251. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1
- Further Analysis of DRV August 1 Peace Proposal
I have already summarized for you the highlights of our August 1 meeting at which the DRV tabled its new 10-point peace proposal and a separate procedural document.2
Since our own new counter-proposal draws on the format and some of the substance of their proposals, I wanted to give you a fuller rundown. This memorandum analyzes the other side’s proposal according to the following outline:
- —Overall significance
- —What the DRV plan proposes
- —What is new
- —Positive elements
- —Unacceptable elements
- —A point-by-point discussion.
The DRV has put forward a 10-point peace proposal and an accompanying document on negotiating procedures which, while advancing several new elements, maintains its essential, unacceptable demand that we agree to the establishment of a three-segment Government of National Concord in Saigon. Our acceptance of this demand is made the stepping stone to enter into the other phases of the negotiating process, which the DRV has sweetened with some concessions, substantive [Page 923] and procedural. Thus military issues such as timing of U.S. withdrawal have assumed a clearly secondary character to our meeting their fundamental political demands and Thieu’s resignation is a precondition for overall settlement but not for bilateral PRG–GVN talks.
I see one of at least three possible interpretations of Hanoi’s latest negotiating offer:
- —First they could be stonewalling us, in effect simply repackaging their old demands in a somewhat more conciliatory tone but retaining their bedrock demand that we work out the contents of a political solution directly with them. If they stick to their political demand as presently formulated, then the short-term prospects for a settlement are not good.
- —Second, they could be keeping their options completely open pending the developments on the battlefield and our domestic scene—in effect, a delaying action. Nothing in their proposal precludes a shift towards serious negotiations at a later stage. They could for example modify their position on the timing of a ceasefire; or they could drop their insistence on bilateral U.S.–DRV agreement on the “principles and main content” of the political question, settling for a vaguer, more general but face-saving agreement, then allowing the other procedural forums they have proposed to begin operation in which the GVN would be represented and indeed have a veto.
- —Finally, they may already have decided to settle, but they want to probe us for any last minute political concessions we might have before coming to terms.
Our planned meeting on September 15 should give us some insight as to which of these three interpretations may be correct. Since we have not, however, tabled our own political counter-proposal, which we plan to do on September 15, it most likely will take at least one more meeting after that to judge with any certainty whether Hanoi is prepared to do a serious deal before November.
What it Proposes
The DRV’s proposal calls on us to agree to total withdrawal within one month of the signature of an overall agreement, and to agree to the establishment of a three-segment Government of National Concord to take office in South Vietnam when the overall agreement is signed, at which time Thieu would resign. A standstill ceasefire in Vietnam under international control would also begin upon signature of the agreement. Prisoner releases in Vietnam would be carried out simultaneously with our troop withdrawals. The U.S. would be held responsible for reparations in North and South Vietnam.
The DRV also proposes a concrete formula for negotiations, according to which the U.S. and DRV would first resolve the military [Page 924] questions and the “principles and main content” of the political questions, that is to say the establishment of a tripartite Government of National Concord. After, but only after, this was done, the PRG would talk to the GVN under Thieu and discuss the details of the military and political questions in a new bilateral forum. There would be two additional forums: a tripartite forum among the GVN, PRG and DRV, to discuss relations between North and South, and the present 4-party Kleber forum, to discuss matters pertaining to all sides. The opening of these forums would also have to await agreement on the basic questions in the U.S./DRV forum. Only when all problems were resolved in all the forums, would the overall agreement be signed, and a ceasefire begin.
What is New
There are a number of salient new elements in the DRV plan:
—Regarding the military questions:
- • We are no longer asked to set a definitive, unconditional date for withdrawal of our forces.
- • The DRV specifies that among the personnel to be withdrawn are “technical personnel (without any exception),” presumably referring to our civilian personnel.
- • The DRV demands that we cease our military aid to Saigon as soon as a ceasefire takes effect, that is, according to their plan, when an overall agreement is signed.
- • They specifically agree for the first time to an exchange of prisoner lists on the day of the agreement’s signature.
—Regarding the political questions:
- • Thieu is no longer asked to resign as a precondition for detailed political discussions between the PRG and the GVN, although these discussions would be predicated on Thieu’s eventual resignation and the formation of a three-segment Government of National Concord.
- • The composition of the Government of National Concord is elaborated to make it clear that, on the surface at least, a 50–50 power split is envisaged. This would be done through joint PRG–GVN agreement on the composition of the third segment of the Government of National Concord. Formerly, the Communist position could have been interpreted to mean that they insisted on two-thirds of the pie.
—Regarding international control and supervision:
- • The DRV specifically subjects a ceasefire to international supervision for the first time.
- • The DRV provides for the establishment of an international control and supervisory commission, whose organization, tasks and composition, as well as subjects under its purview, would be decided among the parties.
—The DRV concrete procedural proposals are new in their entirety:
• Inclusion of the GVN with Thieu as a negotiating partner would give the GVN a veto power in discussions on many important questions, as long as we do not accept the DRV political solution beforehand, as they presently insist.
Leading the list of positive elements in the DRV proposals is their dropping of their demand for Thieu’s immediate resignation, even though they continue to maintain that Thieu cannot remain as part of a final settlement. This presents us with little difficulty in the sense that Thieu himself is willing to step down as part of a final settlement in any event.
Second, they no longer demand a unilateral fixed date for our withdrawal but rather have come around to our position of setting a time limit as part of a settlement. They say we should get out one month after an overall settlement, as contrasted to our proposal of four months. The figure is obviously negotiable and, therefore, the issue of our withdrawal deadline has lost much of its former importance.
Third, the DRV plan is more concrete than any they have tabled previously, including their separate procedural proposal for the formation of the various negotiating forums once certain fundamental issues have been resolved bilaterally between the DRV and ourselves. This may actually turn out to be the most important new element of the DRV proposals, since we might at some point be able to get the other forums opened up, with Thieu still in office and the GVN thus having a veto, even before we have reached any agreement on political questions with the DRV.
Despite the positive aspects noted above, the DRV plan contains major unacceptable elements, some of them of fundamental importance:
- —They still insist that we and they bilaterally agree to the establishment of a three-segment Government of National Concord. Clearly the DRV intention is that the implementation of a Government of National Concord, or possibly even the mere fact of our bilateral agreement to its formation, would disintegrate the anti-Communist forces. We have made it quite clear to them that this is the principal stumbling block between us, and that we will never agree to impose any particular form of government in South Vietnam, although we are prepared to accept any outcome the South Vietnamese decide among themselves.
- —The DRV limits its provisions on prisoner release and ceasefire to Vietnam alone. In discussion, Le Duc Tho has indicated that once [Page 926] the Vietnamese war is settled, the Laos and Cambodia aspects should be easily resolved. Regarding the prisoner issue, I have clearly told them we will not compromise, and I have also been firm in our insistence on an Indochina-wide ceasefire.
- —Their demand that we accept responsibility for reparations in a formal negotiating document is unacceptable. I have told them we are prepared to engage in a substantial reconstruction program for Indochina as a voluntary undertaking.
- —We cannot accept their demand that we agree to the formation of a Government of National Concord before opening up the other negotiating forums they propose, since once we have accepted their political solution it will be meaningless for the GVN to discuss the details of a predetermined future. Our counter-proposal therefore must find a way to move the political issue into the bilateral PRG/GVN forum at an earlier stage than they envisage. We also shouldn’t accept their position that other issues where essential agreement has been reached cannot be referred to the other proposed forums before bilateral agreement on the political issue.
The DRV proposal is in the form of a 10-point plan (Tab A).
It opens with a preamble which restates a number of basic principles raised by our side at our July 19, 1972, private meeting.3 Some of the principles, as restated by the DRV, are not precisely in the context which we advanced them but they are an essentially accurate characterization of our overall perspective toward Indochina. This preamble is then followed by the 10 points, summarized as follows:
—Point 1: A Unilateral U.S. Undertaking: The first point, in effect, asks that the U.S. undertake a series of unilateral steps such as ending all U.S. involvement in Vietnam, refraining from interfering in Vietnam’s internal affairs and stopping all our military activities in North and South Vietnam, including the mining and bombing.
Point 1 clearly cannot be considered an operative provision of their proposal. It is completely unconditional, and its acceptance by us would in and of itself make the remaining points irrelevant. We interpret this point, therefore, as a DRV statement of doctrine as opposed to a provision advanced for serious bargaining purposes. Indeed the North Vietnamese to date have not stated or suggested that its implementation would come before anything else.
The one aspect we can accept is U.S. respect for the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Vietnam, since later in the plan all parties are to do this.[Page 927]
—Point 2: Withdrawal of U.S. Forces: This provision calls for the complete withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces within one month after the signing of an overall agreement. The formulation differs from past DRV/VC demands in two respects. First, we are no longer asked to set a definitive, unconditional date for withdrawal. Second, the DRV specifies that among the personnel to be withdrawn are “technical personnel (without any exception),” meaning our civilian advisors as well. We are always careful to phrase our own position in terms of withdrawal of military personnel only and we should continue to do so.
The DRV also demands as part of this point that we cease our military aid to the Saigon Administration as soon as a ceasefire takes effect, that is, as soon as an overall agreement is signed. We take the position that we are willing to define our military and economic aid with any government which exists in South Vietnam. In a sense, our positions are not so far apart since we both agree that any government which emerges from a settlement will have the right to define its relations with other countries.
The real difficulty posed by this DRV condition is if they ever change their position in regard to timing of a ceasefire and agree to a ceasefire before an overall settlement, then we cannot agree to a complete military aid cutoff while the political outcome remains in doubt. In fact, under such a scenario Hanoi’s calculation might well be that a ceasefire, combined with an end to our military aid, would be sufficient to begin the process of erosion in the GVN’s position, thereby guaranteeing eventual Viet Cong predominance.
—Point 3: Prisoner Release: This provides for release of all captured military men and civilians in Vietnam to be effected simultaneously with troop withdrawals, and is essentially a restatement of their previous position. It is unacceptable in that it does not provide for prisoner releases in Laos or Cambodia. However, Tho has indicated that once the Vietnam problem was settled, the Laos and Cambodia aspects should be easily resolved. They seem to be saying that they have to work formally through their allies but will exert the necessary influence. In any event I have made clear that we cannot compromise and must have all of our prisoners back.
—Point 4: The Political Provisions: It is in this point that the DRV makes its most significant apparent concession, though the essence of its demands remains unacceptable. The DRV continues to ask us to agree to the formation of a three-segment Government of National Concord to assume office on the day of signature of the overall agreement. This Government would organize general elections, elect a constituent assembly, work out a new constitution and set up a definitive government of South Vietnam but clearly the DRV intention is that the implementation of a Government of National Concord would disintegrate [Page 928] the anti-Communist forces to the point that their strength would be irrelevant by the time of any elections.
This formulation differs from previous DRV/VC demands in two important ways: First, it spells out that the third (neutralist) segment of the Government of National Concord will be jointly agreed on by the PRG and the Saigon Administration, a provision which would assure the Communists a 50–50 split of power. The vague way in which they had previously stated their demand could have been interpreted as a bid for effective control of two-thirds of the government. Second, it calls for Thieu’s resignation upon signature of an overall agreement, rather than immediately. This means that the Communists agree to talk to Thieu about the details of the future political arrangement, though he himself would be barred from any future role and U.S. agreement to a National Concord government is a precondition for the holding of such talks. In its procedural suggestions which followed the presentation of this plan, the DRV demands that the GVN change its domestic policies to guarantee democratic liberties and modify the representation of its Paris delegation before these talks would open, but they would clearly be flexible about this if ever we got that far. In view of the relatively vague terminology of this demand that the GVN change its policies and its delegation, I do not interpret this to be a serious precondition. These procedural demands represent a watering down of their earlier demands that the entire GVN apparatus to dismantled as a precondition for talks and the DRV appears to be assigning this point lower priority by making it a procedural rather than substantive demand.
—Point 5: Vietnamese Armed Forces in South Vietnam: This point restates their view that this problem will be resolved by discussions among the Vietnamese parties, though it specifies for the first time that the “parties” are the PRG and Saigon. From this it appears that the DRV envisages solution of this problem before an overall agreement is signed. The interesting point emerged in subsequent discussion that in the DRV view the North Vietnamese forces in the South will be considered for this purpose to be part of South Vietnam’s “Liberation forces.” It was astounding to hear Le Duc Tho claim with a complete poker face that the 12 NVA divisions now in South Vietnam are under indigenous Viet Cong control.
—Point 6: Reunification: This point affirms their view of the temporary nature of the division of Vietnam and calls for peaceful reunification, step by step, on the basis of discussion and agreement between the two zones, with normal relations in all fields to be established in the meantime. The two zones would respect the military provisions of the 1954 Geneva Agreement, and not join any military alliances. This point is essentially acceptable to us with minor modifications and does not differ from their earlier formulations.[Page 929]
—Point 7: Reparations: The DRV demands here that the U.S. accept responsibility for reparations in both zones in a formal negotiating document. Tho in fact has specifically asked for $8 billion, $4½ for North Vietnam and $3½ for the South. I have made it clear to them that we cannot accept the concept of reparations in a negotiating document although we are prepared to engage in a substantial reconstruction program as a voluntary undertaking.
—Point 8: Standstill Ceasefire: This calls for a ceasefire—in place—to be observed in South Vietnam after the overall agreement is signed, under international control and supervision. They maintain their position that the ceasefire should come after agreement on all other issues and that it should apply only to Vietnam and not Cambodia or Laos. We, of course, have preferred an earlier ceasefire and insist on its Indochina-wide application. Here, too, however, Tho has indicated that once the war in Vietnam ends there would be no reason for it to continue in Cambodia and Laos, assuming, of course, it ends in Vietnam in a way acceptable to the DRV.
—Point 9: International Controls and Guarantees: The DRV calls in this point for the establishment of an international control and supervision committee whose composition, tasks, and organization, along with the subjects under its purview, would be agreed between the parties. There would also be an international guarantee for the neutrality of South Vietnam and for lasting peace in the region. Their 10 points don’t mention neutrality for the rest of Indochina. We are willing to accept a guarantee for the neutrality of South Vietnam provided it applies to the other countries of Indochina as well.
—Point 10: Respect for Geneva Agreements: The final DRV point asks for settlement of the internal affairs of each Indochinese country by that country itself, and states that problems among those countries will be settled by the Indochinese parties on the basis of mutual respect for independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity and noninterference in each other’s internal affairs. This causes us no problems, though we want to add specific reference to barring infiltration.
In an unusually concrete departure from their earlier vague formulations, the DRV has proposed a specific series of procedural forums to be opened once we have agreed with them on the military questions and on the “principles and main contents” of the political question in South Vietnam (Tab B). The other forums would include a secret bilateral forum between the GVN and the PRG and a secret tripartite forum among the DRV, Saigon and the PRG.
The principal obstacle here is their insistence that we agree with them to predetermine the broad outlines of a political outcome as a [Page 930] precondition for opening the other forums. Specifically, they want us to agree with them to the principle of a three-segment Government of National Concord. If we agreed to this, the other forums could prove to be irrelevant. On the other hand, should they fall off their insistence that South Vietnamese political issues must be resolved between the U.S. and DRV, then the other forums they propose open considerable room for flexibility and maneuver. In fact, the GVN would gain substantial status as an acknowledged negotiating adversary of the DRV and the GVN would also have an important veto power over issues most affecting its vital interests.
A potential problem is the proposed tri-partite forum, to which the GVN has already objected because they believe it would have the practical consequence of acknowledging two governments in the South. The problem for the GVN is that the trilateral forum would deal with matters external to South Vietnam, whereas the GVN–NLF dialogue in the bilateral forum could be explained away as an internal South Vietnamese matter. We are working to find language which gets around this GVN concern.
I am intrigued by the fact that the DRV has tabled concrete procedural proposals and, even though unacceptable in certain respects, they could be taken as an indication that Hanoi seriously expects some forward movement in our negotiations.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 862, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David Memos, January–August 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. Tab A (August 1) and Tab B (undated) are attached but not printed.↩
- See Document 225.↩
- See Document 207.↩