26. Memorandum From John D. Negroponte of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Future Prospects for the Vietnam Negotiations

After over three years of Paris Talks, Hanoi’s fundamental objectives have remained unchanged.

  • —The U.S. must get out of the war.
  • —The U.S. must render South Vietnam incapable of resisting a Communist takeover.

There is, moreover, scarcely any likelihood that the Communists will even modify these goals prior to 1973.

One fundamental obstacle to negotiations is Hanoi’s probable determination to wait out the results of the U.S. presidential election. The Communists no doubt calculate that their position will, in any case, be improved by the election—no matter who wins. They probably believe that President Nixon will make concessions during the campaign which [Page 103] he will have difficulty in retracting if he wins. On the other hand, they probably also believe that the odds are at least even that Senator Muskie will win and will be willing to meet their basic demands. The Senator’s recent public statements on Vietnam only serve to reinforce the latter belief.

It is axiomatic that the Communists will make no basic concessions until they are absolutely convinced that this is the only way to get concessions from us. For the reasons mentioned above, there is little chance that this point will be reached prior to 1973.

In order to retain maximum bargaining leverage until 1973, it is essential for us to reach a line which we can firmly hold through the election and into 1973.

This places us in an obvious dilemma. We do not want to appear to be inflexible, rigid and unreasonable. On the other hand, signs of flexibility and eagerness to reach accommodation on our part only meet with increased demands from the Communist side. The last “two point” proposal contains what are probably the most far reaching Communist demands to date, if one assumes that the two points are inseparable.2 Their sweeping political demands are of themselves probably an acknowledgment of their political weakness on the ground and the greater need than ever for our help in toppling the GVN.

Proposed Strategy

Ideally, we should unswervingly adhere to our “eight point” proposal3 until the other side offers real concessions. On the other hand, it would be simpler for us to focus wholely on the military issue of withdrawal, cease-fire, POW’s, and logistical support and leave the political issues to the Vietnamese parties.

Prospects for Separability

There were indications last October that the Communists might have been thinking of expanding point one (withdrawal, POW’s, etc.) of the “seven points” to where it could separately have given them the game.4 On October 24, Foreign Minister Trinh expanded point one to include stopping U.S. air and naval activities in Vietnam and stopping [Page 104] U.S. military aid to the GVN; however, when a new “two point” elaboration was presented in Paris on December 2, point one made no mention of military aid, whereas point two called upon the U.S. to cease its support of and commitments to the Thieu government. Subsequently, the other side became more explicit in linking the military (one) and political (two) points.

Point one of the July 1, 1971 “seven points” could easily have been defined in such a way as to assure the downfall of the Thieu government—especially the demands to stop “the war of aggression” and Vietnamization. Point two was somewhat vague on Thieu’s fate and required us to “cease backing the bellicose group” headed by Thieu. Point two also implied that Thieu could be ousted in the coming October election.

As late as August 20, the Communists were publicly urging their followers to vote in the upcoming lower house elections—an unprecedented departure from the Communist boycotts of all previous elections. It is possible that Hanoi felt we might use the presidential election to oust Thieu and thereby end our involvement in the war. Xuan Thuy certainly intimated this in his CBS interview when he said that last year, prior to the October SVN elections, the U.S. had an opportunity to settle the war with honor.

If the Communists did indeed harbor such illusions, Minh’s5 withdrawal from the elections and our refusal to prevent the election from being held anyway probably dashed such illusions and argued against separating points one and two. Senator McGovern’s public statement that Xuan Thuy has (on September 11) indicated such separability was effectively—if indirectly—repudiated by Communist spokesmen in Paris. If Hanoi had seriously contemplated separating the military issues from the political ones, it was clearly moving away from this position in September. Nevertheless, as Trinh’s October 24 remarks indicate, the Politburo might have been debating the separability issue. Trinh’s formulation was repeated by the DRV Paris press spokesman on November 14 and again on November 16 in the DRVGRUNK (Sihanouk government) communiqué.6 In fact, the communiqué used the broader formulation “stop aiding” (the Thieu administration).

In the two point elaboration contained in Pham Van Dong’s November 20 first day speech in Peking, point one no longer called for an end to military aid. This was evidently subsumed under a new point [Page 105] two formulation calling upon the U.S. to “withdraw support from, and relinquish all its commitments to” the Thieu regime. This new formulation was also in the DRVPRC communiqué of November 26.7 It was essentially this new two point elaboration which was tabled in Paris on December 2 and which remained operative until it was replaced by the latest “two points” on February 2 (tabled in Paris on February 3).

In the meantime, the Communist side had become quite explicit in linking points one and two. For example, during the January 13 Paris session, both Communist spokesmen made it quite clear that our agreement to both points was a sine qua non for a POW release.

The Communists have remained vague on the separability of the latest (February 2) “two points.” Initially they said the “two big problems will make it easy to resolve the other problems with a view to ending the war.” Most recently (February 12) they said these two “main points” were closely related.” It seems likely that when pressed, the other side will eventually make it clear that the points are inseparable.

There might be those in Hanoi who argue that U.S. acceptance of a point one which ends all U.S. participation in the war and cuts off aid to the GVN would in itself ultimately ensure victory and is more likely to be accepted by the U.S.

Opposing this would be the view that Thieu is neither popular in the U.S. nor in South Vietnam, and therefore, there is much to be gained by showing Thieu to be the principal obstacle to reaching a settlement; moreover, withdrawing U.S. support and aid might not automatically bring down Thieu, and the war could go until the GVN exhausted its stockpiles of war matériel. Thus, ideally, Thieu and his apparatus should be eliminated to ensure early success. If this proves to be infeasible, one could fall back to negotiations on purely military matters (point one).

Our October 11 proposal could have been interpreted in Hanoi as a signal that we were not wedded to Thieu.8 The recent controversy over U.S. “flexibility” concerning Thieu’s resignation would reinforce such an estimate.

On the other hand, it is difficult to see how the Communists could believe anyone would accept the new point two demand for the dismantling [Page 106] of the GVN military police and administrative apparatus (the “machine of oppression and constraint”). This unprecedentedly sweeping demand almost seems designed to rule out negotiations on a political settlement and was no doubt intended as a strong counter to our eight point proposal. There is, however, some chance that point two will be somewhat softened. Instead of demanding that Thieu resign “immediately” and the GVN apparatus be disbanded “at once,” a more deliberate timetable for these steps could be proposed. This would appear to be more reasonable without, however, really changing anything.

In any case, it would, in our view, be an error for our side to evince any serious interest in the outrageous demands of point two; moreover, we should, from now on, make it clear to the other side that the U.S. will no longer discuss political issues either in plenary or private sessions because we are leaving these matters entirely up to the GVN. This would strengthen our negotiating position by making it clear that there will be no opportunity to drive a wedge between the GVN and us; furthermore, if we hold to this tack, it seems likely that the other side will eventually begin discussing the military issues with us separate from the political Gordian knot. Whether this happens before our elections is open to question.

If and when such purely military discussions begin, the other side will probably demand as a ransom for our POW’s:

  • —Total withdrawal (as already defined).
  • —Cessation of all U.S. air and naval activities in Vietnam—and possibly in all of Indochina.
  • —Cessation of all aid to the GVN.

Our most logical response would be along the following lines:

  • —Withdrawal for POW releases.
  • —Cessation of air and naval activities for a cease-fire.
  • —Limitation of aid to the GVN for a monitored cessation of similar outside aid to North Vietnam. (We think ultimately Hanoi will cease its insistence on a curb in aid either because it proves unnegotiable or as a trade-off for our dropping the cease-fire.)

We believe the real crunch issue, if talks on military issues ever materialize, will be that they define cessation of our air activities as part of our withdrawal while we consider this an issue for discussion as terms of a cease-fire.

If the Communists become convinced that we can hold this position for a long time, they will finally begin making the kind of concessions which could lead to serious negotiations. For reasons given earlier in this memo, we believe we are not likely to reach this point before 1973.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1331, NSC Unfiled Material, 1972 [8 of 8]. Secret. Sent for information. Lord initialed for Negroponte.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 20.
  3. Document 8.
  4. The Seven Point proposal was made by Nguyen Thi Binh, head of the PRG delegation, on July 1, 1971. The first point required that the United States and its non-South Vietnamese allies withdraw their military forces from South Vietnam during a specified period while prisoners of war would be released simultaneously. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 226. For a discussion of the proposal from the Communist point of view, see Le Duc ThoKissinger Negotiations in Paris, pp. 176–177; for the American view, see Kissinger, The White House Years, p. 1024.
  5. Duong Van Minh, known as “Big Minh.”
  6. Gouvernement Royal d’Union Nationale du Kampuchea (Royal Government of the National Union of Kampuchea), 1970–1975, was a rebel organization in Cambodia controlled by Cambodian Communists. It was affiliated with the North Vietnamese and nominally headed by the deposed Cambodian ruler, Prince Norodom Sihanok.
  7. This communiqué, releasted on November 26, 1971, at the end of Premier Pham Van Dong’s visit to Beijing, demanded that the United States stop fighting in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos and cease aiding the non-Communist regimes in those countries. (“Hanoi Joins With Peking in Hard Line,” The New York Times, November 27, 1971, p. 3)
  8. The proposal was presented to the North Vietnamese on October 11, 1971, as the basis for a meeting between Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, which did not take place. Similar to the proposal Nixon made public on January 25, it had President Thieu resigning a month before an internationally supervised Presidential election. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VII, Vietnam, June 1970–January 1972, Document 269.