76. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon 1
- Negotiations on a Vietnam Communiqué June 7–9, 1973
We have had a difficult week in Paris, largely because of our recalcitrant ally, the GVN.
In my sessions with Le Duc Tho from May 17–23, we had agreed on the text of a draft communiqué and an understanding on Laos. What remained was for Ambassador Sullivan to obtain GVN concurrence to the communiqué and for me to pry a satisfactory understanding out of Tho on Cambodia.
Sullivan and I returned to Paris last week with reasonable assurance of Thieu’s agreement to a four-party signature, provided we were able to persuade the DRV to accept certain modifications—which we did. I was less confident that we would be able to get much on Cambodia. As it turned out, we were able to obtain Tho’s agreement to an acceptable understanding on Cambodia. But we were not able, despite several tough exchanges with Saigon, to persuade the GVN to accept the communiqué. Saigon changed its position several times during the course of the week on a number of important issues covered in the document. When we were unable to obtain DRV concurrence to all these changes, the GVN refused either a four-party signature or a two-party (U.S.-DRV) signature accompanied by a statement that the U.S. was signing with the concurrence of the GVN. Tho, in turn, refused to sign anything less than a four-party communiqué.
Given this impasse, Tho agreed to my request for a 48-hour delay. We are now pushing hard in Saigon for a reversal of their position. We have until late Monday afternoon (Paris time),2 since we are committed to have Sullivan inform the DRV in Paris of Saigon’s position at that time. If the GVN comes along, I shall fly to Paris on Monday evening for a Tuesday signature ceremony and then return immediately to Washington. If Saigon remains immovable, there will be no [Page 322]communiqué. Hanoi will blast the U.S. and Saigon publicly, and we will have entered a new and difficult era in our relationships with the GVN.
What We Set Out To Do
Our objectives in these negotiations in May and June were:
- —On Vietnam, to put pressure on North Vietnam to cease its violations of the January agreement.
- —On Laos, to get a DRV commitment to the early formation of a new government, the withdrawal of DRV forces, and assistance in establishing the fate of our MIA.
- —On Cambodia, to obtain a ceasefire, negotiated political settlement, and withdrawal of Hanoi’s forces.
What We Achieved
The Joint Communiqué (at Tab A)3 represents a new political commitment by the parties to implement the Vietnam Agreement and protocols. It highlights specific provisions that have been of concern to the parties, sets new time deadlines where old deadlines have lapsed, and in some cases sets out detailed steps to facilitate implementation of provisions that have not been implemented.
- —We now have a new and detailed ceasefire order requiring strict cessation of hostilities at noon Saigon time, June 14.
- —There will be meetings between local commanders of forces in direct contact in order to avoid incidents.
- —The communiqué includes explicit steps to control the movement of military equipment replacements, as envisaged by the Agreement, in order to curb illegitimate infiltration.
- —There is a clause reaffirming respect for the DMZ.
- —The DRV has agreed to facilitate cooperation with us and with the Pathet Lao to determine the fate of the dead and MIA.
- —The communiqué sets new deadlines to encourage implementation of the political provisions of the Agreement, in accordance with South Vietnamese self-determination.
- —There is a provision explicitly requiring greater protection and assistance and freer movement for the ICCS, and there are also measures to improve the functioning of the Two-Party Joint Military Commission and its teams.
- —The communiqué reemphasizes the requirement for the scrupulous implementation of Article 20, which requires withdrawal of foreign forces from Laos and Cambodia. In a private understanding on Laos (Tab B)4 the U.S. and DRV recognized a specific deadline for a political settlement and new government in Laos (July 1) and for the withdrawal of all foreign troops (60 days thereafter). We also obtained, for the first time, a separate written understanding that the U.S. and DRV [Page 323]“will exert their best efforts to bring about a peaceful settlement of the Cambodian problem.” (Tab C)5
In consideration of these various measures, the United States has agreed to cease aerial reconnaissance flights over North Vietnam, resume mine clearing operations, reconvene the meetings of the U.S.-DRV Joint Economic Commission, and, in a private understanding, to use our maximum influence with Saigon to promote the return of Vietnamese civilian detainees. All of these U.S. obligations are repetitions of obligations we undertook in January.
In short, we have a document which we can use to retake the initiative in our Indochina policy. With the Soviets and Chinese, the communiqué and understandings on Laos and Cambodia give us new devices to press them to exert their influence over the DRV. Domestically, these documents make it evident that you are making the January Agreement work and that you have an effective policy which opponents will interfere with at their peril. Naturally, we cannot be sanguine about scrupulous implementation by Hanoi. But the situation indeed seems to be stabilizing on the ground, and we and the GVN have only to gain from a document that strengthens our ability to enforce the Agreement.
We went to extraordinary lengths during the course of these negotiations to accommodate the GVN’s concerns:
- —Unlike October, when Saigon genuinely had little time to react to the specific terms of a draft ceasefire agreement, our consultations on the communiqué began five weeks ago. Ambassador Sullivan went to Saigon after my May 17–23 round of Paris talks and consulted with Thieu personally; Ambassador Whitehouse has been in daily contact with the GVN leadership since then.
- —Even though we had reached tentative agreement with the DRV on the text in May, we succeeded this past week in incorporating important changes which Saigon had insisted upon. These included clauses highlighting elections (a central element of the GVN’s political program) and respect for the DMZ, and diluting the provisions mentioning delimitation of areas of control by the Two-Party Joint Military Commission (which now leaves the process more clearly under Saigon’s own control).
As in November–January, the clear result of the June negotiation is a document improved in our favor, and no small embarrassment to Hanoi because it had to accept changes at Saigon’s insistence. Schedules we had agreed upon with the North Vietnamese for the completion of [Page 324]the communiqué have been slipped four times since May because of our efforts to accommodate Saigon.
The GVN’s two current outstanding demands, as well as numerous others over the course of the negotiations, were presented by us to the North Vietnamese and proved impossible to obtain. Saigon has been slow or unresponsive in responding to our requests for advice during my sessions in Paris. On a number of points the GVN has shifted its position continually over the five weeks of consultations.
The GVN’s current demands are twofold: (1) an explicit call for general elections in six months, and (2) deletion of a provision mentioning that the Two-Party JMC headquarters and teams may be located at points on the boundaries between areas controlled by the respective parties if the parties in the JMC so decide:
- —The GVN proposal of a six-month deadline for elections goes beyond the January Agreement, and was therefore impossible to get the DRV to accept.
- —The GVN’s objection to the paragraph on JMC locations is theological. It claims to see the paragraph as sanctifying “two territories and two governments” in South Vietnam. But the concept of areas of control comes from the January Agreement and Ceasefire Protocol. The reference to the concept here is only indirect, since the clause deals only with the points at which teams and headquarters are to be located; it is not a call for delimitation of zones. To the extent that there are two zones in South Vietnam, it is the necessary implication of a standstill ceasefire. In any case, the actual delimitation of areas would be a process over which Saigon would have a total veto. And—to demonstrate how frustrating this consultation with Saigon can be—the GVN earlier told us on several occasions that it favored highlighting this process of delimitation of areas of control in the communiqué.
In short, there is no excuse for Saigon’s behavior. The document reiterates provisions already signed by the GVN in January. The issues the GVN raises are essentially trivial—certainly so in comparison to the grave damage done to our common interest if we get no communiqué. For months, Hanoi has carried the public onus of non-compliance—with its blatant infiltration, sabotage of the ICCS, violation of the DMZ, and refusal to leave Laos and Cambodia. Now Saigon is in danger of putting itself forward as the obstacle to peace, thus making it even more difficult for us to continue to support the GVN. Moreover, sabotage of the communiqué now will mean that Hanoi has much less incentive to observe any of its commitments with respect to the cease-fire in South Vietnam or political settlements in Laos and Cambodia.
Impact in the U.S.
There is little question that, should Saigon refuse to sign, and should that refusal become public knowledge (as it will), the GVN’s position here in the U.S. will be hurt. On the other hand, our own position [Page 325]will remain relatively untouched; we were prepared to sign a two- or four-party communiqué; we fought hard for the changes the GVN wanted, even when we doubted the wisdom of some of its suggestions; we even sought changes when the GVN reversed its own earlier position. Further, we have been firm with the DRV in insisting that compliance with the January Agreement must be achieved, and emphasized that all we were seeking with the latest communiqué was a reiteration of commitments already undertaken, and a reaffirmation of an intent to abide by them. We have abided by the terms of the January accord, and expect the DRV to continue to do likewise.
Thus, our own record in the public debate that is likely to follow any break in the talks with Tho is unassailable. But Saigon’s position in the U.S. could be badly tarnished. That is a fact we have emphasized to the GVN; it is the factor which may, in the end, tip the balance in Saigon to favor going ahead with a four-party signature next Tuesday.
- Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 115, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, U.S.-DRV Joint Communiqué. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Sent for information. Printed from an uninitialed copy.↩
- June 11.↩
- The draft Joint Communiqué attached but not printed.↩
- Draft Understanding on Laos attached but not printed.↩
- Draft Understanding on Cambodia attached but not printed.↩