85. Memorandum From John D. Negroponte of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Some Thoughts on Where We Might Proceed From Here in Our Negotiations

Summary: This paper proposes an alternate approach to our negotiations which nonetheless remains within the general framework of the draft already negotiated.

In sum the recommendations are the following:

  • —Strengthen the draft substantially except on NVA withdrawals from SVN which is non-negotiable.
  • —Proceed to Saigon before the elections and sell this as a joint U.S./GVN proposal to Thieu.
  • —Table the proposal publicly at Kleber on November 9 as a framework for negotiations, as an earnest of our intent to keep these talks moving after the elections and as proof that these talks had moved from the stage of discussing principle to concrete details.

Background: We have reached a stage in the talks where no matter how you slice the cake the GVN has raised a number of concerns which are entirely legitimate. George Carver’s paper,2 I thought, was excellent in this regard.

GVN preoccupations notwithstanding we have reached agreement in principle with the DRV on an extremely important number of issues.

Areas of GVN/U.S. Differences: As the GVN itself has repeatedly pointed out they have three fundamental concerns:

  • —Recognition of the existence of a second Vietnamese state within Vietnamese territory South of the Demarcation Line.
  • —Establishment of the principle that forces from the State North of that line have no right to be in the South, and to the extent possible, to lay down concrete provisions in the agreement for implementation of that principle.
  • —The avoidance of any political provision which might jeopardize either the viability of the GVN or the psychological atmosphere in which it will have to operate once we have withdrawn.

To these concerns we might add the related one of the absence of firm assurances on NVA activities in Laos and Cambodia. In Laos we have agreement to a ceasefire; but only a vague statement that the modalities of NVA withdrawals will be negotiated after the ceasefire takes place. In Cambodia we have what is tantamount to no DRV commitment at all since their forces could operate and linger in Cambodia until they see what the outcome is in South Vietnam. In either instance, the way our present agreement is worded, the NVA might legitimately be able to interpret withdrawal as meaning into either North or South Vietnam.

What Changes Can We Make? We have already provided you with a compendium of word changes that would serve to strengthen the present agreement.

I think George Carver’s suggestion of imposing an obligation on the DRV to withdraw its volunteers and other DRV citizens serving with the liberation forces in the South is totally unrealistic. The DRV would rather fade away than ever agree to this kind of formulation. There are, however, some changes which can be made, some of which you already have before you:

  • —The DMZ provision in the chapter on reunification. This at least establishes the principle that the forces from each zone must remain on their respective side of the Demarcation Line. It does not, however, cope entirely with the claim that the NVA in the South are simply Southern regroupees or North Vietnamese volunteers.
  • —Legally the North Vietnamese could not object to an addition referring to the four Indochinese states since this was established by the 1954 Geneva Accords and is not inconsistent with their own approach that there should be a separate government in South Vietnam.
  • —We could make the completion of our withdrawal from South Vietnam in 60 days conditional upon the completion of the provisions of Article 15b. The DRV would not have a leg to stand on in this regard since they do not even have a right to be in Cambodia and Laos anyway.
  • —Under Article 9 we can pick up George Carver’s suggestion to make it a joint U.S.–DRV obligation that they respect the South Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination, that they are not committed [Page 346] to any political tendencies or personalities, and they do not seek to impose a pro-American or pro-DRV government in South Vietnam.
  • —On the replacement provision, we could go back to our original Geneva Accords language which refers to war material being “destroyed, damaged, worn out or used up,” right now we just have “worn out or damaged.”
  • —Under Article 9f I think we could drop both “the Administrative structure” and the “three equal segments” and revise that part of the sentence to read “to set up a Council of National Reconciliation and Concord whose members shall be appointed by the two sides.”
  • —Under 9i we could add a clause to the first sentence “after the completion of the political process provided for in Article 9b of this agreement” South Vietnam will pursue a foreign policy of peace and independence.
  • —Under the supervisory chapter, we might consider reverting to the concept of five countries and the principle of majority vote.
  • —In Article 15b we could add a clause at the beginning of the first sentence “Within 60 days of the coming into effect of this agreement, foreign states shall bring an end to all military activities in Laos and Cambodia, etc.”

Where These Changes Would Leave Us: None of the foregoing changes would add up to a demand for NVA withdrawal from SVN, a condition which is tantamount to surrender for North Vietnam and which they will never negotiate. All of the changes, in my view, can be justified as falling within the framework of the agreement (admittedly stretching things a bit at times) and they can be presented as an effort to tighten up the document so as to insure a lasting peace and not a mere truce. Finally, while these changes would still keep us within the framework of disengaging militarily from Vietnam—which is what North Vietnam wants the most desperately—they go as far as we reasonably can in meeting GVN concerns.

How We Would Proceed: It seems to me that we could conceivably extricate ourselves from what now appears to be an embarrassing dilemma by proceeding along the following course.

  • —Assuming it is agreed among us that these kinds of changes are acceptable, we could come up with a new document incorporating them and proceed immediately to Saigon. (I am doing a fresh draft agreement embodying these suggestions plus our earlier proposed changes.)
  • —It would seem to me that an indispensable element of this scenario would be the idea of going to Saigon within the next few days, despite the aversion we have all developed to 12-hour time changes. Our visit to Saigon would keep the negotiating momentum going; it would have the virtue of taking us there as the bearers of gladder tidings than during our last visit; and it would no doubt serve to make Hanoi a bit edgy as you depart Saigon on election eve in a public atmosphere of harmony with the GVN. It would also generate all sorts of public speculation, although this wouldn’t be its principal purpose.
  • —In presenting this new text to President Thieu, we would say this is our absolute limit; we believe that we have gone more than half way in meeting his concerns and that the time bought by these changes will leave the GVN in a substantially better position than if we had concluded the agreement within the original time-frame.

Table of the Draft Agreement at Kleber: Assuming President Thieu’s concurrence, the U.S. and GVN could then table the draft agreement at Avenue Kleber on November 9. This would serve a number of purposes.

  • —We would be faithful to our word that the negotiations would not lose impetus in the post-election period.
  • —We would be tabling a set of agreed principles with the details to be worked out by a subsidiary forum.
  • —We would be giving the Kleber forum a framework of an agreement to grapple with for the first time; subcommittees could be formed; protocols on international supervision could be tabled; and the DRV would be hard put to refuse to discuss the document concretely. Moreover, they have always claimed that it made no difference to them whether agreement was reached in a public, semi-public or private forum.

The process would, I recognize, be more drawn out. But the parameters of an agreement would be formally established on the record. It would be our draft against theirs with the differences easily identifiable, providing the Kleber negotiators concrete paragraphs and clauses to tangle with.

If the DRV has really made a fundamental decision to settle in order to secure our disengagement, the foregoing scenario need not in any way prove to be a prescription for stalemate. If we keep up the military pressure on the North and wrestle within the negotiating framework outlined above, I honestly believe we have a chance of settlement by early winter or spring at the latest. We would under these conditions, however, have to keep up the military pressure and seriously consider gradually sliding our bombardment of North Vietnam upwards of the 20th parallel since it is probably our bombing in the Red River Delta area and along the railroads that has caused the greatest amount of dislocation. We would also have to do a more systematic job of winding up what is necessary in the Vietnamization Program.

Periodic Private Talks Could Continue: Under this scenario we would of course continue private sessions but we could do so at a more measured pace and only when serious deadlocks develop. In fact, the fewer private meetings we hold, assuming Hanoi is eager to settle, the more fruitful the Kleber forum can become. Moreover, we need not preclude some private sessions between our Paris negotiators and those of the DRV, particularly once the lines have been so clearly drawn.

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The foregoing is postulated on the hypothesis that Hanoi will remain as eager to settle after the election as before, it not more so, and on the assumption that domestic United States support is tenable at least during the next 6 month period. I have no way of gauging this; but if we have managed our way through the much more difficult times during the past four years when U.S. conscription and U.S. casualties were involved, I think we can gamble on continued domestic support for at least the short term under what are essentially completely different conditions than when this Administration started out with 550,000 men in South Vietnam.

This is a course which I believe may have a chance of bridging the gap between an immediate settlement, which may be out of reach without smashing a lot of crockery, and protracted war which is also an alternative we prefer not to contemplate although I don’t find it as outrageous as others.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1135, Jon Howe Trip Files, Negroponte Negotiations File. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Urgent; sent for information. Haig also initialed the memorandum.
  2. Document 84.