27. Memorandum of Conversation1
- President Nguyen Van Thieu
- Vice President Tran Van Huong
- Prime Minister Tran Thien Khiem
- Foreign Minister Tran Van Lam
- Ambassador Tran Kim Phuong
- Ambassador Pham Dang Lam
- Presidential Adviser Nguyen Phu Duc
- Presidential Secretary Hoang Duc Nha
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker
- General Creighton Abrams
- Ambassador William H. Sullivan
- Ambassador Charles S. Whitehouse
- Winston Lord, NSC Staff
- David Engel, NSC Staff
(The party spent a few minutes in the reception room without President Thieu and with no photographers present. They were then ushered into President Thieu’s office where he greeted them. President Thieu spoke for a few moments privately with Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Bunker while the rest of the group assembled in the adjoining conference room.2 President Thieu, Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Bunker then joined the group and the meeting began.)
President Thieu: I have Mr. Nha as an interpreter.
Dr. Kissinger: I brought my own, Mr. Engel, if Mr. Nha needs help.
You want me to speak, Mr. President? (Thieu nods yes.)
Mr. President, I am very grateful for this opportunity to meet with you. I come bringing you the warm greetings of President Nixon. He wanted me on his behalf to express his admiration to President Thieu personally, the continuing and unflagging support for President Thieu and your government, and his respect for the courage and perseverance of the Vietnamese people.
Every time I come here I read about the fact that we will meet in a spirit of confrontation. I have come here as a friend. We are not here to [Page 182] argue; we are here to develop a common policy as a common goal. I would like to present to you, Mr. President, and your colleagues our analysis of the negotiations and where they now stand. First, I would like to present to you our analysis of the situation as we confront it and a brief description of the strategy that we have attempted to pursue this summer—first of how we got to where we are, and then a brief analysis of the latest proposals.
(Noticing that Mr. Nha’s translation was much briefer than his own English remarks) Either Vietnamese is a more concise language than German translated into English, which I speak, or Mr. Nha is a master of abbreviation.
Mr. Nha: I am a master of contraction.
Dr. Kissinger: What is our situation in the U.S.? I know every country has to act on the basis of the experience they have made. You have made certain of your own experiences, and for this reason I would like to say that this is 1972 and not 1968. In our analysis of the situation electoral considerations have played no role at all, but what has played an enormous role is the constant decline of the popular and Congressional support for the Vietnamese war. There are very few people in Washington that have held together the operation here against mounting Congressional opposition, in the face of almost monthly Congressional resolutions that would restrict our activities and cut off our funds. Only a few weeks ago, while the President was 30 points ahead in the public polls, and when in an election year there is every incentive to support him, nevertheless the Brooke Amendment, which in effect would cut off support for the Vietnamese war only in return for prisoners, was defeated by only two votes in the Senate.
The President and I have had to spend enormous time and have produced an enormous amount of expedients from month-to-month in order to maintain support. We have had the imperative of always being in the position to make clear that we are not the obstacle of a settlement, even on terms which would have been very difficult for you to accept. When I was here last time, President Thieu pointed out to me very profoundly that his problem and ours are exactly the opposite. He had to demonstrate to his populace that he was firm. We have to point out to our populace that we are flexible. This was a correct description of the state of affairs.
I have gone into so much detail because I wanted to show you gentlemen that our problem is not in the next two weeks but in the next six months. Our fear is that if we do not move in the direction I will describe to you, we may be forced into a position where all support may be cut off by Congressional action. We have financed the additional operations produced by the Communist offensive, which have now reached $4.1 billion, by means and procedures that are at the very [Page 183] margin of legality and which will have to be submitted to Congress in January. This is the situation in which we find ourselves, and this is what President Thieu and his colleagues should keep in mind in assessing our imperatives.
Now let me return to our negotiations and explain to you what our strategy has been, and how we got to where we are. Then let me explain in precise detail where we are.
We resumed private negotiations with Special Advisor Le Duc Tho on July 19.3 Throughout these negotiations, as you gentlemen know, we have been in the closest touch with President Thieu. We have informed him before each negotiation and we have reported to him immediately after each negotiation. We know that the South Vietnamese people and leaders have suffered enough to earn the right to make their own peace. (Thieu notices that Mr. Nha is having trouble hearing Dr. Kissinger for translation purposes and motions him to a chair next to him.)
Our strategy in these negotiations was dictated by a number of necessities. The opponent to the President was committed to overthrowing this government, the unconditional withdrawal of American forces, and the total collapse of the American position in Southeast Asia. Our strategy was to prevent the North Vietnamese as long as possible from proposing a plan that he could use to show that a quick settlement was possible in the name of which he could have conducted his campaign. Our strategy further was to demonstrate to the American people when the talks broke down, as we expected, that we had made every reasonable offer.
We have maintained support for the war in Vietnam for four years by a combination of drastic military measures and the demonstration to the American people that we were pursuing a peaceful course. Therefore, our general strategy at these meetings, as during the four years, was to accept enough of the North Vietnamese proposals to enable us to show that we have been reasonable, but not enough to achieve the objectives of the Communists. In this respect, our tactics were bound to be different. Our tactics were different, but our strategy was not different from yours.
Now let me review the situation session by session, unless I am going into too much detail, Mr. President. It will be repetitious as far as the President is concerned because he knows it all in detail.
My first meeting with Le Duc Tho was July 19. At that time he presented the 7 points and the 2 point elaboration. His proposal at that [Page 184] time was that President Thieu should resign, that the army and police forces of South Vietnam should be disbanded, that all prisoners should be freed, and that after all this was done, but before the ceasefire, the remaining government here was to negotiate with the Communists for a coalition government. And only after this government had negotiated with them and your army and police disbanded, and all prisoners released, after this government had agreed—all American support would be withdrawn, all American economic and military aid stopped, pacification stopped—only after you had agreed to a coalition government, then there would be a ceasefire. This was presented as what was described as good will and serious intent. I thought these demands were so outrageous that if negotiations broke down we would be in a very good position. We, of course, refused these demands and Tho further refused to discuss any military issues of the war until we had agreed to his political position.
We met again on August 1. On August 1, Le Duc Tho proposed a coalition government being created, appointed in equal proportions by the GVN and the Communists; and the three part coalition government was to be composed of one-third GVN, one-third Communists, and the remaining one-third jointly appointed. It was in effect the September 11 plan. They also presented a complicated formula by which they were willing to negotiate in three different forums with the existing government in Saigon. We told them that we would study the plan and meet again on August 14.
We met on August 14 and told them that we would not discuss the political provisions without consulting President Thieu and raised the military provisions. They in turn were not prepared to discuss the military provisions and therefore the meeting on August 14 was long on rhetoric and short on substance.
I then came to Saigon and had several long conversations with President Thieu. I told him that I thought that the Communist side was pursuing a stupid strategy, stating very intransigent demands which, if the negotiations broke off, would give us the opportunity to rally public support, but in the meantime we would like to prolong the negotiations as long as possible. In retrospect I should have known that the word “stupid” and the noun “Vietnamese” don’t go together very well. (He repeats this when Mr. Nha had trouble understanding it.) I told President Thieu that we should make a proposal that showed a maximum degree of responsiveness to the Communist proposal which remained unacceptable, first to prolong negotiations and second to give us a good public document. I had no expectations that negotiations would come anywhere near success.
We proposed a long document to President Thieu on which, after several weeks of discussions, we achieved agreement except on one [Page 185] point. In our joint proposal of January 25, we had a proposal for an electoral commission composed of all elements. We proposed to spell this out to make it a tripartite commission and call it a Committee of National Reconciliation, without governmental functions. We did this in order to focus the negotiations on the Communist refusal to permit elections.
On September 15 I met with Le Duc Tho again. He made a new proposal. I want to repeat that every proposal was transmitted to President Thieu as soon as it was received. We had held nothing back from him.
The proposal was again that President Thieu resign immediately, that a Provisional Coalition Government of National Concord be formed proportionately as in the proposal of August 1, but that the GVN and Communist administrations could continue for the performance of certain administrative functions. However, the army and police would be amalgamated under the coalition government.
We rejected that proposal. When I said we rejected it—I don’t know how much experience your associates have in negotiating with the North—I am describing a process that takes three to four hours in each case. Mr. Le Duc Tho has not mastered Mr. Nha’s capacity for concise expression. At any rate we refused. They had asked urgently for a meeting more rapidly than the two meetings we had had previously. We agreed to meet again on the 22nd and in fact met on the 26th. We agreed to the 22nd to keep them from going public with our plan, and we delayed until the 26th because we wanted to waste as much time as possible.
You gentlemen have to recognize that from September 15 on every one of their proposals would have given us an almost impossible situation domestically. Any proposal which in America could be represented as showing that the obstacle to the settlement is only one man, and the participants in the government could be equally appointed by both sides, would have been very difficult to reject publicly. This is a fact. This is not our preference. And this is what we have at all cost attempted to avoid. Our administration will not make a peace that betrays an ally and destroys a leader that we value.
We met again on September 26, for two days this time. On that occasion Le Duc Tho presented a plan with which General Haig came to Saigon. That plan provided for the formation of a coalition government which would operate on the principle of unanimity with no police, and no army, and no judicial system. The existing administrations would continue and have the right to conduct foreign policy until the election for the Constituent Assembly. Of course, President Thieu would have to resign immediately. If this plan had been publicly presented in the U.S., we might have faced a totally unmanageable domestic situation.[Page 186]
This was when I sent General Haig to Saigon to talk to President Thieu first and then all his colleagues in order to make some counter proposal that would pull the teeth of that plan. And we presented a counter proposal to President Thieu with which I believe you are familiar. The details of the meeting between you and General Haig are very familiar to you. General Haig returned to Washington and gave me a full report of that meeting.
I had agreed with Le Duc Tho that we would meet again on October 5. I delayed that meeting until October 8. Then when I finally met on October 8, Le Duc Tho returned to his plan of September 26 and called it a final offer. He demanded again the immediate resignation of President Thieu, and our agreement to immediately install a coalition government on the basis of the plan of September 26 and the other provisions he had tabled on September 26. We took the position that we had to hear your views, that first of all the resignation of President Thieu and the imposition of a coalition government remained unacceptable to us, as the President publicly stated. Secondly, that it was necessary to discuss the security aspects of any settlement because without them any political discussions would be totally abstract. Thirdly, that the political future of South Vietnam had to be decided in negotiations among the South Vietnamese and on the basis of the popular feelings of South Vietnam, and not through imposition by the U.S. and North Vietnam.
It was a rather stormy session. I have always said that Mr. Le Duc Tho has three basic speeches, each of them taking 35 minutes. I usually hear one each session—on this occasion I heard all three. At the end of that day, there was a complete deadlock and we were ready to leave Paris. At this point, Le Duc Tho requested a meeting for the next day. At that meeting he proposed a plan which I also transmitted to President Thieu—you have transmitted this to the President (looking at Bunker)—which had the following new elements. Until that day the North Vietnamese had always taken the position that military and political issues had to be settled jointly. In that plan for the first time he separated them. Until that day the North Vietnamese had always insisted that a coalition government had to be installed on the day of agreement. On that day they proposed that something called the Central Administration of National Concord be installed three months after an agreement. They still maintained the position that President Thieu had to resign. They still maintained the position that elections for the Constituent Assembly take place in six months or some months after an agreement. They still insisted that general and local elections be agreed to by the U.S. They still insisted that the Central Administration of National Concord, though it had no power directly and though it operated on the basis of unanimity, should have subordinate organs right down [Page 187] to the hamlet level. They still spelled out in great detail the nature of this Administration of National Concord—that is the commissions it should have, its membership and so forth. They still demanded that military aid to South Vietnam be ended. And they made no provisions on the security side at all.
Now I have gone into so much detail before getting into the current situation so you know that we have consistently refused to prescribe the political future of South Vietnam. We have consistently refused to negotiate about the political future of a valued ally. We have consistently refused to discuss the political future of President Thieu. We have always insisted that the South Vietnamese settle their political future by themselves. We could have had a settlement now if we had given up any of those. We have not done so, and we will not do so. These were precisely the points I also made to the North Vietnamese, in almost the same language.
And I must add that before I came to Paris on October 8 I called in the Soviet Ambassador and told him that we would no longer even listen to political proposals negotiating the future of President Thieu. If they wanted to contribute to a peaceful solution, that element would have to disappear. We communicated the same thought to the Chinese. This is not in the plan the North Vietnamese submitted to us on October 9, but when I made these points to Le Duc Tho, he proposed the following: that we work on security aspects, i.e., the ceasefire and related aspects; that we work on a political formula in which we could just state very general objectives which would have to be realized through negotiations among the South Vietnamese. He did not mention coalition government or President Thieu. And he was prepared to discuss certain guarantees with respect to Laos and Cambodia.
I cabled the essence of this to Ambassador Bunker. Given the difficulty of communications from Paris, where very few of our people know what we are doing, we gave the same report to President Thieu as we gave to President Nixon.
This then led to rather extensive negotiations which went on for two and a half days. Some of the sessions lasted 16 hours, which also continued on Tuesday with Minister Xuan Thuy in Paris. I would now like to review with you where these negotiations stand. It was clearly understood that they would be taken here for further discussions. I may add that Le Duc Tho presented these negotiations as being within the framework of Hanoi’s acceptance of the proposal made by the President on May 8 and President Thieu on May 9. Let me review the essential provisions, if I may, Mr. President. The Harvard professor speaks in 50 minute periods.
First regarding the cessation of hostilities, there should be a ceasefire observed throughout South Vietnam at a specific hour and at the [Page 188] same hour American military actions against North Vietnam would cease.
I will leave copies of this document4 with the President and therefore simply summarize it. (Repeating) I will leave the document with you after the meeting and therefore only summarize its principal provisions, and you will have a chance to study it. The reason we didn’t have it before was that we were working on it on Tuesday, but it is along the lines we cabled you.
During the ceasefire the armed forces of both sides would stand in place. The U.S. would withdraw its military forces in sixty days. There would be no restriction on civilian personnel dealing with economic and political functions, no restriction on contractor personnel and no restriction on American forces in Thailand. Both sides would be prohibited from accepting reinforcements in troops and other military personnel and war matériels. However, it is permitted to make replacements of all military equipment on a basis of piece-for-piece which has similar characteristics. In other words a numerical increase in equipment is not permitted, but a qualitative improvement is permitted, and a replacement flow is assured.
I will discuss privately with President Thieu measures by which the date against which replacement would be calculated would be brought to its highest possible level before agreement is signed. In other words, we will increase your inventory substantially before calculations would start about what can be replaced. However, infiltration, replacement of personnel, reinforcement of personnel is prohibited. Put another way, worn out personnel cannot be replaced. This is to be under international supervision.
I might add that this clause is not yet agreed because North Vietnam wants to replace on the basis of equality, and we do not accept this. I think we can settle in a direction that I described. We won’t settle for anything else.
There is a section about the return of prisoners. This provision is about prisoners, military personnel—this is a section not agreed. We have taken the position that all military personnel and civilians of all parties except those South Vietnamese civilians held by the South Vietnamese parties should be released in two months, and the prisoners of South Vietnamese parties should be discussed among the South Vietnamese parties. The North Vietnamese take the position that all civilian prisoners should be returned within a two-month period. This is a matter I would like to discuss while I am here to see what formulation [Page 189] we can agree to which will bring about some release but nevertheless reserve your essential position, but I don’t want to go into that now. I don’t know whether amnesty of some sort is possible, and what could be discussed, but I want to present the outline and not go into details.
Now let me turn to the political provisions. They are very brief, because we have taken the position that the future of South Vietnam must be determined by the South Vietnamese. I am happy to say that they do not mention President Thieu. But I wouldn’t be here if they did. There is some general provisions drawn from our common plan, affirming the South Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination, the fact that the South Vietnamese people shall determine the future of South Vietnam by elections under international supervision, and the fact that the U.S. declares itself neutral with respect to the political process of South Vietnam, which is drawn from the January 25 proposal. Then there are some other abstract provisions.
But let me deal now with the two principal political provisions. Let me read them to you. That is the easiest way to deal with it: (Dr. Kissinger reads from the proposal at Tab A, paragraph f.)
“Immediately after the ceasefire, the two South Vietnamese parties shall hold consultations in a spirit of national reconciliation and concord, mutual respect, and mutual non-elimination to set up an administrative structure called the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord of three equal segments. The Council shall operate on the principle of unanimity. After the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord has assumed its functions, the two South Vietnamese parties will consult about the formation of councils at lower levels. The two South Vietnamese parties shall sign an agreement on the internal matters of South Vietnam as soon as possible and do their utmost to accomplish this within three months after the ceasefire comes into effect …”
The composition is left to the South Vietnamese parties to be negotiated. It is not a government or an administration. It is an advisory body. Let me read the other appropriate provisions. There are only two more and only one is political.
(Dr. Kissinger reads from Article 9, paragraph g of the agreement at Tab A.)
“The National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord shall have the task of promoting the two South Vietnamese parties’ implementation of the signed agreements, maintenance of the ceasefire, preservation of peace, achievement of national reconciliation and concord and ensuring of democratic liberties. The National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord will organize the free and democratic general elections provided for in Article 9 (b) and decide the procedures and modalities of these elections. The institutions for which [Page 190] the general elections are to be held will be agreed upon through consultations between the two South Vietnamese parties. The National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord will also decide the procedures and modalities of such local elections as the two South Vietnamese parties agree upon.”
In other words no elections can be held without the prior agreement of the two South Vietnamese parties. The offices for these elections are to be held are to be decided by the South Vietnamese. We have read into the record statements that whether this is to be a referendum, or a presidential election, or a national assembly election depends entirely on whatever agreement is reached among the South Vietnamese. This is not a matter to be prescribed by America. I have their statement saying that is a correct interpretation of their position.
The next provision in this political section—there are some others: (Dr. Kissinger reads from Article 9, paragraph h)
“The question of Vietnamese armed forces in South Vietnam shall be settled by the two South Vietnamese parties in a spirit of national reconciliation and concord, equality and mutual respect, without foreign interference, in accordance with the postwar situation. Among the questions to be discussed by the two South Vietnamese parties are steps to reduce the military numbers on both sides and to demobilize the troops being reduced.”
I will explain that phrase in a minute. Let me explain. I have spent a lot of time on North Vietnamese troops in the South and this led to some emotional and impassioned discussions from which I deduce that Hanoi feels that it is already giving an enormous blow to what they call the Provisional Revolutionary Government by even considering terms such as I have described here. They are already undermining their supporters in the South by the terms described here.
They are willing to accept no reinforcement, no further infiltration, and they have said as for the sentences just read to you about demobilization that they are prepared to reduce their forces in the south by an equal number of whatever reductions are made here, and that forces reduced would return to their birth place. And since their forces are smaller any reductions would of course affect a greater percentage of their forces than your forces. In other words, if both sides reduced by 50,000 this according to our calculations would affect a much larger percentage of their forces than your forces. Of course, under this provision of the agreement there is no need to agree to it. This is not a requirement—it is only to be discussed.
The only other provision is that the acceptance of military aid by South Vietnam in the future shall come under the authority of the government set up by the elections described earlier. We put this into the agreement so that after the elections—and since we have some expectations [Page 191] who will win the elections—the replacement provision will disappear.
So let me sum up the political provisions which we consider a major collapse of the Communist position. If you compare these provisions with the Communist proposals of July 19, August 1, September 15, or September 26, I think you can measure the degree of disintegration in their position. The demand for the resignation of President Thieu has been dropped. The demand for the institution of a Provisional Government of National Concord has been dropped. The demand for the amalgamation of ARVN and Communist forces has been dropped. The existing government can continue with unlimited amounts of economic aid and American replacement of military aid of a very large force. And the only requirement is that it negotiate with the other side to set up a Council. If the Council ever comes into being, it has no jurisdiction that I can determine, except over elections to which you must agree to for institutions which you are to decide, within a framework which depends on your negotiating it. In other words, we have preserved the cardinal position that we leave the future of South Vietnam to the South Vietnamese people and that the government we have recognized is the government of the Republic of South Vietnam and its President.
If I may say so, the Politburo in Hanoi will accept this before Joseph Kraft and a few other of our colleagues.
There’s a section on the reunification of Vietnam. This states that the reunification of Vietnam should be carried out step by step in discussions between North and South Vietnam, and that the time for reunification will be agreed to by North and South Vietnam. Pending reunification, North and South Vietnam shall immediately start negotiations to establish relations in various fields, which is something which comes from Mr. Duc. And pending reunification, North and South Vietnam shall not join military alliances, nor allow military bases or troops. For South Vietnam this was in an earlier provision and this is an opportunity for North Vietnam to accept the same provision.
There is a section on international supervision. It is symptomatic of this proposed agreement that the section on international supervision is three times as long as the section on the political future of South Vietnam. It is of such complexity that I am certain that graduate students will be writing theses about it, if it becomes an agreement, for the next ten years. It provides for a two-party commission, a four-party commission and an international control commission. And it provides for an international conference which is to meet 30 days after the agreement is signed to formalize whatever guarantees are given.
I am sure you will be sorry to hear that we have eliminated India from the International Control Commission and have also refused to [Page 192] accept India as a participant in the international control conference. If we have done violence to your foreign policy, we would be prepared to reconsider the position. It was a painful effort to get that accomplished.
Now let me turn to Cambodia and Laos. There’s a provision in which all parties recognize the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Cambodia and Laos. There’s provision in which parties “undertake to refrain from using the territory of Cambodia and the territory of Laos to encroach on the sovereignty and security of other countries.”
Then it says that “Foreign countries shall put an end to all military activities in Laos and Cambodia, totally withdraw from and refrain from reintroducing into these two countries troops, military advisers and military personnel, armaments, munitions and war matériels.”
In addition to that, the Communists have given us a unilateral statement (reading) in which the parties “will actively contribute toward rapidly bringing these negotiations to a successful conclusion, as to make possible a ceasefire in Laos within one month after the Vietnam agreement comes into force.”
They have also given us a verbal assurance that offensive operations in Cambodia would cease, and we have given them a unilateral statement saying that any offensive operations in Cambodia would be contrary to the provisions of this agreement and would be so regarded by the United States.
This is essentially where we stand. We will, of course, leave this with you for study and deliberation. Let me make, however, a few general observations. This agreement represents essentially a collapse of the other side with respect to its political proposals and an acceptance by the other side of our May 8 proposal. If we advanced this in America as an American proposal we would be torn to pieces by the press for our intransigence and we would be accused by the press of being intransigent. (Explaining further) If we proposed this, we would be accused of trying to prolong the war. Conversely if the other side surfaced the proposal, even in less acceptable form, then it is certain that Congress would take us out of the war, no matter what we decided to do.
The biggest problem we have had is how to continue our support to the leaders and government of Saigon on a long-term basis. We believe that such an agreement would give us this basis. We believe that it leaves you in control of the essential elements in South Vietnam. We believe that it would give you an opportunity to win any political contest that may occur. We believe it would give us an opportunity, if we jointly take these steps, to continue our support on a long-term basis both in the economic and in the military fields.[Page 193]
I intend to speak to President Thieu today about the specific measures President Nixon intends to take after such an agreement. First, to make clear that we recognize this government as the legitimate government of South Vietnam. Second, to indicate U.S. government support, not only for this government, but for its leader. We have fought together for eight years and longer. You have sacrificed a great deal and so have we. And now if we could make peace together we can vindicate all the suffering and build together the sort of structure in Vietnam for which we have all suffered so much.
It is in this spirit that the President has asked me to speak to you, and I come to you as a friend to deal with a joint problem so we can continue our friendship and continue our cooperation.
I’m sorry, Mr. President, I have spoken so long.
President Thieu: I would like to ask Dr. Kissinger concerning the time of the agreement. How do you envisage the signing?
Dr. Kissinger: This we have to discuss here. We have not agreed on the timing. We have not, in fact, yet agreed on the form in which it should be done. The North Vietnamese have proposed that “the Government of the United States of America with the concurrence of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, with the concurrence of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam” … i.e., a two-party signature. We have raised the possibility to make it a four-party signature and that decision is up to you. As for the timing, the other side wanted to do it very quickly. We think that the next two weeks is possible, but it depends on our discussion. What we must avoid is to have a public debate and seem to be pressed by the public into doing something. (Thieu looks at his notes and talks briefly to Nha.)
President Thieu: I would like to ask Dr. Kissinger. They refer you back to May 8 in which the United States would end its military activities and blockade against an Indochina ceasefire and return of the prisoners. Is that what you told us a while ago? Is this consistent with May 8?
Dr. Kissinger: It is exactly consistent with May 8, i.e., a return of prisoners depending on what we work out here on civilian prisoners, ceasefire and the withdrawal of American forces. The Indochina-wide ceasefire will occur in various modalities. This agreement covers only Vietnam. There is a side agreement for Laos and another understanding on Cambodia, so the practical effect is the same.
President Thieu: What about the political matters of the Khmer Republic and Laos?
Dr. Kissinger: The political matters in Laos will be settled … the ceasefire in Laos is timed to coincide with the International Conference. [Page 194] The political matters in Laos will then be settled in subsequent negotiations dealing with troop withdrawal.
With respect to the Khmer Republic, there will be more complicated negotiations involving also the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union. We believe it is not in the interest of the PRC now to have North Vietnamese domination of the Khmer Republic. I mean we have reason to believe this. The agreement says that “The internal affairs of Cambodia and Laos shall be settled by the people of each of these countries without foreign interference.”
Let me say one other thing which I should have covered in my presentation. We have two roads before us. One is if we continue the war in the present framework, there will be a dwindling of Congressional and popular support. If we make peace and the other side breaks the agreement, we will then be in a moral position to exercise pressure and resume activities which will be much stronger than they will be if we continue on our present course. We will have every intent to use our forces in Thailand and at sea to react violently to any breach of the agreement, and we have said so to the other side.
If you read the American press or statements from American public figures, no one believes that it is possible to end this war without a coalition government and your resignation. No one. If we make an agreement with Thieu and the GVN in power, and with President Thieu having made peace himself, then everything we’ve done in the last four years is vindicated and then the public basis for challenging us if we have to reintroduce air forces is much less.
If, on the other hand, we continue indefinitely then by next spring they will say there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, it’s always the same story, and we’ll gradually lose the public basis for action. We will have no basis for action. All the press speculation is about whether I will succeed in making President Thieu resign.
We would plan to keep substantial air forces in Thailand and remove some of our intelligence activities to Thailand. General Abrams is here with us to talk to General Vien or whomever you designate, to talk about specific measures to be taken. We will not withdraw from the area. Indeed, we look at the agreement as a means to help preserve the integrity of this agreement and our friends. We would continue, of course, bombing the Ho Chi Minh Trail until agreement is reached in Laos, which must be within one month according to this agreement.
President Thieu: Concerning international supervision, which you said a while ago would be completed in 30 days from the signing of the agreement, will the agreement become effective when international supervision is covered or what?
Dr. Kissinger: The international control machinery is effective immediately. The International Conference will confirm arrangements [Page 195] within 30 days. The international control machinery and the whole machinery I have described to you goes into effect immediately and the machinery is responsible to the parties until the International Conference meets. (President Thieu holds discussions with Nha.)
President Thieu: Is it correct that the ICCS is formed already?
Dr. Kissinger: It is formed on the day an agreement is signed.
Mr. Nha: It functions right away?
Dr. Kissinger: Yes. There is no sense deluding ourselves. If you look at the history of international control commissions, one cannot say that they alone will be the decisive factor in bringing about the observance of the agreement. The international machinery will be an added impediment, but what will preserve the agreement is our vigilance and our unity and our determination, and not an international institution. What will preserve the agreement is if North Vietnam knows that any violation will have drastic consequences. That is the decisive factor. The machinery is a useful adjunct. We have, we want to be realistic. If you look at the history of control provisions … frankly we don’t want our people to think just because Canadian and Indonesian inspectors are running around that we no longer have any obligations.
As for members of the Commission, there are supposed to be four. The other side first proposed Cuba and Poland. We rejected Cuba; I hope this does no violence to your preferences. They propose Poland and Hungary. We propose Canada and Indonesia. They accepted Indonesia with great reluctance, but they accepted it.
President Thieu: I would like to ask Dr. Kissinger, according to your own personal estimate as a well-seasoned politician, what do you think North Vietnam expects to get when it signs the agreement, considering that it always hopes to get something when it signs an agreement. In the short term. This is the question I would like to ask you to think over and place yourself in the shoes of the Communists.
Dr. Kissinger: That means I have to speak 50 minutes again in speeches like Mr. Le Duc Tho’s. Epic Poem Number One of Le Duc Tho.
I believe … I have to preface this by saying that in every meeting with the North Vietnamese since July 19 I have told them the horrible things we’re going to do after November 7. And on one occasion he said to me “Are you threatening us?” I said no, we were not threatening them, but after November 7 the President would be so busy and I with him, that for about two months we cannot see you [North Vietnamese].5 All we can do then is military activities. They have seen enough [Page 196] things from us which they consider unpredictable that they seem to be extremely confused on what we do.
On the other hand, speaking frankly in this room, you and I know there isn’t much more we can do to them than we are already doing. Indeed in our budget requests starting January 1, there will be a steady decline of American military strength in Southeast Asia. We will have to pull out about 98 B–52s. We will have to withdraw some Phantom squadrons which are on temporary duty in Thailand. So there will be a decline in the strength of the United States. My fear is that when the Communists see that they will start waiting again.
Now concretely, what is it that they expect to get out of it? I think they are trying to preserve whatever is left for them in the South. I think they hope to sow discord between you and us and by the nature of our withdrawal create the impression that we are withdrawing support from you. They hope to be able to generate domestic pressures here. Above all, I think they have decided, and this is an amazing view, that they have lost the competition with you. If they don’t start reconstruction in the North soon their future will be disastrous. We’ve had intelligence reports, and Ambassador Lam may have seen them, on growing strains between the DRV delegation in Paris and the PRG delegation.
For example, one thing the North Vietnamese mentioned to me is that they want to have an economic agreement with the United States for five years. On one level this is absurd. On another level this attitude may be the best guarantee against starting again because they cannot both reconstruct in the North and fight in the South. I have no illusions that people who have fought 25 years are suddenly going to give up their objectives. I have formed the conclusion that extreme stubbornness is a Vietnamese trait, but I don’t want to be offensive.
So they have not given up their objective, but they are losing the capability to achieve their objective. If you think of the realities, if the agreement is even partially observed, think of the impact on the Communist cadres in the South, who are being told that you would be removed and a coalition government installed in Saigon, that this was the year of final victory and a ceasefire to settle.
I believe, whatever they say themselves, in political contest, they cannot win against a confident government in Saigon.
Let me give you one episode from the end of the meeting Wednesday night at 2:30 a.m. Le Duc Tho read a long statement to me to the effect that “we have made many armistices but this time we make peace. We want to stop being adversaries; we want to become friends.” When he was through with this statement he burst into tears. I do not have the impression that the North Vietnamese side in that room was under the impression that it had just won a war.[Page 197]
But they will not give up the struggle. The question is how many years is it before they can really start again, and what can you do in those years. That’s why we think it is so essential that we first, do it together, and secondly we do it with the assurance and confidence that we are going to win, not that we are on the defensive.
At this point it is our profound conviction that the only ones who can defeat the South Vietnamese are the South Vietnamese, not Hanoi.
(President Thieu looks at his notes and writes down some thoughts.)
President Thieu: What do you propose? How do you plan to proceed?
Dr. Kissinger: First, I, of course, must have the President’s reaction. Then there are a number of issues to be settled. Whether the four powers or the two powers sign the agreement. Secondly, I must talk to the President about specifics on prisoners—what is it your government can propose on this, since I feel that I have no right to negotiate that. Thirdly, once we have agreement, what are the next steps to bring it to conclusion? Fourth, General Abrams is here to talk to your military people on how to handle things in the most effective way. Fifth, we must move rapidly with specific measures to increase the base rapidly within two weeks for modernization so that you have a bigger inventory and so that we can modernize certain parts of your air force, all of which we are prepared to do.
Those are the steps which must be taken after concurrence and of course any comments. There are a number of diplomatic steps that I would like to discuss with you privately first.
You will see in the document that I handed you that they propose a Council be established in 15 days and the elections be held within six months. I already told them that that is rejected, but we have put it in brackets in the document. In the final phase you can be certain that it will be eliminated though it is still here in the proposal. That will certainly be eliminated. These two requirements of theirs are certain to disappear.
President Thieu: When is your next meeting with them?
Dr. Kissinger: We have to discuss with you. I would like to discuss with the President the next diplomatic steps, but I would like to do it privately first.
(President Thieu asks his Council for comments.)
Foreign Minister Lam: I would like to know about the draft that you are going to give to our President—was it handed to you or drafted by our side?
Dr. Kissinger: They handed me a draft—it was sent to the President—which spelled out the Committee in great detail. Ambassador [Page 198] Bunker brought it to you on Saturday—yes, it was October 11. That’s the draft they handed me.
This plan was jointly developed by them and us with the clear understanding it would be taken here and then taken to the President. It does not represent their plan.
You should compare this to the October 11 plan. Their plan had nothing about Cambodia and Laos, nothing about replacement aid, nothing about the details of the ceasefire, nothing about international supervision. Compare the October 11 document to this one and see whose ideas dominated. This is an agreement they are prepared to sign. It is not a proposal, but an agreement they are willing to sign.
President Thieu: This is a jointly developed agreement, ready to be signed, not a proposal by the other side?
Dr. Kissinger: It was clearly understood by the other side that we would sign no agreement that was not jointly agreed. This is our position. We are not here to impose an agreement. Of course, our position in these negotiations was decisively influenced by the position this group took in its meeting with General Haig.6 You compare the proposal General Haig brought to this meeting to judge the influence you had on us—may I say reluctantly—but nevertheless importantly. If I may say another thing which not many Americans say, I think you were right and we were wrong. Because this is a much better agreement than our proposal would have been if our proposal to you were accepted. Really the last round of negotiations was the result of General Haig’s trip, after which we did not table a new proposal but stuck more or less to the old one.
President Thieu: I’d like to ask a very frank question which you may answer here or privately. First, does President Nixon have any need, considering these electoral processes and the electoral objectives in his policy, does he have any need to sign this agreement after fully discussed and agreed by us, and if we cannot sign this agreement prior to the election does the U.S. have the need to make public to its people that it has an intention to sign this agreement?
Dr. Kissinger: I can answer you best by reading to you in part what the President delivered to me on the plane when I was leaving. This is indiscreet but it is better than anything I could say. (Reading from the President’s handwritten note) “Dear Henry, as you leave for Paris I thought it would be useful for you to have some guidance that we were talking about on paper. First, do what is right without regard to the election.”[Page 199]
(Nha had great difficulty understanding this phrase and with Engel’s help and with several repetitions, it was finally interpreted correctly.)
“Secondly, we cannot let a chance to end the war honorably slip away. As far as the elections are concerned, a settlement that did not come unstuck would help among young voters, but we do not need it to win.” (Engel repeated this sentence as Nha had difficulty with it.) “A settlement that became unstuck would hurt, but would not be fatal.”
This is not for publication. I hope your cabinet is more discreet than ours. (Reading again from the President’s document) “At all costs we must avoid the fact or the impression that we have imposed or agreed to a coalition government. In sum, getting back to my original instruction, do what is right to secure an honorable peace, but do not let the timing be affected by the election.”
There are some personal things for the President that I’d rather tell him alone, and it is up to him to decide if he wishes to share them with his colleagues.
We do not need this agreement for the election. On the other hand, if the other side published it as its position, we would win the election without it but in the post-election period we would be in difficulty for not accepting it, for not accepting their acceptance of our May 8 proposal.
From our point of view the need for some speed has nothing to do with the election. The election only is confusing with regard to it. Our desire for some speed had to do with the post-election period, not the election.
We think it would be tragic to be put on the defensive after there is an agreement known whereby the government can stay and the President can stay and the ceasefire must be achieved, all of which was ridiculed by the other side, if we are beaten by a public campaign to this effect. We would like to confuse all the opposition, all of whom said that we were fighting for one man. We would like to confuse them by proving that we did it through loyalty to an ally which is important, and that strong military actions are important. First, as an act of American policy, and equally it is important as a joint action by your government and ours, something we did together and not reluctantly imposed after a struggle. That would be a disaster. Thus it is not because of the election.
President Thieu: Do you think the Communists might find a pretext to publish this agreement if they want to take advantage on the political scene?
Dr. Kissinger: Yes. That is not our basic consideration, but they might. Right now we have the maximum psychological moment. They [Page 200] are afraid what we will do, although we know that is not as much as they expect. We have the Russians and the Chinese bringing pressure on them. We have even induced the French Foreign Minister to keep quiet for a few weeks, a condition which cannot possibly last. I have yet to discuss the political provisions with any associate who did not think that it is a political collapse by the other side.
These are our motives, and while there is some urgency, if we could have picked the timing we would have preferred to have it after the election.
One other thing. If they publish their October 11 proposal, or for that matter, the September 26 proposal, it is almost certain that Congress next year would force us to accept either one. (Mr. Duc indicates he has a question.) They call me the American Duc.
Mr. Duc: I would like to ask Dr. Kissinger a small point. There is to be no further infiltration of the NVA after a ceasefire. How do you think this can be effectively controlled, and implemented?
Dr. Kissinger: We have elaborate provisions, more elaborate than efficient. I will be quite honest. Since they managed to get down 100 tanks to An Loc without being found by our intelligence, I’m not sure that they can’t infiltrate against Polish, Indonesian and Canadian inspectors. I do not wish to delude you.
If, on the other hand, you act with confidence and assurance, we may not know if they infiltrate 5,000, but we should know if they infiltrate 25,000. At that point you and we have to decide what measures are to be taken. I tell you candidly, speaking for myself, I rely more on unilateral intelligence than on the inspectors.
In my judgment there are two possibilities. One, they are planning the whole operation to get us out and start another offensive next spring. Against this contingency, certainly, almost certainly, if they do, we will reinforce again like last year and the President, who has just been reelected and had the political triumph of this settlement, in the first year of his second term is almost certain to do again what he did in an election year when all the odds were against him. If they do not do this, I believe they must stand down their operations for a number of years. They can’t stay in a middle position between semi-infiltration and massive operations.
Thus, we have some international and above all, unilateral measures.
One other thing in the confidence of this room. We approached both the Chinese and the Russians, because they were told about this by the North Vietnamese, and we told them that we understand military support for an ally at war, but we would not understand military support to a country that had just made a peace settlement. We do not [Page 201] have a formal reply. I just made this approach on Sunday on behalf of the President.7 I am reasonably certain the Chinese will not continue their present scale of military supplies because Chou En-lai told me that when I was there in June. This fact is not to be repeated. The Soviets have not yet replied, and therefore I can’t say.
I think the capacity of the North Vietnamese to build up and reinfiltrate will be affected by foreign supplies, our unilateral acts, and the inspection provisions.
Let me say a word about the international machinery because it would take a professor of church law to understand this chapter. Each provision comes under two commissions, first the joint commission of the parties, i.e. infiltration monitored by a joint commission of the two South Vietnamese parties. If they disagree, the question is referred automatically to the international commission. It does not depend on international inspection alone. There are joint teams with the other side. They, of course, will disagree with your findings, but at least you have some findings. Then the matter is referred to the international commission. Each issue is either under the four powers—the GVN, the DRV, the U.S., the PRG—for those matters concerning the four powers, or the two-party commission—the NLF and you—on matters concerning the South Vietnamese parties alone, such as infiltration, replacement of equipment, and so forth. Those matters on which the joint commission disagrees are referred to the international commission. There is a two-stage process, so you would have that degree of supervision yourself.
Ambassador Lam: I would like to ask Mr. Kissinger about the international conference. Who will participate and where will it be?
Dr. Kissinger: The location is not agreed to. We would propose Geneva. The following countries are agreed to—The Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, France, the United Kingdom, the four countries of the international commission i.e., Indonesia, Canada, Poland and Hungary—the Secretary General of the United Nations, and the four parties to the Paris conference. They proposed that the coalition government also participate, but since there is no coalition government there is nothing to participate. Those are the members. The four parties to the Paris conference, the members of the international control commission, the Secretary General, the PRC, the USSR, France, the United Kingdom. They very badly wanted India, and we kept them out.
Ambassador Phuong: What role does France have in this matter?[Page 202]
Dr. Kissinger: The role of France? Obnoxious. There is no basis to exclude a country that has an historical interest and in whose capital the conference has been held. Secondly, we have a sufficiently good relationship with the French President to curb the exuberance of the Foreign Minister. A few weeks ago after I visited Paris the French President said he would back away from supporting the coalition government. When the French Prime Minister, who had not yet gotten the word, put out words to that effect, the French President at a press conference publicly disassociated himself from support of that position. I think that the direct relations between President Nixon and President Pompidou should move France toward relative neutrality. I don’t wish to pretend that we will get very active support from them at the conference.
President Thieu: How long do you have to stay in Saigon? What are your plans?
Dr. Kissinger: I plan to stay three days. I will use my time at the pleasure of the President, whatever time the President has, so we can plan jointly how to proceed. I will use the time available to discuss with our commanders whatever steps need to be taken. We are determined to do this as a cooperative enterprise. The reason we have General Abrams with us is that he spent five years of his life here and so many of his soldiers died here, and he has as much interest as anybody to end the war so as to honor the sacrifices that have been made.
I am at your disposal. I have no other plans. I would like to see the President alone as soon as his schedule permits to discuss some other aspects. At any rate, I’m at his disposal.8
President Thieu: I propose the following schedule. I propose that we will use the interim to discuss and analyze and go over the text of the agreement and go over the specific points on which we’ve been exchanging. Tomorrow we will convene again, the same composition, to go over the two sides and to ask for further clarification. Thirdly, the military questions such as replacing material, do you think it is necessary for me to be present or should General Abrams and Vien, the two generals, discuss separately and then with me afterwards?
Dr. Kissinger: From our side it’s entirely up to the President.[Page 203]
President Thieu: (in English) I propose another meeting between Dr. Kissinger and the generals after the political meeting. This afternoon Generals Abrams and Vien will be meeting on military questions. Tomorrow General Vien will attend the meeting, and after the political meeting the President and the Prime Minister can join Dr. Kissinger and General Abrams.
Dr. Kissinger: If I could impose on the President for just one additional meeting, if I could see him for half an hour this afternoon.
President Thieu: From 1700 to 1800.
Dr. Kissinger: Then I can go over with him … General Abrams can discuss everything involved with General Vien in moving equipment, and he can discuss replacement. I would like to discuss with you some additional material that we want to move in here before the replacement provision becomes effective. I would like to discuss that with you and General Abrams and General Vien.
President Thieu: We’ll make it 1600.
Dr. Kissinger: I would also like to discuss with you a number of diplomatic steps.
President Thieu: 1600 and tomorrow in the morning at 9:00. And then another military meeting in the afternoon.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
President Thieu: After that General Vien will need more time to discuss. We’ll agree now that you and I will meet at 1600 and the next meeting on the draft will be at 9:00 in the morning. And then another meeting on military matters in the afternoon.
Dr. Kissinger: Excellent.
President Thieu: The next meeting …
Dr. Kissinger: I can extend my stay if I have to.
I will now give you the documents, and the unilateral statements to be exchanged at the time of the document. They are not part of the document.
(He hands over the draft agreement at Tab A together with the three unilateral statements.9 President Thieu smiles slightly. The meeting then ended as the American and South Vietnamese parties said goodbye and the American party left.)
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 857, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XX [2 of 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the Presidential Palace. Kissinger left Paris on the evening of October 18 and arrived in Saigon on October 19.↩
- At this point Kissinger handed Thieu a letter from President Nixon. See Document 20.↩
- Documentation on Kissinger’s meetings with Le Duc Tho between July and October 1972 is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972.↩
- Tab A, dated October 17, entitled “Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam,” is attached but not printed.↩
- Brackets are in the original. November 7 was the date of the upcoming Presidential election.↩
- See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972, Document 278.↩
- See footnote 10, Document 16.↩
- In a memorandum to the President, October 19, Haig transmitted Kissinger’s summary report of the meeting. Kissinger noted that after he had argued that the agreement was an excellent one that would fully protect the South Vietnamese Government and President Thieu, “Thieu in turn naturally refused to commit himself until he can study the document [the draft agreement]. We can expect some tough probing by him and his colleagues. We certainly got our full story and rationale across and in this sense the meeting was satisfactory. I cannot yet judge whether Thieu will go along with us.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 857, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XX [1 of 2])↩
- The three unilateral statements are not attached.↩