110. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1
- My May 2 Meeting with the North Vietnamese
I spent three hours today with Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy in a session that was thoroughly unproductive on substance but served to bolster further our negotiating record.2 I laid out various approaches for discussion, all of which they rejected. They made very clear that they were not prepared either to deescalate the fighting or offer anything new concerning a settlement.[Page 387]
In light of their intransigence, which is almost certainly keyed to the fluid military situation and possibly the expectation of further unilateral concessions on our part, I broke off the private talks until either side has something new to say or their offensive stops. I briefed Ambassador Porter after my meeting and arranged for him to suspend the plenary sessions again at the end of this Thursday’s3 meeting. He will state that there has been no negotiating movement in any channel, which should make it obvious that we had a fruitless private meeting this week.
The major utility of this session was to reconfirm their intractability on negotiations, both for our own calculations and, when necessary, the public record. Specifically, I suggested, and they refused, each of the following:
- —That they stop their offensive which is a euphemism for ceasefire.
- —That they agree to return to the status quo ante March 29, 1972, thus allowing deescalation on both sides.
- —That they restore the circumstances for the 1968 bombing halt understanding.
- —That they separate military issues from political issues. (At one point I even raised, without response, the suggestion that we talk about withdrawals and prisoners, not mentioning ceasefire.)
- —That they offer any counter proposals to our eight point plan.
- —That they offer a political solution which did not include the installation of a government they would dominate but which would leave the future genuinely open.
They had absolutely nothing new to propose and kept reading verbatim the PRG’s February 1972 two point elaboration of its seven points as their answer to our secret October and public January plans. When I pressed them for what was new in these elaborations, they emphasized that they required only that Thieu himself resign. In response to my questions they confirmed that everyone else in the Saigon government could stay, but added that the governmental policies of “coercion” and “repression” would also have to change. They cited such measures as dismantling police programs, stopping pacification, dismantling “concentration camps” and releasing political prisoners, in effect disbanding the entire existing GVN apparatus. In addition the U.S. had to stop Vietnamization.[Page 388]
Other highlights of the meeting include the following:
- —They stressed coldly that we should deal with them directly and not through their friends. They refused even to acknowledge that Moscow had transmitted our demands that they restore the status quo ante and 1968 understandings.
- —They used generally mild language in complaining about our various alleged sins and struck conciliatory poses about their desire for a negotiated settlement. They even professed that they were not working against your reelection, to which I brusquely replied that that was none of their business.
- —I warned them that if their offensive continues, “more and more drastic consequences will follow.”
- —I repeatedly suggested deescalation and a separation of military from political issues in a settlement. They consistently refused to consider either approach. We have a clear record on both counts.
- —They were anxious not to have public revelation of our meeting. I agreed to forego an announcement or confirmation, knowing that Porter’s Thursday statement coupled with inevitable speculation should make clear what has transpired.
Thuy opened with their usual complaints about the U.S. having exposed the contents of our previous private meetings through your January 25 speech.4 He also said that the plenary sessions are the “basis” for private meetings and must be held “as usual.”
I told Thuy that there was no point in rehashing the past record and circumstances which had led us to publish the contents of our private sessions. The time had come to make real negotiating progress after three and a half years of sterile debate. I then read my prepared statement, making the following points:
- —We remain prepared to negotiate a settlement fair to both sides but not at the point of a gun. There is no sense in talking about future agreements while their invading armies are tearing up old ones.
- —We were completely aware of their “talk-fight-talk” tactics and were no longer prepared to play this game. (I handed over a four-page document detailing their orchestration of military moves and repeated postponement of private meetings.)5
- —They must stop their offensive; the 1968 understandings6 must be restored; and there must be serious, concrete and constructive negotiations leading to a rapid conclusion of the war.
- —I emphasized the seriousness of the circumstances under which we were meeting whereby they were launching offensives while professing to be prepared for serious talks.
Thuy replied that my statements brought nothing new and repeated standard DRV allegations that it is we who are violating the Geneva Accords and that there were no understandings in 1968.
Le Duc Tho repeated Thuy’s assertion that we had brought nothing new; he dismissed our charges of an NVA invasion and accused us of intensifying the war through the 1970 Cambodia operation, and Lam Son Operation in 1971 and the recent bombings of the DRV. Tho emphasized his view that our statement of today showed we were not willing to engage in serious negotiations and that it was a “law of war” that there be offensives and counteroffensives. Tho also:
- —Asked what flexibility there was in our eight points;
- —Referred to past opportunities to settle the war, especially last summer when the elections presented the U.S. with the “best opportunity” to replace Thieu but the U.S. refused.
I replied that we are interested in a rapid and just settlement but we face objective realities. We cannot make new proposals until the offensive stops and if it continues more drastic consequences will follow. I recalled that the very day we agreed to resume private meetings they had attacked Kontum and the day that plenaries had started they renewed their assault on Quang Tri.
—I said I awaited their proposals as to how to bring this objective situation to an end.
The discussion then went around several times as to whose responsibility it was to take steps toward ending the war.
Xuan Thuy insisted on reading me extensive excerpts of the February 2 PRG two point elaboration of their seven points, accusing us of not ever having responded to them.
I asked what was different about the two point elaboration from the seven and nine points of 1971, which we had answered in rather complete detail.
Xuan Thuy’s reply was that they had nothing new to add to previous explanations and they wanted to see if we had anything new to say.
I repeated our position that as a first order of business the offensive must stop and, as far as the two point elaboration was concerned, it contained nothing that we hadn’t already addressed in our replies to the seven and nine points last summer. I added that if the situation prior to March 29 were restored we would withdraw the reinforcements we had deployed and stop bombing the DRV.
I pointed out however: (1) that we were prepared to talk about military issues alone i.e. the complex of operations involving prisoners [Page 390] and withdrawal; (2) I hinted strongly that we were prepared to start discussions with ending the offensive alone; (3) I said our political proposal was not inflexible. Our primary concern was not to maintain any one person but to have a genuinely open process.
Thuy contended there were new elements in their two point elaboration of February 2. I asked him what they were.
Thuy and Tho explained that all they demanded now was the immediate resignation of Thieu, the adoption of a policy by the Saigon Administration of peace, independence and neutrality, an end to “Oppression,” “concentration camps,” guarantee of democratic liberties as provided by the Geneva Accords, freedom of the press and so forth. [This proved to be a mere rehash of the PRG two point elaboration publicly put forth in February and I replied that in substance it did not differ from what they demanded last summer.]7
I asked whether they were prepared to grant the same liberties in the North. Tho replied that they had a different and better system to which this did not apply.
I then engaged Tho in a discussion of whether they still insisted that resolution of the military and political issues be linked, in other words would they discuss the end of the war separately from political outcome. I said we wanted to be absolutely certain of their position in this regard.
Tho repeated on several occasions that this remained their position and that any impression gained to the contrary by U.S. journalists and Senators last summer was not his fault.
Thuy again reviewed their political proposal insisting that Thieu must resign immediately, disband concentration camps and so forth.
I asked for the sake of precision whether this meant that all other members of the Saigon Administration could stay in office except Thieu.
At this point both Tho and Thuy emphasized that it was the policy of Saigon that must change as well. The change of an individual is not important, Tho said; it is the policy and in operational terms this means dismantling the machinery of “oppression and terrorism”—there should be no more “fascist repression.” Without these steps there will not be a suitable atmosphere for the creation of a government of “national concord,” elections, and the guarantee of democratic liberties. In reply to a question Thuy said Thieu should resign tomorrow, “the sooner the better,” irrespective of whether or not there is a negotiated agreement.[Page 391]
I told them I understood their position and believed that there was no point in continuing our meeting. I suggested we leave matters that either side propose another meeting when it felt it had anything to say. Under the present circumstances we would not agree to another meeting.
In closing I reiterated my understanding that they were not prepared to separate military and political issues, adding that we were prepared to discuss withdrawals and POWs.
Tho answered that my understanding was correct and that he had never separated the political and military questions.
Our session ended in agreement that we would not divulge the substance of our private meeting today. They were also quite insistent that the fact of our meeting also be kept secret and that if asked we simply refrain from public comment. I consented to do our best on this but pointed out that the occurrence of the meeting would prove far more difficult to protect than its substantive content since my movements were monitored closely by the press and a “no comment” at this juncture would be tantamount to confirmation.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 854, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XIII. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.↩
- See Document 109. In conversation with Haldeman that day the President noted how very disappointed Kissinger had been with the lack of progress in the negotiations. Nixon went on to say: “But the point is, Bob, we have got to realize that on this whole business of negotiating with North Vietnam, Henry has never been right. Now, I just can’t help it, but just have to say that, just a straight, flat-out conclusion.” Haldeman replied: “Well, Al [Haig] never thought he was going to get anything.” To this, Nixon responded: “Well, I didn’t either.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 717–19)↩
- May 4.↩
- See Document 5.↩
- See footnote 3, Document 109.↩
- See footnote 5, Document 2.↩
- Brackets are in the original.↩