15. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Le Duc Tho, Special Adviser to DRV Delegation to the Paris Conference on Vietnam
  • Vice Foreign Minister Thach
  • Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff
  • David Engel, NSC Staff

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Special Adviser, today I would like to raise with you some questions. Before you came, it was decided that we would first discuss the implementation of the Agreement; secondly the questions of healing the war wounds and normalization of relations between the two countries;2 and then the question of the International Conference. Yesterday you raised the question of Laos and Cambodia. So this is a new item you added to the agenda. But we are prepared to discuss these problems. But these problems include some complicated questions. I therefore think that when you discuss with our Prime Minister you should confine the topics to your aforesaid questions, first the implementation of the Agreement, secondly the healing of the war wounds, and thirdly, normalization of our relations. As to the question of the International Conference, we will leave that to Mr. Thach and to Ambassador Sullivan to discuss this first.

As to the question of Laos and Cambodia, when we were in Paris we discussed the understanding and came to an agreement in Paris. Therefore, this question should be discussed between you and I. Yesterday we solved one question already, that is to say the question of the ceasefire. So we have now agreed on what we had agreed on previously. I discussed this with you and came to an understanding with you and whatever understanding we reached at the time we will carry out. So I discuss with you as I previously had discussed. Naturally, regarding [Page 103] the questions of Laos and Cambodia, when you raise them we are prepared to discuss them. But these questions we should also discuss with our allies and have their agreement. And we cannot coerce them or decide before their agreement. This is their right to do that. This is what I have been telling you all the time.

Now, regarding the question of Laos. Yesterday we expressed our views to you. Now today do you have anything to say about the question of Laos? Finally you propose that we should set a date for the settlement of political problems. You set a deadline for this.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: In other words, to settle the conclusion of the overall agreement and counting from that date you settle the question of troop withdrawals. As to the time period of troop withdrawal we will leave that to the two Laotian parties to discuss.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: So my intention is that now and you and I exchange views on that question, and afterward I will discuss it with our allies. We should obtain the agreement of our allies because previously we discussed with our allies about the question of ceasefire and actually we discussed with them only that question. The question you raised yesterday we had not had an opportunity to discuss with our allies. So I propose that now we exchange views on that question so we can discuss and consult with our allies.

Secondly, regarding the question of Cambodia we have been talking about this question lengthily already.

Dr. Kissinger: But with no precision. (laughter)

Le Duc Tho: You always want something concrete.

Dr. Kissinger: I learned that from the Special Adviser.

Le Duc Tho: For me some things are worthy to be learned but some things are not worthy to be learned.

Dr. Kissinger: I now know the Special Adviser can be very concrete when he wants to be.

Le Duc Tho: I have talked to you lengthily about questions on Cambodia, but I have not known your views regarding this question.

Dr. Kissinger: Should we finish Laos first and then we can discuss Cambodia? First, it is up to the DRV government and Politburo to decide whom I should talk to about what subject.

Le Duc Tho: With me.

Dr. Kissinger: Of course, it is always a personal pressure for me to speak to you, Mr. Special Adviser. (laughter)

Le Duc Tho: The intention of Premier Pham Van Dong concerning his discussion with you is on the aforesaid matters.

[Page 104]

Dr. Kissinger: This is fine. I was just responding to your question. You said at first that I should discuss Laos with the Prime Minister.

Now what is the problem? We have two possibilities with Laos. We can either count the time of withdrawal from the time of ceasefire, which is really what the understanding requires. In that case the Laos parties can talk without any advice from us. Or we can recommend to the two Laos parties that they settle within the time period we recommend, say within 10 days, and that they settle withdrawal between them, but this should be somewhere between the proposal of Souvanna Phouma, which I think is 30 days, and the proposal of the Pathet Lao, which is 90 days. But we don’t take a position exactly where this should be. These are the two possibilities as I see them.

Le Duc Tho: Yes. You handed to us a paper on which there were modalities for troop withdrawals.3 It is very complicated. Therefore, I suggest we leave it aside and leave it to the Laos parties to discuss. Previously we exchanged our views on the questions of the ceasefire and on the questions of the troop withdrawals . . . (Thach interrupts) So from the ceasefire to the settlement of the agreement we will recommend to our allies [a time period]. As to the other questions, we leave this to the discretion of the other parties.

Dr. Kissinger: What will you recommend, Mr. Special Adviser?

Le Duc Tho: There are two questions. We will exchange views between you and I and recommend to the Laos parties, since the question of the ceasefire we have settled.

Dr. Kissinger: We have settled, but your friends have not gotten the word because yesterday they refused to separate the ceasefire.

Le Duc Tho: They have not known yet probably because it was yesterday morning, and they probably knew yesterday night.

Dr. Kissinger: I am sure you carry out your promises. I have confidence in the Special Adviser.

Le Duc Tho: I will keep whatever I promise to you.

Dr. Kissinger: You make them in a way that no one can understand. (Laughter)

Le Duc Tho: But you promised me about the question of healing the war wounds.

Dr. Kissinger: The Prime Minister said there was no linkage, and that it is a separate problem. (Laughter)

Le Duc Tho: It is what Pham Van Dong told you. You and I know differently, because we talked about the question in Paris already. I remind you that I keep my promises—15 days.

[Page 105]

Dr. Kissinger: (looking at his watch) Not yet. I’ll make . . . Let’s talk about Laos and Cambodia. Then I want to make a realistic comment to you about healing the war wounds because if you do not trust me on healing the war wounds, it will turn into a disaster. You must let us do it in our own way, and when you come to America, you will see that we did it in your interest.

Le Duc Tho: Let me pass over it very briefly. Our interest is to have a lasting peace and a long-term relationship with the U.S. In settling the Vietnam problem we wanted to follow this direction, and now we agree with you on some questions of the Laos problem, it was also in the same direction. If now we have shown good will, a great deal of good will to you, you should do the same for us . . .

Dr. Kissinger: We will.

Le Duc Tho: . . . to maintain good long-term relations.

Dr. Kissinger: That will be our intent and policy.

Le Duc Tho: And when we respond to your requirements and keep our commitments you should do the same, too, because only in this way can a good and long-term relationship be maintained.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: Let me speak about the Laos question. I think it is very realistic to adopt the second direction. I should say that today we exchange views with you and then have discussions with our allies because this question has just been raised by you yesterday. I thought that when you came it would only be a question of ceasefire. When you gave us a list before the visit here, it was only the question of ceasefire, so we have not yet had an opportunity to exchange views with our allies.

Dr. Kissinger: Can I tell the Special Adviser something? I asked my new secretary what she thought of the Special Adviser. She said he looked very sincere and very defenseless. “You should be gentle with him.” I said he may be sincere, but he is not defenseless.

Le Duc Tho: So I think we should now come to an understanding about the deadline for settling the overall agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: Then we will consult our allies about that and let them decide the time period for troop withdrawal.

Dr. Kissinger: But it can’t be longer than the Pathet Lao’s proposal.

Le Duc Tho: We will let them decide.

Dr. Kissinger: It can’t be longer. They can’t change their minds.

Le Duc Tho: On this basis they will decide. So now regarding the deadline for the settlement of political problems, yesterday you proposed 15 days. Today you raise 10 days. I think it is impossible to achieve it this rapidly.

[Page 106]

Dr. Kissinger: We did it in four days.

Le Duc Tho: After taking so long a period we came to a result. But after we came to an agreement we needed three months more.

Dr. Kissinger: That was because your government kept overruling you.

Le Duc Tho: For instance, on the question of the formation of the government in Laos, it is very difficult to come to an agreement. Therefore we should persuade our allies as soon as possible. At least it should take 45 days.

Dr. Kissinger: And only then the withdrawals start?

Le Duc Tho: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: That is impossible. That is unreasonable. The Agreement says that troops should be withdrawn after the ceasefire and the understanding says that after the ceasefire they discuss modalities. It doesn’t say political agreement.

Le Duc Tho: Even the discussion of modalities will take some time. I agree that if they can come to an agreement on political problems, I agree that they do that, but I am afraid they will not be able to do that. Even in 1962 it took over one year before they started discussing the settlement of the problem and when they started to settle the problem it took over one month to come to an agreement. Sometimes regarding the timeframe you and I both wanted to have a quick settlement but we couldn’t meet the schedule. You proposed many schedules but on many occasions the schedule couldn’t be met. When now we set the time frame we should endeavor to keep the time frame.

Dr. Kissinger: But in the Agreement it says nothing about the withdrawal of troops being dependent on a political settlement in Laos. Article 20 (b) says they shall withdraw foreign troops which, in most agreements, means after the signature. Now we said there would be a ceasefire and the understanding says there will be withdrawals after the ceasefire. Now you are delaying withdrawals until after a political settlement. This makes it very hard to convince us of your sincerity since on the whole Agreement with our people we have said there would be withdrawals of forces from Laos and Cambodia. We didn’t sign the Agreement in order to keep foreign forces in Laos and Cambodia. We have always made this clear. It is a new theory of international relations to say that it is interfering in the domestic affairs of other countries to withdraw your troops. Up to now it has always been the opposite.

Le Duc Tho: But the Agreement just raised the principle of withdrawal.

Dr. Kissinger: It doesn’t say that. What if I say that it just raises the principle of American troop withdrawals. (Tho and Thach confer.) We understand some delay.

[Page 107]

Le Duc Tho: You will carry out the Agreement. You raise questions about the Agreement and I have some views, but let us discuss. We are at the point that we agree that there should be a settlement of the problem. You propose 15 days and we propose 45 days. Let us agree on that point and leave the discussion of details to the Lao parties.

Dr. Kissinger: But I can’t agree to 45 days.

Le Duc Tho: But the experience we have had shows that we can’t discuss political problems in 15 days. If now they can settle the problem in 15 days, we agree.

Dr. Kissinger: Our experience with you is that you settle everything on the last day. You are releasing prisoners on the 15th day. The ceasefire, if it happens, will be on the 15th day and on the ceasefire you told me that it might be earlier. You are not in the habit of paying in advance.

Le Duc Tho: So I think if it is not 45 days, it at least should be 30 days. Roughly 30 days—maybe sometime earlier or sometime later. If they do that in 10 days, I agree. So you see when we set a time limit we direct an effort to meet the time limit.

Dr. Kissinger: I think if we send Thach to Sam Neua, he would be so bored that he would settle in 15 days.

Mr. Thach: Five days.

Dr. Kissinger: He will make a big effort.

Le Duc Tho: At the most one month. The sooner the better.

Dr. Kissinger: It won’t be sooner. 20 days is reasonable. That is 3 weeks. You can’t spare Mr. Thach that long as you need him for other things.

Le Duc Tho: You see 15 days more for a ceasefire for a war is meaningless. The reason I propose this is to leave our allies some margin for maneuver.

Dr. Kissinger: They are maneuvering too much already. (Not translated.)

Le Duc Tho: To arrange things. They should endeavor to do this earlier.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me understand the exact proposal. The ceasefire will be within the next days. That is agreed to.

Le Duc Tho: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: Then you propose within 30 days there would be a political settlement.

Le Duc Tho: An overall agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: As part of the overall agreement. Foreign troops will be withdrawn in the time period between the 30 days proposed by Souvanna and the 90 days proposed by the Pathet Lao. But where shall it be negotiated?

[Page 108]

Le Duc Tho: We have no objection to the decision of the Lao parties. They will discuss within the framework of the proposals the Lao parties have made.

Dr. Kissinger: But it won’t be a new one.

Le Duc Tho: I agree. You are very tough.

Dr. Kissinger: You are so defenseless.

Le Duc Tho: My defense is known to you.

Dr. Kissinger: You have subverted my secretary. I am glad I didn’t know the Special Adviser in his younger days. My secretaries would have deserted.

Le Duc Tho: So we have settled the Laos question.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me talk one minute with Ambassador Sullivan, who is the expert on Laos. (He starts to leave and Tho continues the conversation.)

Le Duc Tho: We have exchanged views. Now I have to consult my Prime Minister. You consult your ally, too.

Dr. Kissinger: Provisionally we will keep it at this, and I will tell you definitely this afternoon.

We also must talk about Cambodia. I want to talk very seriously and to get concrete. I know you are very suspicious concerning the healing of the war wounds, and we will make a very big effort with our Congress. I will explain the problems when I talk to the Prime Minister, and we have some concrete ideas. But the political reality is that if we cannot point to some concrete performance in implementation of the Agreement, in Laos and Cambodia especially, it will be impossible. It doesn’t make any difference what we recommend. I have already appeared before Congress as you probably know. I appeared before the Senate and the House and recommended the program. I have never done this for any country. It is a very unusual event. So you can be sure that we will make a very big effort, but there are real constraints.

On Cambodia something must happen. We believe Lon Nol is ready to talk to you and we would encourage this. And we would encourage negotiations between the parties in Cambodia. But now military actions have started again, and we also have no indication when there is planning for troops to be withdrawn.

Le Duc Tho: Let me talk about this. The Cambodian problem contains many difficulties, as you know. How can we directly talk to Lon Nol?

Dr. Kissinger: You can talk indirectly to him.

Le Duc Tho: Even indirectly. There is the sovereignty of the National Union Government. It is up to them to decide when to talk and not to talk. We ourselves cannot talk. This way of doing things is impossible. It is impossible to do it this way. It is a very difficult problem. [Page 109] When we met in Paris I pointed out the difficulties to you and you acknowledged them. If it is as easy as the Laos problem, we can exchange views between you and I, and we can settle the problem. Even talking to Prince Sihanouk is not easy.

Dr. Kissinger: We had him for a few years and now you do. You can have him for a few years, and then he will come back to us. I agree with you. It is not easy to talk to him. There is no natural law that says the Communist side must conduct its affairs through a royal prince (laughter). I never read that in Lenin.

Le Duc Tho: Lenin is very flexible. It is a principled theory, but flexible. Personally with Prince Sihanouk there is no difficulty for us to talk to him. But there are many factors which make it difficult, not easy.

Dr. Kissinger: Like what?

Le Duc Tho: You understand already.

Dr. Kissinger: Sihanouk said publicly here that you told him that I would talk to the Chinese. (Le Duc Tho indicates puzzlement, and Dr. Kissinger repeats.)

Le Duc Tho: I did not say that.

Dr. Kissinger: He said it.

Le Duc Tho: He is very exuberant in talking. Sometimes he heard from other sources about that. You see it is a difficult problem. When I raised difficulties, you said that you would talk to the Chinese.

Dr. Kissinger: I will talk to the Chinese, but I don’t know what to say since I don’t know your intention.

Le Duc Tho: Our intention is that sovereignty lies with the Government of National Union.

Dr. Kissinger: And therefore you say there won’t be peace until Lon Nol is overthrown.

Le Duc Tho: You asked this question of me in Paris.

Dr. Kissinger: That is what you are saying. You are saying that there will be a continuing civil war which you will assist. So how are you actively contributing to peace?

Le Duc Tho: Let me tell you about this. In my vision of the general situation, once the Vietnam problem and the Lao problem are solved, so the objective conditions will lead to settlement of a Cambodian problem.

Dr. Kissinger: In thirty-five days.

Le Duc Tho: It depends on you.

Dr. Kissinger: How?

Le Duc Tho: You asked me whether the other day you should talk to Prince Sihanouk. I said you should. The settlement of the Cambodian [Page 110] problem will involve the return of Sihanouk because between Sihanouk and Lon Nol there is a question of death and life.

Dr. Kissinger: So you are saying we have to kill Lon Nol, or he can kill himself?

Le Duc Tho: You asked me a question, and I am frankly speaking. I told you my personal views. I am just raising the real situation, the actual situation. For the solution of the Cambodian problem will depend on you and Sihanouk.

Dr. Kissinger: But how?

Le Duc Tho: As far as we are concerned, when it is settled what we told you we will carry out.

Dr. Kissinger: And until then you will keep your troops there?

Le Duc Tho: It is just like the Laos question. How do we do that if the settlement is not yet done?

Dr. Kissinger: There is nothing in the Agreement which says that foreign troops stay in Cambodia until there is a political settlement. It would have been easy enough to say, and we would never have accepted it. It would have been easy to say that there are two problems in Cambodia. One is the settlement between the Cambodian parties. I can understand you can’t bring that about. The other is the withdrawal of foreign troops. That is a separate problem.

Le Duc Tho: Your concern is too mechanical. So you see the settlement of the Cambodian problem will call for some negotiations. As far as I understand it, Prince Sihanouk is ready to meet you. Are you willing to meet him? How can one settle the issues?

Dr. Kissinger: But that’s a separate issue. Are you saying you are entitled to put your troops in any country you want to until they settle their internal affairs?

Le Duc Tho: No. You see it is incorrect to say as you just said it, because you have your forces there and bombing.

Dr. Kissinger: We will stop immediately. First, it is not true. We didn’t bomb for twelve days. We will stop bombing when there is a ceasefire. If your allies stop bombing we will stop bombing immediately. Secondly, you are obligated by Article 20 b to withdraw your forces from Cambodia. Nothing in Article 20 b says that this takes place after a political settlement. And if your forces stay, you will violate the Agreement, and we will treat it as a violation of the Agreement.

Le Duc Tho: We do not violate the Agreement. All these questions relate to our ally in Cambodia. It is not so easy as with the Laotian allies. And even with the Laotian allies we have had discussions.

Dr. Kissinger: They are two separate problems.

Le Duc Tho: It is the same.

[Page 111]

Dr. Kissinger: The presence of your forces depends on your decision. Your forces are not prisoners there.

Le Duc Tho: But it is related to the settlement of our ally. We have commitment to our ally, and our ally has not begun negotiating now. Even when we were in negotiations I pointed out to you the difficulties.

Dr. Kissinger: You said it was difficult to put into writing. You said you could do more than you could write. Now you are doing nothing. What you are doing is you are demanding the overthrow of Lon Nol.

Le Duc Tho: I have no right to demand that. The Royal Government of National Union . . . In Paris you asked me privately. I told you privately my personal thinking that it would be very difficult if one did not talk to Prince Sihanouk or if Prince Sihanouk did not return to Cambodia. I have no power or right to overthrow Lon Nol.

Dr. Kissinger: But you have the power to withdraw your forces; not only the power, but the obligation.

Le Duc Tho: You are not realistic. After a settlement we will carry out our obligations.

Dr. Kissinger: Nothing in the agreement says after the settlement. It would have been easy to put in that it takes place after the settlement.

Le Duc Tho: But there is nothing in the Agreement that says when. It is only a principle. We have also discussed with our allies, and I told you privately already, but when we met Sihanouk or when we met our Cambodian friends, we told them that you should enter into negotiations. But it’s their right to decide. And moreover when we finished the Agreement and sent a message to you, and President Nixon said he was satisfied . . .

Dr. Kissinger: That was totally different. We talked about the ceasefire. There was nothing about the withdrawal of troops which we thought was taken care of by the Agreement. There are two problems—the problem of ceasefire and the problem of withdrawal of forces. You said about the ceasefire that you would actively contribute, but the withdrawal of foreign forces was not discussed.

Le Duc Tho: I disagree with you. We negotiated a couple of months in Paris about that. You said that we are obligated to settle the problem of Cambodia but . . .

Dr. Kissinger: That is a different question. We are willing to leave a settlement open, but we are not willing to leave foreign forces open. I must tell you that this is a severe difficulty for us. We will not accept this.

Le Duc Tho: We did not settle this problem with you, and when we finished the Agreement we said in a message about the question of Cambodia, when asked by President Nixon, that this is a very complicated question.

[Page 112]

Dr. Kissinger: The President was speaking about the ceasefire.

Le Duc Tho: Not just the question of ceasefire.

Dr. Kissinger: There was nothing about the withdrawal of forces from Cambodia, which is settled in the Agreement.

Le Duc Tho: The Agreement had the principle of no foreign troops or war matériels being introduced into the country. But this should be done after the settlement. We can’t come to a solution to this problem if we talk here, because it is a complicated question.

Dr. Kissinger: You can come to a solution concerning the withdrawal of foreign forces. You can’t come to a solution of the internal Cambodian problems.

Le Duc Tho: I have been telling you, explaining to you, lengthily on this question. We have a commitment to our ally. We cannot leave our ally defenseless.

Dr. Kissinger: Why shouldn’t your ally defend itself? And should there be a ceasefire, then your ally is not defenseless.

Le Duc Tho: It is up to the Cambodian people and our ally.

Dr. Kissinger: You said that you would make an active effort to bring about peace in Cambodia. This did not concern forces. That is a separate matter. Now you tell us that Sihanouk will not talk to his opposition. So there cannot be peace. So you are telling us your forces will stay indefinitely.

Le Duc Tho: I think here you should find out a solution with the Cambodians because you are fighting them and you should find out. So in a word we cannot solve this problem. When I talked to you I said that you should talk to the Chinese.

Dr. Kissinger: But all the supplies come from here.

Le Duc Tho: I told you after the ceasefire in Vietnam and Laos we would never do that.

Dr. Kissinger: What?

Le Duc Tho: We would never introduce troops and war matériels, and when there is a settlement we will withdraw.

Dr. Kissinger: But until there is a ceasefire in Cambodia you will introduce war matériels?

Le Duc Tho: You just decided to continue to give military aid to the Cambodian Government the other day.

Dr. Kissinger: How about the provision that you can’t use base areas in Cambodia?

Le Duc Tho: We will respect that.

Dr. Kissinger: After the ceasefire in Cambodia?

Le Duc Tho: After the settlement we will implement this provision.

Dr. Kissinger: But not now.

[Page 113]

Le Duc Tho: There is no settlement yet in Cambodia.

Dr. Kissinger: In the absence of a settlement in Cambodia you will use base areas in Cambodia.

Le Duc Tho: We have no bases in Cambodia.

Dr. Kissinger: What does Article 7 mean?

Le Duc Tho: It is definite that we will not violate Article 7. It is under the control of the ICC and the Joint Military Commission. We will not introduce anything.

Dr. Kissinger: The Agreement also says that you cannot use base areas in Cambodia and Laos against each other. It doesn’t say after the settlement. It says now.

Le Duc Tho: We will not use Laos and Cambodia now to introduce armaments and troops into Vietnam. Moreover there is the control mechanism.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser you engaged in clandestine acts in South Vietnam. Let’s not fool each other. You know 1,000 ICCS people will not be able to control that border.

Le Duc Tho: If you say so what reason do you and I have to discuss and set up the ICCS? Moreover our general policy is not to do that.

Dr. Kissinger: I must say I am very upset about what you say about Cambodia. I can tell you now that it is totally unacceptable to us. This is a very serious affair for our relations. This is a fact.

Le Duc Tho: I cannot accept your point of view as you just said. As to the relationship of our two countries, it completely depends on you. As far as we are concerned, we do want good relations with you starting at this point. If you don’t want that . . .

Dr. Kissinger: We want a good relationship. We want strict implementation of the Agreement. Why did we write withdrawal of foreign troops into the Agreement if it has to be negotiated again as part of another settlement? That is absurd. We would not have agreed to something that has to be agreed later as part of another settlement.

Le Duc Tho: You are right there is such an agreement. But how and the kinds of modalities—these need discussion.

Dr. Kissinger: If it is necessary to take this attitude about every article in the agreement then it would never be implemented.

Le Duc Tho: You say so to have a pretext not to implement it.

Dr. Kissinger: I am not saying that.

Le Duc Tho: Your approach to the problem is not right. You pose that the Vietnam problem, the Laos problem, the Cambodian problem as a complete whole, as a simultaneous problem.

Dr. Kissinger: No. I agreed to separate them. You can’t say we have to settle with Sihanouk as the only possibility when we recognize Lon Nol. [Page 114] That’s impossible. You know that’s impossible. What is your active participation?

Le Duc Tho: If you refuse to talk to Sihanouk, that is your decision.

Dr. Kissinger: Why should we talk to him? Why doesn’t he talk to the other parties in Cambodia?

Le Duc Tho: Our active contribution was when we talked to our friends, that he should talk to you.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s not new. It has been said before. That’s no active contribution. That’s not new. You have always said this. Every time I was in China he offered to see me.

Le Duc Tho: But you are unwilling to meet him.

Dr. Kissinger: What active contributions are you offering? We can get without you the ability to talk to him. Besides it is an internal Cambodian problem. Why should we negotiate it?

Le Duc Tho: Because you overthrew him.

Dr. Kissinger: Let Sihanouk talk to his opponents.

Le Duc Tho: It’s up to them. We can’t force them to talk. You say as if we can do everything.

Dr. Kissinger: But you can do a lot more.

Le Duc Tho: How do we settle the problem? With our allies to settle the problem in Laos we accomplished this. Regarding Cambodia we advised Sihanouk he should settle and enter into negotiations to settle the problem.

Dr. Kissinger: He has offered to talk to me. Do you think that is a great concession?

Le Duc Tho: I don’t understand. Because each person has his own way. Like in 1966 you wanted to settle that with me.

Dr. Kissinger: In 1966?

Le Duc Tho: 1966–67. You found a way.

Dr. Kissinger: I didn’t even know you existed, Mr. Special Adviser.

Le Duc Tho: You can’t coerce me to do that.

Dr. Kissinger: I am not trying to coerce you. I have too much experience. I am not coercing you. You told me after the Vietnam settlement that the Cambodian war would end very rapidly. You said that your troops would withdraw from Cambodia. That was not dependent upon our settlement. These are two separate problems. I showed understanding of your difficulties on the ceasefire, but I never made allowances for the withdrawal of troops. This will be considered a total act of bad faith by everybody in America. Not just by me. This is a fact.

Le Duc Tho: Let me say one sentence and then go. We’ve held matters up for too long.

[Page 115]

Dr. Kissinger: You always speak on your side.

Le Duc Tho: In Paris I told you on many occasions that you didn’t put yourself in our place. You don’t look at our side. We also have our difficulties. The war in Vietnam is ended. The war in Laos is ended. There is no reason for us to continue the war in Cambodia, speaking for ourselves.

Dr. Kissinger: Why don’t you end it?

Le Duc Tho: You speak in a very simple way. It is not so simple. We can’t decide it alone. In Paris you realized it was a complex problem.

Dr. Kissinger: On the ceasefire, not withdrawals.

Le Duc Tho: There always should be a ceasefire between the parties and then troop withdrawal. It cannot be with a war going that you tell us that we should withdraw. You should see that the Vietnam problem was settled. Regarding the Laos problem we should get a way to find a settlement. Why is the Cambodian problem not settled? Because it is a very complicated problem. There are many complexities, and you talk in a very simple way. Prince Sihanouk came here to talk, so he left on the 7th. So there is difficulty. You don’t understand the problem. You are too simple.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand. Maybe I am too simple, but I know what is possible and impossible. And I know that it is impossible to convince Americans that clear obligations in an agreement can be abrogated without any proposed evolution. If there is a proposal, that is one thing. In Laos we can show understanding.

Le Duc Tho: The Cambodian problem is difficult. The problem of Cambodia is difficult in the sense that there is not yet negotiations for the time being. You are unwilling to talk and we can’t push it.

Dr. Kissinger: They can negotiate with each other. We have pushed our friends. They are willing to talk to you and others, and they don’t like to talk either. Why should we be the principal party in the negotiations in Cambodia? It is absurd.

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Lon Nol can’t talk to us. He must talk to his opponents. Like in Laos, Souvanna Phouma talked to his opponents.

Dr. Kissinger: OK. For the same reason I don’t want to talk to Sihanouk. Let him talk to his opponents.

Le Duc Tho: We encouraged Mr. Sihanouk to enter into negotiations, but he is not so easy. We can’t tell him positively you do this, and you do that. We say if possible you should enter into negotiations. It is not so simple a problem as you think. If it were like Laos . . .

Dr. Kissinger: Our judgment frankly is that Sihanouk has no following in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge has some following and Penn Nouth may have some following, but Sihanouk has no following.

Le Duc Tho: That is a wrong assessment.

[Page 116]

Dr. Kissinger: But that is up to them. I see no reason why the U.S. should conduct negotiations with Sihanouk about the internal arrangements of Cambodia.

Le Duc Tho: It is up to you.

Dr. Kissinger: You are giving us impossible conditions. We favor internal negotiations in Cambodia.

Le Duc Tho: We do not demand that you should talk to Sihanouk. But in Paris you asked me, and I explained my personal views, but it completely depends upon you.

Dr. Kissinger: You say then that the Civil War continues, and the troops will stay, and war matériel will go into Cambodia. All in total violation of the agreement. That is unacceptable to us.

Le Duc Tho: Your logic does not conform to the logic of reality. We wonder whether you want negotiations or not. If you do there are many channels. You can find out many ways, solutions and calculations, and put them into practice.

Dr. Kissinger: So can you, and you have taken obligations.

Le Duc Tho: We will carry out our obligations. You will carry out your obligations. At the beginning there were so many difficulties between you and I.

Dr. Kissinger: But we have just found a massive one. We cannot stand prosperity.

Le Duc Tho: Let us adjourn now.

Dr. Kissinger: I do not want to understate the seriousness of this problem.

Le Duc Tho: I’ll stand up. It is not a problem that is easy to solve.

Dr. Kissinger: If it is easy, you do not want to deal with it.

Le Duc Tho: Your recommendation is too simple. It is difficult. You should understand me. Only when you understand me, can we find a solution. We made an effort. It is too complicated. Let me tell you that you came on the 10th and on the 7th he left. Sihanouk did not want to go. And you say it is easy.

  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 in a private room at the DRV Government Guest House. Brackets are in the original.
  2. Kissinger and Pham Van Dong discussed North Vietnamese economic reconstruction at the DRV President’s House on February 12, 11:01 a.m.–1:03 p.m. A memorandum of that conversation is ibid. The record of the discussion on the normalization of U.S.-DRV relations, February 12, 5:05–6:20 p.m., is also ibid.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 13.