117. Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1

Hakto 18. Please pass the following progress report from Henry to the President.

Begin report.

Today’s meeting started at 2:30 p.m. and lasted until 6:30 p.m.2 At the outset of the session I touched upon each of the positions outlined by Le Duc Tho at yesterday’s session. We dropped several of our less important changes, calling concessions what actually amounted to returning to previously agreed upon language in the October draft. I stayed firm on the political section, the troops in the South issue, withdrawal of U.S. civilian personnel, South Vietnamese civilian prisoners, and Laos and Cambodia. I deferred our definitive position on the status of the DMZ, on which they had moved part way yesterday.
At the outset of the meeting we found the North Vietnamese delegation to be serious, restrained and far less friendly than they had been in the first two sessions. At the conclusion of my presentation Le Duc Tho was obviously unable to comment due to his lack of specific instructions from the Politburo. He therefore launched a strong attack on the substance of the remaining U.S. positions, charging that we had conceded on technical matters while holding firm on matters of grave principle to them. There were moments during his presentation which were reminiscent of pre-October North Vietnamese speeches which presaged a break-off of the talks. He indicated that we should do all or most of the further moving if there was to be an agreement.
I responded firmly, saying that we were not asking Hanoi to abandon principles but rather to elaborate more fully on principles they had already agreed to. I noted that you were making an exceptional effort in search of peace at a time when you had a strong mandate from the American people which removed any restrictions on your course of action. I pointed out that I had just made a series of moves which he could not simply bank but had to respond to. The message was not lost. Le Duc Tho quickly moderated his exposition and stated that he had not had sufficient time to study the detailed proposals [Page 430] I made today. He urged that both sides make a great effort to reach compromises on the remaining points at the next meeting. Throughout his presentations Le Duc Tho placed great stress on the difficulties our failure to meet the earlier schedule had posed for them, as well as him personally, and the great difficulties that the remaining issue represented for Hanoi.
We are meeting again with the South Vietnamese tonight to bring them abreast of today’s proceedings.4 We are scheduled to meet with the North Vietnamese at 10:30 in the morning, at which time I anticipate some of the hardest bargaining we have yet encountered. Despite Hanoi’s reduced flexibility, however, it is still evident that they are anxious to settle and the sooner the better. End of report.
Prior to today’s session I met with the South Vietnamese Ambassadorial contingent here in Paris3 and again reiterated what Haig told them last night, urging them to come to grips with the drastic consequences for the GVN of our failure to arrive at a settlement; pointing out your determination to proceed; stressing the unacceptability of continued criticism from Saigon; and underlining the need for us to work together.
  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. XXI (2). Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent via Haig and Kennedy.
  2. A memorandum of conversation, which this message summarizes, plus attachments, is ibid., Box 858, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXI, Minutes of Meetings.
  3. A 9-page transcript of the meeting, November 22, 7:54–8:48 p.m., is ibid.
  4. A memorandum of conversation of the meeting, November 22, 12:47–1:15 p.m., is ibid., Vol. XXI, Briefings of South Vietnamese.