10. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Xuan Thuy, Minister, Chief North Vietnamese Delegate to the Paris Peace Talks
  • Mr. Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
  • Mr. Thai, Notetaker
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff Member

[There were some opening pleasantries as the Minister noted that Mr. Lord had met for 10 hours with the North Vietnamese the previous evening.]

Mr. Lord: I want to thank the Minister for seeing me, and on such short notice.

Last night, after meeting with the North Vietnamese side I returned home and found that an important message had arrived. The Minister will recall that Dr. Kissinger said that he would review the draft agreement with the President immediately upon return to Washington. He said that we would let the Democratic Republic of Vietnam side know within 48 hours of the President’s reaction and any changes that the President considered essential.

I have a message which says the President has reviewed the agreement. He is pleased with it.

[Page 130]

The message reads as follows: [taking out the message at Tab A and reading from it]:2 “The President accepts the basic draft for an ‘agreement on ending the war and restoring peace in Vietnam’ except for some technical issues to be discussed between Minister Xuan Thuy and Dr. Kissinger on October 17, and subject to the following substantive changes without which the U.S. side cannot accept the document.”

This message then specifies the changes which the President considers essential and the reasons for them. They will be clear from the text which I left with your representatives last night.

The message then closes as follows: “Dr. Kissinger looks forward to his meeting with Minister Xuan Thuy on October 17 and wishes to reiterate the U.S. view that this document will usher in an era of mutually beneficial relationships between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the United States.”

Dr. Kissinger also told me to tell you that he looks forward to meeting with you on the 17th and will approach the meeting with the attitude of completing our work.

[The interpreter then read the entire message in Vietnamese to the Minister who proceeded to ask him some questions. The interpreter then read most of the message again and there was discussion among the Vietnamese. This process took 10–15 minutes.]

Minister Xuan Thuy: This is a proposal of the United States?

Mr. Lord: This is a message from the President which says what changes he considers essential in the agreement which he finds otherwise acceptable.

Minister Xuan Thuy: In the course of the discussions, the Special Advisor told Dr. Kissinger that the agreements reached at the meeting should not be changed. The work done yesterday among the experts is to compare the text of a draft agreement to be accepted between the two drafts. Before leaving Dr. Kissinger said he was almost certain that the agreement would be accepted by President Nixon and if there would be changes, they would be technical changes, for example, grammatical changes, etc. As to adding new proposals or retracting them, that is [Page 131] something else. Because if now new things are added and agreed things are withdrawn, and if we report this to Hanoi and Hanoi does the same things of adding and withdrawing things agreed, then the agreements would not exist or at least this would create new difficulties for our negotiations.

This is my comment. As to the message you just handed to us, I shall show it to Mr. Le Duc Tho, because Mr. Le Duc Tho is leaving this afternoon. We still have some time to make comment on this.

Secondly, we have to review the document that you compared with our people last night. We have not yet had time to see it.

Mr. Lord: That is in order to understand the changes in our message?

Minister Xuan Thuy: We have to carefully review the draft agreement.

Mr. Lord: Dr. Kissinger and the President would have to do so as well.

Minister Xuan Thuy: In my view, what was agreed upon in the past few days should not be raised again at the forthcoming meeting. The other day we summed up and pointed out outstanding problems that would be discussed at the next meeting. I am also looking forward to meeting with Dr. Kissinger on October 17 and wish to complete the agreement and reach a settlement on the outstanding questions. But what is important is that the two sides should endeavor to find wording or formulations acceptable to the other side.

The Special Advisor, Le Duc Tho, told Dr. Kissinger that besides the written agreements, there are statements. Among these statements there are some written down and other statements which are only oral understandings. There are also other oral statements in the discussions, that is only oral statements but on which an exchange of views has not taken place.

You understand what I mean? Besides the agreement, there are three kinds of statements. First, those statements written down from memory. We shall give you these papers. You have also given us such written statements. The second kind are oral statements for understanding between the two sides that are not written down. The third kind of statements are those that are just made during the discussion but there is not yet an exchange of views on that.

[There was some discussion among the Vietnamese. The Minister then handed over the statement on Laos at Tab B in both English and Vietnamese.]3

Minister Xuan Thuy: This is one of the kind of statements that the Special Advisor told Dr. Kissinger on the question of Laos.

[Page 132]

[Mr. Lord read the statement.]

As to Mr. Le Duc Tho’s statement on Cambodia, it is a verbal statement to Dr. Kissinger, but it should not be written.

As to the question on the release of prisoners, the last few days this is a question which needs further discussion.

Mr. Lord: Thank you. I will report this immediately to Dr. Kissinger, and there will be further discussions on October 17. With regard to statements, I gave three over to your side last night. I don’t know whether the first one [Laos] is exactly like ours.

Mr. Phuong: There is an English translation.

Mr. Lord: I don’t have mine with me.

Minister Xuan Thuy: It is exactly the same. Let me explain the question of Cambodia. The question of Cambodia is a complicated and delicate question. The U.S. side should not give us any written document on this question. Nor our side—we should not give the U.S. side any written document on the question of Cambodia.

Mr. Lord: I will report this to Dr. Kissinger and it can all be discussed on October 17. I have no authority to discuss such matters.

With regard to prisoners of war. I understand this is not yet settled and is one of the outstanding issues. Our document was to make clear our position that we dropped the phrase “throughout Indochina” on the basis of assurances that the Special Advisor made concerning prisoners held outside of Vietnam.

With respect to the message of this morning, Dr. Kissinger said that he has great authority, but not complete authority. He had to report to the President. He said he was confident that he would find the agreement acceptable and the message says this, subject to technical discussions and a few changes which the President considers essential.

Mr. Xuan Thuy: Is that all?

Mr. Lord: Yes.

Minister Xuan Thuy: I understand.

[Mr. Lord was about to thank the Minister and leave when the Minister after a slight pause decided to resume the conversation.]

Minister Xuan Thuy: I have listened to the explanation on the message you gave us this morning. I shall show this to Mr. Le Duc Tho before he leaves. I would like to reiterate that what agreements were reached the other day should not be changed and those questions not agreed the other day will be discussed on October 17. Only in this way, can we rapidly settle the problem.

Are you going to Hanoi?

Mr. Lord: Yes.

Minister Xuan Thuy: You will see how our people desire friendly relations with all countries, with the United States. And when you meet [Page 133] our leaders you will see that we would like to settle the problem of Vietnam so as to establish good relations with the United States in the coming period.

Also I would like to let you know that when we left the meeting on October 11, and returned to our lodging, there was lying on my table already a number of messages from Hanoi, a great many messages reflecting the indignation of our people because the U.S. is bombing Hanoi. But yesterday night we received again many other messages reflecting our opposition to Secretary Laird’s statement. Because Secretary Laird said the U.S. would continue bombing against Hanoi while the negotiations were going on.4 And the American military leaders in Saigon said the French Delegation General building was destroyed not by U.S. bombing but by warheads from the missiles of the DRV. We cannot for the time being express to the peoples in our country, in Hanoi about the explanations given by Dr. Kissinger that he did not know about the bombing of Hanoi and that he apologized for that. It is understandable.

Mr. Lord: Dr. Kissinger addressed the bombing question, both the specific incident for which he apologized and the policy over the next weeks on bombing. Dr. Kissinger, of course, has the full backing of the President and speaks for him. I have not seen the Laird statement and cannot comment on it. But whatever Dr. Kissinger says is, and will be, United States policy.

As for the trip to Hanoi, I look forward to it, as do all the party. As Dr. Kissinger expressed, like Minister Xuan Thuy, we look forward to a new era of relations and friendship between our two people.

Minister Xuan Thuy: What I told you this for is, as you know, I am the head of the negotiating delegation here. Therefore people sent me messages on whatever happened.

So we will meet again October 17. We agree to at 10:30.

Mr. Lord: At the same place?

Minister Xuan Thuy: Yes.

Mr. Lord: With regard to the message, I made my position clear. The Minister made his position clear. I will report this conversation and there will be further discussion on October 17.5

[Page 134]

Thank you again for seeing me this morning.

[There were then friendly goodbyes.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 857, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XX [2 of 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at an unnamed North Vietnamese rendezvous location in Paris. All brackets are in the original.
  2. Tab A is attached but not printed. In addition to informing the North Vietnamese of Nixon’s conditional acceptance of the draft agreement, the October 12 message specified in detail the four changes the United States deemed necessary: (1) that the sentence that required post-settlement military aid to South Vietnam to be controlled by the government created by the first general election be deleted; (2) that neither South Vietnamese party—Thieu’s Republic of Vietnam or the Viet Cong’s People’s Revolutionary Government, or PRG—would accept the introduction of troops, military advisers, and/or war matériel into South Vietnam after hostilities ended; (3) that in the post-hostilities era, offices for which elections would be held would be determined by consultation between the Republic of Vietnam and the PRG; and (4) that until definitive post-settlement action created a new government for South Vietnam, Thieu’s government and the PRG would continue to administer the areas they controlled.
  3. Not attached.
  4. Laird made the statement during a news conference on October 11. See “Laird Assails McGovern Peace Plan,” The Washington Post, October 12, 1972, p. A15.
  5. In a message dated October 13, 1246Z, sent via Guay and Haig, Lord reported to Kissinger: “My view is that his [Xuan Thuy’s]reaction was quite predictable and we came out satisfactorily.” Additionally, “He not only said he understood what I was saying, but gave us the agreed Laos paper, reciprocated your positive oral comments, and remained very friendly.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 119, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, White House File, Col. Guay’s File—Paris, October 1972) The North Vietnamese replied on October 14; see footnote 6, Document 16.