20. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Le Duc Tho, Special Adviser to the DRV Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks
- Xuan Thuy, Minister, Chief DRV Delegate to the Paris Peace Talks
- Phan Hien, Adviser to the DRV Delegation
- Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
- Mr. Thai, Notetaker
- Second Notetaker
- Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Winston Lord, NSC Staff
- John D. Negroponte, NSC Staff
- David A. Engel, NSC Staff—Interpreter
- Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
- Irene G. Derus, Notetaker
Le Duc Tho: Before we begin our talks I would like to raise one question. I have just received the information that at present the Nguyen Van Thieu administration is killing our military and political cadres in jail. I would like to request you to use your influence so that the Nguyen Van Thieu administration stop these cruel actions. Because these actions are detrimental to your side later. I would like to raise this question.
Dr. Kissinger: Are you finished? Mr. Special Adviser, I am not familiar with these charges. If prisoners are being killed, it is totally against United States policy. I will look into it as soon as I return to Washington. If it is taking place, which I do not know, we will use all our influence to stop it. You and we are now making a serious effort to end the war, and we will oppose anything that is against the spirit of what we are trying to do. But I must look into it.
Le Duc Tho: From our experience we know that when we are approaching a settlement our enemies try always to kill our cadres and leaders. Therefore I would like to draw your attention on this question.
Yesterday before we left I handed to you a document. This is a serious and final proposal of ours, for your consideration before we resume discussion today, so that you can combine our document with your own views. So today please let us know your views.
Dr. Kissinger: Before we do this, could I spend a few minutes simply on a procedural point? It won’t take long. So that we can make a schedule. There is no need for my assistants outside to wait here. We will now work straight through?
Le Duc Tho: Yes.
Dr. Kissinger: So we will let them go and we will ask them to come back about 2:00. They don’t have to wait here. Is that all right?
Le Duc Tho: Right.
Dr. Kissinger: As we are approaching a settlement we are in the position where on the battlefield we are enemies but in this room we are partners. We have the same objective. So we must be candid with each other, discuss our obstacles frankly, and see what we can do to remove them. So if we fail it won’t be for lack of effort.
Now let me tell you what our schedule is. I will send my Deputy, General Haig, to Saigon. He will leave Friday night, Washington time. He will stay in Saigon Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. He will come back to Washington Wednesday morning. Then I would like . . . and I will send Mr. Negroponte with him. I will then need a day and a half to discuss his results, the results he brings back, with the President and with other associates. I will then leave Washington Friday morning to come back here. And I propose therefore that we meet here the 7th, 8th, and 9th. The reason I give you so much detail is so you understand this is not a delay but it is necessary in order to be able to work quickly.[Page 510]
And I ask the Special Adviser to remember what I said to him yesterday: that the election now has a funny impact, in the sense that public quarrels with our allies are worse than public quarrels with you. So it is in our common interest that we proceed this way. I am being very frank with you. Because now that I am convinced that we both want a settlement, we have to work in a cooperative spirit. That is certainly our attitude.
Secondly, I have thought about the other procedural point over night. It has to do with what we will do when we have agreed on our ten points, or whatever number of points we finally have. My view is, as I told you yesterday, that at some point after those are elaborated we must activate both Avenue Kleber and the second forum, the one between the GVN and the PRG. But for those two forums to work efficiently and quickly, there must be some public commitment of the direction in which they should go. And therefore I would like to propose for your consideration that if we should agree on ten points, we should announce them, because this will bring some pressure on both of our allies to move fast and it will make it clear what we will support and what we will not support.
If we agree on the ten points. And we can do it either from here, or if I should take that trip to Hanoi, we could do it from Hanoi or right after I have been in Hanoi. If you are concerned that this will help us during the election, we can delay and announce it after the election. To us the main concern now is not the election but to finish the negotiations. This is for you to decide. We are prepared to do it before, but it is also possible to do it right after, and then work very quickly in the other forums right after the election. But it is for you to decide. We are prepared to work on the schedule we established yesterday. It is just, if you are worried about the election, we could agree on everything in the ten points here or in Hanoi and then announce I was there but not publish anything until afterwards. It is up to you. We will work on either schedule. But of course we have to agree first.
I don’t know whether the Special Adviser has any comments on this.
Le Duc Tho: Now let me speak about your proposal. First about the schedule. We agree with your proposal to meet again here on October 7th, 8th and 9th.
Secondly, as I told you yesterday, the Presidential election in the United States is your affair, your internal affair. As to these negotiations, they are aimed at finding a solution, a rapid solution acceptable to both sides. So this is our objective then. If so is your aim, we should find out a solution that is acceptable to the two sides. You are haunted by the idea about the elections. You often refer to it. Yesterday I told you we should let this question aside. Yesterday I told you, and we [Page 511] agreed, that the time now is ripe for a solution, and we should find out rapidly a solution to end the war.
As to the schedule, we agreed to it yesterday.
Now the only thing left is after we reach agreement on the ten points, the announcement of this document either will be announced here or in Hanoi. As to the announcement of this document, I told you yesterday that I will give you the answer when we meet again on October 7th. Because it is related to your trip to Hanoi. Because if you go to Hanoi, then it may be announced in Hanoi. If you don’t go to Hanoi, then it may be announced here. Otherwise we will consider how it will be announced. So at our next meeting I will raise this question.
Dr. Kissinger: Fine.
Le Duc Tho: What is important now is that we should come to an agreement on the ten points. This is the big thing. As to the question of the announcements—whether it will be announced, where it will be announced, when it will be announced—it is not a problem.
Dr. Kissinger: The only point is—then I will drop the subject—if I should go to Hanoi, if the announcement is made it should be made some days later, simultaneously in Washington and Hanoi, after I return from the trip, not while I am in Hanoi. But I am sure we can work that out.
Le Duc Tho: Regarding your trip to Hanoi I have clearly expressed it last time.
Dr. Kissinger: We will discuss it next time.
Le Duc Tho: But I would like to add something to this question. I have raised yesterday a number of points regarding your trip to Hanoi. One of these points is that we should see how much we will agree to with each other, and on the next three successive days of meeting we shall see what points are left for your trip to Hanoi to agree on.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: Secondly, on your trip to Hanoi there is another point that we raise as a difficulty, and that is the bombardment of North Vietnam and the mining of DRV harbors and ports. Once we have come to agreement and once you visit Hanoi, and the mining and bombardment continues, then it is not advantageous. This is one thing I would like to draw to your attention.
Thirdly, we shall answer you fully—a full answer—when we meet next time regarding your trip to Hanoi, and we will not answer you in a message as you proposed, because we can’t fully express our views in a message. Because we should discuss the agenda of work, the program of work, the plan of your trip, how you will come, how the announcement will be made—a series of questions to be discussed. So as to answer you in a message, we can’t.[Page 512]
Dr. Kissinger: No, I think that is fine. I didn’t express myself properly. I wanted some indication on whether you wanted a signed document, not about the trip to Hanoi. Because if we don’t know ahead of time it will make our work a little difficult, but it is not essential.
Le Duc Tho: If we reach agreement on all the ten points, then I think between the DRV and the US there should be signature of documents.
Dr. Kissinger: That is what I think, too.
Le Duc Tho: It is a matter of course. But how it will be signed, how we shall proceed we shall discuss. And I think you should also prepare your ideas about the agenda of your work if you go to Hanoi, what is your plan, how the document will be signed. Now I don’t request you to answer me immediately, but next time when we meet again we will exchange views.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree, I agree completely. And we will have a specific proposal for you next time. Also on the point . . .
Le Duc Tho: If by the end of this session you can give us answers on this question, it should be all the better, because we shall express our views to you next time.
Dr. Kissinger: Well, let me think. I can’t give you a firm answer until next time but maybe I can give you a preliminary answer.
Le Duc Tho: And on the basis of the views you will express by the end of this session then we shall discuss with you. It would be more convenient.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree. On the signature of the final document I have had a preliminary exchange but of course you understand the President is traveling right now. But we will consider very seriously the signature by the Foreign Ministers. I will let you know definitely at the next meeting and maybe even through a message before the next meeting.
One other point. The Special Adviser made a point about our election. I am not obsessed by the election, because no one has ever been 34 points ahead in the public opinion polls and lost. In fact, no one has ever been 34 points ahead. So there is no precedent for it. But I saw in the Herald Tribune today that one of the spokesmen for the PRG said that you don’t want to help us in the election and therefore we didn’t make any statement. So, I make my comment in reference to the observation of your side, not to any reference on our part. [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: Let us stop the discussion on the elections.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: We are seriously speaking, we both now are engaging, really engaging, in settling the problem. We should concentrate our efforts in finding a settlement.[Page 513]
Dr. Kissinger: I agree. One final point with respect to the first issue the Special Adviser raised with me, about the killing of cadres. I have assured him that we will use our best efforts to insure that this will not be done. But we have captured some instructions that were given to some of your people, which say that [reading from TDCS 314/06832–72],” all hamlet tyrants, particularly hamlet chiefs, pacification cadres, people’s self-defense forces team leaders, phung-hoang personnel”—I don’t know what they are—“and policemen should be eliminated.”
Le Duc Tho: I am not aware of such instructions. But I would like to tell you here that the war is now going on; what happens on the battlefield we can’t control. But here I would like to raise the question about military and civilian prisoners in jail, and they should not be terrorized or killed.
Dr. Kissinger: I have assured the Special Adviser that we will use all our influence to prevent the killing of prisoners, and I think he should use all his influence that the same happens on your side. We don’t make it conditional; we will use our influence anyway.
Le Duc Tho: But what I can assure you is that we have never done these actions. In the resistance war against the French we captured tens of thousands of French prisoners and other national prisoners, and the prisoners of war at that time know our treatment and the whole world knows our treatment [of them].
Xuan Thuy: I would like to draw your attention that a few months ago the Saigon Administration showed a list of names. Allegedly they were names of people that would be killed by the Viet Cong, by the PRG, after the restoration of peace. But afterward the people in Saigon whose name appeared on the list raised their voices to protest, to say that this is an initiative of the Saigon Administration, not the Viet Cong program. But I think these questions are the ones on which we draw each other’s attentions, but we should concentrate our efforts on the main problems.
Dr. Kissinger: Exactly. I know what the Special Adviser has said, and we will pay serious attention to it. Now shall we begin our work?
Le Duc Tho: You should pay your debt now! [Laughter]
Dr. Kissinger: The Special Adviser realizes of course that over night, separated from Washington, we cannot do the thorough job we will do by the time we meet again. I have one question.
Le Duc Tho: But in any case you should have some views, some prospective views.
Dr. Kissinger: Oh yes, I have them and I will present them. Now before we came here, and I did not have a chance to present this yesterday, we redrafted some of the principles you handed us last time with a view to making them compatible. Now in my view it is useful [Page 514] to discuss those only if we have some intention of signing them or agreeing to them, but if not we can put them aside. But I want to tell the Special Adviser that we are prepared to discuss these. They respond to your views of September 15. Now would he like me to discuss those, or go directly to the ten points? I don’t want him to think we are neglecting any proposals he is making.
Le Duc Tho: In our view our ten points include both the principles and the concrete provisions. So I would propose to go directly to the ten points.
Dr. Kissinger: All right, I agree. And we have incorporated in our proposal the principles also. So let me now turn to the discussion of the ten points. Let me sum up again what I believe to be the problem before us:
—First, to agree in substance.
—Second, to find agreed language.
—Third, to develop agreed implementation on issues in which agreed language is not sufficient to guide the work of the other groups.
Now our views seem compatible on many of the central features of the settlement:
—Respect for the Geneva Accords and the future US role in Vietnam.
—United States and allied withdrawals, with some details to be worked out, especially as to timing.
—The release of prisoners.
—US neutrality toward the political process in South Vietnam and non-interference in the political affairs of South Vietnam.
—The process of reunification of North and South Vietnam.
—The settlement of Indochinese problems by the Indochinese people themselves.
—The future orientation of the countries of Indochina, that is to say, observation of the military provisions of the 1954 and 1962 Geneva Agreements, to be summed up in the world neutrality.
—A ceasefire at the time of the signing of the overall agreement, with the scope and the details to be worked out.
—The principles of international supervision.
—The principles of international guarantee.
Nevertheless we still differ on many aspects. Now let me go through the proposal we are making to you, which is partly based on what I gave you last night, with a few changes in the part I gave you last night, plus a new point 4.
First, with respect to Point 1, we have attempted to deal with the fact that the Special Adviser pointed out the absence of the word “unity” in our introductory paragraph. And also we have expressed our view in two places with respect to unity: One, with respect to paragraph 1, in which we pointed out that we will place no obstacle [Page 515] in the way of reunification and that we will respect the unity once it is achieved. Secondly, last night I added a sentence to paragraph 7, in the introduction of paragraph 7—I will hand it to you afterwards but I want to read it to you: “The United States acknowledges the provisions of the Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference of 1954 in regard to respect for the sovereignty, the independence, the unity and the territorial integrity of the Indochinese states.”
[Mr. Phuong asks, “Recognize”? Mr. Engel says, “Acknowledges,” and rereads the clause in Vietnamese.]
Dr. Kissinger: It is at the introduction of Point 7.
Secondly, in paragraph 1, Point 1, where we say “Once an overall agreement has been reached”—in the version you had yesterday—“the US has no interest to continue its military involvement,” we have strengthened this to say “The US does not intend to continue its military involvement.” So we have in the first paragraph, point (b) in the document we handed you yesterday, “The US has no interest,” and we have changed this to say “does not intend.” The other points in Point 1 remain the same.
Point 2 remains the same. You notice that we picked up your language. You pointed out to us that when you speak of technical personnel you mean technical military personnel.
On withdrawals we have given you a paper on prisoners and withdrawals that indicates the rate at which they are to be withdrawn and which has other provisions such as access to prisoners and detention camps, and facilities for verification of missing in action, and other matters. As I pointed out to you yesterday, we have to insist on the return of all prisoners in Indochina, but some of your assurances yesterday, Mr. Special Adviser, indicated that this may turn out to be a soluble problem.
I will return to Point 4 in a moment.
Point 5 and Point 8, Vietnamese armed forces and Indochina foreign policy: We accept your proposal that the word “equality” be substituted for the word “fairness.” As for the rest, I think our draft is very close. Our Point 8 on the foreign policy of the Indochinese countries I think is very close to some of the material in your Point 4. I am operating from our points, not your points. And it is therefore substantially agreed.
Point 6, on reunification. The Special Adviser on September 15 and again yesterday objected to the phrase “After a suitable interval these discussions should start, or reunification should be achieved.” We are therefore dropping that phrase.
The Special Adviser has achieved so many successes he will get overconfident.
Le Duc Tho: It is small success.[Page 516]
Dr. Kissinger: But an accumulation of quantitative changes produces a qualitative change. At least that is what I learned when I studied Lenin.
Le Duc Tho: But the accumulated quantities are so small, therefore the advance is very slow to bring about the change in quality.
Dr. Kissinger: The Special Adviser is a very hard taskmaster. [Laughter] When he presents his objections it sounds as if it is a cosmic event; when we accept his suggestions it sounds as if it has no significance!
Le Duc Tho: But you do not pay attention to our concern regarding the great point, the major point. You pay attention only to our concern on small points. And on the contrary, throughout our proposal we have paid attention to your concern on major points. It is not fair reciprocity.
Dr. Kissinger: Well, I just don’t think that is true. We have paid extraordinary attention to your major point. What we are attempting to do is to settle all the issues that it is possible to settle. And I think if one put side by side the changes in position that have occurred throughout the negotiations, it would be impossible to support the statement the Special Adviser has just made.
Le Duc Tho: I think that since we have engaged in the process of settlement we should have serious talks and respond to the major basic concern of the other side, and afterwards we shall go to the other concerns and the details.
Dr. Kissinger: Well, I will finish going through these points. If that is true then there is no sense even discussing the other points until we agree on Point 4. We are extending ourselves . . .
Le Duc Tho: We can discuss on the other points but the Point 4 is the main point, as I have told you.
Xuan Thuy: I propose the Special Adviser to finish your ideas on all other points and then we shall go on to Point 4.
Dr. Kissinger: That is what I intended to do. But we have extended ourselves to the maximum and made enormous efforts in Washington and Saigon, and I cannot accept the proposition that after all these efforts it doesn’t amount to anything. Because if we cannot agree on the points that we are near agreement to, we will never agree on Point 4.
Xuan Thuy: Now this is a discussion not relating to Point 4. We have not made our comment on Point 4. Since you have come to your position on Point 8, please go on, then return to Point 4.
Dr. Kissinger: Point 7; as I told you before, we have added a phrase to the effect that “the United States acknowledges the provisions of the Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference of 1954 in regard to respect for the sovereignty, the independence, the unity and the territorial integrity of the Indochinese states.”[Page 517]
Point 9, with respect to ceasefire: The Special Adviser pointed out to us yesterday that our formulation was vague with respect to the timing of the ceasefire, and he expressed some doubt about the meaning of the phrase “general ceasefire.” We are therefore adding to Point 8 the phrase “upon the signing of the overall agreement.” We will hand you the whole proposal.
Secondly, you asked about the nature of the ceasefire—what was the meaning of “general ceasefire.” We would like to maintain the phrase “general ceasefire” but we will hand you a paper now about our definition of a general ceasefire, which is as follows:
“The forces of the parties will remain in place pending implementation of the withdrawal provisions and principles of the overall agreement.
“Pending implementation of the political provisions of the overall agreement, neither side will seek to extend its areas of control.
“The civilian population will continue to work and reside in the areas where they are located until the parties agree on the modalities for implementation of the principle of freedom of residence and movement.”
Xuan Thuy: You added to Point 9?
Dr. Kissinger: This is a separate paper. These are not in the points. This is our definition of “general ceasefire.” And we have added another phrase about removal of mines; that we will remove the mines laid in the ports, harbors and waterways, etc. I think you will find that our definition of a general ceasefire is the same as your definition of a standstill ceasefire. And we have also put that removal into the proposal itself. So if you have any additional definitions we will be glad to consider them seriously. And we are prepared to make this document part of any working agreement we reach. So you can be sure there is no dispute between us on the meaning of the ceasefire, and the practical consequence will be a standstill ceasefire. I want to make sure that you understand this. [Hands over US paper, “Essential Elements of a General Ceasefire Throughout Indochina,” Tab A.]
On international supervision, there are two aspects. The International Commission. Our proposal is within the framework of what you proposed on September 15, that is to say, five countries, and we substituted Indonesia for India. On the other hand, the Special Adviser made a proposal yesterday of four countries, with two to be nominated by each side and both sides agree to all four. It is a constructive proposal which I would like to study in Washington with some experts, and to which I will respond next week. So we should not spend the day discussing the differences.
We have prepared a paper that indicates how we think the International Commission should operate and what forces it will require to [Page 518] supervise the various tasks that have been given to it. These functions are independent of the composition of the Commission, and I would like to submit it to you for your consideration. [Hands over US paper, “International Commission of Control and Supervision,” Tab B.]
On International Guarantee, I am assuming that you would propose that the Guarantee Commission would contain the members of the new international Control Commission. Not the five members of the old one but the four members of the new one. We are proposing adding Japan and Thailand to the list of guarantee countries. But [aside to Lord: “Do we have a separate paper on that?] we have a separate paper on that. We recognize that there is a difference between us, in the sense that you do not want the ceasefire to be part of the international guarantee. As I understand it, you want the international guarantee to concern the international relationships of the Indochinese states. We will consider that and discuss it next time. [Hands over U.S. paper, “International Guarantees,” Tab C.]
Now let me go to Point 4.
As I understand it, the Special Advisor made a number of criticisms of our proposal. The first criticism was that we were providing for the election of a President, while your point of view is that the election should be for a constituent assembly. The second point is that we are not defining what we mean by democratic liberties. The third point is that we were confining the role of the Committee of National Reconciliation to supervision of the election.
We have now tried to take account of some of your criticisms in the following ways:
First, we have spelled out what we mean by democratic liberties.
Secondly, we are proposing that in addition to election for the President there should be election for the National Assembly, and we have the following clause “At a time mutually agreed there will be new elections for the National Assembly in which all political forces will be free to participate. These elections will also be organized and supervised by the Committee of National Reconciliation.”
Thirdly, we have expanded the functions of the Committee for National Reconciliation in the following provision: “In addition to its electoral responsibilities, the Committee of National Reconciliation will be charged with helping resolve differences which may arise between the South Vietnamese parties in the implementation of the provisions of this agreement and carry out any other conciliatory functions which may be agreed between the South Vietnamese parties.”
We have also made a number of minor changes. For example, the Special Adviser pointed out, and so did some commentators from Hanoi, that it was our intention to eliminate the forces of the PRG. We [Page 519] have therefore written into paragraph 4(f) of this proposal that “The right of all political forces to participate freely and peacefully in every aspect of the political process shall be guaranteed on the basis of mutual respect and non-elimination.” And we have added to Point 4(h) that “The United States is not committed to any political orientation or personalities in South Vietnam, nor does it seek to impose a pro-American government in Saigon.”
Now we will hand you the entire proposal. This supersedes what we gave you last night. When you compare it with our proposal of September 15, when you compare it even with the provisions of last night, you must recognize that we have made a major effort to take your views into account and to move in your direction.
As I understand it, the basic thrust of your proposal yesterday was to give the Government of National Concord the primary role of implementing the agreements. If you study our proposal carefully, and if you avoid the temptation of scoring debating points, you will recognize that we are attempting to do the same thing with the Committee of National Reconciliation.
You have said here, and an editorial yesterday in Nhan Dan repeated it, that we are seeking the elimination of your forces in South Vietnam. But you pride yourself on understanding the reality and not the appearances. If you analyze our proposals carefully you will find first that we have given assurances about non-elimination, and secondly that you consider not simply the assurances but the facts, the realities. The reality is that after the ceasefire comes into being there will be definite areas of control, and once they have come into being they will do more to establish the legitimacy of the forces you support than any abstract points we might make here.
My associates and I made a list yesterday of the objections you raised to our previous proposal:
—With respect to Point 1, you complained that we had no provision about non-intervention in the affairs of Vietnam. We have met that point.
—You said that the PRG is not the same as the NLF. We have not yet reached agreement on that point.
—You said that the election should not be for the President alone but for a constituent assembly. We have tried to meet this point by providing for elections for the National Assembly.
—With respect to democratic liberties, you said that we did not specify them. We have done that.
—With respect to the tasks of the Committee of National Reconciliation, we have added a clause which will permit the expansion of those.
—With respect to the resignation of President Thieu, we gave you the answer yesterday.[Page 520]
—With respect to U.S. bombing and mining, we will stop this when we have reached an overall agreement. But we do not exclude an act of good will when we have reached preliminary agreement. I would also like to give you an assurance that once an overall agreement is reached, we will substantially reduce our naval forces off the shores of Vietnam and our forces in other countries of Southeast Asia that can be used in Indochina. I give you that as an assurance which we would be glad to repeat to other countries.
—With respect to Vietnamese armed forces in South Vietnam, we have accepted your proposal to substitute “equality” for the word “fairness.”
—With respect to the ceasefire timing, we have accepted your view that it should coincide with the overall agreement, and we have written it into the agreement.
—With respect to your objection of the phrase “general ceasefire” being too vague, we have given you a document which indicates that we define it to mean “standstill.”
—With respect to reunification, we have dropped the phrase “after a suitable interval after the signing of the agreement,” as you requested.
—With respect to the principle of the unity of Vietnam, we have added a phrase acknowledging the statements of the Geneva Agreements of 1954.
—With respect to the length of withdrawal, as I pointed out I believe that is a solvable problem.
We still differ on reparations, on the applicability of the international guarantees, on the scope of the ceasefire. Though with respect to the last one, your assurance yesterday about the withdrawal of foreign troops from Laos and Cambodia may give us an opportunity to settle the problem practically. We still differ as to Point 4, but we have made a major effort to take account of your views. [Hands over “U.S. Proposal,” Tab D.]
Now in the paper we have given you we have put into brackets those parts we have not yet had a chance to discuss, as I pointed out to you yesterday. This is all I have to say now.
Le Duc Tho: I propose a little break and afterwards I shall express my views.
[The meeting broke at 11:43 a.m. and reconvened at 12:05 p.m.]
Kissinger: Do you know Mr. La Pira from Florence? He sends me a telegram every time when I am in Paris. There are more candidates for the Nobel Prize!
Le Duc Tho: They want to urge you to go rapidly, but you are going slowly.[Page 521]
Kissinger: I am glad the Special Adviser agrees with every word I have said.
Le Duc Tho: I agree with you on some points but I disagree with you on others.
Kissinger: Well, that is progress.
Le Duc Tho: But slow progress. This is a general assessment. Let me now express my views on the 10 points and on points which we disagree.
First, I speak of the guarantee for the Vietnamese people’s fundamental national rights. I realize that you have spoken about the Geneva Agreements and spoken of the respect for the rights recognized by these agreements, and the principle recognized by the Geneva Agreements to guarantee our people’s national fundamental rights, namely the independence, the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Vietnam. I don’t know the reason why you are unwilling to put the word “unity” in this part. It needs only to add two words, and it will reflect the full spirit of the Geneva Agreements. Instead you add two sentences, but these two sentences do not reflect the fundamental spirit of the Geneva Agreements. To put the word “unity” in this part, it does not mean that Vietnam is unified, because the unification is only carried out by agreement by the two sides. But this word “unity” is a demand, a traditional demand, for thousands of years asked by our people. So this word is a principle, therefore we cannot drop this word. Moreover this word has been written in the Geneva Agreements, and this word has been elaborated in the Agreement too. The Geneva Agreement also specifies that the 17th parallel is only provisional, and is not a political boundary forever. This is one country. So it is not logical for you to drop this word.
Now let me address to the second question, regarding our demand of the formation of the three-segment administration in South Vietnam. This is a very reasonable and logical demand, and we have taken into account the real situation in South Vietnam which has been reflected in the proposal we handed to you yesterday. What is the actual situation in South Vietnam? There are two armies, two administrations, three main political forces. Each side has dozens of divisions and hundreds of thousands of troops. So these forces remain in existence after the ceasefire. Without an administration above everything else to direct the implementation of the agreement, how can the agreement be implemented?
It is noted that here we propose a government, an administration, with the task limiting in [limited to] implementing the political and military provisions of the signed agreements. And we have put forward very concrete provisions. The first task of the three-segment provisional government is to implement the signed agreements, the military provi[Page 522]sions. Then the political provisions of the agreement, that is to say, the enforcement of the democratic liberties, is the second task. The third task is the enforcement of national concord and then the task to review all laws that are contrary to the democratic liberties and to the spirit of national concord. The fourth task is to organize general elections, democratic and free general elections, and to work out a constitution—not to review the constitution as you propose. To draft the constitution for the approbation of the constituent assembly, and to serve as intermediary between the two existing administrations.
I think without such an authoritative government then it is impossible to bring about lasting peace in South Vietnam and national concord in South Vietnam. Do you want to have a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam problem? Do you want to preserve lasting peace in South Vietnam? How can we materialize national concord and prevent these two different forces to resume conflict without a government with some authority with regard to these two administrations? How can this task be done? Moreover this government is a three-segment government; it does not belong uniquely to our side. It will direct all the existing administrations in the framework of implementing the provisions of the signed agreements. So in comparison with our previous proposals, this is the final and the most practical, realistic proposal.
And the style of work, the manner of operating of this government, is through consultation and through unanimous decision. It is not forcible implementation by either side. The President of this government is assumed in turns. And we have proposed the structure of this administration from the central level up to the communal, the village level.
You understand the situation of South Vietnam. You see it is a war without definite battlefield. All the belligerent forces are in this situation [gestures with his fingers to show how they are intermingled], from the district or the communes to the hamlets. Without a government to direct and to moderate these two parties, how can we achieve peace? How can we implement the agreements? If each side will do as it pleases, as it likes, the Saigon Administration act in one way and the PRG act in another way, then it cannot work. Who will serve as intermediary to implement the agreements, to control the implementation?
Through our proposal we show our desire for a lasting peace. Without such an organization then the war goes on, because there are two opposing forces. How can we settle the problem? So we propose this form of government. It is very realistic and very special, and we have taken into account the actual situation of South Vietnam.
Now the participants to the government, we have proposed three segments, equal in rights: One part is designated by the Saigon Admin[Page 523]istration; the second part by the PRG; the third part is a neutralist by common agreement. And operation means by consultations and unanimous decision.
So your proposed Committee of National Reconciliation is not standable, does not stick to anything. Because you propose that this Committee of National Reconciliation will help in the implementation. What is the concrete meaning of the word “help implementing?” We propose “to direct and to stimulate the implementation,” but through consultation and unanimous decision. Do you assume that we will account for the majority in this government and we will force them to implement something? So our proposal is realistic. Your proposal is not realistic and does not meet the real situation.
This is why the reason why we say our proposal is final. And if this proposal is not implemented then it is no other way than fighting again.
Now for the naming of the PRG, you see the denomination of the Provisional Revolutionary Government, this name is accepted by many governments in the world. And this writing of the acceptance of this nomination does not mean a legal recognition of the government as when we are set to call the government of the Republic of South Vietnam. It does not mean that we recognize legally this government. In 1962 we did not recognize and in 1962 it was the United States . . .
Kissinger: In 1962 we made an agreement with whom?
Le Duc Tho: You participated in the Geneva Conference and in the agreements as a result of the Conference it was written.
Now in South Vietnam there are two separate organizations I told you yesterday. One is the NLF; the second is the PRG. If you adopt the name of the NLF then as a matter of course you drop the PRG, because in South Vietnam there are two different organizations of different character.
Let me now speak of the third problem, the third question, regarding the elections. We will never agree to Presidential elections because the Presidential system will lead to personal dictatorship, and this proposed Presidential election will be organized in the framework of the institutions of the Saigon Administration. That is the reason why we propose the election to the constituent assembly, and the assembly will appoint various services of the state. The assembly will form the government, will choose the head of the government, the President and the Vice President. So our views differ in this connection.
Now the fourth question I will speak about is about the democratic liberties and national concord. We can say that for nearly 20 years the people of South Vietnam have been living under dictatorship and the fascist regime, from Ngo Dinh Diem down to Nguyen Van Thieu. All right to live and democratic liberties have been ignored. A few days [Page 524] ago only, I read in the press that not only we, but the American people, your key personalities in the United States are opposed to the dictatorship measures of Nguyen Van Thieu. Therefore we would like to see that this provision should be worked out in details. We define what means democratic liberties; that means freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of meeting, etc. As for you, you only write it in one sentence. You speak of “democratic liberties.”
Fifth, about the resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu, I don’t know why you still regret Nguyen Van Thieu.
Kissinger: Why we still what?
Mr. Phuong: Regret.
Mr. Phuong: Stick to Nguyen Van Thieu.
Le Duc Tho: Because you yourself feel it necessary [for him] to resign. Now you want to maintain him in power for a few months more. What is the purpose? Frankly speaking, if we come to an agreement and if the ceasefire is enforced in South Vietnam, frankly speaking, if you maintain Nguyen Van Thieu in power it is not beneficial to you. So these are my views regarding the political question.
Now regarding the military questions.
You propose a period for troop withdrawal of three months. You say that this period is still something discussable. We don’t know why up till now you do not propose a specific period for the troop withdrawal. Put forward a period and we shall discuss. And we have been meeting for four or five times and this period is reduced only by one month by you. I don’t think it will take three months to withdraw the military forces you have now in South Vietnam. Why do you prolong this period? Because if this period is prolonged then the prisoners remain in our country.
Now the second point I would like to raise is about the military technical personnel. We shall consider it and we shall define it in details. You see, regarding the military aid to South Vietnam we have told you definitely that after the end of the war then both the United States should not give military aid to South Vietnam and we will not give aid to the PRG. So we have taken into account the real situation of South Vietnam, so as to enable rapid settlement of the problem. As for you, you still maintain the provision regarding military aid in your proposal.
We have taken into account your views not only regarding the question of military aid but we have done the same regarding the replacement of weapons in South Vietnam. Because so long as you maintain your military aid to the Saigon Administration you still want to be involved in the Vietnam affairs. You say that you want to end U.S. involvement but practically you have done differently.[Page 525]
Now another question, the question of Vietnamese armed forces in South Vietnam. We have proposed that this question should be settled by the PRG and the Saigon Administration. We have proposed that this question should be settled in a spirit of equality, in a spirit that meets the real situation after the war. But what you want means that North Vietnamese troops should be withdrawn from South Vietnam. This will never happen.
Now, regarding the bombing of North Vietnam and the mining of the seaports. We maintain our proposal that after we reach basic agreement the bombing and the mining of North Vietnam should be stopped. When we have reached basic agreement there is no reason that such action should continue.
Regarding the question of ceasefire, we shall study your document and we shall answer you later.
Now regarding the healing of war wounds. In our view the United States shouldering the responsibility of healing the war wounds is an obligation of the United States. It is not a grant, an assistance; it is a responsibility. Because you have been attacking our country for over 10 years now, known to the whole world. We are proud that our people stood up to fight against this aggression. But since so much destruction, so much damages, so you have responsibility in healing it. I think that in our 10 points one sentence should be written down: The United States assumes the responsibility to heal the war wounds in the two zones of Vietnam. As to the documents exchanged between the two parties, we can adopt various forms. As to the amount, we have proposed, what is your concrete views? Last year you suggested the sum of $7.5 billion U.S. dollars for South and North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. What is your views? Our views is such. What is your views? Because you have mentioned, but ever since your military operations is prolonged.
[Xuan Thuy says something to Le Duc Tho in Vietnamese.]
Kissinger: Could I get a translation of the Minister’s interjections too? [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: Ever since your military . . .
Kissinger: I have got enough with the Special Adviser without the Minister egging him on.
Mr. Phuong: Minister Xuan Thuy said that ever since you began these activities have been continued and with more violence.
Le Duc Tho: The reason why I have expressed these views is that there are many questions we can take up for discussion and you are unwilling to do that. On all questions you promised that we shall discuss later.[Page 526]
The fourth question is about international control and supervision. We propose four countries instead of five; we each propose two countries. We have agreed to that.
Kissinger: Not yet. I will study it with a positive attitude.
Le Duc Tho: Yes, you will study it. But our proposal is that the International Control and Supervision Commission will not perform its tasks regarding Point 4, the political question, and in regard to Point 5, the Vietnam armed forces, because doing this the International Commission for Control and Supervision would interfere in the internal affairs of Vietnam.
Now regarding the international guarantee. Regarding the international guarantee we do not agree to the form of guarantees we had previously like the Geneva Conference with the two co-chairmen. We proposed an International Conference of Guarantees. The participants to this International Conference of Guarantees will be agreed upon through discussions. But there should not be international guarantee regarding the ceasefire, because the ceasefire comes under the task of the International Commission of Control and Supervision. And you still propose a military force from 7,000 to 12,000 troops for control and supervision. We definitely will never accept this. The Vietnamese people have suffered enough from the presence of foreign troops and the occupation of foreign troops on their territory. We will never accept such a military force to occupy South Vietnam. Does it mean that United States troops and other foreign troops allied to the United States are withdrawn and are replaced by other foreign troops? This kind of a proposal will lead inevitably to fighting again.
Now the questions regarding the three Indochinese countries, the questions existing between the Indochinese countries. In this connection I have expressed my views yesterday. We have shown our good will and serious intent on this very question and this is a major question. Now the present situation prevails, not only in Vietnam but also in Laos and Cambodia, over the whole region. The union of the revolutionary forces in these three countries are great enough. How the situation is in Laos and Cambodia is known to you. As I told you, the proposal I made to you yesterday shows our good will. That means that we intend, we want, to end the war not only in Vietnam but also in Laos and Cambodia. So if you are reasonable before such a proposal from our side, you should respond by a solution on other points.
The way you are going I am afraid that it will lead to contrary results from your desire of rapid, expeditious settlement, from your view that the situation is ripe now, that you want a rapid and quick settlement. This is the fact. Therefore we can say that the proposal I have handed you is a final proposal. We have made an effort. This is aimed at rapidly ending the war. Now it depends on you. We have [Page 527] shown good will. We have made concessions to you. But we will not concede in questions of principle.
Now I repeat the questions of principle on which no concession is possible:
First, regarding the political questions: One fundamental principle is guarantee of our people’s national fundamental right, of which I have spoken at the beginning; that is the word “unity.” And the sentence that we rightly proposed later, regarding that Vietnam is one, that the Vietnamese people is one, that the 17th parallel is a military demarcation line and the 17th parallel is only provisional and not a political boundary. This is a principle recognized by the Geneva Agreements.
Secondly is regarding an administration with power, with concrete tasks concerning the implementation of a signed agreement, the military and political provisions of the signed agreement.
Regarding the elections, it should be elections to the constituent assembly and not elections of the President.
Regarding the democratic liberties, there should be a detailed definition.
In the document we have given you it has been written down providing that the two sides—the PRG and Saigon Administration—undertake to implement the signed agreement, the military and political provisions of the signed agreement.
Kissinger: Is that Point 3?
Le Duc Tho: It is the 4th point of the point dealing with the political questions.
Kissinger: No, it doesn’t matter. You are giving me principles which cannot be given up. Is that right?
Le Duc Tho: This is the principles on which there is no concession.
The undertaking that would be made by the two South Vietnamese parties in South Vietnam is written in the last point of the point dealing with military questions. That is, the PRG and the Saigon Administration undertake to implement the signed agreement and all military and political questions. 4(h). I recall this point to stress on the principle of undertaking that will be abided by the two parties.
Regarding the military question, there are two areas. First, one regarding the military aid to South Vietnam, we stick to the formulation we have proposed. We definitely will not accept United States military aid to South Vietnam.
Secondly, the question of withdrawal by North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam should not be raised. The reason why we propose that we have repeatedly pointed out to you.
Third, regarding the healing of war wounds, the United States should have responsibility in this connection, and your concrete views [Page 528] should be expressed. As to the form of engagement we can exchange views and agree with each other.
Fourth, the question of international control. There should not be international control regarding Point 4 or Point 5 because that would amount to international intervention in the internal affairs of Vietnam.
Five, regarding . . .
Kissinger: Hold on a second. Let me find it first.
Le Duc Tho: Regarding international guarantees there should not be international guarantees for the ceasefire.
Kissinger: Which is point what?
Le Duc Tho: Six, regarding the Indochina problem. We maintain the formulation we have used in our Ten Points. Our stand regarding this question has been expounded to you.
Kissinger: What point are we talking about?
Le Duc Tho: International Guarantees, Point 10. And on this point I have repeatedly expounded my views. Because you raised the question of POWs, the question of international control, the question of international guarantees, the question of ceasefire for the whole of Indochina—your way is unacceptable. But we have assured you of our stand, and we assure you that we will abide by this statement. The Vietnam problem should be settled firstly; then comes Laos and Cambodia. This is the realistic way of doing it and this is the most rapid way of doing it. So we stick to the principle that we can’t interfere in the internal affairs of Laos and Cambodia and settle their internal affairs in their behalf.
So we affirm the principles on which we cannot make concessions. Please understand us. You understand that our fighters have been fighting on the battlefield without yielding an inch. And so, at the negotiating table, we will not move an inch on question of principle. But in negotiations we have made concessions so as to insure a settlement. In reviewing our negotiations we have had five negotiating sessions. We have made great concessions in these sessions. I recall it to you:
—Regarding the resignation of Thieu, we no longer demand the immediate resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu.
—Regarding the three-segment government, up to the present proposal this has been the third proposal on this question I have handed to you. So it is a great show of good will. It is the greatest question for us, and you know it is the most thorny of questions. What is your view on this question? You have not spoken. You have not given definite views on the Thieu resignation. You have reduced the time by one month.
—As to your Committee of National Reconciliation dealing with the elections, this proposal had been made one year ago. I recognize [Page 529] that now your proposal contains more details; you have spoken in more detail about the task of the Committee. I recognize that you have made some progress. But the progress we have made is greater than yours. You advance very slowly.
—Now on military questions, regarding the period for troop withdrawal, originally we demanded that you should set a specific date for the troop withdrawal. Now we would like the troop withdrawal until after the ceasefire. And since we have met we advance two periods and you only advance one period.
—Regarding military aid, we have taken into account your views when we proposed a provision on the replacement of weapons. We have put forward reasonable proposals. As for you, you stick to the military aid to the Saigon Administration.
—The question of reparations. We have dropped the word “reparations.” We adopted the language you adopt, the responsibility of healing the war wounds. We formulated the provision as your language.
—As for procedural formalities, the procedure, we can discuss it. As for you you don’t advance any concrete views in this connection. When we take it up, you avoid it.
—The fourth question, regarding Laos and Cambodia: I have expressed my views on the question of prisoners in Laos and Cambodia and the question of foreign troops in Laos and Cambodia. It is a show of good will from our part.
Now in reviewing our last few meetings we have made much good will regarding the political question, the greatest one. It is our greatest question. You should realize that. There should be reciprocity. That means negotiations. We have given something; you should give us something as concessions. In such a way we can agree. Though the political question of South Vietnam is the most important question, the way we solve it is proof of our great good will. I think that our proposals we have made are more important, more imbued with good will and show we want a settlement of the problem. If you want also a settlement, you should show good will and comprehension. In such a way we can finally settle.
Our proposal has some limit. We can’t go beyond the limit we have set. That is to say, we have a principle on which we can’t make concessions in an unprincipled way. If we continue to talk in such a way, maybe the negotiations will drag on and may lead to no settlement at all. It will lead to an impasse. I think you should not think that you can make pressure on us in any way you like. You are mistaken if you think so. What we want is real peace and real independence, but not at any price. If we negotiate in such a way then I am afraid that we have no other way left than to continue the war.[Page 530]
I don’t mean the question of responsibility but we have been realistic in dealing. I don’t mean that you have not made any progress at all, but what I fear is that you are too slow in making progress. It is something objective. It does not mean I am greedy and want you to make too many concessions. It means reciprocity. I told you repeatedly, only in such a way can we find out a settlement. I do not want to speak of what would happen if we don’t come to a conclusion, because we have no other way than to continue our fighting. This is very frankly speaking to you, straightforward, open-hearted speaking, so I invite you to make a careful study of our statements.
At the very last meeting we made a proposal and this time we made another proposal, a new one. Everyone knows that this political question is the thorniest question among us, but we have opened a way for a solution this question. It is very clear. If you don’t realize that it is incorrect on your part. Only when you realize that point we can settle other points. When we come to a solution you will see that we are reasonable people, but when no settlement is reached you know also that we are determined people. It is also something clear. Because we have arrived at one point where a settlement should be reached and we should settle the problem. So what I am telling you now is something frank, straightforward.
So in conclusion I would say that it is a time for a settlement, a settlement in spirit of mutual comprehension and reasonable way without coercion from either side. We don’t make coercion on you, but you should not make coercion on us. We should find out the best way to settle it, and I think it is in the present because we shall have relations in the future for a long time. This is all I have today. I wish that in the next three days of meetings we will make rapid progress. You should make a great effort. We will make effort too.
Kissinger: I appreciate this very moving speech and the spirit in which it is expressed. We should not deal with each other with pressure, with coercion or with threats, but in an attitude of mutual comprehension.
One problem, Mr. Special Adviser, and then I will ask for a brief break. And I would like to make a few observations, just so that we can prepare each other for the next meeting. One problem seems to be this: You speak of changes you made—three changes in your three-segment government. That to you is a very difficult process and a very painful process, and I know it costs you a great deal when you do that—inwardly. Because you are men of principle, which you have proved over many years. On the other hand when we analyze our situation and compare each position, it looks to us from a different perspective as sometimes a rather slow process. On the other hand when we make certain changes in our position it is often very painful [Page 531] for us, and takes a tremendous effort. Then when you look at it it looks like very little to you because you don’t know what we went through, just as we don’t know what you went through to make your changes.
I say this in a spirit to advance mutual comprehension. You have important principles, but you also must understand why it is very painful to us, very hard for us, to be asked in a signed document to give up people with whom we have been associated for many years—whatever you think of them.
Of course I don’t say this to draw any concrete conclusions. I just want to explain that it isn’t ill will on our part, and we don’t think it is ill will on your part. I really believe you are sincere in wanting a rapid settlement. I really believe it. So, you know, if I wanted to blackmail you I would say the opposite.
Le Duc Tho: But do you make believe that you have the same desire?
Kissinger: We are sincere too, but you have to grant us our good faith. We have to recognize it is a very tough problem, with a long history. But let us take a break and then let us make a general concrete observation, and a few questions for clarification, and maybe a work program for next time. But I can tell you now, what you have said will be studied with the greatest attention and will be studied very seriously. So if we could take a brief break, and then . . .
Xuan Thuy: Let me add something before we break, for your consideration. There are points you have made, statements on these points previously, but now you don’t write them in your proposal.
Kissinger: Like what?
Xuan Thuy: For instance the Committee you proposed—the Committee of National Reconciliation—we have expressed our disagreement to it. We disagree to its name as well as to its task. What we want is a Provisional Government of National Concord. This has been expressed by Mr. Le Duc Tho.
Kissinger: I know.
Xuan Thuy: Even for the Committee of National Reconciliation in our discussion, you mentioned about the three segments of this National Reconciliation Committee, about the two tasks of this Committee. The two tasks are to organize the elections and to review the constitution. Now you have dropped these points from your proposal.
Now regarding the question of reparations, taking into account your views we have dropped the word “reparations.” We wish to write this question into one sentence. Yesterday you said [reading from their notes] that what we can do is to add one sentence in the agreement saying that we recognize the need to rebuild Indochina or a sentence like this. After that we shall make private assurances to you that we [Page 532] shall make a great effort in doing so. But today you don’t write anything in your proposal.
Yesterday you handed us some documents. Today you have handed us three documents. But first consideration of these documents makes it apparent that in detail we have a point of difference. That is the reason why Mr. Le Duc Tho today has expounded his views to you in very explicit way where he addressed the principles. We stick to this and the way we can come to agreement I fully agree to the views of Mr. Le Duc Tho.
Kissinger: I was hoping the opposite would happen, but that is another disappointment. I was hoping that for once the Minister would reply to the Special Adviser and contradict him!
Xuan Thuy: You are a one-man representative but we have two!
Kissinger: You should hear how my colleagues talk to me under your influence. [Laughter]
[The meeting broke at 1:30 p.m. Dr. Kissinger’s party conferred outside in the garden until snacks were served in the meeting room. Russian caviar, shrimp flour chips (banh phong tom), white wine and sherry were served, in addition to fruit and chia gio.]
[Dr. Kissinger engaged Le Duc Tho in informal private conversation outside, stressing that the United States as a matter of principle could accept a natural evolution in South Vietnam, and any outcome resulting from events in South Vietnam, but could not be in the position of imposing an outcome.]
[The meeting reconvened at 2:25 p.m. As the group sat at the table, the lights—including a chandelier overhead—were turned on.]
Kissinger: In Russia I always said they had a camera in the ceiling and photographed all the documents. In fact, I once told Foreign Minister Gromyko when our Xerox machine broke down, I asked him if I held the document to the ceiling if he would get me three copies.
Le Duc Tho: You have this machinery too.
Kissinger: Not in the ceiling.
Le Duc Tho: In other places.
Kissinger: No, we are very badly equipped that way.
Le Duc Tho: You have very many sophisticated machines.
Xuan Thuy: But you do not have to worry here. Vietnam is very backward technically.
Kissinger: Let me make a few observations and ask a few questions. First one very fundamental question. When the Special Adviser says that his proposal is a final offer, does that mean that we have to come here on the 7th and sign your document, and that if we don’t there is no agreement possible? Or are we coming here for a negotiation?[Page 533]
Le Duc Tho: Only one question?
Kissinger: That is a fundamental question.
Le Duc Tho: I have pointed out the questions of principle in this proposal. Regarding these questions of principle we will not make any concessions. If you disagree to these questions of principles, then the problem cannot be solved.
Kissinger: But what I want to understand is that when you say we disagree, do we have to accept exactly what is in this document, or is there room for discussion?
Le Duc Tho: You see when it means a question of principle this means that these are principles. But as to the language to formulate these principles, this can be discussed. But if the language is contrary to the principle, then no settlement is possible.
Kissinger: Well, let me review the principles you gave us, to make sure that I have understood them so we can study them carefully. The first concerns the guarantee of fundamental national rights, which you express in the world “unity.” Our attitude is that we have no difficulty affirming the unity of Vietnam, but what we do not want to do is provide a justification for military actions by one part of Vietnam against the other if these negotiations should not come to an agreement.
Le Duc Tho: Here Mr. Special Adviser is confusing the commitment on paper of the principle and the practical conditions.
Kissinger: In what way?
Le Duc Tho: If one side intends to use military activities against the other, even this word is committed to paper there is no significance at all. But this word “unity” reflects our entire people’s aspiration for unity. It’s thousands of years standing aspiration. Moreover, later we put down a provision saying that the way to reunify the country is through peaceful means, and step by step restoration, through agreement between the two sides. Then how can there be a use of military means by one side against the other side? I do not want to recall here the historical events of the war. Explicit provisions have been laid down by the Geneva Agreements, but who has torn these agreements, who has started the war in South Vietnam, I don’t want to recall this.
Kissinger: I understand your point. The second principle you mentioned was that the definition of the tasks of the Committee for National Reconciliation lacked concreteness. You also don’t like the name. I just want the Minister to know that I pay close attention to what he says!
Xuan Thuy: There is a difference between national reconciliation and national concord.
Kissinger: That I have to confess is not clear to me. So with respect to your second principle, what you feel is that the tasks of this Committee, or whatever, have to be spelled out, and that democratic liberties [Page 534] have to be more precisely defined, and that the elections should be for a constituent assembly and not for a President. Did I understand that correctly? I just want to sum up, to be sure I understood the Special Adviser.
Le Duc Tho: Not quite right. What we want is an administration with its concrete power, its concrete tasks, its concrete structural system. These points are a principle to us.
Kissinger: I understand that.
Le Duc Tho: As to the election, we stand for election to an assembly, and the assembly, the constituent assembly, will form the government and work out a constitution and choose the President, Vice President or Vice Chairman or Chairman, as you call it. What is different from your proposal is that you stand for Presidential elections and the elections will be organized under the constitution of the Saigon Administration. As to the democratic liberties, what we want is to write them in detail. What are these democratic liberties, as you have written? Freedom of the press, freedom of meetings, personal freedoms and so on.
Kissinger: On the military questions, your view is that military aid to Saigon must be stopped but you permit some replacements, but only on an agreed percentage to the PRG. And secondly that the withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces should never be raised.
Le Duc Tho: We have proposed that the United States should no longer give military aid to the Saigon Administration and we, North Vietnam, will no longer give aid to the PRG. But replacement of weapons will be allowed, on a principle of equality.
Kissinger: Does that mean we can replace weapons of the South Vietnamese?
Le Duc Tho: It means, if now we speak of replacement of weapons, if they have now American weapons, if they have to replace it they have to take American weapons. They can’t take German weapons! American rifles cannot use German bullets! But this replacement would be carried out on the principle of equality at specific intervals.
Kissinger: I understand that. Now let me understand the point about your forces in the South. Can they be supplied with weapons?
Le Duc Tho: The armed forces of the PRG will no longer receive weapons from the DRV. We have put it in our document.
Kissinger: Yes, but how do you consider the forces in the South? Are they considered armed forces of the DRV or armed forces of the PRG?
Le Duc Tho: The replacement of weapons will be allowed by right by both the PRG and the Saigon Administration on the principle of equality. Replacement but not reinforcement.
Kissinger: But how do you consider your forces in the South?[Page 535]
Le Duc Tho: Now I shall come to this part. As I told you last time, at previous meetings, over half a million of South Vietnamese regrouped to North Vietnam, and now these South Vietnamese plus North Vietnamese youth go south as volunteers and organize themselves into units. These units are under the command and the leadership of the Provisional Revolutionary Government. They are now the Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam. There is no question of withdrawal of these troops to North Vietnam. If you pose the question as you do, then not only it does not conform to the real situation of South Vietnam but moreover it implies that North Vietnam send troops for aggression against South Vietnam. You yourself once said that you cannot put the question of withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops because it would be contrary morally, legally and politically . . .
Kissinger: No, I said you consider it. I didn’t say I consider it.
Le Duc Tho: Last year you said this. Last year. This question of Vietnamese armed forces in South Vietnam will be settled by the South Vietnamese parties in a spirit of equality, of mutual respect and conforming to the postwar situation. I firmly believe that after the restoration of peace, after the enforcement of a ceasefire, if the two South Vietnamese parties are bounded by a real spirit of peace and want to preserve lasting peace, then this question can be solved easily.
Kissinger: All right, the next question of principle was the healing of war wounds. I understand now. I don’t have to ask a question. I understand your point.
The next point concerns international control. You believe that Point 4, that it is the political point, and Point 5, the Vietnamese armed forces, should not be under international control at all.
Le Duc Tho: Right.
Kissinger: I am just asking. I am not debating. Yet I thought I had found . . .
Le Duc Tho: In 1954 and in 1962 when the question of international control and supervision were put forward they were not as you put now.
Kissinger: But under Point 9(a), however, you say that the International Control Commission will supervise the free and general democratic elections in South Vietnam. This is mentioned in Point 9(a).
Le Duc Tho: Right.
Kissinger: Now how do you explain this? If there can be no control for Point 4 but there can be control for the election. I just don’t understand the point.
Le Duc Tho: What I mean is that there will be no international control and supervision for the whole provisions of Point 4.
Kissinger: On the elections.[Page 536]
Le Duc Tho: Only the elections.
Kissinger: Now as to International Guarantee, you don’t want any of the Indochina problem under international guarantees?
Le Duc Tho: The principle we follow is this: Here it is the conference on the Vietnam problem. We can speak of international guarantees for Vietnam, but not for Laos and Cambodia, because it would involve the sovereignty of these countries. We can’t decide questions concerning these two countries on behalf of the Laotians and Cambodians. We don’t know whether they agree to have such international guarantees or not. Yesterday I told you that after the settlement of the Vietnam problem, after the settlement of the Laotian and Cambodian problem, I personally think that there may be an international conference for the guarantee of the problem of these countries. How can we write in a document signed between you and us that there will be international guarantees for Laos and Cambodia?
Kissinger: Why not?
Le Duc Tho: Because this involves the sovereignty of these countries. We can’t do in their place. We can’t in the place of Laotians and Cambodians lay down an international guarantee for their countries.
Kissinger: You told us that the problem of the prisoners in Laos and of the withdrawal of your forces from Laos and Cambodia could be handled by some understanding between us. Now how concretely do you envision this?
Le Duc Tho: I wanted to raise this principle of respect for the 1954 and 1962 Geneva Agreements on these countries. I wanted to raise the principle of respect for the independence, the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of these countries, and in this respect all foreign troops should be withdrawn from these countries, all military activities by foreign troops in these countries should be stopped, and no weapons and no fresh troops should be introduced in these countries. I said that this means that when the question of Laos and the question of Cambodia [are settled] we will give guarantee for the respect of this principle. I tell you this for your knowledge. When the question of Laos and Cambodia will be settled we shall give assurance of this. As to committing down this sentence in the document we have here, we can’t do that because if this is to be done we have to discuss with our friends of Laos and Cambodia.
Kissinger: Let me understand this. I can see that you don’t want to prescribe a settlement for Laos and Cambodia, but you certainly can dispose of your own forces. Why can you not say in the document that you would withdraw your forces from Laos and Cambodia as part of a settlement. If you would do this, then the issue of a ceasefire for Laos and Cambodia would not arise.[Page 537]
Le Duc Tho: But you know the three Indochinese countries are linked together in the common struggle. So there is no possibility that we withdraw our forces without discussing with our friendly countries. But we firmly believe that when the Vietnam problem is solved the Laos and the Cambodian problem will be solved too. You have not yet believed in our stand; therefore you have not correctly understood. In negotiating with you what I am telling you now is on behalf of my government, and I make this statement very seriously. It does not mean that now I make such a statement and in a few days time this would be wiped out. Because we shall have opportunity to meet again, not only the negotiations on Vietnam, but later on the negotiations on Laos and Cambodia.
Kissinger: [Laughs] Never again! Much as I admire the Special Adviser, never again. I will send my younger brother next time.
Le Duc Tho: Even if it is your younger brother, he will represent the United States government, and what I am telling you now we shall abide by it.
Kissinger: All right. Now on the prisoners. You said you could give us your assurance that the prisoners in Laos can be returned. How is that going to happen?
Le Duc Tho: Here we don’t write down “prisoners throughout Indochina,” because it again involves the sovereignty of these countries. I remember last year when during our discussion you yourself said that our competence in this direction does not cover the countries of Laos and Cambodia.
Kissinger: The Special Adviser has a magnificent memory for these things that didn’t happen. But I am talking about our prisoners. We will not settle unless our prisoners are returned, so it is not an academic question nor a legal question.
Le Duc Tho: We shall take into account your views and we shall work out arrangements with our friends.
Kissinger: All right. A comment about your concessions. You said you no longer demand the resignation of Thieu before immediate settlement. You would settle for it after an agreement. Of course it is an interesting negotiating technique. When you retreat from the impossible to the intolerable you call it a concession!
Le Duc Tho: In any case it is a concession when two demands are different. First we demand this and after we demand that.
Kissinger: I am learning a lot for future negotiations. I will demand something absolutely outrageous, and then I will demand half of that and ask for reciprocity.
Le Duc Tho: Only through this concession can we find a settlement. And last time you said precisely that on that point we have made a concession.[Page 538]
Kissinger: Yes, but the practical consequence of your accelerated schedule is that instead of resigning today President Thieu has to resign in four weeks. If we meet our schedule this will be the result, if I understand it. [Thuy smiles.]
Le Duc Tho: Such is our proposal. Thieu will resign after we have reached our overall settlement.
Kissinger: And that the overall settlement be reached by the end of October. It is not a tremendous concession.
Le Duc Tho: It is not great, I acknowledge, but it is a concession all the same.
Kissinger: All right I will believe that.
Le Duc Tho: You yourself admitted that it was a concession last time.
Kissinger: But at one point the Special Advisor also said that the government in Saigon and the PRG without a change in personnel would negotiate in the second forum. But now that forum, that concession has been very much compressed in time.
Le Duc Tho: Let me ask you this question first. What are your views on the resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu?
Kissinger: We have put our views in our proposal.
Le Duc Tho: Before the election, you mean he will resign before the election?
Le Duc Tho: But how many months before?
Kissinger: I told you that answer we said.
Le Duc Tho: You say that it can be discussed.
Kissinger: The final date will be settled in the second forum, but we will recommend two months.
Le Duc Tho: As to the change of the composition of the present Saigon delegation, it is not important. If you can do that it would be good, if not, no matter. It is a flexibility on our part, indeed.
Kissinger: You said that on the troop withdrawal period you have made two concessions and we have made only one. I could say we have given you 30 days and you have given us 15, so you owe us 15 days. [Laughter]
Xuan Thuy: Previously you said a long period, and now you reduce it by one month. It is not enough.
Le Duc Tho: Previously you proposed three months, but what date do you propose now?
Kissinger: We will make a specific proposal next time on this. On the guarantee of national rights, democratic liberties, we will study it [Page 539] very carefully and find some solution. On the healing of war wounds we will try to find some formulation that is in line with our discussion yesterday. And I will try to find some realistic estimate of what is reasonable to expect Congress might allocate to it. All your other points we will study with extreme care, and with the attitude that we want to bring about a final settlement, rapidly. We will see whether we can be more specific about the democratic liberties and more specific about the functions of the Committee of National Reconciliation, and perhaps more specific about its operation on a level other than Saigon, so that it might operate in the provinces.
So we will approach this with a very serious attitude and with the intention of meeting the deadline, and keeping in mind what the Special Adviser told me privately about the importance of concentrating on fundamentals.
By the same token, I hope you keep in mind some of the considerations we have expressed, both here and when we talked privately. This is a very difficult and a very serious problem for us. We seriously want to end it and to end it rapidly. And if we do, we could then concentrate on our long-term relations, where the independence and progress of Vietnam would be one of our objectives.
So that is all I have to say today.
No, one other question: When you speak about the Government of National Concord you said it makes its decisions by consultation and unanimous decision. Did I understand that correctly?
Le Duc Tho: Right.
Kissinger: By unanimous decision, all three segments have to agree?
Le Duc Tho: Yes, there must be agreement by the three segments, then it will be implemented. In the document we handed to you, it is there.
Kissinger: Yes, but I wasn’t sure I understood this. I understand now.
Le Duc Tho: Let me make a brief statement before we break. If really, as you said recently and here today, you wanted to end the war and rapidly, I agree with you on that. And in the same spirit we have put forward up to now many signs of good will. But if you want a settlement and rapid settlement and end to the war, then you should adopt this same attitude. As I assess the situation, it is an objective assessment, and you should adopt this attitude if the war is to be ended. And if we want a rapid settlement we should adopt a suitable method of negotiating and we should look into the face of the real situation. We should frankly, candidly, expound our concrete proposals. There should not be strategems or tricks to cope with each other and to deal with minor points—it is not a way of negotiating. So big [Page 540] is the problem that is facing us, we have to look into the major problems. When the major problem is settled the minor ones will resolve themselves. And if you do want a settlement, you will find a way to settle. And you will assess yourself that your proposal is reasonable enough. You know what proposals of ours are reasonable. We will know which of your proposals are reasonable. We can’t deceive each other. We can’t fool each other. And in such a way we shall know how we reach common ground on that point. Otherwise no settlement is possible. So the way of conducting negotiation has its importance.
So I am looking forward to our next meeting. You will come here with an attitude conforming to your statement about good will, desire for a rapid settlement, a positive and constructive attitude. But each time you come here, you come with a small progress. If we review our last two days of work, the progress is very small. The only thing is the schedule of negotiations, the fixation of the date of meeting again, the agreement on the way to sign the agreement, the conclusion of agreements. But regarding the content of the solution, not much has been done. If a quick settlement is to be achieved, we should be straightforward and forthcoming. You know that we have good will and desire for a settlement, and you should make an effort, in accordance with the schedule we have agreed to.
Kissinger: Well let me make a few observations here, Mr. Special Adviser. I absolutely reject the proposition that your side has a monopoly of good will. I absolutely reject a procedure whereby meetings between us are conducted as if we were students taking an examination in the adequacy of our understanding of your proposals. That way there is absolutely no possibility of progress. We have made a serious effort, which has been too slow by your standards. I won’t score debating points; I think you have made a serious effort. It hasn’t been enough yet on either side. So we must both make a serious effort in the interim. No, we don’t have a businesslike approach to these negotiations in these meetings. There is no businesslike approach, because we spend more time arguing about agendas and timetables than about concrete points.
Now I recognize that you consider Point 4 the essential point. But you have said 100 times that if we don’t make progress on one point we should go on to another point. Instead of arguing over and over on points which clearly cannot be settled at one meeting, we could have drafted agreed language on some of the points on which we have agreed. That would have been progress, not decisive, but progress. We will have to do it sometime anyway. There are several points on which we are very close to agreement. If we spent two hours putting them into final form then we would have concrete progress.
Now I recognize that everything is an integral whole, I have understood this, and that no point is accepted until all points are accepted. [Page 541] I agree with that. But it is driving it to absurdity to say no point can be accepted or discussed until one point is accepted. In every other negotiation that I have seen, one would begin to draft on those things on which one has agreed and then narrow it on those one has not agreed. The Special Adviser has expressed some disappointment. I am also disappointed. We haven’t agreed on any documents. We have only exchanged papers. If we had only some agreed language, it would save time later on. So I would suggest that when we meet next time, not only do we try to narrow our differences and eliminate our differences on those points on which we are not yet agreed, but attempt to put into language those points on which we are agreed.
Le Duc Tho: I want to express my views. I have made some observations; it is my right. And it is your right to reject my observations. You are the professor, therefore you have very frequently the impression that this is teaching the pupil. It is not so here, because I make observations on your statements and you can make observations on my statements. And consequently I have assessed our last two meetings as I have, and I feel I am just, I am right, and my remarked observations are right. Because if we continue this method of negotiation I am afraid that we can’t achieve our goal of rapidly ending the war. Therefore I suggest that in the next three days of negotiation we should concentrate on problems on which there is great difference between us, so to narrow the differences and so we can settle the problem.
So the next three days of meetings will be decisive whether a settlement is possible or not, because there is not much time left. If we can’t decide then we can say that we can never decide.
Kissinger: Never is a long time.
Le Duc Tho: Because disagreement is there. How is settlement possible? Naturally in a settlement there must be mutual comprehension to find out a mutually acceptable and reasonable settlement. So for the next meetings I would propose that these are the problems on which great differences still remain, and we shall resolve it in substance—the essential problems. As to the questions on which we are approaching agreement, then we can discuss the language, the formulation. For the concrete provisions we can see the way of formulation just as you proposed: the formulation, the language, the documents. But first we should concentrate on the essential points.
Kissinger: Well, I agree we should concentrate on the essentials, and we shall approach with the attitude of making a settlement and making constructive progress, and I hope you shall approach it with the same attitude toward progress.
Le Duc Tho: We shall maintain the attitude we have been adopting the last few days. You should adopt the same attitude. The problem [Page 542] between us is we are both expressing the same desire, the same statement, but practically there is great difference.
Xuan Thuy: In the documents you have given us yesterday and today, there still remain many differences.
Le Duc Tho: And on the political problems we are all the more far apart. We should narrow these differences. For an objective assessment you should say that for one or two minor points we have made progress, but not great progress.
Kissinger: Well, there is no point in continuing the debate on the subject. Because we will be judged by the results and not by discussing each others motives.
Le Duc Tho: All right.
[The meeting then adjourned.]
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 856, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive Camp David, Vol. XVIII. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc in Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.
On September 28, Kissinger reported to the President:
“I met for six hours September 26 and five and a half hours September 27 in our first two-day session ever with Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy. The sessions both narrowed our differences in some areas, and demonstrated how far we have to go in others. The North Vietnamese tabled a new plan which, while still unacceptable, contains certain political provisions that might signal a possible opening. They professed continued eagerness for a rapid settlement, and, after seeing our repackaged ten point plan, complained we were moving too slowly in our positions. We agreed to meet again for three successive days starting October 7, which we may want to slip a day.”
Regarding that upcoming meeting, Kissinger continued: “Tho said it was clear that our next three-day meeting would be ʻdecisive.’ He emphasized the need to concentrate on the central questions first, including the political ones. When the big problems were solved, the others would come easily.”
Kissinger recognized that obtaining Thieu’s approval of a settlement was necessary. To that end, he wrote in his report to the President that “our immediate task is to convince Thieu of the importance of public solidarity with us as we continue the negotiating process through at least one more round. Our proposals, while generous, substantively maintain the integrity of the GVN and its governmental system; the only major political departure since January is to specify that the electoral commission (now called the Committee of National Reconciliation) is composed of three forces. However, as you know, Thieu maintains he is anxious about the possible psychological impact in his country, and he is not on board with that section of our political point.
“Thus we will want General Haig [in his upcoming trip to Saigon] to reemphasize to Thieu our continuing commitment to the GVN; point out the major efforts we have made in his behalf the last four years; explain our strategy; stress that he must show understanding of our problems; and secure his agreement to a new proposal which maintains a serious posture.” (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VIII, Vietnam, January–October 1972, Document 267)↩