156. Message From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig)1

Hakto 35. 1. We had a four hour session this afternoon composed of equal parts of insolence, guile and stalling by the North Vietnamese.2 Le Duc Tho started the meeting in a seemingly dejected mood, claiming he had no instructions from Hanoi on the DMZ question and expected them the next morning. He said in the meantime he was prepared to discuss other subjects, specifically the means of signing the agreement, the understandings associated with the agreement on both sides, and a few outstanding questions on the text.

2. We then discussed the signing question. In the experts’ meeting yesterday3 we had given them the final article which made clear that the two South Vietnamese parties would sign letters of adherence to the agreement rather than the agreement itself. Le Duc Tho rejected this. He agreed that the agreement could be a two-power one with the two South Vietnamese parties acting in concert with the principals, but he insisted that the agreement be signed by all four parties. There followed a two-hour discussion which he conducted with little spirit but great tenacity. The only other noteworthy element before the break was Tho’s claim that he was in trouble with Hanoi because of his views on the DMZ. I launched into a tough, exasperated statement. I explained why four-party signing was unacceptable if they wanted a rapid agreement and pointed out again that their tactic was obviously to overload the circuit in Saigon to the maximum extent. I underlined the obvious lack of progress this week, and their consistent approach of selling the same concessions repeatedly and raising new issues at the outset of every meeting. I said that there was increasing irritation and impatience in Washington, underlined the impropriety of keeping the Vice President waiting, and stated that I had to leave tomorrow night regardless.

3. During the break Tho sent one of his people to me to say that he wished to stop at 6 o’clock, i.e. in 45 minutes, because he was not [Page 560] feeling well. After the break Tho again raised Article 5 concerning the withdrawal of U.S. civilians in the guise of discussing understandings between the two sides. Recalling that he had agreed on Saturday to drop this provision from the agreement, he then recalled that he had said that there should be an understanding incorporating their views, i.e. that all relevant civilians should be withdrawn within 6 months. I pointed out that his so-called great concession of Saturday, in return for our changing Article 1 and leaving Article 4 alone, was to put in the form of an understanding what had been dropped from the agreement, both being equally binding. After a half hour exchange on this subject, during which he repeatedly invited me to horsetrade on the time period, he offered to split the difference. Thus he has gone to 10½ months and I suppose we could get one year. Please let me know on an urgent basis if we could live with a one year timetable in an understanding, if this were the only issue holding up an agreement.

4. We then discussed other understandings outside the agreement. Le Duc Tho presented a list which essentially corresponded to what they gave us on October 17, though given their tactics we cannot be at all sure that we heard his complete list. In addition to civilian withdrawals, he proposed as a new understanding that the U.S. and DRV make efforts to see that the National Council is set up by the two South Vietnamese parties within 3 months. He recalled that we already had understandings on U.S. reconnaissance activities, aircraft carriers, Laos and Cambodia, and our helping to prevent massacres in South Vietnamese jails, but he presented no texts. He also asserted that the President had affirmed the undertakings I made on October 17 to Le Duc Tho concerning our efforts to get South Vietnamese civilian prisoners released; I made clear that the President had never done this but that I was prepared to discuss again an understanding. He refused to discuss an understanding regarding demobilization. On Laos, he reaffirmed that they will shorten the ceasefire period if we give them an understanding on the NCNR. He also said we owed them an understanding on reconstruction.

Tho completely refused to discuss the protocols, claiming they had not finished their work yet.

5. At the end of the meeting I pointed out the enormous amount of work left. We agreed to have Porter/Sullivan meet with Xuan Thuy and the Vice Minister to go over all the understandings and to have the experts continue conforming the texts, both meeting at 10 a.m. There would then be a final meeting between Tho and myself in the afternoon to finish off the substantive issues, including any left from the morning meeting.

6. It is not impossible that we could conclude the agreement tomorrow, but nothing in their behavior suggests any urgency and much [Page 561] in their manner suggests cock-sure insolence. They could, of course, be without instructions, and may in any event want to play with us until the last minute. The amount of work left for tomorrow is staggering and could make for a sloppy conclusion, which is precisely one of their favorite tactics. I believe in any event that I should return home tomorrow night. I think the Vice President should not leave until Wednesday night regardless, since it is undignified his being so dependent on Hanoi’s decisions. We can always bend the rest of the schedule.

7. All of this may prove academic, however, since we must face other facts. It is obvious that an agreement was easily achieveable on any day since last Thursday.4 Hanoi may well have concluded that we have been outmaneuvered and dare not continue the war because of domestic and international expectations. They may believe that Saigon and we have hopelessly split and that the imminence of Christmas makes it impossible for us to renew bombing the North. If this is the case we will face a decision of major magnitude. I believe a total collapse by us now would make an agreement unenforceable. The President must also understand that an agreement at this point and under conditions that led to the collapse of South Vietnam would have grave consequences for his historic position later.

8. You should therefore consider once again the course you and I discussed yesterday.5 If necessary I would carry the public side of it, and associated events would take me out of the line of fire. No matter what happens tomorrow I will not repeat not break off the negotiations, but rather we could take the line that the two sides are close enough to continue work through diplomatic channels.6

Warm regards.

End message.

  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.
  2. A memorandum of conversation of the meeting, December 11, 3:10–7:15 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. Kissinger later described this meeting as follows: “The experts’ meeting … had gone reasonably well, though it took seven hours to conform texts that had already been agreed half a dozen times.” (White House Years, p. 1438)
  4. December 7.
  5. See Document 155.
  6. On the evening of December 11, Kissinger briefed senior South Vietnamese officials on the day’s session with Le Duc Tho. A memorandum of conversation of the meeting is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 104, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, South Vietnam, GVN Memcons, November 20, 1972–April 3, 1973 [2 of 3].