10. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Le Duc Tho, Adviser to the North Vietnamese Delegation
  • Xuan Thuy, Chief of North Vietnamese Delegation
  • Vo Van Sung, North Vietnamese Delegate General in Paris
  • Nguyen Minh Vy, Deputy Chief of North Vietnamese Delegation
  • North Vietnamese Interpreter
  • Two other North Vietnamese Officials
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Major General Vernon Walters, Defense Attaché
  • W. Richard Smyser, NSC Staff
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff

Kissinger: I had to escape from hundreds of press. The Special Adviser excited the press and aroused great publicity.

Xuan Thuy: Your recent trip aroused great publicity.

Kissinger: I note the Special Adviser has become a television star.

Le Duc Tho: I couldn’t refuse to be interviewed by the press.

Kissinger: I have managed for the last ten days.

Le Duc Tho: There is great speculation as to whether we will meet.

[Page 176]

Kissinger: In order to get that out of the way, we have published a schedule for today according to which I am seeing Ambassador Bruce all day long. And we will under no circumstances say that we have met.

We believe that if this channel is to be serious it must be secret. We do this even though it would be to our political advantage to announce it.

Now, Mr. Special Adviser and Mr. Minister, I have brought along a statement in reply to your nine points you gave us the last time.

But before I do this I would like to make one other comment.

I had always believed that although we find ourselves in opposition on the battlefield the purpose of these meetings was to establish confidence and to find an honorable solution.

At the end of the last meeting I thought we had reached an agreement that we would not publish our proposal and you would not publish your counter-proposal. Four days later Madame Binh published her seven points, which cover most of the substance of the nine points you presented to us. The same thing happened last September when the Minister and I met.

The Special Adviser, in his very eloquent speech last time, asked me if we were serious in negotiating an end to this war.

I must tell you candidly that these actions make us doubt whether you are serious in seeking an end to the war.

Since Madame Binh has published her seven points, hardly a day has passed without some public statement from your side to which we have, up to now, not replied.

I want to tell you in all solemnity, Mr. Special Adviser and Mr. Minister, that you have to choose between propaganda and serious negotiations. The Special Adviser and the Minister have pointed out [Page 177] to me on a number of occasions, the mistakes we had made in our military estimates on Vietnam.

I will not argue this now, but I would like to emphasize that you have made serious errors in your estimate of the domestic situation in the United States.

You counted on the domestic situation in 1969 and you were mistaken. You counted on it in 1970 and you were mistaken. You count on it in 1971 and you will be mistaken again.

We are prepared for serious negotiations in which we will look at your necessities if you look at ours. But this can succeed only if you are equally serious. And, therefore, it is up to you whether to make propaganda or to negotiate.

If you are prepared to negotiate I will meet you with an open mind and much good will. But we are all of us much too busy to waste our time on a sideshow simply for propaganda.

That is all I have to say before my presentation. I wonder whether the Special Adviser or the Minister have something to say in reply before we go to the substance of our discussion.

Xuan Thuy: It astonishes me a great deal to listen to the opening views expressed by Mr. Special Adviser because my assessment is just the reverse. Because when you are blaming us I think we should have blamed you.

When Mr. Special Adviser Le Duc Tho had not come here you told me that in these private meetings we should create a favorable atmosphere. We should not create anything inflammatory.

But only a few days after you left Paris the battlefield in Indochina included inflammatory developments.

For the time being the United States is making military operations against the Plaine des Jarres. We think you want to return to the situation in September, 1969, and the situation in September 1969 had led to consequences known to you.

And then in the region of Route 9, and further southward, there are military developments too. And in Cambodia military operations were carried out in the Snuol region and in the region of the Parrot’s Beak.

And for the last few days in South Vietnam, many fierce bombings by B–52’s were carried out in South Vietnam.

And against North Vietnam you have been launching attacks in border areas between North Vietnam and Laos.

Kissinger: What do you mean? I do not know what you are talking about. I just want a clarification. I will not dispute it. What area are you talking about?

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Xuan Thuy: In the region of Quang Binh and Vinh, on June 30 and July 1.

Mr. Special Adviser, your recent trip to Asia has had publicity; yet I have no comment to make on it.

What you told us is to keep this channel secret. But a few days after you left the United States, in Washington there was already speculation of your meeting us.

Kissinger: Generated by the Special Adviser who made a public statement that he would welcome me.

Le Duc Tho: What statement do you refer to?

Kissinger: One of your press spokesmen said that if I asked for a meeting you would be glad to see me.

Le Duc Tho: I did not make this statement myself. When asked by newsmen, I said that if this meeting was proposed I would consider it.

Xuan Thuy: I am speaking of developments before this statement. In Washington President Nixon said that you were prepared to further explore the negotiations at the same time you go forward with the policy of Vietnamization, regardless of what happens at the conference table. Moreover, it was reported that the White House was preparing for a diplomatic offensive.

And in such circumstances, Madame Binh, being refused a meeting with Mr. Special Adviser, she is forced to bring forth her seven points at Kleber Street. Moreover, the time limit she had proposed, June 30, 1971, has expired, without any response from the United States.

So she is obliged to make a new statement. I think that under such circumstances the development is understandable.

But if you consider our nine points as against Madame Binh’s seven points, you will see a great deal of difference.

And therefore, I would like to say that Mr. Special Adviser and Ambassador Bruce at Kleber Street have been saying that we are making propaganda. The other day I told Ambassador Bruce that the United States is exceeding in the art of propaganda, while accusing us of making propaganda. I think we should not debate on that point.

I have to tell you only that we came here to discuss with you and to settle the problem of Vietnam rapidly. And I told you that we do not rely on developments in the internal situation in the United States. We should rely on our forces and on the situation in Indochina.

Because if we rely on the internal situation of the United States, then in 1964, when you attacked us, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the American people all were supporting the Administration. But we resisted against you.

So in a word we don’t come here to make propaganda. We come here to seek a settlement.

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And the nine points we propose are an expression of our real desire for a settlement, a rapid settlement.

Kissinger: Well, Mr. Minister and Mr. Special Adviser, I have to tell you that on our side there is the most serious doubt about your desires.

We can continue these discussions a little while longer, but I do not believe without some progress the President can continue them indefinitely. The events of the last few weeks have created some real doubts in his mind whether he should continue these talks, and we have to make some progress in the next few weeks.

(Le Duc Tho nods)

Kissinger: I am prepared to continue to make a serious effort and to make rapid progress.

Le Duc Tho: I told you the other day that you did not believe in our sincerity and we did not believe in your sincerity either. It is mutual doubt. I do not want to return to past events, but if you really desire genuine negotiations you should review the course since President Nixon came to the White House.

You should see how many steps we have taken to express our real desire to have negotiations, and on the contrary on your side how many proofs have been given as to your continuing efforts to win military victories.

I just point out this point so that you review the past only.

We have been negotiating now for over three years and after the cessation of bombing and the beginning of the four-party conference you should have seen how we have expressed our desire and good will for negotiations.

And ever since at the Paris Conference there has been no progress because you have launched in the meantime many military offensives and have downgraded the Conference without any Chief of the U.S. delegation for over a year. In the meantime, Minister Xuan Thuy remained in Paris to conduct negotiations with the U.S. delegate who was not his interlocutor.

Therefore, in the face of such facts, there is more reason for us to doubt your sincerity than for you.

But now to see the good will of the other side, we should have to look at the real situation.

We have put forward the nine points. You have put forward your seven points. Madame Binh has put forward her seven points and we fully support her. And Madame Binh’s seven points have now found broad approval in public opinion.

Kissinger: Here you go again. I have told you I would not listen to that.

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Le Duc Tho: This explains our good will.

Kissinger: I don’t see how you are expressing your good will when you put forward nine points to us and seven points publicly and point out the differences. We don’t know which ones you’re talking about.

Le Duc Tho: There are differences actually, and actually there are points which are similar. But the differences are very important.

The points we raised here, we still keep them secret.

Therefore we can tell you that the proposal we have made this time is a serious proposal. We really want to enter into substantial discussions with you to come to a real settlement of the conflict in Vietnam, and the question of peace in Vietnam.

As far as we are concerned, we are determined to go in this direction. But we wonder will you do the same?

As Minister Xuan Thuy pointed out, we met on June 26, and on June 30 and July 1 there were very serious bombings in the northern part of the DMZ. This was the third serious bombing since early 1970. There were three.

Yet also there were military operations against the Plaine des Jarres and the region of the Parrot’s Beak in Cambodia, and in the border area between Vietnam and Cambodia.

Therefore there is reason for us to raise with you the question of doubt as to your sincerity. As Minister Xuan Thuy pointed out, and now myself, I reiterate our real desire, our sincerity to begin serious negotiations.

And if now we compare your seven points and our nine points, we shall see the seriousness. If now we review your seven points we agree in principle but we have not gone into detail.

Kissinger: I did not understand. Could you repeat this?

Le Duc Tho: If we can review your seven points, there are points we have agreed in principle but we have not gone into detail. But there are points we have not even agreed on in principle.

Kissinger: I understand.

Le Duc Tho: The points are before you.

For instance, one of your points deals with, you say that there should be, international supervision of the ceasefire and its provisions. We agree in principle on this point, but on when and how a ceasefire will start, there is still disagreement between us.

As for your point 6, both sides should renew their pledge to support the 1954 Geneva Agreements, we agree on that and we have carried this out.

You said there should be international acknowledgment at an international conference. We have said there should be international guaran[Page 181]tee of the agreements, not only for Vietnam but also for Laos and Cambodia.

You proposed the release of POWs and innocent civilians on both sides. We propose this be carried out as far as Vietnam is concerned. You propose for all of Indochina.

For the release of POWs, we propose that you set a date for troop withdrawal. This is the demand of world opinion.

Kissinger: You are using that word again.

Le Duc Tho: President Nixon also spoke of these things together, of troop withdrawal and prisoners. But there are points we have not yet agreed. For example, your point 2. We have not agreed to. We have not agreed to that, but have proposed our point 6.

Kissinger: It’s your own proposal.

Le Duc Tho: You have proposed your point 2, we have proposed our point 6.

Kissinger: I took point 2 from your point 3 of your old 10 points.

Le Duc Tho: It is not so; it is quite different.

On your proposal regarding troop withdrawals, you say that there is troop withdrawal when there is a settlement and a ceasefire should follow immediately after the troop withdrawal. Our proposal is different on that point. We propose that all questions should be settled first and then we come to a ceasefire. So in a word that we have agreed in principle but there are others we have not agreed with you.

By telling you this I want to say that making this proposal we want to enter into serious negotiations to seek a settlement of the Vietnam problem. Not only now but even before we made our proposal of 10 points and our 8 points in a real desire to reach a settlement of the problem.

Now our 9 points are very concrete about the date of troop withdrawal; about release of prisoners; and about the political question of South Vietnam. It is very concrete. And we also proposed that the two questions should be discussed parallelly.

But let us see whether you bring something concrete today, as you said the other day you would bring something more concrete.

Kissinger: Alright, I will do that, but let me just say two things simply for your information.

You spoke of the bombing in the northern half of the DMZ. Our military experts tell us, including my conversations with General Abrams in Vietnam, that there is the heaviest infiltration of the DMZ since 1967 and the heaviest concentration of forces north of the DMZ since 1967.

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We get daily requests from our military commanders to authorize bombardments of those units north of the DMZ. Particularly in light of the understandings associated with the bombing halt.

We have so far rejected all these requests, because we want peace as quickly as possible.

But I agree with the Special Adviser that we should begin negotiating about the 9 and the 7 points and prove our good will that way.

The only thing I would like to point out is that we are negotiating with the Special Adviser and the Minister and not with the New York Times.

And you have to choose.

Should I make some of my remarks? I notice you have some points.

Xuan Thuy: I would like to say only that you want to say we are making propaganda, but we want to say you are making propaganda.

And then there is another point. The difference between the 7 points of Madame Binh and our 9 points have been pointed out by Mr. Le Duc Tho. But I would like to point out this very important difference: she only speaks about within Vietnam, but in our 9 points we have raised the question of the whole of Indochina. It is a very important point.

Kissinger: I just want to make sure that when we reach an agreement you will not quarrel so much with Mme. Binh that it will destroy the agreement.

Le Duc Tho: What about you and Saigon? I understand that there was a meeting of minds between you and Saigon. We take note of that.

Kissinger: We will take care of our Allies.

Xuan Thuy: And will you take care of them very carefully?

Kissinger: I did not take this trip to Saigon for nothing.

Xuan Thuy: Let us see the results of your trip. We will see what you brought.

Kissinger: This was approved by the President before the trip and is an effort to look at your 9 points and our 7 points to see what we can combine along the lines that the Special Adviser has already done.

Then after I have done it, perhaps you can give me your approach and we can see where we can combine them.

Let me now give you our specific position on the 9 points one by one.

With respect to point one, we are prepared to give you a date for the total withdrawal of U.S. and Allied Forces as the first item of business once we have come to an agreement on the framework. We agree that this be the first item of business and that it would be mutually agreed.

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Le Duc Tho: Please repeat the last sentence.

Kissinger: (Repeats). Once we know what the general framework will be, not every detail.

Let me give you an example. If we continue what the Special Adviser started before, that is if we take the points one by one and agree on a general framework, then the first detailed item of business will be point one.

Is that clear? I am not asking whether you accept it.

Le Duc Tho: It is clear now.

Kissinger: As for the second point, we accept your formulation with two elaborations, which are drawn from our 7 points. The elaborations are as follows:

—Both sides would present a complete list of military men and innocent civilians held throughout Indochina on the day agreement is reached.

—The release of these prisoners would begin on the same day as our withdrawal under the agreed time table and would end on the day the withdrawals are completed.

You will notice that we have dropped the provision that the POWs be released two months before withdrawals conclude, as a gesture of good will and in order to speed progress.

Point three I want to put aside and discuss separately at the end of my remarks. I will make a comment on it, but later.

The fourth point is unacceptable in principle, as I told you last time. I will have a comment on it later as well.

Point five we accept in principle but not in the language in which it is now drafted. We are prepared to respect the 1954 and 1962 Accords on the basis of reciprocity applying to all countries. We consider phrases like “U.S. aggression” rhetorical and unacceptable and they must be removed.

Le Duc Tho: But it is the facts.

Kissinger: The Special Adviser can write a historical treatise which I will do my best to get published in the United States, but he will not get the United States Government to sign such a document.

But we accept the principle. The Special Adviser has to decide between rhetoric and principle.

Sometimes I suspect that the Special Adviser understands French much better than he admits. And the Minister probably speaks English very well by now.

Xuan Thuy: You are making propaganda.

Kissinger: You can make propaganda if you say something good about me sometimes.

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Point six, we accept the principle that the future of Indochina should be settled by the Indochinese parties on the basis of mutual respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in each others affairs. We think that the last sentence of your point should be removed because contrary to your intentions it implies that you have special rights which I am sure you have no wish to claim.

We accept point seven in principle, but we want to define it as follows on the basis of our points three and four: There should be a general ceasefire throughout Indochina, to begin when an agreement is signed. As part of that ceasefire, there should be no further infiltration of outside forces into all the countries of Indochina.

We accept points eight and nine.

This means that we agree on points eight and nine and have agreement in principle on points one, two, five, six and seven.

Now let me turn to your point four.

Do you want to quit while you are ahead?

Xuan Thuy: We are prepared to continue to listen to you. We have not yet made comment.

Kissinger: As I said at our last meeting, the concept of reparations is unacceptable and non-negotiable.

However, the President has authorized me to say that we want to inaugurate a new relationship with you as well as all the other countries of Indochina.

I have told you that we believe your independence and development are in our interest, and that we are vitally interested in the progress of all the people of Indochina. Therefore, upon conclusion of peace, the President is prepared to inaugurate a large aid program for all the countries of Indochina as a gesture of good will. He will do this as a voluntary act on which you can count, but not as an obligation or a condition of peace.

This brings me to the key issue discussed in your point three.

I must tell you that if you persist in your political demands you are asking something that we cannot possibly fulfill. The more the conflict goes on and the longer our withdrawals proceed under the Vietnamization policy, the less influence we will have on a political solution.

You are thus in the curious position of threatening to continue the war to gain an objective which the continuation of the war makes impossible.

On the other hand we could accept the principle of your point three in its general sense. We could agree that we are not committed [Page 185] to any one government in Saigon but to work in the same way with any government which exists there. We are willing to agree to a defined relationship with whatever government there is in Saigon after a peace agreement is signed. That is to say we are willing to define the precise economic, military and political relationship which a South Vietnamese government can have with us under conditions of peace.

In this connection, we are prepared to look seriously at some of the thoughts contained in points 4B and 5 of the proposal presented by Mme. Binh on July 1, which recall the 1954 Geneva injunctions against foreign military alliances, foreign military bases and foreign forces.

This is as far as we can go and as much as you can realistically expect.

I want to point out, too, that you must have some confidence in the political evolution in Saigon, and my visit to Saigon has convinced me that the best way to begin that political evolution is to come to an agreement this summer.

Finally, for your information, we are not opposed to the ideas about the reunification of Vietnam contained in paragraph 4A of Mme. Binh’s statement.

But for purposes of this meeting we will discuss the nine points and not her seven points.

I also have to point out that we maintain point 2 of our 7 point proposal.

Let me conclude. Though it is not your habit. Do you have my statement already? I want to know how good your intelligence is. I know it is good in Saigon. I didn’t know it was so good in Washington.

We have examined your 9 points sympathetically and with an attempt to look for areas of agreement rather than disagreement. I hope you will have the same attitude.

It is my belief that we are now at a crucial juncture in which each of us must make renewed efforts to find substantial progress which will lead to a settlement. There will be no better opportunity to bring peace to our people and to the world.

That is all I have to say.

Xuan Thuy: I propose a little break to air the room. We take into account that you are returning from a long trip and you have been working a great deal.

Kissinger: That is true. I produced great popular demonstrations in New Delhi.

Le Duc Tho: You were welcomed?

Kissinger: I tell you that I produced a great deal of emotion.

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Le Duc Tho: I don’t know when you made the statement that you were meeting with Ambassador Bruce, but this morning the French News Agency broadcasted, concerning your program in Paris, that you were meeting with Ambassador Bruce in the morning but nobody knows what you will do in the afternoon. You are leaving for the U.S. at the end. It was presumed that you would meet with the Vietnamese.

Kissinger: This afternoon Ambassador Bruce and Ambassador Watson are in the Residence of Ambassador Watson. We went in there publicly but we left by a back door. They think I am there. This evening I will have dinner in a public restaurant with Frank Sinatra so everyone will say I am very frivolous.

But if I am discovered outside the building I will never confirm that I have seen you. Everyone will say that this is an example of the rigidity and the lack of imagination of President Nixon and his adviser. Mr. Harriman will say that I have insulted you. But I think we should announce nothing until we have some success to report.

Xuan Thuy: I would like to tell you that our neighbors are on vacation. You can go outside.

(There was a long break of about an hour, 3:50–4:50 p.m., during part of which Le Duc Tho and Dr. Kissinger talked in the garden, while Xuan Thuy worked on his remarks. Le Duc Tho emphasized the importance of a political solution in South Vietnam and Dr. Kissinger said that U.S. withdrawals might influence the election. Le Duc Tho said the U.S. hand was still in South Vietnam influencing things.

Dr. Kissinger also stressed that the North Vietnamese publicity and press pressures might cause the President to break the channel. When Le Duc Tho maintained that they were not resorting to public pressure, Dr. Kissinger said that he was was sure the Special Adviser understood what Dr. Kissinger was saying.

Dr. Kissinger also told the story of 150 newspaper people who had phoned or written Chou En-lai to get into China after the ping-pong episode. He noted that none had gotten through yet.

During this time Mr. Smyser read to one of the North Vietnamese recorders the detailed text of Dr. Kissinger’s reply to the nine points, which the North Vietnamese had requested.)

Xuan Thuy: After listening to the Special Adviser I would like to put a few questions for clarification.

My first question is that you said we would discuss our nine points, and you said you agreed to some, and others you did not agree to, and that there were others you didn’t agree on the wording. And you said you maintained your point two.

What is your point of view on point two?

Another question is about your point three. Regarding point three, you said you have no intention of changing the present Administration. This is something impossible to do. But you said you agreed with the point in principle in a general sense. What do you mean?

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Regarding point four, you said the United States would grant economic aid to Indochina countries. It is a voluntary act on the part of the United States Government. But as far as we are concerned we want something more precise. What is the essence of your statement?

Another question is that you said that if we agree on a framework of an agreement, the United States would fix a date for troop withdrawal. Is this date for troop withdrawal in 1971? These are the questions I would like to put to you.

Kissinger: All right. The meaning on point two first.

We believe that the principle should be accepted that the troops of each of the countries of Indochina should stay within their borders. But we agree that the details of this can be discussed among the countries of Indochina. Is that clear?

Xuan Thuy: Yes.

Kissinger: Let me talk about point four next. I believe that it is a point that will be easy in substance but difficult if you involve it with our honor. We cannot accept that as a condition of peace that we should pay reparations to end a war. On the other hand, we are prepared to declare unilaterally that we will engage in a substantial program of economic rehabilitation of the countries of Indochina. I frankly have not discussed with the President how to do this, but I have the following ideas.

For example, the President could either make a statement in which he would declare that upon conclusion of the war he would set aside a certain sum for rehabilitation of Indochina, or make a speech asking Congress to express support for this. And this, in my judgment, could be quite a substantial sum, but I would like to discuss in Washington what the sum would be, if you are interested.

But we can do this only as a voluntary act, and not as a result of pressure. And I believe it is also in the interest of both our countries because this could lay the basis for a new relationship between us.

Is that sufficient on this question?

Xuan Thuy: Do you mean economic aid without repayment?

Kissinger: Substantially, yes.

Xuan Thuy: OK.

Kissinger: But I want to check the details. I think this is no problem. I don’t think repayment will be a problem.

On withdrawal I believe that as always the Minister has let his optimism run away with him.

Xuan Thuy: You are pessimistic and you don’t want to withdraw.

Kissinger: But I think we will have a reasonable date.

Xuan Thuy: What date would be reasonable?

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Kissinger: That will be the first item of discussion when we have basic agreement on the framework.

On point number three. I was perhaps being too complicated and professorial.

Xuan Thuy: As a professor you make the problem clear and understandable to students. The language of jurists is often ambiguous, but that of professors should be clear.

Kissinger: At Harvard, obscurity is often identified with profundity.

Xuan Thuy: Then Harvard students are all obscure.

Kissinger: Mr. Smyser here was one of my students. Mr. Ellsberg was another one of my students.

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Ellsberg is very explicit.

Kissinger: With other people’s writings.

On point three. We are willing to declare that we are not supporting any one government in Saigon. But we would like to express the point in specific restrictions that we can have with whatever government exists in Saigon, no matter how it came into power.

This would apply to the existing government or to any other government that might appear.

I have pointed out that some of the ideas expressed in points 4B and 5 of Mme. Binh’s proposal could form a basis of discussions. But I don’t want to encourage you to propose new points four days after I leave. Unless you give them to me secretly.

Xuan Thuy: Have you finished?

Kissinger: Yes, thank you.

Xuan Thuy: May I now express my views on your presentation?

I think that we have made some progress today. Through the statement made by Mr. Le Duc Tho at the beginning and the presentation of Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger on the 9 points.

It seems to me that we have agreed that we shall discuss both the 9 and the 7 points.

Kissinger: That is correct.

Xuan Thuy: It is natural that on the nine points there are some we have agreed in principle. There are others we still have to discuss, even in principle. There are others we have not come to agreement on yet.

I have general remarks as follows.

Our nine points are concrete. The seven points of the United States Government and the statement made by Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger today are not concrete.

Kissinger: I was getting confident there for a minute.

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Le Duc Tho: So you have lost confidence now?

Xuan Thuy: Because on point one regarding the date of the troop withdrawal we are specific in this connection. We said we should do it in 1971. But Mr. Special Adviser said we should agree on the general framework first and then the date will be fixed later.

But the agreement on the framework may take some time. And after agreement on a framework then you propose a date, and then maybe there will be discussion on a date. That will take more time. It will take too much time.

You often blame us that we use the word “discussion” and that implies it will take too much time. But your approach will take time to discuss.

But if we propose 1971, let you now propose another date and we shall examine the dates to see which one is more reasonable. But in this connection we have shown a great deal of flexibility.

You have been demanding that we should release prisoners before a fixed date, and now we have given a very positive, very explicit answer to this demand. Here we speak completely privately, but this is also the demand of press and public opinion.

Kissinger: We won’t discuss press and public opinion.

Xuan Thuy: I meant the approval of public opinion.

Kissinger: I don’t want to encourage the publicity tendencies of my colleague, Special Adviser Le Duc Tho.

Xuan Thuy: Another important point is that what I have been saying regarding military questions.

Now I will deal with the political problem.

We have raised the very specific point that Thieu should be changed. You make no specific point, but you only make comments on the point. You have said in general that you would not interfere in the political process, and that you will define the relationship you have with any government in power.

But since now Mr. Thieu has a huge machinery in his hands, of army, police, and administration, he uses it to repress the people and the opposition.

If you say you will not interfere, it is tantamount practically to maintaining him. I would say that if Mr. Thieu is not changed, it would be impossible to settle the problem.

You say we ask something impossible for you to fulfull. But we think it is possible for you to do that but that you refuse to do that. But if you refuse to do that, not only will our negotiations not come to a result but public opinion will understand that you deliberately refuse to get out of South Vietnam.

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You say that you have good will for a settlement, but in practice if this is not so, then the settlement will become impossible. Therefore, I move that we should discuss at the same time the military problem and the political problem.

That is my preliminary comment on the two major problems, the military problem and the political problem.

Therefore we would request you to think it over and to approach the problem in a more concrete way. Of course we shall further study your proposal today.

But I want to say that since we have achieved some progress today we wish that on the basis of the progress achieved, we shall go forward in the same direction.

Le Duc Tho will have some remarks.

Le Duc Tho: We have been saying that we have shown good will and because of good will we have put forward this nine points. And you made a statement on the nine points today, which shows that the nine points is an expression of our good will.

Your statement today shows that since we have begun to sit together it is the biggest step you have made, and the biggest steps made by us in the past.

Kissinger: We have both made steps.

Le Duc Tho: All right. Minister Xuan Thuy made some preliminary comments on your presentation today. We would like to draw your attention to the two points made by Mr. Xuan Thuy and ask you to think further about them. First, the date of withdrawal. Second, the change of Mr. Thieu. While on our side, we shall consider what you’ve been saying today and express our further views next time.

I would like to add one more point for today.

That is the question of the change in the Thieu Administration. That is the greatest obstacle to our progress. Because Thieu is very bellicose, very warlike, very dictatorial. This is known to the people of South Vietnam, and the American people know it too.

You have been recently to Saigon. You have seen many people there. You have seen the trend of opinion there. We may say that the people there want two things. First, peace. Second, the change of Thieu. Because their desire for peace cannot be fulfilled if Thieu remains there. Because if Thieu is maintained, no settlement can be reached and the situation cannot be stabilized. Suppose now that Thieu is maintained after the election, I think public opposition will become stronger.

If now the United States wanted to establish a new relationship with South Vietnam without changing Thieu, this new basis will be difficult to lay down. Now the change of Thieu is the yardstick of your desire to make peace or to continue the Vietnamization of the war.

[Page 191]

Therefore, as far as we are concerned, we can tell you that if now you settle the question of the change of Thieu, we shall settle the question of the war not only in Vietnam but also in other countries of Indochina in a rapid way and a very satisfactory way.

We told you that we participated in the work of the 1954 and 1962 Geneva Conferences. You saw how reasonably we settled the problems at that time.

I tell you in a serious way that you have to replace Thieu. So if now the question of changing Thieu is settled, we shall make a big step forward and settle the problem rapidly and to the satisfaction of both parties. What I’ve been telling you is done in a very serious way. I tell you that we shall make a big step forward. It doesn’t mean that when you have changed Thieu we will do nothing. We really shall make a big step forward.

My statement today is to tell you that we keep our word and we are serious when we tell you that we want to settle the problem. Moreover, the opportunity for the change of Thieu is favorable. If Thieu is changed, then favorable conditions will be created for a settlement.

So what I have told you today, Mr. Special Adviser, you will report to President Nixon and the seriousness of our statement today.

Kissinger: Yes, but let me tell you what he will say. “They only are asking you what you will do and promise some vague steps.” What exactly is left for you to do, assuming we do what you ask?

Le Duc Tho: If now you decide explicitly that you will change Thieu, then we shall immediately make our response.

Kissinger: Like for example?

Le Duc Tho: We shall immediately discuss all the questions raised.

Kissinger: What’s left? We are discussing them now.

Le Duc Tho: Because now we wonder whether you agree to change Thieu. Then all questions raised will be discussed. If you agree, then all questions you raised we shall discuss and resolve in a satisfactory way.

Kissinger: Are you saying that you won’t discuss them if we do not agree?

Le Duc Tho: If you do not agree it will be difficult to make progress. I told you the last time that we have been fighting many years for political objectives, to achieve a genuinely peaceful, independent, and neutral South Vietnam.

But Thieu is opposed to peace, to independence and to neutrality. Immediately after publication of the seven points of Mme. Binh, you have a statement made by Thieu. He is so warlike.

We and the PRG want to talk with a government in South Vietnam standing for peace and for serious negotiations. We communists are [Page 192] not alone in disliking Thieu. There are non-communists who don’t like him. You want peace, and yet you maintain such a government?

Kissinger: Concretely, what do you mean by changing the government? What are we supposed to do?

Le Duc Tho: The other day Minister Xuan Thuy told you that if you wanted to change Thieu you have many means. Now I will give you an example of the means.

Here we are negotiating. We should speak frankly, sincerely.

Thieu has been put into power by you. If you wanted to change him, there are many means, but I give you one.

Because of the forthcoming elections if you want to change him, this is the opportunity to do that. I don’t mean the forthcoming elections are really democratic, but they are a means, a favorable opportunity, to do that.

Now the Saigon opposition forces, the Saigon press, they believe that if you support Thieu he will win the election. If you do not support Thieu there is no possibility for him to win the election.

Now I repeat once again, I tell you seriously, that if you do that we shall make a big step forward to settle the problem rapidly.

Kissinger: Now let me tell you seriously, Mr. Special Advisor and Mr. Minister.

I sincerely believe that this summer represents the last opportunity for us to make a negotiated peace among ourselves.

If we fail, we will continue the Vietnamization policy. There will be more bloody war. Maybe you will win. Maybe you will not win. But at any rate it will end without negotiations. I will not even engage in vainglorious predictions of who will be the stronger under those conditions. But it will be long, and it will have incalculable consequences as we have already seen in the last three years.

But we sincerely want peace. And we sincerely want to make a negotiated settlement. And the sooner, the better.

Le Duc Tho: We have been fighting for so many years to have peace and independence for our nation. But we have not reached our objective, and the conflict is still going on. This is unavoidable for us. There is no alternative for us to reach our independence and freedom.

We have been telling you we want negotiations, to come to a negotiated peace. But with Thieu it is impossible to bring peace.

Kissinger: I must tell the Special Advisor two things, and I never play games with him.

I must tell him in all honesty that the President is becoming extremely restless with our progress and I am not sure how much longer he will permit us to continue. This is an objective fact.

[Page 193]

Secondly, when you speak of the replacement of the Thieu Government, you must speak within the realm of what is possible for us.

If, for example, you say we should not support any one candidate in the election we can easily do it. We can keep such a promise if we make it. We can make sure that we will not support him and you will know whether we are doing it or not.

But we do not know how the people of South Vietnam will vote. If that is what you mean, and I say it very seriously, that we can consider.

Also, I believe that if we come to an agreement this summer on the circumstances we have discussed, with a defined limitation on our relationship with whatever government exists in Saigon, that in my judgment, from what I have seen in Saigon, will have a major influence on the result of the election.

But on the other hand, if you want a written promise or guarantee that we will replace the government, I will discuss it with the President, but I can tell you now that the answer almost certainly will be no.

So you have to choose.

If the war continues, the outcome you seem to deplore most—the political outcome—will become inevitable.

If we make a genuine settlement, I can certainly discuss with the President an undertaking that we would maintain absolute hands off the election and not support any candidate and that we will not interfere in the political evolution that will result.

So we have to both think about it. We have to decide, I’m afraid, next time because I doubt that the President will authorize many more meetings.

Xuan Thuy: Have you finished? Because I promised to finish the meeting at 6:00 p.m.

Kissinger: Peace is more important. If you have something to say, we should go on.

Xuan Thuy: I should say that in connection with the question of power in South Vietnam, we have not made any progress, but we should say that we hope for progress.

As Special Advisor Le Duc Tho said and I myself said many times, without a change of Thieu in South Vietnam, peace is impossible.

But we should emphasize the point that if you say that you will refrain from supporting any candidate in the forthcoming election in South Vietnam, this means that you support Thieu. This is the judgment in Saigon too. Because if the United States is neutral in the forthcoming elections, in practice it will be complicity with Thieu.

For instance, Le Duc Tho suggested one way to change Thieu is through elections. Another way, is if you will persuade Thieu not to present himself in the forthcoming elections. That is an easier way.

[Page 194]

If you say now that every means is impossible for you to do, and you say at the same time that you have good will to settle the problem, then your good will cannot be achieved.

Now you said that if next time we should not settle the problem, then there will be no further meeting.

Kissinger: We have to make progress.

Xuan Thuy: The meeting problem—it is up to the United States.

Kissinger: Of course.

Xuan Thuy: You also said that if we didn’t settle the problem you will continue Vietnamization and the war will go on. It is up to the United States too. As for the Vietnamese, we have to achieve our objective of genuine peace and genuine independence by any means.

Now should you have anything more to say, we are prepared to listen to you. Otherwise, we shall think over each other’s statements and we shall meet together next time. You must make progress next time too; we should not be the only one.

Kissinger: Both.

Le Duc Tho: If progress is to be made, this is the only way if we want to go forward.

Kissinger: You know we have made an effort. Even you, who are not always full of praise, have said that we have made some progress today.

We have made suggestions to you on how point three could be handled. This seems to me the only difficult issue left. Maybe you could think about your ideas in concrete detail on how it could be met. We will think also, and let us see where we can meet.

Le Duc Tho: But you should also think about it concretely.

Kissinger: We will. But you should also think about what history will do. As Marxists this will not be difficult to do. When should we meet again?

Xuan Thuy: What do you prefer?

Kissinger: Tentatively, I have to check. I would propose July 26, because we are launching a moon rocket and I can say I am in Florida. Is that convenient?

Xuan Thuy and Le Duc Tho: Agreed.

Kissinger: 10:00 a.m.?

Xuan Thuy: Yes.

Kissinger: We may have to change. I will have to check when I get back and we will get the word to you. I doubt it though.

Xuan Thuy: Would the afternoon be possible? 2:30 p.m.?

Kissinger: I would like to be back in Washington in the evening.

[Page 195]

Xuan Thuy: Agreed.

Kissinger: Thank you. 10:30 or 11:00, would be OK also for us.

Xuan Thuy and Le Duc Tho: What if we are asked if we have met?

Kissinger: I will deny it.

Xuan Thuy: It is easier for us if you deny first. We can say that he has said we did not meet.

Kissinger: Confidence is not your outstanding trait. I have nothing to lose by announcing it. It is in our mutual interest to keep the secret. If you want to announce it, go ahead.

Xuan Thuy: It is easier for us if you deny first.

Kissinger: I understand, but what if they ask you first?

Xuan Thuy: We shall deny.

Kissinger: Say Mr. Kissinger did not propose a meeting. If you refer to my statement, it sounds suspicious. My statement would be that I was in the house. My rebellious students would love it if I announced I saw you. I’m trying to preserve the Special Advisor’s reputation with TV.

Let me say something serious. If we are going to make progress, let us avoid inflammatory actions which either side can interpret as pressure.

I will take to heart what the Special Advisor and the Minister have said about our actions. And perhaps they can consider some of the points I have made.

If we fail in these negotiations, we will have plenty of opportunities to bring pressure on each other. But as long as we have a chance of success, let us preserve it by not trying to take little advantages on either side.

Le Duc Tho: But you are launching military operations against the Plaine des Jarres.

Kissinger: I said that I would take what the Special Advisor said to heart. I must now sneak back into my house before my guests arrive.

Le Duc Tho: But you have a great deal of strategems to do that.

  1. 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)