on Madame Binh’s proposal4 in which I said it was an open question whether it was a genuine negotiating move or essentially a propaganda [Page 120] ploy. This meeting made it quite evident that at least for the time being the purpose is the latter. Xuan Thuy gave little on the military issues and was very unyielding on political questions. The North Vietnamese will probably try to rally public opinion around the argument that only three men—Thieu, Ky, and Khiem—stand in the way of peace, when in fact they are aiming at disarming the organized non-Communist forces by reserving the right to choose the leaders they find acceptable.
The other significant points of the meeting included the following:
- —Xuan Thuy confirmed that they continue to want to discuss military and political issues together. This was our understanding, but the eight points were somewhat ambiguous on this, so I probed for reconfirmation.
- —After some fencing, he made it clear that Madame Binh’s June 30 deadline, while a target for them, does represent movement to a nine month withdrawal schedule.
- —However, he presented a proposed timetable for our withdrawals which would have us remove 60,000 in each of the first six months—this in effect is close to a six month proposal as it represents a withdrawal of 360,000 out of the 384,000 that will remain as of October 15. While I don’t believe their position is frozen, their opening gambit was indicative of their mood.
- —Nevertheless, I don’t believe this specific withdrawal schedule is a major issue if we could put the rest of the settlement together.
I made it clear that we will expect other non-South Vietnamese forces to withdraw as well as our own but received no response on this beyond their standard position, Madame Binh’s second point, “The question of Vietnamese armed forces in South Vietnam shall be resolved by the Vietnamese parties among themselves.”
- —When I asked him if the cease-fire relating to withdrawal of U.S. forces would also apply to South Vietnamese troops, Xuan Thuy confirmed this in his usual backhanded way. He indicated that if all other forces stopped fighting there would be no need for the Communist forces to continue to fight, and they would discuss this as part of a general settlement.
- —I dropped my prepared statement and concentrated on asking questions and setting the record straight. During my probing he generally resorted to dialectics and debating tactics and showed no give.
- —During the last ten minutes, when it was clear that I was going to break off the channel for the time being, he said a few concrete things, the most interesting being his indication that the composition of the coalition government would be negotiated. However, there was nothing to justify maintaining the channel at this time.
- —Per your instructions I emphasized our concern about prisoners of war and said that I have not pressed the problem in this channel because we consider it a humanitarian issue, not one where our men can be used as hostages.5
I believe that we should suspend this channel until such time as they come to us or we might decide we want to try a totally different tack.
We gain nothing by breaking off altogether. They seemed somewhat taken aback when I moved to shelve the talks and were prepared to continue them. Their personal behavior was more cordial than ever. My suspicion is that they are not ready to move yet, but that we just might be seeing the next to last round. If they do decide to move we could see rapid progress.
In retrospect they were forthcoming at our previous meeting on September 76 either because they are confused; or they wanted to provide a genial framework for us to show the maximum reception to their eight points; or they are simply eager to maintain the channel for fall-back reasons.
The possibility that the North Vietnamese are genuinely confused was borne out by a talk that I had with Jean Paul Sainteny later in the afternoon.7 He said that they are in an undecided state, more so than he had ever seen them. They project a Micawber-like mood of waiting and hoping something good will turn up.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 853, For the President’s Files—Lord, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David, Vol. VI. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only.↩
- A memorandum of conversation is ibid., Box 1039, Files for the President—Vietnam Negotiations, HAK I, July 1969–September 27, 1970.↩
- Nixon wrote the following remarks on a September 23 memorandum from Kissinger: “I would only suggest that I would try to get sooner at the heart of the question—Do they mean business—or is this just another rehash? Make it clear at the outset that I have instructed that unless real progress is made in this session, we will discontinue the channel.” (Ibid., Box 853, For the President’s Files—Lord, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David, Sensitive, Vol. VI)↩
- Document 43.↩
- Nixon wrote the following on the last page of Kissinger’s September 23 memorandum: “Plus prisoner issue—to be considered separately as indication of their desire for peaceful settlement.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 853, For the President’s Files—Lord, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David, Sensitive, Vol. VI)↩
- See Documents 34 and 35.↩
- A September 27 memorandum of conversation between Kissinger and Sainteny is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 853, For the President’s Files—Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. VI.↩