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

Hakto 44. 1. Today’s meeting2 continued the pattern of the last three days, albeit in more ludicrous and insolent form. Prior to my ses-

sion [Page 621] with Tho, the experts met at 9 o’clock ostensibly to reaffirm the texts which had been conformed yesterday except for two remaining issues. In the guise of technical changes, they introduced half a dozen modifications. They reopened Article 7 by proposing the deletion of the word “destroyed”, allegedly on linguistic grounds. They started a new effort to weaken Article 20(a) concerning Laos and Cambodia. They wanted to delete all but one reference to the Republic of Vietnam in the text, which in fact is acceptable since the name only comes up in invidious references concerning our side’s obligations. They maintained mention of the PRG in Article 17.

2. We then had our meeting starting at 10:30 and lasting until 4:30 including a one-and-a-half hour lunch break during which I talked privately to Tho. The period before lunch consisted of the most banal discussions concerning their new issues in the text. We spent an hour on the metaphysical issue of whether something could be destroyed without being damaged and spent another hour on the virtues of the future versus present tense in Article 20(a). All of this was designed obviously to waste time but whereas there had been some subtlety earlier in this round, the tactic was now transparent and arrogant. After two hours of this, during which I made clear that I knew what they were up to, we once again got back fairly close to where we had started out. For the record, however, they still reserved on the word “destroy” in Article 7 and in Article 20(a) they are still trying to make a change in nuance by substituting the phrase “which recognize” for the clause “and shall strictly respect” in the fourth line. This would, of course, have the effect of highlighting the obligations with respect to internal structure as opposed to the external obligations of non-interference of the Geneva Agreement.

3. We then had a lengthy lunch break. I ate separately with Le Duc Tho and drew upon the President’s message.3 He gave me a long song and dance about Hanoi’s keeping him on a tight leash and overruling various deals he had made with me. He indicated no give on either of the two major outstanding questions, the DMZ and the signing procedure. As I have already indicated, however, I am sure that if we had caved on these two he would have hung us up on other issues, probably via the understandings. He made clear today that the agreement could not be considered completed unless all the understandings and the protocols were also agreed upon. This is, of course, a completely different tack than the one they took when they were driving for a settlement in October.

4. After lunch Tho took his daily run at an understanding on Article 5; and both an understanding on Article 8(c) and shortening the [Page 622] period in the agreement to two months. We then discussed protocols for the first time, their having given their texts on the ICCS and the four-party/two-party commissions the evening before. They also gave us a protocol today on removing mines which doesn’t look too bad, and promised one on prisoners tomorrow morning.

Their ICCS and military commission protocols are outrageous and I formalized our objections of major principle. Predictably they wish to make international supervision so ineffective as to make it impossible to ask a self-respecting country to participate, while giving extensive powers to the military commissions, especially the two-party one, so as to give the Vietcong a country-wide presence and right of intervention. The ICCS paper reopens all kinds of political issues such as giving the National Council and lower level councils a significant role in supervising the ceasefire. It injects many other political elements, such as using Communist terminology and area designations to describe the regions in South Vietnam; unnecessary repetition of the PRG’s title; and refering to Cua Viet as a point of entry, thus implying the DMZ has moved southward. As for the functions of the ICCS itself, it would be largely paralyzed by stipulating numerous liaison officials from the parties; making investigations conditional on the concerned party’s agreement; making the commission dependent for its communications and transportation upon the party in whose area the commission is operating, etc. They propose a total of 250 members for the entire commission, compared to our 5000, and inadequately distribute teams around the country. Furthermore the parties would agree on the location and activities of the teams; the ICCS is not authorized to submit separate or dissenting reports; and no link is established with the international conference.

5. The military commissions would be as strong as the ICCS is weak. Their basic approach to the ceasefire is to define areas of control, rather than identifying and locating military units as we propose. The almost hopeless function of agreeing on areas of territorial control is given to the two-party commission. There would be a total standstill, including flights by combat aircraft or movement by ships. It gives wide scope to meddling for the joint commissions around the country and provides for investigations at the request of any one of the parties. There are also some pejorative political references. The sum total would be to legitimize Vietcong interference down to the district level without any effective restrictions on investigations. After my presentation essentially on our objections to the ICCS protocol, Tho admitted that he had never even read his own drafts. He agreed that the deputies should take up the protocols, and suggested that they also discuss the remaining issues in the text of the agreement as well as the understandings. I emphasized the priority of the protocols, and they will start [Page 623] meeting Friday on a daily basis. It is obvious that unless they get serious, it should prove impossible to negotiate meaningful protocols. However, these ridiculous texts undoubtedly reflect their present mood, and if that mood changes their initial drafts might prove to be ploys.

7 [6]. We ended up with closing statements. I said that an agreement is easily achieveable with good will, but I underlined the growing impatience in Washington and the growing conviction that Hanoi did not now want peace. I emphasized our continued readiness to make an early agreement, while pointing out that if the opportunities are not seized when they exist they can be overtaken by events. I said I hoped that we would soon be able to complete the efforts made since October. I confirmed the work schedule here, the fact that we would be in touch with each other by message after Tho returns to Hanoi on Monday,4 and our common press line which I gave you on the phone. My closing remarks came against the background of my repeated expression of annoyance over their tactics and warnings on the restless mood in Washington. Tho concluded on the same conciliatory note that is now a staple of his current approach saying he was sure that peace was near but indicating that it would take at least fifteen days for him to be able to return.

He repeated his litany that both sides need to make efforts which could then solve the few remaining questions which were not great. With good will he was confident that these could be resolved. He again suggested that he was returning to Hanoi to convince his government to give him more reasonable instructions, saying there was no other way to reach agreement since he had made his utmost efforts. He offered the option of fixing now a date for the next meeting which I ignored.

I replied bluntly that we now had serious questions about North Vietnamese sincerity, and I described their tactics this week, saying I would never again come to Paris for more than two days. The crucial element of confidence was fast being jeopardized, and we both now had important decisions to make between peace and prolonged conflict with an uncertain outcome. I again reminded him that this would be the last time we would try to negotiate a comprehensive agreement. I closed by saying that we had chosen peace and would see in the next weeks whether the process could be completed. Tho’s departure maintained his recent cordiality, which had been underlined at the outset of meeting by gifts to me from the Minister and him.

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5 [7]. Where then does this leave us? I explained our basic dilemma yesterday.5 Hanoi is almost disdainful of us because we have no effective leverage left, while Saigon in its short-sighted devices to sabotage the agreement knocks out from under us our few remaining props. Thieu’s ceasefire offer could further complicate the situation, because if Hanoi accepts it we will have stopped bombing north of the 20th parallel in pursuit of our peace effort while Thieu would have forced us to stop everywhere else to sabotage it. We will soon have no means of leverage at all while pressures will build up domestically if we fail to reach an agreement or get our prisoners back. We will neither get an agreement nor be able to preserve Saigon.

6 [8]. We now have two essential strategic choices. The first one is to turn hard on Hanoi and increase pressure enormously through bombing and other means. This would include measures like reseeding the mines, massive two-day strikes against the power plants over this weekend, and a couple of B–52 efforts. This would make clear that they paid something for these past ten days. Concurrently we would try to line up Saigon and at least prevent Thieu from making further unilateral proposals. Pressures on Saigon would be essential so that Thieu does not think he has faced us down, and we can demonstrate that we will not put up with our ally’s intransigence any more than we will do so with our enemy.

The second course is to maintain present appearances by scheduling another meeting with Le Duc Tho in early January. This would test the extremely unlikely hypothesis that Tho might get new instructions. If we were once again stonewalled, we would then turn hard on Hanoi. We would give up the current effort, blaming both Vietnamese parties but placing the major onus on Hanoi. We would offer a bilateral deal of withdrawal and an end of bombing for prisoners. Under this course as well we would have to move on Saigon, to bring Thieu aboard in the event of an agreement in January or in the likely event of failure, to lay the basis for going the bilateral route.

7 [9]. Thus in any event a mission after this weekend to Saigon seems essential to me, and I don’t understand the hesitation about the Vice President’s trip. We must show continued motion on the negotiating front. If the Vice President’s trip succeeds we will at least have some freedom of maneuver to move after the next round to a negotiated settlement. If it fails, we have a basis for disassociation from Thieu, since if these negotiations break down we may well wish to seek a bilateral deal as quickly as possible.

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8 [10]. A final comment about the Reston column which I, of course, have not yet seen.6 Every journal in the country has been speculating on a high level mission to Saigon after this Paris round, so he hardly broke new ground. Secondly, I purposely gave him some feel for the negotiating situation so as to get him on our side this week, thus making it difficult for him to attack us next week if the talks break up and tough action is required. I fail to understand the objections to my trying to build up capital for the hard decisions that must now be made in Washington.

9 [11]. 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.
  2. A memorandum of conversation of the meeting, December 13, 10:30 a.m.–4:24 p.m., is ibid., Box 865, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Camp David Memcons, December 1972 [1 of 3].
  3. Contained in Document 167.
  4. December 18.
  5. In Hakto 41, Document 163.
  6. See footnote 4, Document 170.