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

Hakto 31. Please deliver the following report as soon as possible to the President.

We met with the DRV for 3½ hours today.2 I opened the meeting pointing out the seriousness of where we stood and said that because we were at a crucial point you had decided to prove that you had done everything possible to bring peace. Therefore we were accepting a modified version of the old Article 1, to the effect that “the United [Page 546] States and all countries respect the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Vietnam”. This language, which Le Duc Tho had proposed, represents some improvement over the previous language (“the United States respects …”) by no longer singling out the United States for special opprobrium. In conjunction with accepting this, however, I insisted—for bargaining purposes—that Article 4 be dropped (“the United States will not continue its military involvement or interfere in the internal affairs of South Vietnam”). I also accepted their proposed compromise language that the demobilization should be agreed to between the two South Vietnamese parties “as soon as possible”. (The current draft gives no time frame. The GVN in fact strongly prefers “as soon as possible”.)
Le Duc Tho then launched into a lengthy statement. He insisted on the retention of Article 4 and again demanded the withdrawal of all American civilian personnel assisting South Vietnamese military services, which would have the practical effect of paralyzing the South Vietnamese Air Force. He reopened once again the issue of civilian detainees in South Vietnam. He came up with a new formulation on negotiations over the DMZ, which still would have the practical effect of calling the existence of the DMZ into question.
I replied very sharply and said that these new issues he raised were unacceptable. I emphasized again that we were at a critical point and we would soon find out whether a solution was possible. I pointed out that the issues we were raising were in their own interest: only if these minimum requirements were met could the President undertake the very difficult effort which would then be required to implement the agreement. But the DRV side, instead of addressing these concerns, was continually reopening issues that we thought had been settled before and was trying to make us pay a second and third time for concessions they had already made. They were pocketing concessions we had made but were not helping us at all to solve the basic problem.
We then took a break. During the break Le Duc Tho took me aside and suggested that if I could start the next phase of the meeting with a concession, he would make a big concession. I thereupon at the meeting offered to drop our demand for the deletion of Article 4, and in return he agreed that American civilian personnel could continue to service complex military equipment in South Vietnam. (This is a matter of the greatest importance. We sneaked it by him in October without his understanding it. We have a good record this week now establishing that no such prohibition is part of the agreement.)
We then settled all the other remaining issues, except for the DMZ. On that issue he stated with some conviction that on the language he had agreed to in November (“North and South Vietnam shall respect the DMZ”), he had been overruled by Hanoi. I suspect this may [Page 547] be true. My view is as follows: I do not honestly believe we can go to Saigon with anything that weakens what we now have on the DMZ (“North and South Vietnam shall respect the DMZ”). Therefore, difficult as it may be, I recommend that we hold firm on this.
If we can hold the line at this point, we will have accomplished the following since October:
  • —Deletion of the phrase “administrative structure”, which removes any remaining ambiguity about the fact that the National Council is not a government.
  • —The sentence obligating both North and South Vietnam to respect the DMZ.
  • —Greatly strengthened provisions on Laos and Cambodia including the obligation to respect the Geneva Agreements.
  • —Deletion of the reference to “three” Indochinese countries, a usage to which the GVN strongly objected.
  • —A ceasefire in Laos closer to simultaneity with the one in Vietnam.
  • —An improved military replacements provision, which gives greater assurance that we can continue to provide all the military aid needed by Saigon under ceasefire conditions.
  • —Other less important changes which improve the tone or precision of the document.
  • —In addition to these improvements in the text, the last several weeks have given Thieu a billion dollars in military aid and considerable time to make preparations for the ceasefire, have disrupted enemy military plans geared to a late-October agreement, and have shown both Hanoi and Saigon that we go to bat for our allies. We have also insured that at least some of the international control machinery will be in place at the time of the ceasefire.
  • —Thus our requirements I indicated publicly on October 263 have been essentially met. In exchange for this, our only “concessions” have been to drop other changes we were requesting in an agreed text which Hanoi considered sacrosanct to start with.
This will be no mean achievement, considering we had no chips to play with. It will justify the delay since October in signing the agreement. On the other hand, if we lose the principle of respect for the DMZ after having raised it, we would have legitimized not only the de facto remaining of the NVA in the South but also their constant reintervention. This we cannot possibly do.
At the end of the meeting Le Duc Tho indicated that his blood pressure was high and he was not feeling well. Considering his age, the events of the past week, and his visible discomfort, this seems plausible. Therefore at his suggestion we agreed to adjourn until Monday.4 I suspect he will also be seeking new instructions in the interval. On Sunday technical experts from the two sides will meet to compare the texts as they stand. On Monday, assuming we reach agreement on the outstanding point, we will then take up the unilateral understandings connected with the agreement. On Tuesday I will spend some time on the protocols setting up the control machinery.
I have asked Al Haig to return to Washington tonight. He will brief you more fully at your convenience. I feel it is imperative that Haig return to Washington now, since there is nothing more he can do here at this time with only one issue remaining. If the negotiations succeed, his return to consult with you will confirm your tight control over the negotiations. If they fail it will emphasize that we acted as we did after full consideration of the choices. Haig’s return will also facilitate our meeting what is now becoming a very tight schedule if we are to make an announcement before Christmas.
Furthermore his return was used at the table today to underscore the importance of the remaining issue and the seriousness with which we view it. The public announcement of his return will undoubtedly reinforce this in Hanoi. Finally I think Haig should see Dobrynin tomorrow to elicit their maximum help on the remaining issue, which as indicated above will be crucial.5

Warm regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 858, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XXII (2). Top Secret; Flash; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent via Guay and Kennedy. A note indicates the message was sent to the President at Camp David, and a retyped copy of the message bears this stamped notation: “The President has seen.” (Ibid., Kissinger Office Files, Box 27, HAK Trip Files, HAK Paris Trip Hakto and Memos to Pres., etc., December 3–13, 1972)
  2. A memorandum of conversation of the meeting, December 9, 3–6:30 p.m., is ibid., Box 865, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David Memcons, December 1972 [2 of 3].
  3. See Document 73.
  4. December 11.
  5. On the evening of December 9, at South Vietnam’s Embassy residence, Kissinger briefed senior South Vietnamese officials on his meeting with Le Duc Tho. A memorandum of conversation of the meeting 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].