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Discovering the Possible, May 1971–September 1971


8. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1039, Files for the President, Vietnam Negotiations, C.D., HAK II 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé. Kissinger reported to Nixon on the meeting in a May 31 memorandum. (Ibid.)

Although skeptical about progress in the negotiations, Nixon approved a new major proposal drafted by Kissinger and his staff to present at this meeting. Nixon later called it “our most far-reaching proposal yet.” (Nixon, RN, p. 511) In his memoirs, Kissinger characterized the proposal he presented to the North Vietnamese in these terms: “We offered, as our first point, to set a date for total withdrawal. We gave up the demand for mutual withdrawal, provided Hanoi agreed to end all additional infiltration into the countries of Indochina. The proposal sought to get us off the treadmill of demanding mutual withdrawal while we in fact carried ours out unilaterally: we would, in effect, trade our residual force for an end of infiltration. Theoretically, North Vietnamese forces would wither away if they could not be reinforced.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1018) According to Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, Xuan Thuy told Le Duc Tho, who was in Hanoi, that Kissinger’s proposal represented a “major breakthrough” for several reasons, most importantly because the United States no longer insisted on mutual withdrawal of troops from South Vietnam. (Nguyen, Hanoi’s War, p. 209) Consequently, Hanoi decided that Le Duc Tho would return to the negotiations after an absence of over a year. (Luu and Nguyen, Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris, p. 173)


9. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1039, Files for the President, Vietnam Negotiations, HAK II 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé. In the list of participants, Nguyen Minh Vy’s name was crossed out and Phan Hien’s inserted in its place. Kissinger summarized the meeting in a June 27 memorandum to the President. (Ibid., Box 853, For the President’s Files—Lord, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David, Vol. VIII)

Kissinger later related what he believed significant about this meeting. “In the fairy-tale atmosphere of Vietnam negotiations,” he wrote, “after two years of Communist stonewalling and domestic flagellation, my colleagues and I were elated that Hanoi had for the first time responded to a proposition by us, even though the response could hardly be called generous. It was a major step forward only by the standards of previous exchanges. For the first time Hanoi presented its ideas as a negotiating document and not as a set of peremptory demands.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1023)


10. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 853, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David, Vol. IX. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé. Smyser forwarded the memorandum of conversation to Kissinger under a July 20 covering memorandum, and Kissinger approved it. (Ibid.)

In a July 14 message to the Politburo in Hanoi, Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy reported:

“The following conclusions may be drawn from the three most recent private meetings with Kissinger (since 31 May [including 26 June and 12 July]):

“—After starting with just exploring our position, the U.S. has gradually moved in the direction of seeking a solution, and it wants a quick settlement. On 31 May Kissinger said that the U.S. seven-point proposal was its final proposal, but the issues he raised this time were different from his previous seven points.

“—With regard to the content and the way the issues were presented, there was progress in that he did not demand an immediate ceasefire but instead agreed to a ceasefire when an agreement was concluded and signed. He fitted their seven points into our nine points.

“—We stressed that we desire serious, good faith negotiations and we emphasized the need to replace Thieu. This is the most difficult problem for the Americans. It is possible that the Americans will agree to replace Thieu in exchange for the right price.” (Message from Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy to the Politburo, 14 July 1971, in Doan Duc, et al., compilers, Major Events: The Diplomatic Struggle and International Activities During the Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation, 1954–1975, volume 4, pp. 292–294)

Kissinger also reported to Nixon on July 14: “The tone of the meeting was very positive and the other side tried hard to be serous and constructive. I think we have now reached essential agreement on all issues except the political one, and their remarks in the meeting indicated that they would look at this question seriously between now and the next meeting.” Kissinger also noted that “Both Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy repeatedly said that we had to get rid of President Thieu, but Tho said that our refusal to do that would make a settlement ʻdifficultʼ to reach, rather than ʻimpossible’ (as Thuy had said earlier).” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 233)


11. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1039, Files for the President, Vietnam Negotiations, HAK II 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé. Brackets are in the original except where noted. In the list of participants, Nguyen Minh Vy’s name was crossed out and Phan Hien’s written in.

In a July 17 message to Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh, Le Duc Tho, and Xuan Thuy, the Politburo provided the North Vietnamese negotiating team with direction:

“The basic goal of our diplomatic struggle at this time is to support the achievement of the strategic military missions that we have discussed with you. Only in that way will we be able to shatter the American ʻVietnamization’ program. With this goal in mind, the immediate future is not yet the right time for a settlement. Timing is the important thing—acting too soon or too late would both be harmful to our cause.

“Therefore Brother Ba [alias used by Le Duan] and the others here at home believe that for the immediate future at least we should not put forward anything else [at the July 26 meeting], aside from the nine-point proposal we have already presented. If we hastily offer additional items, the enemy will think that it is because we are weak and will increase the pressure on us.

“The enemy’s goal is a general framework. The current general framework is our nine points. We can take a few points from their seven-point proposal, but this is not yet the time to put anything else forward.” (Message from the Politburo to Nguyen Duy Trinh, Le Duc Tho, and Xuan Thuy, 17 July 1971, in Doan Duc, et al., compilers, Major Events: The Diplomatic Struggle and International Activities during the Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation, 1954–1975, volume 4, pp. 294–295)

Kissinger’s report to President Nixon after the meeting was generally optimistic: “Although we did not achieve a breakthrough, we have clearly narrowed the issues to one question—the replacement by us of Thieu—and have now left Hanoi to make a decision between this meeting and the next one.” In this meeting, and in all the previous ones and in many to come, the North Vietnamese repeatedly emphasized the necessity for the United States to get rid of Thieu, his government, and its policies, but especially Thieu himself, before progress could be made in the negotiations.

More generally, under the heading of “What We Have Gained,” Kissinger listed three accomplishments:

“—A superb public record of genuine willingness to compromise differences and to let the South Vietnamese people decide their future freely. We have conceded everything even remotely reasonable short of a coup against Thieu—neutrality, limitation on military aid, a withdrawal deadline, a large economic aid program.

“—Also, a record of willingness to take steps and make efforts greater than those demanded by our domestic opposition.

“—A commitment by the other side stated even more clearly today by Le Duc Tho to release our POWs in exchange for a date. Though this is not enough today we can return to it in the fall.”

Finally, Kissinger told the President:

“—I made clear that our meeting again would be a waste of time if they did not rethink their political position and consider new formulations. In turn I would try to be helpful on our residual technical/logistic presence. When I pointedly asked Le Duc Tho whether it was worth continuing the channel on this basis, he said it was.

“—We then agreed to meet again at 10:30 on August 16.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 237)


12. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 866, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—Vietnam Negotiations, C.D. 1971 Dr. Kissinger (1 of 2). Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé.

Once Kissinger realized that he would face only Xuan Thuy at this meeting, as Le Duc Tho was in Hanoi, he knew that the meeting “was essentially a holding action.” And in the face of President Nixon’s growing reluctance to continue the secret talks, Kissinger, in his report on the meeting, argued for their continuance, at least for one more time, on the following grounds:

“• We are improving our already good negotiating record. We had to give them an opportunity to consider our new version [a reference to the American eight-point plan he presented at the meeting].

“• We have a channel if they want to settle, and which forces them continually to review and modify their position.

“• We may keep them from escalation, during the electoral campaign.

“• We gave a good justification should we retaliate if they do escalate.

“• I must come to Paris anyway to work out the details of my interim visit to Peking and the announcement of your visit.

“• We have nothing to lose, except my 36 hours of inconvenience, and we achieve nothing by breaking off now (they are not keeping us from anything we want to do).” (Memorandum from Kissinger to President Nixon, August 16, Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 245)

According to Kissinger, Nixon reluctantly acquiesced to one more of what seemed to be “increasingly sterile contacts.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1036)


13. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1039, Files for the President, Vietnam Negotiations, HAK II 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé.

In a September 13 memorandum to Nixon, Kissinger described the discussion as “the shortest meeting on record.” Le Duc Tho did not attend, and they were at an impasse and agreed not to plan another meeting. (Ibid.) Kissinger observed in his memoirs: “The absence of Le Duc Tho could leave no further doubt that we had run out the string on this series of meetings. Xuan Thuy made no effort to say anything new, in effect reading a propaganda speech of the kind put forth repetitively in the plenary sessions of Avenue Kléber. The meeting adjourned after two hours, the shortest secret session ever. We parted with the understanding that either side could reopen the channel if it had something new to say.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1036)

Xuan Thuy had pushed for the meeting at Politburo direction. In a September 7 cable from Le Duc Tho and Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh, Thuy was told: “Our strategy for the diplomatic struggle at this time is directly linked to our strategy on the battlefield, so at least for the moment we cannot resolve anything with the Americans and we must instead patiently and steadfastly prolong the [secret] discussions.” (Message from Nguyen Duy Trinh and Le Duc Tho to Xuan Thuy, 7 September 1971, in Doan Duc, et al., compilers, Major Events: The Diplomatic Struggle and International Activities during the Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation, 1954–1975, volume 4, pp. 299–300)