13. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Pham Van Dong, Premier
  • Nguyen Duy Trinh, Deputy Premier and Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Le Duc Tho, Special Adviser to DRV Delegation to Paris Conference on Vietnam
  • Nguyen Co Thach, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Phan Hien, Member of DRV Delegation to Paris Conference on Vietnam
  • Tran Quang Co, Member of DRV Delegation to Paris Conference on Vietnam
  • Dinh Nho Liem, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • William H. Sullivan, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs
  • Richard T. Kennedy, Senior NSC Staff
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
  • David Engel, NSC Staff, Interpreter
  • Mrs. Bonnie D. Andrews, Notetaker

[The Premier, Foreign Minister, and Special Adviser greeted Dr. Kissinger at the entrance.]

Pham Van Dong: Vous avez fait visité à notre musée historique.

Dr. Kissinger: Oui. Il était très interessant. C’est la prémière fois pour lui! [Referring to Le Duc Tho] Il fait l’histoire; il n’a pas assez de temps pour la voir.

Vous avez une histoire très longue.

Pham Van Dong: Oui.

Dr. Kissinger: Très dure. Et héroique.

Pham Van Dong: Merci. Et aussi très humaine. Très humaine.

[The group then entered the conference room and took their seats.]

Pham Van Dong: Et demain, le musée d l’art. C’est aussi très interessant.

Ambassador Sullivan: Every excavation we saw, the Special Adviser said he was in prison there.

Pham Van Dong: He was in prison everywhere. We were all in prison.

[Page 83]

Dr. Kissinger: Your lives have all been hard ones. Life in prison is not an easy one.

Pham Van Dong: Especially in French prisons.

Mr. Kissinger: But I do believe that in extreme experiences—not because it is gay but because it is elemental—one learns the real qualities of people.

Pham Van Dong: I agree. But if the term in prison is shorter it is better. Three years is enough. You should not advise other people to be in prison. [Laughter] Let us now discuss about Laos and Cambodia. Mr. Adviser, I give the floor to you first.

Mr. Kissinger: We have really the following problems. The most immediate is the ceasefire in Laos. Then there is need for a ceasefire, of a less formal nature, in Cambodia. And then we should begin the implementation of the withdrawal of forces and war material from these countries. We are prepared to cooperate in all of these and to take a constructive attitude.

We have an understanding that there must be a formal ceasefire in Laos. And then there should be one in Cambodia because its absence will keep drawing all the parties into the conflict. And finally it is important that we implement the withdrawal of all forces and that we not introduce any new forces or material into Laos and Cambodia. These are the matters that I want to discuss with the Prime Minister.

Pham Van Dong: Regarding these two problems our comrade, Le Duc Tho, has explained to you in Paris, and the situation in Laos is developing.

Dr. Kissinger: But the problem has two aspects. First of all there have been heavy attacks by your side and indeed the introduction of new forces of your side into Laos, including the 308th Division. Secondly, the ceasefire was supposed to be concluded by the 12th, which is tomorrow and, therefore, it is not developing according to the Agreement and it is developing in a manner which is inconsistent with the spirit of the Agreement.

Pham Van Dong: Regarding the first point, I believe that the Special Adviser’s statement is groundless.

Dr. Kissinger: Which is the first point?

Pham Van Dong: The so-called North Vietnamese big attacks in Laos and the so-called 308th Division newly introduced into Laos.

Dr. Kissinger: Did I get the division number wrong? Or was there no division introduced?

Pham Van Dong: If you ask me this question, the moral is I don’t know the answer. Regarding the second point, I think this is an affair between the two Lao parties. We will do our utmost to present the situation to them and to tell them that there is the necessity to change the [Page 84] direction, the course of action. But the affairs of Laos must be decided between the people of Laos.

Dr. Kissinger: If I may say, Mr. Prime Minister, in our discussions in Paris we accepted the fiction of the “so-called North Vietnamese forces” in South Vietnam. But there was a clear understanding that there were real North Vietnamese forces in Laos and that they would be withdrawn. There have been in recent weeks heavy attacks in Laos. It is not a Lao national characteristic to fight with the intensity with which the forces have fought in these attacks. They are more in the intensity of the North Vietnamese. And it is very difficult in establishing a new relationship that everytime we give you conclusive proof of certain actions that you simply deny that anything is going on at all.

Pham Van Dong: But all of this involves the affairs of the Laotians.

Dr. Kissinger: Except the North Vietnamese troops which are there do not just affect the affairs of the Laotians. That involves the North Vietnamese. If the Lao were fighting only among themselves, the battle would develop much more slowly.

Pham Van Dong: In fact I do not think so. Because this statement applying to the Lao is not correct. We do not make such a statement regarding the Lao.

Dr. Kissinger: I do not want to debate national character and I do not consider peaceful inclinations a national liability. But I want to say that we have a very clear understanding that there would be a ceasefire within 15 days and also that foreign troops would be withdrawn. Which applies also to us. And we wanted to discuss on this occasion the implementation of this matter.

Pham Van Dong: I would like to make this statement to you, Mr. Adviser, and I think my statement is very important. That is to say the two Laos parties are now discussing in Vientiane and their negotiations are developing. As far as we are concerned, we respect the right of the Laos people to self-determination and the right of authoritative Lao people to resolve the problems. We Vietnamese, we are a people very resolute to defend our independence and our sovereignty and it is known to everyone. And therefore we affirm that the right to independence and sovereignty and self-determination of the Laos and Cambodian people must also be respected. It is one of our basic policies. If now some intervention is made in the internal affairs of the Lao and Cambodian people it would be a grave mistake of our policy. The Vietnamese people shall live forever side by side with the Lao and Cambodia peoples. This is all the more reason why we have to maintain very good relations with the Lao and Cambodian people, and this good relationship begins with the respect for the independence and the sovereignty of these people. However, we will do our utmost to present the situation to our comrades in arms in Laos, so that they decide their [Page 85] own course of action. And I think that the question of ceasefire is on its way to becoming true.

Dr. Kissinger: But, for example, the Pathet Lao are demanding that the ceasefire includes a phrase specifically singling out the U.S. aggression in those words. Now those words are impossible, and we cannot encourage our friends to accept such a phrase. In a war where there are many foreign forces it is incorrect to single out one country and inconsistent with a desire for a rapid ceasefire and with an attempt to establish a new relationship.

Pham Van Dong: I think that it is no problem in this regard, because the other side will know to say what they want to say. And I think that for everything they can find out a solution. And what Comrade Le Duc Tho has told you, his statement will be put into practice. It is a fact.

Dr. Kissinger: It means we have about seven hours. Or maybe 24 hours.

Pham Van Dong: We have never broken any things we say.

Dr. Kissinger: Well . . . let me then simply point out that we attach very great importance to it, that we have publicly committed ourselves to this, and that therefore if there should be difficulties it would be found to have a serious impact on our public opinion and on the whole context of public acceptance of the Agreement.

Pham Van Dong: But there is one fact. You have just come from Vientiane. No doubt you are aware of the situation. If there are any difficulties, the difficulties should come and will come from Mr. Phouma’s side.

Dr. Kissinger: I cannot accept this. We have told Souvanna Phouma . . . The side which is retreating is not usually against a ceasefire. It is rare in history that the retreating side opposes a ceasefire. But we have spoken very earnestly with him and I know that he is willing to have a ceasefire.2 I have examined the issues and I have concluded that the basic question is that the Pathet Lao are making exorbitant demands which go beyond the analogous provisions of the Vietnam Agreement.

Pham Van Dong: I am not very well aware of these facts. But to my knowledge maybe the ceasefire is linked to political problems. But in this connection they should talk together because these are the affairs of the Laotians. The political problem should be discussed, should be solved, by the Lao because they will have to live together. Everyone [Page 86] would like a ceasefire. But how the ceasefire will go along with the settlement of the political problems or how is the prospect of the settlement—these are extremely important questions. Therefore the Laos have to discuss these questions together, and on our part we will not interfere with these prospects. Let them discuss to have full discussions, to have careful discussions, and then when the ceasefire happens all the parties will respect the ceasefire and will continue to settle all problems and there will be no violations. It is our attitude.

Dr. Kissinger: Once again, Mr. Prime Minister, we are talking about two separate problems. First, both of us have obligations under the Agreement to use our influence to promote a ceasefire. So to this degree we are obligated to intervene. Secondly, we admit that the political solution is very complex. We are not prescribing a particular political solution. We do not at all reject the proposition that after the ceasefire the two Laotian parties should continue to discuss the final political settlement just as they are doing in Vietnam. But we do reject the proposition that the negotiations can be indefinitely prolonged and still be consistent with the spirit of our Agreement and of our understanding.

Pham Van Dong: We cannot foretell about this because in fact this is the affairs of the Laotians. But please don’t interpret that is an attitude on our part to seek an excuse to refuse this. This is our policy. We cannot do anything contrary to the interests of our friends or contrary to their rights. Because if we did that we would not be ourselves.

Dr. Kissinger: But then we would not have had to make an understanding.

Pham Van Dong: The understanding is that we should use our influence and discuss with our allies. To discuss does not mean to interfere. It is not to make pressure on them. If does not mean that we will settle their problems on their behalf.

Dr. Kissinger: We are not asking that you settle in on their behalf, but we believe that considering your relationship and the nature of the forces in Laos that you’re entitled to a little weight.

Pham Van Dong: It may be so. It may be that we don’t know how to use our influence. But you should understand.

Mr. Kissinger: If you don’t know how to use your influence there is no sense making agreements with you about your influence. Besides, that isn’t your history.

Pham Van Dong: [Laughs] I think that in this connection we understand our effort and we understand our affairs better than you.

Dr. Kissinger: I am not telling you how to conduct your affairs. I am just saying that we made a certain understanding in Paris, and in fact made certain concessions on the assumption that the period of the ceasefire in Laos would be shortened. If now we are being told that those concessions do not have reciprocity, and that all you are obligated [Page 87] to do is consult with your allies then that affects the nature of the Agreement.

Pham Van Dong: I have answered to your question saying that the statements made by Comrade Le Duc Tho are being put into practice. I just repeat our attitude, our policy. You should not misunderstand my views or any views I express today. Moreover, reality will testify to this.

Le Duc Tho: Let me add a few words. Our Prime Minister has just voiced one principle of our policy, that is respect for the independence and the sovereignty of our allies. We had an understanding with you during the course of our negotiations. This should have been [had to be] agreed to by our allies; so our allies have agreed. And as our Prime Minister has just said, there is no change to that. Now the question is, how to put the ceasefire into practice. Mr. Phouma’s side raises the question of ceasefire, and then our ally will discuss with Mr. Phouma’s side on the date of the ceasefire. And they also have agreed on a number of principles in regard to the ceasefire, for example, the cessation of all bombings, the date and time of ceasefire. And the two parties will issue the orders for the ceasefire, and after the entry of force of ceasefire the two parties should strictly enforce the ceasefire. And I think that now [if] Mr. Phouma’s side will raise this question, our allies will agree with that. This is one question. And I think that your side will do that and then a ceasefire will come into effect.

So we had an understanding with you only on this question. Now regarding the political problems and other problems, this comes under the province of our ally Pathet Lao and comes under their authority. So the understanding I reached with you in Paris is regarding only the ceasefire, and now the way to put the ceasefire into practice should be as I have said. Then the question of withdrawal of foreign troops, this is still another question, and this question was not discussed in Paris.

Mr. Kissinger: That is only required by the Agreement! [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: Then after the ceasefire the Pathet Lao and the Phouma side will discuss about the state of the hostilities, the state of the foreign troops, how they are, and then they will settle the question, to maintain the ceasefire and to maintain peace. So those are the questions we discussed. The question is now how you and us will put the understanding on the ceasefire into practice. The first step is that we put into practice what we understand. We keep our words as the Prime Minister had told you.

Pham Van Dong: There is nothing for you to worry about.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, I am of nervous disposition, as the Special Adviser knows. [Laughter] And if I may, I would like to discuss each of his three problems: First, the ceasefire in Laos; secondly, the political solution in Laos; and thirdly, the withdrawal of foreign forces. I recognize that these are three different problems. Before the Prime Minister gets [Page 88] too impatient with me I will comment about point number two, the political solution. We accept your principle about non-intervention with the political solution in Laos, and we agree with you that this should be settled by the Laotian parties. So I need to say no more about that.

Now let me turn to the first point, the ceasefire in Laos. We agree that it should be put into effect immediately and that political discussions can then proceed. But we believe it should have a certain formality. That is to say, there should be a document that defines what the obligations of the two parties are. Along the lines of Chapter II of the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam. Not the same provisions, but along the same line. And then of course Mr. Thach and Mr. Sullivan can work out a protocol. [Laughter] They have done it once before.

Ambassador Sullivan: 1962.

Dr. Kissinger: Now if this is what the Special Adviser has in mind, I agree with him, and we will recommend to the Lao parties that they should proceed along these lines to work out a solution.

Le Duc Tho: The document will be prepared regarding the ceasefire. There should be provisions regarding the ceasefire to make it clear and explicit.

Dr. Kissinger: We have no objection to this. No political conditions attached.

Pham Van Dong: I think that we have sufficiently discussed the Laos problem. If anything good will happen it will happen.

Dr. Kissinger: But I don’t have the revolutionary optimism of the Prime Minister, nor his fast mind. This permits me to discuss it a little longer. I must understand exactly what we have.

Pham Van Dong: It is not concrete enough. [Laughter]

Dr. Kissinger: So could I sum up what we have agreed upon? But I still have a third point about Laos, so we cannot leave it so easily. Ceasefire—my understanding now is that we shall recommend to the Prime Minister that he should propose that the military questions should be settled first and that there should be an agreement on an immediate ceasefire. Afterward the two Laotian parties will conduct negotiations for a political settlement and the two parties settle this among themselves. Is that a correct understanding? Is that correct?

Pham Van Dong: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: I think that here we are settling the question of a ceasefire, and not the “military questions” in general.

Dr. Kissinger: What is the difference? The difference eludes me.

Le Duc Tho: What I meant is that we are dealing here with the question of ceasefire, how it is to be put into practice: it should be in-place; there should be measures to prevent hostilities. As to the other military questions, for instance the withdrawal of foreign troops, that is a separate issue.

[Page 89]

Dr. Kissinger: This is a separate issue, to which I will now address myself.

Le Duc Tho: As to the other political problem, after the ceasefire the two Lao parties will continue the discussions.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: Then we will proceed as the Adviser said. You will recommend to Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma as you said, then we will have orders to have a ceasefire.

Dr. Kissinger: I just want to make sure I understand, so that we are not going to confuse each other. There are two ways for a ceasefire to come about: one, with orders being given by the two sides; the other, with a written agreement. We want a written agreement. Then there are orders.

Le Duc Tho: So it is a document, or an agreement, written down, and then each party will issue the order.

Dr. Kissinger: All right, this is settled. Let me turn now to the other question, the withdrawal of foreign forces. In the Prime Minister’s message of October 203—drafted by Special Adviser Le Duc Tho—it says: “After the ceasefire in Laos, the foreign countries in Laos will arrange the modalities of implementing Article 15(b) [Article 20(b)] of the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.” Article 20(b) says all foreign military forces must withdraw. Therefore, we believe that as soon as the ceasefire is arranged, then the withdrawal of foreign forces must be implemented.

Le Duc Tho: In the message sent on that date regarding the foreign forces in Laos, it says that after the ceasefire in Laos all the parties will arrange to settle the question in Laos. What modalities will be arranged, etc., involves all the parties in Laos.

Mr. Kissinger: What do you mean concretely by that?

Le Duc Tho: Concretely it means that this question does not only involve only the foreign forces but all three parties, because this involves the Lao.

Dr. Kissinger: So you are saying that after the ceasefire, if one of the Lao parties disagrees and decides it wants foreign forces to stay, then those foreign forces must stay?

Le Duc Tho: It is not what I mean. The question of the withdrawal of foreign forces has been provided for by the Agreement, but this question should be settled in discussion with the two Lao parties. So the settlement of this question should call for the discussion of the Laos parties. It cannot be settled only by the foreign forces in Laos.

[Page 90]

Dr. Kissinger: It is a curious theory of international relations. I can understand that you say the internal affairs must be settled by the Lao parties. But surely the foreign forces have the right to withdraw without the concurrence of the Lao parties.

Le Duc Tho: No, this case involves the Lao parties because the activities were carried out on Laotian soil. There should be a meeting for all parties to meet and discuss this question. This will be done with the consultation with our ally. It cannot be that now suddenly all the foreign forces will withdraw.

Dr. Kissinger: Why not? That was our understanding all along.

Le Duc Tho: No. It is a matter of principle that all foreign forces should be withdrawn. When discussions will be held, what forces should be withdrawn . . .

Dr. Kissinger: All forces should be withdrawn.

Le Duc Tho: It is a principle upon which discussions are necessary. It is agreed that it will happen. Then the discussions should be held with the respective allies. There is no reason that the activities have been carried out in Laos and now suddenly the forces will be withdrawn. Now because these forces are at the request of our allies to carry out common responsibilities there. Therefore, there should be discussion with them to discuss modalities of the withdrawal. These are specific questions that should be discussed with our allies. So now we agree on the principle that after the ceasefire in Laos we will exchange views on how to consult with the parties in Laos to implement our Agreement. We will never violate what we have said.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but what have you said? If I understand, you said that after the ceasefire you will talk to your allies. We are not interested in your talking to your allies; we are interested in the withdrawal of your forces. You are already talking to your allies.

Le Duc Tho: Here we do not discuss the question of withdrawal. It is a matter of principle. But here we discuss the modalities of withdrawal. We have agreed with you on the principle of the withdrawal but we need to discuss with our allies. In the message sent to you it also says that after the ceasefire the modalities will be applied.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but that means the Agreement . . . Unsigned messages cannot undo the basic Agreement. The Agreement requires that they will refrain from using the territory of Laos. Then it says that foreign forces will totally withdraw. It does not say after three years from now. It does not say after discussion with the Pathet Lao, after discussion with Sihanouk. It says they will withdraw. That is the obligation. According to the Agreement.

Pham Van Dong: So this is the obligation. It is clear and explicit. But it does not mean that we have to carry out the obligation as early as today. We must discuss with our allies about the time of withdrawal, [Page 91] the modalities. Because it involves the other parties. We can’t do it today.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but what time frame do you have in mind? It is a little late today. How soon after the ceasefire do you envisage.

Le Duc Tho: To my mind, I think that immediately after the ceasefire, then the experts of all the parties concerned, including the Pathet Lao, should meet to discuss the modalities. But here, our Prime Minister, myself and you cannot discuss the modalities.

Dr. Kissinger: No. I am not saying we should settle it here. But we could say within 30 days or 45 days or 60 days. We could give ourselves a time limit.

Le Duc Tho: I think that we should leave this question to our experts. Then immediately after the ceasefire our experts will meet. Then the Lao parties will discuss and we will discuss with our allies and you will discuss with your allies.

Dr. Kissinger: We have already spoken with our ally. Our ally approves of the withdrawal of your forces.

Le Duc Tho: But discussions between the two Lao parties will come to a different settlement on the problems.

Dr. Kissinger: But there are two separate questions: the resolution of the political questions by the Lao parties, and the withdrawal of foreign forces. The resolution of the political questions does not require the presence of foreign forces. To say otherwise would imply that the foreign forces are there to bring pressure on the political discussion.

Le Duc Tho: So I think that the political affairs of Laos come under the internal affairs of Laos. Let them discuss it. As to the withdrawal of foreign forces, we should discuss with our allies and you too. We will decide when they start; they can start after the ceasefire.

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t care when they start. I want to know when they will end.

Le Duc Tho: We should say here that after the ceasefire then discussions should start, and then when the discussions are held they will decide how long the discussions will take place.

Dr. Kissinger: But “modalities” means methods of withdrawal. It doesn’t mean the time; it doesn’t mean anything else.

Le Duc Tho: The modalities of the withdrawal concern the time period for the withdrawal, because each batch will be withdrawn, and the timing of each batch, how long the interval. Even your troops in South Vietnam, a very small number, take time for withdrawal. You have discussed with me the length of time—four months, six months. But definitely we will implement what is written in the Agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: I must say this, even at the risk of not being very popular in Hanoi, which would grieve me deeply: Do you gentlemen [Page 92] seriously believe you can keep your forces in South Vietnam and Laos and Cambodia and expect us to implement every provision of the Agreement, including Article 8, and start a new era in our relations? Can you really believe this? I assure you that this is not possible. On South Vietnam, I do not need any comments because we have discussed that fully.

Le Duc Tho: No, you see in our discussions we have clearly told you the Vietnam problem we can settle it with you. But the question of Laos and Cambodia cannot be the same. It comes under the competence of Laos and Cambodia. It is up to them to settle their problems.

Dr. Kissinger: But including the withdrawal of your troops.

Le Duc Tho: But we agreed with you on the principle of the ceasefire in Laos and the withdrawal of all foreign forces. Regarding the obligation in Vietnam, all the parties should respect it, and whatever is done regarding Laos and Cambodia including the understanding between us, we will keep it. But what we have settled concretely is only the question of ceasefire in Laos. We have agreed on the settlement of the question of ceasefire in Laos. Our allies have agreed to the question of ceasefire. Now regarding the question of withdrawal, we will respect this obligation. All other foreign troops should respect this obligation. But we say that after the ceasefire becomes effective, then we should discuss this question. Let us now decide a date for the discussions. We should start discussions to implement this. Let us now decide this, in keeping with what we have decided in Paris.

Pham Van Dong: I think that this is what we have discussed about the Laos question up to now.

Dr. Kissinger: It doesn’t say anywhere in the Agreement that Chapter VII is only a principle and doesn’t have to be implemented until after further discussion. Unless you want us to say with respect to other provisions that they are only principles and we will be glad to discuss them further. Then we have no Agreement anymore. These are not only principles. These are obligations.

Le Duc Tho: So let me add one more sentence, and then I would propose a little break and we resume later. Here we say it is not only a matter of Principle but also it says that the parties will arrange the modalities to implement this; it is said that after the ceasefire in Laos the parties will arrange the modalities in Laos.

Dr. Kissinger: This is what is says in your note but it is not in the Agreement.

Le Duc Tho: It complements the Agreement and you said you were satisfied. And it further concretizes the principles.

Pham Van Dong: Let me add the following: What has been written here is very clear.

[Page 93]

Dr. Kissinger: But I don’t read Vietnamese.

Pham Van Dong: And the spirit of this sentence is also clear. And we definitely carry out whatever commitments we made. This is my statement. All this will need discussion between the parties concerned and the parties will arrange discussion, because these are their affairs. We will respect what we have engaged. There is another problem: In Laos who are the foreign forces? Why is it said here about us? Why not speak about other foreign troops?

Dr. Kissinger: Everybody should withdraw. I agree.

Pham Van Dong: Why do you mention only us? So let them sit together.

Dr. Kissinger: Why not let them withdraw? We can arrange for the withdrawal of all forces associated with our side. We can discuss it with you.

Pham Van Dong: Then the other parties will say the same thing.

Dr. Kissinger: You can do the same for your side. You can withdraw your forces. Who else is there?

Pham Van Dong: We don’t know all of them. These are Lao affairs.

Le Duc Tho: Here we say, after the ceasefire the parties will arrange the modalities of the ceasefire. On the question of ceasefire, we settled the question of ceasefire, we with the concurrence of our allies, and you with your allies. Then after the ceasefire we will determine the modalities. But regarding the withdrawal, after the ceasefire we should set a date.

Dr. Kissinger: You are saying that the two Lao parties should discuss the modalities of the withdrawal?

Le Duc Tho: Of course.

Dr. Kissinger: In what time frame?

Pham Van Dong: Let them decide in their time.

Dr. Kissinger: If we two decided among each other on a time period for a ceasefire, then why can’t we decide among ourselves on a time period for withdrawal?

Pham Van Dong: Let me propose a little break.

Dr. Kissinger: It is a very serious matter. In America it will affect the public acceptance of the Agreement.

Pham Van Dong: Then we have to stick with what we have agreed. I know this is a very serious question. These questions were discussed in 1962 and were settled. The same in 1954. There isn’t anything new in this problem. But there should be a correct solution. Putting this question here is not practical now.

Dr. Kissinger: We have written out our ideas of the modalities. It includes a time period for discussion. Why don’t you look at this [Page 94] during the break? [He hands over US paper, “Modalities of Implementing Article 20(b)”, at Tab A.]4

Pham Van Dong: We are not prepared for that. You have prepared for that. Let us have a few minutes for this and discuss it. Do you have any more copies of this? [Dr. Kissinger gives another copy.]

[The meeting recessed from 6:12–6:40 p.m.]

Dr. Kissinger: I have this fixation with Laos. And if I could just sum up. I just want to say a few more words. First, we have agreed that Souvanna Phouma will make a proposal for a separate ceasefire, and you will recommend to your friends that they will agree to this. And we have agreed to formulate this in language that is not offensive to either side. Assuming that we can get to our airplane in the weather, we will get that message to him tonight.

We have had a little difficulty with airplanes from Gia Lam to the other one. Also, we have had a little trouble with the nerves of our couriers who fly in those little planes. But that is a separate problem.

Now, a second issue we have not settled is the time frame envisaged for the withdrawal. The Special Adviser thinks Souvanna Phouma has proposed 60 days and the Pathet Lao has proposed 90 days. We think Souvanna has proposed 30 days. But the question really is, from what we should count these days—whether we should count them from the date of the ceasefire or from the date of the political settlement. We think very strongly that it should be counted from the day of the ceasefire and we would rather add a few extra days. If we make it from the day of the political settlement we will be implying that the foreign troops are there for political pressure—which I know the Special Adviser would never intend to do.

So for reasons which I have explained privately to the Prime Minister, this is a very serious question, and I think we should envisage a time period here which we should recommend to the allies, and I think we should date it from the time of ceasefire, and we should use our influence with our friends so there will be a political settlement within that time frame.

Le Duc Tho: So we have settled the question of ceasefire. We have agreed with each other.

Dr. Kissinger: Right, Mr. Special Adviser. For the tenth time. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: Now, regarding the time period for the withdrawal, the two Lao parties are discussing this question and it is proposed that after the agreement on ending the war and restoring peace in Laos, it is within 90 days as the Pathet Lao proposes or 60 days as Souvanna [Page 95] proposes, or 30 days as you understand. I think that they will agree on this question and it is best they do that. I think we should let them agree on a political settlement. And we should not worry about counting from the ceasefire. We should discuss this with our allies so they can start as early as possible.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Sullivan is sure there is an error. Sullivan, you said 60 days from the time the war was ended. I think Mr. Thach wrote the Pathet Lao proposal.

Le Duc Tho: This is the proposal made by our respective Lao allies. We do not intend to make pressure on them. They will agree on the time period.

Dr. Kissinger: All right. But the question is, from what does the time period begin?

Le Duc Tho: The Lao parties propose that the time period should be counted from the date of the settlement.

Dr. Kissinger: All right. Mr. Special Adviser, this is like the Two-Point Elaboration that did not elaborate anything.5

Le Duc Tho: The Two-Point Elaboration belongs to the past now.

Dr. Kissinger: I know. But we don’t want to have another one.

Le Duc Tho: We are concrete now.

Dr. Kissinger: No, you are not yet sufficiently concrete, Mr. Special Adviser. And the reason is because until now there was no problem because the negotiations in Laos linked together the ceasefire and the political solution. Therefore one did not have to face the question of from what time to start the withdrawal. But now we are separating those two aspects, and therefore, it is not self-evident that one should start counting from the second instead of from the first agreement. In fact, we believe one should start counting from the first agreement. But we can agree that both sides should encourage their friends to reach a political settlement within that time frame.

Le Duc Tho: The two Lao parties have agreed that after the signing of the Agreement on Laos, then the foreign troops will be withdrawn within either 90 days, according to the Pathet Lao, or 60 or 30 days according to Phouma’s proposal. And the two parties should come to a political settlement as rapidly as possible. It is according to the aspirations of the Laotian people.

Dr. Kissinger: We are not opposed to political settlement. The question is, we are also in favor of a rapid withdrawal. But the real [Page 96] question is from what time do we count the withdrawal. If we said it should be from the time of the ceasefire, certainly a political settlement would be completed long before the completion of the withdrawal.

Le Duc Tho: But there is no assurance of that, because the two parties are now discussing the problem.

Dr. Kissinger: But the Special Adviser cannot have it both ways. He cannot say, “Don’t worry about the withdrawal because a political settlement is easy,” and then say “There cannot be a withdrawal because there is no assurance of a political settlement.” You cannot have both of these statements. And also . . .

Le Duc Tho: What I mean is that the time period for the troop withdrawal should be counted after the settlement by the parties in Laos. It will be certain. But now if it is counted from the ceasefire, there is nothing to say about whether the political settlement will come soon or if it will drag on. Moreover, the two Lao parties have agreed on that, and this is their right.

Dr. Kissinger: I think—I am not sure—we could convince Souvanna Phouma to count the withdrawal from the beginning of the ceasefire. Do you think so, Bill?

Ambassador Sullivan: Yes. I agree.

Dr. Kissinger: Sullivan is convinced.

Le Duc Tho: I think that Mr. Phouma’s proposal is correct. We have nothing to persuade him. The Pathet Lao has agreed to that. The only question is 60 days or 90 days.

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t think that is quite correct. As I explained to you—the Special Adviser is trying to confuse me—that proposal was made when the political solution and the ceasefire were linked to each other in one package. Now that they are separated we should base it on the understanding, which links it to the ceasefire. And I don’t want to think the Special Adviser wants to leave the impression that the North Vietnamese forces are there to make pressure on the affairs of a neighboring country.

Le Duc Tho: It is correct to say so. First of all it is a question of ceasefire. Then the political questions will be continued to be discussed, and Mr. Phouma and the Pathet Lao have agreed that following the political agreement the question of withdrawal will be discussed. It is their proposal, so let them agree to that. Previously the Pathet Lao settled parallelly the political and military questions; now the Pathet Lao recognize that the political questions will continue to be discussed after the ceasefire. Mr. Phouma also agrees that after the ceasefire the political discussions will continue. Now, what we can agree is that both sides should agree with our respective allies that they should come to a political agreement very soon.

[Page 97]

Dr. Kissinger: Like when? Like 10 days after the ceasefire? [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: It is up to the two Lao parties. We should not go into the agreement between the two parties.

Dr. Kissinger: But the Special Adviser has educated me so much to be concrete that I have difficulty understanding phrases like “very soon.”

Le Duc Tho: It is concrete enough, because the two Lao parties have proposals of 60 and 90 days after the ceasefire.

Dr. Kissinger: I have learned that when the Special Adviser argues as if he is missing the point, it is not because he doesn’t understand it, but because he understands it all too well. It is his affection for the Ho Chi Minh Trail which clouds his judgment. [Laughter]

Let me say a few words. Let me sum up our differences and come to a conclusion. The difference between the Special Adviser and me is that the Lao parties have discussed one single agreement which included both a military and political agreement. This agreement foresees that, according to the Pathet Lao, foreign troops should withdraw within 90 days, or according to Souvanna Phouma 60 days according to you, but 30 days according to what Souvanna told me. I don’t dispute the difference in time; this they can settle among themselves. As long as they come between 30 and 90 days. It shouldn’t be more than 90 days. The way the Special Adviser and I settled the American withdrawal.

But then the question is from what time should we count it. There are two or three ways—from the ceasefire or the political agreement. The Special Adviser is afraid if he counts from the time of the ceasefire there may never be a political settlement. I am afraid if we count it from the time of the political settlement that there will never be a withdrawal. I am speaking honestly. So the problem could be settled very easily, and we could agree to count it from the time of the political settlement, if we would not have to fear that then the political negotiations would be endless. So I propose that we count the withdrawal—whatever the two parties agree—from the time of the political settlement, but that the political settlement occur no later than 15 days after the ceasefire.

Le Duc Tho: So you mean to fix a time period for the political settlement?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: Now I understand your proposal. I propose that we stop our discussion at this point.

Dr. Kissinger: All right.

Le Duc Tho: Because if now we decide this, our allies will have another proposal. We have to exchange views with our ally.

[Page 98]

Dr. Kissinger: All right, that’s fair enough. But we will finish the discussion before we leave Hanoi. Not tonight.

Le Duc Tho: But you will be leaving the day after tomorrow.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. But you are very persuasive.

Le Duc Tho: But we should have time to discuss with them. And they are not here.

Pham Van Dong: Let me add: Frankly speaking, I am unwilling to discuss the problem of Laos so much in detail and so deeply. There is no reason that we debate things here when the two Lao parties are discussing things in Vientiane. And the political process that has been suggested, I am afraid it is not realistic. The political situation is complicated. The situation we have in South Vietnam is clearer; in Laos it is very difficult. The 1962 Agreement has not been implemented in a very good way because of the political problems. If now we decide a deadline for the two Lao parties to achieve a political settlement, and if they don’t achieve it, then what will happen? And I therefore think we should suggest it to them and let them discuss.

The question of the ceasefire is definitely settled. The question of withdrawal of troops, in principle it is settled. For the time being, let them discuss. The political question let them discuss. We will welcome it if they can come to an early settlement. But if they delay in settling, the two previous problems are being settled too.

Dr. Kissinger: What two problems?

Pham Van Dong: The question of ceasefire and troop withdrawal.

Dr. Kissinger: They are not being settled if they can’t agree?

Pham Van Dong: I think that if the political problem drags on, they will agree on a settlement. Because the logic of the question is that the ceasefire and troop withdrawal are linked. And as to the political problems, they are not necessarily linked.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree with the Prime Minister. I am in complete agreement with you. I think he should discipline the Special Adviser. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: The question here should be discussed here by our friends. It is therefore discussed and settled with Phouma in this way.

Dr. Kissinger: But in what way should it be discussed? I agree with the Prime Minister. I agree that the two problems of the ceasefire and withdrawal are linked. I don’t think . . .

Le Duc Tho: But the Pathet Lao insist that it come only after the settlement of the ceasefire, and I think that this proposal will encourage the two parties to settle the issue quickly.

Dr. Kissinger: But this is really a way of using outside forces to bring about a political solution.

[Page 99]

Le Duc Tho: What I said is that the proposal is based on what is proposed by the two Lao parties.

Pham Van Dong: This is also the first time I listen to the view that the foreign troops are used to settle the political settlement. So as I proposed, we should stop the discussion of this question here, so we may exchange views with our allies.

Dr. Kissinger: Fine, but in what sense, Mr. Prime Minister?

Le Duc Tho: The difference is our allies. There are many solutions possible. We can make one suggestion or another to our allies.

Dr. Kissinger: But if we make one suggestion to our allies and you make another to your allies, they will never agree.

Le Duc Tho: The direction should be clear and should be decided by our allies.

Dr. Kissinger: It depends. I agree that the objective should be made clear.

Le Duc Tho: So we further discuss this question tomorrow.

Dr. Kissinger: Cambodia, anybody? I am used to 17-hour sessions.

Pham Van Dong: Shall we adjourn now. It is 7:30.

Dr. Kissinger: I am afraid we will still be here two weeks from now. Cambodia tomorrow, then economic. But at some point we must discuss the communiqué.6

Pham Van Dong: I propose that Mr. Thach and Mr. Sullivan discuss the communiqué first.7

Dr. Kissinger: All right. They can meet this evening.

Nyugen Co Thach: It is all ready.

Dr. Kissinger: It is all drafted. Can you pick it up in an hour? I want to review it once more. We will give it to the protocol officer at the Guest House. We had planned to leave Tuesday8 noon, but we could leave later in the afternoon. We have that much margin.

Pham Van Dong: We would like to do our job in a more expeditious way, so that you can keep your departure time. For example, the question of Laos can be left to the Lao. And more reason for the Cambodia problem.

Dr. Kissinger: It is the only foreign troops that concern us. If we can leave it to them, that’s fine.

[Page 100]

Ambassador Sullivan: Do you have a copy of the communiqué?

Nyugen Co Thach: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: We will give the communiqué to the protocol officer. What time do we meet in the morning?

Pham Van Dong: At 9:00.

Dr. Kissinger: Okay

Pham Van Dong: There are two questions left now: Cambodia and the economic.

Dr. Kissinger: And normalization of relations.

Pham Van Dong: So, three questions.

Dr. Kissinger: We have the paper on normalization. Maybe you could read it. Just to speed up the discussion. [Hands over US paper, “Normalization of US-DRV Relations”, Tab B.]9

Le Duc Tho: You have a paper on healing the war wounds?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. But first I want to discuss it.

[The meeting adjourned.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 113, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Hanoi Memcons, February 10–13, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the DRV President’s House. Brackets are in the original. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho toured the Hanoi History Museum and other cultural sites before the session.
  2. Kissinger stopped in Bangkok and Vientiane, where he met with Souvanna Phouma, before proceeding to Hanoi. He sent Scowcroft a report on his meetings in Hakto 27, February 11. (Ibid., Box 29, HAK Trip Files, February 7–20, 1973, HAKTO 1–117) Scrowcroft passed on the text of the message to Nixon in a February 11 memorandum. (Ibid., Memoranda for the President)
  3. The message was delivered on October 19, 1972. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 30.
  4. Undated, Tab A is attached but not printed.
  5. For the DRV’s February 1972 elaboration of its negotiating position in Paris, see Henry Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War: A History of American Involvement in and Extraction from the Vietnam War, pp. 264–265; and Luu Van Loi and Nguyen Anh Vu, Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris, pp. 208–209.
  6. For text of the joint communiqué, issued on February 14, see Department of State Bulletin, March 5, 1973, pp. 262–263.
  7. Kissinger and Sullivan met with Thach to discuss the communiqué at the DRV Government Guest House on February 12, 11:15–11:45 p.m. A memorandum of that conversation is in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 113, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Other Hanoi Memcons, Sullivan.
  8. February 13.
  9. Undated, Tab B is attached but not printed.