182. Editorial Note

At President Richard M. Nixon’s direction, President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry A. Kissinger held a press conference on Saturday, December 16, 1972, at 11:45 a.m. “The aim of my briefing as I conceived it,” Kissinger later wrote, “was to place the blame [for the stalled negotiations] where it belonged—on Hanoi—and again to leave no doubt in Saigon of our determination to conclude the agreement.” (White House Years, page 1451)

To this end, his remarks prior to the question-and-answer session focused on the peace he thought he had negotiated in October, what had happened since, and what the United States should do now. The part most relevant to his avowed aim occurred toward the end of his statement:

“The major difficulty that we now face is that provisions that were settled in the agreement appear again in a different form in the protocols; that matters of technical implementation which were implicit in the agreement from the beginning have not been addressed and were not presented to us until the very last day [December 13] of a series of sessions that had been specifically designed to discuss them; and that as soon as one issue was settled, a new issue was raised.

“It was very tempting for us to continue the process which is so close to everybody’s heart, implicit in the many meetings, of indicating great progress; but the President decided that we could not engage in a charade with the American people.

“We now are in this curious position: Great progress has been made, even in the talks. The only thing that is lacking is one decision in Hanoi, to settle the remaining issues in terms that two weeks previously they had already agreed to. So we are not talking of an issue of principle that is totally unacceptable. Secondly, to complete the work that is required to bring the international machinery into being in the spirit that both sides have an interest of not ending the war in such a way that it is just the beginning of another round of conflict. So we are in a position where peace can be near but peace requires a decision. This is why we wanted to restate once more what our basic attitude is.

“With respect to Saigon, we have sympathy and compassion for the anguish of their people and for the concerns of their government. But if we can get an agreement that the President considers just, we will proceed with it.

“With respect to Hanoi, our basic objective was stated in the press conference of October 26. We want an end to the war that is something more than an armistice. We want to move from hostility to normalization and from normalization to cooperation. But we will not make a settlement [Page 710] which is a disguised form of continued warfare and which brings about by indirection what we have always said we would not tolerate.

“We have always stated that a fair solution cannot possibly give either side everything that it wants. We are not continuing a war in order to give total victory to our allies. We want to give them a reasonable opportunity to participate in a political structure, but we also will not make a settlement which is a disguised form of victory for the other side.” (Department of State Bulletin, January 8, 1973, pages 36–37; Kissinger’s opening statement and excerpts from the question-and-answer session were also printed in The Washington Post, December 17, 1972, page A9)

About the press conference, Kissinger later observed: “I was asked to give a low-key briefing of the reasons for the recessing of the Paris talks; how to be low-key about such a dramatic event was no more apparent to me in Washington than it had been in Paris.” Nonetheless, as he recorded in his memoirs, “I had no objection to this assignment; indeed, I volunteered for it.” (White House Years, page 1449)