54. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Lt. General Dang Van Quang, RVN Presidential Assistant for Military and Security Affairs
  • Nguyen Xuan Phong, Minister
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security
  • Heyward Isham, Deputy Chief Delegate to the Paris Conference on Vietnam
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff

Dr. Kissinger: I have only two issues on my side. Do you have anything for me?

Phong: In Saigon, our Government has forwarded two memoranda to us.

Dr. Kissinger: We have seen those.2

Phong: And also with respect to the ceasefire proposal.

Dr. Kissinger: Right. On the ceasefire, we have this practical problem. Saigon said it would agree to the ceasefire in a ten-day period, which was our idea. As a practical matter, we will be here in Paris for two or three days and the communiqué can be after another two days—using the excuse that I have to get back to Washington. Then 48 hours from the date of the communiqué. Could you find out from Saigon whether this is enough for your dispositions?

Phong: Your draft memo?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. The joint appeal.

Phong: You know what Saigon feels.

[Page 250]

Dr. Kissinger: Saigon wants a four-power conference. You know we are going through what we did in October. If we can come back with something, our critics will be on the defensive. It is a fact of life. If we don’t, there will be two resolutions next week. Duc should curb his enthusiam for four-power meetings. We have no interest in this. We can live with the old agreement. If they break this agreement, it strengthens our moral position. The ceasefire is not a new obligation.

Phong: We stressed this in our cables, the need for agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: There are two problems. First, the ceasefire timing, can it be six to seven days from now? Second, there is no possibility whatsoever to get North Vietnamese agreement to a four-power conference. So, do you want no agreement at all, or the document we have discussed with you?

Phong: Saigon knows that. Regarding the ceasefire, Saigon goes along with the appeal, but parallel and not joint.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s agreed to.

Phong: Another objection is this: a recommendation from you is okay, but not from Hanoi. Would it be a joint recommendation from you and North Vietnam to both sides?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Phong: That is true with the other matters, the stationing of teams?

Dr. Kissinger: You have our draft memorandum of understanding. That is what we are following.

Phong: The one with A, B, and C. [Tab A]3

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. The DRV does not accept that; they want it to follow the outline of the agreement. We are sticking to the old position. But what is Saigon’s position if Hanoi insists on one document?

Phong: Saigon won’t go along at all.

Dr. Kissinger: [Laughs] Mr. Phong, we have so many problems in Washington, if you want to commit suicide, it is up to you.

Phong: [Laughs] We didn’t before!

Dr. Kissinger: But you came close. If you could get a rational answer from Saigon on the document: if the substance is okay, but the form is one document.

Quang: Right now your draft is the document.

Dr. Kissinger: They are going through the document for substance. The provisions are the same. We are sticking to our position. I don’t know how it will come out.

We don’t ask you to accept Le Duc Tho’s content. But if the content is as it is in ours, can you accept the form of Le Duc Tho’s?

[Page 251]

Phong: No, Saigon won’t accept it.

Dr. Kissinger: Can you explain the rationale? Why should a communiqué that covers the same points as the Agreement not be acceptable if it is in the same form as the Agreement?

Phong: I can tell you what Saigon says on that: They refer to Article 9 of the Agreement, the self-determination of the South Vietnamese people, and Articles 5 and 6 of Final Act.4

Dr. Kissinger: It will not be understood in America why the form that was acceptable in the Agreement isn’t acceptable for the implementation of Agreement. It is not self-evident.

Phong: It is not self-evident.

Dr. Kissinger: We are holding out for our position. Your position is senseless. We will sign it if the content is acceptable. You have no right to object, because we can recommend and you can simply not accept our recommendation.

Maybe Le Duc Tho will tomorrow agree to our position.

If they don’t accept our memorandum form, then the alternatives for us are to follow the form of Paris Agreement or have no communiqué at all.

Phong: You will follow the form of the Agreement?

Dr. Kissinger: That depends. We can’t say “with concurrence of Saigon” if we don’t have it. But you can’t stop us from recommending.

If Le Duc Tho signs our preamble we have no problem. If Le Duc Tho refuses to sign our preamble and we refuse to sign theirs, then as a political science expert I would say there was a deadlock. Then we either sign theirs or we have no communiqué.

Right now I am better off without a communiqué, because all the liberal papers will say we only did it to distract attention from domestic problems.

But it may not come to that. What I want from Saigon is an opinion. Before we leave for our meeting tomorrow.

Phong: Is there any chance for a ceasefire alone?

Dr. Kissinger: No. What we are trying to do is to get it all in the language of the Agreement. How can you object to something you already signed? Every disputed point, except the ceasefire appeal, we are trying to get in the language of Agreement.

[Page 252]

Phong: There are a number of sensitive things. The political sections, for example, as an agreement between you and the North Vietnamese.

Dr. Kissinger: But in form of recommendations, or “with concurrence of the GVN.” We are putting it all in the language of the Agreement now. That is the easiest way to settle it. In some places we have shortened the time period. Instead of “do their utmost in 90 days,” it says “do their utmost in 45 days.” I am sure Mr. Duc will do his utmost in the next 45 days.

The North Vietnamese said Duc was coming here. Or was that just psychological warfare against me?

Phong: [Laughs] It’s just dreaming. Saigon would prefer you to do the rest quietly. The ceasefire is OK, but couldn’t you do the rest privately? Because it looks like Saigon is taking instructions from Hanoi and the U.S. Maybe there will be no communiqué.

Dr. Kissinger: That is not possible. If we do it as an understanding and North Vietnam publishes it, then what happens?

Phong: It then becomes just a piece of paper.

Isham: Why isn’t that worse? Your position is that you want to implement the Agreement.

Phong: The main point of our memoranda to you is that we want South Vietnamese political matters to be resolved between the South Vietnamese parties. We want that principle respected. That is the main point; all the rest are details.

Isham: You also expressed disappointment at Mr. Hieu’s intransigence in Paris. Now you have a chance to put him in a bad position.

Phong: Why don’t we play up that point? Article 9. That is a basic thing.

Dr. Kissinger: I think you have a point, that we should try to mention in Article 9.

Phong: Because we have a political problem at home, with the impression that things are done over our heads.

General Quang also thinks that your draft on purely technical military matters is quite balanced and acceptable. It is only the political aspect of the same thing.

I am sure the North Vietnamese also maintain publicly that South Vietnamese matters always belong to the PRG.

Dr. Kissinger: But will you try to get some understanding from Saigon?

Phong: Yes. You are meeting tomorrow?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, at 3 o’clock.

[Page 253]

Phong: If they respond fast, we will get an answer tomorrow morning.

Dr. Kissinger: OK. What you have to remember is this: We are trying to enforce the Agreement, to preserve the Agreement, trying to get a moral basis in America. No one expects us to get anything, so if we came back with nothing, there would be no criticism. But if we came back with something against all expectations, it would give us some breathing room.

They should keep that in mind. That is the reality.

[The meeting then ended.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 105, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, GVN Memcons, May–June 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the library of the American Ambassador’s residence. Brackets are in the original.
  2. Ambassador Whitehouse transmitted the two untitled Vietnamese memoranda, which outlined the GVN position, to Kissinger in messages 432/Tohak 99, May 19, and 433/Tohak 100, May 19. (Ibid., Box 36, HAK Trip Files, Paris Trip, May 1973, TOHAK 61–125)
  3. Draft memorandum of understanding not attached. See Document 51.
  4. Article 5 of the Final Act of the International Conference asserted the right of the South Vietnamese to self-determination; Article 6 concerned the modalities of informing the four parties of the Agreement about its implementation. See Document 25.