270. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Huang Hua, PRC Ambassador to the United Nations
  • Mr. Kuo, Notetaker
  • Mrs. Shih Yen Hua, Interpreter
  • Mr. Winston Lord, NSC Staff

(Mrs. Shih met Mr. Lord at the entrance to the Mission, took him to the elevator and they went to the second floor reception room where meetings are usually held. Mr. Kuo was there as well. The Ambassador came in shortly and there was brief small talk. Mr. Lord noted the attractiveness of the new front to the building and explained the reasons for his delay in getting to the meeting because of airplane difficulties. Mr. Lord then noted that the Ambassador must be busy and immediately began the business discussion.)

Mr. Lord: As our note to you said we have reason to believe that the North Vietnamese have been giving other governments an inaccurate version of the negotiations in Paris.2 We wanted you to have a correct, [Page 1127]updated account. Dr. Kissinger would have liked to come personally but he must remain in Washington today with the President.

Ambassador Huang: I saw that he had a press conference today.

Mr. Lord: Yes, I brought a copy of the transcript for you. Here it is. (He hands over transcript of Dr. Kissinger’s December 16 press conference.)3

We want your government to have a true picture of the negotiations and the North Vietnamese tactics which represent bad faith and have prevented an agreement.

I am giving you two documents which help explain the situation. At Dr. Kissinger’s press conference this morning he explained the situation in general terms to give the trend and the pattern of the negotiations and to let the American people know where these negotiations stood. He purposely did not get into specific matters of substance. I have as well for you a summary paper which gives in specific terms the remaining issues in the negotiations. (Mr. Lord hands over the paper at Tab A)4

You can read these documents later. You will see that there are very few specific issues left. But this is highly misleading. The central problem is not any particular issue but the obvious North Vietnamese intent to stall and delay a settlement.

The remaining issues in the negotiations could have been solved in one session any of these few days. But the attitude of the DRV during this last round was not serious. Whenever we got down to one or two issues, they would reopen ones that were already solved, or they would raise new ones, or they would take an issue that had been resolved in the Agreement in exchange for concessions on our part and try to make it part of an understanding which would carry equally binding obligations.

Let me give you a general rundown of the December negotiations to indicate the pattern. I will give you some examples, which are important not primarily for their substance but as a reflection of the tactics that the North Vietnamese were using.

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We had made good progress in the negotiations in November, and we were down to a few issues. At the beginning of this last round, they withdrew all the changes of November. So we spent several days getting back to where we were on November 25. We finally got down to one issue, concerning the Demilitarized Zone. On this issue we were only asking them to agree to language they had accepted in November. They had agreed to a sentence which said that North and South Vietnam should respect the Demilitarized Zone. However, in this round they were trying to add additional language which would take away this concession and in our view effectively abolish the present status of the DMZ. We were only asking them to go back to where we had been in November.

Ambassador Huang: What language were they trying to add?

Mr. Lord: They wanted to add a sentence along the lines of among the issues to be negotiated between South and North Vietnam are modalities or regulations for movement across the Demilitarized Zone. We believe this would effectively abolish the present status of the zone.

When we were down to this one issue, Dr. Kissinger sent General Haig back to Washington to stand by with Vice President Agnew, who had already been waiting for several days in order to undertake a trip to Saigon to present the completed Agreement to our allies. Vice President Agnew had been waiting for some time and the North Vietnamese knew it. This was an intolerable procedure.

Another issue arose in the last couple of days, concerning the procedure for signing. In October, the North Vietnamese had proposed that there be a two-party signature and we had reserved on whether to make it a two party or four party signature, depending on the views of our ally. Now the North Vietnamese wanted a four party signature. We are prepared to have the agreement equally binding on all four parties with identical obligations, but there is a problem with respect to mentioning the titles of the two South Vietnamese parties in the preamble, thus implying recognition.

On December 11, the North Vietnamese suggested a compromise which we thought could be workable. They suggested that the US and the DRV jointly sign one document including the preamble which mentions the titles of the government, and that the two South Vietnamese parties each sign a separate document which would include all the obligations. If the North Vietnamese proposal meant that the documents to be signed by the two South Vietnamese parties would not include the preamble and, therefore, the titles of the two parties, we thought this would be a workable solution. It would mean that all four parties would be equally bound by the agreement, and we would get around the problem of implied recognition through the titles. However, on December 12, the North Vietnamese withdrew their proposal of the previous [Page 1129]day. Thus instead of being down to one issue there were two issues remaining of substance.

Again I am giving you the specifics on these issues, but the primary problem was the North Vietnamese attitude and tactics. Whenever we got down to just the one or two issues, they would continually raise new issues or reopen ones that had already been solved. Let me give you some examples.

On the morning of the final day, before the principals met, the two sides’ experts met to go over once again the Vietnamese and English texts. This was designed merely to conform the two texts and reconfirm mutually agreed changes that had been made of a technical nature by the experts in two other sessions that week. However, the North Vietnamese introduced several new issues, some of them of substantive importance. And this was on the final day when we thought we were down to just two issues.

Another example concerns the membership of Indonesia on the International Control and Supervisory Body. Without getting into the merits of their being a participant, the fact is that both sides had agreed that Indonesia would be on the Commission in October. No objections had been raised since then. During the November round of negotiations, Dr. Kissinger went to Brussels to see President Suharto, and the North Vietnamese knew this. Indonesia had agreed to serve and, as I said, there had been exchanges on the Presidential level. In the last two or three days of our negotiations this time, the North Vietnamese suddenly raised objections to Indonesia’s participation. This, of course, puts us in an impossible position.

Another example has to do with Article I. This article calls for respect for the Geneva agreements of 1954.5 There had been original language which singled out the US, which we considered highly invidious. However, we agreed to return to language which included both the US and other countries on Saturday in exchange for their dropping one of their demands, namely that all US civilians associated with military tasks be withdrawn in a specific period. After we had agreed to go back to the unfortunate language of Article I, the next day, the North Vietnamese proposed the withdrawal of US civilians in an understanding which would be equally as binding as in the agreement. Thus they cancelled out effectively the concession they had made in return for the Article I language the previous day.

Still another example of the North Vietnamese tactics concerns the protocols. These are supposed to be technical documents which would help implement the provisions of the agreement, such as ceasefire. We [Page 1130]gave the North Vietnamese our drafts of the protocols several weeks ago. They did not give us their drafts until the second to last day and there had been no discussion on the protocols at all up to that time, despite our constant request for their documents.

We found their drafts, instead of being technical documents reflecting the substance of the agreement, instead reopened issues already settled or tried to introduce obligations that had been left out of the Agreement itself. For example, the North Vietnamese had agreed in November that the National Council would have no role in implementing the ceasefire. In their protocol, however, the Council was given a major role in implementing the ceasefire. Also, as I have indicated, they had agreed to leave out of the agreement itself the obligation that we withdraw all US civilians in military tasks. In one of their protocols they reintroduced this obligation and said that it had to be completed within six months.

I want to emphasize again the important thing is not so much the substance of these various issues, but the unacceptable North Vietnamese tactics, of which these are examples.

Let me conclude by just commenting on two issues of concern to the North Vietnamese that are now being discussed in the framework of understanding.

First, there is the question of withdrawing US civilians that I have mentioned. We offered to write into the agreement that there would be no civilians working on military operations or operational military training, and that civilians would not perform tasks that they were not already performing on October 15. We would also undertake to gradually withdraw our civilians from South Vietnam. This would meet whatever legitimate concern the North Vietnamese might have with regard to civilians performing roles that the military personnel that we were withdrawing used to perform. However, the North Vietnamese would not accept our proposals. They continued to demand that we withdraw all civilians connected with military tasks totally in a specific period. This would lead to the collapse of our ally’s defense establishment, and this we will not do.

The other issue of concern to the North Vietnamese is that of the civilian prisoners in South Vietnam. We are prepared to use our influence on this question, and it would be easy to settle if they would give us assurances on a schedule for demobilization and redeployment. But they can’t expect us to allow them to keep 150,000 of their troops in the south and then add 35,000 more in the prisoners being released.

I want to thank the Ambassador for listening so patiently to my long explanation, but of course this is an extremely important question. We wanted to give you a specific rundown so as to show you the tactics and the attitude and the techniques of the North Vietnamese.

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As I said we could have solved the remaining issues with mutual good will in a very short period. But we were unable to do so because of the North Vietnamese approach which we consider frivolous and unacceptable. Therefore, we wanted your government to have the true picture as we see it. Thank you.6

Ambassador Huang: Thank you for your briefing us. I have another question. During the past negotiations the US side proposed that there be some military movement in the northernmost part of South Vietnam in the framework of an understanding.

Mr. Lord: It was left that redeployment and demobilization would greatly ease our problems and make the question of civilian prisoners easier to resolve. (There was brief discussion among the Chinese.)

Ambassador Huang: In the past you once proposed that the North Vietnamese make some token troop movements in northern part of South Vietnam.

Mr. Lord: I do not believe that “token” is the correct word. We have always wanted a significant number to be redeployed. There is no firm understanding on this as yet, and we were not able to have a discussion of figures. We have indicated that movement in this area would be very helpful concerning South Vietnamese civilian prisoners.

Thus, we remain very interested in redeployment and we think it would be very important.

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Ambassador Huang: Thank you for your explanation.

Obviously the Vietnamese people and the American people hope that the Agreement on a ceasefire and restoration of peace in Vietnam will be signed at an early date. The present delay is disappointing. I will report your explanations and send your documents to our government.

Thank you for coming today at our request. We know that Dr. Kissinger has just gotten back and is very busy, and we understand that he could not make it. We have finished our conversation now.

(There was then brief small talk, during which Ambassador Huang apologized that there were no refreshments beyond the tea being served and said that this was impolite. Mr. Lord rejoined that the Chinese are never impolite. Mr. Lord then said that he had to leave to get back to his Chinese wife. Ambassador Huang asked whether Mrs. Lord spoke Chinese, and Mr. Lord replied that she spoke Mandarin fluently. She had forgotten how to read and write Chinese and was in the process of relearning this. Ambassador Huang offered some text books but noted that they were elementary. Mr. Lord thanked the Ambassador and said that his wife was beyond that stage, but that it was an extremely thoughtful offer on the part of the Ambassador.

The Ambassador, Mr. Kuo, and Mrs. Shih then took Mr. Lord down the elevator and to the front door where there was a cordial exchange of farewells.)

  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 Mission to the UN.
  2. A message with the handwritten notation, “12/15/72, China Exchanges,” reads in its entirety: “The U.S. side has reason to believe that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam has been giving inaccurate accounts of the recent negotiations in Paris to other governments. If the Chinese side so desires, Dr. Kissinger would be prepared to provide an updated, correct version of these negotiations to Ambassador Huang. It is the U.S. side’s view that the North Vietnamese have been deliberately delaying negotiations by raising technical objections of an occasionally even frivolous nature. These negotiations could certainly have been concluded this past week if there had been reciprocal good will and serious intent.” (Ibid.) The message in telegram form from Haig to Hood, December 16, is ibid.
  3. Printed in Department of State Bulletin, January 8, 1973, pp. 33–40.
  4. Not found.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 263.
  6. On December 18 Kissinger ordered William Hood to deliver to the PRC representatives in New York a copy of a U.S. message to the DRV. (Message from Kissinger to Hood, December 18; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 850, President’s File—China Trip, China Exchanges) On December 22 Haig instructed Hood to deliver to the Chinese a message of that date for the DRV. An attached message for the Chinese began: “The President would like to bring to the personal attention of the Chinese leadership the latest US proposal to the DRV. The US side wishes again to reiterate its readiness to settle rapidly and its conviction that this is a major contribution to easing tensions all over Asia.” (Haig’s instructions and message for the DRV, December 22; ibid.) Also on December 22 Fazio gave the PRC representatives a transcript of Kissinger’s December 13 meeting with DRV representatives in Paris. (Fazio’s memorandum for the record, December 29; ibid.) On December 23 McManis provided to the Chinese a transcript of Kissinger’s December 11 meeting with DRV representatives. (Memorandum for the record, December 29; ibid.) On December 28 McManis delivered to the Chinese a copy of a message for the DRV which would be given to the Vietnamese on December 29 at 9:30 a.m., which reads in part: “The U.S. accepts the following propositions: 1. Experts of the two sides will resume meetings on January 2, 1973. 2. A private meeting of Special Adviser Le Duc Tho and Minister Xuan Thuy with Dr. Kissinger will take place on January 8, 1973 in Paris.” According to a handwritten note, this message was also given to the Soviets on December 28. (Ibid.) The final exchange of messages in 1972 included a December 29 complaint from the PRC about a U.S. missile hitting Chinese territory and a December 30 U.S. expression of “regret” over the incident. Both messages, relayed through Hood and Haig, December 29, are ibid. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–13, Documents 172 175.