9. Editorial Note

In a 16-hour session in Paris on October 11–12, 1972, Henry A. Kissinger, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, and Le Duc Tho, North Vietnamese Special Adviser, completed negotiations on a tentative agreement to settle the war in Southeast Asia (see Document 6). Kissinger then returned directly to Washington to report the meeting’s results to President Richard M. Nixon.

At 7:05 that evening, October 12, Kissinger and Major General Alexander M. Haig, the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs, entered the President’s hideaway office in the Executive Office Building. Nixon and telecon, Assistant to the President, were already present. The President intended a working dinner but decided to begin with drinks. Kissinger asked for a scotch and soda, Haig for a martini. Then Kissinger began his report:

Nixon: “Well, it was a long, long day—”

Kissinger: “[unclear] Mr. President—”

Nixon: “Sure. ”

Kissinger: “Well, you got three out of three, Mr. President. It’s well on the way. ”

[Page 121]

Nixon: “You got an agreement? Are you kidding?”

Kissinger: “No, I’m not kidding.”

Nixon: “Did you agree on it? Three out of three?”

Kissinger: “Although it’s done, we got to—”

Nixon: [laughs]

Kissinger: “We got it word for—”

Nixon: “I see.”

Kissinger: “—word. We got a—we got a text.”

Nixon: [humorously] “telecon—I’m going to ask telecon, because you’re too prejudiced, Henry. You’re so prejudiced to the peace camp that I can’t trust you. Don’t you think so, telecon?”

Haig: “Yes, sir.”

Kissinger: “If it is done—?”

Nixon: “What about Thieu?”

Haig: “It isn’t done.”

Kissinger: “Well, that’s the problem, but it is a commitment.”

Haig: “He wanted this agreement.”

Nixon: “It’s not insurmountable. How do we handle it?”

Kissinger: “I have to—I have to go up—out—here is what we have to do: I have to go to Paris on Tuesday [October 17] to go over the agreed things word-for-word with Le [Duc Tho].”

Nixon: “You could then get it?”

Kissinger: “No problem. I think we have an agreed text. I’ve left a man behind to go over it. Except, but I’ve—you know, just in case there’s any last minute treachery. Then I go to Saigon to get Thieu aboard. Then I have to go to Hanoi if they’re willing [unclear]—”

Nixon: “I understand.”

Kissinger: “That was the price we had to pay.”

Nixon: “Well, that’s no price if we get Thieu aboard. What do you think, telecon? When do you get him aboard?”

Kissinger: “That’s—”

Haig: “He’s already aboard—”

Kissinger: “But the deal we got, Mr. President, is so far better than anything we dreamt of. I mean it was absolutely, totally hard line with them.”

Nixon: “Good.”

Kissinger: “The deal is [unclear]—”

Nixon: “Won’t it totally wipe out Thieu, Henry?”

Haldeman: “Yeah.”

[Page 122]

Kissinger: “Oh, no. It’s so far better than anything we discussed. He won’t like it because he thinks he’s winning, but here is the deal, just to give you the main points, then I’ll tell you [unclear]—”

Nixon: “We can do that after.”

Kissinger: “All right, afterwards. The cease-fire will go into effect—”

Nixon: “The more—the more, of course, we think of all this is that we see a lot of the problems, you know, the silly ass thing of some SAM hitting the French Consulate [in Hanoi] and everything raises hell about it. I didn’t think it either. Most people would rather kill all the Frenchmen anyway, but the point is—”

Kissinger: “[unclear] we had a love-fest two hours yesterday.”

Nixon: “I know. I know. My point is, Henry, I’m thinking of Americans. Most Americans are very cynical about all these things now. But the point is that we can’t go on, and on, and on, and on having these things hanging over us either. We can ask—the other thing, are they afraid we’re going to nuke ’em? Or just hang on for another ten years—?”

Kissinger: “Mr. President—”

Nixon: “You see, telecon, that’s the problem, isn’t it?”

Kissinger: “We’ve done just about everything we can do, but this is a deal, Mr. President, that telecon could go along with. So we have no problem. I mean this is—if—if you went on television and said you’re going to make this as an American proposal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and even moderates would fall all over themselves, foaming at the mouth, swearing that this couldn’t—that you were indeed out of—”

Nixon: “Um-hmm.”

Kissinger: “—tough, mean, [unclear].”

Nixon: “Good. Well, I’ve got a little saved up.”

Kissinger: “I mean, so you—but, first, the cease-fire allows, goes into effect until the 30th or 31st. We have to settle then. [unclear] withdrawal of our forces in two months.”

Nixon: “In two months after the cease-fire?”

Kissinger: “Two months after the cease-fire.”

Nixon: “Right.”

Kissinger: “And some provisions about military aid to South Vietnam. There’s bound to be technical issues as far as whether we can continue military aid.”

Nixon: “Yeah.”

Kissinger: “It says we cannot give military aid except for replacements of what is theirs.”

[Page 123]

After brief references by Nixon and Kissinger to a speech by the Democratic Party’s Presidential candidate, Senator George S. McGovern, they returned to the settlement:

Kissinger: “The peace we are getting out of this with honor.”

Nixon: “Henry, let me tell you this: it has to be with honor. But also it has to be in terms of getting out. We cannot continue to have this cancer eating at us at home, eating at us abroad. Let me say, if these bastards turn on us, I—I am not beyond [unclear] them. I believe that’s, that’s what we’re up against.”

Kissinger: “They don’t care if we—”

Nixon: “I am not going to allow the United States to be destroyed in this thing.”

Kissinger: “Mr. President—”

Nixon: “These little assholes are not going to do it to us—”

Kissinger: “Mr. President, if they—if we play this gun-shy—both telecon—and telecon, as you know, as I told you last week, was very leery about our approach, but—”

Nixon: “Is that what he told you?”

Haig: “He told me, but he told you I’m going to get him [Thieu].”

Nixon: “Well, that’s the only thing.”

Kissinger: “I—I think everything I say to you, telecon supports 100 percent. I mean we are—we’re getting out with honor, we are saving [unclear]—”

Nixon: “You use that term, [unclear] ‘with honor’?”

Kissinger: “‘With honor.’”

Nixon: “Do you use it? Apprise me, telecon. ‘Honor’?”

Haig: “[inaudible] exactly. Sure.”

Nixon: “It is ‘honor?’ ”

Haig: “Thieu’s got his rights to deal with the rest of them.”

As the conversation continued, Kissinger presented additional elements of the settlement. On the subject of military assistance, Kissinger said that Le Duc Tho would eventually accept Kissinger’s proposal:

Nixon: “What’s that? He will accept the fact that we will continue to give military aid?”

Kissinger: “Yeah. But that he’s already accepted in principle, we just have to find the right words for him. Even though they replaced them with the present ones, that all can change.”

Nixon: “Hah! Don’t worry. Don’t worry—”

Kissinger: “And what we can say is—”

Nixon: “Just do it.”

[Page 124]

Kissinger: “—we are permitted to make periodical replacements of armaments [unclear] form that appears equal in quality and quantity to those being replaced.”

Nixon: “Good. [unclear] That’s right on. Right. Right—”

When Kissinger’s presentation turned to American prisoners in Southeast Asia, he told Nixon that the cease-fire, tentatively to take effect at the end of the month, would signal the beginning of the release of U.S. prisoners in North Vietnam as well as the ones in South Vietnam held by the Viet Cong, a process that would take about 60 days. Regarding any Americans that might be imprisoned in Cambodia or Laos, Le Duc Tho maintained, however, that he could not make a deal, but he did commit to withdrawing North Vietnamese troops from Laos.

Regarding the fate of Thieu and the political future of South Vietnam, the following discussion occurred:

Kissinger: “Then on the political side—”

[Sanchez left at an unknown time.]

Nixon: “Now—now, this is the critical thing [unclear]—”

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: “—Mr. President, but with this, Thieu can stay. No side deals.”

Nixon: “Why can he? How? Under what conditions?”

Kissinger: “There are no conditions. Thieu can stay. The only thing we agreed was that Thieu will talk to the other side—”

Nixon: “Um-hmm.”

Kissinger: “—about setting up something that will be called the National Council for National Reconciliation and Concord.”

Nixon: “Will talk to them or agree to it? Did we agree to it or did they agree to it?”

Haig: “They agreed to it—”

Kissinger: “Immediately after the cease-fire, the two seated South Vietnamese partisans [parties] shall hold consultations in the spirit of national reconciliation and concord, mutual respect, and mutual non-elimination, to set up an administrative structure called the National Council for National Reconciliation and Concord. The two South Vietnamese parties shall do their utmost to accomplish this within three months after the ceasefire comes into effect—”

[unclear exchange]

Nixon: “Say that thing again. Suppose—does the release of our prisoners depend upon their agreeing on that?”

Kissinger: “This will be decided on after the prisoners are released.”

[Page 125]

Nixon: “The prisoners will be released regardless of the success of that agreement?”

Haldeman: “It was from 60 days to past 90.”

Kissinger: “That’s right. Secondly, the cease-fire is of unlimited duration, and I have a verbal assurance in the protocol that the cease-fire provisions are independent of all other points.”

Nixon: “Why have they gone this far?”

Kissinger: “So, all he has to—”

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: “—agree is to negotiate a National Council for Reconstruction. But if you consider, Mr. President, there isn’t one newsman in this city who believes that this will end with anything other—and the Thieu government, of course, not [unclear].”

Nixon: “Good.”

Kissinger: “Then Thieu will take a beating—”

Nixon: “They’re leaving Thieu in. They’re in. And they’re supposed to negotiate a National Council? Thieu will never agree, they’ll never agree, so they screw up, and we support Thieu, and the Communists support them, and they can continue fighting, which is fine. Right, telecon? Do you see it that way, Al—?”

Kissinger: “They will not go this way—”

Nixon: “Huh?”

Haig: “I would have said that in full.”

On another key issue—that the United States would sweeten the settlement by providing financial assistance to North Vietnam to fund development to heal the wounds of war, Kissinger and Nixon had the following exchange:

Nixon: “Now, what did you do with regard to reparations and the rest?”

Kissinger: “I’ll come to that in a—”

Nixon: “I’m very—you know, as you know, I’m not going to—I’d give them everything because I see those poor—”

Kissinger: “[unclear] victor reparations.”

Nixon: “—North Vietnamese kids burning with napalm and it burns my heart.”

Kissinger: “With reparations—with reparations we had to say it.”

Nixon: “I don’t mind them.”

Kissinger: “All right, I’ll read you the clause we’ve—we couldn’t get around it because that is also our—that is our best guarantee that they will observe the agreement. They are panting for economic aid.”

Nixon: “Are they?”

[Page 126]

Kissinger: “Oh.”

Nixon: “They want it? See, China doesn’t want it, Al. China doesn’t want economic aid—”

[unclear exchange]

Kissinger: “The United States—”

Nixon: “Henry, you’re overlooking the most important point of this offer. This is the first time the North Vietnamese have ever indicated any interest. Do you remember? I said it in the May 8th speech.”

Kissinger: “That’s right.”

Nixon: “I mean the May speech—May speech in 1969. [Nixon was referring here to a speech on Vietnam delivered on May 14, 1969, in which he said: “We have been generous toward those whom we have fought. We have helped our former foes as well as our friends in the task of reconstruction. We are proud of this record, and we bring the same attitude in our search for a settlement in Vietnam.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, page 371)] They said, ‘Screw you.’ Economic aid to Communists is—compromises their morality. It compromises the Chinese morality.”

Kissinger: “Well—”

Nixon: “And they’re—they want it? This is great!”

Kissinger: “They want a 5-year program. What that means is—”

Nixon: “Good. Give it to them—”

Kissinger: “If we give them a 5-year program that’s part of the agreement.”

Nixon: “Yep, that’s right.”

Kissinger: “But if there is a 5-year program, this is the best guarantee that they aren’t going to start up. If we can get them committed to rebuilding their country—”

Nixon: “Right.”

Kissinger: “—for that period of time, and I’m going to—”

Nixon: “Concentrating on internal rather than external affairs.”

Kissinger: “Exactly. We have more pages on the international control—all of which is bullshit to tell you the truth, but it will read good for the soft-hearts, for the soft-heads. We have four pages of joint commission, a four-party commission, if [unclear] agrees to it, a national commission. It is utter, downright crap because they’d never work, but it’s in there. The thing that will—the thing that will work, though, is they’re playing to us. Here is what it says about reparations: ‘The United States expects that this agreement will usher in—’ ”

Nixon: “Will usher in how?”

Kissinger: “A year from now.”

[Page 127]

Haig: “That’s right with Hanoi.”

Nixon: “Usher in what?”

Kissinger: “‘Usher in an era of reconciliation with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and with all the peoples of Indochina. In pursuance of this traditional policy of the United States to contribute to healing the wounds of wars of both warring parties—’”

Nixon: “There’s no question, no problem. Give ’em—give ’em 10 billion, because I believe in this. I really do believe in it. The fact is if we did it with the Germans, we did it with the Japs, why not for these poor bastards? Don’t you agree, Henry? Don’t you agree, Henry? Goddamnit, I feel for these people. I mean they fought for the wrong reasons, but damn it to hell, I am not—I just feel for people that fight down, and bleed, and get killed.”

Over these substantive discussions loomed the question of whether South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu would go along with the agreement, and, if he rejected it, could they persuade or compel him to accept it. As the conversation wound down, Nixon reached this conclusion:

Nixon: “Let me come down to the nut cutting, looking at Thieu. What Henry has read to me, Thieu cannot turn down. If he does, our problem will be that we have to flush him, and that will have flushed South Vietnam. Now, how the hell are we going to come up on that?” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Executive Office Building, Conversation 366–6. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the conversation occurred between 7:05 and 8:46 p.m.; ibid., White House Central Files. The editors transcribed the portions of the conversation printed here specifically for this volume.)

Despite this analysis, Nixon and Kissinger remained certain that Thieu did not pose an insurmountable problem and that Kissinger would be able to obtain Thieu’s approval when he made his trip to Saigon the following week. According to Haldeman:

“The P kept interrupting Henry all through the discussion. He obviously was all cranked up and wasn’t listening to the details. He commented on the problems leading up to this agreement, the significance of China, the bombing and mining and his usual litany, kidding Henry some, referring to Haig a great deal and asking if he [Haig] really was satisfied with the deal, because he had been basically opposed to it last week, because he thought we were screwing Thieu. Now he thinks it’s OK, but he is concerned about whether we can sell Thieu on it. I asked him after the meeting, though, whether he honestly felt it was a good deal, and he says he does think it is.”

At this point, the four went into dinner. As Haldeman recorded later: “The P told Manolo [Sanchez] to bring the good wine, his ’57 [Page 128] Lafite Rothschild, or whatever it is, to be served to everyone. Usually it’s just served to the P and the rest of us have some California Beaulieu Vineyard stuff.” With the “good wine” the President toasted Kissinger’s success. During dinner the discussion shifted to the question of how to handle Secretary of State William P. Rogers. As Haldeman recounted it in his diary:

“K wants to be sure there’s no responsibilities assigned to Rogers because he’ll try to parlay them at the State Department. Instead, let Henry line up telecon, so that he’s Henry’s man and that he’ll take Sullivan with him. Also, he wants to handle telecon. Playing to the idea that the future of the foreign service depends on Johnson’s cooperation on this with the P. Feels that this will keep Rogers in line and should work out all right. Then the ultimate payoff for Rogers is that he gets to go to Paris to sign the cease-fire with the Vietnamese foreign minister on October 30 and that takes effect when they sign it.”

Then the discussion returned to the tentative agreement Kissinger had just negotiated. They concluded, according to Haldeman, that “the real basic problem boils down to the question of whether Thieu can be sold on it.” ( Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, October 12, 1972)

How Thieu would react to the tentative agreement remained a subject of conversation throughout the evening. On this, Nixon later wrote:

“I noticed that Haig seemed rather subdued, but I assumed that he was just tired after the exertions of the last few days. Finally I asked him directly how he felt about these terms from Thieu’s point of view. He replied that he honestly felt this was a good deal for Thieu. He was worried, however, about how Thieu himself would react to it.” (Nixon, RN, page 693)

Kissinger noted in his memoir:

Nixon’s principal concern was Thieu’s reaction. I was—naively—optimistic, for we had done better than what we had jointly proposed over the years. Nixon remembers Haig as worried; I have no such recollection. It made no difference, for Haig strongly endorsed the agreement.” (Kissinger, White House Years, page 1360)

And, finally, Haig himself later wrote following about the October 12 meeting:

Nixon says that he noticed that I was ‘subdued.’ A better word might have been despondent. The President asked me what I thought Thieu’s reaction was going to be. ‘This agreement may be as much as the traffic will bear,’ I replied, ‘but I don’t think Thieu will accept it.’” (Haig, Inner Circles, page 300)

Haig also wrote that Kissinger described the terms to Nixon in “triumphant tones,” but “he must have known, and the President certainly [Page 129] knew, that this was not the achievement for which we had hoped. What made it acceptable on the moral level were the underlying, unilateral guarantees to Thieu that we would punish infractions by the North with massive American military power, and the assumption that our influence with Moscow would be sufficient to cut the flow of military supplies to the NVA.” (Ibid., page 299)