The Foreign Relations of the United States series presents the official documentary historical record of major foreign policy decisions and significant diplomatic activity of the United States Government. The Historian of the Department of State is charged with the responsibility for the preparation of the Foreign Relations series. The staff of the Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, under the direction of the General Editor of the Foreign Relations series, plans, researches, compiles, and edits the volumes in the series. Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg first promulgated official regulations codifying specific standards for the selection and editing of documents for the series on March 26, 1925. These regulations, with minor modifications, guided the series through 1991.

Public Law 102–138, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, established a new statutory charter for the preparation of the series which was signed by President George H.W. Bush on October 28, 1991. Section 198 of P.L. 102–138 added a new Title IV to the Department of State’s Basic Authorities Act of 1956 (22 U.S.C. 4351, et seq.).

The statute requires that the Foreign Relations series be a thorough, accurate, and reliable record of major United States foreign policy decisions and significant United States diplomatic activity. The volumes of the series should include all records needed to provide comprehensive documentation of major foreign policy decisions and actions of the United States Government. The statute also confirms the editing principles established by Secretary Kellogg: the Foreign Relations series is guided by the principles of historical objectivity and accuracy; records should not be altered or deletions made without indicating in the published text that a deletion has been made; the published record should omit no facts that were of major importance in reaching a decision; and nothing should be omitted for the purposes of concealing a defect in policy. The statute also requires that the Foreign Relations series be published not more than 30 years after the events recorded. The editor is convinced that this volume meets all regulatory, statutory, and scholarly standards of selection and editing.

Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. This specific volume documents U.S. policy towards the war in Vietnam from October 8, 1972, until January 27, 1973.

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The most significant events for U.S. Vietnam war policy in this period were policy formation and decision making in Washington; the negotiations in Paris and reactions in Washington, Hanoi, and Saigon to the negotiations; and the December/Christmas Bombing as well as other events in South Vietnam and North Vietnam. Therefore, documentary coverage in this volume is limited mainly to these topics. Only a very small number of documents relate to events and policy in Laos and Cambodia, and then only as they, in turn, relate to events and policy in Vietnam.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume IX

Believing that time was on their side, North Vietnam’s leaders refused to negotiate seriously with the United States and South Vietnam. Indeed, in March 1972, they attempted to bypass negotiations altogether with a full-scale invasion of South Vietnam. Called the Easter Offensive by the United States, the invasion at first appeared to overwhelm the South. By mid-summer, however, Nixon’s May decision to mine North Vietnam harbors and dramatically intensify the application of American air power to infrastructure and other strategic targets in the North and to operational targets in the South, and the tenacious defense of South Vietnam by its own armed forces, had blunted the offensive.

At this point, the North Vietnamese agreed to resume negotiations and did so in meetings with President Nixon’s National Security Adviser, Henry A. Kissinger, in Paris on July 19, August 1, August 14, September 15, and September 26–27. By the September talks, the North Vietnamese delegation, led by Le Duc Tho, seemed prepared to make what Kissinger considered a break-through concession: namely, that North Vietnam no longer linked its readiness to negotiate a U.S. withdrawal with a demand that the United States support and actively participate in the dismantling of President Nguyen Van Thieu’s government in Saigon.

In early October, Kissinger and Le Duc Tho met again in Paris. During a marathon four-day session (October 8–11), the two negotiated a peace agreement. Its key elements were:

the United States would respect the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Vietnam as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements;
all parties would initiate a cease-fire in place 24 hours after signing the agreement;
U.S. forces and all foreign troops would withdraw from South Vietnam no later than 60 days after signing the agreement;
U.S. prisoners would be released simultaneously with the withdrawal of American and foreign forces; and
a National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord—made up of members of the South Vietnamese Government, the Communist Provisional Revolutionary Government, or PRG (essentially an arm of the National Liberation Front), and a third, neutral force—would be created to organize and oversee free and democratic elections to determine the political future of the South.

The agreement was satisfactory to the Communists and to the United States but not to the South Vietnamese. Nixon quickly approved the terms, and sent Kissinger to Saigon to obtain the approval of President Thieu. However, on October 22, Thieu stopped the process in its tracks, informing Kissinger that he found the agreement unacceptable in several of its particulars. The cease-fire in place, for example, left thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers in South Vietnam (estimated at between 140,000 and 300,000) well-positioned to continue the war when the Americans departed. Thieu also objected to making the PRG a formal party to the agreement because it suggested that the PRG was sovereign over the parts of South Vietnam occupied by Communist troops. Finally, Thieu believed the Council of National Reconciliation to be little more than a stalking horse for a coalition government that would inevitably lead to a Communist one and to the demise of his own.

In high-level conversations and correspondence with Thieu, the United States attempted to convince the leader that he was wrong. For example, on the subject of coalition government and the National Council, Kissinger told Thieu that since the Council required agreement from all parties before it could act, Thieu possessed an absolute veto over any step the Council might take. On the much more critical issue of the military threat posed by the troops left in place, Nixon and Kissinger made unequivocal commitments to Thieu; the United States would apply massive airpower to counter Communist violations of the cease-fire if those violations threatened the survival of South Vietnam.

Thieu remained adamant: South Vietnam would not accept the document as drafted. For the moment, Nixon took steps to accommodate Thieu, the only person, in his view, capable of leading South Vietnam. Nixon sent Kissinger back to Paris to renegotiate 69 points on behalf of the South. The North Vietnamese, fiercely disagreeing with the U.S. move, decided that they too would renegotiate issues previously agreed to. By mid-November, the talks were on the verge of collapse. Consequently, the central goal of U.S. foreign policy over the next few weeks was to compel both South and North Vietnam to accept, in its main tenets, the agreement that the United States had negotiated with the latter in October. During this time the United States attempted through formal and informal talks with both sides, and through letters from Nixon to Thieu delivered personally by Major General Alexander [Page VI] Haig, Kissinger’s deputy, to convince the two Vietnams to accept the draft accords. All attempts failed.

In the wake of the unproductive December 13 meeting between Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, acrimonious meetings between experts from both sides on December 14 and 16, and the failure of Hanoi to respond to an American ultimatum to accept the agreed upon text of the settlement as of November 23, Nixon concluded that “we had now reached the point where only the strongest action would have any effect in convincing Hanoi that negotiating a fair settlement with us was a better option for them than continuing the war” (Nixon, RN, page 733). This analysis led Nixon to one of his most controversial decisions— re-mining Haiphong Harbor and ordering a sustained and severe air campaign (Operation Linebacker II) against all significant military targets in the Hanoi-Haiphong complex. Beginning on December 18 and continuing for eleven days, B–52 Stratofortresses and various types of fighter-bombers vigorously carried out the President’s order, reducing most of the targets to rubble. Even though the targets were military, the aim was political and psychological—to shock the North Vietnamese back to the negotiations in a frame of mind to end the war before the newly elected and antiwar Congress convened in January. On December 26, the North Vietnamese government indicated its willingness to do so and to meet in early January. After three more days of bombing, Nixon ended Linebacker II. On how the bombing related to North Vietnamese action, John D. Negroponte, then one of Kissinger’s aides, remarked at the time that “we are bombing them to force them to accept our concessions.” (See Szulc, The Illusion of Peace, page 641. In a conversation with John M. Carland, editor of this volume, on August 4, 2008, Negroponte confirmed that he was the source of this quotation.)

Nixon intended the bombing to serve another important purpose: to pointedly remind the South Vietnamese that America’s commitment to the defense and survival of South Vietnam was contingent upon South Vietnam supporting the agreement. When Presidential emissary General Alexander Haig arrived in Saigon on December 19, he told Thieu that if South Vietnam refused to support it, the United States would reach an agreement with the North on its own. Thieu understood what was happening. According to Haig, he observed: “what I am being asked to sign is not a treaty for peace but a treaty for continued U.S. support” (Haig, Inner Circles, page 311). Despite waiting until the last minute to agree to the settlement, Thieu realized that once Nixon made the U.S. position irrevocably clear he had very little choice in the matter.

In early January 1973, Kissinger and Le Duc Tho returned to Paris and in several days of hard bargaining ironed out the last details of the settlement. They initialed the agreement on January 23 and it was formally [Page VII] signed on January 27 by a different cast of characters—Secretary of State William Rogers for the United States; Tran Van Lam, Minister of Foreign Affairs, for South Vietnam; Nguyen Duy Trinh, Minister for Foreign Affairs, for North Vietnam; and Nguyen Thi Binh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, for the Provisional Revolutionary Government (Viet Cong). Titled the “Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam,” the accords included a number of minor compromises negotiated in November, December, and January. In its essentials, however, it remained remarkably similar to the document that Kissinger and Le Duc Tho had agreed to in October.

Editorial Methodology

The documents are presented chronologically according to Washington time. Memoranda of conversation are placed according to the time and date of the conversation, rather than the date the memorandum was drafted.

Editorial treatment of the documents published in the Foreign Relations series follows Office style guidelines, supplemented by guidance from the General Editor and the chief technical editor. The documents are reproduced as exactly as possible, including marginalia or other notations, which are described in the footnotes. Texts are transcribed and printed according to accepted conventions for the publication of historical documents within the limitations of modern typography. A heading has been supplied by the editor for each document included in the volume. Spelling, capitalization, and punctuation are retained as found in the original text, except that obvious typographical errors are silently corrected. Other mistakes and omissions in the documents are corrected by bracketed insertions: a correction is set in italic type; an addition in roman type. Words or phrases underlined in the source text are printed in italics. Abbreviations and contractions are preserved as found in the original text, and a list of abbreviations is included in the front matter of each volume.

Bracketed insertions are also used to indicate omitted text that deals with an unrelated subject (in roman type) or that remains classified after declassification review (in italic type). The amount and, where possible, the nature of the material not declassified has been noted by indicating the number of lines or pages of text that were omitted. Entire documents withheld for declassification purposes have been accounted for and are listed with headings, source notes, and number of pages not declassified in their chronological place. All brackets that appear in the original text are so identified in footnotes. All ellipses are in the original documents.

The first footnote to each document indicates the source of the document, original classification, distribution, and drafting information. [Page VIII] This note also provides the background of important documents and policies and indicates whether the President or his major policy advisers read the document.

Editorial notes and additional annotation summarize pertinent material not printed in the volume, indicate the location of additional documentary sources, provide references to important related documents printed in other volumes, describe key events, and provide summaries of and citations to public statements that supplement and elucidate the printed documents. Information derived from memoirs and other first-hand accounts has been used when appropriate to supplement or explicate the official record.

The numbers in the index refer to document numbers rather than to page numbers.

Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation

The Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation, established under the Foreign Relations statute, reviews records, advises, and makes recommendations concerning the Foreign Relations series. The Advisory Committee monitors the overall compilation and editorial process of the series and advises on all aspects of the preparation and declassification of the series. The Advisory Committee does not necessarily review the contents of individual volumes in the series, but it makes recommendations on issues that come to its attention and reviews volumes, as it deems necessary to fulfill its advisory and statutory obligations.

Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act Review

Under the terms of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA) of 1974 (44 U.S.C. 2111 note), the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has custody of the Nixon Presidential historical materials. The requirements of the PRMPA and implementing regulations govern access to the Nixon Presidential historical materials. The PRMPA and implementing public access regulations require NARA to review for additional restrictions in order to ensure the protection of the privacy rights of former Nixon White House officials, since these officials were not given the opportunity to separate their personal materials from public papers. Thus, the PRMPA and implementing public access regulations require NARA formally to notify the Nixon Estate and former Nixon White House staff members that the agency is scheduling for public release Nixon White House historical materials. The Nixon Estate and former White House staff members have 30 days to contest the release of Nixon historical materials in which they were a participant or are mentioned. Further, the PRMPA and implementing regulations require NARA to segregate and return to the creator of files private and personal materials. All Foreign [Page IX] Relations volumes that include materials from NARA’s Nixon Presidential Materials Staff are processed and released in accordance with the PRMPA.

Nixon White House Tapes

Access to the Nixon White House tape recordings is governed by the terms of the PRMPA and an access agreement with the Office of Presidential Libraries of the National Archives and Records Administration and the Nixon Estate. In February 1971, President Nixon initiated a voice activated taping system in the Oval Office of the White House and, subsequently, in the President’s Office in the Executive Office Building, Camp David, the Cabinet Room, and White House and Camp David telephones. The audiotapes include conversations of President Nixon with his Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry Kissinger, other White House aides, Secretary of State Rogers, other Cabinet officers, members of Congress, and key foreign officials. The clarity of the voices on the tape recordings is often very poor, but the editor has made every effort to verify the accuracy of the transcripts produced here. Readers are advised that the tape recording is the official document; the transcript represents an interpretation of that document. Through the use of digital audio and other advances in technology, the Office of the Historian has been able to enhance the tape recordings and over time produce more accurate transcripts. The result is that some transcripts printed here may differ from transcripts of the same conversations printed in previous Foreign Relations volumes. The most accurate transcripts possible, however, cannot substitute for listening to the recordings. Readers are urged to consult the recordings themselves for a full appreciation of those aspects of the conversations that cannot be captured in a transcript, such as the speakers’ inflections and emphases that may convey nuances of meaning, as well as the larger context of the discussion.

Declassification Review

The Office of Information Programs and Services, Bureau of Administration, conducted the declassification review for the Department of State of the documents published in this volume. The review was conducted in accordance with the standards set forth in Executive Order 12958, as amended, on Classified National Security Information and applicable laws. The principle guiding declassification review is to release all information, subject only to the current requirements of national security as embodied in law and regulation. Declassification decisions entailed concurrence of the appropriate geographic and functional bureaus in the Department of State, other concerned agencies of the U.S. Government, and the appropriate foreign governments regarding specific documents [Page X] of those governments. The declassification review of this volume, which began in 2008 and was completed in 2010, resulted in the decision to withhold 3 documents in full, excisions of a paragraph or more in 1 document, and minor excisions of less than a paragraph in 8 documents.

The Office of the Historian is confident, on the basis of the research conducted in preparing this volume and as a result of the declassification review process described above, that the record presented in this volume presented here provides an accurate and comprehensive account of the U.S. foreign policy towards Vietnam from October 1972 to January 1973.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Nixon Presidential Materials Project of the National Archives and Records Administration (Archives II), then at College Park, Maryland, who made possible the research that forms the heart of this volume. Additionally, he is grateful to the Richard Nixon Estate for allowing access to the Nixon presidential recordings and the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace for facilitating that access. Research in the Kissinger Papers, including transcripts of telephone conversations, could not have occurred without the kind permission of Henry A. Kissinger. John Haynes and Ernest Emrich of the Library of Congress expedited access to the Kissinger Papers and carried out extensive copying on the editor’s behalf. Thanks are also due to the Historical Staff of the Central Intelligence Agency, who helped to arrange full access to the files of the Central Intelligence Agency. Sandy Meagher ably assisted research in the Department of Defense. Furthermore, the editor is also grateful to Michael Johnson of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for making research in the diary of Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, Chairman, Joint Chiefs, 1970–1974, while it was still at the Pentagon, convenient and productive. The Diary has since moved to the National Archives. Because it is one of the most significant sources for Nixon’s national security policies, the editor hopes it will be available sooner rather than later to all researchers.

The editor of this volume, John M. Carland, collected the documents, made the selections, and annotated them, but he did not work alone. He wishes to recognize in the Historian’s Office the assistance and guidance of former General Editor, Edward Keefer, who always knew more about how to do documentary history of American foreign relations than the rest of the historians combined and who always willingly shared that expertise. Additionally, Erin Mahan, Chief of what was then the Asia, General, and Africa Division, proved more than once, and at just the right time, to be an able problem solver. Finally, the editor would be remiss if he did not mention the work of individuals in [Page XI] the Office of the Historian’s Declassification and Publishing Division who consistently provide high-level support to compilers under the direction of Division Chief Susan Weetman. For this volume they are: Aaron W. Marrs, who carried out a difficult copy and technical editing tasking with skill and determination, and Christopher Tudda, who capably coordinated and managed a complex declassification review. The editor also notes that Do Mi Stauber proficiently prepared the index.

Ambassador Edward Brynn
Acting Historian

Bureau of Public Affairs
September 2010