14. Editorial Note

The question of the captured and detained people—primarily those in South Vietnamese custody who belonged to or served the Viet Cong (Communist) infrastructure—was on the agenda for discussion in a special round of negotiations in Paris on October 17, 1972, between Henry A. Kissinger, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, and Xuan Thuy, Chief of the Delegation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to the Paris Peace Talks. An exchange of notes between the two parties on October 14 presented their relative positions prior to this negotiation.

The North Vietnamese note, transmitted in a backchannel message from Guay to Haig, October 14, 1152Z, argued along the following lines:

“During the latest private talks, the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam party has repeatedly stressed to the U.S. party the question of returning the civilian persons captured during the war.

“According to international law, all detained persons of all parties must be returned immediately after the cessation of hostilities. Moreover, considering the character of the war in South Viet Nam, the immediate return of civilian persons as well as the immediate return of military men after the cease-fire is an obligation that no party can refuse or delay.

“The Democratic Republic of Viet Nam party holds that in this question the United States party is defending a most wrongful position according to which one side may continue to detain civilian persons of the other side. This is illegal, unjust, inhuman.

“If the United States party does not have a serious attitude and make efforts to settle in a most correct manner the question of returning the persons of the parties captured during the war, the negotiations will meet with very great obstacles.

“The Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Viet Nam has informed the Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam of its resolute stand regarding this question. The Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Viet [Page 141] Nam has made it clear that it will return to the other side all the persons of the other side, military as well as civilian, captured and detained in South Viet Nam, and will also require the other side to return to it all its military and civilian people captured and detained by the other side.

“The Democratic Republic of Viet Nam party is of the view that the United States should evince a serious attitude and good will in this very important question.

“Special Adviser Le Duc Tho and Minister Xuan Thuy want to believe that Dr. Henry A. Kissinger will carry out his serious promise that the United States party will exert the greatest efforts to arrive at a most correct solution to this question.

“On its part, the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam party will do its utmost to rapidly bring the negotiations between the two sides to final results, and soon usher in a new era in the relations between the two countries.” (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])

The U.S. note, transmitted in a backchannel message from Haig to Guay, October 14, 1815Z, reads:

“With respect to the question of prisoners, the U.S. side recognizes that this issue is of great significance and involves the deepest feelings and will do its maximum to find a solution. As indicated by Dr. Kissinger, the U.S. side has been carefully studying this issue for a fresh approach in addition to the substantial changes already made in the U.S. position on this subject during the private meetings of October 8 through 12. Just as the DRV side has pointed out that it cannot take obligations with respect to some of its friends, so it is impossible for the U.S. side to go further than what it can reasonably state will be implemented before the agreement has even been discussed in Saigon. To show its good will and serious attitude and facilitate the conclusion of the negotiations the U.S. is prepared to add the following sentence to the end of paragraph (c) of Article 8 in the U.S. draft left with the DRV side on October 13.

“Quote: The two South Vietnamese parties will do this as soon as possible and do their utmost to resolve this question within three months after the ceasefire comes into effect. Unquote.

“In addition, the U.S. side will give the DRV side verbal assurances that it will exert its maximum efforts in Saigon to help bring about a resolution of this issue in the time period indicated and in the spirit set out in paragraph (c) of Article 8.

“The U.S. side wishes to point out that an acceptance by the DRV of the changes communicated to the DRV on October 13 and 14 is crucial if the agreed upon schedule is to be kept. The U.S. side wishes to [Page 142] reiterate that it will approach the meeting on October 17 with the firm intention of completing a final text so that the visit to Hanoi can concentrate on the new era of bilateral relations. The U.S. side therefore hopes that the DRV side will show an understanding and forthcoming attitude as well.” (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 110, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, US–DRV Exchanges, October 1972– January 1973)