225. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

SUBJECT

  • My August 1 Meeting with the North Vietnamese

Overview

My eight-hour August 1 meeting with Xuan Thuy and Le Duc Tho was the longest private meeting ever, and the most interesting session we have ever had.2

Both sides presented detailed new proposals and agreed to study them with a view to making further progress at the next session, which we set for August 14. Our plan was a modification and expansion of our January 25 and May 8 proposals,3 with some new aspects growing out of your discussions in Moscow. They in turn tabled (1) the most comprehensive and forthcoming—although still unacceptable—substantive plan they have ever presented; and (2) for the first time, a plan for negotiating procedures, including direct negotiations between Saigon and the PRG.

Their positions reconfirm that all military and subsidiary issues are basically soluble and that the main problems remain the political question and the timing of an Indochina ceasefire in relation to the settlement of political issues. They made major moves on the political issue, including a willingness to deal with the GVN, including Thieu, on the details of political questions. Their overall plan, however, still contains unpalatable elements such as their insistence that we accept the principle of a three segment government of national concord before talks between the Vietnamese parties themselves and that such government be established before a ceasefire.4

There is much interesting new material to analyze, with some suggestive openings to bridge our differences. On the other hand, their [Page 797] plan is also compatible with their maintaining positions we cannot accept, and if publicized, could cause us public difficulties with its cosmetic appearances. We will need to choose our tactics carefully for the next meeting.

Highlights

—The first hour was marked by their heated attacks on your July 27 press conference,5 claiming that it had stirred speculation on private talks, and contained military threats. I reacted very sharply. This led to an hour-long procedural wrangle on the announcement of meetings—I insisted on public confirmation that this one took place but without further elaboration (which is in our interest since it means more, not less, speculation).

—I then tabled our new twelve point plan (Tab A) with the following central features:

  • • Four month allied troop withdrawal in parallel with release of all prisoners, from the date of a general agreement.
  • • Indochina ceasefire on date of agreement.
  • • Our January 25 election proposal with informal indication (not in plan itself) that Thieu might accept two month resignation period (i.e., what you indicated to Brezhnev).
  • • Additional political proposals that don’t affect the core of our position but take account of some of their subsidiary proposals—such as possible changes in the constitution a year after new elections; the assurance of democratic liberties; and eligibility for all forces in all branches of government.
  • • A three month deadline from the date of a general agreement to work out the details of the political questions along the lines of agreed principles.

—I pointed out all our new elements and made clear that while we would live with consequences of a political process, we would not prejudge its outcome or impose a government.

Le Duc Tho asked a couple of questions before they took a 1¼-hour break, the longest ever.

—After the break, Tho made a sharp attack on our bombing, with special emphasis on the dikes which I curtly rejected, saying they well knew that any damage was accidental. I reminded them they were the ones who have continually refused a ceasefire, and offered then, and later in the meeting, a temporary ceasefire of say three months to permit negotiations to proceed. They turned this down once again.

[Page 798]

—I also offered mutual deescalation, including a substantial reduction of the bombing of the North. This, too, was refused.

—They then tabled their detailed new proposals on a settlement (Tab B) and negotiating procedures (Tab C).

—On military questions:

  • • They dropped their demand for a fixed withdrawal date, but said final withdrawals should take place within one month after an overall agreement. (This, in effect, would prolong our presence for months while all political details are worked out.)6
  • • All prisoners released in parallel with our withdrawals. (I made clear this had to include all prisoners throughout Indochina and they confirmed this was their intention.)
  • • Cessation of U.S. military aid when ceasefire and overall agreement are reached. (This is obviously unacceptable but, I believe, clearly negotiable.)
  • • An Indochina ceasefire at the time of overall agreement. (This still puts it at the end of the negotiating line.)

—On political questions:

  • • They dropped their demand that Thieu resign before a settlement, and essentially met our position that he would step down as part of a comprehensive settlement.
  • • They agreed to talk to the GVN, including Thieu, about the details of a political settlement once we had agreed on political principles. They maintained, however, that the GVN should modify its policies and composition of its Paris delegation. (Both of these were vaguely put and probably face-saving elements.)7
  • • They stuck to their concept of a three segment government of national concord, but redefined it as essentially being a 50–50 split between the GVN and PRG. (Last summer they effectively proposed control or veto over all the composition of the coalition government; more recently their position amounted to two-thirds of the government.)

—Through their procedural proposals they accepted the principle of dealing with the GVN, including Thieu: the PRGGVN on political issues; the three Vietnamese parties on overall Vietnamese questions; and the Paris 4-party talks on details of all relevant questions, such as military issues and ceasefire.

—On other subsidiary questions they reconfirmed basic agreement, e.g., respect for Geneva Accords, international supervision and guarantees, [Page 799] etc. The one execution was their inflated demand for war damages which I said was unacceptable.

—In short, the positive elements include dropping of a fixed withdrawal date; acceptance of Thieu and the present GVN as legitimate partners to work out political details; some shift in the composition of the coalition government; and negotiating forums which might be suggestive of a de facto two track approach to the military and political questions.8

Negative elements include cessation of military aid and reparations (both soluble); continued insistence on three segment coalition government; and delay of ceasefire until all details in all forums are worked out.

—The remainder of the session consisted largely of my noncommittal questions on their proposals. The most interesting response was their view that local administration in provinces would be dominated by the GVN in GVN-controlled areas (overwhelming majority); PRG in PRG areas; and three segment administration in contested areas. This, of course, would be the de facto situation in case of a standstill ceasefire and is reminiscent of the Laos situation.

What Happened

We spent the entire first hour on essentially procedural matters, reflecting their pique at your July 27 press conference. They accused you of divulging the substance of our last private meeting. I vigorously disabused them of any such notion explaining that our negotiating offers to which you had referred were the public proposals of January 25 and May 8.

I then tabled our new 12-point proposal along the lines of our discussions with General Secretary Brezhnev last May.9 The main points were as follows:

—Our withdrawal within four months of general agreement; prisoner of war releases would run concurrently with withdrawals.

—An internationally supervised ceasefire from the date of agreement.

—A presidential election within 6 months of final agreement on the details of a political solution, with the political solution to be negotiated not later than three months from agreement on ceasefire, POWs and withdrawals; and

—Within one year from the election of a new President, the political forces in South Vietnam, including the Provisional Revolutionary [Page 800] Government, would meet to revise the constitution, agreeing on steps to implement it.

• In explaining our new proposal, I pointed out that its principal purpose was to meet their insistence that Thieu resign and the GVN eventually be supplanted by a new political structure but without prejudging or prescribing the outcome and giving everyone a fair chance to participate in the process.

—After my presentation they asked for a break, which lasted some hour and 20 minutes, the longest interruption ever.

—After the break, Tho first responded to our proposal in an essentially negative way. While acknowledging some of our new language, he said that our offer did not go significantly beyond our earlier proposals in respect to the critical issue—namely the political question.

Tho also pointed to our major difference with regard to a cease-fire which they believe should come only after settlement of all military and political issues.

• He then launched into a denunciation of our bombing and mining with a predictable emphasis on the dikes, charging that we were bombing irrigation facilities and populated areas and if this resulted in floods our talks would be jeopardized.

—With this off his chest, Tho then tabled a new DRV 10-point negotiating proposal accompanied by a 4-point document on proposed procedures and format for further negotiations.

—Following are the salient features of the DRV’s new negotiating proposal:

  • • It is non-polemical in tone and begins by listing six general principles regarding our attitude toward the region expressed at our last meeting with which they agree.10
  • • Rather than demanding a fixed deadline for our withdrawal, they propose a deadline geared to the resolution of other issues. Tho proposed a complete U.S. withdrawal one month after overall agreement on military and political issues.
  • • They insist on our acceptance of the principle of a Government of National Concord but once that is agreed, then they would agree to talks between the GVN and the PRG. Thieu’s resignation would no longer be a precondition for talks but would come upon implementation of the final agreement.
  • Tho redefined a Government of National Concord as being one-third selected by the GVN, one-third by the PRG, and one-third mutually agreed between the two: In other words, 50–50 as opposed to earlier demands which would have had as a practical consequence PRG predominance.
  • • A standstill ceasefire after overall agreement on all questions.
  • • They demanded 8 billion dollars in reparations, 4½ for North Vietnam and 3½ for the South.

My preliminary response to their proposal was to ask a number of clarifying questions and to reject forthwith unacceptable aspects such as their demand for reparations. We both agreed that our respective proposals required further careful study and that the two sides should seriously seek ways to bridge the gap between our existing positions. We readily agreed to meet again on August 14.

The Significance of Our Meeting and Their Proposal

The significance of our meeting remains to be clarified, and we cannot be sure of its meaning at this stage.

—Their proposal injects a number of new elements hitherto lacking in their position, as I have enumerated above. They no longer seek Thieu’s resignation as a precondition for PRG/GVN talks, although his resignation would be part of a final settlement. They have sought to identify areas of similarity in our respective positions and proposed a multiplicity of negotiating forums for resolving differences between us and between the Vietnamese parties themselves.

—On the other hand, they seem to be insisting on our acceptance of the principle of a three segment Government of National Concord as the key to progress on other issues.

Two possible interpretations of Hanoi’s tactics suggest themselves at this stage:

—The first is that all the new elements in their proposal are essentially ornamental and that no real progress is possible until we accept their National Concord principle which would in effect predetermine the political outcome in Saigon. If this interpretation is correct, they are essentially holding to a hard line but establishing a record which would appear more flexible in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

—The second is that the variety of new elements advanced are designed to veil real movement toward a dual track approach where we settle the military issues with them and the Vietnamese sort out their political differences themselves. The explicit suggestion of negotiating forums between the Vietnamese themselves could be interpreted to support this thesis. If this hypothesis proves correct, what Hanoi would expect from us is a rejection of the National Concord concept but nonetheless a vague political counterproposal which would not prejudge the [Page 802] political outcome. Under this approach we would provide them a face-saving formulation whereby they could claim military and political issues were being resolved concurrently, although in fact the military issues would be solved first and the political negotiations would be more prolonged and more of a Vietnamese responsibility.

Where We Go from Here

After a thorough review of the record, I will advance recommendations as to how I believe we should proceed next. At first blush, a number of possibilities suggest themselves although we will want to weigh them more carefully:

  • First, we can stick essentially to our own proposal, modifying the political aspects to take into account their points short of acceptance of the National Concord principle.
  • Second, we can work from their new proposal, weeding out the elements unacceptable to us.
  • Third, we can temporize for at least one or two sessions by probing their new offer with serious but noncommittal questions.

Our two main objectives are:

  • —(1) to see whether a reasonable settlement is possible by probing their positions on key issues such as Government of National Concord, the timing of a ceasefire, and de facto separation of political and military issues; and
  • —(2) in any event, to keep the private negotiating process going into the fall, to give them a chance to settle as the certainty of your reelection looms ever larger, and to further bolster our negotiating record.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 864, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive, Camp David Memcons, May–October 1972 [4 of 5]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. At the top of the first page, President Nixon wrote: “K—Splendid job on what must be a very tedious exercise.” Tabs A–C are attached but not printed.
  2. The memorandum of conversation, August 1, is ibid.
  3. See Documents 5 and 136, respectively.
  4. The President highlighted much of this sentence and wrote at the end of the paragraph: “It is remarkable how they can so tenaciously stick to the only goal which really matters to them—political victory.”
  5. See footnote 4, Document 224.
  6. The President highlighted this paragraph.
  7. The President highlighted this and the next paragraph.
  8. The President highlighted this paragraph.
  9. See Document 178.
  10. See Document 207.