102. Editorial Note

As the North Vietnamese Army continued its offensive against the South Vietnamese in MR–1, other elements of the Army opened fronts in the Central Highlands, in the coastal provinces of MR–2, and in MR–3 north of Saigon. At the same time, both sides engaged in discussions about the negotiations, a process that Henry Kissinger called in a message to Alexander Haig the “minuet with the other side.” (Backchannel message 2045 to Saigon, April 15; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1014, Alexander M. Haig Special File, Haig Trip Papers, April 14–19, 1972)

On April 4, 1972, the North Vietnamese side handed a note to the United States side in Paris demanding that the plenary meetings be restarted and that one be held on April 6. The Acting Chief of the U.S. Delegation in Paris, Heyward Isham, suggested that the reply simply reaffirm the position taken by Ambassador Porter, Chief of the Delegation, on March 23 when Porter suspended the talks (see Document 45), saying that the United States would not return to the bargaining table until North Vietnam indicated it would meaningfully discuss both sides’ proposals. In Washington, John Holdridge of the National Security Council staff recommended that Isham be authorized to add that the United States would not meet with North Vietnam as long as Hanoi continued its offensive. Haig, standing in for Kissinger, placed a check mark by this recommendation and wrote “must w/draw” at the bottom of the page. (Memorandum from Holdridge to Kissinger, April 4; ibid., Box 191, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks, January–June 1972)

Parallel to the intensifying military action in North and South Vietnam, the “minuet” over when to meet in Paris continued. On April 6, at Haig’s instruction, the Air Attaché at the Embassy in Paris, Colonel Georges R. Guay, USAF, delivered a message to the North Vietnamese, which reads in part: “Because of this grave escalation of military activity, and the flagrant violation of the Geneva Accords and the understandings of 1968, Ambassador Porter will not now propose a plenary session for April 13, 1972. A decision about the plenary session for April 20 will depend on the circumstances existing at that time.” (Backchannel message to Paris, April 4, delivered April 6; ibid., Box 854, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XIII)

Because the situation had not changed in any material way by April 10, Haig sent Guay a message to deliver to the North Vietnamese the following day, the heart of which was that the United States saw no reason to meet on April 27. Nonetheless, the note did indicate that the United States was still prepared to meet privately with Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy on April 24. (Ibid., Box 869, For the President’s Files [Page 339] (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David Cables, January 1–July 31, 1972) The Communist response, given to Guay on April 15, was to reject the American contentions—any failure in the negotiations was the fault of the United States. Nonetheless, if the United States agreed to meet in a plenary session on April 27, the North Vietnamese would arrange for Le Duc Tho to meet Kissinger in private on May 6, amended on April 19 to a few days prior that. (Both ibid., Box 867, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David HAK II, May 2, 1972–October 7, 1972 [5 of 5]) The United States response, sent to Guay on the April 21 and delivered to the North Vietnamese on the April 23 was to agree to attend the April 27 plenary session and to propose May 2 for the private meeting between Kissinger and Le Duc Tho. (Ibid.) The following day, April 24, the other side agreed. (Ibid., Box 864, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David Memcons, May–October 1972 [5 of 5]) The private meetings, in abeyance since mid-1971, would now begin again.