29. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Le Duc Tho, Special Advisor to DRV Delegation to Paris Peace Talks
  • Xuan Thuy, Minister, Chief of DRV Delegation
  • Nguyen Co Thach, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Phan Hien, Delegation Member
  • Trinh Ngoc Thai, Delegation Member
  • Tran Quang Co, Delegation Member
  • Pham The Dong (Notetaker)
  • Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • General Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Ambassador William Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff
  • John D. Negroponte, NSC Staff
  • David A. Engel, NSC Staff, Interpreter
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
  • Julienne L. Pineau, Notetaker
  • Irene G. Derus, Notetaker

Dr. Kissinger: Perhaps, Mr. Special Advisor, before you speak I could finish the clarifications I promised you yesterday. And then you can give a comprehensive answer.

Le Duc Tho: Before you speak I would like to bring up about something outside of our negotiations here, and before you speak.

Dr. Kissinger: Please.

Le Duc Tho: When we came here for negotiations this time I have pointed out the fierce bombing south of the 20th parallel, particularly by B–52 bombers. Over the last few days this bombing has become most ferocious, with unprecedented violence. Last time when we were beginning our talks here, the bombing was carried out against Hanoi, and Mr. Special Advisor, you yourself said that this bombing did not create a propitious atmosphere for our negotiation here leading to a peaceful settlement. And to my mind, while we are negotiating here and close to a conclusion of the agreement, I think that these actions are not favorable for our negotiating here. These actions will make the atmosphere heavier and will impede our negotiations. And I think that you should not engage in so violent bombings these days. And you also told us that when you stop the bombing north of the 20th parallel the bombing south of the 20th parallel would be greatly reduced. But instead of being reduced this bombing has been greatly increased.

This is what I would like to draw your particular attention to, and I would request to you to convey our protest to President Nixon.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, Mr. Special Advisor, when we met in October you remember Hanoi was bombed on one of the days that we met. And we, unilaterally, expressed our regret for this and we placed a restriction that has been observed to this day. And even before we stopped the bombing north of the 20th parallel we reduced the intensity of the bombing north of the 20th parallel. I will convey your concerns to President Nixon upon the conclusion of our talks today. And I hope, of course, that we will be in a position where the bombing will stop altogether within a few days. And I would add that as it becomes obvious that we are approaching that point some gesture of good will on our part is possible, even before the ending. So we will take what you have said very seriously.

Le Duc Tho: Besides that, I would like to point out whether you have any other protocols to hand us, so that we can have them translated and consider them before we exchange views on them.

[Page 870]

Dr. Kissinger: That’s what I was going to do now.

Le Duc Tho: Moreover we have a protocol we have handed to you previously on the healing of the war wounds. I have not forgotten it. I would like to remind you that you should pay attention to it. And moreover I still remember the statement of you—I have not forgotten that. Therefore if you have any paper to hand over so that we can have it, and when you go to Hanoi we can have a basis for exchanging views. The protocol you have handed us we are considering.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, as we discussed, I am very much aware, I am very much conscious, of your protocol on economic reconstruction. It is a matter that we intend to discuss in detail in Hanoi. The mechanics of doing it will have to be somewhat different than the Special Advisor proposed. That is to say, it is impossible according to our constitutional procedures simply to deposit money in a bank. But we agree to the principle of a joint economic commission. We agree to the principle of a very substantial economic reconstruction program, of roughly the amounts that we discussed. And I think we should discuss the modalities of it in Hanoi.

But let me express our philosophy on it, because I think it is important. Our philosophy is in general that we have made armistices on two previous occasions—we should this time make peace. The best guarantee for peace between us is, first, a more normal diplomatic relation and secondly joint positive enterprises. And therefore we think we have a common interest in participating in the economic reconstruction programs for the Democratic Republic. We have made several studies in our government as to how it can be done most effectively. But of course we have to use inadequate data. But we have already studied the problem intensively. We’ll participate in it in a very major way. And we will discuss the modalities of it in Hanoi.

But you can consider the principle, and the fact that it will be substantial, settled.

In fact, some of your neighbors have warned us not to make it too substantial because you’re too efficient. [Laughter] But we’re not taking their advice.

Le Duc Tho: Now what I would like to do is to remind you of your promises. As to how to organize our joint activity in economic reconstruction and establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries, we are carefully examining these two questions and we shall discuss when you go to Hanoi.

Dr. Kissinger: That is time enough.

Le Duc Tho: Now let me have another question before you speak, Mr. Special Advisor. Lately, the day before, you said that once we reached agreement here then you would exchange views with me on [Page 871] certain possibilities afterward. I would like to know what you mean by that. What are the “possibilities”?

Dr. Kissinger: Well, I simply wanted us to be prepared for all possibilities in case unexpected obstacles arose. But this really I will be able to judge better when I see our final product. Because, as I told you yesterday, when we have a satisfactory agreement we will then have discharged our moral obligations and we will make a truly maximum effort, as we are already making now. I was thinking primarily of the schedule, which then I decided to give you yesterday already. The Special Advisor always manages to elicit schedules from me before I am ready.

Le Duc Tho: Of course the schedule that now you have proposed, both of us, we and you, should make an effort to put it in practice. But if you find that there may be obstacles then you should propose and directly tell me another schedule. As for me, any schedule can do. As to your statement that after the agreement then we would exchange views on the possibilities, this threw some doubt in my mind, because once the agreement is reached there should be no change at all.

Dr. Kissinger: No, there will be no change in the agreement. I repeat my promise that once I leave here there will be no change in the agreement, unless we find some terrible technical error in the agreement that we both agree to. [Laughter] But there will be no change after I leave Paris. If in Chapter VI we find that we have referred to the wrong paragraph, so that an Indonesian contingent winds up in Vinh rather than in Danang, then by mutual agreement we will change it.

Le Duc Tho: In this connection, on this subject, if you don’t ask for a change then we would ask! [Laughter]

Dr. Kissinger: And we want you to know that in that case we would respond to your request with good will. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: Now, seriously speaking, we should not reiterate the mistake we have committed a second time. Once something is agreed then the agreement is done. Before we have the final agreement we should review carefully everything. Once the agreement is reached it is done. For instance, in the few coming days if we come to agreement it is very good, but if otherwise you feel it necessary to have a few more days to come to a final agreement, we are prepared to do that. Because if you raise the question of possibilities happening, then you would propose a change and maybe we don’t agree to that, or we too brought about new changes, and it would be endless negotiation.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree with you, so I think what we should do is if we finish maybe today, then we should tomorrow have the experts go over the draft and we should talk about the understandings and [Page 872] the protocols tomorrow and not the agreement. Then we can judge whether we need a few more days for clarifications and I would be able to let you know that, say by Saturday. It would really be a question of which way it is easiest to get general agreement. But we will now have to work with the determination to get this concluded, and after we finish today there will not be any significant modifications. But I appreciate the Special Advisor’s flexibility as to schedule. It may make our task much easier. And it’s a very statesmanlike approach. But we are just talking about . . . And that would surely avoid the problem of contingencies.

Le Duc Tho: Now please go on.

Dr. Kissinger: We left three issues unsettled, two issues unsettled, and there was one point I wanted to raise yesterday and neglected to. The first has to do with Chapter V, which we have redrafted, and I think you will want to study it rather than have me explain it. [Hands over U.S. re-draft of Chapter V, Tab A.] We’ve moved the second paragraph first—it’s a reorganization in part—and then we have grouped everything that is to happen pending reunification together. And the other change, in deference to the Minister, is to call attention to the articles of the Geneva Agreement which he so painstakingly drafted.

Secondly, with respect to Article 5 on civilian personnel, what we can do is the following. I will tell you what we can do, and then I will give you a frank explanation of why. We can agree that civilian personnel cannot assume any functions that they did not exercise on November first. This is to avoid the situation that you believe occurred in Laos, where we used civilians—according to you—to perform functions that had previously been carried out by military personnel. [They confer.]

Ambassador Sullivan points out that this was of course before the Laos Agreement of 1962, because the U.S. always observes every agreement.

But seriously, you have been concerned that we might use civilians to perform some of the functions that were previously carried out by military. We are prepared to write into the agreement that no new functions could be carried out by civilians that were not carried out prior to November first. We can also agree that no civilian personnel should train South Vietnamese—or that we we shall withdraw civilian personnel that are training South Vietnamese for military operations or for the use of weapon systems. What we have difficulty with is that there are some Americans in Vietnam that are training South Vietnamese in the technical maintenance of certain of the weapons that they have, not in the use but in the maintenance. This is for a limited period of time, and they will also leave.

Now I want to be very honest with you, Mr. Special Advisor. We can find some legal way of doing this, no matter what the provision [Page 873] is that we write here. But we don’t want to start our relationship by behaving like clever lawyers who found a loophole in what we have just agreed upon. That is a mistake we have made previously. So I have told you frankly what we can and cannot do, what we will write into the agreement to be done immediately and what we can only do after some longer interval. With regard to civilians—there’s no question about military personnel. But we will not shift military functions to civilian functions. And we are also in the process, even in the permitted categories, of drastically reducing the number of civilian personnel, as a gesture of good will. So you should know, apart from this, that we have ordered a very drastic reduction.

Now a third point, also concerned with paragraph 5. Now, as the Special Advisor knows, I am haunted by two things: the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the so-called North Vietnamese forces. I think we have satisfactorily settled the problem of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I only want to visit it before the Japanese tourists arrive. [Laughter]

With respect to the North Vietnamese forces, yesterday we have originally proposed that in Article 5 we state that together with United States forces all non-South Vietnamese forces should be withdrawn. I told you yesterday that we would withdraw this particular proposal. And I maintain this. But I would like to remind you of an idea that I have advanced to you and I have pointed out on a number of occasions that would greatly ease the difficulties. Namely that prior to the agreement going into effect, or shortly afterward, no doubt both sides may want to redisposition their forces, as a unilateral gesture. And I had pointed out before that the redeployment of some forces—not as part of the agreement—would be noticed and would make a great contribution. And this—of course you do not need military advice from me, although I would be glad to give it—but for example, in the northern part of the country . . . But any place else it would be noticed.

Those are all the clarifications I wanted to give before the Special Advisor . . .

Le Duc Tho: Originally Mr. Special Advisor said that he would give general remarks so to give the comprehensive view, but now I see that you have gone into the details.

Dr. Kissinger: No, as I understood the Special Advisor yesterday, he wanted me to complete any points in which I have not been clear, and I wanted to complete my points. And I made really more general remarks at the end of the day yesterday.

Le Duc Tho: So today you have exhausted all the concrete changes you want to bring to the agreement?

Dr. Kissinger: That is correct.

Le Duc Tho: Now I realize that there are two chapters very difficult for us to solve. And you have guessed which chapters they are.

[Page 874]

Dr. Kissinger: Chapter VI and Chapter IX!

Le Duc Tho: This is Chapter III and Chapter IV, which are different from your draft, your Chapters.

Dr. Kissinger: I am very surprised.

Le Duc Tho: There is nothing surprising in that.

Dr. Kissinger: No, you are right. Those are the two difficulties.

Le Duc Tho: Now in my view we should let aside these two chapters, because we and you should find out some way to settle these two chapters.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: So as to complete the agreement. Otherwise we can say that the agreement cannot be completed.

Dr. Kissinger: That is right.

Le Duc Tho: And as regards these two chapters I have expressed my views to Mr. Special Advisor. We will do great effort to bring about an approach to these chapters, but you should also make a great effort, some greater efforts than ours. So provisionally, I propose to leave aside these two chapters because they are difficult ones.

So now let us resolve a number of concrete points. After this we shall tackle these two chapters. Whether or not they will be immediately solved. If not, it will be difficult.

Now we still have six questions to raise in the agreement, outside of Chapter III and Chapter IV.

First, I would like to deal with the Preamble of the agreement. So far I have never found any agreement that have been reached so far in which the names of the countries are not mentioned. The Geneva Agreements of 1962 on Laos and the Geneva Agreements of 1954 on Indochina mentioned the name of the countries. Moreover the mention of the name of the government does not mean the recognition of this government. Because practically, in reality, this is a four-party conference and the agreement will be signed by the four Foreign Ministers.

Dr. Kissinger: But think of the suspense when people get an agreement and need to read the whole thing to find out who it applies to.

Le Duc Tho: What I want is that at the beginning of the agreement the different governments should be mentioned here. But in the agreement I want to simplify the wording and reduce the number of words in the agreement. And I think that my argument is something true, automatically true. I will give you my concession if you can find any agreement signed in which there are two or three parties and the names of the governments are not mentioned in the agreement. This is one point on which I can make no concession at all. Why, frankly speaking, Madame Nguyen Thi Binh read your proposed change and she was [Page 875] very angry. [Laughter] She said she would not sign the agreement if the name of the PRG is not mentioned.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, you and I go through the same thing every evening. We also have some friends who refuse to sign the agreement. In fact they are bringing in reinforcements today.

Le Duc Tho: But what I demand here is justified, there is some reason for it. But as to your proposal, there is no reason at all. If you can find some convincing reason to convince me and appear to everyone that your reason is correct, to that I will agree.

Dr. Kissinger: No, my reason is this, since we have to speak openly with each other today. You know what the difficulty is. And we therefore thought the solution was, without discrimination to anybody, simply not to list either the government in Saigon or the Provisional Revolutionary Government but to allow each to sign with its regular title. So that Madame Binh would sign as the Foreign Minister of the Provisional Revolutionary Government.

Le Duc Tho: No discrimination, but if you don’t mention the name of the government here, who would have to implement the agreement? I don’t see any agreement so far that the name of the government is not mentioned in the agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, it is “the parties participating in the Paris conference,” and then at the end the parties signing it are listed by name and title. So that the total impact will be perfectly clear.

Le Duc Tho: We disagree to that, and we demand that at the very beginning of the agreement, like has been done for Geneva Agreements of 1954 or the Geneva Agreements of 1962, [we name] which governments have to implement the provisions agreed to. We signed the Geneva Agreements of 1954 and those of 1962 and there is no agreement where there is no mention of government, so definitely we will stick to this point. So you have proposed changes to what provisions which we have agreed to, but as for me, I have never brought any changes as the changes you brought here.

Dr. Kissinger: No, I understand your point, Mr. Special Advisor.

Le Duc Tho: Now, can we settle this way?

Dr. Kissinger: Let us consider it and maybe we can come up with something. We may have to put it aside for today. But we understand your argument.

Le Duc Tho: But let me point out to you this point. If now the agreement comes to a settlement, if you review the agreement, then you have brought more changes than we have brought.

Dr. Kissinger: That is true.

Le Duc Tho: But we have agreed to the agreement and now you have brought so many changes. You should know our difficulties too [Page 876] because we have divulged the agreement for our people to see. Because if so many changes are brought to the agreement how can our people understand? So it is very difficult for us, and these difficulties are caused by you to us. It was not our intention to divulge the agreement, and when we divulged the content of the agreement it is only the main points, some of them. So I invite you to reconsider this point, and we should solve this question.

Dr. Kissinger: We’ll have to discuss it with some of our friends.

Le Duc Tho: Please, I agree. But I should point out our views on that.

Dr. Kissinger: I am grateful to you and we will take them very seriously.

Le Duc Tho: Now regarding the question of civilian personnel associated with military matters, Article 5. In sum, what we demand is that civilian personnel, whether before November first or after—naturally if they came after November first they should be withdrawn—but all civilian personnel associated with the military training, supply, storing, use of war materials should be withdrawn. I think it is something fair and reasonable. Because this is [what]2 you had done in Laos; we have had the same demand and you agreed to that. Now you should apply the same provision to this agreement.

Now, Article 7, your new Article 14, “from the enforcement of the ceasefire to the formation of the government provided for in 9(b)”—you want to delete the 9(i) but I would like to maintain “provided for in 9(i).”

Dr. Kissinger: Could I understand why? Because 9(i)—now Article 14—doesn’t provide for a government.

Le Duc Tho: Because it is linked to the question of introduction of armament and the question of military aid. Therefore after the ceasefire these things should not be done.

Dr. Kissinger: All right, I agree. It’s not very logical but I agree to it.

Le Duc Tho: Now, regarding the question of the demilitarized zone.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, we gave you a paper.

Le Duc Tho: I have it. You have just handed us the paper which we shall consider and I shall answer you later.

Dr. Kissinger: Right.

Le Duc Tho: Now, Chapter VII regarding Laos and Cambodia. I agree to your formulation, but I would like to propose this for clarification: “They shall strictly respect the principles of the Geneva Agree[Page 877]ments of 1954 on Cambodia and the 1962 Geneva Agreements on Laos.” I add the word “principles.”

Dr. Kissinger: Why?

Le Duc Tho: Because the agreement contains many provisions regarding the internal affairs of these countries. Because if I say that I respect the whole agreement, then we would interfere in the internal affairs of these countries. It is more correct to say “principles of the agreements.” When I say this I mean respecting the whole agreement, but it is the principles only, because otherwise I would interfere in the internal affairs.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand your point. Let me think about it. I understand what you are trying to do and let me see if we can find some formulation that accomplishes this. I understand your point; I want to think about it a little bit.

Le Duc Tho: Because there is no difference to put “respect the 1954 Geneva Agreement,” but I want it more precise.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand.

Le Duc Tho: Because if we put “principles” it is more concretely spoken. Because if we put only “Geneva Agreements of 1962” it is vague but “principles” is more specific, and the mutual respect by each country of the principles . . .

Dr. Kissinger: I must say I have made an impression on the Special Advisor when he admits that principles are more significant than clauses in the agreement. My metaphysical lectures have made some impact. [Le Duc Tho laughs before the interpretation.] And now I learn he understands English.

Le Duc Tho: In some places abstract, in some places concrete.

Dr. Kissinger: The Special Advisor will astonish the students at Harvard when instead of Marxism he will lecture on Idealism.

Le Duc Tho: But we are always against Idealism.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, it is apparent I have to give a little course on Leninism to Ambassador Sullivan. He doesn’t understand the difference between Idealism and Materialism.

Le Duc Tho: So now, to sum up, in the chapter on Cambodia and Laos, Article 20(a): I add the word “principles”—otherwise I agree with you.

Dr. Kissinger: After you finish with all your comments I will respond. This will bring us to an agreement, I just want to think about it.

Le Duc Tho: I have very rapidly bring about more agreements, so I make you think.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s how you get me confused—I get into difficulty afterward when I realize what you’ve done to me. Have you accepted [Page 878] the other changes in 20(a)? Where it says “to encroach on the sovereignty and security of one another and on other countries.”

Le Duc Tho: Yes. Agreed.

Dr. Kissinger: All right.

Le Duc Tho: With good will from our part. Because this is a show of good will.

Dr. Kissinger: [Laughs] It is a great sign of good will. No, Mr. Special Advisor, we appreciate your attitude and we have not questioned your motives at any point since we started talking seriously.

Le Duc Tho: Now, 20(d). So in this point you should concede [to] me. “The problems existing between the Indochinese states.” Now I agree to that. “The problems existing between the Indochinese countries.”

Dr. Kissinger: “States.”

Le Duc Tho: “The problems existing between the Indochinese countries.” You propose “The problems existing between the Indochinese states.” Now I propose “The problems existing between the Indochinese countries.” I delete the word “Three” but change “states” to “countries.” But the last sentence should be deleted. It is something haunting you about the North Vietnamese forces, implied. Because previously it is provided that “foreign countries shall withdraw from Laos and Cambodia and refrain from introducing troops, etc.”. And therefore this sentence is superfluous.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, if it is superfluous, what is the objection?

Le Duc Tho: There are two reasons for that. Because this sentence implies your idea of North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. Yesterday you said that there are still two sentences in the agreement in which you imply about the North Vietnamese forces: this sentence and second the sentence regarding the reduction of military numbers. This sentence has been proposed by you previously. I have expressed my views and you accepted to delete it—now you try to insert it again.

Now Chapter IV, reduction of military effectives in South Vietnam.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes I know, Article 13.

Le Duc Tho: Article 13. We maintain the former wording, the former proposal. But you are still hinting at the North Vietnamese forces. Therefore we maintain the former formulation.

So these are our stands regarding the above-mentioned questions. These are the questions I would like to raise to you for settlement. For some you have agreed to; for others we have responded to your requirements. So there are still a few questions left unresolved. So there are still a few questions that remain unresolved which we should make an effort and settle them.

[Page 879]

These questions are as follows: The name of the four governments, the question of the civilian personnel associated with military functions, the question of the DMZ, the question of Article 20(d) in the chapter on Laos and Cambodia.

Dr. Kissinger: Exactly, and the question of Article 13 in Chapter IV. Let us take a very brief break, only five or 10 minutes, unless you have additional things to say.

Le Duc Tho: Nothing.

Dr. Kissinger: Let us take a very brief break.

Le Duc Tho: So after the short break we’ll resume and you will express your views and I shall do the same.

Dr. Kissinger: Exactly.

[The meeting broke at 11:52 a.m. and resumed at 12:15 p.m.]

Le Duc Tho: We have passed the break you proposed.

Dr. Kissinger: Now the Special Advisor is starving me into submission.

Le Duc Tho: Please.

Dr. Kissinger: With respect to Article 20(a), I understand the Special Advisor’s point that we really have no standing with respect to the domestic provisions of the agreement. But I think that the phrase “principles” is, to use a phrase I have heard, not sufficiently concrete. I therefore propose that we say “shall reaffirm their obligations under” these agreements, so it is only that we reaffirm our obligations but are making no statements about the internal structure. So the sentence would read: “The parties participating in the Paris conference on Vietnam reaffirm their obligations under and shall strictly respect the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Cambodia and Laos and the 1962 Geneva Agreements on Laos and the Cambodian and Laotian peoples’ fundamental rights as recognized therein.” The only change really is “obligations” for “principles.” [Both sides confer.]

Le Duc Tho: So we have to redraft the wording.

Dr. Kissinger: Why?

Le Duc Tho: We are doing that. I amend your sentence to find out the most correct wording.

Dr. Kissinger: [Laughs] I think the Special Advisor is training for Pope. He’s already achieved infallability.

Le Duc Tho: [Laughs] Please go on; we shall return. I shall answer you later.

Dr. Kissinger: Now let’s go to 20(d). I will make a specific suggestion and then I will make a general comment. We will accept the word “countries” if you will accept the following conclusion of this sentence. It would be all one sentence then, and after “internal affairs” we would [Page 880] add “accepting the principle of maintaining their armed forces within their own frontiers.” This would not be a new sentence.

Now let me explain. We have tried to take into account your view with respect to “countries” and we recognize how this may be interpreted. But I would like to make a general comment about this clause as well as Article 13. I see no possibility of bringing about an agreement within the time frame that we are talking about, or within any time frame, unless we take into account this concern which I have expressed to you. In Article 13 we have expressed nothing that has not been orally said to us before. It’s not a new thing. It is an elaboration of what is already implied. And in Article 20(d) we have agreed to the reduction of military strength and demobilization.

Le Duc Tho: We have agreed to write it as it was written.

Dr. Kissinger: Originally?

Le Duc Tho: As has been agreed to.

Dr. Kissinger: You do not agree to our proposal?

Le Duc Tho: I agree to what has been agreed to between the two parties previously, about the reduction of military effectives and the demobilization of troops.

Dr. Kissinger: All we are doing here is to be a little more specific in elaborating the procedure. It has no additional implication.

Le Duc Tho: But we disagree to the modalities you propose here. I think that these modalities should be agreed upon by the two South Vietnamese when they settle the political questions. And what you have just raised regarding 20(d), I disagree to your last sentence here. Because originally you raised this sentence and we have expressed lengthily our views and you have accepted to drop it. Now you want to put it again. Because there has been a provision saying that after the restoration of peace the two South Vietnamese parties should refrain from introducing armaments, troops and so on into South Vietnam. Therefore there is no need to mention that troops should remain within their frontiers. Because as you said yesterday, your intention is that what you call North Vietnamese troops should be withdrawn from South Vietnam by putting that they should remain in their frontiers. This is your intention and we disagree to that. And this is a question of principle for us, and any sentence implying what you call North Vietnamese troops should be dropped. This sentence has this implication and we can’t accept that. There is no provision saying that American troops should remain within their U.S. national frontiers. Practically, we are remaining within our national frontiers but the situation in Laos and Cambodia is known to you. The Indochina situation, the Geneva Agreements of 1954 and 1962 become valueless now. Now once the war is ended regarding Laos and Cambodia, we have said [Page 881] that “foreign countries shall not introduce troops and armaments into South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia”—it is explicit. We will never introduce troops and armament, etc., except when we are subjected to aggression. And if we are subjected to aggression again, it is a matter of course that our whole nation will stand up again. And now if the war is ended all countries shall undertake not to introduce armament, troops, etc. into South Vietnam. I have been telling this to you over the past four years; therefore we maintain this view. As you know we have a question of principle. We have made great concessions to you.

Now let me speak about the few points you have just raised. Please carefully think over it again and definitely we will make no concession on that point.

Let me now clarify the two things you have just raised. Regarding Article 20(a), taking into consideration your views, I amend the sentence as follows: “The parties participating in the Paris conference on Vietnam shall strictly respect their obligations under the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Cambodia and the 1962 Geneva Agreements on Laos and shall respect the fundamental right of the Cambodian and Laotian peoples.” Just same substance as yours.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s all right.

Le Duc Tho: Now regarding the withdrawal of civilian personnel. In that connection we maintain what we have proposed. But taking into consideration your views, we will have an understanding to be taken note of, that “A small number of civilian personnel assisting in the maintenance of armament will be withdrawn a little later than the time period of 60 days, and the two parties will agree upon which number is such small number of civilian personnel.”

Dr. Kissinger: Who are the two parties?

Le Duc Tho: You and I. The time period for the withdrawal of such civilian personnel is 90 days after the signing of the agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: That’s useless.

Le Duc Tho: Otherwise we shall demand the total withdrawal. So taking into account of your concern I have agreed to this, as you say. That you will keep behind a certain number of civilian personnel for some time.

Dr. Kissinger: To return to the original problem we discussed before, that is, the problem raised by Article 13. On October 10 the Special Advisor said to me: “Military effectives should be reduced—it is one aspect of the problem—but not only the military effectives should be reduced but they also should be returned to their native place.” This is what we are referring to in Article 13.

Le Duc Tho: It is not true that I said that they should return to their native place.

[Page 882]

Dr. Kissinger: Well, maybe our record is wrong.

Le Duc Tho: Definitely.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, we then have a number of very difficult problems.

Le Duc Tho: Because it is what you are haunted by—this is the implication of the so-called North Vietnamese troops. You know I do not want to have it written in the agreement, but practically speaking, after the end of the war naturally the two sides will reduce their military numbers. This is what we have agreed to, both sides, and now you want to change it.

Dr. Kissinger: No, we don’t want to change it; we simply want to be more specific. Because it is in any event a very difficult problem to tell an ally that a peace is made which leaves a large number of forces that are considered not a part of that country’s forces on its territory. That is already a considerable concession. All we want to say is “return to their native place”. We are not saying where the native place is; we’re just saying they should leave.

Le Duc Tho: Moreover, the troops demobilized may return to their native places or they may live at the place of their choice, because in the democratic liberties has been mentioned freedom of movement, etc.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, after they’re demobilized at their native place they can go wherever they want to.

Le Duc Tho: So you mean that when they are demobilized they are to be bound and escorted to their native place? When they are demobilized the demobilized troops may return to their native place or may live at the place of their choice.

Dr. Kissinger: After they have gone to their native place.

Le Duc Tho: For instance now suppose I am demobilized, I do not want to return to my native place. I want to remain here . . .

Dr. Kissinger: The Special Advisor is demobilized in Hanoi and then we bring him to Harvard.

Le Duc Tho: Then I would be kidnapped.

Dr. Kissinger: From Hanoi? That’s difficult—we tried it once. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: It is not a good thing that you have tried. It is not good. And it was not well done that time.

Dr. Kissinger: It was well done but there was no one there!

Le Duc Tho: So you failed.

Dr. Kissinger: No, the idea would be—I don’t know how it’s done in Vietnam. But in our country when a soldier is demobilized he is given orders where to go for his demobilization, and then he is free to go wherever he wants. And we would visualize the same process here.

[Page 883]

Le Duc Tho: In Vietnam when a soldier is demobilized he is asked in what place he wanted to go and then he expresses his views and he will be given a paper to go to that place.

Dr. Kissinger: I think that’s the problem. I think you demobilized about 300,000 men who said they wanted to go south and so you sent them!

Le Duc Tho: It is of their own will.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, Mr. Special Advisor, we have a very serious problem on this issue and we have not viewed it lightly. We have discussed it by message with you because we understand it is an issue of principle for you. But it is also an issue of principle for others, and we have avoided the most difficult formulations for you and we have really attempted to find the formulation which would not raise the issue of principle in an acute form for you. And we are realists enough to know that it depends on the practice, not on the agreement.

But it is a difficult issue and many things depend on it. It is one of these difficult issues on which many consultations are involved and there are conflicting views on the principle of it. We recognize that in practice many things will have to evolve, but there is nothing in this article that has any more specific obligation than the political articles, and since you have said the two are related to each other—I think this is true—the two will be related to each other in the same time scale. And with less precision—this provision is less precise than others. The obligation is to discuss.

Le Duc Tho: I have repeatedly told you that it is a question of principle for us that in the agreement there should be no sentences that can imply or that can let understand about the North Vietnamese troops. It is a matter of principle. Therefore in the agreement we will not accept any such sentence. And when we proposed to write about the reduction of military effectives and the demobilization of troops it is a great good will from our part and it is something fair and reasonable. And if you write the article like you propose, then after your withdrawal the two South Vietnamese parties will engage in discussions and then the Saigon people will base themselves on that to demand this.

Dr. Kissinger: To demand what?

Le Duc Tho: They then would demand the withdrawal of North Vietnamese troops.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, not if there are none there.

Le Duc Tho: I have told you about that. These are the voluntary troops and these are the children of South Vietnamese regroupees. They have been organized into units and go and fight in South Vietnam. Now these troops are under the command of the PRG of the Republic of South Vietnam.

[Page 884]

Dr. Kissinger: Well, we will have to put this aside.

Le Duc Tho: Now let me speak about the DMZ. Taking into account of your views we have redrafted as follows. I agree with you to put the paragraph regarding the reunification of Vietnam as the first paragraph. After the paragraph reading “The reunification of Vietnam shall be carried out . . .” then in the next paragraph we quote the following: “Pending reunification, the provisional military demarcation line between the two zones at the 17th parallel will be provisional and will not be a political and territorial boundary.”

Dr. Kissinger: You mean the “military demarcation line.” There’s no sense saying “provisional” twice.

Le Duc Tho: No, “The military demarcation line between the two zones at the 17th parallel is only provisional and not a political or territorial boundary, as provided for in paragraph 6 of the Final Declaration of the 1954 Geneva Conference.”

Dr. Kissinger: Now wait a minute, I’m a little slow. Let me read this back so I am sure I have it straight. First you begin with the paragraph “The reunification of Vietnam shall be carried out step by step” and you leave that unchanged.

Le Duc Tho: Right.

Dr. Kissinger: “Then you have the phrase “Pending reunification,” and then you move up the next paragraph and you say “The military demarcation line between the two zones at the 17th parallel will be provisional and will not be a political and territorial boundary.” All right, this comes then after “Pending reunfication.”

Le Duc Tho: Yes, this paragraph will be moved after the words “Pending reunification.” Then.

Dr. Kissinger: Good.

Le Duc Tho: Then “South and North Vietnam shall respect the demilitarized zone on either side of the provisional military demarcation line.” This is what we propose to write. And we do not write “as provided in Article 24 of the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Vietnam.”

Dr. Kissinger: You do not write it?

Le Duc Tho: No.

Dr. Kissinger: Why not?

Le Duc Tho: Because the situation was then the hostilities between us and the French. It is a provision between us and the French. There was regroupment of forces from South to North and North to South and that is the reason for that provision. Now we have been fighting against you. You will be withdrawn. Either side of the demarcation line both parties should respect the military demarcation line and the two South Vietnamese parties shall refrain from introducing arma[Page 885]ments and troops into South Vietnam. This is the provision of Article 7 so there is no need to mention here. Because the provision of Article 24 is between the Vietnamese and French, and the French troops were regrouped to South and our forces were regrouped to North. So it is adequate, completely adequate.

Dr. Kissinger: Would you read it again?

Mr. Phuong: “South and North Vietnam shall respect the demilitarized zone on either side of the provisional military demarcation line.”

Le Duc Tho: So all the changes have been brought by you. The agreement has been reached by both sides, but you are always bringing changes and we have only to meet your requirements.

Dr. Kissinger: No, no.

Le Duc Tho: It is obvious.

Dr. Kissinger: So “South and North Vietnam shall respect the demilitarized zone on either side of the provisional military demarcation line.” It means you’ve got to come down the Ho Chi Minh Trail again. [Laughter] It means I’ll be haunted again.

Le Duc Tho: Be not worried. After the ceasefire in Vietnam and Laos, according to the explicit provisions of the agreement, both parties shall not introduce troops, armaments, into South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Do not worry.

Dr. Kissinger: I think the Special Advisor is waiting until we have paved the Ho Chi Minh Trail as a part of our reconstruction program for Indochina. [Laughter] And made a four-lane highway out of it. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: It would be a good thing if you construct such a highway, and consumer goods will be transported on it.

Dr. Kissinger: We’ll discuss it in Hanoi. Because we have to know General Giap’s requirements! We don’t want to put it in the wrong place.

Le Duc Tho: You are always haunted by the Ho Chi Minh Trail. As far as we are concerned, we are always haunted by American forces in Thailand, in the Philippines and in your fleet throughout the Pacific.

Dr. Kissinger: I think as our relationships improve, as they will, I think, this is not a problem that need haunt you. And if there is a prolonged period of peace these forces will undoubtedly be reduced to a more peace time size.

Le Duc Tho: So we propose this amendment to Article 15 regarding the demilitarized zone.

Dr. Kissinger: And the rest of the paragraph you accept as it is?

Le Duc Tho: Agreed.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, I will provisionally accept this and if I have any comment it will not be of a very major nature.

[Page 886]

Le Duc Tho: So the concrete questions which remain unsolved are the following:

Dr. Kissinger: I told your interpreter in the break you conduct negotiations like an artillery expert; you fire a shot on one side, one on the other side, and then you drop one in through the chimney.

Le Duc Tho: But practically speaking, sir, you have brought many changes in the agreement and you are attacking me.

Dr. Kissinger: No, I am impressed.

Le Duc Tho: And I only counter-attack. [Laughter] But on the main points I stick to my ground because we have agreed to it. So we have made progress regarding Chapter VII, about the demilitarized zone and Laos and Cambodia.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: We have made progress regarding the civilian personnel associated with military functions. We have taken into account your views but you have not yet responded. You should find some correct solution.

As to the names of the four governments in the Preamble, you should maintain it—there is no reason to change it.

As to the other part of the agreement, you can say “the parties participating.”

Dr. Kissinger: I understand—you want to list it only in the Preamble.

Le Duc Tho: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: We have to discuss this.

Le Duc Tho: But it would be difficult to come to a settlement if you refuse it.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand.

Le Duc Tho: Now let me express certain views. Particularly with a view to settling Chapter III and Chapter IV. This is a very important matter for us.

At the beginning of this round of meetings, I told you about the questions of principle and substance for us on which we have reached agreement and now you wanted to change. On these questions of principle and substance I can definitely tell you my clearcut views that we will not accept any changes.

At the same time I have pointed out a small number of changes or supplements. Among these questions the most important is the question of captured peoples of the parties. My views are known to you. These are the questions. This so-called withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam.

Dr. Kissinger: Is it the “so-called withdrawal” or the “withdrawal of so-called North Vietnamese forces?” [Laughter]

[Page 887]

Le Duc Tho: Both.

Dr. Kissinger: I want to learn the correct terminology before I visit Hanoi.

Le Duc Tho: The second problem is the whole Chapter IV. Thirdly, the enumeration of the four governments in the Preamble. These are the questions of principle which we both have agreed to and now we maintain them. We don’t accept any change.

But I have raised another question which I have agreed to but now I raise it again. This is the question of the return of captured people. We accepted this chapter on condition that the agreement would be signed on October 31. These are great matters of concern of ours. Among these matters of concern there are some which we have agreed, both sides have agreed. But another is the question of captured people and I know that you too, you have questions of concern. The question which has been haunting your mind is the so-called question of North Vietnamese forces withdrawing from South Vietnam. Your second question of concern is the question of the ceasefire in Laos.

But regarding your concern about the so-called North Vietnamese forces withdrawing from South Vietnam, I definitely told you that I will not accept any sentence in the agreement implying about these forces.

Now, in order to settle the concrete questions in Chapter IV and Chapter III: If now you strictly maintain what we both have agreed to in Chapter IV and solve the question of Chapter III as we have proposed, then we will have an understanding and we will pay attention to reality, practicality, and we will discuss with the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam so that the latter will redeploy a number, symbolically, a number of its armed forces in the extreme north of Vietnam, that is to say, south of the demilitarized zone.

Regarding the ceasefire in Laos, we will discuss with our allies in Laos so that the ceasefire in Laos may take place sooner than one month, a little sooner than one month.

Dr. Kissinger: What’s a little sooner? Twenty-eight days?

Le Duc Tho: Let me go to that. If you pay due attention to our concerns—and it is not a question of paying attention to our concerns but if you strictly implement what has been agreed to—we should not have any additional understanding. We should not have any understanding at all. Why? Because these questions are already agreed questions. Now you ask for changes. But because of our resolve to settle the problem, we have put forward these solutions. So you should realize that we have made a very great effort. You should also understand that in the past we have made great effort. The so-called question of North Vietnamese forces—it is a matter of principle that we will never [Page 888] raise this question. Now we have made another practical effort, as I have just proposed. Moreover, you have been satisfied as regards the question of Laos, and I have made an effort to give you more satisfaction regarding Laos. So you should fully respond to our demand regarding captured people in Chapter III and the political question in Chapter IV.

It may be said that these are great efforts from our part. We should have come here without any change brought to the agreement. We should have made no understanding at all. But it is our last effort. It is our last effort in order to peacefully settle the Vietnam problem. We can have no further effort. There can be no further concession. All this shows good will on our part, and if a correct solution cannot be found as a result of our effort, then the negotiation will fall into a deadlock.

You know any subject has its laws of development, and it has some limits to this development in accordance with its laws of development. It is so regarding our good will, too. It has its limits already. There can be no settlement by dropping all matter of principles.

So our good will, I may say, has come to its limits. Whether we have peace or there will be a continuation of the war, it fully depends on you. It is what I have told you with great frankness, with great straightforwardness. If now after this show of good will from our part, if no settlement is reached, what do you say we should do? The only possible conclusion is that since no settlement is reached then the negotiation will break and the war will continue. Although my subjective desire is not such a situation, but objectively speaking such a situation happens.

So this great effort from our part should be realized by you. Therefore it becomes now obvious—whether a settlement is possible or not wholly depends on you. If now we review the agreement, we have agreed on everything previously. In the message of the President of the United States he said that the agreement can be considered to be completed. But anyhow I came here again to discuss with you and we continue to make great efforts. It is something undeniable, and you should also realize it. If now you don’t respond to our questions of principle, then no settlement is possible.

I have spoken lengthily about the captured and detained people. Probably it is a subject on which I have spent much time to speak about.

The political questions in South Vietnam: You have known what great effort I have made in this connection. We have dropped our demands on the formation of the three-segment government, the immediate resignation of Mr. Nguyen Van Thieu. Even there are members of the Nguyen Van Thieu administration, those people demand also the resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu, but we have dropped this demand. Now it will be formally only an administrative structure called the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord [Page 889] composed of three segments, and moreover the third segment will be chosen by agreement and consultation of the two parties, and you disagree with that. Regarding the lower levels of the Council, it will be subject to agreement and discussion of the two parties, and you want it deleted. Even regarding the question of general elections, there is nothing in it and you want to drop the word “general.” Moreover, the Council will operate in accordance with the principle of discussion and unanimous decision and even the word in Vietnamese “see to,” “oversee,” you want to drop. How do you envisage then this body? And now you want to take out all these details of such a body.

These are very great questions. I can frankly tell you that if these questions are not solved then no settlement is possible. I can tell you now this is the final limits, frankly speaking. We can have no other concession.

So you have seen our great efforts regarding the political questions, regarding the military questions. So in the so-called question of withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam, we can’t agree to that and we can’t agree to any sentence implying that question in the agreement. But practically speaking we can have an understanding as I have just described to you.

As to the replacement of armaments, if it is as it is written in the provision I understand that practically you can introduce any amount of armaments. On the question of Laos and the question of Cambodia, particularly the question of Laos, in all these questions we have made great efforts.

What do you say? What efforts should we do again? Further efforts mean that we shall put the agreement into the fire. This is a fact. There is no other way. We have done our utmost. This is a great show of effort we have done in connection with the so-called North Vietnamese forces. If we can’t reach a settlement it is completely on account of you only.

I have said this with open heart, with open mind. I can think nothing else. This is a fact. So you should have realized that all our moves are aimed at peacefully settling the problem. If now the war continues it is all completely on account of you. So we have done our utmost, really, animated by the desire of settling.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, I propose to take a few minutes’ break. But I would like to clarify a few of your observations, simply to make sure that I have understood them correctly. I recognize that you have made a great effort, even though if you quote this “if the negotiations fail and the war continues it is up to you,” it will not be helpful to us. And we, too, have made a great effort, and now the really difficult question is whether we can find means of overcoming the few remaining obstacles.

[Page 890]

As I understand it, your basic proposition here is we have to change paragraph (c) of the chapter on prisoners.

Le Duc Tho: Right.

Dr. Kissinger: Then in return for this you will discuss with the PRG the movement of some number of forces in the northern part of the country. Of course you did not say where they are going to go. We assume they are not going into the Delta.

Le Duc Tho: I think that a not so clever man can understand that. But you are a very clever man and you are quick to understand. But not only you have to change the paragraph regarding the captured people, but also the point I have raised regarding Chapter IV. You should maintain it and you have agreed on them with me.

Dr. Kissinger: Now, of course you recognize you have made two very major demands, one having to do with American civilians and an even more major one having to do with civilian prisoners, and in return for this there is improved language on the DMZ, some slight change in the timing on Laos and some movement of forces in Military Region One, the size of which is not specified. But I simply wanted to understand what your proposal was. I will make comments after a brief break. Let us take a break.

Le Duc Tho: I should add before we break that you should make an effort, great effort, frankly speaking.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand, I understand. I have understood the Special Advisor very well.

[The meeting broke at 1:52 p.m. for lunch. Roast beef, chicken, fruit cake, wine and port were served. The meeting resumed at 2:43 p.m.]

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor and Mr. Minister, my colleagues and I want to thank you for this very excellent lunch you arranged for us.

Xuan Thuy: It is Thanksgiving Day.

Dr. Kissinger: It is very thoughtful of you and we appreciate it.

Let me make a few observations. I think we have made some progress today. I think the chapter on the DMZ and the reunification of Vietnam is improved, and what we have agreed upon on the chapter on Cambodia and Laos is also an improvement. But we now come to some of the difficult issues which the Special Advisor discussed towards the end.

We have to balance these improvements against the very major changes that have been proposed by your side concerning American civilians and concerning civilian prisoners.

With respect to the civilian prisoners, we have two concerns, both of which I have expressed. First, we do not want the release of prisoners [Page 891] related to what will undoubtedly be a very difficult issue of deciding who is a political prisoner and who is an ordinary criminal. And secondly, the objective tendency of some of your proposals is to remove all those issues with which the Saigon Government can bargain and to retain, in your hands and in the hands of your friends, all those issues with which they can bargain. So it is very difficult for us to return from these negotiations with a document that is even more subject to criticism than the one which we had attempted to clarify.

Now we understand your question of principle, but as I pointed out there is a question of principle involved also on the other side. I have no immediate solution to that problem. But let me indicate—I have no solution at all to Chapter III—but let me, having considered some of the criticisms that the Special Advisor made with respect to Chapter IV, as a sign of our good will, indicate what we can be prepared in Chapter IV to do. Since the deletion of the word “general” seems to pose such major difficulties, we will be prepared to restore it. “General elections.” And if the Special Advisor can accept the phrase “representing all political tendencies in South Vietnam and whose members shall be chosen equally by the two parties,” we will be prepared to restore the original sentence about “local councils” or “councils at lower levels.”

And I have already yesterday indicated our readiness to accept the word “structure.” We would only ask that the word “administrative” be translated by the correct Vietnamese word.

With respect to the word “oversee,” “promote,” “encourage,” I think we should let the experts discuss this. We do not object to the sense of “see to” in English.

So this then restores the political provisions to what they were before we met, with one modification which reflects the political realities.

With respect to Article 13, we will have to study this, because—we recognize it is a very difficult problem for you—but it is also a very difficult problem for us.

With respect to the ceasefire in Laos, we are not proposing this to get any advantage. We are proposing it in order to take account of the best conditions to promote an improved relation between us after the war. As I told the Special Advisor two days ago, if the war in Laos continues and the war in Vietnam ends, we will continue substantial air activities in Laos. You will be tempted to reply with military activities of your own, and then the end result will be that for a difference of several weeks we are fighting each other in another country when we have already agreed to settle it. This is our concern about Laos.

We have noted your reference to mentioning four governments in the Preamble. I can only say the eagerness to sign such a Preamble will not be increased by multiplying provisions that are objectionable.

[Page 892]

We recognize the expression of good will of the Special Adviser with respect to the redeployment of some forces in the northern-most part of South Vietnam. But in the total context in which it is put it still presents us with major difficulties. And I have made all the changes that I can make this afternoon. And of course, I recognize as we get towards the end of these deliberations the margin always shrinks for both sides. So we are talking more and more about fewer and fewer provisions.

Le Duc Tho: Have you finished, Mr. Special Advisor?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: I feel it unacceptable, Mr. Special Advisor, what you have said—your refusal about proposals. If we compare the questions we have been discussing the last few days with the original agreement, what we have agreed upon, there has been great effort from our part. You should not have brought changes to what have been agreed between us here. Now you have raised a number of questions and you have proposed a number of questions and you have proposed a number of changes, and we have taken into account of your views. This is a great effort from our part. But you have not responded to our good will. How can we settle the problem now?

Now let me ask, for instance, a question on Chapter III, on the captured and detained people. You, Mr. Special Advisor, you yourself have said that if there is an understanding about the redeployment of the armed forces of the PRG, a number of the forces of the PRG in the northern part of South Vietnam, this redeployment will facilitate greatly the settlement of the question of captured and detained people in South Vietnam. Now I have made this understanding and you are still completely unwilling to settle the question. So what is this way of conducting negotiations? Because we have shown good will and great effort with the question of redeployment of a number of the armed forces of the PRG south of the demilitarized zone in order to facilitate the question of Chapter III and Chapter IV, but now you are unwilling.

Nguyen Co Thach: And now the question of ceasefire in Laos, too.

Le Duc Tho: But you have not responded to this effort and good will of ours, so in this way for certain it cannot be negotiated then. Because we have shown great good will and effort but you are still unwilling too. So it is up to you. I have been telling you repeatedly.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me explain.

Le Duc Tho: So I have exhausted all my arguments. I have told you all my arguments. You said you have difficulties, but we, too, we also have difficulties. But you do not pay attention to our question of concern and you do not pay attention to our question of principle about Chapter IV about captured and detained people.

[Page 893]

Is there any principle for you to solve when at the end of the war when the agreement is signed, one side releases all prisoners and the other side does not do the same? So what fairness, what reasonableness is this? It should have been carried out, this question of principle, without any understanding from your part. But here we have made an understanding with you and you are unwilling to solve that question. You affirm your effort, determination, and your desire for a quick settlement, but your way of negotiating does not bear out your assertion.

The simple question of enumerating the names of the four governments signing the agreement—it is a simple matter, everyone knows that—and you are still unwilling. It is absolutely absurd. So if you stick to your stand really no settlement is possible. It is up to you.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me first state what I have previously said, so that we understand each other. First I said that the redeployment of some forces in the northern part of the country would greatly facilitate the agreement. This is one proposition, and that would be very important, and that can be a number of not decisive importance in itself. I said, secondly, this week, that a very substantial redeployment would make it easy to settle the question of the civilian prisoners. So these are two separate . . . I said then, to be precise, that if the question of what the Special Advisor calls the so-called withdrawal could be settled de facto, then the question of the prisoners would be very easy. [They confer.]

Mr. Phuong: So you mean total withdrawal de facto?

Dr. Kissinger: I didn’t use the word “total.”

Mr. Phuong: Substantially.

Dr. Kissinger: I did not use that word, but one I would add in that context of a larger number than in the symbolic context. [They confer.]

So that it is not that we are not paying attention to what you said, and it is not that we are totally refusing to reconsider the question of civilian prisoners. But in the context of changing the clause of the civilian prisoners, we were talking about a different kind of withdrawal than we were talking about that would assist our ability to get the agreement and the ability to get it implemented.

There are two problems. Let me sum up exactly what I am saying. One problem—for which I am here—is what is necessary to permit a rapid implementation of this agreement. I have always believed, and I have always told the Special Advisor, that in order to have a rapid implementation of the agreement a withdrawal from the northern part of South Vietnam would be extremely helpful—or a redeployment, if he wants to use his phrase. This is with respect to the agreement essentially as we have it now negotiated.

[Page 894]

The second question is, which was newly raised by the Special Advisor, if we change paragraph (c) on the prisoners, what is the relationship of that to the issue of the so-called withdrawal? And there I was saying, when we were standing there privately, that if there were a substantial solution of that problem, a significant solution of that problem of redeployment, then it would be easy to take care of the issue of civilian prisoners. So we are talking here of the same thing in a different scale—one in relation to the agreement; the other in relation to the change of the article.

Le Duc Tho: In connection with the agreement then, there will be nothing to do with the redeployment of the forces of the PRG in the northern part of South Vietnam. Because the agreements have been agreed to between the two parties, and now the question is, you should abide by the agreement. And what I have been telling about the understanding on the redeployment on a number of forces of the PRG in the northern part of South Vietnam, it is done with a view to the release of the civilian captives in South Vietnam. Speaking of fairness we should not have done this understanding. Do you see in any war if there is the end of the war, one side releases all of the captured and the other side doesn’t? What morality lies in that?

And now we have shown good will and making an effort in the redeployment in a number of forces of the PRG. Then you should respond by bringing a correct solution to this question of civilian prisoners, and maintaining Chapter IV as we have. Moreover Chapter IV has been agreed to between the two parties, and now you have to abide by it. The reply came to us on behalf of the President of the United States saying that the agreement may be considered to be completed. So now we have proposed this solution and you still maintain your changes to Chapter IV. So how can we believe that you have good will too? The message from the President of the United States is still there. It should have been that we demand you to stick to the agreed agreement, but now you ask for changes and we have shown further reasonableness, further good will, to respond to your question of concern, so you should bring correct solution to that.

Even in the question of Laos, even in connection with the question of Laos we have met all your concerns and you acknowledged that. Now you want an earlier ceasefire in Laos, and we have made an effort to do it—your requirements. We have made an effort in discussing with our friends to have such agreement.

We have further made a show of good will and effort and you do not respond to our good will and effort at all. I am certain that if you continue such a way of negotiation, no settlement is possible. In efforts they have limits to efforts. A glass of water—the glass can bear the heat of the water to some extent. The temperature of the water you [Page 895] are filling into the glass should be suitable to the resistance of the glass. If the temperature of the water you pour in the glass is higher, stronger than the resistance of the glass, then the glass will be broken. I tell you this to say that efforts have their limits and you should understand these limits. If you demand beyond these limits then your settlement is impossible. It is the same with us; we have never put forward a demand passing the limits I think you can stand. This is a symbol of realism to find out a solution. Otherwise no settlement is possible. So what I am telling you now is completely up to you. It should have been that once the agreement is reached we did not accept any change to it, but over the last few days you have added so many changes and we have made maximum effort and you are unwilling to.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, first, no point is served by repeating what happened in October. We have explained to you the context in which our various declarations were made. We have informed you since then of all the issues we were going to raise. If we get involved in a propaganda battle—as to who said what or when—neither of us will really win. In any event it will not change the situation. We will either come to a mutually satisfactory solution within the near future or the war will continue.

Le Duc Tho: It is up to you.

Dr. Kissinger: It is up to both of us.

Le Duc Tho: We have made a great deal of effort. At the press briefing you said to the journalists that you would bring only minor technical changes, but actually the changes you bring here are changes of principle and substance.

Dr. Kissinger: We informed you of the issues we were going to raise. We did not want to raise an issue of prestige between us and therefore we made every statement publicly in a very conciliatory way. Besides I said there are three groups of changes, of which one was technical, and I said that the issues are relatively small compared to those that we have already solved.

But none of this really changes where we are now. We will not be able to take each other to court. An agreement is completed when it is initialed and signed. Now the issue is how we can solve the remaining difficulties.

Let me make a suggestion, since we are obviously not going to solve them this afternoon. Let us meet tomorrow to discuss some of the collateral issues such as the protocols and related understandings. And let us make one more attempt on Saturday to resolve these issues.

Le Duc Tho: We will not follow the way of negotiating you propose. You are not consistent in your statement. Your statement at your press conference in the United States and your statement now are discordant. [Page 896] In your message you propose another language; in another you say another way. I still have the message. How you have raised the question you still remember, and how we have replied to your message we still remember. But in these meetings we have discussed with you so many questions.

Now we have agreed that previously we shall complete the discussion on the agreement, then we shall discuss the schedule and afterward we will discuss the question of protocol. And now you want to discuss the protocol and understandings before completing the agreement. I question then the value of your statement because you change it from one day to the other. I think if you continue this way of talking, then no settlement is possible and you will be responsible for that. We have made the great, utmost, efforts and this is known to the whole of the world. If you propose now a break, I agree with you to stop now the discussion.

Dr. Kissinger: First, let me say something. I have attempted to keep these discussions on a level consistent with my expectation that we would make peace; consistent with what I would hope to be a continuing relationship. But since you insist on questioning our good faith and our believability, I am bound to point out to you that one of the difficulties has been that we were aware of instructions you had given to your forces in the South, in which an upsurge of military activity would have coincided with my visit to Hanoi and extended through the initialing of the agreement in order to seize the maximum amount of territory. And therefore if we talk about good faith—I have not used this before because I did not want to be in this position—this was the principal cause of the difficulty. If necessary this is going to be the pattern of the discussion. It is not our preference.

Le Duc Tho: It is incorrect what you have said. You should realize how your activities are carried out in South Vietnam and in North Vietnam. You see how fierce, how violent the military activities you are carrying out in South Vietnam. Of course we have to counteract these activities and of late massive introduction of tens of thousands of armaments are introduced into South Vietnam. I think for purpose of negotiation, please, you should take good faith with yourself. If you say this then I will continue to say this too, then it will be endless, the negotiations, and no settlement is possible. But the question is whether you want a settlement or not. So I have been telling you that if you are prepared to make a settlement we are prepared, too. If not, then we are not.

Dr. Kissinger: What exactly is it, then, that the Special Advisor is proposing, since he refused my proposal?

Le Duc Tho: Now I wonder whether you still want to continue the negotiations or not. If you want to stop the negotiations, I will do the [Page 897] same. If you want further discussion, then I will discuss with you. And if discussions are to be made then we should go into the agreement. We have made great effort and you yourself have acknowledged these efforts. You should respond to our proposals. I do not force you to accept, but it is here a question of reciprocity. We should not have done that reciprocity, because the agreements have been reached. We have shown good will. We have come here. We have responded to your requirements. If you refuse, the statement what we have accepted from your proposal is much more in number. I frankly tell you we will not yield to anyone under pressure. If you want a satisfactory settlement or a solution with good will, we will do that with you. If not, it is up to you.

Dr. Kissinger: Since I will have to send for some instructions, can I ask the Special Advisor one concrete question? What is the number of forces that he was talking about when he was speaking about redeployment?

Le Duc Tho: Now let me pose again the question. Do you respond to our proposal regarding Chapter III and Chapter IV? Then I will given an appropriate response to what you respond to our question. I have told you repeatedly when you show good will we are reasonable people, but on the contrary when you are lacking good will and you continue the negotiations in a way not suitable for negotiations, I frankly tell you I am the most stubborn people. Throughout our negotiations here you should have realized that whenever you show good will I always respond by reasonableness, and sometime my reasonableness surpasses your demands. Now if you respond to our proposal or the requirement I have made, then I shall respond, I shall give you an appropriate response.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, I have told you my preliminary reactions to Chapter IV and I have indicated that we have withdrawn some suggestions.

With respect to our willingness to give up the prisoner clause, this depends on the size of the redeployment. And therefore those two questions are closely linked. But in that case I do not think we should try to settle this issue now.

Le Duc Tho: Now regarding the changes to Chapter IV. It is up to you to settle it now, immediately or at some other time. It is up to you. Now as to the changes. Now the questions, the discussions on the questions you raised here, whether you want to settle it now or to put it to some other time, it is up to you.

Now we maintained the formulation of Chapter IV. I have expressed my views on that. I maintain what I have said, because we have made very great concessions in connection with this Chapter. No further concessions are possible.

[Page 898]

Dr. Kissinger: In other words you are just giving us an ultimatum.

Le Duc Tho: These are the things that we can’t accept: any changes regarding the three segments of the Council, the different levels of the Council, and the name of the Council. It is not a threat or anything else. This is the latest limit, the final limit we have. If some backstep is made then we can say that nothing is left. That is the reason why we have had such an understanding on the redeployment of a certain number of forces in the northern part of South Vietnam, for the purpose of settling these questions. If no settlement, no solution, is brought to these questions we will never raise the question of forces. You have seen that over the past four years we have never accepted discussions of the North Vietnamese forces. Now, practically speaking, we have accepted the redeployment of a number of forces in the northern part of South Vietnam, with the real desire of settling a number of questions. It is a show of good will from our part.

Dr. Kissinger: But you are putting it in connection with a fundamental change on the prisoner issue. You are not putting it in connection with no further change of Chapter IV.

Le Duc Tho: How I have put the question [is this]: Now I have an understanding with you on two questions. First, the redeployment of the number of forces in the northern part of South Vietnam, and second, on the question of ceasefire in Laos. In order to have your settlement on the question of Chapter III and Chapter IV.

Dr. Kissinger: That is your proposal. That is not an understanding.

Le Duc Tho: This is our proposal. It is a proposal to put forward before you, to see how you want to do it. Which number of troops do you want to be redeployed? When do you want the ceasefire in Laos? You will respond to it by settling this chapter of Chapter IV and Chapter III and then we shall discuss it. But I would like to remind you that Chapter IV has been agreed to between both parties. You should not have any understanding on it.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, we can’t always say “agreed to” when it serves our purposes and “not agreed to” when it does not. We are here in order to get an agreement. We are not here to score debating points. Chapter III was one of your most important concessions, and you have now withdrawn it. It, itself, was more significant than all the others put together that we have settled here. But we will consider what you have said, and I think the best thing is if we get in touch with you tomorrow whether we should meet with you tomorrow afternoon or Saturday morning.

Le Duc Tho: Now I should remind you that the question of our concern is both Chapter III and Chapter IV. As to Chapter IV I should tell you that we have agreed to Chapter IV. You remember the message [Page 899] of the President of the United States; it said the agreement was considered to be completed but when we meet here we have accepted some changes to Chapter IV already, so it is more of our good will. You should realize our good will. If you don’t respond to our good will it is up to you. Whether peace is restored or the war continues, it is also up to you. It is our utmost effort. It is not a bullet you can fire continuously. It is the last bullet, frankly speaking.

So this is the question I raised to be discussed with you and to settle all the outstanding questions. Otherwise we should not have found out these formulas in that settlement. If there were any other formula to write in the agreement, we would not fail to use it. But we can’t find any other formula than saying “the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord with the three equal segments.” I have told Mr. Thach here, Mr. Hien, and my other colleagues to strain their minds to find out a possible formula, but they do not succeed in finding it. Possibly the question of the demilitarized zone has been raised by Ambassador Sullivan, but we have found out no formula for this question. You should realize our effort in making every effort to find out a formula for an agreement. This is only one example. Whether the question of Laos or the question of Cambodia—you propose a draft, we see it and try to come to an agreement. But there are questions in which we can no longer find out any formula. The entity [thing] has come to its limit. That is the reason why I have found a way to come to an understanding with you to settle the problem, because you have been concerned about this method. We are also concerned about this method and made an effort to find out. This is what I have to say. So now you will decide when will we have to meet again.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me say, if the Special Advisor were talking about Chapter IV alone, this is one problem. By raising also Chapter III, it is an entirely new problem.

Le Duc Tho: I have not understood you.

Dr. Kissinger: As the Special Advisor said, first of all with respect to Laos we don’t consider that a concession. We consider that common sense. [They laugh.] We don’t understand why with good will you should want to continue the war in Laos once the war ends in Vietnam. What is the reason?

Le Duc Tho: This shows that you have not yet understood. This is the problem of another country. We can’t force our friends to settle immediately the problem. We have to discuss with them.

Dr. Kissinger: But if we give up paragraph III(c) you can force them?

Le Duc Tho: Let me finish first. And there are things that are agreed to by our friends; on other points they disagree. The Saigon people are in your hands and you have to discuss with them month after month. This is another thing you have sometime to discuss with them.

[Page 900]

Dr. Kissinger: But why is it easier to force them if we give up paragraph III(c)? I mean Chapter III(c).

Le Duc Tho: Let me explain to you. These are negotiations. We exchanged views on the matters of negotiation. It is something natural. For example, the question of American prisoners in Laos. If I refuse to discuss with you on that question of American prisoners in Laos, then you will ask why we don’t discuss this question with our friends in Laos. I have settled this problem with you because these are questions linked to one another. These are questions to be changed to be understood with one another. Last time you proposed the question of Laos. Now you have been satisfied in connection with the question of Laos. Now you say the question of Laos has nothing to do with the question of Vietnam.

Dr. Kissinger: Now there must have been a misunderstanding. I have never said they have nothing to do with each other.

Le Duc Tho: You say that it does not go with Chapter IV, Chapter III.

Dr. Kissinger: No, I am saying the question of Laos ought to be in both of our interests. Why should we continue to fight in Laos once the war is settled in Vietnam? You say you have to consult your friends, but you say if we change the prisoner issue you will consult your friends a little faster. Therefore it has nothing to do with your friends; it has to do with you.

Le Duc Tho: This is a country allied with us so we have to discuss with them. If we wanted to prolong the war we would not have settled the problem in Laos and Cambodia, and if we wanted the war, we would not have put the question of Laos again this time. It is something evident. But since the question of Laos is interrelated and it is a question of reciprocity, therefore I would like to exchange it with you. Now I have made an understanding with you on two questions and you should respond to us, to this understanding with regard to Chapter III and Chapter IV.

Dr. Kissinger: You are asking in Chapter III a total major change in the agreement, a bigger change than anything we negotiated here this week; and totally changing what will be the negotiations by the parties after the agreement is signed. You insist on being very specific about the political conditions but you refuse to be at all specific about the military conditions. This cannot be good will. I understand your proposal. I will consider it because we have been so close to making peace. But I do not accept your description of it as leading us toward a settlement.

Le Duc Tho: It is up to you. We have done our utmost. We have done our utmost with regard to the agreements. Please now consider whether you will settle the problem and peace will be restored. If no [Page 901] settlement is brought, then the laws will be developed and the war will continue. It is something objective, and my subjective desire is not to have the war continue.

And it is not correct for you to say that in the agreement there is no stipulation regarding military questions, concrete stipulations regarding military questions. There are many stipulations, concrete stipulations, aimed at preventing the resumption of the war. Moreover there are understandings, and sometimes the understandings are more significant than the agreement and the provisions in it. Sometimes the written document is not so valuable as the understanding.

I told you, but I quote to you about 1968 at the cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam, I would not say any word to Ambassador Harriman about the withdrawal of troops in the northern part of South Vietnam. There was no agreement at all. No private understanding. There was none. But after the cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam, because of our desire for a peaceful settlement, actually really we have redeployed a number of our forces. It was a sign of our good will. But why was no settlement of the war possible at that time? The historical circumstances are known to you. I do not feel it necessary to recall. And so in the agreement there are concrete stipulations, but some understandings are more valuable than a concrete stipulation. In negotiation you have conducted negotiations in many places and you understand this better than I.

Dr. Kissinger: But never with anyone as difficult as the Special Advisor.

Le Duc Tho: The difficulties are objective. We have been fighting for tens of years now. It will be difficult for you to pull out as it is difficult for you to settle the problem. Often it is easier to come in than to get out, as far as you are concerned. We have been fighting for over ten years. It will be difficult for us to settle the war too and it will be difficult for us to guarantee the interest of our people. But I have told you repeatedly that if one is prompted by the desire for a settlement then naturally we will find out the formulas to overcome the difficulties; otherwise no settlement is possible. And settlements should be conformed to reality, and if things go beyond the reality, no settlement is possible. It is the same for us and for you.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, I don’t believe we can go much further today. We cannot agree to this proposition. We will be in touch with the President and we will consider it. I think you, too, might ask your assistants to apply some more ingenuity. But that is up to you. I don’t want to tell you how to conduct your business. We have been very close to a settlement, and now we will see whether we can settle or whether the war continues. We will call you tomorrow and suggest a time either for tomorrow afternoon or for Saturday morning.

[Page 902]

Le Duc Tho: It is up to you. You will inform us the times when the meeting will be resumed.

Dr. Kissinger: We will call you tomorrow morning. We will probably propose Saturday.

Le Duc Tho: I remind you of one thing. On October 11, after we reached agreement with you, I told you one sentence: There are the times when we cover 9/10ths of the distance and only 1/10th of the distance cannot be covered. Normally the last leg of the trip is the most difficult. So if you want a settlement then you should make an effort; we will do the same. But without the effort from you particularly, no settlement is possible. Let us break.

Dr. Kissinger: We already have made an effort, but we will make another effort in studying your proposal.

[The meeting then ended.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 858, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. XXI, Minutes of Meetings. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc in Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets, except where noted, are in the original. Tab A is attached but not printed.

    In reporting to Nixon on this meeting, the general point that Kissinger made was that the 6-hour meeting “proved to be every bit as difficult as predicted.” He noted specifically that “the other side held rigidly firm that there would be only minor changes in the political chapter, and no improvements whatsoever in the text of the agreement with respect to the issue of their troops in South Vietnam.” Outside of the written text, however, Le Duc Tho had shown some flexibility and offered a deal, which Kissinger summarized as follows: “a commitment to relocate some of their forces in MR–1 [in North Vietnam] and to bring the ceasefire in Laos close to the time of the ceasefire in South Vietnam. He [Le Duc Tho] insisted that both of these arrangements should be in the form of understandings rather than firm written commitments.”

    In return, the United States would have to meet North Vietnam’s demands on the release of political prisoners held by South Vietnam, and that release would be linked to the release of U.S. prisoners of war in Communist captivity. Kissinger’s assessment of this deal was not positive: “we have received a vague commitment based on an understanding to relocate some troops from the northern part of South Vietnam and to bring the ceasefire in Laos somewhat closer to the ceasefire in South Vietnam.” In short, “barring a sudden give by the North Vietnamese, we do not have an acceptable deal.” The negative tone of the North Vietnamese had trumped the modest evidence of their flexibility. The consequence of the talks going badly, Kissinger told Nixon, was that “it is very possible that we will have face a breakdown in the talks and the need for a drastic step-up in our bombing of the North accompanied by a review of our negotiating strategy.” (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 120)

    The North Vietnamese rejected Kissinger’s continued attempts to include in the text of the agreement a commitment to withdraw its troops from the South. According to the North Vietnamese official history of the negotiations, Le Duc Tho became “infuriated” at Kissinger for these attempts and, as had Kissinger, came to an overall negative assessment of the meetings, concluding: “The [November 23] discussions ended in a heavy atmosphere. No date was fixed for the next meeting. Kissinger said only that contact would be made the next morning. The situation appeared to be a stalemate.” (Luu and Nguyen, Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris, pp. 376 and 380, respectively)

  2. Bracketed insertion supplied by the editor.