3. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Le Duc Tho, Adviser to the North Vietnamese Delegation
  • Xuan Thuy, Chief of Delegation
  • Mai Van Bo, North Vietnamese Delegate General in Paris
  • North Vietnamese Interpreter
  • Two Other North Vietnamese Officials
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Major General Vernon Walters, Defense Attaché, American Embassy, Paris
  • W. Richard Smyser, NSC Staff
  • W.A.K. Lake, NSC Staff

Xuan Thuy: I spoke at this morning’s meeting. I would now like to hear what you have come to say.

Mr. Kissinger: I spoke last this morning. Minister Xuan Thuy said it was essential that we arrive at the heart of the problem. I believe that you, Minister Xuan Thuy or Mr. Le Duc Tho, should say what this means.

Xuan Thuy: I said this morning that you had said nothing new in comparison with the last time. You had said in asking for this meeting [Page 27] that you had something further to say. Please tell us what you mean by that.

Mr. Kissinger: I said this morning, as in the communication through General Walters, that we are willing to talk outside the existing framework. I said this morning that two things are needed: instead of arguing about the 8 and 10 points, we should establish a list of agreed objectives, and a work program. We are prepared to negotiate as part of this program the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops after a settlement is reached.2

Xuan Thuy: I would like to ask a few questions. What did you mean by the phrase “logical political process” in South Vietnam in your statement last August? This morning there was another point not clear to me. What did you mean by your statement that we want political superiority and you military superiority?

Mr. Kissinger: As the Delegate General has pointed out, I may have read so many of your words that I am beginning to speak in paradoxical terms myself, but the question the Minister has put is an important one. I want to talk to you seriously about it.

I know it is part of the Vietnamese mentality—easily explained by history and recent events—to believe that all foreigners, especially those at war, have a desire to be treacherous to the Vietnamese people. I will not therefore try to impress you with what I say, because as Vietnamese and as Marxists you are not too impressed by anything but objective factors.

But I try to understand why it is that the two sides have reached a complete impasse in the negotiations. For selfish reasons, I try to understand your position as well as I can.

What I tried to say this morning was that from our point of view the objective consequence of your proposals is to give political dominance to the NLF, after which we must rely on your good faith and self-restraint. You do not say this is your intention, but it is the practical consequence of your position. At the same time, I can understand from your point of view, it may seem that what we are trying to do is get military predominance, and put you at our mercy.

Xuan Thuy: That is now clear.

Mr. Kissinger: Since neither side wants to put itself at the mercy of the other, we have a problem. This is the problem I have come here to help start solving. Please excuse the long answer.

Le Duc Tho: You said that we should list the objectives we want to reach. What are your objectives? What is your work program?

[Page 28]

Mr. Kissinger: We have two problems:

The first is to agree that this is a good approach.

The second is to give content to this approach.

Let me answer your second question first.

With respect to a work program—and we of course are willing to listen to your counterproposals because this is a delicate problem—as I told Minister Xuan Thuy when we met in August and can repeat more specifically now, the President has said that to show his interest he is prepared to let me act in a principal, if informal, capacity, on matters of fundamental importance and to meet with someone from your side at regular intervals to resolve these questions.

It may be necessary from time to time to substitute someone for me who has our confidence, when my visibility does not allow me to come.

If we agree on what it is we want to accomplish and how, we could agree also on what tasks to give to the delegations at Avenue Kleber.

In other words, the delegations would handle the details of what we agree on in principle. And, as I pointed out this morning, we would see to it that our representation would be of a background to handle this new approach.

As for the first question, I think we should take the two problems which Minister Xuan Thuy and I mentioned, and liberate them from the liturgical quality which they have had at Avenue Kleber.

We should agree on an approximate timetable on which to accomplish our work.

Le Duc Tho: You mean two problems, military and political?

Mr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: You said you are willing to listen to our counter-proposal. But we cannot give one since your proposal is not yet concrete.

Mr. Kissinger: What would Mr. Le Duc Tho consider a concrete proposal?

Le Duc Tho: If a discussion is to be held, there should be a program. What program do you have in mind? The definition of your program is not clear yet.

Mr. Kissinger: I shall speak with the frankness I hope I have shown before. I do so with some somberness because this is an important meeting. If it fails completely, we will be in an impasse and it would be difficult to see how to get out of it except by a continued testing of each other. As you know, I belong to those who since 1965 have tried to find a negotiated end to that war in Vietnam. I belong to those who believed that an end of the bombing would lead to productive [Page 29] negotiations. I have attempted to understand and study you very carefully.

It seems to us that there is a certain pattern in your method of negotiation. This method is that you are attempting to make us pay again and again for the beginning of negotiations. You bank every proposal we make, and in return you offer only your presence at negotiations. We believe that the biggest problem we face now is whether you are in fact willing to negotiate as we understand negotiation.

It is, of course, difficult for men who have shown your heroism and dedication to envisage an end to the war which doesn’t guarantee all of your immediate objectives. It is not easy for us either, because we too have had over a period of time to adjust some of our thinking.

Therefore I do not think I should put before you a very concrete list of proposals—except to say that in a real negotiation, the President has said many times you will find our side flexible and generous. If we tried to fool you, you would discover it very quickly.3

The President has charged me with this responsibility of talking to you gentlemen because we thought this private vehicle would allow both sides to speak more frankly, and would make it easier to change positions already taken in the established framework.

Our basic approach is to deal with you on a basis of reciprocity and respect. On this basis, we believe we both might try to move the negotiations forward.

We could, for example, agree today on a time to meet again, and put as the first item on the agenda the withdrawal of forces, as I stated in my statement—not just of our forces, but of all non-South Vietnamese forces.

We understand that the arrangements for the withdrawal of your forces could be put in a special category. We would not insist that they be placed on the same legal basis as ours.4

Le Duc Tho: I have met you for the first time today. I have read the minutes of your previous meeting in August. I have attentively listened to your statement this morning. Minister Xuan Thuy has answered you on all the points you have raised. Now I would like to add some views of mine.

I would like to speak about your views of a settlement of the Vietnam problem, and about our views on a settlement, and about the issues. But I would like to speak first about your assessment of the [Page 30] situation on the battlefield in South Vietnam, of which you spoke this morning. Only when we have a correct assessment of the balance of forces, can we have a correct solution.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: I believe that your assessment is not correct and not in conformity with reality. But it is your right to assess in accordance with your subjective assessment.

I believe that over the past 15 years your assessment of the balance of forces was incorrect. I would like to recall the facts. From that, I think you can have a more correct assessment, and we may have a correct solution.5

After the restoration of peace in 1954, our cadres and troops were regrouped to the North. The French left Indochina. You built a puppet administration in South Vietnam, and equipped it.

There were a number of massacres against the people, of even greater barbarity than under the French.

You thought that with such repressive measures the people of South Vietnam would not stand up against these forces, but they did. They staged simultaneous uprisings and seized power in many localities. That was the first time you were mistaken in your assessment.

Afterward, you further strengthened the administration of South Vietnam and then came the strategic hamlets. But the people in South Vietnam destroyed the strategic hamlets and defeated the special war. That is the second time you made a mistaken assessment.

Then you massively sent troops to South Vietnam, to a total of nearly 600,000 if you count your allies. You used a quantity of shells and bombs greater than in any war, including toxic chemicals. It was thought that no life was possible in such shelling and chemical sprays. But the people, the compatriots in South Vietnam, not only stood up, they also defeated these attacks. That was the situation when General Westmoreland and Ambassador Lodge reported back to the U.S. Government that the situation was very good.

Then came Tet Mau Tanh (1968). It was a big failure for you. It was the third time you were mistaken in your assessment.

Now, Dr. Kissinger once again is mistaken in his assessment. If you continue to make your assessment in such a way, I am convinced you will again meet with failure. Yesterday I read President Nixon’s message on the world situation and today I have listened to your [Page 31] speech.6 You said again that since August 1969 the situation has deteriorated for our side. This is your assessment in South Vietnam. In North Vietnam, you think we have great difficulties. You think the situation in the U.S. is better and better, and that in the international situation, the support we get will be less certain.

My subjective assessment is that it is not as you say.

You are applying Vietnamization, which you think is bringing success. But actually in South Vietnam, Vietnamization is beginning to suffer initial defeats. Even Secretary Laird visited South Vietnam and has said that it is having success but may have setbacks. As for South Vietnam, many U.S. journalists have come. Recently Cyrus Eaton visited North Vietnam. As for the situation in North Vietnam, we must say that the air war did create destruction in North Vietnam. But even under such fierce conditions of war, we succeeded in keeping the people’s life normal. The journalists’ assessment of the recent Tet will show that life was normal. Living conditions in North Vietnam are lower than in the United States. But the war has not quenched the spirit of our people. We live in a normal way.

You opened a new battlefield in Laos, and tried to crush the Pathet Lao forces, and coordinated military pressures in Laos and Vietnam. But recently, the Pathet Lao have reoccupied the Plain of Jars.

As for the situation in the United States, you understand it better than I. Yesterday I read a statement by Humphrey. He said the U.S. is faced by two problems, Vietnam and the economy. I think they are linked. You said that since August 1969 the situation in the U.S. has changed for the better, but actually since then the anti-war movement has surged higher than ever. I also want to cite the recent Gallup poll, which showed that some months ago 21 per cent of the people in the U.S. wanted immediate withdrawal, but now 35 per cent.

But a sounding of public opinion is only public opinion. In addition, I have seen many statements by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, by the Democratic Party, by Mr. Clifford, which have demanded the total withdrawal of American forces, the change of Thieu-Ky-Khiem, and the appointment of a successor to Ambassador Lodge.

As for the world supporting us, we think we understand that better than you. Within one month of its founding, over 30 countries have recognized the PRG. That is support.

[Page 32]

With the death of President Ho Chi Minh—he was our leader—but due to the resistance struggle of our people, his death became a source of inspiration to us.

You are still following the situation in North Vietnam to see if it will create problems for the people. This is an illusion.

Thus I must tell you that your assessment is not correct, according to my subjective assessment.

Naturally, in this war we have had many hardships to go through. But we have won the war. You have failed.

Mr. Kissinger: What?

Le Duc Tho: We have won the war. Due to your wrong assessment, you have lost the war, the longest and most costly in your history. This is not just our own view. Americans also think that.7

Now you think that since August the situation has deteriorated for our side. This wrong assessment will lead you to the wrong policies also. So I feel you have not realized this objective reality. You still believe in making maximum military pressure on the battlefield.

We believe that up to now you are not yet willing to have serious negotiations to settle the problem. In his November 3 speech, President Nixon said that no matter what may happen in Paris, he will carry out his private plan—his Vietnamization plan. In the annual message about the world, he said Vietnamization would push forward negotiations. Does that mean that he wants through military pressure to have a strong position at the negotiating table?

We think that you have two methods to try to end the war: (1) Vietnamization; and (2) negotiations from a position of strength. How do you want to apply Vietnamization? You proceed with a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces down to a level bearable to the American people in human lives and cost. You will leave behind enough support forces to help the puppet forces to prolong the war. You try to strengthen the puppet troops, so they can assume responsibility for the war, and leave behind a large number of advisers. This is what people, including Secretary Laird, have said.

But we wonder whether and when the puppet troops can do that. It will take an unlimited time. We don’t know when, or whether, it will be done. If it does not work, you will have the choice to remain in Vietnam or leave. We are convinced the puppet troops cannot assume this responsibility. So you will stay, and the war will drag on, and you will remain in our country.8

[Page 33]

We are not alone in saying that Vietnamization will prolong the war. Many Americans also say this and are protesting. Therefore many are asking themselves whether Vietnamization can achieve success. You still believe that it can, according to your assessment. But we are firmly convinced it will meet with failure.

Because you were mistaken in your assessment, you met with failure in the special war; because you were again mistaken you met with greater failure in the local war; now again, because you are mistaken, you will meet with greater failure. Because the policy of Vietnamization contains many contradictions in itself.

In the beginning, you applied de-Americanization in the special war. Then, failing, you Americanized the war and met with failure. So you again de-Americanize. Before, there were over a million U.S. and puppet troops, and you failed. How can you succeed when you let the puppet troops do the fighting? Now, with only U.S. support, how can you win?

The trend of the war is heading for failure for you. So how can Vietnamization be a success, when you are already heading for failure?

Public opinion in the U.S., the press, and many U.S. political figures, doubt the success of Vietnamization. In his annual message, President Nixon said that he is still testing this policy. Let him test it.

How can you force us to accept your conditions in negotiations if Vietnamization is failing? If you continue to persist in the wrong assessment, to Vietnamize the war, and to exert maximum military pressure, that is your right. But in our view you have been mistaken, and you will commit a greater mistake. Our people will not step back before military pressure. We have been fighting for tens of years with weapons in our hands.

If you prolong the war, we have to continue to fight. If you intensify the war in South Vietnam, if you even resume bombing North Vietnam, we are prepared. We are determined to continue the fight until we win victory.

If our generation cannot win, then our sons and nephews will continue. We will sacrifice everything, but we will not again have slavery. This is our iron will. We have been fighting for 25 years, the French and you. You wanted to quench our spirit with bombs and shells. But they cannot force us to submit.

You have threatened us many times. The last time when you spoke to Minister Xuan Thuy, you threatened us. President Nixon also threatens us. But you have read our history. We fought against the French for nine years. We were empty-handed. Myself, I participated in this [Page 34] resistance war against the French, without knowing military things. Yet we won victory.9

You have been fighting us for many years and you see how we have been fighting back for our independence and freedom.

Even though you continue, you cannot change the trend of the war.

This is not a challenge. I am frank. We are a small people. We cannot challenge anybody. We have been under domination for many years.

Therefore, if you continue with Vietnamization, with the search for a position of strength, maximum military pressure, we will continue to fight, and I am convinced we will win victory.

But on the contrary, if you really want to have serious negotiations to settle the war, if you really want to follow up what I said to Harriman, we are prepared to join you.10

We have negotiated many times; in 1946, with the French; in 1954, with the French, and the participation of the Americans too. In 1962, again with Americans. We settled matters in a logical and reasonable way.

In fact, if one side wants peace and the other war, no settlement can be reached. If you want war and we peace, we cannot settle. If we want war and you peace, we cannot settle. When both want peace, we can settle.

I think it is time for you and for us to reach a peaceful settlement. But I wonder whether really you want peace. You talk a great deal about peace. President Nixon talks about peace. You did so this morning. But, as you said, we have distrust.

You talk peace, but you make war. The problem is how to get around this. Your words are sometimes not matched by peace. We are an oppressed people, who have often been fooled by other people. We signed an agreement in 1946 with the French, but they brought in forces. After nine years, the responsible French told us they had been wrong. In 1954, as soon as the agreement was signed, it was torn up. You said this morning we have the impression we were fooled in 1956. But it is not an impression; we were really fooled. In 1962, the Pathet Lao and the Vietnamese people signed an agreement. You tore up the agreement, and the war went on.

In brief, we have been fooled many times. People do not respect agreements.

We were not the first to violate agreements. It was you and the French who were first.

[Page 35]

Therefore, it is my hope, but also a question, whether you will abide by what you said this morning, about good will, and respect for agreement. Therefore, I think that to create conditions for settlement, we should create some frankness in negotiations. This is in the interest of the American people. The American people have no profit in Vietnam. After ten years, you have only spent money. You have gained nothing back. They are great expenditures. Only slightly less than World War II. So it is not in your interest to prolong the war.

I think that the settlement of the war is in the interest of the American people, of the people in South Vietnam and North Vietnam, and in the interest of the relations between the people of the United States and Vietnam.

Now the hard question is how to reach a peaceful settlement. As you say, it is difficult indeed. Of course, we shall not begin today with a discussion of specific problems. Now, how to pose the questions for discussion, how to proceed, and about the timing of the negotiations as proposed by you? These are the questions to be settled first. Only then can we go into concrete negotiations. This is not the first time Minister Xuan Thuy and I have expressed our views. We said this to Ambassador Lodge, if you read the record. But you did not go into concrete questions. You still want to prolong the war, and to apply maximum military pressure. Please read the record again.

Mr. Kissinger: I have read it carefully.

Le Duc Tho: This is our viewpoint on your proposal:

As you have proposed, we have to agree on the problems to be discussed and on the work program. But we have a different approach to the problems. You think the first item is to discuss troop withdrawal. On this very point, we feel that you have not good will and are not prepared to settle the matter.11

It is our desire to discuss all the problems. This is our conception. Because only by discussing all problems can you come to a settlement of all problems, come to agree, come to the signature of an agreement, and then to a discussion of the implementation of the agreement.

This is our way of posing the problems.

When we pose all the problems, the ten points cover all the problems. On this basis, we shall express our views, and you your views. Then we come to agreement on how to settle in a logical way. Neither party will coerce the other party to a solution by applying pressure. Because we understand that these are now negotiations.12

[Page 36]

The second part is how to proceed.

We understand that in all negotiations (Minister Xuan Thuy has been in many) there are public and private sessions. Has President Nixon officially appointed you to have private talks with Minister Xuan Thuy and me to settle the matter? Or will you come only from time to time to discuss matters, just to have probing? And in the public sessions, will there now be a chief negotiator?

There cannot only be private talks. In the public forum also there must be somebody to lead the talks. And beside the negotiations between the U.S. and ourselves on important problems, there are other negotiations between the four parties. For the time being, the PRG does not agree to have private talks with the Saigon Administration. This is a great obstacle, too.

The present administration of Thieu-Ky-Khiem is opposed by the people and the press of the U.S., as by the great majority of the people of South Vietnam. It is very warlike.

How can we come to a settlement with this administration? We want to have talks with people of good will. We do not refuse to talk with the people of the whole U.S. administration in Saigon.

This is the situation now. For the time being, talks between the PRG and the Saigon Administration cannot be held yet. Therefore, you and we can have talks to settle all the problems we have just mentioned. Then we can both have discussions about all fundamental problems. Then agreement, and then there must still be a four-party conference too. There must be some competent leaders of delegations.13

As for the time limit you have proposed, we cannot set a time limit. If you show goodwill and serious intent, a settlement will come quickly. If you do not, discussion will be prolonged.

So in brief, our point of view is very clear. We wish you to have a correct assessment of the situation. We ourselves have a correct assessment of the situation. If you have an incorrect assessment, you will propose wrong solutions. Then the war will continue. There is no other way. We do not want the situation to develop this way. Xuan Thuy said that before and I reiterate it.

But if you continue the war, we shall have to continue to fight. This is an objective reality.

About the settlement, there are views we have to express. There are two problems between us: peace or war. We should choose one. [Page 37] If you choose peace, we are prepared to have it, and we do wish to come to a peaceful settlement.14

As you said, after a peaceful settlement, relations between our two countries will open a new page of history. We also wish what you said at the end of your speech this morning. It is our wish too, about relations between our two countries.

What Minister Xuan Thuy and I said this morning shows our good will.

Mr. Kissinger: I appreciate the frankness with which you spoke. I would suggest a five-minute break, and then I will have some questions so I can be sure I understand correctly.

(Ten-minute tea break)

Le Duc Tho: Have you visited South Vietnam?

Mr. Kissinger: I have been to Vietnam three times. I admire the courage and dignity of the Vietnamese people.

I am not sure whether I should call Mr. Le Duc Tho “Special Adviser” also? (Smiles all around)

Le Duc Tho: Whatever you like.

Mr. Kissinger: I would like to ask a few questions for clarification and then make a few observations.

The point was made that the ten points encompass the totality of the problem. Does this mean that we have to accept the ten points? Or can we assume that we can discuss the totality of the problem, with each side free to pursue its own position?

Le Duc Tho: The ten points have been laid down. We shall express our views on the ten points. You will express your views on the ten points. We shall then discuss the ten points, and come to an agreement.

Mr. Kissinger: Supposing we wish to discuss our eight points, and ask for your views on them, while you have your ten points. Together we could discuss the 18 points. (North Vietnamese smiles)

Le Duc Tho: We feel that our ten points cover all problems. In expressing our views on the ten points, you can express any views you like. We will discuss and come to an agreement.

Mr. Kissinger: Let me sum up. You would express your views on the ten points; we can express our views on the eight points, and each side can discuss the other’s—and so to agreement.

Le Duc Tho: Agreed.

[Page 38]

Mr. Kissinger: I understood Mr. Le Duc Tho to say, in a sentence which did not express unqualified approbation of the Saigon administration, that Hanoi is willing to talk to all of the administration in Saigon.

Le Duc Tho: That is not so. I said that the administration of Thieu-Ky-Khiem is a great obstacle to negotiations. We have often expressed our views on this subject. We will talk with any Saigon administration, without Thieu-Ky-Khiem, which stands for peace, which has good will, and which shows a serious attitude in negotiations. We have said many times why no Thieu-Ky-Khiem.

Mr. Kissinger: I am therefore correct in understanding that the four power talks can include the government of South Vietnam without Thieu, Ky and Khiem.

Le Duc Tho: Right.

Xuan Thuy: But the important thing is that the administration without Thieu-Ky-Khiem must support peace and serious negotiations because if the Saigon administration without Thieu-Ky-Khiem applies the same policy as before, the negotiations cannot succeed.

Le Duc Tho: With such a change of people and politics, a favorable atmosphere for fruitful negotiations will be created.

Mr. Kissinger: I would like to ask one more question on this subject, and then go on to the next subject. Is this posed as a preference or as a condition?

Le Duc Tho: This is a condition. We have often expressed our views. To lead to fruitful negotiations, in the present situation, public opinion in the United States and the overwhelming majority of the people in South Vietnam are demanding a change in that. This change will create conditions for a quicker settlement.

Mr. Kissinger: May I make one general point so that all will understand and we need not discuss it again. It concerns public opinion in the United States. It is important because we must assess the objective situation correctly.

Mr. Nixon was elected President, and is confident that he will be re-elected. And he believes that he understands U.S. public opinion better than some of the American visitors you see here from time to time. You must let us be the judge of U.S. public opinion.

Now, let me get back to my questions, and ask a question on procedure.

If I understood the discussion, it was that there be some forum for going for an overall settlement along the lines discussed, and at some point during these discussions, a four power conference would be revitalized.

Le Duc Tho: This is not so. In my view, there are two forums.

[Page 39]

There is the public forum, the four-party forum. We think you should appoint a competent leader of the delegation to settle the matter.

Another forum are the talks with you or another fully authorized to have talks with us. Because there are problems which should be settled with you. But if you cannot come, there should be some competent person to deal with, so that the negotiations will be continuous.

Xuan Thuy: The last time, you told me Kleber should continue as it was. At the same time, you said another forum was opened concretely between you and myself. Therefore I raised a number of questions. You did not respond until now.

Mr. Kissinger: What questions?

Xuan Thuy: I told you this morning, the questions of troop withdrawals and of coalition government. Now we meet again, and I would like to recall the views you expressed in August 1969; that we agree to open another forum, between you and me. At the same time, the Kleber forum will continue as in 1969.

That means that there must be a successor to Ambassador Lodge. Because if you do not keep the promise made in August 1969, this may exert an influence on our talks here.15

As for the Saigon administration without Thieu-Ky-Khiem, this is another problem. Because you are demanding, and the Saigon administration is also demanding, that we and the PRG have private talks with the Saigon administration as now constituted. The PRG has refused this, and we have supported it. We must do that. Therefore, if we are to have private talks, Thieu-Ky-Khiem must be got rid of. We have described the reasons.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, I understand, Mr. Minister. On the first point concerning the agenda, I see no problem. That is the point that you will talk on the basis of the ten points, and we will talk on the basis of anything we choose, including the eight points. This is no problem.

As to the second point, relating to our talks and the talks at Avenue Kleber, Minister Xuan Thuy has understood me with his usual precision. (North Vietnamese smiles) There has to be a competent forum at Avenue Kleber for discussions as soon as there is something to discuss. This can be arranged.

(Mr. Kissinger then said that since he was not a diplomat and lacked time, he would speak frankly in saying that the third point is impossible. Only the first part of this was translated into French, and none was translated into Vietnamese, as Le Duc Tho broke in.)

[Page 40]

Le Duc Tho: This is your show of good will—to appoint a successor to Ambassador Lodge.

Mr. Kissinger: As I explained to Mr. Special Adviser Tho, we do not believe that we always have to pay—to show good will—to gain an opening of negotiations. (Le Duc Tho laughed appreciatively.) This is particularly true since we watched the negotiations between August and October and nothing new was said, certainly by your side. You have the word of the President that negotiations will not fail for lack of an appropriate U.S. representative in Paris if there is really something to discuss.16

Xuan Thuy: But what I pointed out is that the negotiations in August were not the same as now. We should return to August.

Mr. Kissinger: We want to do better.

Le Duc Tho: Since you withdrew Ambassadors Lodge and Walsh, public opinion says the U.S. is not serious.

Mr. Kissinger: I must remind Mr. Le Duc Tho that we have excluded discussion of public opinion.

Le Duc Tho: We must take it into account.

Mr. Kissinger: That is our problem.

Xuan Thuy: We have two ears and must listen.

Mr. Kissinger: We will take care of U.S. public opinion, you take care of opinion in North Vietnam.

Le Duc Tho: Okay, but we must make an assessment of U.S. public opinion, too.

Mr. Kissinger: Okay.

We have watched the negotiations at Avenue Kleber, and in his UN speech the President even recalled a statement by Minister Xuan Thuy in a press conference, in order to show our seriousness. But there was no movement in August, September or October, and we therefore had to conclude that there was no progress at Kleber as presently constituted.

I don’t think it is useful to pursue this particular line of argument very much longer. We will establish a relationship between Avenue Kleber and conversations which are going on elsewhere. And we will see to it that the proper possibilities exist if there is a real possibility for progress.

Xuan Thuy: It is a fact that there has been no progress made at Kleber for the last few months. There is a deadlock. It is not our fault. It is your fault because you withdrew the chief of your delegation. If [Page 41] you follow the negotiations, that is your right. We also follow them. If you continue to follow this line now, we will have a different attitude from now. Therefore, I tell you that negotiations at Kleber may have an influence on our talks here.

Le Duc Tho: We met Ambassadors Harriman and Lodge many times, both at Kleber and in private meetings. Often there was no progress made. But it comes later. Progress could have been made. But you have withdrawn your delegate suddenly. This was a way of putting pressure on us. Minister Xuan Thuy is right. You are responsible for the deadlock. Difficult problems cannot be resolved overnight. There must be many meetings, even fruitless meetings, and ultimately problems will be solved. But you left the conference. So the fault is yours.17

Mr. Kissinger: We did not leave the conference; we left a skilled and experienced diplomat there.

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Habib has spoken with us many times. He is an experienced man. But he is not fully competent to settle the matter.

Mr. Kissinger: The President sent me, as high-ranking a person as he could have sent, to demonstrate our interest in a settlement.

Xuan Thuy: That is another problem. If there had not been the deadlock in the Kleber negotiations, it would have been easier for you and us to talk together. Only when Kleber is what it was in August, is there a full reason for me to remain here to talk with you. If Kleber is deadlocked, then I cannot stay indefinitely. If I leave for Hanoi, I cannot meet you every weekend.

Mr. Kissinger: The Minister is blackmailing me on the basis of my personal affection for him. (North Vietnamese smiles)

Xuan Thuy: It is you who blackmailed me first.

Mr. Kissinger: If we meet every weekend, there will be many in Washington who will be angry at me. Now, I believe we can go no farther on this subject at this meeting. I have taken careful note of what Minister Xuan Thuy said and understand. If there is any sign of progress, we will establish a rapid relationship which will enable the most elevated people on your side to deal with us. And we will think very carefully about what Mr. Le Duc Tho and Minister Xuan Thuy have said on this point.

If we have faithful negotiations, it will be in our interest to conduct them so that they will proceed as rapidly as possible.

This brings me to the most difficult point, having to do with the composition of the government in Saigon. Minister Xuan Thuy will remember that I told him in August that it would be impossible for [Page 42] us as an American action to change the government in Saigon. We recognize that when we discuss all problems, as Mr. Le Duc Tho has said, the outcome will have to be one which satisfies the existing political forces in South Vietnam and will reflect their relationships.18

Le Duc Tho: We’ll see when we discuss this matter. We should not now enter this discussion.

Mr. Kissinger: I simply want to make clear that we are not entering these discussions with an agreement or understanding that we will change the government in Saigon.

Le Duc Tho: Negotiations are held to settle the South Vietnam problem. The parties to such negotiations are not just you and ourselves. They are the PRG and the Saigon administration. Therefore the maintenance of Thieu-Ky-Khiem makes difficult the settlement of the problem. Suppose now you really want to settle the problem, and to withdraw your troops. Then Thieu-Ky-Khiem would have to agree, and they would not. Therefore the maintenance of Thieu-Ky-Khiem shows that you are not ready to settle.

Mr. Kissinger: There are two separate problems.

Suppose we make an agreement and Saigon opposes it—that is one problem.

The second problem is if you say in advance that the existence of the Saigon government is proof that we don’t want a settlement.

With respect to the first problem, we do not ask you about your making an agreement and the NLF’s not agreeing. We assume you will use your influence. The same will be true with us. (Le Duc Tho blinked slowly to show he understood.)

Now, Mr. Special Adviser, I have two observations about some points you made in your presentation.

As I had occasion to tell you outside this room, I was very impressed by what you said. I would point out only that our assessment of the situation might be wrong, but it is sincere. It is a sign of our good faith that while we sincerely believe the situation is better, we are still willing to talk on the same basis and in the same framework. (Le Duc Tho nodded his understanding.)19

I would also like to say a word about a very important question. You, Mr. Special Adviser, asked me how you can know we will observe an agreement. For all the reasons which you explained with such eloquence and power, we know that if we do not live up to an agreement, you will fight with the same tenacity and courage you have [Page 43] displayed before. We don’t want an armistice; we want a peace which will enable our peoples to develop their relationship. Since the President will be in office seven more years, it is in our interest to deal with each other honestly.

Maybe I should speak one brief word about Laos. (North Vietnamese smiles) Although my students at Harvard say it is impossible for me to say anything briefly. (More relaxed smiles)

Le Duc Tho: You are a philosopher.

Mr. Kissinger: Mr. Le Duc Tho has said that we are trying to defeat the Pathet Lao and are increasing the intensity of the war. To us, it appears that exactly the opposite is happening. (North Vietnamese smiles) Most of the Pathet Lao we observe speak Vietnamese. (Brief smiles) We would like to maintain the 1962 agreements, and are willing to listen to any proposition which would do so. I must say frankly that the confidence we have in any agreement on Vietnam must be affected by what happens concerning the 1962 agreement on Laos.20

Xuan Thuy: I helped to negotiate the Laos agreements in 1962, so there is all the more reason for me to understand this question.

Le Duc Tho: The limit of the line of the Pathet Lao in the 1962 Accords had been penetrated.

But that is enough for Laos for today. You have spoken about good will, sincerity, respect for agreements, and about the relations of our people after peace. We hope your deeds will match your words.

Mr. Kissinger: May I express the reciprocal sentiment?

Le Duc Tho: If you really show good will, you will be responded by good will. As I told you, we are an oppressed people. You violate agreements; we do not.

Mr. Kissinger: We will make every effort to understand your problems. We know this is hard between different cultures. You must try to understand our problems and our concerns. (Le Duc Tho nodded his understanding.)

Now, Mr. Le Duc Tho, how do we proceed from here, in your opinion?

Le Duc Tho: We have raised a number of problems. Now we will have an overall discussion of all problems. You are fully authorized by President Nixon. We, Minister Xuan Thuy and I, are fully authorized by our government to have these discussions. The time is up to you. You let us know when we shall meet again.21

[Page 44]

Mr. Kissinger: General Walters will be away for a week, acting as interpreter for President Pompidou’s visit in the U.S. Should we fix a time now, or leave this for a later arrangement?

Xuan Thuy: It is up to you to decide. If you fix a date, we shall arrange a program of work.

Mr. Kissinger: My absence from Washington is very noticeable. We would prefer Sunday to Saturday.

Xuan Thuy: Yes.

Mr. Kissinger: If I leave on Sunday, everyone will think I have a girl.

Xuan Thuy: Leave the girl somewhere, and come here for the discussions. This is a suggestion of good will.

Mr. Kissinger: As always, Minister Xuan Thuy has left out the essential element. First I need a girl friend.

Xuan Thuy: Look for one. I am told you have many.

Mr. Kissinger: On Saturday, March 14, I have a dinner from which my absence would be very noticeable. Having just said that Sunday is best, could I now propose a Monday?

Le Duc Tho: All right.

Mr. Kissinger: March 16?

Le Duc Tho: All right.

Mr. Kissinger: Here?

Le Duc Tho: All right. 9:30 a.m.?

Mr. Kissinger: 9:30 a.m. would be fine.

I would like to thank you for your hospitality. I appreciate the frankness with which you spoke. I hope we can soon look back on this meeting as a turning point in the relations between our two people.

Xuan Thuy: Before coming here, I thought that you had come with something new in content. But today’s meeting shows that you have nothing new in content. So we are not yet further than we are at Kleber. But now we have agreed on the forum of meeting again.22

What we have been saying today, you have said you will carefully consider. We hope your consideration will lead to future results. We hope at the next meeting you will have something new and practical in content.

Mr. Kissinger: Let me speak frankly. I am extremely busy. For me to spend all of my time on one problem is almost impossible. I am doing this only because of my own personal, and President Nixon’s, intense desire to make a just and fair peace.

[Page 45]

We told Minister Xuan Thuy in August, we stated in the communication General Walters brought to you, and I have repeated today, that you must not think these discussions are a means for the U.S. to make unilateral concessions. We will be generous and open-minded, but we hope and expect your side will meet us part of the way.23

Xuan Thuy: It seems that there is a difference of views on this also. You think you have made all the concessions and we none. So I think we should not use this word “concessions” any longer. Let us say that we shall meet each other to meet the common goal, peace.

You have a lot of work to do in Washington. So do Mr. Le Duc Tho and I in Hanoi. Paris is not my only job. The question of being busy is not a problem. The question is that of peace. The question is respect for independence, of willingness for peace.

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s not argue now about what we will argue later.

(After friendly goodbyes, the meeting ended at approximately 8:00 p.m.)

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 852, For the President’s File—Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. II. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. No drafting information appears on the memorandum of conversation. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé. This was Kissinger’s second meeting that day with the North Vietnamese delegation. He broke off the morning session to attend a previously scheduled luncheon with French President Georges Pompidou. In an attached note, Kissinger wrote that he “indicated the most important remarks by a line in the margin” for Nixon.

    This memorandum of conversation is in the form of a verbatim transcript and represents a change from how the two previous meetings—those of August 4, 1969, and the morning of February 21, 1970—were recorded, which were in the form of third person narratives. From this time onward, memoranda of conversations between Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in Paris and later in Hanoi (and Xuan Thuy in Paris on the few occasions he substituted for Le Duc Tho) were in verbatim transcript form.

    A notable aspect of this meeting was Tho’s denunciation of U.S. policy, which Kissinger characterized for the President in an undated memorandum reporting on the meeting as “a long, rather defensive speech in which he rejected my statement that our situation had improved and claimed that in fact it had deteriorated. He even claimed that we had lost the war.” Kissinger added: “His long speech was apparently triggered by my suggesting that our position had improved since my August meeting with Xuan Thuy.” But the bottom line for Kissinger in his report was: “The atmosphere during the meeting was remarkably frank and free of trivia.” Although a number of issues and procedures were discussed, the parties decided nothing of substance but did agree to meet again on March 16. (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970, Document 191)

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