11. Memorandum of Conversation1
- 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
- Phan Hien 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
- David R. Halperin, NSC Staff
Kissinger: I was afraid you would try and take a vote by majority so I brought an extra colleague along with me. (Mr. Halperin)
Le Duc Tho: Anyway, we have a majority.
Kissinger: I have never won an argument with my colleague.
Xuan Thuy: What shall we do now?
Kissinger: Mr. Minister, we used to alternate, and I made the opening statement last time. Perhaps you would like to speak first today.
Xuan Thuy: If you would like to follow this order, then I shall take the floor now.
Kissinger: Thank you very much.
Xuan Thuy: We have carefully studied the views expressed by Mr. Special Adviser during the last meeting. The last time Mr. Special Adviser based himself on our 9 points to speak about his 7 points, and to combine both systems. Today I will follow the same method.
Mr. Special Adviser, speaking of our 9 points you said you agreed in principle to our point one. But you did not mention any time limit for complete withdrawal of U.S. forces and the forces of other countries from South Vietnam and other countries of Indochina.
Kissinger: I also said I thought the Minister was a little optimistic. But I won’t interrupt.
Xuan Thuy: And you said only after an agreement was reached on a framework would you set a date for the withdrawal. If so, it will take time and no settlement would be rapidly reached.
We said that total withdrawal of U.S. forces and the forces of other foreign countries from South Vietnam and other Indochina countries should be completed by the end of 1971. In your reply you made no mention of that.
Regarding Point 2, we have made a step to meet . . .
Kissinger: Which Point 2, yours or ours?
Xuan Thuy: Our Point 2 . . . to meet your request on prisoners. This shows our good will. You said you agreed in principle and were [Page 198] prepared to mention a few more ideas. We shall consider your request. In our view, we feel no difficulty about the views you wanted to add.
Regarding our Point 3. On the one hand, you said it would be contrary to U.S. principles, and a betrayal of the people who had been working with the U.S. for a long time. Therefore we would like to ask, do you refuse to change the present Saigon administration headed by Nguyen Van Thieu?
On the other hand, you said that you agree with Point 3 if it means that the U.S. should refrain from political intervention in South Vietnam. The last time you said that the U.S. affirmed that it would not support any Presidential candidate in the forthcoming election. But the Saigon press and public opinion say that by furnishing the Saigon Administration with arms, in practice the U.S. is supporting Nguyen Van Thieu, although it says it is neutral in the forthcoming election.
Kissinger: One point. I’m not arguing but just wanted to understand. Is this what the Saigon press is saying or what you are saying?
Xuan Thuy: I mean that the Saigon press and public opinion says that after aiding the Nguyen Van Thieu machinery, if now the U.S. said it will be neutral in the forthcoming elections, in practice it will be supporting Thieu.
In practice it is our view also.
And in your seven points you made no mention about the Saigon Administration. It is not a separate part of your proposal.
In our view, we think that if this question is not mentioned in your program, if this question is not clearly stated in our discussion, then the subjects of our discussion, political and military questions, are not clearly reflected in our discussion, and if so our discussions cannot make rapid progress. If so we will be faced with more difficulties, and the question of South Vietnam will not be settled.
Last time, Mr. Special Adviser, you said you would carefully consider this question and by the next session, which is today, you would express your views. I would expect to hear from you later.
Kissinger: That is mutual.
Xuan Thuy: With regard to Point 5, you said that it would be not difficult for you to agree in principle with it, but you would like to see another formulation. We shall consider this view, this question. We shall discuss and try to express the facts, history, reason.
Kissinger: I think if we can concentrate on reason and go easy on history, we will make more progress.
Xuan Thuy: Both are important, because history and reason are linked.
In Point 6, we have shown our good will in a reasonable proposal for the settlement of problems concerning the Indochinese countries. [Page 199] Mr. Special Adviser you proposed that we should remove the last sentence of our proposal. I do not understand yet the reason for your request, but we shall discuss that.
Regarding our Point 7, you said that you agreed in principle. You said that once agreement is reached on the above Point 6, then a cease-fire should be agreed. You proposed to add a few more ideas. I think your request could be considered.
Moreover, Mr. Special Adviser said the last time that Point 4 and Point 5 of the seven points of the PRG could be agreed upon. We have no objection to that.
Kissinger: You mean you accept your own points.
Xuan Thuy: You said last time . . .
Kissinger: We said they could be considered.
Xuan Thuy: As to our Point 8 and our Point 9, you said that you agreed to them. I have nothing to add. When the time comes, we shall discuss these points in detail.
As for our Point 4, our views have been clearly expressed in Point 4 of the 9 points. We have clearly stated the responsibility of the United States for the loss of human life and property caused during the war in both North and South Vietnam.
You want to raise the question of aid. We shall consider your views.
After considering our views and your views expressed at the last meeting, here is the conclusion we have come to:
We have made some progress in the sense that we have agreed to take our 9 points and your 7 points as the basis for discussion. However, there are two crucial points on which your views are not clear yet.
The first crucial point is the question of troop withdrawal. You said that you agreed to the principle of U.S. troop withdrawal linked with the question of prisoners. The two operations begin on the same date and end on the same date. But what is important is a date on which U.S. troop withdrawal would be completed. You have not been clear, you have not mentioned that point.
As for us, we have been clear in saying that the troop withdrawal from South Vietnam and other Indochinese countries should be completed by 1971.
The second crucial question is the question of power in South Vietnam. We have been clear in saying that you should change the present ruling group headed by Nguyen Van Thieu. As for you, this question of power in South Vietnam is not one point among your 7 points. Moreover, the views you expressed last time were not clear.
Now you said we should agree on a framework, but these two questions are not included in the framework. These two questions are the spinal cord of the framework.[Page 200]
Le Duc Tho: What is a framework without a spinal cord?
Kissinger: I think the Special Adviser did some drafting here.
Le Duc Tho: A framework without spinal bones would collapse.
Xuan Thuy: We have made a big step forward by proposing 9 points. We have shown great flexibility by meeting your request on prisoners. We have raised one important question that we should settle, not only the question of Vietnam, but also the question of Indochina. We have expressed our desire to find a reasonable, logical, lasting settlement for the whole region of Indochina so that this region will become peaceful, independent, and stable. We have also expressed our desire that after the war and the restoration of peace, our two countries would establish a new relationship in the interest of both Vietnam and the United States.
Such are our views. I hope that today we will be able to clarify the crucial points we have raised. I expect now to listen to you, Mr. Special Adviser. Before that, I would like to give the floor to Mr. Special Adviser Le Duc Tho.
Kissinger: Thank you, Mr. Minister.
Le Duc Tho: Minister Xuan Thuy has just expressed his comments on your views regarding the framework. I have a few words to add.
I have made a broad retrospective view to see your interests, how you want to settle the Vietnam problem, and how you pose the questions for settlement. Also, how we have posed the questions for a Vietnam settlement, and to see what you and we should do to settle the Vietnam problem, the question of the war in Indochina.
Then I have seen that for so many years the U.S. has been interfering too deeply in the war of Vietnam and Indochina. And in the process you have met with many setbacks and you are faced now with many difficulties in settling the Vietnam problem and the Indochina problem.
We realize that you are now desiring to extricate yourself from the war in Vietnam and Indochina, but we think you are calculating the best way to withdraw from the war. According to your calculations, you want to withdraw by two ways. First, by negotiations. Second, by Vietnamization of the war. These two ways mutually assist each other.
By Vietnamization of the war you want to maintain in South Vietnam a strong army and a strong Administration so as to negotiate.
And in the negotiations you want also to negotiate in such a way that will ensure the Vietnamization of the war.
So if a settlement is reached, you will have strong power in South Vietnam that will enable you to continue the implementation of your neo-colonialist policy. But if no success is brought by negotiations, you will devote your efforts to Vietnamization to reach your purpose, to turn South Vietnam into a neo-colony.[Page 201]
Such are your aims, and in view of these aims, you pose the problems so as to reach these aims. That is the reason why, during so many meetings we have had up to now, your intention is always to separate the military problems from the political problems of South Vietnam.
You only want to settle the military problems and you do not want to settle the political problems, so as to maintain the Nguyen Van Thieu Administration as an instrument of Vietnamization policy. That is the reason why you try to elude discussion of this question. You only pay attention to military questions.
In settling the military question, your aim is to be able to withdraw very slowly. Then you will withdraw so that either by negotiations or other means you will be able to maintain the Thieu Administration. Your aim is to keep the Thieu Administration in office.
Therefore we have made the proposal about the withdrawal of troops linked to the release of prisoners and after several meetings you are still not able to set a time limit for withdrawals, and you put conditions for setting a time limit.
Now you propose your 7 points, and you say that agreement should be reached on the framework. This reflects your interest in separating military questions from political questions. You proposed a framework and we said that we would consider the framework you proposed. Now after consideration we think you have agreed to points which are advantageous to you. For instance, Point 4 and Point 5 of the PRG proposal, Point 8 and Point 9 of our 9 points are agreed upon by you because these points are to your advantage. Therefore you agree to them very rapidly.
The alterations prepared by you to points are also motivated to give you advantage, for instance Point 4, Point 5, Point 6, Point 7.
But there are two crucial points mentioned by Minister Xuan Thuy as the spinal bone of the framework which you place outside of the framework.
In a word, the points you agree to and the points for which you have proposed alterations are of secondary importance, but as to the two crucial points your way of posing the problem differs from ours.
In these points there is a certain flexibility on your part. That is, you have withdrawn the two months time for release of prisoners before the complete troop withdrawal.
As we have said, we have made some progress, but the progress we have made concerns very small points, very secondary points. As to the points on which we have not agreed, they are the crucial points.
You say you want to make rapid progress. We too say we want to make rapid progress. But your way of posing the problem will lead to very slow progress. There is a contradiction between your desire to [Page 202] make rapid progress toward a settlement and your aims, your goals. You want a rapid settlement but your desires, your ambitions, are great. So there is a contradiction that hampers a settlement because your concessions are in driblets. They are in a very small quantity. If I can say here in an imaginative way, the proposals, the concessions you are making here in driblets are comparable to your troop withdrawals in driblets.
If we now compare our nine points and the seven points of the PRG, with a great deal of precision and detail, with your seven points, there is a great deal of difference. We can say that our proposals have been made in a spirit and context showing great flexibility, logic, and reason.
Kissinger: You don’t think the Special Adviser could be a little prejudiced?
Le Duc Tho: This is very objective, not prejudiced at all.
Because to the seven points proposed by the PRG there is no objection. Even you cannot object.
Kissinger: I think I could develop some objections if I try.
Le Duc Tho: Objectively you can’t.
So our proposals are aimed at reaching a settlement for the whole of the problem, to bring about a serious and good-willed discussion on both the military question and the political question, both to the Vietnam questions and the Indochina questions. Only in such a way can we really put an end to the war.
We agree with you that we should first agree on a general framework, and starting with this general framework we should go point by point into details. The general framework should be agreeable to both sides.
But to reach an agreement on a general framework, first we agree on the two principal points, Points 1 and 3. If we agree in principle on these two questions, then other questions can be settled easily. Because we have agreed in principle on Points 8 and 9 of our proposal and on Points 4 and 5 of the PRG. Minister Xuan Thuy said we would consider Points 4, 5, 6, and 7. These points are secondary points.
Kissinger: Our points.
Le Duc Tho: Your views on Points 4, 5, 6, and 7 of our proposal. But these points are secondary points. If we can settle the two principal questions, the military and the political, the settlement of the other points will be easy.
Now I would like to know whether you agree to this way of discussion, both military and political, and to reach a settlement, because these two questions are the spinal bone of the framework. Without the spinal bone, the framework will collapse.[Page 203]
I would like to ask you another question. What is the way of negotiating now to settle the problem, the whole of the problems?
Now there is a final idea I would like to explain to you.
You are faced with many difficulties in Indochina. You want to get out of these difficulties. The last few years you have been trying to go here and there to seek a way out. I don’t know whether you have drawn experience from this, because I think your efforts are vain. I think you make the problem more complicated for yourself, because you don’t get the results you expect. There is no magical way to settle the problem of Vietnam outside of serious negotiations here in Paris on the basis of our proposals and your proposals.
In the game of chess, the decisive party to win or lose the game is the participant. There is no other way.
In settling our problems we have been independent the last few years. If you really want serious negotiations, I think you should not engage in these magical ways. I think you should engage in serious negotiations. We are prepared to discuss things with you. We should not be tortuous.
These are the views I express to you today. If you do not want to settle problems and don’t want to meet our requests then it is difficult for our negotiations to be successful. And if the negotiations do not succeed, then the war will continue.
I believe you do not want such a state of things. We do not want it either. But if you do not want to negotiate seriously, we have no other way.
If the war continues, we are firmly confident in our success, in our victory. Because the socialist countries will continue to aid and support our people’s struggle. And we shall continue to unite with socialist countries in our struggle, with the world’s peoples in our struggle and our just cause will win. There is nothing which can alter the course of history.
I have finished.
Kissinger: I appreciate the remarks of the Minister and of the Special Adviser, which were, for the most part, constructive and put forward in a positive spirit.
Now, let me first ask some questions and then I will make some observations.
The Minister said on a number of our points that he would consider them. I don’t understand what that phrase means. Does that mean he will consider them positively or negatively?
Xuan Thuy: Positively.
Kissinger: The Minister said with respect to a number of points that he would consider our proposals. Our experience is that you trade [Page 204] a concession on our part for consideration on your part. We want to make sure we get an agreement.
Xuan Thuy: (laughs) Our line is always to follow a positive discussion to settle the Vietnam problem.
Kissinger: I won’t pursue the point, but I want to point out that my first experience with these talks was in 1967, when we were told that certain actions on our part would lead to constructive talks and discussions. Here we are in 1971. I want to make sure that when Minister Xuan Thuy considers these things, that will not take us until 1975, when you come to a decision.
Xuan Thuy: If our discussions here have not had rapid results, it is due to you.
For instance, we demanded that the bombing of North Vietnam should be completely stopped before we discussed all other questions. If the U.S. Government had agreed to this request very rapidly, we would have settled rapidly, but the U.S. Government took over five months to agree to the very same points that were put at the beginning of negotiations.
A second example, is when we began the four party conference. Our consistent demand was that we should discuss both military and political questions. But you eluded discussing these two questions, and so we have been for over two years now.
A third example is on the question of POW’s. This is a question of the aftermath of the war, the consequence of war. But we are prepared to settle problems if we can come to an agreement on the military and political questions. The question of prisoners is not difficult at all.
But you want to use the question to overshadow the other questions and therefore the negotiations are protracted. And now we have shown clearly the good will in this question of prisoners, but you refuse to discuss military and political questions, you refuse to set a date for troop withdrawal, you refuse to give up the Saigon Administration, and you don’t want to discuss the question of the Administration in South Vietnam.
Le Duc Tho: I want to add one observation. Mr. Harriman, after his participation in the talks here, he went back. I have read a translation of what he has written. Harriman shows the experience on settling the question of stopping the bombing. I believe you have read the book too. And I think Mr. Special Adviser should learn lessons from Mr. Harriman and not follow the same way as he.
Kissinger: I am certain that once I am out of office, all questions will seem as easy for me as they now are for Mr. Harriman.
Xuan Thuy: Anyhow, you can draw some experience from that.[Page 205]
Kissinger: I hope for both of us that I may draw it before I leave office. We do not want to wait six years before settling the war. Let me ask another question.
The Minister said with respect to his Point 2, that he would consider our request of clarifications on the release of prisoners. Does that mean that he will consider furnishing a list on the day agreement is reached and that prisoners throughout Indochina will be released?
Xuan Thuy: Regarding our Point 2 of our nine points, Mr. Special Adviser last time requested that we put some more detail. I say now we should consider these additional matters. That means that after we agree on a terminal date for troop withdrawal, we can then consider the question of furnishing a list of military men and civilians captured during the war.
Regarding the question of prisoners throughout Indochina, I have told the Special Adviser that concerning the Indochina questions we shall reach agreement here and we shall exchange views with our respective allies.
Kissinger: What is your judgment about your degree of influence with your allies? On this point, I have great confidence in your persuasive power.
Xuan Thuy: I have only repeated your views expressed the other day. I agree to your views.
Kissinger: One final question. I have noticed that our Point 2 has disappeared from the discussion of my colleagues.
Xuan Thuy: Is that the one regarding outside forces?
Le Duc Tho: You should give an answer to my question, do you agree to the way of posing the problems and of discussing the problems, do you agree to reach agreement on the two crucial questions and then we will discuss this issue. You should answer that.
Kissinger: I’ll answer that. I am entitled to an answer from the Minister on my question, since I always answer his questions.
Xuan Thuy: I think in your Point 2 you raise the question of mutual withdrawals. But previously you said you would not put on the same legal footing U.S. forces and the Vietnamese people fighting against aggression. We made remarks on your point, and now you put the question again.
Kissinger: We have agreed that it should be discussed in another forum, but we want to know if you agree in principle that the forces of North Vietnam should remain within the frontiers of North Vietnam like the forces of others will do.
Le Duc Tho: This question cannot be put in such a way. We have put the problem in our Point 6. (Le Duc Tho at this point reads their [Page 206] Point 6.) We do not pose the question as you do. And I cannot give an answer to your question to settle this problem since you have not fixed any date for withdrawal and you have not answered our Point 3 about maintaining the Thieu Administration.
Kissinger: One final question, and then I will reply to my two opposite numbers.
The last time, when the Special Adviser made his eloquent speech, he talked about replacing Thieu. Now he keeps talking about the Thieu Administration. Has there been a change in position?
Le Duc Tho: There is no change in our position at all, because when we speak of the change of Nguyen Van Thieu or the Thieu Administration, we do not mean the change of person but of the policy. Because even now if you change the person, and not change the policy, if there’s the same policy of war, bellicose, dictatorial, fascist, there’s no change at all. We speak of Thieu because he symbolizes and embodies this warlike and fascist policy.
Kissinger: Let me reverse the question. Suppose Thieu changed his policy. Would you accept him? If it is not a question of persons.
Le Duc Tho: With a person like Nguyen Van Thieu, I don’t think that he can change his policy overnight. There should be another person with another policy.
This policy has been opposed by the population in South Vietnamese cities and towns for many years now. This policy is reflected in the person of Nguyen Van Thieu.
Kissinger: So as soon as he leaves, you will go back to your request for a government of national concord?
Le Duc Tho: After the formation of a new administration favoring peace, independence, and neutrality, this new administration will enter into serious negotiations with the PRG regarding all military and political questions, including those raised by the PRG. As I told you the other time, if this change is brought about, then we will seriously, rapidly, logically, and reasonably settle the problem.
Kissinger: But I am not sure what change the Special Adviser wants. What should the government look like?
Le Duc Tho: As I told you the other time, we request a change of person and of policy. Because if you change only the person, and the policy is the same there is no change at all. But if you keep Thieu with such a person no change of policy is possible. Even if you affirm such a policy is changed, the people of South Vietnam will not believe it.
Kissinger: I have the answer to my question. Now let me make a few observations.
At the end of his presentation, the Special Adviser asked me two questions. First, in what way we thought of settling the problem. Sec[Page 207]ond, whether we agree to discuss military and political questions together. I shall save the first question to the end of my presentation.
With respect to the second question, we discussed at our last meeting the nine and the seven points. I have acquired the impression that your Point 3 is a political point.
I am prepared to state formally that we are prepared to discuss Point 1 and Point 3, as part of a final settlement that includes all other parts.
And therefore, the answer to your question is that we are prepared to discuss political questions, although our answer is not the same as yours.
Mr. Special Adviser has made an analysis of our strategy in pursuing the war and the negotiations. Since I do not pursue the same tactic as Mr. Special Adviser and the Minister of never approving anything the other side says, I have to admit that it was a very intelligent analysis.
Le Duc Tho: Because it concerns the facts.
Kissinger: He never quits while he’s ahead.
By the same token, I believe that the strategy of the Minister and the Special Adviser is to bring about two results: to get us to withdraw our troops as quickly as possible, and by this method or otherwise, to change the government in Saigon.
In other words, the Special Adviser is proposing to us not that we make a compromise, but that we hand Hanoi its objective as part of a settlement.
I respect this tactic, but it is not possible to get this in these negotiations. We must both be realistic. Neither of us will sign an agreement which hands to the other all of its objectives. You say you prefer to continue the war to accepting conditions which you consider unreasonable.
We will continue the strategy which the Special Adviser very correctly described if we cannot get a reasonable and rapid negotiated settlement.
We are prepared to make compromises, and we genuinely want a rapid settlement.
But if you continue to call reasonable the acceptance of your proposals and if you consider it a concession simply to discuss our points, then there will be no solution, rapid or otherwise, and we might as well be realistic.
If you are not willing to compromise, you will have to fight for what it is you want. And then we shall see what the consequences are. There is no sense boasting on either side.
Now let me turn to your points.[Page 208]
I owe you an answer to Points 1, 3, and 4.
On Point 4, it is the easiest, and I will therefore take it first.
I told the Minister the last time I was here that I would study in Washington what is possible in the field of economic aid. The President is prepared, upon signature of an agreement in principle, to go to the Congress and to recommend to the Congress a five-year program of assistance for all the countries of Indochina.
The sum he is prepared to recommend to Congress is about seven and a half billion dollars over a five-year period, of which two to two and a half billion dollars would be dedicated to North Vietnam.
The question of repayment would not be a problem. Over two-thirds of the funds would be in outright grants. The remainder would be in very long term, very low interest rate loans which pose no practical problems of repayment. Even that is adjustable.
There would be no conditions attached to this assistance program.
We propose this as a sign of our desire to start a new relationship with the people of Indochina and especially with the people of North Vietnam.
Now as to Point 1.
We are prepared to fix a date for the withdrawal of all our forces as well as the forces allied with us, to be completed nine months after the signature of an agreement.
Now let me turn to Point 3 of yours. If the Special Adviser would prefer to discuss our Point 3, I would be prepared to do that too. I agree that Point 3 is the crucial problem for your side.
What you are asking us is to replace the Administration in Saigon, and to substitute for it an administration which you consider peaceful by your special definition, and therefore to bring about the objectives that you have fought for by our actions.
We have told you on innumerable occasions that we cannot do this because it is beyond our power to do it, and because it would be dishonorable to do it.
You cannot expect us both to withdraw from Vietnam rapidly and to do all your political work for you.
If these are your last words, we will withdraw at our own pace, and you will have to do your own political work. We have shown our good will, both by the proposals we have made with respect to Point 4 and by the proposals we have made with respect to Point 1, and I will now give you some observations on Point 3 in addition.
We have told you on innumerable occasions that we are prepared to accept the outcome of any political process which develops after our departure.[Page 209]
We believe that our withdrawal will have certain consequences, as you yourselves have repeatedly pointed out.
Le Duc Tho: Please be more precise on the last point. (At this point he repeats a certain passage of what Dr. Kissinger said and Dr. Kissinger repeats the passage for Le Duc Tho.)
Dr. Kissinger: Since the Minister and the Special Adviser have pointed out to me at each of our nine meetings that the Saigon Administration is maintained by our forces, then the withdrawal of our forces must have certain consequences.
Secondly, we believe that the announcement of our withdrawal will have consequences of a major political nature even before the withdrawal is completed.
We believe that our readiness to accept some of the elements of Point 5 of Mme. Binh’s proposals, specifically the provisions for neutrality, will have major political consequences in South Vietnam. We believe that an announcement of our readiness to accept certain limitations on our military assistance to the government in South Vietnam will have major political consequences, first when it is announced and then when it happens.
We believe that a declaration of total neutrality on our part in any political contest in South Vietnam will have a major political impact both when it is announced and when it is carried out.
We are prepared to make all these declarations and we are prepared to carry them out scrupulously as part of a settlement.
In short, we are willing, insofar as this is now in our power, to undo those distortions of the South Vietnamese political life that our presence and interference may have provoked.
We are not prepared to take an active part in bringing about the solution you wish. We want the people of Vietnam to be genuinely free to choose their own future.
So the choice is up to you. We are prepared to make a settlement rapidly.
Le Duc Tho: (interrupting) Please repeat your last sentence.
Dr. Kissinger: (repeats the sentence) Do you understand. I don’t want you to fight among yourselves.
Le Duc Tho: What do you mean by “distortions”?
Dr. Kissinger: To the extent to which our presence and our even unintentional intervention helps one candidate or another.
Le Duc Tho: That is clear.
Dr. Kissinger: So the choice is up to you.
We can make a rapid settlement, in which case the political process would start sooner, or we can continue the war for a while, in which [Page 210] case the best you can expect is to have the political process begin later which we are prepared to start now.
By the Special Adviser’s own analysis, after our unilateral withdrawal is complete and after Vietnamization is complete, no matter what you do, we will not be able to fulfill the conditions of what you ask, under Point 3.
We do not want a neocolonialist position in Vietnam. We are not changing our foreign policy and withdrawing forces from all over the world in order to maintain a colonial position in this little corner.
Vietnam is your only problem. It is only one of many for us. We would like to bring it into its proper perspective.
Over an historic period, I repeat, we are no threat to your independence. There are many other countries, including some much closer to you, which are much better candidates for that.
As we made clear in our response to Point 4, we want a relationship of cooperation and ultimately friendship with all the people of Indochina and particularly the people of North Vietnam.
We know we have to settle the war in Paris if it is to be settled by negotiations. We respect and admire the spirit of independence which you have shown and which we do not expect you to give up at this stage, and which we do not want you to give up.
We have to travel on many roads, some of which will appear tortuous to you, not all of which are related to your future or to our discussion here.
We will not seek solutions in other places except here. It is in this spirit that I would like to answer the first question of the Special Adviser, which way do we proceed from here?
Le Duc Tho: My question is how do we proceed from here.
Dr. Kissinger: That is what I was now going to answer. I would like to make a specific practical proposal, unless the Special Adviser thinks it is no use after hearing me.
Le Duc Tho: Please.
Dr. Kissinger: My specific proposal is this. We have two categories of issues. Issues of principle and issues of technical detail.
I believe that for the technical issues, this forum takes too long and can meet too infrequently.
I therefore propose, but I am open to suggestions, that if we continue these negotiations, that we agree here on a statement of principles in considerable detail, and that we give those principles to our delegations at Avenue Kleber, that they work on the details there. If there is any deadlock, we can meet again to try to resolve it.
These are all of the remarks I want to make today.[Page 211]
Could I ask the Special Adviser a personal question?
Le Duc Tho: Please.
Dr. Kissinger: In what language did he read Harriman’s book?
Le Duc Tho: In translation. In Vietnamese. (The interpreter said that he had translated it for the Special Adviser.)
Dr. Kissinger: I would put up with the Special Adviser knowing French, but if he also understands English it is too much because that gives him three cracks at my remarks. I don’t want to give him too many advantages.
Le Duc Tho: But you have full time for thinking about what we have been saying. Anyway, deep thinking is necessary.
I propose now a little break.
(At this point a break was taken which lasted about an hour. During the first fifteen minutes or so Le Duc Tho met with Kissinger on the balcony for a relatively informal chat. Dr. Kissinger made a brief allusion to his stay in China by saying that when he returned from his trip he had gained a great deal of weight. Le Duc Tho did not open up this area for discussion any further. Le Duc Tho again expressed his assumption that the CIA overthrew Sihanouk despite Kissinger’s firm denial.)
Kissinger: Where are my notes? [To the Vietnamese interpreter] Have you got them?
Xuan Thuy: You are an absent-minded professor, perhaps?
Kissinger: When I invite you to Harvard you will be allowed to speak fifty minutes, the Special Adviser on history and the Minister on diplomacy.
Xuan Thuy: To speak shortly is more difficult. To speak at length we excel.
Kissinger: As Ambassador Lodge and Ambassador Bruce have found to their sorrow.
Xuan Thuy: I tell you this privately. You should not convey this to Ambassador Bruce, for if Ambassador Bruce becomes impatient, he has to leave.
Kissinger: I must tell you this now; I was going to tell you later. He is sick, with a circulatory disease, and must be replaced in the next few weeks. This is no reflection on our discussions, and is not a political act. He is seventy-four years old. His replacement will come within one or two weeks after he leaves, so there will be no problem. We will replace him with Ambassador Porter.
Xuan Thuy: And Mr. Habib?
Kissinger: He will leave. He will not stay here. He is here just for transition, only a week or two.[Page 212]
Xuan Thuy: It is up to you.
Kissinger: I just wanted to inform you.
Xuan Thuy: After the views expressed by Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger I would like to put a few questions and after those questions I will make a few observations.
My first question is about the total withdrawal of U.S. forces and those of other foreign countries from Vietnam and from the other countries of Indochina. I would like to ask you this for clarification. What we are asking is total withdrawal of U.S. forces, including army, navy, air force, marines, weapons, armaments, military bases, military personnel, military advisers, etc. Mr. Special Adviser refers to all U.S. forces sometimes, but here and there, for the press and in other places, there are references which are different to what we say here. Please be clear on that point, and give us more clarification on that point.
Kissinger: We propose the withdrawal of all organized military forces; all bases, purely American bases, will be given up; and the withdrawal of all advisers with combat units.
Xuan Thuy: Advisers to Saigon combat units?
Xuan Thuy: You mentioned organized military forces. What do you mean by that? What about unorganized military forces?
Kissinger: I can’t get away with anything.
Le Duc Tho: You’ve stopped me many times before.
Kissinger: No, it’s a good question.
We would propose to keep a very small number of technical and logistic personnel to supervise American equipment, a number fixed in the agreement and progressively reduced.
Le Duc Tho: But all the equipment will be withdrawn. What equipment will be left?
Kissinger: We must understand what you mean by equipment. All the equipment belonging to American forces will be withdrawn, not material that belongs to South Vietnamese forces.
Le Duc Tho: But you propose to leave behind technical and logistic personnel to supervise American equipment. Since equipment belonging to American forces will be withdrawn, what equipment will there be to supervise?
Kissinger: There are two things. First, these personnel would help for a limited time to maintain and train Vietnamese personnel in the technical aspects of complex equipment of South Vietnamese units. Second, they would supervise distribution of whatever new equipment would be permitted in the agreement.
We are talking here of very small numbers; we are not talking about tens of thousands. This is a number we can specify in the agreement [Page 213] and progressively reduce to a normal military attaché office with a slightly enlarged function.
Xuan Thuy: In the office of the U.S. military attaché in the U.S. Embassy?
Kissinger: Yes. As is the normal case.
Xuan Thuy: You say that it will be in the normal military attaché office with a function a little enlarged. What will be the number of the members in the military attaché office? Also originally, at the beginning, what number of technical and logistic advisers do you intend to leave behind?
Kissinger: I frankly have no precise numbers. We haven’t studied this yet in detail. But I can tell you that it will be considerably smaller than the number of troops in the country when combat troops were sent in 1964. I would think, without giving specific figures, that the number that would be left when withdrawals are completed would be considerably less than 10,000 and would be progressively reduced thereafter. And there would not be any organized military units.
Le Duc Tho: And you mentioned about the military attaché office being broadened later on. Do you mean that the functions will be broadened, and do you mean also that you will broaden the number of personnel too?
Kissinger: To give you a serious answer, I would like to do what we did on economic aid, study this question and give you an answer next time. I can say now that when that point is reached, it will be much less than 1,000. The functions will be confined to the technical equipment and would have nothing to do with combat.
Le Duc Tho: And training?
Kissinger: No. No training.
Xuan Thuy: You said they would be for training Vietnamese personnel.
Kissinger: It would be for maintaining equipment, not for combat purposes. We could agree to end the training function for everything, say a year after the total withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Xuan Thuy: You have finished?
Xuan Thuy: My second question is, what is the reason why you cannot set a specific date in 1971 for troop withdrawals? And you propose nine months. What is the reason?
Kissinger: First, as I recall, nine months was proposed by the Minister himself in September last year.
Xuan Thuy: (Smiles) The terminal date proposed at that time for troop withdrawals was June 30, 1971, so I said roughly nine months. I said it was a terminal date. But you have no terminal date.[Page 214]
Kissinger: I want to have the Minister set a terminal date. All you have to do is sign an agreement and there will be a terminal date nine months later. You have an obsession with the terminal date.
Le Duc Tho: But you explain too simply.
Kissinger: I’m trying to learn, but I am a slow student. I think the Minister knows why we are doing what we are doing.
Xuan Thuy: My third question is about the political question. You said you were prepared to settle both military questions and political questions in this forum of private meetings. But when you discuss, you don’t discuss political questions but only how to influence the process in South Vietnam. Therefore, when and how shall we discuss political problems? I would like to know if political problems will make up one of the items of our agenda?
Kissinger: The Minister has a very special definition of discussing political problems. His definition is that we must discuss the replacement of the existing government in Saigon. We are prepared in any agreement in principle which we make to state a number of political propositions such as neutrality, limitations on aid, and other matters. That in itself is a political discussion. As for the domestic structure in South Vietnam, we’ve always said we are not competent to discuss it alone.
Xuan Thuy: Mr. Special Adviser referred previously to the Indochina question. I would like to know, how do you visualize settlement of this Indochina question?
Kissinger: What does the Minister mean by the Indochina question?
Xuan Thuy: For instance the question of cease-fire, the question of prisoners in Indochina countries which you refer to. These questions are linked to military questions and political questions concerning these Indochinese countries. For instance the question of the 1962 Geneva Agreements and so on. How do you envisage that we will settle these questions?
Kissinger: We believe, first, that the political solution of each country in Indochina should be discussed first by the various parties in each country.
I believe, secondly, that this meeting here could make recommendations to the parties on some of the military issues, such as cease-fire and release of prisoners.
Thirdly, there could be an international guarantee for these various arrangements and also the provision of international supervision such as you proposed in your Points 8 and 9.
I do not believe personally, but we are open on this, that the exact membership of the Geneva Conference of 1954 is necessarily the best grouping to provide this, and we would be open to your suggestions [Page 215] on what countries would be best to provide international supervision and guarantees. We both have the same interests in this respect, to get a reasonable group, and I think we could agree.
Xuan Thuy: Are you finished?
Kissinger: Yes, thank you.
Le Duc Tho: I have one more question. Have I correctly understood you? The problems concerning Laos will be settled by the Laotian people themselves.
Kissinger: By the Laotian-speaking people, not the North Vietnamese-speaking people.
Xuan Thuy: Would the Laotians who speak Vietnamese well be allowed to come to these discussions?
Kissinger: That’s right.
Xuan Thuy: The Cambodian problems will be settled by the Cambodian people. The Vietnamese problems will be settled by the Vietnamese people. After that settlement there will be an international conference to guarantee the agreements reached?
Kissinger: Except for those aspects here, such as cease-fire and prisoners of war and neutralization, and of course withdrawal of our forces.
Le Duc Tho: Then where will these questions be discussed?
Kissinger: Here and at Avenue Kleber for details.
Le Duc Tho: But the troop withdrawals and release of prisoners concern only South Vietnam, not the Indochinese countries.
Kissinger: As I understand the Minister and Special Adviser, they have pointed out to me that your proposal concerns all Indochina and that this is one of the big differences between your 9 points and the 7 points of Mme. Binh.
Secondly, you must understand that it is absolutely not possible to make peace unless all prisoners in Indochina are released. That is not open to discussion. How you accomplish this is your problem, but I have great confidence in your persuasive powers.
We do not insist that the details of everything be worked out at an international conference.
Le Duc Tho: Then what will the international conference deal with?
Kissinger: Suppose we agree on a cease-fire, to give you a concrete example. The international conference would deal with the technical supervision of the cease-fire, e.g., how many teams, where they should be.
Similarly with neutrality. Suppose we agree on the neutralization of all the countries of Indochina. Then an international conference can guarantee this and recognize it.[Page 216]
We are not asking that an international conference work out the conditions of our arrangements.
Le Duc Tho: That is understood.
Kissinger: You see we take the Special Adviser seriously when he says that we must make peace directly. I am serious about this.
Xuan Thuy: Now I would like to speak a few words.
First, I agree with Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger on the way to conduct negotiations for a peaceful solution of Vietnamese problems. That is to say we agree to these two forums. First, this forum to discuss, to negotiate, to settle all questions of principle and a number of important details. The second forum to negotiate and settle details on the basis of the principles agreed upon.
Kissinger: I understand.
Xuan Thuy: When there is a deadlock at Kleber Street on details, we should meet again here. We hope there is no deadlock, and it goes smoothly.
Kissinger: Of course, we haven’t even agreed here.
Le Duc Tho: There is a roadblock.
Xuan Thuy: Now may I make my remarks on the content of the questions to be discussed here.
Xuan Thuy: But I will express my remarks on principal points only, because on the other points I will speak to them later. These are preliminary remarks.
Now about the time limit for troop withdrawals. First, you say that the period of nine months is based on my view. It is not true. My view concerns a terminal date.
Kissinger: I don’t want to claim too much. This was not our governing consideration.
Xuan Thuy: I’ve repeatedly said that when President Nixon proposed a time period of twelve months for troop withdrawals, Mr. Special Adviser at that period mentioned twelve months and at Kleber Street the U.S. Delegation mentioned also a twelve month period. I remember when you proposed a twelve month period and then the twelve months constantly remained. But it must be fixed. You say that tomorrow here we will discuss the question. But tomorrow will remain always. It is like an advertisement in a restaurant that tomorrow you will dine free.
There should be a specific date so that you will make an effort to fulfill things at that date. Nine months is new, it is a shorter period than twelve months, but without a fixed date it is the same.
Kissinger: But if the Minister signs our 7 points today, today he has a very specific date in front of him.[Page 217]
Xuan Thuy: You have raised many points, and we can’t sign an agreement today.
Le Duc Tho: Thus if you agree to a withdrawal date today, we will release prisoners and have an agreement.
Kissinger: There is a possibility for a greater agreement. Mr. Special Adviser will be blamed in Hanoi if he gives up 7 of his 9 points.
Le Duc Tho: We shall continue to discuss the other 7 points.
Kissinger: To be realistic, let’s settle an agreement as quickly as possible, and then you have a fixed deadline and the question becomes academic.
Xuan Thuy: Another remaining issue is connected with political problems. Mr. Special Adviser endeavors to elude the substance of this question. You said that to replace Nguyen Van Thieu is beyond your power and is dishonorable. We think you have the capability to do so and are unwilling to do so. The last time we made a number of suggestions and you said you would study the suggestions, but you have not studied it.
Kissinger: Oh, I have studied it.
Xuan Thuy: Because this would be harmful to your honor to maintain Nguyen Van Thieu. On the other hand, if you replace Nguyen Van Thieu you will be welcomed by the South Vietnamese people, the American people, and world public opinion.
Moreover when doing that, we do not ask you to make a public statement. You should do that secretly. No one knows. Let you do that secretly and it will not reflect on your honor.
Kissinger: But it would become pretty obvious, don’t you think?
Xuan Thuy: No one knows that. This understanding is between us only. It is not divulged.
What you have been saying shows that you will maintain Nguyen Van Thieu. Moreover if you maintain Nguyen Van Thieu, it would not only be harmful to U.S. honor, but we cannot settle the problems here. We should settle both military questions and political questions, that is to say set a reasonable time limit for troop withdrawals and replace Nguyen Van Thieu. Because without settling these questions, though you say you want a rapid settlement, in fact the settlement will drag on and effectively we cannot reach a settlement.
Moreover, Mr. Special Adviser says that you cannot do as we have required, and that we should choose between negotiations and each side continuing its course of action, that is to say the war will continue. As a matter of fact, if we don’t come to a settlement the war will continue. This is something logical, certain.
We have foreseen all eventualities. If now a negotiated settlement can be reached, reasonably and in the interest of both sides, we are prepared to do that.[Page 218]
Therefore, I would propose that you think over these two questions. First the military question, that is to say think over about giving a specific date for the withdrawal of all your forces, without leaving any technical personnel or military personnel. For this fact will complicate things and create new questions.
Secondly, on political problems, if you stick by the views of today this will be an obstacle to a settlement.
As for the other questions you have raised, we shall consider them, study them.
Now I give a word to Mr. Le Duc Tho.
Le Duc Tho: You have just said that you agree to discuss, settle both military and political problems. You have just said that you are prepared to discuss and settle military and political questions, but in fact these two questions have not become settled today.
Concerning troop withdrawals, Minister Xuan Thuy has spoken our basic position. I have nothing to add further.
Concerning political problems, it appears as though we have not yet discussed anything today. Looking at the other questions you have raised, you have shown that you are ready to discuss military questions only. There is no war in history that has ended only by discussing military questions. As to the political problems of South Vietnam, now you want to elude them and only settle military problems.
And we have also raised political problems concerning Indochina. Here too you want to settle military problems only. As to political problems in the Indochinese countries, you have eluded them and not expressed your views on them. Then how can we liberate prisoners throughout Indochina and how can we observe a cease-fire throughout Indochina? We participated in the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Vietnam and the 1962 Geneva Agreements on Laos. At these two conferences both military questions and political questions were settled before we reached an agreement. If here you only discuss military problems and set apart political problems then, no settlement is possible.
Regarding the political problems of South Vietnam, we have been expressing our view at great length, and have nothing to add now, but this sentence.
You said that if you replace the Nguyen Van Thieu Administration, this will dishonor you. On the contrary, if you replace this Administration that is something which enhances your honor.
If we now review today’s meeting we can see there is only one point that is different from what happened previously. You have put forward a period of nine months for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. In this connection Minister Xuan Thuy made ample remarks. It is not a fixed date, only a period. Moreover, you have raised the question of leaving behind military personnel.[Page 219]
In sum, you leave behind American personnel and maintain the Thieu Administration. So we can say that in the main your position has not yet changed. So I can say that in our negotiations you go forward by very small steps, and very slowly. This is not proof of your desire for a rapid settlement.
Minister Xuan Thuy and myself have made preliminary remarks today and will consider your remarks today.
Kissinger: Let me make some preliminary remarks, because it is foreseeable that at this rate we will not be getting anywhere.
If you keep pursuing the tactics of stating your demands and then judging our replies, as if we were students taking an examination, I can tell you now that there will be no agreement.
This proposition that we give you a deadline no matter what happens may impress the Special Adviser’s friends at the New York Times, but it will not do you any good in any time period that might interest you. If we give you a fixed deadline now, and then the Special Adviser and the Minister will “consider” all other points, we will have finished our withdrawals and you will still be considering our other points while we have withdrawn. If we are going to retreat regardless of what happens, you must get used to the idea that we will do so at our own pace and one convenient for us, and apart from other issues. If you want to negotiate it, we have to settle the other terms. To retreat on a fixed deadline, we don’t need agreement with you; we can do that on our own.
And we will not settle the war just for prisoners. This is another point you should have no illusions about.
Now as for the political solution. It is not correct that we have not discussed the political problem, and you know very well that it is not correct. We have offered to do a number of things which would make it easier for the forces you support to participate in a political process and to affect the political future. We have expressed our willingness to accept neutrality for South Vietnam, to announce our withdrawals from South Vietnam, to accept limitations on military aid for South Vietnam, to declare publicly we are not supporting any particular force in South Vietnam, and to carry this out strictly. We are willing to listen to other proposals along this line.
What we cannot do is what you ask, to make a secret agreement to replace the leader of a country which is still an ally. Which would then lead to endless debate, moreover, as to what exactly a peaceful administration is, in which you have a veto because you are the only one who knows what is meant by peaceful.
So you have to decide whether you are better off after another year of war, with a further strengthened Saigon Administration and [Page 220] no limitations on our economic and military aid, and at the end of a year there will not be enough American forces left in South Vietnam to affect the political future. You must decide this or to make an agreement this year. I cannot tell your people which decision to make.
We are making major political concessions to you. And we are prepared to listen to proposals in this general framework that I have outlined.
I sometimes think you have learned your historical lessons too well. In 1954 you made peace with John Foster Dulles who wanted to maintain military bases. In 1971 you would make peace with an Administration which has no interest in establishing a neocolonialist government.
And if we stress military issues, it is partly because we think that after a reasonable period of time, which is short, the normal political forces of Vietnam would make themselves felt.
Now you say we should study your remarks, and we will do that. And we may be able to ease some of your concerns on the question of technical personnel. You have to decide whether an agreement in principle this summer would strengthen or weaken your political prospects in South Vietnam. I cannot hold out any prospect that we would make a secret agreement that we would overthrow the existing government in South Vietnam.
And therefore we have to decide where we are going from here. If you want to continue, you will find us within a reasonable framework to be flexible and with good will. We want to end the war. We do not want to stand in the way of the people of South Vietnam. We are not permanent enemies of Vietnam. But you must not expect us to do impossible things.
How do we go from here?
Le Duc Tho: You criticize us for following the tactic of putting forward requests and putting questions to you. But if there is something unclear, we should put forward questions for clarification, just as you have done with our proposals. We have made remarks on your proposals if there is something unclear, and you have done the same to our proposals. This is something that is normal. Actually you said that you were willing to discuss both military and political problems. But in fact your views are not yet clear. You said that we had a veto right on the South Vietnamese Administration, because we define which one is peaceful. Last time I told you that there will soon be elections in South Vietnam, and the elections are not at all democratic under the present regime. But there are candidates with programs favoring peace, independence, neutrality and democracy. The people in South Vietnam, in the cities, in the countryside, approve such a candidate. There is no [Page 221] reason if such a candidate wins the election that we be told how. Moreover, while it is true that you said that you would limit aid to South Vietnam, but if you maintain Nguyen Van Thieu and you maintain aid, then how will there be a peaceful settlement of the war? Because if the subsequent administration is formed, and you continue military aid to such an administration, then this will constitute continuation of the war. If both sides continue military aid, then the war will continue.
Kissinger: Are you prepared to cease all military aid?
Le Duc Tho: You are speaking of military aid to South Vietnam, so I express views to be clear on this point.
Kissinger: Excuse me. General Walters must make a call concerning my technical arrangements for the rest of the day. It will just take five minutes. We will continue and use your interpreter. We have confidence in him.
Le Duc Tho: Minister Xuan Thuy has expressed a number of views. I have expressed my views too. Both sides will study each other’s remarks. If you feel we should continue discussions, then we should meet again for discussions.
Kissinger: I understand your views, but I don’t understand what you expect to happen next time that didn’t happen this time. I explained what is possible.
First, I have to express total disagreement with the Special Adviser’s characterization. To accept limitations on military aid and neutrality for South Vietnam changes the whole political framework. As you know, President Thieu has declared against neutrality and has not accepted limitations on military aid. We are willing to accept limitations on military aid to South Vietnam that you are willing to accept for yourself. It is impossible for you to say that you will accept no limitations on military aid but that other countries should.
We believe that the conditions we have described will help the opposition to President Thieu and therefore will make it more likely that the candidate you prefer may get elected. But it is up to you to decide this. We cannot go further than that.
So we have to decide whether there is any point in continuing these meetings or whether we should stop here. I frankly don’t believe that meetings in this forum will then be resumed.
Xuan Thuy: It is up to you. If we [you?]2 feel negotiations are useful, and may lead to a settlement, then we should continue. If you stick to your desire to have us do what you want, then we can’t progress.[Page 222]
What we’ve been saying is well-grounded and reasonable. Because we propose a specific date for troop withdrawal; if you do not agree, you should propose one. We can discuss it.
Kissinger: The date is not the problem. The political issue is the problem.
Xuan Thuy: If there is no problem then you should propose a date and we should exchange views. Because we have proposed a date; this date is not definite or obligatory. We should exchange views and see which date is more reasonable.
Kissinger: No one in America, not even people you talk to, would think that it is reasonable to give a date that is totally independent of whatever else happens. We have given you a final date of nine months after an agreement is signed. You can negotiate nine more months. The history has been that you have given us a series of deadlines which we’ve never met. One of these days you will propose a deadline which we can meet and then it will be too late.
Moreover, if we declare as a statement of principle our neutrality in the elections, our acceptance of the future neutrality of South Vietnam, and the other points that I have mentioned, that would leave the basic issue open.
But I have stated my view and we now have to see what we shall do. If you expect me to come here next time prepared to tell you that we will make a secret agreement to overthrow Thieu then we will both be wasting our time. Because the President will never approve this.
Xuan Thuy/LeDuc Tho: Would you repeat that?
Kissinger: (repeats) . . . and this would waste your time and I would go through the physical exertion for nothing.
So this then is the question. Whether we develop a statement of principles which is relatively neutral or whether you insist on what you have said.
Le Duc Tho: What you said about developing a statement on neutrality, this doesn’t mean much. You said that no American would agree to fix a date independent of anything else. However, I can tell you that no Vietnamese fighting for so many years will accept a settlement without knowing what the future of South Vietnam will be. Therefore to settle the South Vietnamese problem there should be an agreement where both military questions and political questions should be settled. There is no statement regarding peace and neutrality that will suffice.
Kissinger: I said a neutral statement, not a statement of neutrality. I said whatever the government in South Vietnam, we will make a statement which says it must be neutral, can accept only limited predetermined military aid, and other points from Point 5 of Mme. Binh. (repeats again) First, the foreign policy must be neutral. We can accept [Page 223] limitations on military aid and other points. I’m talking about a statement that is neutral, noncommittal for either side. In fact, we are wasting time. I feel an agreement in principle right now would have a greater impact on the political situation in South Vietnam than another year of war. But it is up to you to decide.
Le Duc Tho: You mean agreement in principle, agreement on the framework you mentioned.
Le Duc Tho: But we have not agreed on the basic issues of the framework.
Kissinger: The only other possibility is that you come with another proposal than the secret agreement to overthrow Thieu. And we will examine it seriously.
Le Duc Tho: What would you propose? What is your desire apart from what you are saying? Whatever proposal you have, make it.
Kissinger: I have made our proposals. I have said what we sincerely believe will have maximum political impact in South Vietnam. We sincerely believe if we settle along the lines of our proposal it will have a maximum impact on the elections. We sincerely believe our withdrawal date will have a maximum impact on the political situation, on elections. Once withdrawal begins and one knows that it is beginning that changes the political situation.
We also believe that another year of war, 15 months without agreement, and with our supplies continuing, and no limitations on military aid and economic aid, everything you’re asking us now will be impossible to do and it will be more difficult for you to obtain what you want.
I tell you we are sincerely trying to end the war. To us Vietnam is not a huge issue. We want the war to end and to find a solution which will give us normal relations with the people of Indochina and we don’t search for a way to stay in Vietnam. But we’re not experts on your judgments of your chances, and it may be you are too suspicious. That may be our tragedy.
Le Duc Tho: You have proposed, put forward something concrete to settle the political question, and we propose to think of a way to settle the political question. But the views you expressed now are the same as what you said this morning. What do you propose now?
Kissinger: If you are prepared to come up with a formula other than what you have offered us, then I will be prepared to examine it with great care and the consideration it merits. And I will in turn look at your problem concerning technical advisers. And that would give us a basis for another meeting.
Xuan Thuy: You referred to the period of John Foster Dulles in 1954. Now with the publication of the Pentagon papers in the American [Page 224] press this question is very clear already. I think that the Nixon Administration should redress the mistake of the previous Administration and should not have continued the same course with the same aim, and it should adopt another course.
Kissinger: But I explained that we have a new course.
Well, Mr. Special Adviser, what do you think? Should we have another meeting? You are the senior member here.
Le Duc Tho: I think that if you think that we should have another meeting, then we should have it.
Xuan Thuy: I feel, Mr. Special Adviser, that both sides should continue to examine the views expressed by the other side and we should meet again. I agree to that.
You told us to make a big effort and you will make a big step forward. We tell you to make an effort and we shall take a big step forward. You advance too slowly.
Kissinger: You don’t advance at all.
Xuan Thuy: We’ve made big steps; everything we propose is concrete.
Kissinger: I don’t object to the fact that it is concrete; it is the substance I mind.
Alright, then let’s set another meeting. I know it will be extremely difficult to convince the President that we are not wasting time, but I think I can get authority for another meeting.
Let’s aim for Saturday the 7th. I have to vary my travels.
Xuan Thuy: In order to give you more time to persuade President Nixon, should we delay the meeting?
Kissinger: I will be on the West Coast the following week, and it will be difficult to come much later from there. It will be very difficult for me to leave because people will be watching me.
Le Duc Tho: There is no worry for you at all, moreover from your country.
Kissinger: Except the press watches me all the time.
Le Duc Tho: Not the New York Times.
Kissinger: The Special Adviser monopolizes the New York Times, but other papers watch me.
Le Duc Tho: Anyhow it’s American journalists.
Kissinger: How about the following Saturday, the 14th?
Xuan Thuy: The 21st?
Kissinger: That’s very hard for me. I could come the 15th or the 16th.
Xuan Thuy: So shall we fix it for the 16th?[Page 225]
Kissinger: You just deprived me of another day on the West Coast. OK. I hope the Special Adviser recognizes that Hollywood is only 50 kilometers from San Clemente.
Le Duc Tho: So you have more time to spend there?
Kissinger: 10:30? (Walters notes that August 16 is a French holiday.) I don’t want to keep the Minister from his religious observances.
Xuan Thuy: I will sacrifice that.
Xuan Thuy: 10:30.
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1039, Files for the President, Vietnam Negotiations, HAK II 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé. Brackets are in the original except where noted. In the list of participants, Nguyen Minh Vy’s name was crossed out and Phan Hien’s written in.
In a July 17 message to Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh, Le Duc Tho, and Xuan Thuy, the Politburo provided the North Vietnamese negotiating team with direction:
“The basic goal of our diplomatic struggle at this time is to support the achievement of the strategic military missions that we have discussed with you. Only in that way will we be able to shatter the American ʻVietnamization’ program. With this goal in mind, the immediate future is not yet the right time for a settlement. Timing is the important thing—acting too soon or too late would both be harmful to our cause.
“Therefore Brother Ba [alias used by Le Duan] and the others here at home believe that for the immediate future at least we should not put forward anything else [at the July 26 meeting], aside from the nine-point proposal we have already presented. If we hastily offer additional items, the enemy will think that it is because we are weak and will increase the pressure on us.
“The enemy’s goal is a general framework. The current general framework is our nine points. We can take a few points from their seven-point proposal, but this is not yet the time to put anything else forward.” (Message from the Politburo to Nguyen Duy Trinh, Le Duc Tho, and Xuan Thuy, 17 July 1971, in Doan Duc, et al., compilers, Major Events: The Diplomatic Struggle and International Activities during the Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation, 1954–1975, volume 4, pp. 294–295)
Kissinger’s report to President Nixon after the meeting was generally optimistic: “Although we did not achieve a breakthrough, we have clearly narrowed the issues to one question—the replacement by us of Thieu—and have now left Hanoi to make a decision between this meeting and the next one.” In this meeting, and in all the previous ones and in many to come, the North Vietnamese repeatedly emphasized the necessity for the United States to get rid of Thieu, his government, and its policies, but especially Thieu himself, before progress could be made in the negotiations.
More generally, under the heading of “What We Have Gained,” Kissinger listed three accomplishments:
“—A superb public record of genuine willingness to compromise differences and to let the South Vietnamese people decide their future freely. We have conceded everything even remotely reasonable short of a coup against Thieu—neutrality, limitation on military aid, a withdrawal deadline, a large economic aid program.
“—Also, a record of willingness to take steps and make efforts greater than those demanded by our domestic opposition.
“—A commitment by the other side stated even more clearly today by Le Duc Tho to release our POWs in exchange for a date. Though this is not enough today we can return to it in the fall.”
Finally, Kissinger told the President:
“—I made clear that our meeting again would be a waste of time if they did not rethink their political position and consider new formulations. In turn I would try to be helpful on our residual technical/logistic presence. When I pointedly asked Le Duc Tho whether it was worth continuing the channel on this basis, he said it was.
“—We then agreed to meet again at 10:30 on August 16.” (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 237)↩
- Bracketed correction supplied by the editor.↩