5. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Le Duc Tho, Special Adviser to the DRV Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks
  • Xuan Thuy, Minister, Chief DRV Delegate to the Paris Peace Talks
  • Phan Hien, Adviser to the DRV Delegation
  • Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
  • Mr. Thai, Notetaker
  • Second Notetaker
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Major General Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff
  • John D. Negroponte, NSC Staff
  • David A. Engel, NSC Staff—Interpreter
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
  • Julienne L. Pineau, Notetaker

Dr. Kissinger: Well, we have all been working hard.

Le Duc Tho: Let us begin now. I shall express our views on the draft agreement you have handed to us yesterday. We have carefully studied the draft you give us. We realize that you have made efforts so that we may come to agreement. However, after a careful study of your draft we see that a number of complicated problems are still left.

On many occasions President Nixon and you yourself stated that if we show a comprehensible position with regard to the three-segment government and to the resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu, then all other questions will be negotiable. We have made a great effort on these questions. We have put forward new, correct, reasonable and logical proposals aimed at rapidly settling the Vietnam war. But we realize now that in your draft you have raised many new questions regarding the military problems. These problems you raised make the settlement of the Vietnam problem more difficult.

Yesterday night you sent us a message. [U.S. message at Tab A]2 In this message you raised questions which make more complicated the settlement on the Vietnam problem. Moreover in your draft there are problems on which we had come to agreement but now you have changed your stand. So through your draft we realize that you have made constructive proposals so that we might come to an agreement, but there are still left many questions, particularly in the military field, in which you appear to be very tight towards us but very loose towards you. We take into account your major concerns, but on the contrary you have not taken into account our major concerns. It is not fair, indeed, and not reasonable.

[Page 45]

So we wonder whether because we have put forward a reasonable solution aimed at rapidly settling the war, we wonder whether because of this attitude of ours that you make more pressures on us. This is my impression. I frankly tell you this. Therefore, we think that such a stand is not correct. We should settle the problem on a basis of reciprocity, reasonableness and logic. Therefore, I think that you should better understand us. There are only today and tomorrow left for us. If we don’t come to an agreement then, how should we continue the negotiations? If no settlement is reached, then we fall into a deadlock.

Therefore I think we should make an effort to come to a basic agreement on all questions. I think that if we come to a basic agreement on basic questions, then there should be no change in the agreement. You should give assurance to us on this. It wouldn’t do if, as you said yesterday, changes may be brought afterward, after you return to Washington or after your trip to Saigon. If so we certainly will fall into a deadlock. Naturally, as we said previously, we might bring about some changes about the language, about technical questions. Objectively speaking, we may change a few words, a few sentences. But normally a change in the language may lead to a change in the substance, in the intentions.

We have reached now the final limit of our proposals. We can’t go beyond this limit. We have agreed to a schedule; we should endeavor to meet this schedule. Because our working program has been set too; we can’t upset this program. These few points I would like to bring to your attention so that we can come to an agreement and meet the schedule we have set up.

Now let me express my views on the content of your draft.

Dr. Kissinger: May I make a general observation before we go into detail? [Le Duc Tho nods.]

First, I recognize that you have made a major effort, Mr. Special Advisor. And so have we. We face a problem that both of us have to convince many audiences if we want to move very rapidly. We have no intention of bringing additional pressure on you. Because I believe when we have made the big decision to make peace, most of the issues which we will face are not decisive. What is decisive is the attitude with which we will carry out the agreement, and that means we must both be satisfied.

Now with respect to your last point, I agree with you that after we finish here there should be no changes to change the meaning or the principle. We should consider the negotiation concluded when we finish here. From the point of view of bureaucratic management—I will be very honest with you—it might help us if you would show understanding, if you would permit some of our people to suggest one or two [Page 46] changes in wording that have primarily legal and no substantive significance, so that they have interest in defending this document.

As for Saigon, we will take care of that problem. And we will not raise new issues of principle. We do not want to be in Hanoi unless there is a full understanding that the agreement is concluded. We do not want to have the negotiation reopened in Hanoi. So we must conclude here.

Le Duc Tho: Let me answer.

First, regarding the implementation of the signed agreement. I can tell you, Mr. Special Advisor, that we are the most serious in implementing the signed agreement. The experience of the past 25 years has shown this. But the implementation, the strict implementation of the signed agreement does not depend only on one side; it requires the serious implementation of both sides. If one side does not respect the agreement then naturally the other side will not do the same. Therefore, all the parties should insure the strict implementation of the agreements.

As far as you are concerned, as I told you the other day, when we are fighting we are resolute, but when we have decided to make peace we are resolute too. And when a settlement is reached we shall abide by what we have undertaken to do. Because the relation between our two countries does not lie only in this negotiation; it will stretch a long period to come. This is our desire. But it also depends on you too.

As to a change in some sentence or some wordings of the agreement, we understand that once the agreement has not yet become a signed agreement, then some changes may be brought to some sentences or words. It is the same, objective regulation, but what we wanted to stress on is that the change of the language or wording should not bring about a change in the substance of the problem.

Dr. Kissinger: We agree.

[Omitted here are Le Duc Tho’s detailed discussion of the United States proposal and Kissinger’s reaction to Le’s comments.]

Le Duc Tho: There is one more great major question I have not mentioned. That is what is called your responsibility in healing the wounds of war. I have raised this question on many occasions since we met. Then you promised to give a specific answer, but until now you have not. We have responsed to many questions of your concern, but our questions of concern—and this is one of these questions—have been ignored. We should like to have a sentence in this document. We would have preferred to have a separate chapter, but taking into account your views you said that there would be an article in the chapter on relationship between the DRV and the U.S. So I propose the following article. We propose “The Government of the United States of America [Page 47] accepts to contribute to a program of post-war reconstruction and of economic development and of healing the war wounds in North Vietnam.” We have drafted a protocol, bilateral, between Vietnam and the U.S. I shall hand it to you. I think that this way of doing it is suitable. This is the last major question I raise to you.

In sum now the great questions. Regarding what you call the withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops, I have expressed my views to you. It is a big question of principle. If we don’t resolve it, it would be very difficult.

What you have said in your message, we should pay attention to the infiltration through Laos. So in this agreement, we have dealt with this question in two paragraphs.

Dr. Kissinger: Where?

Le Duc Tho: Let me tell you. First, regarding South Vietnam, we have mentioned that the two parties shall refrain from introducing armaments, munitions, war matériels, and troops into South Vietnam. Regarding Laos and Cambodia we shall do as I have just told you. So this insures, this guarantees, that we desire an end to the war. And it responds to your concern about the possible “infiltration” into Laos and Cambodia, and you should do the same way too. We have paid attention to what you said in your message.

Regarding the content of the message you sent to us, what you said about the ceasefire of indefinite duration, we responded to. We have a proposed sentence to add to it, and this sentence is stronger than you have mentioned here.

Your second concern is about the supervision of the infiltration route, so we have responded to add a sentence to it that “Foreign powers should put an end to all military activities in Laos and Cambodia, totally withdraw from and refrain from reintroducing troops, military advisers …”

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but that’s conditional on a settlement in Laos. If it were not conditional on a settlement in Laos we would have no trouble with it. If paragraph 15 (b)3 becomes an obligation under the agreement, then the Special Advisor is quite right, then all my necessities are taken care of.

Le Duc Tho: You demand that we should take into account your concern, but you never had thought for our concern.

[Page 48]

Dr. Kissinger: No, we do too, but it is a problem for us.

Le Duc Tho: There is another question in your message, that is, what you call the North Vietnamese troops leaving. It is one very big question and I have been telling you for the past four years we will never accept it.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand.

Le Duc Tho: Now another point, about your proposal to release a number of American prisoners within one week of the signing of the agreement. This question had been met by the provision of the agreement. After the signing of the agreement there has been stipulated a period for the troop withdrawal, for the release of the prisoners. And we shall carry out all these provisions. But this question may be further discussed during your visit to Hanoi.

Dr. Kissinger: But after the agreement they are released to us, not to Cora Weiss. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: It is certain.

Dr. Kissinger: I mean not to us personally, but to the U.S. Government.

Le Duc Tho: So in sum we have made real efforts with a view to ending the war. And on many questions we have proposed a reasonable and logical solution taking into account your concerns. But once again, I would like to repeat that you should also take into account our concerns. It would be fair then and reasonable. I have finished my comment on the draft of the agreement you handed to us.

Let me now deal with other questions now. Now about the document on the “Agreement on the Exercise of South Vietnam People’s Right to Self-Determination,”4 we are awaiting your comments. And what you acknowledge on that, you will make a unilateral statement and to give that statement to us.

The document you have given us, there are some we think it all right; there are others we don’t think it all right. But we don’t give answer on that.

As to the recording of an understanding between us, there are some you have correctly recorded as we understand; there are others that are not quite. But the acknowledgements which constitute an understanding between us should not be published.

Now, regarding your trip to Hanoi. I may officially inform you that if today or tomorrow morning we come to an agreement here on the text of the agreement, then we are prepared to receive you on October the 19th, as you proposed. But if it could be sooner it would be [Page 49] more convenient to us for our programs of work, for instance, on October the 17th or 18th. As to your stay in Hanoi, it may be two days or three days. It will depend on the discussion and exchange of views we have over there.

Dr. Kissinger: But I have a voice in the length of my stay? [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: Right. You propose two days, but if we can finish our talks sooner and you want to return to the States sooner it is up to you. If you want to stay longer and visit our country, it is up to you. The length of the stay is up to you.

Dr. Kissinger: Thank you.

Le Duc Tho: And if you visit Hanoi sooner and finish the work sooner, then the signing will be sooner, but if you finish later and visit later then the signing will be later.

Now as to your working program. The other day you raised the question who you will meet of our leaders. I would propose that you will meet our Prime Minister, Mr. Pham Van Dong, and our Foreign Minister, and if you wanted to meet others of our leaders then we shall see to that. But when you arrive in Hanoi we will exchange views on that because I will be there to receive you. We shall exchange views.

Dr. Kissinger: I look forward to that.

Xuan Thuy: And I shall be here to see you off. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: As to the subject to be discussed over there. Tentatively, I think there is the following items. First, regarding the agreement, we shall complete an agreement and discuss the signing of the agreement. We shall discuss also the long-term relationships between our two countries and all other problems of mutual concern. You may raise and we shall exchange views on that. If we have anything to convey to you concerning your trip we shall convey that through Colonel Guay. As to the announcement of your trip, we think that as soon as you arrive in Hanoi we will announce it simultaneously in Washington and Hanoi. But when you will leave, maybe two or three days after you have left, then we will announce. If you leave today, tomorrow we shall announce for instance.

Dr. Kissinger: That will be impossible because I shall arrive in Washington and they will know I am back. Oh, announce the agreement. We can announce the agreement two days after I am back, yes, but we announce the departure immediately.

Le Duc Tho: Yes. When you leave we announce immediately the departure.

Dr. Kissinger: That I have left. And two or three days later, the agreement.

[Page 50]

Le Duc Tho: I would like to ask you for clarification. You mean that the agreement will be announced two days after you have left Hanoi? Does that mean that the publication of the agreement, the content of the agreement that we have signed?

Dr. Kissinger: My recommendation … I have to discuss all of this with the President. But my recommendation is that if we keep to this schedule then I would leave Hanoi on the morning of October 21st, your time. And we would announce the agreement on the evening of October 23rd, or the morning of October 24th your time. We would announce the fact of an agreement and we would publish it, and we would sign it a few days later in Paris. Announce my departure on the 21st, just two sentences. We announce the agreement 72 hours later. We make a brief announcement that there is an agreement and then we publish the agreement.

Xuan Thuy: So the full text of the agreement will be published?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: So when 72 hours after you leave Hanoi, then we shall publish the agreement that we have.

Dr. Kissinger: That we have agreed to. But I must repeat, Mr. Special Advisor, there must be an agreement before I go there. We cannot negotiate the agreement there. It is too dangerous for both of us to go there without an agreement. We may have a detail of a technical nature …

Le Duc Tho: So it is very basic to make an effort to come to an agreement here.

Dr. Kissinger: We must come to an agreement here, if we’re going to have an agreement.

Le Duc Tho: As to the announcement of your arrival and your departure, it is a simple information. We shall exchange views with you when you come.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, we have a text of what we propose. [Hands over Tab B]5

Le Duc Tho: As to the signing of the agreement, it will be signed in Paris by the Foreign Ministers. Yesterday you asked the question on the agreement being signed by the four Foreign Ministers. I ask you this question: Do you mean that when the two, DRV and U.S., Foreign Ministers come to sign the agreement the other two come also at the same time to sign it?

Dr. Kissinger: We can draft the agreement either for four or for two.

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Le Duc Tho: But it is the same and one document.

Dr. Kissinger: Oh yes, the document will be the same.

Le Duc Tho: The same agreement?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: But the four will come and sign on the same day.

Dr. Kissinger: Presumably. But I am not sure that I don’t prefer your proposal. This question I wanted to leave open for Saigon.

Le Duc Tho: All right. The main thing is that the two, DRV and U.S., Foreign Ministers?

Dr. Kissinger: Oh yes, this is agreed.

Le Duc Tho: But my view is that if the four Foreign Ministers shall sign then they should sign the same document and on the same day for convenience.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, it may be better to leave it at two, but we’ll have to see.

Le Duc Tho: Now regarding the technical questions on your trip, I shall give you answer later.

Dr. Kissinger: I have some of the details here. [Hands over Tab C]6

Le Duc Tho: Let me add a few more questions. After the agreement is reached and your trip to Hanoi, maybe we both will exchange views on one more question, that is the question of after the signing of the agreement how the forums here should continue their work—the two-party, three-party, four-party forums—and settle the remaining questions.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: I raise this question for you to prepare your program.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, we have to agree. If there is an agreement, then as soon as we announce it, the Avenue Kleber group should begin to meet immediately to work out technical arrangements for the ceasefire. Because unless they are satisfactorily resolved we won’t be able to sign the agreement. Just technical arrangements, who stays where and who belongs to what.

Le Duc Tho: I have not clearly understood your view.

Dr. Kissinger: My view is that after we announce the agreement a number of things have to take place. First, there has to be an exchange of lists of prisoners. Second, there has to be—we say the forces should stand in place, but somebody has to define where that place is they are standing. And what standing-in-place means. Can they move one kilometer, two kilometers? I mean they cannot just not move at all.

[Page 52]

Le Duc Tho: Let me stop you for a moment. Now I think that we should concentrate on this work. I raised this question to exchange views with you on the forums when we meet in Hanoi because we will have more time there. So let us concentrate.

Dr. Kissinger: But you should understand what will be necessary. We don’t have to settle it now.

Le Duc Tho: The reason why I raise this question for you to think over it. But what you have just said is not clearly understood by me because you said after the signing of the agreement then the four parties …

Dr. Kissinger: No, after the announcement of the agreement but before the signing.

Le Duc Tho: So if you say this, then the agreement will never be signed.

Dr. Kissinger: Why not?

Le Duc Tho: Because if we go into the details then the views differ. Because a discussion may not be completed in one day.

Dr. Kissinger: That may be true, but it can be completed in one week. It can make some preliminary arrangements on the first day, but this document does not tell the military commanders what they can and cannot do.

Le Duc Tho: I disagree with you. I think that if the agreement is signed today then tomorrow the four-party forum should begin. It is not right the way you are doing it. It would not be signed. If you say so then the agreement would not be signed. The agreement should be signed before the work of the four-party conference.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, how can you have a ceasefire that has no technical provisions?

Le Duc Tho: So what has been done at the Geneva Conference in 1954 and 1962—the ceasefire, they observed it and the discussions began afterward. The way we propose the problem conforms to the principle. Without the official agreement then no discussion is possible. Therefore, there should be an official agreement signed and then we discuss.

Dr. Kissinger: No, the ceasefire went into effect afterwards in 1954, July 20 here.

Le Duc Tho: Only a few hours after the signing the ceasefire became effective.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but this had very precise provisions.

Le Duc Tho: At the Geneva Conference on Laos in 1962 and the Geneva Conference in 1954, then only the main provisions were decided, and afterward then discussions began to set up the joint military commission, how it worked and so on.

[Page 53]

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but it’s to be foreseen that if your forces claim they are in a certain town and the Saigon forces claim they are in a certain town then the fighting will continue.

Le Duc Tho: You see in Geneva in 1962 and 1954, when the order of ceasefire was promulgated, then in all places the troops stopped shooting.

Dr. Kissinger: Except when I look at the map your areas seem to grow during these discussions considerably.

Le Duc Tho: You should remember that the war is now going on. There is not yet a ceasefire. You are still bombing North Vietnam in violation of your engagement of 1968. And I should point out that for the last few days the bombing has been very atrocious. The number of sorties have never reached this, over 400 sorties a day, and B–52 bombing was carried out up to the province, the city of Vinh. It is the first time for B–52 bombing in Vinh. And while we are discussing all these things, this bombing is carried on. I think this is something incorrect. The air raids were directed against the schools, villages, and so on. I would like to draw your attention on that fact. I would like to say that if we come to an agreement, then only a few days left before we end the war. It is unsatisfactory if you are doing this against North Vietnam. Then the wounds caused by these deeds to the relationship, long-term relationship, will take a long time to heal.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, if we come to an agreement this will be reflected in the intensity of the actions, to the day on which we have agreed on which they would stop completely.

Le Duc Tho: I have finished now.

Dr. Kissinger: All right. Maybe I can make a general comment and then let us have a break, because then perhaps the Special Advisor can think about it during the break.

  • First, I would like to point out a number of massive practical problems which are now presented to us. If we are going to meet the schedule that we have agreed to yesterday, it is absolutely imperative that I return to Washington tomorrow. Indeed I should return to Washington tonight but that is now impossible. There will be no possibility whatsoever to meet this schedule if we do not settle the text tomorrow.
  • Secondly, as you realize, we are very far from having anything like an agreed text, even on the points where we agree.
  • Thirdly, you have raised a number of issues of principle which will be extremely difficult for us, and some on which it is almost impossible for me to settle without a conversation with the President, and one or two of his senior advisors. Now, for example, I can tell you now that the President will never sign an agreement in which Cuba is one of the guaranteeing parties. I can’t even go back with such a document for his [Page 54] approval. Not unless you want me to be unemployed the day I bring it back. [Laughter]

Xuan Thuy: You are a professor!

Dr. Kissinger: Oh yes. One of my associates has said that the one point on which both North and South Vietnam might agree after my next visit to Saigon is that I should withdraw after the agreement is signed. [Laughter] So we have this problem.

Now, we have a number of massive difficulties, some of which are psychological and some of which are real. We will have to defend this agreement against a public opinion which is three to one in favor of continuing the war, and against people who will accuse us of having betrayed the basic objective. I am giving you an objective analysis of the situation—I’m not arguing your points now. And without any question our critics will receive encouragement from Saigon.

On our schedule we have three days, less than three days, two and a half days, to gain the support of Washington and then three days to gain the support of Saigon. The more complexities this agreement has, therefore, even if they are of a primarily psychological nature, the more difficult it is for us. Moreover, we will be accused of having done this only because of the election, so from our point of view it is actually better to wait until after the election. I am trying to give you the reality of the situation, and I am not arguing now, because we haven’t got the time to make long speeches.

Le Duc Tho: I will not debate.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but I am trying to give you a cold analysis of what we have.

Le Duc Tho: I will not analyze the situation.

Dr. Kissinger: Now let me tell you how I see your forces in the South. I recognize it is a question of principle for you. I recognize it is a question of principle for you. I recognize also that if you observe this agreement in my judgment some of these forces will have to be withdrawn. For your own reasons, not because you’re obliged to do it. Because if you cannot introduce any equipment, supplies, you cannot keep all these forces there. So as a practical matter that is actually not a matter whose outcome will be very different whatever we decide at all. Yet in the American mind the first question that I shall be asked at a press conference, where I will be the chief advocate of this agreement in America, will be about your forces. And you will see that when we make an agreement I will be the person who will put it over with public opinion. Just as I did our agreements with the Soviet Union in Moscow on strategic arms. So the first question I will be asked is about your forces.

As far as I’m concerned, speaking realistically, I believe that the guarantee for peace in South Vietnam will depend on the relationship [Page 55] you and we will develop and the relationship that I hope to start when I come to Hanoi. If the agreement breaks down, because you feel you have been cheated, you have demonstrated amply your ability to bring your forces back into South Vietnam. So our long-term objective in dealing with you would be to create such a relationship between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the United States that you will not want to start the war again.

Now I have no particular need, there’s no particular need to put any specific provision into the agreement as such. But if there were some unilateral movement of your forces, of the nature that Governor Harriman claims he observed in 1968, not required by the agreement but observable and of a nature which—we recognize that you will not give up your basic military position in the South, and we’re not asking that.

Now on Laos and Cambodia, I recognize the subtle statements of the Special Advisor and I think you have a very serious problem. But we have a very serious problem too. Now I recognize also that you probably could not, even if you wanted to, be certain when the war in Cambodia will end. But I think between you and us we could bring about a ceasefire in Laos and therefore put into operation the provisions of Article 15(b) with respect to Laos.7 We’re not doing this to press you, because, as I said to the Special Advisor yesterday, no one can survey, no group can have an absolute surveillance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

There are a number of other problems which we can discuss as we go through the document, for example—but these are not so massive—such as the deployment of our forces and similar matters. But I will reserve these comments until we go through the document.

But realistically, we now have an enormous job ahead of us. We must settle several issues of principle and we must get an agreed draft of an agreement—in which your language in almost every paragraph, even when we agree, is so different from ours. Now some of your comments we can accept. Some of the changes you want to make we will be able to work out—I’m not raising that.

But I want to make these observations so that you can reflect about them before we take a break, because maybe what we should consider during the break is putting the whole schedule back for a week. So that we can study it in Washington, you can study it in Hanoi, or whether we interrupt for three days, and I come back here on Sunday.8 There are any number of possibilities. These are all possibilities; I’m not proposing [Page 56] it. But you are asking me to finish this today, take it back to Washington, impose it on our government in three days, take it to Saigon, impose it on their government in three days, all of this in a document in which there are a number of clauses which are enormously ambiguous.

I want to say only one final thing, Mr. Special Advisor. You will find that when this agreement is signed that I will be the strongest defender of this agreement in the United States. And indeed I will have to carry the principal burden of its defense. So I am speaking from that point of view as a collaborator with you. So if we can perhaps take a break now.

Le Duc Tho: Let me speak a few sentences. In your analysis you have referred to your difficulties, psychological difficulties, and other difficulties. You should understand that we too, we have difficulties. We have also our requirements. You are responsible to your people but we, we are also responsible to our fatherland, to our people. We have expressed lengthily our views, and we have made great effort. If we can’t come to an agreement, a settlement, today and tomorrow, then we have no other way to settle the problem.

You said you don’t want to settle now and to wait until after the election. It is up to you. The previous meetings and yesterday we have agreed to a schedule in order that we should concentrate our effort to come to a settlement. But now you propose another schedule. So you change one thing on which we have just come to agreement. It is not a serious attitude. It is not a serious attitude to settle the problem. You have your program of work; we have ours too. So if both sides are willing to settle the problem, then we are prepared on settling, but if you don’t then no such plan is possible because there is no other way. It is what I have frankly told you, frankly and straightforwardly told you. So if you want a settlement then there is not many ways to come to a settlement. We are in the same position. But if you don’t want a settlement, then we too. If you want to stop the negotiations then we are prepared to do that. It is something real. So let us now have a break.

Dr. Kissinger: Let us now have a break, and then go through the document section by section and do it concretely and not theoretically. We should change the schedule only if we have no other alternative. And my experience with the Special Advisor is that he never gives up.

Le Duc Tho: Because you speak of your own difficulties and you don’t take into account ours.

Dr. Kissinger: No, I recognize that. We both have our difficulties. We have fought for ten years. There is an enormous chasm. We have to find a way now. We have enormous distrust, and we probably both have associates who have their own requirements, so we both have a very complicated assignment. I realize this and we should go through [Page 57] this document now article by article with the spirit of finding a solution. I do not think it would be good now if we go off and redraft one and give you a new document. We would never reach an agreement. So, let us just go through it. Then perhaps while we cannot settle tonight we will put it aside tonight, go over it again tomorrow and then perhaps see whether we can finish it.

Le Duc Tho: I agree to this way of working.

[The meeting broke at 6:48. During the informal conversation Dr. Kissinger commented that Xuan Thuy was not wearing the tie Dr. Kissinger had given him. Le Duc Tho replied that Thuy would not wear it until an agreement was reached. The meeting reconvened at 8:04 p.m.]

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor and Mr. Minister, I obviously have not had an opportunity for a detailed study of this, and I have not been able to find a solution on our most difficult problems, which I mentioned to you previously. And it is, I repeat again, an extremely difficult problem for us to be able to explain how we could accept restrictions on our supply of assistance while your side is totally unrestricted in Cambodia and Laos where your base areas are.

But let us leave that aside for the time being, unless the Special Advisor has in the meantime found a solution for it.

Le Duc Tho: [Shakes head] I have told you the last minute we have a provision in the agreement not to introduce armaments and war material into Laos and South Vietnam.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but maybe it is a lack of understanding on my part. That is provision 15(b) in your agreement?

Le Duc Tho: 15(b).

Dr. Kissinger: Right. If that provision is in effect when the agreement is signed, then I will no longer bother the Special Advisor.

Le Duc Tho: But I myself would not bother you only on that question. I have many other questions to bother you, the question of healing the war wounds for instance. You wanted to worry me but you do not want me to worry you.

Dr. Kissinger: I was just going to make a concession to the Special Advisor on something else. Now I have to reconsider it.

Le Duc Tho: Please go on.

Dr. Kissinger: All right. Let’s go through the agreement and then let’s put aside the very difficult issues until tomorrow. Incidentally, I must leave tomorrow; there is no possibility of my leaving later than tomorrow.

And as I see it there are three possible outcomes. One, that we agree and I can give you assurance of its almost certainly being accepted in Washington; two, that we agree in a way that leaves uncertain whether Washington will in fact accept it, in which case I would [Page 58] have to tell you that we need 48 hours to examine it; and three, that we don’t agree at all.

Le Duc Tho: For me I can think that there are two alternatives, two possibilities. First, we can agree; second, we can’t agree. As to the alternative of 48 hours needed to have in Washington, I don’t visualize this alternative. Because you can speak directly with the President through telephone but we, we can’t do that. Moreover, you represent the President; you have full authority to settle here as I am representing here and have full authority to settle here.

Dr. Kissinger: I have authority up to a certain point. But let’s see where we are. We can decide tomorrow.

[Omitted here is discussion of restrictions on the United States supplying war material to South Vietnam after the cease-fire, and on the question of healing the war wounds in Indochina. Also omitted are references to Tab D (“Chapter VII: With Regard to Cambodia and Laos”) and Tab E (“Mutual Understanding Between the United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam”), each handed to the North Vietnamese delegation by the United States.]

Le Duc Tho: You want us to give you an understanding on many questions but you yourself never give first an understanding on this question.

Dr. Kissinger: No, I want to talk on this question seriously.9 First of all, you have to understand that this is not a decision which the President can make. It is a decision which the Congress makes. Secondly, we are having new Congressional elections on November 7th and we have no precise idea what that new Congress will bring. And I’m speaking with you openly, and you can check with your friends in America. Thirdly, the Congress has been cutting every year the budget for foreign economic assistance. Our budget for this year, the entire budget, is, what, $2 billion for all the countries in the world. To give you some idea, South Vietnam is getting approximately $700 million and it is considered an ally. On the other hand, we are prepared to undertake a program in North Vietnam. I can assure you that to write it into a formal peace agreement between us would be a disaster for both of us. We are prepared to make a public declaration to the effect that I have given you.

Secondly, we should move after a ceasefire very rapidly to improve our political relationships.

Thirdly, in this context we could then send an economic mission to North Vietnam very quickly.

[Page 59]

Fourthly, we could encourage the World Bank to make a very rapid survey. Mr. McNamara is somebody we know very well. We were subjected to violent disagreement, to violent criticism, last year when it was said that we had mentioned the figure of $7.5 billion a year during our negotiations in the summer. That was for all of Indochina.

And finally, it is essential when I defend this agreement before the press and before the Congress that I can say we are not paying any reparations and we did not agree on any sum. But I can assure you that within six months of the agreement we will find a way to make several hundred million dollars available and that during that time we will mobilize a long-term program. This is the unilateral statement [hands over U.S. statement at Tab F].10 You already have our statement. It’s what you already have.

Le Duc Tho: You have expressed your views on one of the major questions but you have not satisfied us. Last year you said there would be $1.5 million [billion] for all Indochinese countries a year.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: And the recent bombing during the recent period has caused tremendous damages, and now you are reducing the sum you will allot. And your statement is not clear yet.

Dr. Kissinger: I am not reducing the sum. I am giving you a realistic picture. It is very difficult for us to give you a realistic figure while we are conducting secret negotiations, and while we are at war. Once peace is restored—I still believe the sum of $1.5 billion is possible. It was based at that time on the best judgment of our experts of what we could obtain. It is in fact probable that if genuine peace occurs in Indochina this sum can be met or even exceeded, especially if we take international consortiums into account, under our leadership.

Le Duc Tho: Have you finished?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes Mr. Special Advisor.

Le Duc Tho: Please let me speak a few sentences and I would propose that we shall resume tomorrow morning. In the morning. Does 10:00 suit you?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. But I am getting somewhat concerned now about how we are going to finish this. Just technically. We will redo our document tonight to incorporate our best judgment of what we have offered you. We will not put in anything new. It will just contain what we have discussed here.

Le Duc Tho: May we decide that we shall begin at 9:30?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, if that’s agreeable to you, I would prefer it.

[Page 60]

Le Duc Tho: Now I would like to draw your attention to a few questions. First, I would like to speak about the healing of the war wounds. I still remember that Mr. Special Advisor has told me once or twice that you can write one sentence in the agreement. And we have taken into account your views. And we have put this sentence in the chapter on the relationship between the DRV and the U.S. It is a very reasonable and logical sentence, and if it is not accepted then I feel it very difficult to accept by us. The wording of this sentence is very flexible. I believe that this sentence will be welcome by the American people and the world people. They can have no other reaction. I am firmly convinced of that. And this sentence you are unwilling to accept and put there, and a question I have raised to you so many times. Because if you satisfy our concern on that subject then we shall show our good will toward your concern on other issues. And what we have raised here is something very legitimate. You should remember that you have been destroying North Vietnam for decades now. And President Nixon himself has said that he has the responsibility to shoulder this work. President Nixon has made an explicit statement but the sentence we put here is …

Dr. Kissinger: What we have to do, Mr. Special Advisor and Mr. Minister, is to find something that does not so irritate the people that have to give the money that it will have the opposite result of what you want. What I propose is the following, Mr. Special Advisor: Not as a separate Article but as part of Article 16. Let me draft a sentence overnight which will have the right moral attitude for Americans and which will satisfy your point in a spirit of good will. And I will bring it in here for your consideration tomorrow morning. But I accept to add one sentence to Article 16.11

Le Duc Tho: I recall to you here President Nixon’s statement, and if you accept to rewrite President Nixon’s statement it is all right.

Dr. Kissinger: What did he say? It is the first time I have heard any Vietnamese official refer to President Nixon approvingly.

Le Duc Tho: “Once the war is ended we will assume our responsibility in helping the belligerent countries that have participated in the war in healing the wounds of war.” Excerpt from President Nixon’s statement published in U.S. News and World Report, published in June 26, 1972.

Dr. Kissinger: Can we put it in here as a quote? [Laughter] I was thinking of finding a statement along these lines to add to paragraph [Page 61] 16. I expect that we will add a sentence to Article 16 which embodies this thought. And we will bring it in tomorrow.

Le Duc Tho: But we still think it more logical to keep it into separate articles. Article 16 deals with the relationship of the DRV toward the U.S. Article 17 deals with the U.S. attitude toward the DRV. Not only from the logical point of view but the point of view of style, of literary wording.

Dr. Kissinger: I know you want it partly for symbolic reasons. But if you press it too hard you will get the statement and not the support.

Le Duc Tho: In my view if you make this statement now it is to your benefit. There is no harm to you. Our people, as you know, have experienced war for so many years. There is a big gap between our people and your people. Such a statement put in the agreement would help rapidly healing the wounds that have impaired the relationship between the two countries.

Dr. Kissinger: But may I ask the Special Advisor the following question? Why would it not be morally more significant if we make this agreement and at the same time make a public statement which can go much further separate from the agreement? It would be much easier for us to make a public declaration when the agreement is signed, or even when the agreement is announced.

Le Duc Tho: This sentence put in the agreement not only has an economic meaning to us but also it has a significance of the responsibility you assume. But it has also a political significance to our people too. And our people after the war, when they read the agreement and they see this article, then their feelings, their attitude toward the United States Government would be better than if not. So this sentence is not only for us but also for you, beneficial to both sides. What I have just told you is something very practical, very real. I have read this question to you every time we meet. This is our last requirement in the agreement. It would be very difficult for us if we can’t have such a sentence recorded. Please think over and I hope you will settle the problem.

Dr. Kissinger: As I said to you, Mr. Special Advisor, if we can find a satisfactory solution to all other problems, I will bring with me tomorrow a sentence or two which is also more meaningful to Americans, to take account of your problem.

Le Duc Tho: We can tell you that if you offer a satisfactory solution you will see that we are also reasonable people. Therefore I have told you several times that you should understand us. We will not yield to any pressure, but when we settle the problem we are reasonable people. So please tomorrow, please take into account our view in a satisfactory way and to have a concrete statement. And we shall have something to respond to that.

[Page 62]

Dr. Kissinger: That is fair enough.

Le Duc Tho: And to have a satisfactory response to that, we can build up this agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand. Now may I say the questions to which I will need a response, because I will be asked them: What happens to your base areas outside of Vietnam? In other words, a restriction on importation of military equipment that does not affect the base areas will come under violent attack. Secondly, what happens to the infiltration? And thirdly, the troops? But I will give you an answer to this and I will bring you some sentences.

Le Duc Tho: But you should give us a concrete statement.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, I understand. I will take what you have given us and try to put it into a language our people understand.

Le Duc Tho: Let me draw your attention to a few other points. Particularly the question of captured military men and civilians. It appears that this is a question in a chapter which seems to have no importance at all. But it has its own importance. Because over the years innumerable cadres and civilian personnel of the PRG have been jailed by the Saigon Administration. It is tremendous suffering for the prisoners. If now the war is ending and these people are still in jail, please imagine what we are feeling in this situation. Therefore it is our view that after the ceasefire all these people should be released. I think it has been done in the same way at the Geneva Conference of 1954. Please give great attention to that.

Now I have raised another question. Regarding the International Commission there are still a few points left on which you should pay attention to our views.

So tomorrow we shall meet again. As far as we are concerned, we shall make an active effort to finish the building up of the agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: So shall we, and if both of us are making an effort I am convinced that we shall get results.

Le Duc Tho: Only there is tomorrow left, so if we have something we should speak it out.

Dr. Kissinger: But we may have to do the following, and decide at the end of the day tomorrow. We may have to delay our schedule by one day, in other words, that I would come to Hanoi on the 20th instead of the 19th. I must have three days in Washington and, Mr. Special Advisor, when you get to know America better you will think that this will be a superhuman effort to get this accepted in Washington by everybody who will have to defend it. Because if we don’t make a peace that has genuine support it will not last.

So I need three days in Washington and I must have three days in Saigon. Maybe I can do it faster in Saigon, but I do not want to put myself [Page 63] in a schedule where I can be blackmailed. So at the end of the day tomorrow we decide what the schedule shall be. We’ll look at the agreement and we’ll decide.

Le Duc Tho: And tomorrow after the agreement is achieved we shall discuss the concrete schedule. If there is no agreement tomorrow then the schedule is quite different. But we shall do an effort.

Dr. Kissinger: We will make a big effort, both of us. When I gave the Special Advisor three possibilities he rejected one of them; he gave me two. Let’s reject the possibility that there will not be an agreement.

Le Duc Tho: I agree with you that we should make an effort.

Dr. Kissinger: We will both make a big effort. We have come so far over four years.

Le Duc Tho: But it is possible, and there have been many cases like that, that we have covered nine-tenths of the distance and only one-tenth is left and if we don’t make an effort we don’t reach our destination. But we will not leave the one-tenth uncovered.

Dr. Kissinger: No, we shall make a big effort tomorrow. And if we should then fail we can discuss what to do.

Le Duc Tho: If both sides make an effort we shall achieve our objective unless one of the two fail to make an effort.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, it will have to be the Special Advisor then—he will have the full responsibility.

Le Duc Tho: [Laughs] You, not me. If we fail then we do not need discussions of what we should do.

Dr. Kissinger: The tragedy if we fail is that then there are about a thousand adjectives the Minister has not used yet. They will be lost to literary history. [laughter]

[The group then got up from the table.]

Le Duc Tho: So we have a very strenuous day. But you have given me too much pressure.

Dr. Kissinger: No, I will be your strongest defender when we make the agreement. We will see what will happen when we announce.

Le Duc Tho: What will happen?

Dr. Kissinger: Great commotion.

Le Duc Tho: Great commotion but a good one.

Dr. Kissinger: It will start developments in a good direction. What we should discuss in Hanoi, or perhaps tomorrow, is the first few weeks after the announcement, there will be great confusion. So that we then must manage the affairs so that we keep going in the direction that we have started. That will require wisdom and trust on both sides. Because the most important event of this agreement will not be to end the war but to start the road toward friendship which lasts. We have [Page 64] always made armistices; we have never made peace, and that’s what we must do now.

Le Duc Tho: We shall make an effort and we shall reach our goal.

Dr. Kissinger: I believe that also.

[The meeting ended at 9:55 p.m.]12

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 856, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XX [1 of 3]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du General Leclerc in Gif sur Yvette. The tabs are attached but not printed. Brackets, with the exception of those indicating omitted material and italicized corrections to the text, are in the original.
  2. Tab A is an October 9 message from Nixon to Kissinger, which included four points Nixon wished to be transmitted to Le Duc Tho. First, at the end of the first sentence to the draft agreement Nixon would add: “The ceasefire shall be of indefinite duration and independent of any other provisions of the agreement.” Second, Nixon indicated that “the United States ‘attaches importance to the surveillance of infiltration routes through Laos.’” Third, he added that the list of forces in South Vietnam to be exchanged when the cease-fire agreement was signed “should reflect the absence of those [North Vietnamese]forces which entered South Vietnam after March 25, 1972.” Fourth, since the United States, as a gesture of good will, was prepared to stop bombing North Vietnam a week before signing the cease-fire agreement, it would consider “as a comparable gesture of good will if the Democratic Republic of Vietnam would release a significant number of prisoners of war to United States authorities within one week of the signing of an agreement.”
  3. Reference is to the text in Tab G, an unofficial translation of North Vietnam’s draft “Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Viet Nam.” Article 15(b) (Chapter VII) reads: “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 matérial.”
  4. Article 9 (Chapter IV) of Tab G.
  5. “Proposed US–DRV Joint Statement on Dr. Kissinger’s Visit to Hanoi.”
  6. “Technical Data Associated with Dr. Kissinger’s Visit to Hanoi.”
  7. See footnote 3 above.
  8. October 15.
  9. Kissinger was referring to Article 17 of Tab G in which the United States would contribute to the postwar reconstruction and economic development of North Vietnam.
  10. “United States Unilateral Statement on Reconstruction.”
  11. Article 16 stated that peace in Vietnam would “create conditions for establishing a new, equal and mutually beneficial relationship between the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam and the United States on the basis of respect for each other’s independence and sovereignty, and non-interference in each others internal affairs.” In turn, that relationship would “ensure stable peace” in Vietnam, Indochina, and Southeast Asia.
  12. After the session Kissinger sent messages to Nixon and Haldeman. To the President, he wrote: “The negotiations during this round have been so complex and sensitive that we have been unable to report their content in detail due to the danger of compromise. We know exactly what we are doing, and just as we have not let you down in the past, we will not do so now. Pending our return and my direct report to you it is imperative that nothing be said in reply to McGovern or in any other context bearing on the current talks.” Senator George S. McGovern, Nixon’s Democratic Party opponent in the upcoming election, was to announce his Vietnam program that evening. To Haldeman, he urged: “Please hold everything steady. I recognize the uncertainties there but excessive nervousness can only jeopardize the outcome here.” The two messages, retyped as memoranda, are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 856, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XIX.