Attempting To Implement the Accords,February 1973–December 1973


49. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 113, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Hanoi Memcons, February 10–13, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Reception Room of the Government Guest House. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

Kissinger’s long-planned visit to Hanoi, beginning on February 10 with this meeting and continuing until February 13, included consultations with Le Duc Tho and senior members of the Government of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam and the Lao Dong (Communist) Party. Kissinger’s later reflections on this round of meetings noted:

“We had wrung [in the Paris Peace Accords] a tenuous compromise from these ideologues, but it took a greater act of faith than I was capable of to believe that they would abide willingly by an inconclusive outcome. The purpose of my journey to Hanoi in February 1973 was to encourage any tendencies that existed to favor peaceful reconstruction over continued warfare, to stabilize the peace insofar as prospects of American goodwill could do so, and to warn of the serious consequences should these hopes be disappointed.” (Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, p. 435)

After the last meeting on February 13, Kissinger wrote: “I left Hanoi with determination [to make the agreement work] rather than optimism [that it would].” (Ibid., p. 451)

Regarding the fate of the Peace Accords, now primarily in the hands of the North Vietnamese and their Southern allies, Kissinger reported to the President:

“They [the North Vietnamese] have two basic choices which I frankly pointed out to them [on February 11]. They can use the Vietnam Agreement as an offensive weapon, nibbling at its edges, pressuring Saigon, confronting us with some hard choices. In this case they would carry out the release of our prisoners and wait till our withdrawals were completed before showing their real colors unambiguously; they would keep their forces in Laos and Cambodia through procrastination of negotiations or straight-forward violations; and launch a big new attack soon. They would calculate that we would not have the domestic base or will to respond.

“Their other option is to basically honor the Agreement and seek their objectives through gradual evolution. They would welcome a more constructive relationship with us, seek our economic assistance and concentrate on reconstruction and building socialism in the north. Their Indochina allies would be told to pursue their objectives by political and psychological means. They would, in short, adhere to a more peaceful course and let the forces of history work their will, at least for a few years.

“The North Vietnamese naturally proclaim the second option as their settled course, but this means nothing. I could not judge from my talks whether their enormous losses, isolation from their allies, and the prospect of [American] aid mean they are ready for a breather. For them the ideal course would be to follow both options at once: violating the Agreement to pursue their objectives and improving relations with us so as to get economic aid. Our essential task is to convince them that they must make a choice between the two.” (Kissinger’s report quoted ibid., pp. 451–452)


50. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 113, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Hanoi Memcons, February 10–13, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the DRV President’s House. All brackets are in the original. The tabs and a map are attached but not printed.


51. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 113, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Hanoi Memcons, February 10–13, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the DRV President’s House. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.


52. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 113, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Hanoi Memcons, February 10–13, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the DRV President’s House. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho toured the Hanoi History Museum and other cultural sites before the session.


53. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 113, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Hanoi Memcons, February 10–13, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in a private room at the DRV Government Guest House. All brackets are in the original.


54. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 113, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Hanoi Memcons, February 10–13, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the DRV President’s House. All brackets, except where noted, are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.


55. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 113, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Hanoi Memcons, February 10–13, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the DRV President’s House. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.


56. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 113, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Hanoi Memcons, February 10–13, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Government Guest House. All brackets are in the original.


57. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 114, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, Paris Memcons, May 17–23, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at St. Nom la Bretèche. All brackets are in the original. Tab A is attached but not printed.

This round of six meetings, beginning with this one and ending with the one on May 23, took place a little over 3 months after the Paris Peace Accords were signed. During these months, the military on both sides—Republic of Vietnam as well as Communist forces—violated the cease-fire hundreds of times. Moreover, North Vietnam, in violation of the agreement, was in the process of sending over 300 tanks, approximately 300 artillery pieces, substantial amounts of war matériel, and thousands more troops to the South. Also troublesome to the United States was that no cease-fire had been instituted in Laos or Cambodia and thus none of the thousands of North Vietnamese troops in those two countries had been withdrawn. The United States had proposed these negotiations in April in order to deal with these problems and to get the cease-fire and, more generally, full implementation of the agreement back on track. This period is discussed in Willbanks, Abandoning Vietnam, pp. 188–194, and Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, pp. 302–327.


58. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 114, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, Paris Memcons, May 17–23, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc, Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets are in the original. Tab A is attached but not printed.

Kissinger reported to the President later the same day, addressing both the tone and substance of the meeting. Regarding tone, he wrote:

“Although outwardly pleasant in his general demeanor towards us today, Le Duc Tho turned tough and insolent in his presentation of DRV proposals for remedial measures for implementation of Paris Agreement. His proposals amounted to a renegotiation of significant portions of the Agreement and protocols and were reminiscent of attitudes he displayed last December.”

Regarding substance, several topics were discussed, prominently among them the U.S. role in, to use a frequent phrase of Le Duc Tho, “healing the wounds of war,” which Kissinger called “economic aid.” On this he told Nixon that “it is quite clear that they want it badly, but as yet unclear what, if anything, they are prepared to pay for it. This would seem to be major card we have to play. However, I did, once again, warn of serious military consequences if they fail to reach satisfactory understandings with us.”

The cease-fire, which was supposed to have gone into effect immediately after the Accords were signed, had yet to be achieved. On this, Kissinger told the President that Le Duc Tho had “suggested new ceasefire arrangement, which would result in GVN withdrawal from all areas it reclaimed after Communist land-grab immediately following signature of Agreement last January.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. X, Vietnam, January 1973–July 1975, Document 51)


59. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 114, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, Paris Memcons, May 17–23, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at La Fontaine au Blanc, St. Nom la Bretèche. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

Kissinger commented in his message to the President that the talks had gone better at this meeting: “Today’s session with DRV was a genuine working meeting, in which we appear to have made some progress towards an understanding. Le Duc Tho was in the mood for straight talk and went through the various items which were tabled in a generally constructive way.”

Specifically, Kissinger continued:

“He [Le Duc Tho] tabled a draft communiqué and a ceasefire order which were written in extreme terms; but he backed off them in the give and take. I can now see the possibility of making a bridge between his opening position and ours. This will mean the probable emergence of a document which may lead to an enforcement of a ceasefire in South Vietnam, a precise date for a Laos withdrawal, but nothing concrete on Cambodia.”

Indeed, Kissinger told the President: “The primary stumbling block I see in this [the path to an agreed text] is still Cambodia.” Despite this, he concluded: “As of now, I feel it is possible we can produce a paper by Tuesday [May 22] which we will be able to define as a restoration of the basic Paris Agreement.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. X, Vietnam, January 1973–July 1975, Document 53) That paper would be turned into the communiqué that would be signed at the next round of Paris meetings in June.


60. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 114, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, Paris Memcons, May 17–23, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at La Fontaine au Blanc, St. Nom la Bretèche. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.


61. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 114, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, Paris Memcons, May 17–23, 1973. 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.


62. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 114, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, Paris Memcons, May 17–23, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at La Fontaine au Blanc, St. Nom la Bretèche. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

After this last meeting in the round, Kissinger sent a summary to Nixon. “Yesterday,” he told the President, “I concluded six days of negotiations in Paris with Le Duc Tho. We have agreed to meet again in Paris on June 6 to conclude a signed communiqué, the text of which is now agreed, as well as several private understandings. Ambassador Sullivan has gone to Saigon to explain the draft communiqué to President Thieu and obtain his concurrence, either to signing it as a four-party communiqué, or to our signing it with the DRV and stating in the communiqué that we are doing so with the concurrence of the GVN. The single, outstanding issue between us is Cambodia. I made it clear to Tho that we would not be prepared to sign the communiqué unless we receive a satisfactory understanding on this subject. The time between now and June 6 should permit us to exert pressure on North Vietnam concerning Cambodia through the Soviets and Chinese. The prospect of a final meeting on June 6 should also help us deter rash Congressional action with respect to Cambodia in the interim.”

On the central issue of Vietnam, as opposed to the important but secondary ones of Laos and Cambodia, the text of the draft communiqué constituted, according to Kissinger, “a clear net gain for our side.” Furthermore, no cost attached to these gains. That is, he continued, “we had to agree to resume compliance with the Paris Agreement in those areas where at the end of April we had cut off compliance to put pressure on North Vietnam—i.e., stop aerial reconnaissance over the North, resume mine clearance, and resume the meetings of the Joint Economic Commission. In other words, we gave up nothing of substance.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. X, Vietnam, January 1973–July 1975, Document 59)


63. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 124, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, Joint Communique May–June 1973 [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 are in the original.


64. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 124, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, Joint Communique May–June 1973 [3 of 3]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at La Fontaine au Blanc, St. Nom la Bretèche. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.


65. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 124, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, Joint Communique May–June 1973 [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 are in the original.


66. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 124, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, Joint Communique May–June 1973 [3 of 3]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at La Fontaine au Blanc, St. Nom la Bretèche. All brackets are in the original.


67. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 124, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, Joint Communique May–June 1973 [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 are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

As in the earlier negotiations on the January Peace Accords, South Vietnam refused to accept the draft communiqué on implementing the Accords. The United States began to pressure South Vietnam to accept the draft in the immediate aftermath of the May meetings. During the June round of meetings, South Vietnam continued to resist the U.S. pressure, which culminated in a June 12 letter from President Nixon to President Thieu that reads in part:

“If you refuse to accept these results and continue to decline to instruct your representative to sign the communiqué, you will have repudiated my entire policy of constant support for you, your government, and your country.

“If you choose this course, Mr. President, you will have determined the future of my administration’s policy with respect to Viet-Nam. I will be forced to follow American congressional and public opinion by supporting only marginal humanitarian necessities with respect to your people and will be able, with justice, to forego all the hard decisions and tasks which would have been involved in the military and economic programs we discussed in San Clemente [when Thieu visited Nixon in early April]. Needless to say, it will be the end of our effort elsewhere in Indochina. I will regard such a choice as being directed at my personal judgement and my personal commitments.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. X, Vietnam, January 1973–July 1975, Document 81) For a detailed documentary account of the campaign to obtain Thieu’s agreement to the communiqué, beginning in late May, see ibid., Documents 60 82.

This U.S. campaign to obtain Thieu’s agreement succeeded, and representatives of the four entities, including South Vietnam, signed the communiqué on the afternoon of June 13. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho signed the two-party communiqué later that day.

On Kissinger’s return to Washington, Nixon congratulated him for successfully negotiating the communiqué: “I told Al [Haig] last night, of all the things you’ve done, it was the toughest, because you had no cards. I mean, you went to this thing with a broken flush. And the other thing, you were looking, and, and you were looking at a—basically at, at four aces. And you knew damn well he had four aces. And, by golly, you, you pulled it off. I don’t know how you did it.” (Ibid., Document 84)


68. Memorandum of Conversation

Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27–14 VIET. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the International Conference Center, Avenue Kléber. All brackets are in the original.

Kissinger provided Nixon a generally positive report of this meeting. He noted that Le Duc Tho was greatly concerned about “establishing the ceasefire,” although both sides had consistently been in violation of the cease-fire. Kissinger believed the meeting “was significant for this reason alone.” North Vietnamese “behavior and concerns in this meeting,” he continued, “revealed their considerable uncertainty about their military prospects as well. They took seriously, as a ‘threat,’ recent comments by you and other US officials that military action against the DRV could not be excluded if Hanoi launched another offensive.” He concluded for the President: “It is clear that they are even weaker than I believed . . . and it is the GVN that has been gaining territorially in the prolonged fighting.” (Message from Kissinger to President Nixon via Scowcroft, December 21, 1973; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 127, Kissinger Office Files, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David, November 1–December 31, 1973)

Kissinger emphasized these points again in a December 28 meeting with Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, Director of Central Intelligence William Colby, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Thomas Moorer, and Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Major General Brent Scowcroft. Kissinger and the group discussed U.S. policy around the world. Regarding his recent meeting with Le Duc Tho and what might happen in Vietnam, Kissinger said: “I think it’s 60–40 against an offensive.” He added: “I told him [Le Duc Tho] we would send him a message in January and maybe we’d meet again—but we wouldn’t tolerate any nonsense. I think he is scared and we should put everything we can into the GVN.” (Memorandum of Conversation, December 28, 1973; Ford Library, Digital Files, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977)