12. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Xuan Thuy, Chief of North Vietnamese Delegation
- Vo Van Sung, North Vietnamese Delegate General in Paris
- Phan Hien, Member of North Vietnamese Delegation
- North Vietnamese Interpreter
- One Other North Vietnamese Official
- 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
Dr. Kissinger: There will be no philosophy lessons for me today?
Xuan Thuy: But you will use it.
Dr. Kissinger: Last time the Delegate General asked about the moon explorations. I have some material. It is entirely non-political. There is no reference to the eight or nine points.
Xuan Thuy: It speaks of the distance covered by the rocket.
Dr. Kissinger: The Special Advisor is well?
Xuan Thuy: Mr. Le Duc Tho returned to Hanoi and has not been so very well. He has requested me to convey to you his regards.
Dr. Kissinger: Thank you. I appreciate that. My apologies for our delay; it was unavoidable.
Xuan Thuy: Although you have sent men to the moon, you are late.
Dr. Kissinger: Can the Minister and I make one agreement? Sometime before the end of the war he lets me win one argument.
General Walters: You got the message about our meeting at 11 o’clock? I told Mr. Lieu.
Xuan Thuy: Yes. It is 35 minutes past 11:00.
Dr. Kissinger: I think the Minister is telling us that we are late.
Xuan Thuy: It is a problem. People are early sometimes and sometimes they are later.
Dr. Kissinger: It shouldn’t happen. It won’t happen again. The route to the moon has less obstructions than the roads to Paris.
I believe it is my turn to speak first today, unless you have something to say.
Xuan Thuy: Please, you speak first.
Dr. Kissinger: Now I will never know if the Minister is prepared to yield on all our points.
Xuan Thuy: I am listening to you now.
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Minister, since our last meeting, we have analyzed your nine points, our seven points, and we have produced eight points which seem to us to offer a basis for a statement of principles. Our proposal is to agree on a statement of principles and to submit it to the formal negotiating groups to work out the details. We have taken some of your formulations, some of Madame Binh’s formulations, and some of ours. I will now read you our points.
(Dr. Kissinger reads the statement from a prepared text. During point three, Dr. Kissinger interrupts the North Vietnamese translator [Page 227] by mistake and says: “If the Minister understands what I am talking about, I am at a disadvantage.”)
“1. The withdrawal of all U.S. forces and other foreign forces allied with the government of South Vietnam will be completed by August 1, 1972, provided that the final agreement based on the principles in this statement is signed by November 1, 1971. The terminal date for U.S. and allied withdrawal will be advanced if the agreement is signed earlier and will in no event be later than nine months after the agreement is signed.
2. The release of all military men and innocent civilians captured throughout Indochina will be carried out in parallel with the troops withdrawals mentioned in Point 1. Both sides will present a complete list of military men and innocent civilians held throughout Indochina on the day the final agreement is signed. The release of these prisoners will begin on the same day as the withdrawals mentioned in Point 1 and will end on the day such withdrawals are completed.
3. The political future of South Vietnam will be left for the South Vietnamese people to decide for themselves free from outside interference.
The United States, for its part, declares that it:
—Supports no candidate and will remain completely neutral in the forthcoming South Vietnamese elections.
—Will abide by the outcome of these elections and any other political processes shaped by the South Vietnamese people themselves.
—Is prepared to define its military and economic assistance relationship with any government that exists in South Vietnam, including setting limits on military assistance to South Vietnam as part of an overall limitation on outside military assistance for both North and South Vietnam.
Both sides agree that:
—South Vietnam, together with the other countries of Indochina, should adopt a foreign policy of neutrality.
—Reunification of Vietnam should be decided on the basis of discussions and agreements between North and South Vietnam without constraint and annexation from either party, and without foreign interference.
4. Both sides will respect the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Indochina and those of 1962 on Laos. There will be no foreign intervention in the Indochinese countries and the Indochinese peoples will be left to settle by themselves their own affairs.
5. The problems existing among the Indochinese countries will be settled by the Indochinese parties on the basis of mutual respect for independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in each other’s affairs. Among the problems that will be settled is the [Page 228] implementation of the principle that all armed forces of the countries of Indochina must remain within their national frontiers.
6. There will be a general ceasefire throughout Indochina, to begin when the final agreement is signed. As part of the ceasefire, there will be no further infiltration of outside forces into any of the countries of Indochina.
7. There will be international supervision of the military aspects of this agreement including the ceasefire and its provisions, the release of prisoners of war and innocent civilians, and the withdrawal of outside forces from Indochina.
8. There will be an international guarantee for the fundamental national rights of the Indochinese peoples, the neutrality of all the countries in Indochina, and lasting peace in this region.
Both sides express their willingness to participate in an international conference for this and other appropriate purposes.”
These are the principles which we propose that we sign jointly. In addition to these, I am authorized to transmit to you the following oral understanding on the authority of the President of the United States.
“Within one month after the signature of the agreed statement of principles, the President of the United States will request from the Congress authorization and appropriations for a five-year program of economic assistance for all the countries of Indochina. He will request a sum in the neighborhood of seven and a half billion dollars over a five-year period, of which no less than two billion dollars would be set aside for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. He will further request that the great bulk of this economic assistance program be in grants with the remainder in long term, low interest loans.”
Mr. Minister, you will note that we have attempted to follow the outline of your nine points, with point four being a unilateral American declaration. You will note also that wherever possible we have taken the formulations from your nine points, Madame Binh’s seven points and those of our points which you have said you would consider positively.
We believe that the statement of principles that we have proposed, together with the fixed date of our withdrawals, should have a major political impact in South Vietnam. We believe that this agreement in principle will remove substantially any distortions of the political process that our presence might cause. We believe that it should meet your concern that we not support any particular individual and should give the forces you consider peaceful a maximum opportunity in a political process.
We believe, in short, that such an agreement will facilitate the determination of the South Vietnamese of their political future in which we have pledged not to interfere.[Page 229]
We have made a serious effort to meet your concerns and to shape a settlement fair to both sides. We have taken into account your view on a majority, on all, issues, including the withdrawal of our forces. We are prepared to listen to any new formulations you may have on the political question.
Mr. Minister, I have told you repeatedly in recent weeks that there is no point in the continuation of the war between our two countries. We have read with great interest many articles and statements in the publications in Hanoi regarding your policy of independence. We respect this independence and in the historical future with which we must be concerned we will do our best to support it. We are not altering our policies towards all the countries of Asia only to maintain the old policies with respect to Vietnam. Indeed, we believe that it will be possible over a period of time to replace our current enmity first with understanding, and ultimately with friendship. But for this it is necessary that both of us free ourselves from the suspicions of the past and both of us be prepared not to be the prisoners of the past. If we set ourselves that goal, some of the technical disputes on this or that point will lose their importance.
I am here to tell you that we are prepared to make peace with you, with goodwill, good faith, and hope for a better future.
Thank you, Mr. Minister.
Xuan Thuy: I would like to thank Mr. Special Advisor for having presented the views of the United States Government.
Regarding the eight points that Mr. Special Advisor has just presented, we shall express our views later. But now I have a few points to recall for you here.
In all of our private meetings here, Mr. Special Advisor proposed that we should carry out two actions. First, we should refrain from anything inflammatory. Second, we should keep this channel secret. Ever since, what has happened?
Regarding North Vietnam, there were many U.S. air raids. In July alone tactical aircraft carried out 17 raids in populated areas Vinh Linh, Quang Binh, and Nghe An.
There were 18 carpet bombing raids by B–52 bombers against Vinh Linh.
Dr. Kissinger: In North Vietnam?
Xuan Thuy: Yes.
Dr. Kissinger: That is simply not true.
Xuan Thuy: That is the facts. Let me finish. In the first days of August tactical U.S. aircraft and B–52s have been carrying out bombing raids against North VN. Yesterday afternoon General Abrams made [Page 230] threatening statements and yesterday afternoon there was bombing in Quang Binh.
Dr. Kissinger: I have to look these up on a map, but I don’t believe it.
Xuan Thuy: Regarding South Vietnam, the U.S. is conducting the Phoenix Campaign. This is an operation with a fine name but perpetuates a great deal of crime with a view to compelling the South Vietnamese people to oppose the opposition forces and to prepare for the election of Thieu.
In Laos the U.S. is commanding the Vang Pao special forces and the forces of the Vientiane Government, including Thai troops, to launch continuing nibbling operations against the Plaine des Jars and Xien Khoang. And against also the region of Bolovens Plateau. And I have remarked on this, Mr. Special Advisor, when you returned from the Asian trip, but this situation continues and the situation becomes more extended now. On August 9 the United States State Department explicitly declared that the United States Government is not bound to comply in the implementation of the 1962 Geneva Agreement on Laos.
In Cambodia the U.S. is mobilizing tens of thousands of Saigon troops with U.S. air support to launch large scale operations in Eastern and Southeastern Cambodia.
That is in regard to military operations. Now I speak of the secrecy of this tribune.
While these military actions were being carried out throughout Indochina, in his press conference of August 4 President Nixon stated to the journalists that the United States was actively pursuing negotiations in established channels. Therefore in the press there was speculation that secret talks were being carried out between Vietnam and the United States. And on August 6 General Walters met our Delegate General and told him that President Nixon was carefully keeping secret this channel between Mr. Le Duc Tho/Xuan Thuy and Dr. Kissinger, and it is the U.S. hope to see the DRV do the same.
Mr. Special Advisor Kissinger repeatedly said that he has shown goodwill and his desire is to seriously negotiate in this channel. He has said that it is not his desire to see the war more and more extended, but it is his desire to see an early restoration of peace. We take note with great interest of this statement and we respect this statement. But in practical fact, it is the contrary of your statements.
And through these actions we have come to conclude that the United States is continuing to prolong and extend the war in the hopes of using military forces to make pressures on us. And at the same time the United States is making American and world public opinion believe that secret talks are going on. That is only for the purpose of eluding the criticisms of public opinion.[Page 231]
These are the two points of your statement which now facts have shown to be just the contrary.
Now I come to another point. The last time Mr. Special Advisor told us that in our negotiations we should not negotiate through intermediaries, a third party. And we should draw experience from that. And we should deal with each other in Paris.
Dr. Kissinger: That is correct.
Xuan Thuy: I agree with you on that point, because experience has shown that during the past years the United States has been busying itself here and there, but these actions only make the problem more complicated. And it will bring no settlement at all. If now you continue the same course of action, it will bring no result.
Dr. Kissinger: What is the Minister talking about? What intermediary have we used?
Xuan Thuy: These are the three points that I would like to recall here. These are three points on which you have made statements and which we agree with you. And now I would like to make it clear on these three points because the facts have shown that you have not complied.
Dr. Kissinger: Quite frankly, I understand the first two points and I will reply to those, but I cannot reply to the third point because I really don’t understand it.
Xuan Thuy: I think you understand.
Dr. Kissinger: The Minister exaggerates my knowledge. Quite seriously. He doesn’t have to tell me to whom he refers. If he makes an argument for the record, like the Hotel Majestic, I do not care what he says, because it won’t lead anywhere. But if he has a serious point, if he believes that we have talked to other countries about our negotiations, then I would like to know what they are so we can discuss it.
Xuan Thuy: I have great belief in your intelligence.
Dr. Kissinger: Do you have anything else to say?
Xuan Thuy: So I have recalled these points.
Dr. Kissinger: Is that all?
Xuan Thuy: I have finished. As for your recent proposal, we shall speak about it.
Dr. Kissinger: Later today?
Xuan Thuy: Yes, after the break.
Dr. Kissinger: Let me make a few comments on what you said.
I regret the Minister has brought me over here at great personal inconvenience in order to repeat the sterile arguments that have taken place for a long time at the Hotel Majestic. I have come at great personal inconvenience on eleven different occasions to make a sincere effort [Page 232] to find a basis for peace between our two countries. The only point for making this effort is to find a basis of peace which is just for both sides. You can repeat these charges a thousand times and it does not change the facts; of course, while the war is going on we can both find points to charge and accuse one another. The problem is to find the basis for peace. That is why we are here today. I don’t believe that is why you are here today. We have acted in good faith. We stopped, for example, just to mention examples ʻwhich you are throwing in extraneously, we stopped the operations of Vang Pao after you mentioned them the last time to me. And you know they were stopped.
Secondly, no B–52 operations have ever been authorized on North Vietnamese soil, and unless you show me on a map I simply cannot believe you. If you do show me on a map, we will stop it immediately.
I could mention things which you have done, such as building a road across the DMZ and moving supplies across the DMZ in violation of the understanding, but it won’t get us anywhere.
With respect to the secrecy of this channel, the remarks of the President could be interpreted in many ways, and most journalists believe that there are some contacts in other countries and through other people. But the basic reason for this statement, which we regret, was the constant press interviews given by the Minister and Special Advisor which said we did not reply to the seven points which you know is not true. Since the beginning of August alone the Minister has given interviews to Humanité and the Japanese Press Agency, and Madame Binh to the Associated Press and twice to the Japanese Press Agency. During July there were a whole series of interviews.
In these conditions, when we are accused of doing nothing, and when in fact we are here, sometimes in these circumstances it is possible in an improvised statement that there could be an innuendo which could appear to you that we have referred to this channel. We are not using these negotiations to ease public pressure. We are using these negotiations to end the war. But it does not look to me that you are making a comparable effort.
As for these negotiations, the question of using intermediaries, since the Minister prefers to speak in riddles I can only tell him what I know. Since he doesn’t believe it, it will probably be a complete waste of time, but I will tell him anyway.
We have talked to two foreign governments about these discussions, both allies of yours. When I was in Peking I told the Chinese in general terms what were our intentions in Indochina, specifically that we were prepared to withdraw our troops from Indochina. We did not ask the People’s Republic of China to act as an intermediary, and we have told them nothing since.[Page 233]
Secondly, the Soviet Ambassador in Washington comes to see me after every one of our meetings and tells me after the meeting what the contents of our discussions were. So apparently you give them a rather full account of our discussions. The only thing I have said to the Ambassador from the Soviet Union is that we are in good faith and we sincerely want an agreement, and he can judge from what he has seen in the U.S. that we are not withdrawing from the rest of Asia in order to stay in Vietnam.
We recognize that peace must be made with Hanoi, and it would be contrary to our conviction that the people of Indochina be independent to try to make peace with others for them. In other words, we have not initiated any intermediary. No one knows our seven points. No one knows these eight points. No one has ever been told of the details of our conversations.
Now, Mr. Minister, I know you have your instructions. And I know you are not authorized to be convinced by me. And you will make a reply that everything that happens is our fault. It is a pity, because the President doesn’t have to send his principal advisor on foreign policy eleven times to Paris secretly to play games with you.
I come here fully authorized to make a settlement which we believe is just to everybody. I don’t care what the headlines in the New York Times say. The New York Times is used two days later to wrap fish in. We are interested in what the history books say, and the history books will judge us by whether we make peace, not by whether we win a brief propaganda victory.
The tragedy is that if we continue the war, then a year from now we will be at about the same point, and one day we will arrive at an agreement more or less on the terms we are discussing now. We have told you that we will not stand in your way if you can win the political contest. Sooner or later this is what you have to do anyway. But it is obvious from what you have said that you are not now disposed to do this. I have enough experience to know that nothing I can say can change your conviction, and even more, your instructions.
I have only one final point, Mr. Minister. If you read the President’s press conference carefully, you will find that there is an answer on the question of the political future of South Vietnam which we felt would respond to your concerns. We phrased it on the basis of your concerns, but you have concentrated on another point in order to score a debating point.
The only thing that remains for me to say is to express the hope that someday Hanoi will approach us with an attitude that we will make peace. If there is that attitude I know the Minister and I can find formulas to make peace. Until then, until we can find that attitude, we will stay as we are.[Page 234]
The Minister mentioned a break. Does he still maintain his proposal before necessity forces me to order it?
Xuan Thuy: Since you have expressed your views I feel obliged to make a response.
Dr. Kissinger: Can I ask for two minutes unilaterally? This is one argument I cannot let you win. (brief break)
Let me say just one concrete thing. I am prepared to agree that I will not respond to any comment made by your allies even if they are informed by you. I simply will not reply even if they have been informed by you.
Xuan Thuy: The two delegations who come here for negotiations from the two governments must abide by the instructions of their respective governments and the policy of their own governments.
Dr. Kissinger: Of course.
Xuan Thuy: The instructions of our government, the Vietnamese government, is that we should come here to negotiate with the U.S. Government in order to reach a peaceful settlement of the Vietnamese problems on the basis of respect for the fundamental rights, for the independence and sovereignty, of the Indochinese people. In the interest of both the Vietnamese and American people and the sooner the better.
You have come here only eleven times. However, I have remained here for over three years now. It is not the idea of our government for me to remain here just to play games. And during our negotiations whatever you say, whatever we say, whatever the facts show, then we shall recall here to attract your attention on these points. And today I have recalled a number of facts and it seems to me that you have received instructions to deny all these facts. I said the war was extended and you say nothing.
Dr. Kissinger: How could I receive instructions to deny something when I didn’t know what the Minister was going to say?
Xuan Thuy: You probably received instructions on what the other side would say. Naturally it is not good for the U.S., and you have to deny the facts.
Dr. Kissinger: No.
Xuan Thuy: The second point is that you say that we have met people, journalists and others, and accused the U.S. of not replying to Madame Binh’s seven points. And naturally, you have not replied yet. Because out of the seven points there are two basic points about which you have said nothing. At the Paris Peace Conference you have said nothing. Here in this private channel you have said you would consider Point 4 and Point 5 of Madame Binh’s, but you haven’t responded to the other points. As to your eight points, we will consider them.[Page 235]
Dr. Kissinger: I didn’t accuse the Minister of lying. I accused him of propaganda.
Xuan Thuy: I have repeatedly said that we cannot make propaganda as well as you do.
Dr. Kissinger: You’re doing very well.
Xuan Thuy: You excel in propaganda.
Dr. Kissinger: He has such instructions that he can’t even yield when I admit that he does better in some categories than we. Not when he’s right, but when I say he is better at something.
Xuan Thuy: But practically, you said that we are bad in propaganda because our propaganda is correct and just and you don’t listen to it. Now you said if we don’t reach a settlement now in one year’s time we will come back to the point where we are now. And I think that if we don’t reach a settlement now, it will not necessarily be one year’s time when we will be here again. It will probably be two years or three years.
Dr. Kissinger: That’s right. But probably we would not come back to the same point. Probably your points would not be the same as now.
Xuan Thuy: It is subjective thinking on your part. Because we have our policy, our line. Whatever the circumstances, we must have our independence in peace. However, we should agree first to settle in this channel. There must be an effort on both sides.
I propose we break now.
Dr. Kissinger: I have a few extra copies (of the statment of principles) in case he wants to sign it. The Minister seems to be in an especially agreeable mood today.
I wanted to show you something from my visit to Saigon. (Dr. Kissinger then shows the North Vietnamese a picture of him and Big Minh in Saigon.)
Xuan Thuy: Who is that on the left?
Dr. Kissinger: No one is ever on my left. He is an adviser to Minh. All my advisors are to my right.
Xuan Thuy: Did he speak English or did someone translate for you?
Dr. Kissinger: He understood English. He spoke French to me, and I spoke English to him. Now we’ll get a picture of the Minister with Thieu and then there will be harmony.
(At this point, 1:20 p.m., there was a break until 2:15 p.m. Xuan Thuy went upstairs with Phan Hien to work on his remarks, while the Delegate General and the interpreter made small talk with the American side over the customary tea and light Vietnamese refreshments.)
Dr. Kissinger: I want to make clear again that our being late this morning was not a sign of any lack of respect.[Page 236]
One, we were caught in an appointment without access to a telephone and besides we don’t know the number here. Then we got lost because we took a new way and got lost in the Halles.
I want the Minister to know, whatever our political differences, the high personal regard I feel for him.
Xuan Thuy: I thank you, Mr. Special Adviser, for having given the reason for being late. I was joking this morning. There is no problem at all at being late.
I understand your itinerary. It is normal to be late.
Dr. Kissinger: The Minister is very polite, but I do not think that it is normal for a Vietnamese to be late. But I appreciate it.
In any case, it will not happen again.
Xuan Thuy: May I now take up the substantive question of our problems here?
First of all, I should say that by putting forward your eight points there has been an effort on your part. Because in your eight points, you have taken into account a number of formulations of our proposal.
We agreed with you previously that the U.S. government put forward the seven points, the DRV government put forward nine points and now we should take these seven points and nine points as a basis for discussion in combination with the seven points of the PRG.
The last time the Special Adviser made your statement, and we agreed to your statement, that we should give further thinking to each side’s proposals, so that the military and the political questions could record progress in today’s meeting. As far as we are concerned, we have carefully considered your views expressed at the last meeting.
Today you present your eight points. So now we have to compare your eight points today with the views we have formulated previously. Regarding a number of points you are more concrete now. There are other points on which you previously made oral statements the last time, and now you have them in written form.
Naturally, the examination of the eight points requires some time. However I would like to exchange views with you on a number of principal points. The principal points are numbers one, two, and three of your eight points.
These three points correspond also to the first three points of our nine points.
I believe if we can agree on these three points, it will be easier to reach agreement on other points.
Point one deals with troop withdrawal. Our proposal is that the withdrawal of U.S. forces and those of other countries from South Vietnam should be completed by the end of 1971. Now the U.S. Govern[Page 237]ment proposes that if agreement is reached on general principles by November 1, 1971, then the withdrawal of U.S. forces and other forces would be completed by August 1, 1972.
The proposed terminal dates of the two sides are still far apart. I do not know the reasons why you have proposed such a remote date for troop withdrawal, when we are telling each other that we should end the war soon.
Another point is that at the last meeting Mr. Special Adviser raised the question of leaving behind military advisers and technical personnel in South Vietnam. We absolutely cannot agree to leaving behind any military advisers, military personnel, or technical personnel in South Vietnam. Because it is a question of principle.
When we request the total withdrawal of U.S. forces, we mean that all U.S. forces, ground forces, naval forces, air forces, marine forces, military advisers, military personnel, technical personnel, war material, military bases, all should be withdrawn, without any exceptions and without any reservations.
So this question of leaving behind military advisers was orally raised by you in the last meeting. Now in these eight points the question is not raised. Does it mean that you have given up this question?
Now with regard to point two, prisoners of war, we have prepared a formulation for this question.
Dr. Kissinger: A new one?
Xuan Thuy: We have based ourselves on your views, and on ours.
We have prepared the following formulation.
“The release of captured military personnel and captured civilians captured during the war will begin on the same day with the troop withdrawal mentioned above, according to an agreed time table, and will be completed on the same day with the troop withdrawal mentioned above. The two sides will produce the complete lists of military personnel and civilians captured during the war on the day an agreement is signed.”
Dr. Kissinger: When you speak of agreement, do you mean this one in principle or the final agreement based on the principles reached at Kleber?
Xuan Thuy: At Kleber.
Dr. Kissinger: I understand.
Xuan Thuy: Regarding point three, we have raised one point repeatedly, that is to say that the U.S. Government should change the Nguyen Van Thieu Administration. The reason why we have raised this question is because at the last meeting as well as today the Special Adviser says that due to the U.S. presence there has been confusion in South [Page 238] Vietnam. And the embodiment of this confusion is the establishment and the existence of this Nguyen Van Thieu Administration.
Nguyen Van Thieu has stated his “four no’s” foreign policy and he has been implementing the U.S. policy. Therefore when you say that the U.S. will make a statement regarding U.S. neutrality in the forthcoming election, this statement will have an impact on the political process in South Vietnam.
You expressed this view at our last meeting, and this time this view has been written down in your eight points. And this has been stated by President Nixon in his August 4 press conference. We have made it clear to all concerned parties that the U.S. will remain neutral in the forthcoming election.
Dr. Kissinger: I am glad that the Minister notices that I do pay some attention to him.
Xuan Thuy: Therefore this statement does not have to await the publication of the eight points, because the statement was made by President Nixon on August 4 and we have not seen any impact so far.
With the military, political, and administrative machinery and with the pacification teams furnished by the U.S. to the Nguyen Van Thieu Administration, this Administration is terrorizing the people and repressing the opposition forces and it is consolidating the anti-democratic and fascist regime in South Vietnam with a view to winning the forthcoming election.
This shows that the statement by the U.S. Government to remain neutral in the forthcoming election has no effect at all.
And practically, in reality, the U.S. Government is supporting Nguyen Van Thieu.
In my view I think that we are here to negotiate not on the basis of something we think, something abstract, some suppositions, and something that will only have psychological effect, but we should negotiate here to settle substantive, concrete problems.
Therefore, I think that as long as the U.S. Government seeks means to maintain Nguyen Van Thieu, that the peaceful settlement of the Vietnam problem will be difficult.
Another point in your point three deals with the neutrality of South Vietnam.
It is our desire that the foreign policy of South Vietnam be a policy of neutrality, based on the five principles of peaceful coexistence and on the seven points proposed by the PRG that we support.
Moreover, we desire also to see a neutral South Vietnam not only in foreign policy but also in political regime, that is to say a South Vietnam that is not Communist and is also not a U.S.-dependent country. For this purpose, the Government, the Administration in South [Page 239] Vietnam, should reflect this neutrality, not only in foreign policy but also in internal policy. And definitely the Nguyen Van Thieu Administration does not reflect this policy of neutrality.
Therefore this is my preliminary comments on the first three points you presented today, which correspond to the first three points of our nine points.
As for the other points, we shall continue the debate.
Dr. Kissinger: Are you finished, Mr. Minister?
Xuan Thuy: Yes.
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Minister, let us leave aside the first and second points because I believe we will be able to resolve them; they are difficult but not questions of principle.
Let me talk about the third point.
I understand what you said about the President’s statement. It was made primarily as a sign of good will towards you, to show you that we are taking these discussions seriously.
But as an isolated act, taken by itself, not preceded or followed by anything else, it cannot by itself lead to the results which we discussed. But we believe that if there were a formal declaration, not only of this point but of all the other points in point three, and if the minds of the people of South Vietnam were conscious of a course of imminent peace, and if it were clear that the U.S. does not accept one of the four no’s, that is the one of no neutrality, the conjunction of all these things would lead to a more favorable expression of the popular will.
If the Minister means literally what he says, that is a government which is neither Communist nor pro-American, we have no objection to that. The problem is how to bring this about.
We would like to leave it to a historical process, realizing full well that after an agreement the conditions will not be the same as they are today. You want us to settle it immediately and we cannot do what you propose and we have not heard another proposal on what can be done except our own.
But we do not necessarily quarrel with your objective. We can have no interest to impose a pro-American government in a relatively small part of Asia when in the rest of Asia we are prepared to deal with other governments, some of which are openly hostile to us.
For your colleagues in Hanoi it should be important to consider that this is not 1954. In 1954, it was the policy of John Foster Dulles to organize anti-Communist and pro-American governments in every country of the world and especially in Asia.
It is our policy, as we have demonstrated, of this Administration to enable the people of this area to determine their own future and to [Page 240] deal with whatever governments they give themselves, and to recognize the independence and self-determination of each country. That is the whole objective of our policy.
This is why I believe that in ten or fifteen years, whether we settle the war or our successors settle the war, the people of Vietnam will look upon the U.S. not as a threat but as a possible support to their independence. There is nothing that we could possibly want in one relatively small corner of Asia when we are withdrawing from the other parts of Asia.
That is why the quicker we can start this political process, the better it will be for everybody. The earlier in the electoral campaign these principles are known then the more the political impact.
But whenever we announce them, it is important that we all understand exactly what we want. Because in the long run our objectives of peace are more important than any particular paragraphs, because we will have to learn to have a certain amount of trust in each other if we are to live in peace.
What does the Minister propose? How do we go on from here?
Xuan Thuy: I realize that regarding your point three, you are still speaking in an abstract way, in a theoretical way, and there is nothing concrete in your statement.
You accuse us of not putting forward any alternative to your proposal, but I think Mr. Le Duc Tho and I have addressed ourselves to this question. We still feel the U.S. has the full capability to do that, and the reason is that you are not willing to do it.
I frankly tell you that this question is not important for our talks here, but it is important in the sense that it involves the existence of Vietnam, the fate of the South Vietnamese people. And the people there as you see, are now energetically opposing the Thieu Administration, and they say that the U.S. is trying to maintain this Administration, and they say that Ambassador Bunker is trying by every means to maintain Nguyen Van Thieu.
I am fully aware of the policy of John Foster Dulles. But this policy of the late Mr. Dulles did not bring any results. This policy created tensions in the world for a time and it increased the number of opponents of the U.S.
I do not want to belabor here in what points the Nixon Doctrine is similar to the John Foster Dulles policy and in what points it is different. But I want to deal with the concrete problems of South Vietnam, the military and political problems of South Vietnam. We should indulge in very concrete negotiations.
What I have told you about the South Vietnamese Administration, I am very frank with you.[Page 241]
As for points one and two, you said that they are not matters of principle. Are you prepared to discuss them now?
Dr. Kissinger: Let me go back for a moment to point three.
We have declared that we will not support any particular government in South Vietnam, including the existing government.
The problem is, and you spoke of Ambassador Bunker, that we are prepared to take any reasonable steps to make clear our neutrality in the elections, and to make clear that the activities of American personnel can give rise to no misapprehensions in this. So the major problem is how to express these intentions in a way that is acceptable both to you and to us.
I agree with the absent Special Adviser and the Minister that if we can settle the obstacle of point three all the other issues can be settled.
I have now figured out the Special Adviser’s tactic. He knew I would be late in advance and so he didn’t come at all. The Vietnamese side always wins.
But I am prepared to discuss points one and two in general terms. As far as I see, point two presents no difficulty for us as long as it is understood that it deals with all the prisoners in Indochina.
Xuan Thuy: Please go on.
Dr. Kissinger: I want to see if I understand the Minister correctly.
Xuan Thuy: I think that you raised the point previously and we agreed with your point, saying we discuss all points here and that on all points we should make recommendations to our allies.
Dr. Kissinger: You are prepared to make recommendations?
Xuan Thuy: We should agree first with each other.
Dr. Kissinger: Yes, of course, we are assuming that if we agree first on all these points then you will make recommendations.
Xuan Thuy: Naturally.
Dr. Kissinger: We are satisfied with point one. Do you have any views to express?
Xuan Thuy: I am not yet satisfied. We propose 1971. You propose August 1, 1972. The dates are still far apart. I do not understand why you propose so remote a date. I only praised you for having set a specific date. But this date, I have not agreed to it.
If you had proposed a specific date when we talked last year I think the problem would be solved by now.
Dr. Kissinger: I suspect that if we keep talking at this rate, we will still be here on December 31, and Madame Binh will be forced to set a new date.
Xuan Thuy: So you want to drag on these negotiations?[Page 242]
Dr. Kissinger: As I told you before, December 31 is out of the question.
But if we settle all the other points I believe we can adjust the date slightly to take account of any good will shown by your side on other issues.
Xuan Thuy: We have proposed some day in 1971, not necessarily December 31. Now you have proposed August 31, 1972, and you said that you would slightly adjust the date if we settle other problems. But the two dates are still very far apart.
Dr. Kissinger: Seven months is not so far,
Xuan Thuy: You have not explained why you have taken such a late date.
Dr. Kissinger: We believe it will not be possible to complete this withdrawal without total chaos in the time period the Minister has indicated.
Now with respect to the question which the Minister asked me, I would like to respond also. With respect to whatever small number of technical advisers left after our withdrawal, they would be kept within fixed designated locations and would also be withdrawn within a fixed designated period after that.
But I would like to reserve this for when we come to concrete negotiations.
Xuan Thuy: We propose a date for troop withdrawal which is reasonable enough, and you said that you cannot withdraw in such a short period. Moreover, you said that such a withdrawal in the proposed time table will create total chaos. On the other hand, you said you will not change Nguyen Van Thieu.
So these two points confirm your aims.
Dr. Kissinger: You want us to bring about a situation there in which the collapse of the government there is guaranteed in advance and immediate. We want to bring about a situation in which a change of government is possible but in which we do not ourselves guarantee to bring it about.
Five or six more months of steady decline in American forces will not change the political reality of South Vietnam. If you analyze the political realities of South Vietnam and the political realities of America, it must be clear to you that for us to interfere on a permanent basis in a country ten thousand miles away from the U.S. is not realistic, and it is not the policy of this Administration.
General Walters is of the view that you want the dessert before the soup.
Xuan Thuy: You have been to China. You saw that they eat dessert in the middle of the meal.[Page 243]
Dr. Kissinger: I will never again listen to General Walters. I’ll conduct my own negotiations.
Xuan Thuy: I feel that I cannot understand why Nguyen Van Thieu, having in his hands the military apparatus, the administrative machinery, the political machinery, pacification teams, propaganda teams, why only a statement made by the U.S. Government to the effect that it will be neutral in the elections can prevent Thieu from being re-elected, or why another person without the machinery can win the elections. You have been to South Vietnam and you can see more concrete facts than I can.
Dr. Kissinger: I sincerely believe that a statement of principles such as the one today, saying that there will eventually be limits on our military assistance and the withdrawal of American forces, and that we favor the neutrality of South Vietnam, coupled with the general constellation of world affairs, will create new political realities in South Vietnam. I don’t predict that Thieu will lose. I predict that it will create a new context, and if this does not happen after a signed statement of principles, there will be other occasions to talk.
Xuan Thuy: Have you finished?
Dr. Kissinger: Yes.
Xuan Thuy: So regarding point three, we have not yet the elements for an agreement, although the explanations you give me are interesting. But I am afraid that in practice it is not as you say. Therefore I would like to propose that you give further thinking to this question.
As to the other points, you should also further consider them.
We should now fix another meeting.
Dr. Kissinger: Now, Mr. Minister, we have got this problem.
I can see a possible way of solving seven out of eight points or eight out of nine points. But we have now spent three sessions on point three and I’m not clear what will happen at the next meeting that has not already happened in the previous sessions.
Moreover if our next meeting is in September, then all our reflections on the elections will be quite meaningless, for it will be too late.
Besides, I have another problem, which is your problem. I have invited the Delegate General, and now I will invite the Minister, to come to the U.S. to the next moon shot which takes place in November. Since that is in November, if you don’t hurry, what will we do?
Xuan Thuy: The Delegate General and myself thank you beforehand for the invitation, but I should point out that in your eight points that you are self-contradictory.
Dr. Kissinger: Do I have anything about the moon shot in there?
Xuan Thuy: We should put aside the question of the moon shot, for it is far away.[Page 244]
Dr. Kissinger: I was certain that when I mentioned that, the Minister would immediately sign my eight points.
Xuan Thuy: We are speaking, now of the earth first, and I spoke of your eight points as being self-contradictory.
You propose signing an agreement on November 1, but the elections are the end of August for the Lower House and October 3 for President. November 1 is after that.
Dr. Kissinger: No, there’s two stages, I propose that we sign an agreement in principle as soon as possible. These eight points are not the final agreement, but the agreement in principle. These eight points can be signed as quickly as possible, I repeat. I also think that the final agreement should be signed before November 1. We are willing to sign that as soon as possible also. Our proposal is to agree on the principles first, to announce them publicly, and then use them to serve as a base for agreement.
Xuan Thuy: I agree with you that we should reach an agreement in principle, and then we should also have a final agreement. But regarding the agreement in principle, there are two points, the military and political questions, as you have presented them it is difficult to settle them very soon, promptly.
You want an early settlement. We want an early settlement. But your approach prevents an early settlement.
Therefore I propose you think further about it.
Dr. Kissinger: I propose you do so also. We have made a sincere effort to incorporate your side’s ideas. You don’t believe we have made a real effort but it is a sincere effort.
You are Vietnamese. You should know what is reasonable in the Vietnamese political context. We do not perhaps have enough imagination for handling Vietnamese affairs. We certainly have shown our incompetence in understanding Vietnamese political affairs. What you ask is impossible, I told you before. Maybe there’s some other formula to allow the really free expression of the will of the South Vietnamese people. We are willing to consider it. You cannot ask us to do things which are truly impossible, and which will be even more impossible in a year when we will have further reduced our forces unilaterally.
The objective of a South Vietnam which is neither Communist nor allied to the U.S. gives us no problem.
If you can come up with a formulation, we will look at it with great care and with an attempt to come with an agreed formulation.
Xuan Thuy: I have explained our views on this point in previous sessions, but I still think that it is due to your unwillingness.
I would like to ask you a question. What do you think of the prospects in South Vietnam, aside from the statement you propose to [Page 245] make on which I have expressed my views that it is impractical? How do you evaluate the prospects of the elections? Because your forces are still in South Vietnam, the Nguyen Van Thieu Administration is still under your control. You give economic aid to South Vietnam. You know the situation.
Dr. Kissinger: I will give you my honest judgment.
I think that if nothing happens between now and the elections, the existing government will certainly win. I believe that if we had agreed on a statement of principles along this line, or on something like this, and if we adopted them together with detailed instructions to all our people, then there is a chance, not a certainty, that General Minh may win.
I also believe that if we had an agreement or an understanding that the U.S. would maintain a position of neutrality, then any government in South Vietnam which pursued extremely repulsive policies could be affected by the degree of economic assistance we give it, and that our decisions would be affected by their actions.
But if there is no agreement, then what you fear most is certain to happen.
That is my sincere personal conviction.
Xuan Thuy: You are saying that there is a chance, not a certainty for General Minh to win the election.
Dr. Kissinger: That is right.
Xuan Thuy: That is tantamount to saying that Thieu will win.
Dr. Kissinger: That is thinking like a Vietnamese. I do not know. I sincerely do not know.
Xuan Thuy: But finally, it will be tantamount to a victory.
Dr. Kissinger: In that case, let us just wait until after the election, and then we will see where we are.
Xuan Thuy: As far as we are concerned, we agree with the PRG when it says that so long as Nguyen Van Thieu remains there, the PRG is not prepared to talk with the South Vietnamese government and therefore there will be no settlement. But if there is anyone else beside Thieu, who replaces Thieu and who favors peace, independence and neutrality, then the PRG will be prepared to talk with such a person for a real, peaceful settlement, without naming anyone.
Now since you have given me your explanation, I have listened to you. I believe it always lacks guarantees.
Dr. Kissinger: That is true. That is the point. We cannot guarantee the results. But we can guarantee that over a period of time we will use all our influence to guarantee a free political expression.
Well, Mr. Minister, what should we do?[Page 246]
Xuan Thuy: I think that you should think over what I have said today, and we should do the same regarding your points and we shall meet again.
Dr. Kissinger: Okay. Shall we get in touch with each other? How should we do it?
Xuan Thuy: We should fix a date. You think we shall meet again in September?
Dr. Kissinger: Let me see. (Checks calendar)
Xuan Thuy: We are a little busy at the end of August and at the beginning of September. It is our national holiday.
Dr. Kissinger: How about September 13? It is very late for doing anything to affect the elections, but . . .
Xuan Thuy: September 13. I agree.
Dr. Kissinger: I’m going to take General Walters back to the U.S. on my plane for a week. You’ll have no need to get in touch with him before or will you?
Xuan Thuy: During this time we will study your proposal.
Dr. Kissinger: He will be back August 25.
Xuan Thuy: All right.
Kissinger: If there should be some emergency, or some particular need, you can call General Walters’ secretary and say Mr. Andre wants to reach him and he’ll come back immediately. It is possible that when the Special Adviser reads my protocol he will want to sign my eight points. I think he is so eager to see the moon shot. He is invited also.
Xuan Thuy: That will be very good. But I am afraid that Mr. Le Duc Tho will have more comment to make than I and you will have more explanations to give him.
Dr. Kissinger: He is very difficult. I know.
If it turns out that we want to move the date to any day before September 13, is there any date which is impossible for you? I know the 9th is impossible, because of the meeting that day on Thursday.
Xuan Thuy: Is the 11th or the 12th okay?
Dr. Kissinger: I might want to meet on the 10th.
Xuan Thuy: That would be all right with us.
Dr. Kissinger: Let us leave it on the 13th, unless there is something.
Xuan Thuy: Either the 10th or the 13th.
Dr. Kissinger: Unless you hear from us, keep it on the 13th. But with your permission I would like to keep the schedule open. I don’t have my September schedule here. I would like to keep open the possibility of the 10th.
Xuan Thuy: You told me the other day that Amb. Porter would come one week after Amb. Bruce’s departure. When will he come?[Page 247]
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Porter will be at the meeting of September 2. It is a purely technical problem of leaving his Embassy, coming here, and bringing his family.
I have the impression that the Minister does not have very close personal ties with Mr. Habib.
Xuan Thuy: In the past we have met each other many times. Mr. Habib is a clever man. He understands the Vietnam problem very well. The only thing is that he abides very strictly by Mr. Nixon’s and Mr. Kissinger’s policy. This delays a settlement.
Dr. Kissinger: Then why do you want to talk to me? I abide by our policy also.
Xuan Thuy: Because you have given instructions to your Kleber Street men which are different than what you tell me.
Dr. Kissinger: We will inform Ambassador Porter in a general way about this channel but no one else.
And in the future we will not comment if any of your allies repeat to us what you have told them.
Xuan Thuy: We should keep our words which we have said here.
Kissinger: We always do.
(At this point the meeting broke up. During a concluding exchange as he walked to the door, Dr. Kissinger said to Xuan Thuy that Xuan Thuy should know that we daily receive recommendations from our commanders to bomb North Vietnamese military installations and concentrations in and around and north of the DMZ. We have not followed these recommendations. But Xuan Thuy should know that if the North Vietnamese launch a major offensive in that area, it could lead to drastic consequences. Xuan Thuy did not argue with this but repeated that Mr. Kissinger should look into recent U.S. statements and military actions.)
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 866, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—Vietnam Negotiations, C.D. 1971 Dr. Kissinger (1 of 2). Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé.
Once Kissinger realized that he would face only Xuan Thuy at this meeting, as Le Duc Tho was in Hanoi, he knew that the meeting “was essentially a holding action.” And in the face of President Nixon’s growing reluctance to continue the secret talks, Kissinger, in his report on the meeting, argued for their continuance, at least for one more time, on the following grounds:
“• We are improving our already good negotiating record. We had to give them an opportunity to consider our new version [a reference to the American eight-point plan he presented at the meeting].
“• We have a channel if they want to settle, and which forces them continually to review and modify their position.
“• We may keep them from escalation, during the electoral campaign.
“• We gave a good justification should we retaliate if they do escalate.
“• I must come to Paris anyway to work out the details of my interim visit to Peking and the announcement of your visit.
“• We have nothing to lose, except my 36 hours of inconvenience, and we achieve nothing by breaking off now (they are not keeping us from anything we want to do).” (Memorandum from Kissinger to President Nixon, August 16, Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 245)
According to Kissinger, Nixon reluctantly acquiesced to one more of what seemed to be “increasingly sterile contacts.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1036)↩