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258. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff
  • Huang Hua, PRC Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Mrs. Shih Yen-hua, Interpreter
  • Mr. Kuo, Notetaker

Ambassador Huang: You must be tired. You spend half the time on the ground and half the time in the air.

Dr. Kissinger: After my last stop, I enjoy being in the air more than being on the ground. (Ambassador Huang smiles slightly.)

I have achieved the unity of the Vietnamese—both of them dislike me, North and South. (Ambassador Huang laughs.)

I haven’t had the opportunity to follow the Ambassador’s and Vice Foreign Minister’s speeches in the United Nations as much as usual. Is the Vice Foreign Minister still here?

Ambassador Huang: Yes. Yesterday evening he met with Senators Mansfield and Scott and Senate Secretary Valeo.

Dr. Kissinger: Was that here or in Washington?

Ambassador Huang: Here.

Dr. Kissinger: Because if they had come to Washington, my feelings would have been hurt. Did Senator Mansfield have a chance to discuss our problem with you?

Ambassador Huang: No, he didn’t go into details. He indicated in general terms that he would like to have a chance to visit China.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, we have done all we can on our side.

I don’t want to take too much of your time, but I asked to see you shortly after my return because I want to ask something which we have not asked before—and that is whether the Prime Minister might be willing to use his good offices in the rather complicated state that our negotiations have reached with the Vietnamese. And I believe it is in their interest. We are really not asking this for ourselves.

[Page 1094]

As you probably know from both us and Hanoi, the North Vietnamese and I reached substantial agreement in Paris in the middle of October.2 I told them at the time, after getting the approval of the President, that I would go to Saigon and after I had the approval of Saigon I would go to Hanoi, and we would complete the agreement. And I said I would do this by October 30.

Now I have to say on behalf of your allies that they have behaved very correctly and they have made significant concessions. I went to Saigon, but it has not proven possible to obtain agreement in every respect. The Vietnamese people have not survived for 2,000 years under foreign pressures by being easy to deal with. We can make our influence felt over a period of time, but not in three days.

And secondly there are some aspects of the agreement that have to be slightly adjusted without major changes, partly because of different nuances in the Vietnamese and English languages, partly because the agreement has to be adjusted for four party signature, and similar matters.

To give you an example of nuances in the language, we agreed in the text on a body which should be called with a certain name in English, an “administrative structure,” something other than a political body or a bureaucratic body. In Vietnamese this has a somewhat governmental meaning, so we would like to restore the original meaning. I would just like to give an example of the problems.

We propose that Le Duc Tho return to Paris, but also we are prepared to meet in any other place, and this would take two days, I think three days at the most.

We have also told him that once we have revised the text it would be considered final, and no additional changes would be required, and we would make ourselves responsible for our allies. This may still require, in order to get an agreement with our allies, some weeks after the agreement is approved.

[Page 1095]

The North Vietnamese take the position that we must sign the agreement by October 30. But this is insanity. We cannot sign an agreement on behalf of an ally who disapproves and the only result of that would be a total impasse.

Mr. Ambassador, you know the United States. You know that between now and elections we cannot have a public confrontation with Saigon. This I say to you personally. So we have also told Hanoi that we will stop bombing north of the 20th parallel while these negotiations go on.

Ambassador Huang: The 20th parallel.

Dr. Kissinger: I mean all the Red River Delta where 90 percent of the population lives. Here is a note that we have sent them today, which sums up our position. It is the exact text. (He hands over the message to the DRV at Tab A.)3

What we would like to ask the assistance of the Prime Minister is to convince Hanoi that this is not a trick. We have kept every promise we have made to you, and we would keep a promise made to them, but it must be a realistic promise. (Ambassador Huang begins reading the message.) If they agree to this procedure there would certainly be peace during the month of November, and we would make an obligation towards them, but also towards you, whose relations we value so highly. And we would undertake that obligation not only towards them but towards you. If they insist that we sign on October 30 an agreement whose first article says the U.S. with the concurrence of South Vietnam, whose concurrence we don’t have, then we are engaging in an empty exercise which cannot succeed.

Now this is the situation in which we find ourselves. All issues are settled in principle. The changes we shall propose will be mostly on language and one of some symbolic importance. It would enable us to return to Saigon and claim we have taken their views into account. It would certainly be considered a very important gesture by us if the Prime Minister would indicate his experience with our reliability. Because it is obvious that the war is nearly concluded, it would be tragic if negotiations broke down now. Perhaps I made a promise somewhat too optimistically which we cannot fulfill for reasons which are out of our control.

I am sure that you have no instructions on this subject, Mr. Ambassador.

Ambassador Huang: No. I have gotten this information firsthand from you.

[Page 1096]

Dr. Kissinger: I am not asking for any comments, but there is some urgency because I think there is great excitement in Hanoi. They are feeling perhaps that they were tricked, and I want to assure you that this was not the case.

One trouble with Vietnam is that one side always thinks it is winning and the side that thinks it is winning absolutely refuses to negotiate. That is a personal comment. (Meanwhile Ambassador Huang keeps reading the message. Dr. Kissinger pours the Ambassador tea.)

Ambassador Huang: We will promptly convey your oral information as well as your note to the DRV to Premier Chou En-lai. Certainly I cannot make any comment here.

Dr. Kissinger: Of course not. I understand.

Ambassador Huang: It seems to be the last one in a series of exchanges and communications.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but they all say more or less the same thing. They always say that we must sign October 30. They do not explain how we can sign a document whose first paragraph says that the United States, with the concurrence of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam, etc.; they don’t explain how we can sign such a document when we don’t have the concurrence.

Ambassador Huang: What is the position of the Saigon side?

Dr. Kissinger: I will be frank with you. I should not have agreed to this procedure to begin with. I did it to show my good will. I did not think the DRV would take it so absolutely literally, and I did it to speed up the procedure. Many of the changes that they want are very technical—when it lists the names of the four parties they simply want to say the four parties of the Paris Conference—but they are prepared to sign the document. They don’t want the names of all the parties in the document. I am not asking you to support the changes—I want to give you examples.

Ambassador Huang: You mean the Saigon side…4

Dr. Kissinger: Wants this. Many changes are of the same type that I discussed with the Vice Foreign Minister in Hangchow on the last night, when our bureaucracy raised objections after we had already completed the agreement, and he was generous enough to discuss them with me, and we agreed to 80 percent of them. Many of these changes will be forgotten a week after the agreement is signed. It is merely a question of face. (To Mr. Kuo and Mrs. Shih who do not understand the word, Ambassador Huang repeats “face.”) Someone once told me that westerners are conscious about face.

[Page 1097]

There are two questions of substance, one of which I think is quite easily solvable. We have agreed that the two parties of Vietnam should negotiate to create something called a National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord. We have said an “administrative structure.” In English, as you know, “administrative structure” is below the governmental level. In Vietnamese the translation is something like a political structure. So I would like to find a word that translates differently with the same English meaning, or a different English word.

The other point is more difficult, and I always raise it with them. It is the question of North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam (Ambassador Huang indicates understanding and looks at the text.) I have expressed it a little bit more delicately in this note, but they will understand it. They take the position that (a) they don’t have any forces, and (b) they won’t withdraw them. We have offered a practical proposal which is not to mention it in the agreement at all, but that prior to an agreement being signed, they should withdraw some forces from the northernmost part of the country, 20 kilometers to North Vietnam, which we would pick up through intelligence sources. They wouldn’t have to admit their forces are in the South nor change the military situation very much, because it is very close, but it would satisfy the political requirements of the situation. This would not be written into the agreement. It would be a unilateral gesture.

So we will not reopen the agreement. The issues are not major ones. Psychologically they are extremely important because they would give Saigon a psychological feeling of having participated.

Now if Hanoi makes a public issue of it, we will be forced to emphasize all our differences and a settlement would be delayed indefinitely. (Ambassador Huang drops his matches.) And that would be a pity when most of the issues have been settled. It is really a question now of procedure, a little bit a question of prestige, and somewhat a feeling of confidence. We thought that if someone could make clear that our tendency is to keep our promises this would have a helpful influence. And you would be helping to bring peace and not interfere when war is going on. (Mr. Kuo explained to Ambassador Huang.)

Ambassador Huang: If there is nothing else you would like to tell us, we will take our leave.

Dr. Kissinger: We will make a proposal to you about my visit after the elections, but we appreciate the invitation. It guarantees that Mr. Lord won’t resign until after the visit.

Ambassador Huang (to Mr. Lord): Are you going back to scholastic life?

Dr. Kissinger: I hope he doesn’t leave at all.

Mr. Lord: I have no firm plans.

[Page 1098]

Ambassador Huang: The last time you mentioned the film from your June visit. I have word that they are already making efforts on your film.5

Dr. Kissinger: I appreciate that. Is the Vice Minister free next week or is he leaving?

Ambassador Huang: He is not leaving next week.

Dr. Kissinger: Can I propose some engagement by phone?

Ambassador Huang: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: I would be delighted to see him again. What would be his feeling with my inviting one or two other people, or would he rather do it alone?

Ambassador Huang: He won’t reject your friends.

Dr. Kissinger: Alright, I will make a proposal in the next few days and perhaps we will do it at my club, or do you go to a restaurant? (Ambassador Huang indicates with his hands that it is up to Dr. Kissinger.)

Dr. Kissinger: It’s up to me.

Ambassador Huang: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: I will make a proposal next week. Then we can start negotiating the Shanghai communiqué all over again (laughter). He (referring to Vice Minister Chiao) was the toughest negotiator I ever dealt with, but also very honorable.

(There was then some discussion standing up while the Chinese were waiting for their car. Ambassador Huang noted that the quicker the war was over the better. Dr. Kissinger replied that this should happen by the end of November, if we could get over the present situation of hurt feelings. Hanoi thought that the U.S. was trying to trick them by getting by the elections and then attacking them. We had told Le Duc Tho we would settle before the elections, but we needed two to three weeks afterwards. Ambassador Huang inquired if there couldn’t be a complete settlement before the elections. Dr. Kissinger responded that in a blow-up before the elections the U.S. would have to choose Saigon over Hanoi. After elections it would be just the opposite. Furthermore a blow-up would make people think the opponents of the Administration were right all along, and in western countries at least this was not a good thing before an election. Ambassador Huang said that by “opponents” Dr. Kissinger meant Mr. McGovern. Dr. Kissinger confirmed that this was the case. The car then arrived and the Chinese departed.)

  1. National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 850, President’s File—China Trip, China Exchanges. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. Attached but not printed were Kissinger’s talking points.
  2. On October 16 Fazio delivered a message to the PRC’s representatives in New York that reads in part: “The U.S. side considers that an agreement is near in its negotiations with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam with respect to the conflict in Southeast Asia. The one remaining issue in the effort to achieve a negotiated settlement of the conflict relates to the question of restricting military supplies to both North and South Vietnam by outside powers.” The note concluded, “the U.S. side would welcome some indication from the Government of the People’s Republic of China as to what policies it will pursue in regard to military supplies to North Vietnam in case a rapid peace settlement is arrived at. Such an indication from the Government of the People’s Republic of China would do much to accelerate agreement between the United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. As soon as a settlement is arrived at, Dr. Kissinger will be prepared to explore other outstanding issues of Indochina, especially the problem of Cambodia.” The message is attached to Fazio’s memorandum for the record, October 17, ibid. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 167.
  3. Attached at Tab A but not printed is a 4-page message to the DRV. See ibid., Document 168.
  4. Ellipsis in the source text.
  5. Reference is to a request made by Kissinger at the end of his October 3 meeting with Huang Hua. See Document 254.