15. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Le Duc Tho, Special Adviser to the North Vietnamese Delegation at 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 Note takers
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff Member
  • John D. Negroponte, NSC Staff Member
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff Member

Kissinger: It is a pleasure to see my two colleagues again. The Special Adviser is the one man I know who has a better gift for publicity than I. I read the speech he made on arrival at the airport. It was fine. But I read it.

I have one special problem I would like to raise. As you saw from the newspaper, my absence from Washington has been noticed. They [Page 286][journalists] are going to spend the whole day in Washington—which will begin in about four hours—checking up on me. And therefore I would like to propose that our spokesman be authorized to say that I am meeting with you—but nothing about the substance. I promise we will say nothing about substance, regardless of what happens at the meeting.

Let me read you what we would propose to say at 10:00 a.m. Washington time. What we would say is, “Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, is meeting in Paris today with Special Adviser Le Duc Tho and Minister Xuan Thuy of the North Vietnamese Delegation to the Paris peace talks. Dr. Kissinger is expected to return to Washington this evening.” Of course you are free to say the same thing from your delegation. I would give you our assurance that we would say nothing else, that we would not describe the content of the meeting or make any other comment. Otherwise, they will say it anyway, and the speculation will be excessive.

[Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy laugh.]

What do you think, Mr. Minister, Mr. Special Adviser?

Xuan Thuy: On several occasions I have told Dr. Kissinger that our meeting here will be kept secret if you wish it so. But if you want to make it public, we are prepared. Because even if we disagree, you will make it so! [laughter]

[Page 287] Kissinger: Last time you released it before we did! [laughter]

Let us understand this clearly. We will release this at 10:00 a.m. Washington time, which is 3:00 p.m. here. You are free to confirm this—or you can use the same text if you want to. We will say nothing else. We will not characterize the meetings. We will say nothing else.

Xuan Thuy: But if we are asked by journalists, what should we say?

Kissinger: That we are both agreed to say nothing about the content.

Le Duc Tho: I feel that the content of our negotiations here should not be made public, now or later, because the content of our negotiations is important not only for the present time but for a long period.

Kissinger: I agree with the Special Adviser. This will be done.

Le Duc Tho: Because all negotiations, not only our negotiations, should never be divulged.

Kissinger: The difference between our talks and Avenue Kléber is that we will say nothing whatever about substance. But I think what we should do in the future is to announce the fact of the meeting on the day it takes place, just to stop speculation. Just the fact of the meeting. Assuming there are other meetings.

I have Colonel Guay waiting outside. I want to give him the text to send to Washington. It will take five minutes.

My apologies to your interpreter, who has to carry a double load.

Xuan Thuy: Colonel Guay has to carry many responsibilities. So you have made good use of a good personality.

It said today in the paper that you brought your family to New York today.

Kissinger: I brought my family—my children—to San Clemente and then to Boston today. I will be missed in Washington today.

Actually my children will be in Paris 10 days from now. I thought we would put out an announcement, “Kissinger is in Paris.” He is 11 years old, my son.

I have just heard from Joseph Kraft, who was in Hanoi.

Le Duc Tho: [smiles] Ah!

Kissinger: I have not read what you said to him.

Le Duc Tho: Have you spoken with him?

Kissinger: No. He is in Paris now. He spoke to a member of our Embassy in Vientiane and gave some quick impressions.

Somebody in Hanoi called him a reactionary, which made him extremely unhappy.

Le Duc Tho: No one called him a reactionary!

Kissinger: No, not you.

Le Duc Tho: When I met him, he conveyed a message from you.

[Page 288] Kissinger: What was it?

Le Duc Tho: You asked him to convey it; you must know it!

Kissinger: I want to hear what he conveyed.

Le Duc Tho: Did you ask him to convey it?

Kissinger: I asked him to convey, first, my high personal regards, and second, that we were prepared to talk seriously. But frankly I wouldn’t give him anything important of substance. I said to him this was the moment for serious negotiations.

[Colonel Guay enters. Dr. Kissinger gives him the language of the announcement, tells him to call General Haig and to tell Haig that this language was approved by the North Vietnamese delegation for release at 10:00 a.m. Haig is also to tell all agencies to make no comment at all. Colonel Guay then leaves.]

Xuan Thuy: We should repeat that we are very pleased to meet Dr. Kissinger and we are prepared to listen to your new views.

Kissinger: [Pointing to a thick black briefing book in front of him]: These are old views!

Before we proceed may I ask you another question? We have been harassed by a Mr. Taub who is a lawyer for Mr. Hoffa. He has been in contact with the Special Adviser and claims he has an offer for Hoffa to go to Hanoi and that some prisoners will be released. He [Hoffa] is a convict, he has just been in a penitentiary and is on probation. Therefore he is still under sentence. I cannot believe you would have us release a convict in order to release prisoners to him. He says he has documents you gave him.

Xuan Thuy: Spell the name.

Kissinger: T-a-u-b. And H-o-f-f-a. Taub claims to have met the Special Adviser in Sofia.

Le Duc Tho: When I was in Sofia, there was an American, probably Mr. Taub, who requested to meet me in Sofia. But I did not meet him. So now at present Mr. Taub is requesting an interview with me. But I will not meet him.

Kissinger: It is entirely up to you. I want you to know what he is doing in America. He is claiming that you have invited Mr. Hoffa to come to Hanoi so you can release prisoners to him. He is also claiming that for this reason the President should give a pardon to Mr. Hoffa—because at this moment Mr. Hoffa is on parole and is not permitted to leave Detroit. Taub is the lawyer for Hoffa. He now says if we don’t give the pardon he will make a public attack on us.

From our point of view it is an advantage for you to deal with Hoffa, because there is no one in America who has any respect for him. And you are free to do what you want. If you want to release [Page 289]some prisoners to Hoffa, that is your privilege. But frankly I wanted to hear it from you rather than from him, just to hear what your intentions are. Taub is really a very shady character. I am not saying this as a criticism of you; I just want to learn the facts.

Le Duc Tho: In sum, when I was in Sofia, Taub requested to meet me and I refused. Now he is requesting to meet me, and I will refuse. As for Mr. Hoffa, he requested a visit to Hanoi. So far I have not met Mr. Hoffa, and I have not yet decided to let him go to Hanoi. His trip to Hanoi will be decided by the responsible services in my country. But I believe there is no transfer of prisoners to Mr. Hoffa. Because he may make visit like other Americans, but I believe there will be no transfer of prisoners.

Kissinger: The problem is that he is under sentence and may not leave Detroit, much less America, except under special permission. We would have to pardon him for him to go to Hanoi. He is not a political activist. It is not political. He is in prison for allegedly stealing money. We would let him go to Hanoi only if you said you would release prisoners to him. And then it would be an interesting question why you would release prisoners to someone who is under sentence in the United States.

Le Duc Tho: [laughs] We don’t know the curriculum vitae of Mr. Hoffa. We know only that he is a trade unionist.

Kissinger: Formerly.

Le Duc Tho: And previously a number of trade union leaders have visited Hanoi. This will be decided by our friends in Hanoi.

Kissinger: Whether you invite him is entirely your business. We don’t want to interfere. The prisoners were the only concern of ours. You have had a friend of mine, Mr. Gibbons—I believe the Special Adviser met him—he is a good friend of mine.

Le Duc Tho: I met him.

Kissinger: He may want to go to Hanoi—but that is up to you.

We were only concerned about prisoners. I understand the prisoner issue. He [Hoffa] was put in prison by Robert Kennedy, not by us. As long as Mr. Hoffa doesn’t concern prisoners, Mr. Hoffa doesn’t concern me.

Le Duc Tho: Quite right, there are Americans who want to visit our country, like Joseph Kraft and many others.

Kissinger: Shall we begin?

Le Duc Tho: Yes.

Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser and Mr. Minister, you put a question in what has become your special way, which is that we must have something new to say.

[Page 290][Tho and Thuy laugh.]

Le Duc Tho: Naturally there must be something new to say. If we only repeat old proposals, there will be no settlement.

Kissinger: The Special Adviser has already given me a preview in his statement at the airport.

I believe part of our difficulty is what is reflected in this. I believe we both must be prepared to say new things and use a new approach. Because I have come here to make one last effort in this Administration, I thought a way to proceed was for me to tell you candidly what I believe our problems have been in our previous thirteen meetings and then to propose a procedure for proceeding, to give both of us an opportunity to see whether we can take account of the other side’s point of view. I do want to say I am here because we do want to make a serious effort to make a solution and we believe that with goodwill and a new approach on both sides, there is a possibility of such a solution.

I know the Minister and Special Adviser get impatient with me when I become too philosophical. [They laugh.] But I would like to make a few general observations first, partly for my colleagues here and partly for my colleagues in Hanoi who will undoubtedly study this record.

I want to explain why we have—you in particular—have not made full opportunity of this particular channel. We have settled major problems with other countries, with some of which we have had no contact for two decades, by using this particular channel—for two particular reasons: When I negotiate on behalf of the President, I have authority to make big decisions, and then to carry the bureaucracy with me. I can go to the essence of a problem and then let the technical people work out the details. We have settled with other countries—with some of which we have had hostility for many decades and which are of more concern to us than Vietnam could possibly be, because they were willing to settle the big things and leave the details for the future. Once we have done that, we were meticulous and precise in carrying out every commitment and every understanding. And you can talk to those countries yourself if you want their impression.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am not saying we have discussed Vietnam with other countries; I am saying that the bilateral problems we have had with other countries have been settled on that basis. As for Vietnam, one thing we have reached agreement on is that the problem of Vietnam will be settled in Paris and not in the capital of any other country.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by how to settle issues on the basis of what can be done now and what must be done in the [Page 291]future. And I will speak with great frankness, because that is the only thing that will distinguish this channel from Avenue Kléber.

When I made my first trip to Peking, this was a very serious matter for us and we were very serious about improving our relations with the People’s Republic of China. We had worked on it for many years. But if at that first meeting the Chinese side had said to us, “We have seven demands—they read as follows: You must . . . you must . . . you must . . . ” And if when I said anything else they had said “You are not very specific.” Or if they had said “The first thing you must do is replace President Chiang Kai-shek with a government that stands for peace, independence and neutrality, and after that we will talk to you”—we would have made no progress. I am not trying to win an argument with you, because either we will settle or we will not settle. But I really believe you have not understood us. I really want to make sure that if our discussions fail, it will not be because you didn’t understand us. I am saying we could make progress because we could decide what we could do then and what we could do later, and because we made a minimum of confidence in each other.

Now I want to tell you, Mr. Minister and Mr. Special Adviser, that we are at least as serious about wanting to end the war with you on a just basis as we have been in the policies which I have described to you. And the reason we have failed—in my judgment—is that you have dealt with these negotiations as if we were lawyers drafting a document and you were looking for escape clauses by which we would trick our way back into Vietnam after we had left. In my view, you have used the plenary sessions not to negotiate but to mobilize public pressures. And you have used the private meetings again not to negotiate but to find if we were prepared to yield secretly to demands we had failed to yield to publicly.

In this—if you forgive me—obsession with avoiding what happened in the past, you have misunderstood our real objectives. It is true, we have attempted to separate the military outcome from the political outcome, but not for the reasons you believe. We are not looking for an opportunity to reenter Vietnam. We are not seeking to perpetuate a political conflict in Vietnam. We are seeking to separate our direct involvement from the political outcome, so that what happens later is the result of Vietnamese conditions, not of American action. And we want to do that for very general reasons, not because we want to back into Vietnam. I must tell you I have never understood—not to win an argument—why if you have confidence in yourselves you cannot at least explore this approach.

Let us take for example the situation last year in 1971. If you had accepted our proposal of May 31, we would be out of Vietnam by now. The election in Vietnam last year would have taken place with all [Page 292]Vietnamese knowing we were withdrawing. And therefore the possibility of the government to take unilateral action would have been circumscribed. And I believe your position today even in the political field would have been even stronger than it is.

Or,—I am not trying to score points, but I am talking seriously, this is why I am not making specific proposals in this first part—take the situation in July 1971. Let me explain to you what I was trying to do, although I did not say that in so many words. We understood what you were proposing very well. But if I may say so, you were too formal and too legalistic. We believed that if we could have agreed in July 1971 on an agreed withdrawal of American forces and a statement of principles about the political evolution, the events that then happened in August with respect to the election would have been impossible, and there might have been a good chance for a free and democratic election in October.

Finally, when I came here on May 2 [1972] to discuss with you, we were prepared to accept a ceasefire, and at that time your military position was better than it is today, and therefore your political possibilities would have been better.

The Special Adviser has explained to me very often that you have political objectives. We understand this. And we do not oppose political objectives that reflect your real strength. But we do not want to accomplish them for you, but we will not shrink from consequences that flow naturally from the decisions we make. If we could have agreed last year on the disengagement of American forces and the return of prisoners, and if you had shown some patience, many of the events of this year would not have occurred.

Let me tell you once again what our principles are with respect to a settlement in Vietnam:

In a period when we are reducing our presence elsewhere in Asia, we can have no incentive to maintain American troops or American bases or American predominance in one little corner of Asia called Vietnam.

Secondly, when we can live with governments that are not pro-American in the largest Asian nations, why should we insist on a government that is pro-American in Saigon?

Third, if we can coexist with Moscow and Peking, we can coexist with Hanoi. Our two countries do not pose a long-term threat to one another. Indeed, strange as it may seem, once this war is over, we have every interest in your independence, autonomy and well-being.

Fourth, your nation will continue to be a permanent factor in Indochina when we will have withdrawn 12000 miles. We thus genuinely want to negotiate a solution that respects your independence and meets your reasonable concerns.

[Page 293]Fifth, we are interested in Southeast Asia in the independence and neutrality of the region and not in any bases or alliances with us.

Sixth, we are not wed to any particular personalities or any particular orientation in South Vietnam. We are willing to let events in South Vietnam take their natural evolution, without our presence and without our predominant influence. We are not looking for an excuse to return.

These are our basic principles. But there are also some immediate necessities to recognize for both sides. One, neither side should seek to impose a military solution on the other. The political outcome must be left to the people of Vietnam. The withdrawal of American forces from Southeast Asia is not only a military fact but a political fact, that will have a profound political influence. Any attempt to use these negotiations to affect the American elections will end these negotiations until after the elections. In fact, we now find the following irony. [The interpreter asks Dr. Kissinger to repeat the previous point.] Any attempt to use these negotiations to influence the American elections means that we will end these negotiations until after the elections. In other words, we will not be affected by the elections. The history of the negotiations has produced the following irony: The practical effect of our proposals has been to withdraw from Vietnam; the practical effect of your proposal has been to keep us in Vietnam so we could accomplish the political objective you want us to do for you.

So this is where we are. We do not believe there can be a military solution. We do not believe there can be any change in the overall political circumstances.

You can of course gamble on our elections. You will have seen in the Herald Tribune today the latest polls indicating the prospects [Reuters account of Newsweek survey, Tab A.] And you know, of course, that President Nixon’s term ends on January 20 and not on November 7. And you will have to decide whether you really want to turn this election into a referendum on Vietnam, because if the outcome goes as now appears practically certain, you will have weakened your supporters in the United States enormously.

But I am not here to discuss our domestic politics. I am here to remind you that you will get no better terms after the election.

But also I am here to meet with you in a spirit of conciliation and goodwill. I hope we can abandon unilateral demands. I hope we can look understandingly at each other’s point of view. We will not use third parties, official or unofficial, appointed or self-appointed. I propose that we talk openly with each other. And I propose that we set a specific work program for ourselves. We should set an overall goal of what we are trying to achieve. We should decide on the relation between what we do here and the public sessions. And we should try to establish a specific schedule.

[Page 294]The Special Adviser and the Minister have always accused me of a lack of concreteness and specificity [they laugh], by which they meant that I did not sign the documents they put before me. But what has been lacking is a genuine understanding of what we have been trying to achieve. Neither of us will be able to trick the other. Once we agree on general objectives, we will find practical solutions relatively easily. Once we deal with each other on the basis of goodwill, you will find us meticulous and reliable in carrying out our promises. This has been the experience of all the countries we have dealt with, including some of your allies. We made eight agreements in Moscow in one week, and we have carried out every nuance of every agreement. So I want to tell you from our side that we want to do this with you. Since you’ve tried every other approach why not try this new approach?

I promise you this will be the last general thing you will hear from me. I will have something specific to say about how to proceed, but I want to hear your reaction to this, Mr. Special Adviser, Mr. Minister.

Xuan Thuy: We think we have come here to find a way to peacefully settle the Vietnam problem, and the sooner the better. For our side, we think that the United States in the past has missed many opportunities that have been offered, and you should have settled the problem soon. And now we do want to negotiate with Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger with goodwill and a serious attitude to settle the problem. Therefore we are prepared to listen to the concrete schedule that Dr. Kissinger will present.

Le Duc Tho: I have been listening to your presentation, what you might call “the general line of the United States.” And we wish to listen to your concrete schedule. After that we will express our general line and then our concrete line too. Because if there is always such a general statement about a general line then no settlement is possible. Because if a settlement is to be reached you should be frank and bold in presenting your views and we will do the same. Because it is the time now to reach a settlement. This should be your objective requirement, and ours too.

Kissinger: I agree with you. But these negotiations will end like all the others if Hanoi takes the position that you have reached a condition not reached by any other human beings, namely infallibility. It is impossible that all proposals must come from us and that the test of concreteness is how closely we approximate the unilateral demands of my colleagues.

Xuan Thuy: We have also made many proposals too, to be discussed by both sides.

Kissinger: Yes, you’ve made many proposals, but . . .

Le Duc Tho: Now, I would move a little break. After the break, I would wish to listen to your concrete schedule and we shall express [Page 295]ourselves. Because, since we start the discussions to find a method to solve the problem, both sides should express their views.

[It was 11:20. The group gets up from the table.]

Kissinger: See, I enjoy talking to you so much that I have an incentive not to settle so I can continue these meetings.

Le Duc Tho: A mutual incentive!

[Dr. Kissinger, Le Duc Tho, and interpreter Phuong step out on the balcony outside the meeting room for the following informal talk during the break. Minister Xuan Thuy retires upstairs.

[Kissinger: Vietnam is not that central a feature in our policy. It has to be in your policy. If I may say so, I do not think your leaders have fully understood. Seriously, once the war is settled, Vietnam will gradually become a subsidiary issue for American foreign policy. It will never become a subsidiary issue for your policy.

[Le Duc Tho: But I think the Vietnam issue is the crucial issue of the world situation. Because with the solution of the Vietnam problem many other problems will be settled. Your relations with China, with the USSR. So the Vietnam problem is a problem for the U.S. This is a reality.

[Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, Vietnam is a problem to us. But it is not an obstacle to our worldwide policy the way it was four to five years ago. It has some domestic implications but our international position . . . it has pluses and minuses for you. When John Foster Dulles and John Kennedy went into Vietnam, they thought you were agents for other Communist countries. You remember Dean Rusk said you were carrying out the policy of Peking. We recognize this is nonsense. We have experienced that you are very difficult. But we recognize that you carry out your own national policy and nobody else’s. So in this sense we have no global incentive to be in Vietnam. Containing Peking was an objective for the U.S., but containing Hanoi is not an objective for the U.S. You are no threat to us. So this is a factor that will reduce our permanent involvement in Vietnam no matter what happens, even if we don’t settle.

[On the other hand, I don’t believe our relations with other countries are affected by our relations with you, as recent events have proved. So from this point of view the situation is also difficult for you. So for both of these reasons, if we can settle the war, you have an assurance you didn’t have in the 1950’s and 60’s that the U.S. will reduce its role in Indochina.

[For example—this is speaking privately, not a negotiation—you have made much of an agreement to reduce our aid. For many reasons a formal agreement is very hard for us, not because we want to go back in but because of other countries, far away from you. But do you [Page 296]think Congress will appropriate as much money to Vietnam after a settlement? We don’t give a billion dollars to any country. So if aid to Vietnam reduces to what is normal for a country that size, once peace is restored, that is a reality.

[In other words, it doesn’t depend on the clauses in the agreement. You have experiences from a different phase of American foreign policy. John Foster Dulles and Dean Rusk were bound to get involved in Vietnam and Laos regardless of what was in the agreements. It was their philosophy that got them in Vietnam, not their agreements. We are going to a new philosophy—if you let us. You are keeping us in there. It is one of your great achievements!

[Le Duc Tho: After a settlement, relations between Vietnam and the U.S. should be new relations, and I believe they should be good relations.

[Kissinger: I agree.

[Le Duc Tho: Let us have refreshments, then I will respond.

[They come back inside. The meeting resumes at 11:42.]

Xuan Thuy: Mr. Special Adviser Dr. Kissinger has expressed your general views on Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Let us now express our own views on Vietnam and Southeast Asia. After that, we would propose that you present your concrete schedule as you have raised.

Now, Special Adviser Le Duc Tho will speak about our general attitude.

Le Duc Tho: You have just let us know your general line. Let us now express our own views on the general situation so far in the negotiations between the two sides, and our general observations on the general situation and general policy of ours. And then we would prefer to listen to your concrete views on the settlement of the Vietnam problem. And then we shall express ourselves.

Kissinger: That is fair enough.

Le Duc Tho: So far the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the United States have had a dozen private meetings. We feel that this 14th private meeting has its important significance, because if the two sides make a new effort toward an adequate solution of the Vietnam problem, then this meeting will be a turning point.

Now I will express myself in a comprehensive way. First, I would like to review the process of the negotiations between you and us, and our general position regarding Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, our policy toward the Southeast Asian region, and our policy toward the United States.

Now, let me speak about the first question. You are a university professor, a statesman and a diplomat. You have been following the Vietnam problem a long time now, and you are in charge of direct [Page 297]negotiations with us. You know Vietnam is a small country. We have been subjected to aggression for 1000 years by powers many times stronger than Vietnam. But the Vietnamese people have stood up to every aggression, despite every sacrifice and hardship, to seize back our independence and freedom. And many times in the past we have won glorious victories. This is the past history of the Vietnamese nation.

Enhancing this tradition of gallantry and nonsubmission, the Vietnamese people have stood up against French colonialism and now U.S. aggression. The United States is the biggest power in the world, and it has poured millions of tons of bombs and shells to devastate our country—a small country with an underdeveloped economy. We can say that no inch, no acre of our country can be spared U.S. shells. In every inch there is Vietnamese blood poured. Though we can make every sacrifice, our people are determined not to submit our country to be enslaved again. Even if we lose everything, we are not prepared to lose our freedom. The victories we have won against French colonialism and the victories we have won in the last fourteen years over U.S. aggression testify to this fact. Our people have toiled endlessly for their freedom.

But the Vietnamese nation is also a peaceloving nation. We know full well that for a small country, a war should be settled not only by armed struggle but finally by peaceful negotiation. And after a settlement, the two sides can maintain good relations. Vietnamese history has testified to this. This is why over the past 25 years the Vietnamese have carried out many negotiations—in 1946 with the French, in 1954 at the Geneva Conference on Indochina, in 1962 at the Geneva Conference on Laos. Therefore, we feel there is no reason why we cannot achieve a peaceful settlement with the United States.

But what is the reason why our negotiations have not come to any result over the past four years, as you have just said? Actually the negotiations between Vietnam and the U.S. are different from the negotiations you conducted with the Soviet Union and China, very different. And therefore there are difficulties. It is not so easy as you have done with the Soviet Union and China. You have carried out an aggression very deep and very long in Vietnam. Therefore to get out is not easy. Because you are not concerned with Vietnam only, you are concerned with other parts of the world. This is a difficulty.

As for us, we are one people, determined to win back our freedom and our independence. And we will not yield to military pressure. The objectives of the United States and the objectives of Vietnam are different. It is different from the negotiations you conduct with the Soviet Union and with China because these are with big powers.

Therefore now let us review our negotiations here, why over the past four years the negotiations were not fruitful. Today at this forum [Page 298]I am reluctant to engage in polemics about which side is responsible for the failure. I would like to point out the fact that since President Nixon came to power, U.S. policy is centered on Vietnamization of the war. You have been continuously expanding and intensifying the war throughout these four years of negotiations. That is why you have been carrying out very fierce, very cruel sweep operations throughout South Vietnam with a view to build up and consolidate the Saigon Administration. And this for the purpose that after your withdrawal you would be in a position to continue your policy in Vietnam. Then you extended the war to Cambodia and to Highway Number 9 in southern Laos. And now you have carried out a fierce air and naval bombardment of Vietnam and have blockaded and mined our seaports. And with such acts of war, how can we negotiate? And so it is clear you are not ready to negotiate. You have missed many opportunities to settle the Vietnam war peacefully. We think with your policy of Vietnamization of the war you still want to force us by military pressure to accept your terms. That is, you want to get out of Vietnam but after you get out you still want to implement in one form or another your neocolonialist policy.

You used the pretext that the North Vietnamese Army launched an offensive against the South to justify the mining and bombing. You wanted to stifle North Vietnam in violation of the U.S.’s engagement of 1968 with us. The reasons you invoked for intensifying the war are not legitimate. Because over the past ten years since the U.S. aggression against Vietnam began, the Vietnamese people in both zones, North and South, have united and have stood up in one common front to strike back and defend the independence of their country. This is the legitimate right of self-defense of every country in the world. You know full well that the military forces that fought on Highway Number 9 in Laos are the same forces that fought in Quang Tri and Thua Thien. There are no other forces.

Kissinger: On whose side?

Le Duc Tho: The Liberation forces. There are no other forces.

Kissinger: One could argue that they had no right to be in Laos in the first place. But you can finish your statement. You cannot derive a right to fight in South Vietnam from the fact that they are already in Laos and Cambodia. But I’ll let you finish.

Le Duc Tho: Your bombardment and your blockade of North Vietnamese seaports are aimed at forcing us to surrender, and at winning a strong position in the negotiations for you. Today I would like to point out to you that the bombing raids are not aimed solely at military targets but at densely populated areas, at dikes and dams, at targets that have no possible military significance. Journalists, politicians, friends, have been visiting us and witnessed this. Nevertheless President Nixon has affirmed that the bombs are aimed only at military and not civilian targets. This is utterly false.

[Page 299]We wonder, if the U.S. really wants an adequate peaceful solution, how President Nixon can continue the bombing and mining. It is time now to enter negotiations to really settle the problem. Your actions will but deepen the hatred of our people, will prolong the war and hinder our negotiations. Therefore we think that in order to create a propitious atmosphere for the negotiations that are coming now to a turning point, the U.S. should stop the bombing of North Vietnam and the mining of our ports. We think you should carefully think over and look over past experiences. Continuation of the bombing of North Vietnam may create more destruction and more sacrifice for our people, but the bombing will not succeed in subduing us and will not settle the fate of the war.

And the continuation of the Vietnamization policy that is now failing in South Vietnam will get the U.S. involved indefinitely in Vietnam, and no one knows when the U.S. will get out of Vietnam. If now the U.S. still thinks you can settle the problem by continuing military measures and trying to settle from a position of strength, certainly it will be a great mistake in the term of President Nixon.

We firmly believe the American people will not allow President Nixon to continue such actions, which are not in the interest of the American people, of the Vietnamese people, or of the world’s people. The best way to settle is by negotiation. For our part we really desire a peaceful settlement. It is time now for you and us to enter serious negotiations, to discuss questions of substance and reach a logical and reasonable settlement acceptable to both sides.

Settlement of the Vietnam question directly involves you and us. It would be a useless effort if you try to find another way than negotiating, if you resort to other diplomatic maneuvers. The problem will not be settled that way.

Kissinger: He doesn’t like my traveling.

Le Duc Tho: And the experiences of the last four years of negotiations are evidence of this. In our negotiations there is a very important factor, that is, a common desire to reach a settlement, a mutual understanding. And it is also important to create minimal trust between the two sides, as you have just said. You have just said, if a settlement is to be reached, we should express our views in a frank, open-minded, straightforward way. Because the two sides have been separated by a deep gap of hostility and mistrust. Therefore a settlement requires a mutual understanding and confidence, a minimum of understanding and trust, and a realistic outlook. We are prepared to enter into negotiation in this same spirit but we wonder if you are prepared in the same spirit.

Hitherto we have negotiated and signed many documents with you, in 1954 and 1962. But up to now these agreements have been torn [Page 300]up. Even the U.S. agreement of October 1968 regarding cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam is not honored by you. Even in the less important things, such as divulging the private meetings, you have never kept your promise. We have been deceived too many times.

Parenthetically, when I met Joseph Kraft, I told him so. After the meeting he told another journalist. He confirmed that actually the North Vietnamese have been deceived too many times. This is a fact. So the fault is not on our side.

Kissinger: It is unfair to put our journalists up against the Special Adviser. Last year he defeated Anthony Lewis, this year Joseph Kraft.

In fact if you kept Kraft in Hanoi, he would be in the last batch we would repatriate.

Xuan Thuy: He is now back.

Kissinger: To my regret. Now he will attack me.

Xuan Thuy: So your last man has now left North Vietnam [laughter]! You will not ask for others.

Le Duc Tho: So we are now going to negotiate and settle the problem. But we wonder if the agreements will be kept for a long time, or if they will be reversed no sooner than signed. If so, no good results will come of the negotiations. Are you prepared to keep your words, and strictly respect agreements reached, and match words with deeds? In a word, we will now begin serious negotiation and settle the problem for the immediate and long-term interest of both sides. Then we should realize mutual agreement, mutual confidence. All agreements, signed and unsigned, should be honored to wipe out hostility, to build confidence in the future and a long-term relationship between the two sides.

Let me speak on another question, that is, our general view of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I will also first speak on our policy toward the U.S., in the immediate as well as long-term period.

After World War II, in 1945, we seized back our independence from the hands of the Japanese fascists and founded an independent country. You see, in the midst of resistance against Japanese fascism, on the Vietnamese front, we had contact with Americans. The U.S. was one of our allies against Japanese fascism. The Americans came to our base in Viet Bac [northern Vietnam] and gave advice and training. And it is not mere coincidence that in our declaration of independence we quoted some sentences from your Declaration of Independence of 200 years ago. It was said, “All men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This shows that from the early days of our independence, in 1945, when the Vietnamese people turned a new page in our history, we had already a good intention to have a new relationship with the United States on a new basis.

[Page 301]Unfortunately, shortly afterward the French colonialists returned to Vietnam and the U.S. helped the French, and changed its policy, to put a colonial yoke on Vietnam. After nine years of resistance we won a very great victory, and the Geneva Agreement of 1954 recognized the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Vietnam. Immediately after, the U.S. replaced the French, and sent troops directly, for aggression against Vietnam, with a view to make Vietnam a base for a neocolonialist policy. And the U.S. sent its air force to bomb North Vietnam, and the whole people stood up against U.S. aggression.

The object of our policy is to defend, preserve, the fundamental principles of the Geneva Agreement of 1954. Vietnam is one. The Vietnamese people are one. Definitely, Vietnam will be reunified. This is the deepest aspiration of every Vietnamese in the two zones. And we stand for the reunification of the two sides by peaceful means, by common agreement by the parties. Pending the peaceful reunification of our country, we have no other desire than to see the South and the North as independent and neutral, as provided for by the 1954 Geneva Agreements. North Vietnam will not allow foreign military personnel and military bases, and North Vietnam will not join any military alliance with foreign powers. South Vietnam should do the same, and not allow foreign military bases or military personnel and should not join military alliances. South Vietnam will not impose a socialist system as we have in the North. But South Vietnam should not be a neocolony of the U.S., and should follow a progressive democratic system. Pending reunification of the country, the two zones, North and South, should maintain a close relationship in all fields. We hold that the two zones should maintain peace and contribute to lasting peace in the area.2

This is our basic objective with respect to the real situation between North and South Vietnam at present.

What is our policy toward Laos and Cambodia? Over the past four years, the U.S. has not only carried out a war of aggression against Vietnam, but also has extended the war to Laos and Cambodia. Faced with such a situation, the Vietnamese people have united with the Lao and Cambodian people to fight aggression and defend their independence and freedom. This is a historical necessity. Vietnam is a small country; Vietnam will never carry out aggression against any other country. We consistently respect the independence, neutrality, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Laos and Cambodia. We will respect the provisions of the 1954 Geneva Agreement on Cambodia and the [Page 302]1962 Geneva Agreement on Laos. The internal problems of each country, Laos and Cambodia, must be settled by its own people. The problems concerning the Indochinese countries should be settled by the Indochinese parties on the basis of respect for their independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, without interference by other countries in their internal affairs. For its part, North Vietnam is prepared to participate in a settlement of these problems. Since our political objectives with respect to Laos and Cambodia are so clear, that we have shown restraint on our military activities is known to you.

Kissinger: Where have you shown restraint? I just want to know the localities; I am not arguing.

Le Duc Tho: In Laos and Cambodia. You have been following the military situation. This is known to you.

Besides that, in the Southeast Asian region, we stand for a peaceful, independent and neutral Southeast Asia. We state that we are prepared to participate in zonal cooperation for economic development and cultural exchange. This is beneficial to a lasting peace in Southeast Asia.

With the U.S. in particular, we think that after a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam problem, there is no reason that prevents the relationship between our two peoples from becoming fine again, to open a new page in our relations, and reopen the relations of many years ago, as I stated. We will implement our desire for good relations for two score years. In spite of the hostile past between the U.S. and Vietnam, we are confident that after a settlement of the war in the interests of the two countries, we are sure that Vietnam will maintain good relations with the U.S. as we have done with the French, and history shows we have done so many times.

That is why the Provisional Revolutionary Government has put forward in its Seven Points that Vietnam should follow a foreign policy of peace, independence, and neutrality. And South Vietnam will establish relations with all countries irrespective of their social and political systems, establish economic and cultural relations with all countries, receive the cooperation of all countries to exploit the resources of South Vietnam, accept economic and technical aid from all countries without political conditions attached, and participate in cooperative programs in the field of economy. On the basis of these principles, after the war South Vietnam will establish political, economic and cultural relations with the U.S.

As for the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, we will also pursue a foreign policy of peaceful coexistence. We shall establish relations with all countries irrespective of the political systems of these countries. With regard to the United States, we wish for the establishment of relations in all fields with the United States. And we wish that the United States will establish the task of healing the wounds of war and [Page 303]will help rebuild devastated areas. After the restoration of peace, we shall put an end to a period of hostility between the two countries and shift into a new period of good relations on the new basis of equality and mutual interest.

Obviously, all the above is possible only with a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam problem. In the present international situation, there are plenty of complex contradictions in every area. We do not want to be involved in such complex contradictions. We consistently maintain our independent sovereign policy to settle all internal or foreign problems arising from our own life. This independent and sovereign policy is the sure guarantee of our independence and freedom.

Basing ourselves on this real situation, we have expressed our very basic views on a whole series of issues of practical concern. We would like to hear your views on these issues. This is all the proposals I would like to raise with you. Now I expect you will present your concrete views on the solution to the Vietnam problem. I am prepared to listen to you.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, Mr. Minister, first one procedural point. I want to express my appreciation for your having your interpreter interpret for both sides, which must be a strain on him. We will try to find, if we have future meetings, someone who speaks Vietnamese or French and whom we trust. The latter is the limiting condition! We are aware of the fact that this is a great imposition, and this requires great stamina. Unfortunately for your opponents—but fortunately for these discussions—you possess great stamina.

Now I want to say I appreciate the spirit in which the observations of the Special Adviser were put forward. If we proceed on both sides with this attitude, then even if we start some distance apart we can make a serious effort to narrow these differences. That will be our approach.

I will make one observation about the American domestic situation. The Special Adviser has pointed out that “the American people will not permit our government to pursue its present policy.” As has been proved over the last four years, our domestic opposition is not capable of stopping our policy. The popularity of the President increased enormously after the decisions of May. Jane Fonda does not represent America. But that should not be the point, because we want to settle the war and we don’t need that particular argument.

As I explained to the Special Adviser privately when we were standing outside, we have our own reasons—above all in terms of our overall situation. The original reasons which led to our involvement are no longer valid. I also agree with the Special Adviser that there is a special problem in our negotiations. We have global responsibilities. And therefore we tend to look at certain Vietnamese problems in terms of their effect on parts of the world which are of no concern to you. [Page 304]Indochina is your principal problem, and therefore we have a different perspective. This is no argument against a solution; it means we will have to be somewhat patient with each other in the process of negotiating. It isn’t a lack of goodwill on either side.

Now the Special Adviser asked one question, which I think requires a thoughtful answer, which is: If we come to an agreement, will we keep it? I want to tell the Special Adviser and the Minister that if we come to an agreement we will observe not only the letter but the spirit, not only formal aspect but every nuance.

[Tho starts to speak, then stops.]

The Special Adviser needs equal time?

Le Duc Tho: Because I wondered about the word “nuance.”

Dr. Kissinger: The reason I use the word “nuance” is, no matter what we write down, there will be two aspects: What conditions does it bring about and what trend does it start? The important thing is whether both sides are willing to live with the trend that it starts, and understand it, so that both are willing to go the road no matter what happens. Not all proposals will solve everything at once, but some things will have to evolve—even with your proposals.

I formed the impression that the Special Adviser is somewhat influenced by Leninist philosophy. Am I correct? [Tho laughs.] And therefore, seriously, we both know that whatever we sign will be the start of a process. And that is why I wanted to say we must understand the consequences and both sides will live with it. We are prepared. In fact, that in many ways will be the most important agreement we reach, if we reach agreement.

A few other observations of the Special Adviser give us no problem. We don’t want to maintain bases or military personnel in any part of Indochina at the conclusion of hostilities. Second, we have no difficulty agreeing to a foreign policy of neutrality for all the countries of Indochina. So we have some positive beginnings.

Now with respect to specific proposals, we can proceed in two ways. One is, I could present to the Minister and Special Adviser some modifications of our May 8 proposals.

Le Duc Tho: Modifications or qualifications?

Dr. Kissinger: Modifications, and at the same time I would be prepared to go over with the Special Adviser and the Minister a point by point questioning of your Seven Points and Two Points to make sure we have understood them correctly.

Another possibility is that since this is going to be a somewhat time-consuming process if we start it now, I would like to pick up a point the Special Adviser made with respect to our military activities. The point being that the Special Adviser seemed to believe that our [Page 305]military activities in North Vietnam had a detrimental impact on the prospects of negotiation. Of course, we believe that your military activities in the rest of Indochina have a detrimental impact on the prospects of negotiation.

It is therefore possible that we could discuss here—and we also recognize that a general ceasefire of indefinite duration presents particular difficulties to you—one approach could be that we agree on a ceasefire of some four months’ duration throughout Indochina, during which period both sides would stop their military activity and negotiate the details of a settlement. We would, as part of such an arrangement, propose the release of some prisoners, presumably those who have been kept in prison the longest time.

May I ask the Minister and Special Adviser what they think of this interim approach while we negotiate the details of the other.

Le Duc Tho: Our position regarding a ceasefire is known to you so far. We advocate that you and we should settle all military and political problems and after agreement is reached and after the signing of an agreement, then a ceasefire could take place. And I remember once in our discussions you agreed to this approach. The reason why I hold this view is that only after a settlement of all the problems a ceasefire will last and lasting peace will be assured.

Dr. Kissinger: But I am now speaking of a temporary ceasefire to allow negotiations to go on. Say three or four months.

Le Duc Tho: I think to conduct negotiations and settle the problem both sides should go into reviewing all questions and agree on an agenda of items to be discussed, and to come [enter] into discussions of these items. If in one question we meet with difficulties in our discussion we shall shift the discussion to another. We shall come to an agreement and then a ceasefire shall take place. In our view, such a ceasefire will be a final ceasefire, a definite ceasefire, for a lasting peace.

There is no point to observe a three-month, four-month ceasefire and then [have] hostilities resume. We feel that if you really want serious negotiations, the way we have proposed is the correct one, a practical one. This is the same way we adopted at the Geneva Conferences in 1954 and 1962.

Dr. Kissinger: I have no objection to this procedure. But I want to make clear we are prepared to discuss a temporary ceasefire. In our view, a cessation of military operations while negotiations are going on would create a better atmosphere for negotiations. We for our part are prepared to stop military operations throughout Indochina, if you are prepared to do this, to permit negotiations to proceed in a better atmosphere. But as I understand it, you’re not prepared to discuss this today?

[Page 306] Le Duc Tho: We hold our view as I presented it to you.

Dr. Kissinger: We just wanted to understand it. Then let me proceed with some modifications of our May 8 proposal. Then we are prepared to listen to any modifications of your proposal, and if not, I can proceed with some questions on your proposal.

Is this an agreeable procedure?

Le Duc Tho: Please now present your views, modifications, and we will then express ourselves.

Dr. Kissinger: I am talking about the proposal presented by the President in his May 8 speech.

First, you remember it required an internationally supervised ceasefire throughout Indochina. The two sides should enter into immediate discussions to determine its modalities. In case of such a ceasefire, the United States will cease all acts of force throughout Indochina and will cooperate with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in deactivating mines placed in North Vietnamese ports and waterways.

The modification I would like to present is: When I met with you on May 2 we were discussing withdrawal of all your forces to the positions of March 29, prior to the offensive. Our proposal would be that in the ceasefire the armed forces of both sides would stop all offensive action against each other from the positions they now occupy, in other words that the ceasefire would be essentially in-place.

Second, with respect to withdrawal of United States and allied forces, we have proposed that we would withdraw from South Vietnam all U.S. forces and all allied forces within four months of the implementation of such a ceasefire, and within four months after the prisoners have been released.

We are now modifying this proposal to say that the prisoner release can take place side-by-side with the withdrawal.

Third, with respect to political issues, we are prepared, side-by-side with a ceasefire, to agree with you on some political principles which should govern the political future of South Vietnam. These are:

—South Vietnam should be free to decide its future free from outside interference.

—Second, the U.S. will remain neutral in any election, abide by the results of an election or any other political process shaped by the South Vietnamese, and is prepared to define its economic and military assistance relationship with any South Vietnamese government.

—Three, the countries of Indochina should adopt foreign policies of neutrality.

—Four, reunification of Vietnam should be decided through discussions and agreement between North and South without constraint or annexation by either party.

[Page 307]—Five, the problems of the Indochinese countries should be settled by the Indochinese parties on the basis of mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and non-interference in each other’s affairs.

—There should be an international guarantee for the fundamental national rights of the Indochinese peoples, the status of all countries in Indochina and lasting peace in the region.

These are the modifications of our May 8 proposal that I would like to present. It constitutes a definition of ceasefire that differs from what we proposed on May 2, a modification of the timing of the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces, and some general principles to guide the political process.

Here is an informal copy to help your translation. [A carbon copy of the original at Tab B was handed over.]

Le Duc Tho: Now, I would like to have some preliminary remarks, and then I would propose a break.

What you have called a modification and a specific proposal I feel are not a modification and are not specific. Because you still maintain a ceasefire and withdrawal of U.S. forces in four months—because previously it was four months—and release of prisoners. Regarding political questions, I have the impression I am hearing again what you have said over the past thirteen sessions. They are not even as clear as your Eight Points—for example, on the resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu and the timing of elections. So these are not as concrete and specific as your previous Eight Points.

Dr. Kissinger: Which were also not concrete or specific.

Le Duc Tho: But these points are even less specific than the Eight Points in certain points.

At the beginning, you spoke about goodwill and specific proposals. I have been expecting some specific proposal. But what you just said, they are similar to previous statements and to what you said in public statements. But I think in this forum you should speak in a different way.

So these proposals do not match with what you said in the beginning about goodwill and specific proposals. The questions I have just raised about our general position toward Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Southeast Asia, and the United States I feel are more specific and positive. So up to now, [in] what you have just said, besides the general line, there is no positive point. As for us, since the beginning, you should have realized that we desire to have serious negotiation.

Dr. Kissinger: Since the beginning of what?

Le Duc Tho: Of this meeting.

But the statement you have made just now is contrary to my expectation when I listened to you at the beginning.

[Page 308]This is my preliminary remark after listening to you. This is my frank expression. You have not responded to my frankness. So this beginning has not opened up a good prospect yet.

Dr. Kissinger: The Special Adviser has proposed a brief break. Could I suggest that after the break he point out to me which aspects of his presentation we should pay particular attention to, which ones have positive aspects, because whatever we begin I want him to know we will examine very carefully his presentation. Could we do that? And I also have questions to ask as well. Because I believe the spirit of his presentation was a positive one. Which is more than in fourteen meetings the Special Adviser has ever said about me.

Le Duc Tho: But on the contrary your response is a negative one. In order to bring results to the negotiation both sides should be positive.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: I still remember the message you sent us. You said you would come with a positive and constructive attitude. I think the result is the contrary. I still remember also that before leaving last time you also said you would next time have something new. But these points I have already from reading the speech of President Nixon.

Dr. Kissinger: I have said before that in order to proceed constructively we should go over our proposals, which have never been discussed.

[The group gets up from the table, at about 1:34 p.m., and goes to the next room where snacks and drinks are served. Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy leave to confer privately. The American side engages in small talk with the North Vietnamese interpreter and notetakers. There is much eating, and relaxed friendly conversation. After about half an hour Le Duc Tho returns alone.

[Informal conversation took place, along the following lines:

[Dr. Kissinger: Do you trust the Minister to be left by himself?

[Laughter]

[The Special Adviser has the habit of always telling me I am not concrete enough and then a year later telling me I missed an opportunity.

[Le Duc Tho: If you are more concrete, we can reach a solution. Today is another opportunity.

[Dr. Kissinger: Speaking as an historian, the war will eventually be settled—in spite of me! Maybe next year if not this year. But we both have to extricate ourselves from an historical process in which we are both engaged.

[Le Duc Tho: I hope you extricate yourself in this term of the President. The U.S. has solved many problems lately, of not so much difficulty. Vietnam is a difficult problem.

[Page 309][Dr. Kissinger: You have to help us.

[Le Duc Tho: You and I together. If you succeed you will be number one as a trouble-shooter.

[Dr. Kissinger: I always say that the person who says “flattery will get you nowhere” has never had flattery. May I ask the Special Adviser how long he has been a member of the Communist movement in Vietnam?

[Le Duc Tho: Way back, before the war.

[Dr. Kissinger: It took great moral courage to join then. I have great admiration for the personal courage of you and your leaders.

[There was other small talk. About 2:20, Minister Xuan Thuy returned and the group reconvened at the table.]

Xuan Thuy: You will continue?

Dr. Kissinger: My impression was that the Special Adviser would point out to me now which points of his presentation deserve special attention. And we would then discuss which particular points we should emphasize in reflecting on this meeting, and we would then comment on that.

Le Duc Tho: In the first part of my presentation, I would like to draw your attention to the passage in which I emphasized our goodwill and serious intent. And in this passage I would like also to draw attention to the point that if you also show goodwill and serious intention you should stop the bombing of North Vietnam and the mining of North Vietnamese seaports. Because these do not reflect goodwill. In doing so you want to force us to surrender and want to gain a strong position from which you want to negotiate. I also pointed out that in negotiating we should create an atmosphere of mutual confidence and both sides should respect engagements made. These are the points I should like to draw attention to.

In the second part, I expressed my point of view with respect to Laos, Cambodia and Southeast Asia—these are very fundamental questions—and toward the United States too. Please, I would suggest that you examine them carefully, not only for the present but also for the long term future.

Now, going into the solution itself, I would like to know your view. Throughout the negotiations there are two biggest outstanding questions, first the political solution and second, the way to conduct the negotiations between us. As to the other questions, I feel that in principle we have come to the same view on certain questions.

Before dealing with these questions, I would like to know your views on these two outstanding questions: First, the political question of South Vietnam. How do you envisage the political process in South Vietnam, very concretely? The way you have just expressed was in very general terms.

[Page 310]You claimed we wanted to impose a three-segment government on South Vietnam as a Communist government. It is not true, not correct. Because a government including these three segments cannot be a Communist government. One segment will be chosen by the Saigon Administration without Thieu, as I have said. One segment belongs to the Provisional Revolutionary Government and will be chosen by the PRG. And the third segment is composed of neutralists in South Vietnam, not favoring the Provisional Revolutionary Government nor the present Saigon Administration. So we believe that such a government includes people of all political colors and tendencies, from rightist to leftist.

Such a government reflects the real political situation in South Vietnam, because at present there are two administrations in South Vietnam; besides, there are neutralist political forces. The existence of these political forces constitutes an objective reality. And I think that to achieve a lasting peace these three forces must realize national concord. Otherwise, if there is no such national concord among the opponent forces, then the war will resume. This is our point of view on the three-segment government.

Repeatedly you make public statements that this three-segment government is a Communist government. It is not true. Because the structural organization, the regime of such a government is quite different from North Vietnam’s socialist government—not only in structural organization but also in the economic, cultural area as well. Actually, such a government contains the features of a progressive democratic bourgeois regime. Such is my point of view on the three-segment government. What are your views?

Dr. Kissinger: Let me ask you some questions. I confess I believe that your three-segment government is objectively . . . will lead objectively to a Communist government and that is what you are proposing. You have proposed to journalists that perhaps I didn’t understand it, so let me ask about it.

First, what is the relation between your two clarifying statements and the Seven Points? Do they supplement them or supersede them?

Le Duc Tho: Basically speaking, these two elaborations are the same as the Seven Points but they give more clarification and they add something to them.

Dr. Kissinger: What is the new element they add?

[The other side searches for a copy.]

I have them. I want to know what the new element is.

Le Duc Tho: In these two elaborating points, as regards military questions merely speaking, they are like the Seven Points. But previously we set a date, a time limit. Two or three times we tried such a [Page 311]date. But you didn’t respond to such a proposal. Now we only move that you set yourself a specific date for withdrawal; we no longer set a specific date. So it is up to you now to propose a date and we will discuss such a date.

Regarding the political questions, previously we demand a change of the Saigon Administration completely and to replace it by a new government standing for peace, independence and democracy. Now we demand only the immediate resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu. The remaining members of the Saigon Administration may remain but should change their policy to comply with the democratic liberties as required in Article 14(c) of the Geneva Agreement. So it is more flexible than previously.

Dr. Kissinger: Not really. You’re asking the same people to follow your policy!

Le Duc Tho: No, only a change in policy to provide the democratic liberties of Article 14(c). I remember you once asked me if a change of policy was enough. So we said here, “a change of policy.”

Dr. Kissinger: Let me understand it. First, President Thieu resigns, second, the Saigon Administration without Thieu changes its policy—all this time the war continues—then this government, without Thieu, negotiates with the PRG. All the time the war continues. Only after the PRG and his government have agreed on a new government of national concord will the war stop.

Le Duc Tho: [Nods yes.] After agreement is reached on all questions, including political questions, then a ceasefire.

Dr. Kissinger: So let me summarize. Thieu resigns. Then a government without Thieu changes its policy. Then this government with the changed policy negotiates with the PRG. Then after it has completed negotiations with the PRG there will be a ceasefire. That’s correct?

[Tho nods yes.]

Again, so that I know what you’re talking about: “Resign immediately.” It doesn’t mean I agree with it, only that I understand it. I don’t want to get the Minister’s hopes up! [laughter]

Xuan Thuy: You’re understood.

Dr. Kissinger: Next, the Saigon Administration must end its warlike policy. Now what is it you want them to stop?

Le Duc Tho: When we speak of a change of policy by the Saigon Administration, we mean the enforcement of democratic liberties provided for by Article 14(c).

Dr. Kissinger: Like what?

Le Duc Tho: Such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of meeting, stop all terrorist measures, stop all the arresting of opposition people, stop all repression.

[Page 312]Dr. Kissinger: But you say this has no relation to North Vietnam?

Le Duc Tho: In North Vietnam we are constantly applying democratic liberties.

Dr. Kissinger: You have an opposition . . . ?

Le Duc Tho: This was the demand we made in 1954.

Dr. Kissinger: You have freedom of the press? [They nod yes.] Anyone can publish a newspaper?

Le Duc Tho: Anyone can publish a newspaper.

Dr. Kissinger: Even against the government?

Le Duc Tho: There is no one in North Vietnam who wants to publish such a paper.

Dr. Kissinger: You took care of that?

“Disband the machinery of repression.” What does this mean? Do they have to disband the police?

Le Duc Tho: In every country there are military forces, there are security forces. It is something normal in each country. But in South Vietnam it is something abnormal; it is a huge machinery for repressing the people. There are concentration camps.

Dr. Kissinger: But that is in a separate point. What is it they have to disband?

Le Duc Tho: We mean here the concentration camps.

Dr. Kissinger: But you mention concentration camps separately.

Le Duc Tho: But in South Vietnam there are also camouflaged concentration camps just to keep the native population on the spot and prevent them from returning to their native villages.

Dr. Kissinger: What happens to the police?

Le Duc Tho: I think that besides the army every country has a police force to keep security.

Dr. Kissinger: Can they keep their present police force?

Le Duc Tho: I think you and I should enter into a discussion of the basic questions, for instance, the question of the three-segment government, the question of the resignation of Thieu, and the government minus Thieu changing its policy and ensuring democratic liberties. Questions such as the police we can discuss later.

Dr. Kissinger: Not unless I know what you mean. What happens to the South Vietnamese Armed Forces?

Le Duc Tho: Now in South Vietnam there are two different administrations, two different armies. In point 3 of the Seven Points it is said that this question will be settled by the Vietnamese parties themselves in a spirit of mutual respect without foreign interference.

Dr. Kissinger: But there are two separate questions: What happens after the Government of National Concord exists, and what happens [Page 313]after Thieu resigns but before the Government of National Concord is formed?

Le Duc Tho: After the resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu and before the formation of the Government of National Concord, the army of Saigon will remain the Saigon Administration armed forces.

Dr. Kissinger: But how can it end its warlike policy if it still has an instrument of making war?

Le Duc Tho: Because after the Government of National Concord is formed and there is agreement on all questions, political and military, the armies of the two sides will end the war.

Dr. Kissinger: No, before the Government of National Concord. You say after Thieu resigns, the new government does certain things and then negotiates with the PRG. If it continues fighting the PRG, you will say it is still pursuing a warlike policy and that someone else has to go.

Le Duc Tho: No, there are two aspects here. On the one hand, democratic liberties should be insured to the people. But when the liberties are insured but agreement is not yet reached, then the armies will go on fighting.

Dr. Kissinger: But then it will be pursuing a warlike policy, will it not?

Le Duc Tho: I think, as it happens elsewhere, hostilities are going on on the one hand and democratic liberties will be insured for the people on the other hand. Then a ceasefire will come. And maybe after the resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu the two sides may agree on a number of things to reduce hostilities, and maybe the ceasefire will come.

Dr. Kissinger: What do you mean by the end of pacification?

Le Duc Tho: It means the cessation of sweep operations and the arrestation of the population. I believe that when the two administrations sit together these questions will be discussed.

Dr. Kissinger: But this is what the administration has to do in order that this be discussed. We don’t object to this as a result, but you are insisting on this as a precondition of a discussion.

Le Duc Tho: We put forward a number of points for a settlement of the problem. You too put forward a number. We can discuss them. In every negotiation—it is here a practical point—you cannot win everything you put forward, as we cannot win everything we put forward. Here is a subject for negotiation.3

[Page 314]Dr. Kissinger: I don’t know why the Special Adviser won’t win everything he puts forward. He is certainly making a tremendous try for it!

Le Duc Tho: You are, too. Both sides are trying for it. But you, like us, should discuss, negotiate, make an effort. Am I right?

Dr. Kissinger: You are right. Both sides cannot gain everything and we should look at these as points for negotiation. If this is your attitude we can look at yours in a different atmosphere.

Le Duc Tho: So please express your views.

Dr. Kissinger: I have another question. What do you mean by “The U.S. should stop its policy of Vietnamizing the war”? It is in your Seven Points.

Le Duc Tho: I mean by that that you want to nourish, nurture, the Saigon regime, consolidate it, build up its army and use its organization to continue the war while you withdraw, to continue what we call your neocolonialist policy.

Dr. Kissinger: This is, you say, our intention. But you cannot proscribe intentions. What is it you want us to stop doing in the first point?

Le Duc Tho: I think that in action you should stop supporting an administration you have set up. You should look at the real political situation in South Vietnam and act in keeping with the real political situation, that is, set up a three-segment government. That will reflect the real political situation.

So I have expressed my views on the three-segment government. What are yours?

Dr. Kissinger: But they are not yet clear to me. Because as I understand it, point one has to be implemented independently of point two, in either case [seven points or two points]. The military point. And because the Special Adviser wants us to keep every promise, and he is asking us to make a promise, I have to understand what he is asking us to promise.

As I understand it, we have to stop Vietnamization of the war. That means we have to stop economic and military aid to the successor government to President Thieu while that government is negotiating with the PRG. Is that correct?

Le Duc Tho: While this successor government to Thieu is discussing with the PRG, then U.S. economic and military aid to South Vietnam will have no change. But when the two parties agree on all points and come to formation of the three-segment government, then this three-segment government will decide its own policy on what economic and military aid. After the formation of the three-segment government, which economic and military aid will be decided by itself.

[Page 315]Dr. Kissinger: Obviously. But then let me ask about timing. Does it mean that U.S. withdrawal will not start until the three-segment government has been formed?

Le Duc Tho: In our view, when agreement is reached on all questions, and signed, and a ceasefire is observed, then the U.S. troop withdrawal begins. In what period, the parties will discuss.

Dr. Kissinger: But the ceasefire won’t go into effect until the government of concord is formed.

Le Duc Tho: After agreement is reached on both military and political questions, then the ceasefire will start.

Dr. Kissinger: But if the two sides agree only that the Vietnamese sides will discuss the formation of a government of national concord, is that already an agreement?

Le Duc Tho: In our view, agreement is reached when the two sides sit together, negotiate, and come to agreement on how to form the three-segment government.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s when the ceasefire begins? Only after the three-segment government is in fact formed?

Le Duc Tho: After agreement is reached.

Dr. Kissinger: Agreement to form it? or on how to form it?

Le Duc Tho: When agreement is reached on the composition, organization, prerogatives, and tasks of such a government, then an agreement is signed and a ceasefire starts. After a ceasefire, the three-segment government will assume its responsibilities to implement the agreement that has been reached.

Dr. Kissinger: I think I understand now.

Le Duc Tho: Please express your views.

Dr. Kissinger: I will express some preliminary views. I want to tell the Special Adviser we will study everything he has said with the greatest care, both his formal statement and his specific answers.

My preliminary answer is that we do not object to a government of national concord if it emerges out of free discussion among the South Vietnamese parties. The United States would not oppose some of the policies you describe if they were the outcome of a political process rather than a precondition for a political process.

For example, we have no objection to saying that the Government of South Vietnam can determine the amount of economic and military aid it receives. For example, we have no objection to saying that as a result of negotiation among the South Vietnamese parties democratic liberties should be assured.

What we object to is that as a condition of negotiation the objective basis of a Saigon Government should be destroyed so that the subsequent negotiations are a mere formality.

[Page 316]For example—let me be concrete—you have about eleven divisions in South Vietnam today. The PRG has three or four more. If now as a precondition to negotiation you say the Saigon Administration must change its warlike policy and if you define its warlike policy as resistance to these divisions, then you are asking them to yield before negotiations start. If on the other hand you say that political issues are to be settled among the genuine political forces in South Vietnam and they can fight each other until agreement is reached, then many of your political principles in your second point can be accepted.

So the distinction between your proposal and ours is partly a question of timing and partly a question of how it comes about—and partly a question of who does it. We have no difficulty accepting very strict definitions of nonintervention in South Vietnam’s political life. We have great difficulty in imposing a particular political solution.

Some of the things the Special Adviser has said were positive, such as that American aid can continue until there is a new political . . . Others were more ambiguous, such as his reluctance to define precisely some of his formulations which, if I know him, he has thought through very precisely.

These are some preliminary reactions.

As I understand him, the lack of concreteness the Special Adviser complained about in the paper I gave you concerned primarily political issues. As I have told him, my concern is partly that sometimes he is excessively concrete. At the same time, I don’t think the Special Adviser has fully studied the political impact of some of our military proposals.

I would particularly like to call his attention to my statement that if there is agreement, if he and I reach understanding on the political evolution, he can absolutely rely on our carrying out our understanding—a procedure we have followed in some other instances. We have no desire to leave Indochina by the front door only to reenter by the back door. As difficult as this Administration has been for you in many respects, so it will be meticulous in carrying out its engagements.

So I would propose—but I am willing to continue this discussion—but I propose that both sides study this record. And by next time we will undertake to see if we can give more concreteness to the political side in light of the discussions today, and if the Special Adviser can keep in mind our points have perhaps come up with some concrete proposals of his own. And then we could do as the Special Adviser suggests, put them side by side, and if there is difficulty on one, go on to the next until we either reach agreement or narrow the differences.

Le Duc Tho: May I express some views before . . . ?

Dr. Kissinger: Please. I have time. I just wanted to suggest a procedure. I’m willing to go on.

[Page 317] Le Duc Tho: You blame us that we are too concrete, and we blame you that you speak in too general terms on the political questions.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree. I understand and will take into account.

Le Duc Tho: So there lies the difference. We would like to have your more concrete views on the political questions and your views are not concrete enough. What we would like is to discuss, we and you, both military and political questions. After discussing all the problems and after coming to an agreement, you and we, if there remain specific questions that need discussion between the South Vietnamese parties, we hold that discussion of all problems must lead to agreements. And then after the signing of agreements a ceasefire can take place, and implementation of the signed agreements can begin.

The difference between us is the following: First, the political question, and second, the way to conduct negotiations. We would like to discuss both the military and the political questions very concretely, very detailed, and come to an agreement. You want to separate the military and political. You speak of the political questions in very general terms. After agreement comes between us, there will remain detailed questions, military and political, that will need the very thorough discussion of the Vietnamese parties. When all these are settled, then a ceasefire.

As to the other questions, on some we have agreed in principle. On others we need further discussion, but we feel they present no difficulty.

As you propose, I consider the two sides will reexamine the records. I agree with you. Today you have put to me a great deal of specific questions. Next time I would like to hear your views. But today you have not yet said anything. Next time I expect you will speak more concretely, more comprehensively all questions, and we will be prepared to discuss with you.

Dr. Kissinger: You said more comprehensively, not more comprehensibly!

Mr. Special Adviser, Mr. Minister, among the issues left unresolved is who will be the Vietnamese parties that will negotiate.

Le Duc Tho: We will discuss next time.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but this is one of the questions that must be discussed. There is no need to answer now.

Le Duc Tho: We have clarified on the two elaborating points.

Dr. Kissinger: It would be much easier if the existing Saigon regime were one of the parties. Many things would be much easier for us.

Le Duc Tho: What are your views on the conditions we have put forward, such as the resignation of Thieu and the change of policy?

Dr. Kissinger: The change of policy is easier as a result of negotiations than as a precondition of negotiations. Similarly for the resigna[Page 318]tion of Thieu. He after all has said publicly he will resign if a settlement is reached. But it is another thing to say before you talk about a settlement that he must resign.

Another problem is the timing of a ceasefire. At this moment we are not the primary victim of military operations. So it is not to our unilateral advantage to stop military operations. On the contrary, all the advice we get is that it is a unilateral advantage to you. My view is that the timing of a ceasefire—at what stage it occurs—is something you ought at least to consider again.

My final point: Mr. Special Adviser, you sometimes think on the political point that we are more devious than we are. You give us too much credit. But it may also be possibly partly due to the fact that Vietnamese conditions are not all that easy to understand. Therefore I recommend that both sides come to the next meeting with concrete proposals, and not just we. We will see whether we can come up with some concrete political ideas.

Le Duc Tho: Regarding ceasefire, we still maintain we should come to agreement on all questions and it should be signed, and then a ceasefire should take place, not unilateral but all parties. We disagree on that.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand. In principle, if we could come to a rapid settlement of the other issues it would become an academic point.

Le Duc Tho: Quite right. And you should go rapidly to the resolution of other questions.

Dr. Kissinger: Really, Mr. Special Adviser, we are not all that concerned about a ceasefire. So don’t overestimate its utility as a bargaining instrument.

Le Duc Tho: [Pause] It is up to you.

Dr. Kissinger: There are a number of practical problems. First, when should we meet again?

Le Duc Tho: It is up to you to fix a date.

Dr. Kissinger: How about August first? Is that too long?

Le Duc Tho: All right.

Dr. Kissinger: 10:00 o’clock.

Le Duc Tho: Right.

Dr. Kissinger: Here?

[They nod yes.]

Le Duc Tho: I expect next time you will bring with you more complete, comprehensive, clearer questions.

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t think it’s my questions he objects to. It’s my answers he objects to. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: Quite right.

[Page 319]Dr. Kissinger: Could we do it July 31st if August first isn’t possible? I will let you know by Friday. It will almost certainly be August first. I will let you know by Saturday.

You are quite right. I will come up with more concrete proposals. I can’t guarantee you will approve them. Can I expect you will do the same, based on our general discussion?

Le Duc Tho: We will study your ideas carefully.

Dr. Kissinger: Will you come up with any ideas of your own?

Le Duc Tho: If you read our statement, both should come here with goodwill and a positive attitude.

Dr. Kissinger: But it is difficult for us if you are always the critics. In other words, don’t be shy.

Le Duc Tho: Both sides will present proposals.

Dr. Kissinger: Once before, private proposals were followed by public proposals. May I assume that until you hear from us there will be no public proposals?

Xuan Thuy: At the beginning you said we were using public channels for mobilizing public opinion, and the same with the private, we were not using them for real negotiation. This is not true. We come to the Kléber sessions with a desire to settle the Vietnam question, and the sooner the better. And the Kléber sessions began before we had these private sessions.

And since we met the first time in 1969, we have agreed that side by side there would be two forums. These two forums exist side by side and assist one another. You ask whether what we are saying here will be made public. I will say that what we are saying here is this channel’s work.

And the Special Adviser has expressed our side’s point of view very clearly, very exhaustively, and we have made comments on your remarks. But I am very pleased that today your questions have been more detailed than previously, and you have shown a more positive attitude, and these more detailed questions have been answered. And I want to say that all the proposals made here can be discussed. You say we want to discuss our proposals and not yours. This is not true. We want all proposals to be discussed, to find a solution.

I agree, next time we will go into details.

Dr. Kissinger: Can I get an answer to my question? Since Mme. Binh is not in this room. Once before you proposed Nine Points in the private sessions, and then a few days later Seven Points publicly. I want to know whether at any time there will be public proposals. I can tell you that we will make proposals to you here. We will not make public propaganda.

[Page 320] Xuan Thuy: Now we should review history a little. Because at that time Mme. Nguyen Thi Binh asked me to convey a message to you to meet you so she could pass on proposals to you.

Dr. Kissinger: That was before she knew my reputation. I didn’t want to ruin her reputation!

Xuan Thuy: Since we agreed not to disclose the content of these private meetings, what is said here will not be divulged.

Dr. Kissinger: Look, if either your side or the Provisional Revolutionary Government makes a public proposal while these talks are going on, we have no choice but to construe it as public pressure on us. We will not accept this.

Xuan Thuy: What instructions have you given Ambassador Porter to discuss in the next few days?

Dr. Kissinger: I will tell you. Since I don’t think we can get progress unless we do it in this channel, there is no point in confusing everybody with the public forum. I have told Ambassador Porter to just continue discussing our May 8 proposal.

[They laugh loudly.]

Le Duc Tho: If that is what Ambassador Porter will do, then Minister Xuan Thuy will have nothing to do but repeat his old position.

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t want to be confronted by you with a new public proposal that was not raised here first. Or by Mme. Binh.

Xuan Thuy: Does it mean that Ambassador Porter will continue to speak of the May 8 proposal and Mme. Binh should continue to speak of the Seven Points and the two elaborating points?

Dr. Kissinger: Right. For at least the next two sessions. And if we make progress here, then Ambassador Porter and the plenary sessions could go into the details of whatever progress has been made. As soon as progress has been made here, we are prepared to move rapidly to the details. If we make progress in these private meetings, we are prepared for Ambassador Porter to meet with you in restricted meetings on details, as well as the plenaries. We can decide that later.

Porter will be instructed to repeat old ground but to use conciliatory speeches and not to embarrass you or to put questions that put you in a corner. [Laughter] I know this is too much to ask of Mme. Binh. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: So you are right, and next time at this forum we shall discuss how to conduct the negotiations. This is to go into questions of substance here and at the public meetings just continue.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. Now I have two practical things. Next time I will try to bring a Vietnamese-speaking interpreter here, to ease your burden. Engel, if I can find him. [They nod OK.]

[Page 321]Secondly, would it be acceptable to you to have a secretary here to take shorthand notes? It’s basically up to us. It’s a girl. I know Mr. Special Adviser and the Minister are immune, but I don’t want to upset your colleagues.

Tho and Thuy: All right.

Dr. Kissinger: And sometimes could I perhaps bring Ambassador Porter to sit in here so he can understand better what we are doing?

Xuan Thuy: We can decide that sometime. You should know that since he came to Paris, his attitude has been quite different from his predecessors. His attitude does not create favorable conditions for us to enter into substantive negotiations.

Dr. Kissinger: When I am here he will behave himself.

Xuan Thuy: Xuan Thuy has negotiated with Harriman, Lodge and Bruce, but even the American press has said Porter has . . .

Dr. Kissinger: We can have another meeting without him. If we make some progress, it will be helpful to have him here because he will be handling much of the detail. We can decide that later.

We want to be correct with you. We will make no comment about the substance of these meetings. If there is any speculation in the press, it will not have come from us directly or indirectly. We will tell no one, except the President, of course. If we are asked about other meetings, we will say, “Further meetings will be announced as they are held,” that is neither yes nor no. And we propose that on the day of other meetings we make the same announcement at 10:00 o’clock that we made today.

Le Duc Tho: Do you propose that we should have an announcement for each meeting? Or that we decide at each meeting?

Dr. Kissinger: I think I am watched so much now that we should just announce it as it occurs. We will make no announcement in advance and nothing about substance. If the occasion should require that we meet especially urgently and secretly, we could meet in, say, Switzerland, and do it separately.

Le Duc Tho: I propose we should decide at each meeting.

Dr. Kissinger: The practical difficulty for me is that since my secret trips, the press have a rotation. They call my office every two hours when they think I am out of town. Then they ask our press office. It is very difficult for us to lie, and then be found out. Especially in an election year.

But we would announce it only while we are meeting, not beforehand.

Le Duc Tho: Like today.

Dr. Kissinger: Just as today—and with exactly the same language. In fact, the best would be if you and we did it jointly.

[Page 322] Xuan Thuy: Now if we are asked what is discussed, we should agree on an answer.

Dr. Kissinger: The answer we will give is “By mutual agreement, we will not discuss the content of these private discussions.” If they ask me, “Are you optimistic or pessimistic?” I will say “No comment.” [They laugh]

We will never vary it. The only thing I can think of is, if they ask how long it was we can say six hours, rather six and a half hours.

Xuan Thuy: All right. If they ask in what place?

Dr. Kissinger: “In Paris, at our usual meeting place.” We shouldn’t mention it, or we’ll have television outside. [Laughter] His publicity bent is such that I don’t trust ourselves.

Le Duc Tho: What publicity?

Dr. Kissinger: No, I appreciate the Special Adviser’s restraint on this trip.

Le Duc Tho: In the plenaries, we will just expound our point of view.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s the problem. That’s what you always do! This was our longest session.

Le Duc Tho: Our longest session, but not so much result.

Xuan Thuy: You put to him a lot of questions on political questions and he has answered you. And you should match up your questions and your answers.

Dr. Kissinger: Both sides.

Then we will see you August first or maybe July 31. We will be in touch Saturday.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 864, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—Vietnam Negotiations, 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, Choisy-le-Roi. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

    By late June, the North Vietnamese offensive appeared stalled. A Politburo report, while trumpeting “strategic successes,” noted that “the relation of forces between the revolutionary [North Vietnamese] forces and the enemy [South Vietnamese forces] in SVN [South Vietnam] is balanced. We have not yet secured predominance over the enemy.” (Quoted in Luu and Nguyen, Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris, pp. 278–279) After reviewing the situation, the Politburo directed the resumption of negotiations and a move to a “peace strategy,” offering concessions necessary to gain U.S. withdrawal from the war, while protecting its primary interests. As Le Duc Tho later characterized the decision, “Once we sat at the negotiating table, the question was not to obtain what each side had not been able to obtain on the battlefield. Neither side could obtain everything it wanted, there should be mutual concessions, but what concession was possible, and what was not must be clear.” (Ibid., p. 242)

    On July 17, the Politburo sent guidance to the North Vietnamese delegation, directing a conservative approach to the negotiations: “The basic goal of our diplomatic struggle at this time is to support the achievements of the strategic military missions that we have discussed with you. Only in that way will we be able to shatter the American ʻVietnamization’ program. With this in mind, the immediate future is not yet the right time for a settlement. Timing is the important thing—acting too soon or too late would both be harmful to our cause.” (Major Events: The Diplomatic Struggle and International Activities during the Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation, 1954–1975, volume 4, p. 294)

    Kissinger later wrote in his memoirs: “Our basic strategy in the private meetings starting July 19 would be to make no new proposals until Hanoi’s intentions became clearer.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1309)

    He reported to the President on the meeting in a July 20 memorandum. Regarding Le Duc Tho’s and Xuan Thuy’s behavior at the meeting, he told Nixon that “their non-polemical approach and ambiguous positions in this initial meeting are compatible with serious negotiations. They gave themselves the option to move in the direction of our January 25 proposal. The channel is reopened to explore this possibility, which should be enhanced by the military and diplomatic realities facing Hanoi.” Furthermore, he continued, “we lose nothing and give up no options by playing this string out. The minimum we achieve is building a reasonable negotiating record. The maximum we could gain is either a fair settlement or a temporary ceasefire; while these goals are still distant, we are in a good position to explore the chances.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972, Document 211)

    Le Duc Tho summarized and assessed the session in a report to the Politburo on July 23: “The American attitude indicated that they want to reach a settlement, but for now they are just trying to feel us out to see what cards we have to play and they have not yet put forward anything new. We also want to reach a settlement, but we too did not put any of our cards on the table.” (Message from Le Duc Tho to the Politburo, 23 July 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, p. 329)

  2. The last two sentences of this paragraph were highlighted in the margin by an unknown hand.
  3. This entire paragraph was highlighted in the margin, apparently by Kissinger.