14. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Le Duc Tho, Special Adviser to the North Vietnamese Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks
- Xuan Thuy, Minister and Head of North Vietnamese Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks
- Phan Hien, Member of North Vietnamese Delegation to Paris Peace Talks
- Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
- Two Notetakers
- Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Staff Member
- Winston Lord, NSC Staff Member
- John Negroponte, NSC Staff Member
Kissinger: It is a pleasure to see the Special Adviser and Minister today, although these are not the circumstances I would have chosen.
Xuan Thuy: Shall we begin our work today?
Kissinger: Certainly.[Page 263]
Xuan Thuy: It is of great regret that the United States Government interrupted the private meetings here. Since the United States has now resumed the meetings we are ready to hear new ideas from the Special Adviser, but before doing that I would like to raise two questions to determine the problem.
Kissinger: Did he say we interrupted the meetings? We shouldn’t start on this basis. We must get serious.
Xuan Thuy: The first problem is that you said that these private meetings should be kept secret but on January 25 President Nixon unilaterally made these meetings public. The first time President Nixon divulged the private meetings was at the time of Ambassador Cabot Lodge and the second time he made these meetings public was on January 25. I wonder whether these meetings should be secret or not. If the U.S. wants to keep the meetings secret, we are prepared to do so. If the U.S. wants the substance made public we are also prepared to do that.
The second point is that the plenary sessions are the basis for private meetings. However, the U.S. side invoked groundless pretexts to suspend the sessions at Avenue Kleber, thereby creating obstacles to private meetings. Therefore if the Vietnam problem is to be settled by negotiations the U.S. side should attend the Kleber street sessions as usual.
Before we begin our work today I would like to hear the Special Adviser’s views on these two questions.
Kissinger: Regarding the first question, there is no point in reciting the circumstances which led us to publish the record of private meetings, including the fact that we were being asked to answer the seven points publicly when we had already answered your nine points in private, when we were challenged to give you answers which you knew very well we had already given. But I won’t go into that now. We will waste too much time talking about history. Let us speak about the future.[Page 264]
I agree that the substance of these talks should in any event be kept secret and will not be revealed by us. I was going to ask the Special Adviser and Minister whether we should consider making a brief announcement of the fact of our meeting and say no more about it. Because the Special Adviser is so well known and given to so many enigmatic statements that people are likely to draw the conclusion anyway. We could agree on one sentence such as Special Adviser Le Duc Tho and Minister Xuan Thuy met with Dr. Kissinger yesterday in Paris. But I would like to hear your views on this. We would not discuss the substance. What do you think, Mr. Minister? Or should we wait until the end of the meeting to decide?
Xuan Thuy: Yes we better wait until the end of the meeting.
Kissinger: But in any event we will agree that whatever is done it will be done by mutual agreement.
Regarding the Minister’s second question, whether plenaries and private sessions should be concurrent, we have always agreed that plenaries and private talks should take place side-by-side, with the plenaries working on the technical implementation of what is agreed at private sessions.
On the other hand, it is our view that progress now must be made. We have heard the eloquent general statements of the Minister and his lady colleague now for three and one-half years, but the time has now come to make progress. If there is progress then there is no problem about continuing either the private or public forums. So our present intention is to continue the plenary sessions in this framework.
Xuan Thuy: It is the common intention of both sides to reach a rapid settlement. We also want a negotiated settlement. If the war drags on it is not our fault. Now we don’t want to return to this question but we should determine one point, that plenary sessions at Kleber Street should be held as usual to lay the basis for what we are doing here in private meetings.
Kissinger: This depends on what happens in these private meetings. As much as I enjoy the company of the Minister and his Special Adviser, I would prefer to reserve our general discussions for after the war.
Le Duc Tho: If the war is ended then there will be no need for discussions.
Kissinger: If the war is over then the Special Adviser will visit me in Harvard.
Le Duc Tho: In that case we will be discussing different subjects.
Kissinger: I see my colleagues have some new documents in front of them.
Xuan Thuy: These are old documents. We are looking forward to listening to your new documents. These documents are records of past statements you have made to us, and a white paper.[Page 265]
Kissinger: It is impossible to have a record of what I have said to you in such a little folder. I talk at such great length.
Xuan Thuy: They contain the gist of your statement only. Now please, it is your turn to speak first.
Kissinger: Mr. Minister and Mr. Special Adviser, I don’t have any new proposal, all the more so since you have never replied to our October 11 and January 25 proposals.
I have, however, a very brief comment to make to express our general attitude. As I have told you before, the President would not send me across the ocean now for the thirteenth time unless he were seeking a rapid and just solution to the war. We remain prepared to reach a settlement that is fair to both sides and to abide by whatever outcome results from that settlement. As I have told you often, we realize that you will be in the area after we withdraw and that a settlement must meet your concerns if it is to be permanent.
Thus, I am still ready to discuss an honorable settlement that preserves your independence and your dignity. But you must have no misunderstanding. We will not hold such discussions at the point of a gun. There is no sense talking about future agreements while your invading armies are tearing up old ones. And it is difficult to trust your intentions when one considers the cynical game you have been playing in recent months with your careful orchestration of military offensives and the scheduling of our private meetings.
Because I am here to lay the basis for a rapid settlement, I do not want to waste our time in reciting all the evasions of recent months. But I have a document here which states our point of view as to what has happened, which you can read at your leisure. (Mr. Kissinger hands document to Xuan Thuy, attached at Tab A.)
Now obviously you know the facts of this paper very well. My only purpose in giving you this document is to make unmistakably clear to you that these particular maneuvers must end. We will no longer play this game and we will not yield to pressure.
In recent months you have refused even to discuss our 8 point proposal. Your response has been a massive invasion, geared to your repeated cancellation of private meetings. You have deployed almost your entire army outside your borders.
It is a complete violation of agreements to which you have been party, notably the Geneva Accords of 1954 and the 1968 Understandings. I will not spend time on summarizing these understandings since the Special Adviser and the Minister were present when they were negotiated. These understandings involve the status of the DMZ, the question of not shelling or rocketing major South Vietnamese cities, and the question of prompt and productive negotiations. All of these have been violated.[Page 266]
We will do what is necessary to remedy that situation and we will not depart from that course. I have often warned the Special Adviser and the Minister not to attempt to play domestic politics in the United States and I will do so again today. We are meeting with you today in the expectation that you have something constructive to say.
There are three requirements for effective negotiations. First, your offensive must stop. Second, the 1968 Understandings must be restored. Third, there must be serious, concrete and constructive negotiations leading to a rapid conclusion of the conflict.
We are prepared to make our contribution to this last point. We are willing to work with you to bring about a hopeful opening towards a peaceful settlement. But I don’t want to underrate the seriousness of the point at which we meet and your side, which has chosen to launch a major offensive while pretending to prepare for private meetings with us, now has the responsibility to put forward concrete suggestions.
That is all I have to say at this moment. Besides, I understand your allies have already told you some of the ideas we have.
Xuan Thuy: I feel that Mr. Special Adviser today you have not brought anything new, and you have repeated the old allegations of Mr. Nixon which we have publicly rejected before. You say that we have violated the Geneva Accords but we repeatedly pointed out that it is the U.S. Administration which has violated these agreements. We have pointed out this fact many times. Moreover this fact has been revealed in the Pentagon secret papers.
You also referred to the so-called 1968 Understandings. Myself and Mr. Le Duc Tho, we held repeated private meetings with Mr. Harriman and finally we came to an agreement without any understanding. The U.S. cessation of bombardment of North Vietnam was complete and unconditional. Now you repeat these points and this is not leading us to any settlement. The documents are public and if you want them we can give them to you again.
Kissinger: Which documents?
Xuan Thuy: The documents we distributed at my April 17 and April 20 press conference.
Kissinger: When the Minister returns to Hanoi The New York Times will have to cut its staff considerably.
Xuan Thuy: It’s up to them whether to cut its staff or not. If you want to read these, I can give them to you.
Kissinger: I think we should give this debate to our colleagues at Avenue Kleber.
Xuan Thuy: But since you referred to the Geneva Accords and the 1968 Understandings, I brought up these points. You raised precisely [Page 267] what has been said at Kleber and now you refer to the 8 points published by President Nixon in January 1972.
On the 2nd of February the Provisional Revolutionary Government made a proposal in the form of two crucial points, two key points on which the PRG gave elaboration, more clarification on the basis of the 7 point plan, and you have not responded to these two crucial points.
As to these private meetings, they have been proposed by the U.S. side, but it is the U.S. side which has postponed them many times, so this meeting was delayed until today.
Kissinger: I don’t know what world you live in, but I’m under the illusion that you postponed the private meetings. In fact, a man who says he’s your representative was giving us notes, so we have it in writing.
Xuan Thuy: This private meeting should have been held long ago, but you have postponed it many times until today. If the facts are to be published then we should go to the origin of this problem. But I think we should not return to this point. I would like only to point out that what you just said has not brought anything new that can help these negotiations. Moreover, the points you have raised we have replied to many times at Kleber Street and in public. I don’t think it is necessary to repeat them again.
I now give the floor to Mr. Special Adviser Le Duc Tho who may have something to tell you.
Le Duc Tho: I last met with Minister Xuan Thuy 7 or 8 months ago. I thought then that when I came here I would be able to listen to you going into the question of a solution that is intended to bring about the best solution to the conflict. Contrary to this, I feel I have not heard anything new from you today. I have heard again you say that you have come long distances for negotiations and you have said this many times. But the distances for me are longer and it takes longer for me to come.
And you assert many times that you want serious negotiations, but through your statement today I do not have such impression that you want serious negotiations.
I do not want to return to the past, but since you have recalled past questions and have asserted that we have made military pressures, we’ve made invasions, we have violated the Geneva Accords, and we have violated the 1968 Understandings, I feel obliged to return to the past situation in order to make it clear.
Who has made military pressure? Who has made invasion? Who has violated the Geneva Agreements? Who has violated the Understandings? The situation, the facts must be made clear.
If now the war is still prolonged, if the war is more and more atrocious, the responsibility is on the U.S. side. Since Mr. Nixon became [Page 268] President almost four years have elapsed. His term is soon going to come to an end. It is public knowledge that under Mr. Nixon’s Administration the war, the aggression has been expanded to Cambodia, and Xuan Thuy and I were holding private talks with you and it was the aggression against Cambodia that broke up the private talks at the time.
Kissinger: I think if Mr. Special Adviser consults his diary, he will find he left for Hanoi before the invasion of Cambodia. But I don’t want to waste time on this because we are not going to get anywhere. We can save all of this for the joint seminar in history that Mr. Le Duc Tho and I are going to give at Harvard.
Le Duc Tho: At that time you staged the coup in Cambodia to prepare for the invasion. Then early in 1971 you conducted a major offensive against Route 9 in Laos. Then at the end of 1971 and during the first three months of 1972 the U.S. bombing of the DRV has been considerably intensified, and then there was your military offensive involving tens of thousands of troops which was carried out in the border region in Eastern South Vietnam and Cambodia.
These offensives show that you have used military pressure along with negotiations to compel us to accept your terms. That is why the people of the two zones of Vietnam have to oppose these offensives.
Let me quote from a recent statement published by Senator Fulbright . . .
Kissinger: I won’t listen to statements by American domestic figures. I have told this to the Special Adviser.
Le Duc Tho: I would like to quote a sentence from Senator Fulbright to show you what Americans themselves are saying.
Kissinger: Our domestic discussions are of no concern of yours, and I understand what the Senator said.
Le Duc Tho: I would like to give you the evidence. It is an American source, not our source. Senator Fulbright said on April 8 that the acts of the liberation forces in South Vietnam are in direct response to your sabotage of the Paris Conference . . .
Kissinger: I have heard it before. There is no need to translate. Let’s get on to the discussion.
Le Duc Tho: I would like to quote . . .
Kissinger: I have heard it before. Please go ahead.
Le Duc Tho: We are not alone to point out these facts. Even Americans of conscience have realized the facts and the truth.
Now you affirm we are making an invasion of South Vietnam. This is absurd. We have not sent our troops to the United States. We are not bombing the United States. We have no ships in U.S. territorial waters. You sent one-half million troops to Vietnam and thousands of [Page 269] planes to bomb North Vietnam. So who is making the aggression? So your affirmation that we are conducting an invasion is groundless.
You have said that we violated the Geneva Accords, but it is the U.S. which has wrecked the Geneva Accords. The Pentagon papers have revealed this fact. So you have distorted the facts.
Now as for the understandings of 1968, Mr. Xuan Thuy and myself held many private meetings with Ambassador Harriman. The record is still there. We have partially published the record and you have said we violated the understandings. It is wrong for your side to accuse us of such facts. We should not spend so much time discussing these questions.
Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: Because we said it many times. I have answered all these questions in my statements on arrival in Paris.
Kissinger: That’s the trouble with the Special Adviser. He gives his answers before there are questions.
Le Duc Tho: Because we know beforehand what you will ask.
Kissinger: Does the Special Adviser know of the cartoon of General DeGaulle who once held a lengthy press conference and at the end of his monologue asked, “Now, does someone want to ask a question to my answer?”
Le Duc Tho: I have not seen this cartoon.
Now you accuse us of delaying private meetings. It is not we who have delayed private meetings. It is you who have delayed them. We have not refused any proposals for a private meeting by you. But you have canceled a meeting.
Kissinger: Which one?
Le Duc Tho: The one of November 20. At that time I was really ill, not like your illness when you were in Pakistan. But you refused to meet Minister Xuan Thuy, and Xuan Thuy had plenipotentiary powers to settle matters. But you refused to meet. Then you proposed another meeting and we accepted. But then you bombed North Vietnam and interrupted the Paris Conference at Kleber Street. In any case we have not refused to hold any private meetings. This shows our serious intent.
Now regarding a solution to the Vietnam problem. You have proposed 8 points and we have answered; we have made two qualifying points and you have not answered. And you pretend we are using the domestic situation in the United States. That is not true. It is the people of the United States who are opposing the Nixon Administration because it prolongs the war to the detriment of their interests, and they are opposed to it.[Page 270]
In a word, your statement today criticizes us and shows that these statements are not correct and that you are not yet willing to engage in serious negotiations to settle the problem. In a war, offensives and counteroffensives are natural.
Kissinger: The Special Adviser considers it only natural when your side does it.
Le Duc Tho: It is the laws of war. So you have been bombing the DRV very fiercely in violation of your agreement to stop the bombing of North Vietnam. You have been using massive naval and air forces to bomb North Vietnam. It is natural that the Vietnamese people have to strike back.
I think that the best thing since you have come today is to let us find a solution, the best solution to the conflict.
Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: And not to make incorrect statements. I think it is time now that you and we find a solution to the Vietnam conflict.
Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: If you agree, we should start now. But if we start, and you raise your 8 points, then this won’t do. I have heard Secretary Rogers say that you will show flexibility and that the 8 points are not an ultimatum. Now show us what flexibility you have, and I am prepared to discuss your new flexibility, the new position you will express. We know that time is not on your side. In our view you have raised many obstacles to settling the problem. I have told you that many times. But since your ambition has been so great, no settlement has been reached yet.
Our meetings at the end of 1969 and early 1970 presented an opportunity to settle the problem. There was especially an opportunity in June and July of 1971 during our private meetings with you when we agreed to the 7 points of the PRG and we put forward our 9 points. It was an opportunity to settle the war.
At that time there were many different problems, but the most difficult problem was the question of power in South Vietnam and the change of Nguyen Van Thieu. At that time there was an election in South Vietnam, and we thought that was the best opportunity for you to change Thieu. But you refused to do that. These facts showed you put too much hope in the Vietnamization policy. You launched invasions against Cambodia and Southern Laos, and you pinned your hopes on Vietnamization.
This policy cannot work. We want to reach a peaceful settlement to the problem beneficial to us and also to you. You claim we don’t want to settle the problem and that we want to humiliate the United States. It is something very strange to our thinking. We have no such [Page 271] thoughts. We want a settlement so that after a settlement is reached then relations between our two countries will be established on a good basis in all fields. You said once and repeated that we wanted to deprive President Nixon of reelection. This is not true.
Kissinger: That is our problem. We can handle it.
Le Duc Tho: That depends on the U.S. people. We don’t want to create any difficulties for President Nixon on that subject. We want a peaceful settlement of the problem based on a logical and reasonable basis, on the basis of respect for our fundamental national rights. I think that is the only way to come to a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam problem in our interests and in your interests. These few words are added to what Minister Xuan Thuy said to answer your statement today.
Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, Mr. Minister, we are interested in a rapid and just settlement, but we face objective realities. We can’t make new proposals until your offensive stops. And I must say that if your offensive continues, more and more drastic consequences will follow. The day we notified you we were prepared to return to plenary sessions, you attacked in the area of Kontum. The day plenaries started you attacked in the area of Quang Tri. As I sit here those operations continue. So I am awaiting your proposal on how to end this objective situation. I will, of course, respond to any proposal that you choose to make.
Xuan Thuy: I thought you would make new proposals and we were prepared to listen to you, because our two point clarifications have not been answered by you.
Kissinger: It may be a lack of imagination on my part, but I don’t find anything new in those two points as compared to the 7 and 9 points. So we have already given you our answer.
Xuan Thuy: If you find nothing new in the two points, then I feel obliged to point them out to you.
Kissinger: I am always delighted to be instructed by Minister Xuan Thuy and Special Adviser Le Duc Tho.
Le Duc Tho: The war is going on. The most important thing is not to put conditions on stopping of offensives or continuing offensives. The important thing is to find a solution, to quickly put an end to the hostilities. I think this is the best way. If we can now find a solution, then the war can end immediately. This depends on you, not us.
Kissinger: Why doesn’t the Minister read the paper in front of him? Then I will respond.
Xuan Thuy: I have noted down your statement here. Regarding the two clarifying points . . . if you want me to refer to it I can.
Kissinger: I have them here. I can understand the language. I don’t see what’s new in them. What do they add to the 7 and 9 points?[Page 272]
Xuan Thuy: Since you have the text in hand, it is quite clear. The first point deals with the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the cessation of the U.S. air war and all U.S. military activities in Vietnam. It says (reading) “the U.S. Government should stop its air war and all military activities in Vietnam, rapidly and completely withdraw from South Vietnam all U.S. troops . . .”
Kissinger: What’s new about that? I have read it. I know what it says. What do we have to answer? We went through the 7 and 9 points. Is there anything there that we did not discuss last summer?
Xuan Thuy: It says that . . . (continues to read from point 1 of the 2 point elaboration).
Kissinger: I have read it. There is no need to read it again. That’s not my question. This is what we discussed last summer. We gave an exhaustive answer last summer. What additional answer is needed?
Xuan Thuy: You don’t set a specific date for withdrawal of your forces. You put only a six-month period.
Kissinger: I know you are asking for the same thing we refused to do last summer. I’m asking whether you said anything new that requires an additional answer.
Xuan Thuy: But since you refused, we have to continue our demand. The more you refuse, the more we have to continue our demand.
The second point of the 2 point elaboration deals with the political problem in South Vietnam. (He reads point 2) “The U.S. Government should really respect the South Vietnamese peoples’ right to self-determination . . .”
Kissinger: I have read it. I know the words very well.
Xuan Thuy: You don’t respond.
Kissinger: We rejected it not because we don’t understand it but because we understand it only too well.
Xuan Thuy: Since you still refuse to answer, it shows you have not understood. So if you want us to present it again, I will.
Kissinger: You don’t have to present it again.
Is that all you have to say, then?
Xuan Thuy: We are here to listen to you and look forward to new points to be raised. Since you have no new points, there’s nothing to discuss.
Kissinger: In that case I regret that there is nothing more we can do. (He starts packing up.)
Le Duc Tho: Now we have come here to meet you to find a peaceful solution to the problem. You put forward 8 points. We put forward two points of elaboration and you have not answered.[Page 273]
Kissinger: We have answered the two points. First of all, I have to tell you again, the offensive must stop. When we discussed a private meeting in February there was no military offensive. Secondly, under these circumstances the first order of business must be an end to military operations.
Xuan Thuy: It appears to me that Mr. Special Adviser often forgets what the U.S. has done. At the end of 1971 the U.S. was bombing very fiercely the DRV and since the beginning of 1972 the bombing has been continually carried out against North Vietnam. And since the interruption by your side of the Kleber Street sessions on March 23 the bombardments have become increasingly vigorous in North and South Vietnam and all the other countries of Indochina, and in the meantime you have bombed Hanoi and Haiphong, using even B–52’s to bomb Hanoi and Haiphong. And before the resumption of the Kleber Street sessions, you enlarged the bombing from the 17th parallel to all the provinces in the Red River Delta.
Why are you so silent on these attacks by the U.S. to compel the Vietnamese people to accept your position and make the Vietnamese people exercise the right of self-defense to oppose aggression? You want to deprive the Vietnamese people of the right of self-defense. Whenever aggression comes against people they have the right to oppose it. The South Vietnamese people have the right to oppose aggression. So do the people of Laos and Cambodia have the same right.
The principal question now that we should talk about is how to put an end to the aggression, and then the war will be ended. I have always been here. Mr. Le Duc Tho came here from Hanoi with the intent of serious negotiations to settle the war. But, since you say nothing different from what you have publicly stated, I wonder how we should proceed now?
Kissinger: I think we should defer this discussion until someone has something new to say or until your offensive stops.
Le Duc Tho: It is up to you, but the responsibility is entirely on your side. We have come here with the intention of negotiating seriously but you are not willing to do that.
Kissinger: I am willing to negotiate seriously.
Le Duc Tho: There should be some subject to discuss.
Kissinger: That’s right, and we have made an 8 point proposal to which you replied by stating exactly what you said before. That does not require an additional answer.
But I have one concrete interim proposal. Let us restore the situation as it was on March 29th, the day before your offensive started. We will then withdraw our additional forces we have sent into the area and we will stop the bombing and we can then begin conversations in a calmer atmosphere.[Page 274]
Secondly, I want to point out to you that in our proposal of October 11, which was repeated by the President on January 25, we made a number of steps towards your position. You said our withdrawal timetable was too long, so we shortened it. You objected to the continuation of technical advisers, so we eliminated them. In September, you complained that our political proposals lacked concreteness, so we spelled them out in greater detail, and even if you don’t like our particular formulation we have invited a counter proposal. You have never made a serious reply.
But I don’t think there’s much sense in continuing this exchange.
Xuan Thuy: I think that you are disregarding realities. You base your arguments on the position of your side only. Mr. Special Adviser Le Duc Tho said that in 1969 there were many favorable opportunities to settle the problem but you refused to do that. In 1970 you extended the war to Cambodia and all of Indochina. In 1971 you launched your offensive in South Laos. In 1972 you left the conference table and intensified the air and naval war. And you said nothing about extension of the war, and you said nothing about returning to the situation before you launched those attacks. The war was limited to South Vietnam, and you keep silent on this subject.
Kissinger: I have told you now that we will stop these operations when you return to the situation of March 29.
Xuan Thuy: So you make proposals that are only to your advantage. When you extend the war to Indochina, you say nothing about this, and when the people of South Vietnam counter-attack, you want to stop the offensive, and want to tie their hands.
Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser and Mr. Minister, much as I enjoy this conversation about the history of the war, I don’t see that you are ready to talk seriously about bringing about a rapid solution to the war. Since that is not the case, much as I regret coming a long distance for a very brief meeting, I propose that we adjourn the meeting and meet again when either side has something new to say.
Le Duc Tho: It is up to you. If you decide that, then we agree.
Xuan Thuy: Now let us return to the first question you raised at the beginning on publicity concerning our meeting. There are three possibilities. First, not to say anything about the private meeting since there was no result at all. Second, we could agree mutually to say something. Third, it could be up to each side to say whatever it likes.
In my view, we should not say anything because at this meeting you have not brought anything new and you propose cessation of the meetings. And therefore you are responsible for that, but we do not want to stress your responsibility for that. Therefore, my view is that we should not say anything about this meeting.[Page 275]
Kissinger: I want to make it perfectly clear that we notified you in February that we were prepared to discuss our 8 points and include discussion of your points. You have refused to discuss our 8 points at all. Since you are prepared to discuss only your points, points which we already explored last summer, there is no basis for discussion. We have invited you to make counter-proposals to our suggestions. But they have not been made. We have asked you whether there was anything new in your proposals and you simply read me your proposal. We told your Soviet allies last week what we wanted to discuss and they said they would transmit them to you. I find it difficult to understand why you meet with us at all since you knew what we wanted to discuss.
I want to make it absolutely clear, so that there is no misunderstanding, we are prepared to discuss any political process which genuinely leaves the political future of South Vietnam open. We are not prepared to discuss proposals which have the practical consequence of simply installing your version of a government in Saigon. We told you this last summer. We tell you this again. Now maybe our knowledge of South Vietnamese conditions is not adequate enough to come up with exactly the right formula, and therefore we invited your counterproposals.
Xuan Thuy: Before Mr. Le Duc Tho says something, I would like to point out that you said you put forward your 8 points and we did not respond. I said also I have made two points of clarification and you said I only read them again.
In connection with your 8 points, with regard to troop withdrawals, your proposal is not specific enough. With regard to your political proposals, your policy is always to maintain the Nguyen Van Thieu Administration. You maintain that this administration is a legal government that has the confidence of the people. In our view this administration is illegal and hated by the whole Vietnamese people and public opinion. Therefore in our 2 clarifying points we propose that Nguyen Van Thieu resign immediately and that the Saigon Administration without Nguyen Van Thieu should change its policies. So you have not answered our counter proposal, and we have answered you. In these two crucial clarified points there are new elements.
Kissinger: And this is what I have asked the Minister an hour ago, to tell me what the new elements are.
Xuan Thuy: So I have proposed that Nguyen Van Thieu should resign immediately.
Kissinger: What’s new?
Xuan Thuy: And the Saigon Administration without Nguyen Van Thieu should change its policies. Do you agree to this?[Page 276]
Kissinger: I am trying to understand. What do you consider new in this? What is new in that proposal from the one made last July? I am trying to understand.
Xuan Thuy: I will let Mr. Le Duc Tho speak. I have made it clear. Since you refer to our ally, so we will give you the word.
Kissinger: I only made clear what we would discuss with you and they said that they would transmit the message to you.
Le Duc Tho: In our negotiations many times I have pointed out to you that we deal directly with you and vice versa. I have also repeatedly pointed out to you that we don’t deal through any intermediary, neither now nor in the previous four years. I told you that. Therefore, anything you wish to deal with us, now please speak directly to us. We are prepared to listen to you. We are prepared to settle with you. If now we can listen directly from you it is clearer. We are prepared to discuss your proposal and it is more simple than dealing through a third person. You can directly bring it here to me. Since we are your interlocutors, you should bring things here directly to us.
Among the 8 points, your 8 points, we paid attention to two crucial points, the military question and the political question. Regarding the military question, our demand is for total withdrawal of U.S. forces and allied forces including military advisers, war materials, etc. And we also requested a specific terminal date and not a long period, but a prompt withdrawal. You proposed a period of withdrawal of six months after the date of signing an agreement. We don’t know when an agreement will be reached, so the troop withdrawal will be prolonged.
Regarding political problems, previously we demanded a change of the Nguyen Van Thieu Administration and the formation of a new Saigon Administration favoring peace, neutrality, independence and democracy, and this new Saigon Administration will engage in conversations with the PRG to settle the problem. But now we demand only the resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu, the immediate resignation, and then the Saigon Administration without Nguyen Van Thieu should change its policy, that is, stop terrorist measures, the oppression of the people, that is a return to Article 14c of the Geneva Agreements.
So there is some difference in these two points.
And what you propose now, anything you want to propose, please propose it directly to me, because we are the interlocutors. We never go through an intermediary. So if there is any idea, proposal, make it now. We are prepared to discuss it with you.
Kissinger: We have told you our position, and our position is this. First, we have indicated that we are prepared to separate the military from political problems and to discuss separately with you the issue of the withdrawal of our forces. In that case, since it would be the only [Page 277] issue for discussion it could happen quite rapidly. This, of course, you have refused and I assume you continue to refuse, or have I misunderstood you?
Le Duc Tho: No, you have quite well understood me on that score. You have agreed with us on this point. Now you want to reverse it?
Kissinger: In other words, I want to be sure you insist political and military questions must be linked.
Le Duc Tho: Yes.
Kissinger: This is your position.
Le Duc Tho: Yes, you agreed to settle all the questions.
Kissinger: Since you insist that military issues cannot be separated from political issues, even though, as you know, I offered at every session to separate the military from the political to show our good will and make progress, we agreed to link the military and political. And therefore you are correct; we have agreed to discuss political and military issues together since you refused to do anything else. That is a correct summary of the situation, is it not? (Le Duc Tho nods agreement.)
Now then, to turn to the political issues, we have made specific proposals. First, let me speak about our military proposal in relation to our political proposal, and then I’ll speak about our political proposal.
We proposed that we have an agreement in principle, first, on the whole 8 point program, military and political. We were then prepared to begin the withdrawal of our forces as soon as an agreement in principle was achieved, even before the details of the political agreement were completely worked out, in our proposal we transmitted to you in October. We did this in order to meet your concern that withdrawal would be indefinitely delayed.
Now, with respect to the political situation. Our objective is not to maintain any particular administration. Our objective is to find a political process in which all realistic forces which exist have an opportunity to express themselves and a reasonable opportunity to gain power. We have given you our way of bringing this about, and we have invited your counter proposals.
Now I want to clarify one point you have made. Are you saying that if President Thieu resigns, the rest of the Administration can stay in office?
Xuan Thuy: So far as I understand the two-point elaboration of the Provisional Revolutionary Government, the political problem will be dealt with in the following way. First, Nguyen Van Thieu must resign immediately—immediately, not like in your 8 points, only a few months before election, but immediately.[Page 278]
Secondly, the people who remain in the Saigon Administration should change the policy of the Administration, that is to say cancel their machinery of coercion and repression, disband concentration camps, release political prisoners and ensure democratic liberties. The reason why the PRG has made this proposal is because in your 8 point proposal Nguyen Van Thieu will resign only one month before the elections and, when the election occurs, all the machinery of coercion and repression will still be there. These will not be possible conditions for democratic and free elections. The Election Commission you propose will not be able to ensure the democratic liberties necessary for the election. I think that the way proposed by the PRG can ensure the genuine democratic character of the election. You often claim that the PRG wants to overthrow the Saigon Administration and establish a communist government there. That is not true. I think that a three segment government is something reasonable, logical. And South Vietnam will be independent, neutral, and democratic. It is something reasonable, too, and we support this.
Kissinger: Let me understand precisely what you are saying. You are saying that all the members of the existing administration except Thieu can continue under this proposal?
Xuan Thuy: But they should change their policy. The main thing is that they should change their policy. Because if the policy does not change then how can the PRG talk to them? But how to change the policy I have described to you.
Mr. Le Duc Tho has something to say.
Le Duc Tho: Here we propose that Nguyen Van Thieu resign immediately. It means that all the other members remain in the Administration. But the change of an individual is not important. What is important is the change of policy.
I remember that once you asked me whether it were possible to change policy only and not change individuals. So now our proposal is that without Thieu, anyone can do. But the thing is to change policy.
Kissinger: What do you mean concretely by that?
Le Duc Tho: That means the machinery of oppression, repression and terrorist measures should be canceled and there should be genuine democracy in South Vietnam. It should not use fascist measures to oppose the people.
Kissinger: What does this mean concretely?
Le Duc Tho: This can be done not only by public official statements but also by acts.
Kissinger: Like what?
Le Duc Tho: To implement the statements already made, and if this can be done, then it will create a favorable political atmosphere [Page 279] for South Vietnam and help create a government of national concord. Otherwise, no government of national concord can be formed and no elections will be possible.
If you want now to withdraw from South Vietnam and create a peaceful, independent and democratic South Vietnam, there must be a political and democratic atmosphere in South Vietnam. Otherwise no national concord is possible. And I think this way of solving the problem is not only in the interest of the South Vietnamese people but also in the interest of the U.S. If a government can be formed of peace and neutrality this is also in the interest of the U.S. The political situation now in South Vietnam calls for such a solution, such a settlement, in the interests of both the people of the United States and Vietnam. Then a peaceful solution can be reached. And as for our stand, we have repeatedly told you such is our stand, and you still claim we want to put a yoke, establish a communist regime in South Vietnam. It is not true. Such a government would include three sectors of the population. This is taking into account the realities of the political situation in South Vietnam, and if you don’t agree to it, it will be difficult to settle the problem. This is the political process you mentioned in South Vietnam.
Xuan Thuy: I will add some concrete acts to be taken in South Vietnam, in the framework of a Saigon Administration without Thieu and with a changed policy. For example, Thieu has set up in many parts of the country many concentration camps, so the concentration camps should be dismantled now. He has arrested so many prisoners; these should be released now. Everyday too many papers are confiscated. So these should be free.
Kissinger: It is different from North Vietnam as far as publishing is concerned. Can anybody publish a paper in North Vietnam? I ask just for my own education.
Xuan Thuy: The Democratic Republic of Vietnam has a completely different system and we do not impose this system on South Vietnam. If now they require us to apply a system like South Vietnam, we refuse that.
Le Duc Tho: In our view the social democratic system is, however, the most democratic form of government.
Xuan Thuy: What we want to do is to take into account the real situation in South Vietnam.
Kissinger: One other piece of information, since I may not have the pleasure of seeing you again soon. When in your judgment should Thieu resign? When an agreement is signed? Prior to an agreement? When precisely should he resign?
Xuan Thuy: The sooner the better. If Thieu resigned tomorrow, it would be better, so a rapid settlement can be reached.[Page 280]
Le Duc Tho: But what is the reason for you to maintain Thieu in power for a few months more? That will do harm to you.
Kissinger: I think I understand your position, Mr. Special Adviser and Mr. Minister, and I think we should leave it that if either side has anything new to say we will meet again.
With regard to this meeting and what we say publicly about this private meeting, whether we should speak about it publicly. One difficulty is that my movements are so carefully watched now by the press it is quite possible that I have been missed in Washington today. I don’t know—I haven’t been in contact.
I think we should leave it that either side should be free to say that the private meeting took place, without revealing the subject. Neither side should make a formal announcement or seek an opportunity to make a formal announcement. Our difficulty is that if we are asked whether I met with Special Adviser Le Duc Tho what I should say.
Le Duc Tho: Then you should say “no comment.”
Kissinger: I can’t say “no comment.” I would have to say we don’t comment on private meetings. From “no comment” the conclusion will be drawn that there was a private meeting.
Le Duc Tho: Since you raised the question of private meetings, I would like to add this. In our view public and private meetings are necessary forums for negotiations. You requested us and we agreed not to make public the content of our private meeting. Although this is a minor question, since you made public our private meetings, you have acted at variance with your engagement, and from this minor question to major questions, I think in most cases you have violated your word. Now you have agreed with us that private meetings should be kept secret, the substance should not be made public—we agree with that. Therefore in our view we think that the fact of a private meeting and the substance of the private meeting should not be made public. Now if you pledge this, you should keep your promise. You once referred to mutual trust. You have damaged that trust we have from minor things. We should create an atmosphere of mutual trust; that would make an easier settlement.
Kissinger: I don’t think the Special Adviser suffers from excessive trust in people, especially Americans.
Le Duc Tho: It is definite that we cannot have confidence in you because you have violated our trust so many times. But in negotiations, to reach a settlement, at least we should have some mutual understanding, at least there must be minimal trust in each other. If, in everything we say, we mistrust each other, our experience is that the violation has always come from your side.[Page 281]
Now you agree not to publish the fact or the substance of this private meeting. We agree to that. But if now you tell newspapers you make no comment on private negotiations, they can speculate what they think.
Kissinger: We have a real problem. I have no difficulty promising we won’t reveal the substance of the meeting. That is a promise we can make and shall keep it.
Le Duc Tho: You will promise it and keep it once again (referring to the revelation of private meetings by the U.S. on January 25).
Kissinger: I have listened patiently to many of your accusations because of the high respect I have for you Mr. Special Adviser, but if we are speaking of mutual trust, we endured seven months of being accused by you of not responding to the seven points when you knew very well we had responded to these points. We had made a proposal to which you never had even the courtesy to reply. We had asked for a meeting which you in effect cancelled three days before the meeting. And then even if you were ill, we said we were prepared to meet any other time, and even then you did not even give us the courtesy of a reply.
Le Duc Tho: I always reply to all your proposals, although sometimes with a bit of delay.
Kissinger: There was no reply to our message in November when we said we were prepared to meet anytime, or anytime when your health permitted. We did not hear until February 15, which is over two months, which is three months; so therefore, let us not talk about accusations of bad faith. I have been confronted at meetings here with the Special Adviser three days after he met with newsmen or Senators, misleading them about a possible separate military solution.
I am prepared to practice mutual trust. I have attempted since 1967 to bring about an end to this war on a just basis. But if the Special Adviser starts a propaganda campaign again, then inevitably we will have to defend ourselves. But we will not reveal the substance of the talks—I have given this assurance.
As to the fact of a meeting, if my absence from Washington is noted today, we will be in a very difficult position.
Le Duc Tho: You can say that you were on a long weekend or taking a picnic.
Kissinger: Of course, we can say no comment in answer to a question. I promise you we will make no formal announcement and do our best—our answer will be no comment on private meetings but that part of it will be more difficult to maintain. The substance is in our control, and about that we will not speak. Is that agreeable to you? If asked, whether Dr. Kissinger met with Le Duc Tho, our answer will be that we do not comment on private meetings.[Page 282]
Le Duc Tho: The main thing is that both of us when asked about private meetings, say nothing about private meetings.
Kissinger: There is a danger of the press following close now. If there are photographers at every airport . . . I don’t consider this meeting as one I particularly choose to remember so I have no interest in having this one publicized.
Le Duc Tho: The press may follow you very closely, but they don’t necessarily know where you have gone. If asked you can say “no comment.”
Kissinger: My answer will be we don’t comment on private meetings, but do not get surprised if the speculation gets excessive. For example, newsmen assigned to the White House have a solution now. They call my office three to four times a day to see if I am there.
When the Special Adviser arrived here, he was not exactly retiring in his comments. Because even though he may not like it, his name is associated with me.
Le Duc Tho: I have made comments, but I did not refer to private meetings at all.
Kissinger: But the Special Adviser has a great ability to suggest things without saying them.
Le Duc Tho: You can see newsmen and tell them “no comment” and let them speculate anything they wish.
Kissinger: I want to have no doubt—if the Special Adviser becomes a TV star again and if he appears in the columns of his favorite newspaper, as he has a tendency to do, making accusations, we will respond.
Xuan Thuy: What is certain is that first we should insist on your undertaking of 1968 to stop the bombing of North Vietnam.
Kissinger: Let’s not get into that. Oh, you mean in public. I see.
Xuan Thuy: We insist on it here, too. The second point is we should insist on the cessation of Vietnamization.
Kissinger: You are not the most retiring interlocutor we have encountered.
Le Duc Tho: Any statement I make is to repeat our demands. I don’t refer to the substance of private meetings. I keep my promise on that score.
Kissinger: You only say things you know are not true once you know about private meetings. That’s worse. All last summer—you know well—there was a whole succession of journalists and Senators who came to see you. They came away with the impression that you were prepared to discuss a military solution only. It is true that you never said so explicitly, but with great skill you left that impression. You have to remember that most Americans are not as intelligent as [Page 283] Vietnamese. So you take advantage of our intellectual underdevelopment. After we heard that for 6 months, we made clear our side of the story.
Let me sum up where we go from here. We are prepared to reopen these talks either on the military issues alone, that is the complex of issues on withdrawal and prisoners of war. But my impression is that at this moment you are not prepared to discuss this. I want to make sure I learned my lessons properly.
Le Duc Tho: So you have correctly learned this lesson because I never separated these two questions. And when I talked to newspapermen I did not tell them this. The newspapers were just speculating.
Kissinger: But you didn’t do much to discourage them.
Le Duc Tho: They speculate too much.
Xuan Thuy: There is a lot of speculation about you, too.
Kissinger: Oh, about me. Secondly, we are prepared to resume these talks about a realistic political program in South Vietnam in which certain modifications of our eight points are possible provided there is a genuine desire on both sides to leave the political future to the South Vietnamese people to decide.
If you are prepared to discuss either of these two points, I will, of course, be prepared to have discussions with you leading to a rapid conclusion of the war.
Le Duc Tho: I have told you many times, and today I reiterate once again, that Minister Xuan Thuy and I come here with serious intent and good will to end the Vietnam war with a peaceful settlement. But this cannot be done unilaterally. I told you many times. There should be an effort from our side and your side, and the sooner the better to end the war. I am looking forward to meeting you again to settle the problem, and your proposals, if made, we are prepared to discuss them, to find out a really logical and reasonable solution which is in our interest and yours. And from now on if you have anything to tell us, please tell it to us directly.
I would like to furnish you some documents for your information. (He hands them over.)
Kissinger: Is Mr. Special Adviser staying in Paris for some time or is this a brief visit?
Le Duc Tho: If you want to meet me and Minister Xuan Thuy again, then I will remain here, but if you find no settlement possible, then I will reconsider my program and return to my country.
Kissinger: I think we should review the situation. Under present circumstances I cannot agree to another meeting.
(The meeting then adjourned.[Page 284]
(There was small talk for a few minutes. Dr. Kissinger stated that there could have been a settlement if the North Vietnamese would only be willing to leave something to history. The North Vietnamese said that the U.S. had missed good chances for a settlement, i.e. during the South Vietnamese Presidential election. As Dr. Kissinger got up to leave, Le Duc Tho declared that his side’s prospects were “good”.)
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 864, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam, Sensitive Camp David Memcons, May–October 1972 [5 of 5]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé. Tab A is attached but not printed.
This session was conducted during a major North Vietnamese offensive, known in the United States as the Easter Offensive, which was then reaching its high water mark with the fall of provincial capital Quang Tri. Nixon had responded to the offensive by ordering a massive air and naval reinforcement of South Vietnam, and by resuming air attacks on North Vietnam. The strategic situation was further complicated by the prospect of the Moscow Summit, which was planned for May 22–29.
In his May 2 report to the President about the meeting, Kissinger wrote: “I spent three hours today with Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy in a session that was thoroughly unproductive on substance but served to bolster further our negotiating record. I laid out various approaches for discussion, all of which they rejected. They made very clear that they were not prepared either to deescalate the fighting or offer anything new concerning a settlement.” Therefore, Kissinger continued, “I broke off the private talks until either side has something new to say or their offensive stops.” A stamped notation on Kissinger’s memorandum indicates that the President saw it. ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972, Document 110)
In a conversation with Haldeman that day, the President noted how disappointed Kissinger had been with the lack of progress in the negotiations. Nixon continued: “But the point is, Bob, we have got to realize that on this whole business of negotiating with North Vietnam, Henry has never been right. Now, I just can’t help it, but just have to say that, just a straight, flat-out conclusion.” Haldeman replied: “Well, Al [Haig] never thought he [Kissinger] was going to get anything.” To this, Nixon responded: “Well, I didn’t either.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Oval Office, Conversation 717–19; transcribed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972, Document 110, footnote 2)
In reporting to the Politburo about this meeting, Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy wrote: “We rejected Kissinger’s demand that we reduce the level of military activities, we rejected Kissinger’s slanderous statement that we have violated the 1954 Geneva Agreement, and we said that his statement that we violated the secret accord was baseless. We demanded that the U.S. talk directly to us about any ideas they have about a settlement and not speak to us through intermediaries.” (Message from Nguyen Duy Trinh and Le Duc Tho to Xuan Thuy, 2 May 1972, in Doan Duc, et al., compilers, Major Events: The Diplomatic Struggle and International Activities during the Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation, 1954–1975, volume 4, pp. 319–320)↩