151. Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1

Hakto 25. Please pass the following report to the President immediately.

Begin text:

We held a brutal four-and-a-half hour session this afternoon with the North Vietnamese.2 I began by reiterating the minimum position that I outlined to you and we presented yesterday. Tho’s rejoinder was very harsh, and he pointed out that all my “concessions” these past two weeks were in reality only a withdrawal of changes we were requesting. Comment: He is of course right. End comment. He stuck by his [Page 544] positions and underlined his absolute requirement to get the PRG mentioned in the preamble.

After a break, I told Tho that I would agree to mention of the PRG in the preamble if he would respond to our needs on the DMZ. These were to maintain last week’s change specifying respect for the DMZ; dropping his proposed change which would call the status of the DMZ into question; and add “respect for each other’s territory” (which would help us greatly with the GVN). Tho was adamant on the DMZ but in exchange for mention of the PRG he agreed to drop the phrase “administrative structure” altogether.

He then raised again his demand for a total withdrawal of American civilians working with the Vietnamese armed forces which would have the practical effect of paralyzing the whole military machine. I sharply refused this demand and launched into a long statement which said that he was jeopardizing chances for an agreement and that tomorrow was our last day. I did this because I am now quite convinced that he will go quite far tomorrow in order to get a settlement. At the end of the meeting Tho said that if we would restore the original Article 1 which states that the U.S. should respect the independence etc. of Vietnam rather than all foreign countries doing so, he would make other major concessions in return.

I believe today’s swap was a major gain for us. In the October agreement the PRG was mentioned by title in several chapters as well as the preamble. Thus by agreeing today to mention it only in the preamble, we were in effect not making a concession but pocketing one of theirs. In return, he dropped the phrase “administrative structure” which is even better than the change in translation which we had requested since Thieu had objected not only to the translation of “administrative” but to the word “structure” which implied something very elaborate. Saigon will be very unhappy about mention of the PRG even once, but for the above reasons today was a major gain for the GVN as well as us.
Tomorrow I may be able to trade restoration of Article 1 for more concessions out of them. You should be aware, however, of the text of the original Article 1 which reads as follows: Begin text: “The United States shall respect the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Vietnam as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Vietnam.” End text. Hanoi will probably use this article to claim they won the war. On the other hand, it was always in the text that we were prepared to sign in October; no one objected to it in our bureaucracy; and it reflects many of our public statements. Even if we restore the article the North Vietnamese are only getting back what they always had in the agreement.
I would appreciate your approval of the basic trade I plan to make tomorrow, giving them the original Article 1 in exchange for meaningful concessions in the DMZ and/or demobilization articles. I believe it would be well worthwhile to agree a second time on this less satisfying phrasing in exchange for meaningful concessions in an area of importance to the GVN.
It promises to be a very tough session. It is very possible that they will resort to their familiar opening gambit of reintroducing some of their demands or withdrawing many of the concessions. We will continue to stick to our minimum demands.3
Warm regards.

End message.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 27, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Hakto and Memos to Pres., etc., December 3–13, 1972. Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent via Haig, Guay, and Kennedy. Another copy of this message, typed for President Nixon’s reading, bears the stamped notation: “The President has seen.” (Ibid.)
  2. The memorandum of conversation of the meeting, December 8, 3:05–7:20 p.m., is ibid., Box 865, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David Memcons, December 1972 [2 of 3]. Kennedy called Nixon at 7 p.m. to tell him that this message had just arrived. During the conversation Kennedy said: “He [Kissinger] said he was really tough today. They were—he characterizes it as brutal, and I’m sure it probably was,” to which Nixon replied: “Brutal, that’s the term he always uses (laughter).” Kennedy then observed: “I suspect this fellow Tho is brutal.” Nixon responded: “Yeah, but Henry is brutal too.” (Ibid., Box 998, Alexander M. Haig Chronological Files, Haig Telcons, 1972 (1 of 2).
  3. On the evening of December 8 at South Vietnam’s Embassy residence, Kissinger briefed senior South Vietnamese officials about his meeting with Le Duc Tho. A memorandum of conversation of the meeting, with one attachment, is ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 104, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, South Vietnam, GVN Memcons, November 20, 1972–April 3, 1973 [2 of 3].