Serious Negotiations and the October Settlement, July 1972–October 1972


15. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 864, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, May–October 1972 [5 of 5]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé, Choisy-le-Roi. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

By late June, the North Vietnamese offensive appeared stalled. A Politburo report, while trumpeting “strategic successes,” noted that “the relation of forces between the revolutionary [North Vietnamese] forces and the enemy [South Vietnamese forces] in SVN [South Vietnam] is balanced. We have not yet secured predominance over the enemy.” (Quoted in Luu and Nguyen, Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris, pp. 278–279) After reviewing the situation, the Politburo directed the resumption of negotiations and a move to a “peace strategy,” offering concessions necessary to gain U.S. withdrawal from the war, while protecting its primary interests. As Le Duc Tho later characterized the decision, “Once we sat at the negotiating table, the question was not to obtain what each side had not been able to obtain on the battlefield. Neither side could obtain everything it wanted, there should be mutual concessions, but what concession was possible, and what was not must be clear.” (Ibid., p. 242)

On July 17, the Politburo sent guidance to the North Vietnamese delegation, directing a conservative approach to the negotiations: “The basic goal of our diplomatic struggle at this time is to support the achievements 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 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.” (Major Events: The Diplomatic Struggle and International Activities during the Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation, 1954–1975, volume 4, p. 294)

Kissinger later wrote in his memoirs: “Our basic strategy in the private meetings starting July 19 would be to make no new proposals until Hanoi’s intentions became clearer.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1309)

He reported to the President on the meeting in a July 20 memorandum. Regarding Le Duc Tho’s and Xuan Thuy’s behavior at the meeting, he told Nixon that “their non-polemical approach and ambiguous positions in this initial meeting are compatible with serious negotiations. They gave themselves the option to move in the direction of our January 25 proposal. The channel is reopened to explore this possibility, which should be enhanced by the military and diplomatic realities facing Hanoi.” Furthermore, he continued, “we lose nothing and give up no options by playing this string out. The minimum we achieve is building a reasonable negotiating record. The maximum we could gain is either a fair settlement or a temporary ceasefire; while these goals are still distant, we are in a good position to explore the chances.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972, Document 211)

Le Duc Tho summarized and assessed the session in a report to the Politburo on July 23: “The American attitude indicated that they want to reach a settlement, but for now they are just trying to feel us out to see what cards we have to play and they have not yet put forward anything new. We also want to reach a settlement, but we too did not put any of our cards on the table.” (Message from Le Duc Tho to the Politburo, 23 July 1972, 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, p. 329)


16. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 864, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David Memcons, May–October 1972 [4 of 5]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé, Choisy-le-Roi. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

On August 3, Kissinger analyzed the August 1 meeting for Nixon, noting that it “was the longest private meeting ever, and the most interesting session we have ever had.” However, he observed: “The significance of our meeting remains to be clarified, and we cannot be sure of its meaning at this stage.”

Regarding what the North Vietnamese had offered, his analysis continued:

“—Their proposal injects a number of new elements hitherto lacking in their position, as I have enumerated above. They no longer seek Thieu’s resignation as a precondition for PRG/GVN talks, although his resignation would be part of a final settlement. They have sought to identify areas of similarity in our respective positions and proposed a multiplicity of negotiating forums for resolving differences between us and between the Vietnamese parties themselves.

“—On the other hand, they seem to be insisting on our acceptance of the principle of a three segment Government of National Concord as the key to progress on other issues.

“Two possible interpretations of Hanoi’s tactics suggest themselves at this stage:

“—The first is that all the new elements in their proposal are essentially ornamental and that no real progress is possible until we accept their National Concord principle which would in effect predetermine the political outcome in Saigon. If this interpretation is correct, they are essentially holding to a hard line but establishing a record which would appear more flexible in the event of a breakdown in the talks.

“—The second is that the variety of new elements advanced are designed to veil real movement toward a dual track approach where we settle the military issues with them and the Vietnamese sort out their political differences themselves. The explicit suggestion of negotiating forums between the Vietnamese themselves could be interpreted to support this thesis. If this hypothesis proves correct, what Hanoi would expect from us is a rejection of the National Concord concept but nonetheless a vague political counterproposal which would not prejudge the political outcome. Under this approach we would provide them a face-saving formulation whereby they could claim military and political issues were being resolved concurrently, although in fact the military issues would be solved first and the political negotiations would be more prolonged and more of a Vietnamese responsibility.”

Kissinger’s last point to the President was: “Our two main objectives are:

“—(1) to see whether a reasonable settlement is possible by probing their positions on key issues such as Government of National Concord, the timing of a ceasefire, and de facto separation of political and military issues; and

“—(2) in any event, to keep the private negotiating process going into the fall, to give them a chance to settle as the certainty of your re-election looms ever larger, and to further bolster our negotiating record.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972, Document 225)

Le Duc Tho’s August 1 report on the meeting to Hanoi noted: “This time Kissinger presented a twelve-point proposal and agreed to discuss both military and political issues with us. With regard to the political issue, this proposal is softer than was their earlier eight-point proposal. Their desire to reach a settlement is clearer. However, although the Americans have pulled back and made concessions on a number of points, they still are holding on to their high card.” (Message from Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy to Nguyen Duy Trinh, 1 August 1972, 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, p. 330)

Ten days later, the Politburo sent Le Duc Tho and his subordinate Xuan Thuy the following analysis and instructions:

“The Politburo has the following thoughts about the contents of the 1 August 1972 private meeting:

“—The American Scheme:

“The U.S. wants to achieve a ceasefire, the withdrawal of most of the U.S.’s troops, and the return of most of the American POWs before the U.S. elections, but they still want to be able to keep the puppets in power and they do not yet want a resolution of the political problem in South Vietnam. The U.S. has proposed a ceasefire in place but demands the withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops from South Vietnam, and it views the Provisional Revolutionary Government as merely a local government that falls under the framework of the Saigon regime.

“Therefore, on the political problem in South Vietnam the U.S. position is still directly opposed to our position.

“—Our Policy:

“Intensify our struggle on all three fronts—military, political, and diplomatic—to try to reach a settlement by the end of 1972.

“We will demonstrate a good faith effort to reach a settlement with Nixon, but at the same time we will oppose his scheme to make it past the elections.” (Ibid., pp. 331–332)


17. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 864, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David Memcons, May–October 1972 [4 of 5]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé, Choisy-le-Roi. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

As directed by Kissinger, Haig reported to President Nixon that the 7½-hour “meeting was a holding action pending review in the capitals by both sides, especially on the political issue.” Haig continued: “Kissinger informed the other side that he was proceeding to Saigon to discuss the negotiations. Le Duc Tho, in turn, told Dr. Kissinger that he was returning to Hanoi in a few days to review the North Vietnamese position and it was then clear that he was not about to give anything away prior to that review. Kissinger emphasized that the PR effect of the nearly simultaneous visit of Kissinger to Saigon and Le Duc Tho to Hanoi should be significant.”

A stamped notation on Haig’s memorandum indicates the President saw it, and Nixon wrote on the last page as follows:

“I. Al—It is obvious that no progress was made & that none can be expected—Henry must be discouraged—as I have always been on this front until after the election.

“We have reached the stage where the mere fact of private talks helps us very little—if at all. We can soon expect the opposition to begin to make that point.

“II. Disillusionment about K’s talks could be harmful psychologically—particularly in view of the fact that the Saigon trip, regardless of how we downplay it—may raise expectations.

“What we need most now is a P.R. game plan to either stop talks or if we continue them to give some hope of progress.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972, Document 237)

In an August 19 memorandum to President Nixon, Kissinger provided further details about this meeting:

“As the meeting headed toward a close I registered my disillusionment with their generally negative performance. They could hardly expect me to work hard in Saigon on political issues when they were underscoring differences on other issues as well. This had a salutary effect; their tone changed markedly:

“—They emphasized that both sides had been showing good will and that we were engaged in serious negotiations.

“—They emphasized that neutral ground must be found on the tough questions, like the political issues.

“—They opined that if the political problem could be solved, the other issues would fall into place.

“—They underlined their desire for rapid progress toward a settlement.

“—And Tho informed me that he was returning shortly to Hanoi; this was the first time he had accounted for his travels to me. (Ibid., Document 246. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.)

Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy, looking beyond this meeting, assessed for the Politburo a way forward for the next stage of the Paris talks:

“[A]fter the three last private meetings, we decided

“—gradually to lead the US into real negotiations, and

“—step by step to try to understand the US scheme.

“Watching how much they show their cards, we should open our hands as wide as they do. Generally speaking, we should see what they put forward to follow suit and then play a similar card. However, we must be flexible, it was not necessary that they always made the first step and we always followed them, at times we should take the initiative to show our card first for sounding purposes and to direct them to our aim.

“We should firmly hold principles and be flexible in tactics.” (Luu and Nguyen, Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris, p. 273)


18. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 864, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David Memcons, May–October 1972 [3 of 5]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 11 Rue Darthé, Choisy-le-Roi. All brackets, except those indicating illegible or missing text, are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

In a September 19 memorandum to the President reporting on the meeting, Kissinger wrote:

“It was in many respects the most interesting we have ever had. They were defensive; they professed eagerness to set the earliest possible deadline for an overall settlement; and they have never been so eager to have early and frequent meetings. They repeatedly, and almost plaintively, asked how quickly we wished to settle and there was none of their usual bravado about how U.S. and world opinion were stacked against them. For the first time in the history of these talks I sensed that they were groping for their next move and their tack was devoid of any apparent, clear-cut strategy. Indeed the tone of our exchanges may prove more significant for the future than actual content of their remarks at this meeting.

“On the purely substantive side, we tabled our new proposal building on our August 14 offer but adding the political element which we had withheld at the last meeting pending consultations with Saigon. With your prior concurrence, one element of our political proposal, namely the tripartite nature of the committee to supervise the Presidential elections, was tabled without complete Saigon agreement. This was because of the inordinate delay in receiving Saigon’s comments on our proposals and the fact that without this element our proposal would have had practically nothing new as compared to our January offer.”

He continued: “My surmise is that they are deeply concerned about your reelection and its implications for them but, with their collective leadership, they may be having deep difficulties coming to grips with the very political concessions they will have to make to move the talks off dead center. They continue to pose unacceptable demands, perhaps because they lack imagination, perhaps because they wish to defer the necessary concessions to the last possible moment.

“Whatever the case, we are in an unassailable position. By tabling our new proposal we have built an excellent negotiating record. This will be enhanced by the next meeting and their eagerness to talk will carry us into October. At that point Hanoi will face the choice of moving off its political position in order to reach early agreement or having to deal with you after the election.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972, Document 263; a stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it.)


19. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1021, Alexander M. Haig Special File, Kissinger and Haig Memcons with Thieu [3 of 4]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avénue du Général Leclerc in Gif-sur-Yvette. The residence, formerly owned by the artist Fernand Léger, became a property of the French Communist Party on Léger’s death in 1965. The Party made it available to the North Vietnamese as one of the locations for the negotiations. All brackets, except those indicating illegible text, are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.


20. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 856, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XVIII. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc in Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

On September 28, Kissinger reported to the President:

“I met for six hours September 26 and five and a half hours September 27 in our first two-day session ever with Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy. The sessions both narrowed our differences in some areas, and demonstrated how far we have to go in others. The North Vietnamese tabled a new plan which, while still unacceptable, contains certain political provisions that might signal a possible opening. They professed continued eagerness for a rapid settlement, and, after seeing our repackaged ten point plan, complained we were moving too slowly in our positions. We agreed to meet again for three successive days starting October 7, which we may want to slip a day.”

Regarding that upcoming meeting, Kissinger continued: “Tho said it was clear that our next three-day meeting would be ʻdecisive.’ He emphasized the need to concentrate on the central questions first, including the political ones. When the big problems were solved, the others would come easily.”

Kissinger recognized that obtaining Thieu’s approval of a settlement was necessary. To that end, he wrote in his report to the President that “our immediate task is to convince Thieu of the importance of public solidarity with us as we continue the negotiating process through at least one more round. Our proposals, while generous, substantively maintain the integrity of the GVN and its governmental system; the only major political departure since January is to specify that the electoral commission (now called the Committee of National Reconciliation) is composed of three forces. However, as you know, Thieu maintains he is anxious about the possible psychological impact in his country, and he is not on board with that section of our political point.

“Thus we will want General Haig [in his upcoming trip to Saigon] to reemphasize to Thieu our continuing commitment to the GVN; point out the major efforts we have made in his behalf the last four years; explain our strategy; stress that he must show understanding of our problems; and secure his agreement to a new proposal which maintains a serious posture.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972, Document 267)


21. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 856, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. XX [1 of 3]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc, Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets, except where noted, are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

After this meeting with Le Duc Tho, Kissinger directed Haig to send the following message to Haldeman through NSC Staffer Colonel Richard T. Kennedy: “Tell the President that there has been some definite progress at today’s first session and that he can harbor some confidence the outcome will be positive. However current state of play here confirms that it is essential that we make absolutely no public statements on the status of negotiations.” (Message from Haig to Kennedy, October 8, 2132Z; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 856, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XIX)

Kissinger later wrote that Le Duc Tho’s proposal represented a breakthrough moment: “For nearly four years we had longed for this day, yet when it arrived it was less dramatic than we had ever imagined. Peace came in the guise of the droning voice of an elderly revolutionary wrapping the end of a decade of bloodshed into legalistic ambiguity.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1345)

The breakthrough reflected guidance sent to the North Vietnamese negotiating team from the Politburo on October 4:

“We should endeavor to end the war before the US election, to foil Nixon’s scheme to prolong the negotiations and to win the election, to continue Vietnamization and to negotiate from a position of strength. We should make pressure on the US to officially sign an agreement on a cease-fire in place, the withdrawal of US forces and the release of prisoners of war. For this purpose, we should hold the initiative in solving the content of the agreement, the timing, the conduct of negotiations and the tactics at the meetings of October 8, 9, 10.

“Our primary requirement at present is to end the US war in SVN. The US should withdraw all its forces, end its military involvement in SVN and stop its air and naval war and its mining in NVN. The end of the US military involvement and the cease-fire in SVN will lead to the de facto recognition of the existence of two administrations, two armies, and two areas in SVN. If these objectives are reached, they will constitute an important victory for both zones in the present balance of forces in SVN and create a new balance of forces to our great advantage. Besides this primary requirement, we shall insist upon democratic freedoms in SVN and the payment of damages.

“To concentrate the brunt of the struggle on using the electoral opportunity to put pressure on Nixon and to obtain the aforesaid requirement before the election, we should, for the time being, set aside some other requirements regarding the internal issues of SVN.

“What we do not obtain in this agreement is due to the situation; even though we continue to negotiate until after the election we still cannot obtain it, unless there is a change in the balance of forces in SVN. However, if we succeed in ending the US military involvement in SVN, we will have conditions to obtain these objectives later in the struggle with the Saigon clique and win bigger victories.” (Quoted in Luu and Nguyen, Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris, pp. 302–303)

For a fuller account of the adversaries’ preparation for this meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972, Document 284.


22. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 856, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. XX [1 of 3]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc in Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets except where noted are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.


23. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 856, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. XX [1 of 3]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc in Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets except where noted are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

After the session, Kissinger sent messages to Nixon and Haldeman. To the President, he wrote: “The negotiations during this round have been so complex and sensitive that we have been unable to report their content in detail due to the danger of compromise. We know exactly what we are doing, and just as we have not let you down in the past, we will not do so now. Pending our return and my direct report to you it is imperative that nothing be said in reply to McGovern or in any other context bearing on the current talks.” Senator George S. McGovern, Nixon’s Democratic Party opponent in the upcoming election, was to announce his Vietnam program that evening. To Haldeman, he urged: “Please hold everything steady. I recognize the uncertainties there but excessive nervousness can only jeopardize the outcome here.” The two messages, retyped as memoranda, are ibid., Vol. XIX.


24. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 856, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. XX [2 of 3]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc in Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

Upon returning to Washington later the same day (October 12), Kissinger and Haig went directly to meet with President Nixon in his hideaway Executive Office Building office. (Haig, Inner Circles, p. 299) Rather than writing a report, Kissinger gave a verbal account of the meeting. He first told Nixon: “Well, you got three out of three, Mr. President. It’s well on the way.” Nixon replied: “You got an agreement? Are you kidding?” Kissinger answered: “No, I’m not kidding.”

As Kissinger attempted to provide details, the President peppered him with questions and comments about the settlement, the events leading up to it, and Nguyen Van Thieu’s agreement. When Kissinger told him that the agreement represented peace with honor, Nixon stated: “Henry, let me tell you this: it has to be with honor. But also it has to be in terms of getting out. We cannot continue to have this cancer eating at us at home, eating at us abroad. Let me say, if these bastards [referring to the South Vietnamese leadership] turn on us, I—I am not beyond [unclear] them. I believe that’s, that’s what we’re up against.” Nixon then added: “I am not going to allow the United States to be destroyed in this thing.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Executive Office Building, Conversation 366–6; transcribed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 9)

Haldeman recalled that Nixon “kept interrupting Henry all through the discussion. He obviously was all cranked up and wasn’t listening to the details.” The group concluded, according to Haldeman, that “the real basic problem boils down to the question of whether Thieu can be sold on it.” (Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition, October 12, 1972; quoted in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 9)

In contrast to Nixon’s and Kissinger’s exuberance, Le Duc Tho reported matter of factly to the Politburo in Hanoi. After reciting the major points on which he and Kissinger had agreed toward a settlement, he concluded: “In summary, the goals that the Politburo set forward have essentially been achieved. Three difficult issues still remain: replacement of weapons, political prisoners, and the international commission.” (Message from Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy to the Politburo, 12 October 1972, 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. 343–344)


25. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 856, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. XX [3 of 3]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc in Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets except where noted are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

For the draft agreement that resulted from this meeting, see Appendix 2. Two days after this meeting, North Vietnam agreed to the U.S. positions on the two remaining major issues: the replacement of armaments and the release of imprisoned members and supporters of the Communist shadow government in the South, Articles 7 and 8. In the first instance, the North Vietnamese agreed to replacements on a piece-for-piece basis for those items worn out, damaged, or destroyed; in the second, North Vietnam agreed that the issue would be settled by the South Vietnamese parties after the cease-fire began. These two issues settled, the United States informed North Vietnam that “the text of the agreement can now be considered complete.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 30 and footnote 2 thereto).

Kissinger’s next task was to present the draft agreement to President Thieu in Saigon and obtain his approval. He flew directly to Saigon from Paris and began a series of meetings with Thieu on October 19.