269. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Major General Alexander M. Haig, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff
  • NSC Staff Huang Chen, PRC Ambassador to France
  • Mr. Tsao, Political Counsellor, PRC Embassy
  • Mr. Wei, PRC Embassy
  • Mr. Lin, PRC Embassy

Dr. Kissinger: (Looking at the Chinese snacks) You are going to destroy me.

Ambassador Huang: You have just finished your conversations?

Dr. Kissinger: There are always two sets of conversations, one with the North Vietnamese and after that with the South Vietnamese. And they are unanimous, both of them, in disagreeing with me. I have united them.

Ambassador Huang: It is very important. That’s the way to resolve the problem.

Dr. Kissinger: I have asked, Mr. Ambassador, to see you, even though you are not our normal channel for this sort of conversation, because matters are at a very critical point. You were our original contact but not the normal one now for Vietnam matters. Because the consequences will be extremely serious, I want to talk to you frankly and not diplomatically. I have even brought a General [Haig]2 in order to impress you.

Ambassador Huang: We are alike.

Dr. Kissinger [to Haig]: You know the Ambassador is a General.

The situation is as follows. I will not bore you with all the details. I am certain you have no instructions to debate with me so I will understand if you say nothing. [Ambassador Huang nods slightly]

In October when the North Vietnamese made certain proposals to us, we agreed to accelerate the procedure, perhaps unwisely. We have explained all this to Peking and there is no sense in repeating it here. The basic problem was we had no opportunity to consult our allies [Page 1122] before these negotiations. Our allies violently objected to the agreement as you know. We have accepted only a very small percentage of their criticisms. At the same time, we told them, the President told them, last week we would make an agreement alone if necessary and that we would apply all pressures to bring about such an agreement, pressures on South Vietnam. That included even threatening with respect to economic and military assistance. This is a very serious decision for us and a very painful one. And we can do that vis-à-vis our own people only if we can demonstrate that Saigon refused a minimal reasonable program.

Last time I was here [in November] there were some changes and there were only four issues left. We agreed on certain changes.3 We had proposed what we considered a very generous solution. We conceded everything that it is in American power to concede, for America to concede. The rest is in the control of South Vietnam. Today Mr. Le Duc Tho has refused every proposal and withdrawn every change that was agreed to last time. And he has demanded that we return to the old agreement without change or to a new agreement in which he proposes so many significant changes that it will be worse than the old one. We cannot accept either. After two months of additional negotiations we cannot return to what was already considered inadequate then and what the North Vietnamese even admitted needed change by the fact that they were negotiating with us. And we can, of course, not accept a worse agreement. The President cannot begin a new term after he has been elected with a majority of 61 percent by surrendering his principles. The consequences are very great. We are four issues away from an agreement. If North Vietnam maintains its position, we will certainly break off the negotiations and we will take whatever action is necessary to defend our principles. If we agree with North Vietnam it will mean the end of any strong American foreign policy.

The Interpreter: You mean a policy of force.

Dr. Kissinger: No. I mean a long-range, anti-hegemonial policy.

The Interpreter: Please repeat in English.

Dr. Kissinger: Anti-hegemonial. With respect to the last sentence— if we agree to this position of the North Vietnamese it will destroy any possibility for a long-term anti-hegemonial policy for the U.S., and it will destroy the policy and the personalities.

[Page 1123]

What is at stake now is not a few clauses in a treaty but the whole orientation of our policy. And therefore before we take the grave steps that will be taken we wanted to put the issue before the Prime Minister.

The Interpreter: The Prime Minister?

Dr. Kissinger: Your Prime Minister. I am assuming that the Ambassador will report to the Prime Minister. I came here with absolute instructions from the President to settle. We were prepared to settle even without the agreement of Saigon. But we will never give up our honor. And therefore we have delayed the meeting tomorrow until the afternoon, and I will probably postpone it until Saturday morning.4

Mr. Tsao: Saturday morning?

Dr. Kissinger: It will be the first time that we are the hosts. We intend for the Vietnamese to come to our place tomorrow. We were going to give them some Chinese food. It will give me an excuse to eat Chinese food. [Ambassador Huang laughs.]

So very often when one talks about ordinary policy problems one uses standard phrases. This is not an ordinary problem. It will lead to a disastrous course. It will not help Vietnam because we have conceded everything possible to concede. If you read the newspapers you will find that even our opponents on the left criticize us for conceding too much. And it must affect not only our relationship as a result of our actions but our ability to do the things we promised to do, and even more important, the things events will probably force us to do.

Let me repeat that in short sentences. It will affect first our ability to carry out many things we promised and wanted to do. More importantly, it will affect our ability to do those things which the hegemonial desires of others should require us to do over the next few years.

So this is the situation we now face. And therefore we wanted to see whether it was possible for the friends of Hanoi to convince it that we have no designs in Indochina except a decent way to end the war. [Mr. Tsao and the Ambassador discuss among themselves.]

If this opportunity is missed, we will face a very grave situation. This is not a maneuver. This is not a trick. We have proposed a schedule whereby the treaty could be signed by December 22.

Interpreter: A schedule?

Dr. Kissinger: December 22. I am authorized to agree to settle while I am here, today or tomorrow. We are asking nothing new or unfamiliar to North Vietnam.

[At this point more food was brought in, and Dr. Kissinger and Ambassador Huang laughed.]

[Page 1124]

So this is the situation. I will propose a postponement of tomorrow’s meeting. I do not expect a reply, but you can reach me at the Embassy. But it is one of those moments where there is a choice, a very brief time between peace and a war that can have no quick ending.

Ambassador Huang: Are you going to have another talk tomorrow?

Dr. Kissinger: I will cancel tomorrow in order to permit … If we have talks tomorrow it will break up.

Ambassador Huang: Your intention is to have another talk on Saturday?

Dr. Kissinger: I will postpone tomorrow’s talk until Saturday.

Ambassador Huang: The next meeting starts Saturday morning, or is it limited to Saturday morning?

Dr. Kissinger: I understand. If the North Vietnamese do not change their position on Saturday morning, I will have to break off the talks.

Ambassador Huang: So we understand that if North Vietnam rests on the same position on Saturday you will break off the talks.

Dr. Kissinger: That is correct. We are not asking for them to accept our position. We made very significant concessions today. This is the situation, Mr. Ambassador, and I am sorry to have disturbed you. [Ambassador Huang shrugs.] It was a personal pleasure to see you.

Ambassador Huang: I am also happy to see the Doctor and General Haig.

Dr. Kissinger: He was in China.

Ambassador Huang: Thank you for the information on the negotiations between you and Vietnam.

Dr. Kissinger: I’m like the Ambassador. I understand everything.

Ambassador Huang: Like I said last time, the position of China is clear to you, and I won’t repeat that. We have said that the world’s people watch closely the evolution of the Vietnam problem and wait only for a peaceful solution to come soon. As you know, the solution of the problem would not only conform with the wishes of the U.S. and the Vietnamese people but also contribute to the relaxation of tensions in Asia. We hope still that this can lead to good results and there will be a try to find a peaceful solution and an agreement. I must repeat that we hope you will find a peaceful solution through negotiations on this problem.

Dr. Kissinger: We know your sentiments, and we respect them. This is one of those critical moments where the standard approach will not help, and therefore before something irrevocable happens, I wanted to have an opportunity to talk to our Chinese friends.

Ambassador Huang: Like I said last time, sincerely and completely frankly, if one cannot have an agreement that can only help the one who seeks hegemony.

[Page 1125]

Dr. Kissinger: I am in complete agreement with you. That we are trying to prevent not only in Indochina, but on a global basis.

We will postpone tomorrow’s meeting to permit some calm thought to develop. [Ambassador Huang nods.]

Ambassador Huang: I hope that Dr. Kissinger and the General will continue to make efforts. All the world’s people follow closely the negotiations on Vietnam and hope that you will arrive at a peaceful solution by negotiations.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s our hope also.

I always see you very late in the evening.

Ambassador Huang: You are always welcome no matter what the hour.

Dr. Kissinger: Why don’t you negotiate for the North Vietnamese? We would settle the problem in one afternoon.

Ambassador Huang: It is the business of North Vietnam. It is a sovereign country.

Dr. Kissinger: I keep my staff by promising trips to China.

Ambassador Huang: You’re thinking of a trip to China?

Dr Kissinger: I am planning one very soon. Will you come again?

Ambassador Huang: It’s possible.

I will see Ambassador Watson tomorrow evening.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, he is a great admirer of yours.

Ambassador Huang: I will give him his visa personally.

[Dr. Kissinger then explained how the Chinese had delicately turned down visa applications in the Ottawa Embassy and he called this “très elegant.” The Ambassador laughed and said it was very diplomatic.]

Ambassador Huang: You will invite the Vietnamese to a meal at your place?

Dr. Kissinger: We have been meeting at a Vietnamese home. So Saturday we will meet in an American home but will serve them Chinese food because they are more used to it than American food.

Ambassador Huang: You have a cook who can do Chinese cooking?

Dr. Kissinger: Not as good as here, but we will find somebody.

Ambassador Huang: When you get a peaceful solution of the problem, I will invite you here to celebrate.

Dr. Kissinger: I am very pessimistic now. I don’t think it will succeed.

Ambassador Huang: I have always said that the Doctor is always optimistic. Why this new pessimism?

Dr. Kissinger: But today I became pessimistic and for that reason I came to see you.

[Page 1126]

Ambassador Huang: We only hope that the two parties can bring to a successful conclusion the negotiations and try to sign an accord as soon as possible.

Dr. Kissinger: We will make one more effort. That is all we can do. We have gone beyond the limits.

Mr. Ambassador, please give my warm regards to our friends in Peking.

[There were then mutual declarations of stronger friendship between the Chinese and American peoples and cordial small talk as the Ambassador escorted Dr. Kissinger and his party to the door. He and his staff remained on the steps and waved goodbye as the Americans drove away.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 850, President’s File—China Trip, China Exchanges. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the PRC Embassy.
  2. All brackets and ellipses are in the source text.
  3. Kissinger and Huang met on November 25 from 12:35 to 1:30 a.m. in the PRC Embassy. At this meeting, Kissinger reviewed recent developments in Sino-American relations and U.S. talks in Paris with the Chinese and Vietnamese. The memorandum of conversation, November 25, is in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 850, President’s Files—China Trip, China Exchanges. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Document 169.
  4. Saturday, December 9.