33. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Le Duc Tho, Special Adviser to DRV Delegation to Paris Conference on Vietnam
- Xuan Thuy, Minister, Chief DRV Delegate to Paris Conference on Vietnam
- Nguyen Co Thach, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs
- Phan Hien, Delegation Member
- Luu Van Loi, Delegation Member
- Trinh Ngoc Thai, Delegation Member
- Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
- Two Notetakers
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- M/Gen. Alexander M. Haig, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Ambassador William Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
- Winston Lord, NSC Staff
- John D. Negroponte, NSC Staff
- David A. Engel, NSC Staff, Interpreter
- Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
- Miss Irene G. Derus, Notetaker
Before the meeting the group met in a sitting room and engaged in light conversation about the new house and the portraits on the walls. At approximately 4:08 they adjourned to the meeting room.
Dr. Kissinger: If the peace negotiations don’t conclude now we will be going to a chateau next. We are going to bigger and bigger places.
Le Duc Tho: Shall we begin?
Dr. Kissinger: Please, Mr. Special Adviser.[Page 935]
Le Duc Tho: This morning I carefully listened to your statement, to the questions raised by you. We find out that there are questions in which we can make no further concessions, but there are some which we will try our best to find out formulas to settle these questions. But they are very few, because the questions we have raised to you are great ones and are questions of principle for us.
Let me now, Mr. Special Adviser, point out the great questions of ours. And then there will be a number of other questions, concrete ones, we will settle later.
The first great question I would like to raise now is the military question. In this military field there are two questions. The first one is what you call the withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces. I have spoken to you on many occasions about this question. I also pointed out on many occasions the reason why we stick to this question. Therefore we deem it unnecessary to repeat here. Therefore in the agreement as well as in practice, in principle, you should not raise this question to us. We will never accept this question.
And therefore in the agreement there are two places, two paragraphs, implying the so-called withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces. The first place is the paragraph dealing with demobilization, Article 13. We would like to maintain our proposal regarding the question of Vietnamese armed forces in South Vietnam: This question [reading] “will be settled by the two South Vietnamese parties in accordance with a spirit of national reconciliation and concord, equality and mutual respect, without foreign interference, in accordance with the post-war situation. Among the questions to be discussed by the two South Vietnamese parties are steps to reduce the military strength of the armed forces on the two sides and the demobilization of the troops being reduced.”
The second place is in Chapter VII, Article 20(d). Now you have dropped the sentence you proposed to add previously. Now you propose to add the word “non-use of force against one another”. I am of the view that this is superfluous and unnecessary, because these countries undertake not to introduce troops, armaments and war material into one another’s territory and undertake to respect one another’s independence and territorial integrity. I think that this is sufficient. Since they will refrain to introduce troops, armaments and war material into these countries, then they cannot use force against one another. Therefore we think we should maintain the previous formulation of Article 20(d) agreed to between the two parties.
The second question we have raised is the question of civilian personnel associated with military service, in Article 5, Chapter II. Last time I raised to you that we would like to add one more sentence saying “Civilian personnel associated with the military training, sup[Page 936]ply, maintenance, storing and repair of war materials will be withdrawn from South Vietnam.” Last time you accepted that these such civilian personnel introduced into South Vietnam after November 1 would be withdrawn only. I think that all civilian personnel mentioned above introduced after November 1 and as well as before November 1 should be withdrawn. Since now you want to reestablish peace and to end the war and to stop your military involvement in South Vietnam, I think that these civilian personnel associated with military service should be withdrawn. Only in doing this can you show your desire for lasting peace. But taking into account of your requirement, we have accepted an understanding that these civilian personnel may be withdrawn one month after the time limit prescribed for the withdrawal of other troops.
The third question I have raised in the military field is the question of the demilitarized zone, Chapter V. Previously you have agreed to the sentence that “South and North Vietnam will respect the demilitarized zone on either side of the provisional military demarcation line.” You have agreed that this sentence evidenced great effort from our part. Now you want to add one more sentence.
Dr. Kissinger: Four words.
Le Duc Tho: Six words. “Respect each other’s territory.”
Mr. Phuong: Six words in Vietnamese.
Le Duc Tho: But in accordance with the Geneva Agreement the military demarcation line is only provisional. It cannot be in any way interpreted as a political or territorial boundary. If now you put “respect each other’s territory” it will mean a permanent partition of the country. Therefore we disagree with you to put these words here.
But I propose the following: “North and South Vietnam will agree on the statute [status] of the demilitarized zone and the modalities for movement across the provisional military demarcation line.” Therefore the two parties will respect the demilitarized zone but will later discuss and agree upon the statute [status] of the demilitarized zone and the modalities for crossing the demilitarized zone. I propose this sentence, so that the two parties will hold further discussions on this question.
Now in the political field there are also three questions. First, the question of the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord. We are of the view that in this political field we have made very great efforts. Therefore we maintain our proposals and we feel that this is a very reasonable and logical solution we have proposed. Regarding the name of the body, you proposed to write “administrative structure”. In the Vietnamese it is “Co cau hanh chinh”, but in Vietnamese language we put “Co cau chinh quyen”. Because in Vietnamese language the word “administrative structure” may be translated either by “co cau chanh quyen” or “co cau hanh chanh” or “co cau cai tri”. [Page 937] Three translations—three meanings. So you can maintain the English words, but we, in the Vietnamese language, we keep “co cau chinh quyen”. This is only a term but to us it is very important. We have dropped our demand on the three-segment government. Therefore this word in Vietnamese has political significance for us. But in practice it is not a structure of power, because the name of the body is National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord and it will operate in accordance with the principle of consultations and unanimous decision. Therefore it has no implication of government at all. This is about the word “administrative structure”, the name of the Council.
Now the three segments.
Dr. Kissinger: Are you dropping it now?
Le Duc Tho: Probably you are more inclined to drop these words than we!
Dr. Kissinger: Why don’t you try me? I might surprise you.
Le Duc Tho: You have known my views on that. We would like to maintain the words “three equal segments”. This is our formulation we proposed. We have nothing to add to that. So this formulation will let the two South Vietnamese parties discuss and agree on the formation of the Council with three equal segments. Therefore we feel it unnecessary to add the words you have proposed that the two South Vietnamese parties will choose—equally choose—the persons of the third segment. Therefore in the agreement we propose to write “a National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord of three equal segments”. So I have so tried to find a formula in the middle of the road. So it would be written “a National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord of three equal segments” and then the two South Vietnamese parties will discuss how to choose. We don’t propose any method to choose people. I propose to write only this.
Dr. Kissinger: Will you add that sentence, that “The two South Vietnamese parties will choose?” What is your proposal?
Le Duc Tho: I maintain the previous formulation like this. I maintain it to you.
Dr. Kissinger: I thought I heard the Special Adviser say he found a position in the middle of the road. The position he has found is the one he has always had.
Le Duc Tho: This is the middle of the road from our point of view. It is already a middle of the road position. I would like to recall this was agreed between the two parties. But what I would like to propose is that this Council should be formed sooner than three months. Last time I proposed to you that this Council should be formed within 15 days after the signing of the agreement. Because after the ceasefire becomes effective there are two armies, two administrations and two [Page 938] different regions in South Vietnam. Such a body will see to the implementation of the signed agreements and will see to the achievement of national reconciliation and national concord. It will be a body to see to the preservation of lasting peace.
This morning you proposed to delete the word “equality” in Article 12(a).
Dr. Kissinger: That was never in it. We added it as a substitute for “Three equal segments”, as the Special Adviser very well knows.
Le Duc Tho: Because the two South Vietnamese parties will hold consultations in a spirit of national reconciliation and concord, equality, mutual respect and mutual non-elimination, we feel that the word “equality” is appropriate here. We should maintain it.
Dr. Kissinger: There is nothing to maintain. It is not in there now. We added it in order to take out “three equal segments”. It is an extraordinary procedure that you pocket the word and restore what we are trying to take out. Well, I will let you finish.
Le Duc Tho: I have not heard you say that you replace the word “three equal segments” by the word “equality” here, but I have heard you say “hold consultations in a spirit of national reconciliation and concord, equality, mutual respect”, and so forth. Because to insure mutual respect there should be a spirit of equality.
Dr. Kissinger: All I can say is, at the end of October we deliberately did not use the word “equality” here. Then, last week for the first time, we proposed putting it in. In order to show our good will, when we recommended taking out the words “three equal segments”, we recommended the word “equality”. Now you want to keep the word “equality” and put in “three equal segments”. That is what the practical situation is.
Le Duc Tho: Because now we have the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord with three equal segments, but we have also the two South Vietnamese parties which will hold consultations with each other in a spirit of equality.
Dr. Kissinger: Well, that is all very interesting but it was never part of the agreement. I am not questioning the Special Adviser’s theory, I am questioning his methods.
Le Duc Tho: Why it is not good? Because it is always our view that the two South Vietnamese parties should consult in a spirit of equality and the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord will be composed of three equal segments. Because you want to delete the word “equality” . . .
Dr. Kissinger: No, the word “equality” is not now in the agreement.
Le Duc Tho: Because your intention is to consider the Provisional Revolutionary Government as unequal to the Saigon government.[Page 939]
Dr. Kissinger: What our intention is is totally irrelevant. You agreed not to have the word “equality” in it. We offered it last week as a substitute for “three equal segments”, to show our good will. Then as part of the maximum effort we made in the interval to try to restore as much of the agreement as we can, we went back to “three equal segments”, and then naturally the word “equality” has to go.
Le Duc Tho: Now we propose this, and we shall discuss.
Now, to the way of operation of the Council. We use the Vietnamese words “don doc”; that is “to see to” or to “oversee”. [Dr. Kissinger laughs] And not to “promote” or “encourage”. It is the normal thing—this task of the Council to see to the implementation of the signed agreements. We don’t see any necessity to change this word. I think that you should not deprive the Council of its name, its composition, of its organization, of its task, to make it an empty body.
The second question in the political field, about the mention of the Provisional Revolutionary Government in the text of the agreement. The reasons I have expounded to you last time. Therefore I think that in the Preamble the name of the governments should be mentioned, in which there is mention of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam. This mention of the name of the government does not mean mutual recognition of each other. We feel that the mention of the parties to an agreement is something conforming to the political significance and the legal significance of the agreement. And afterward if one party doesn’t want to recognize some other party they can make a statement about that. Such a case has happened at the Geneva Conference of 1954 and 1962.
Now the third question in the political field, which has also an important significance.
Chapter First. Previously there was a provision that “the United States respects the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Vietnam as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements”. On these subjects last time I took into account your proposal. Now I have received instructions from my government to propose to maintain the previous formulation of this article agreed to between the two parties. Because here we have a difference with Geneva Conference because the 1954 Geneva Conference was an international conference on Vietnam. Therefore, it was stipulated at that time, provided for at that time, that all countries shall respect the national fundamental right of the Vietnamese people. Now you are negotiating with us. And in the agreement if there is a provision that the United States respects the independence, sovereignty, and so forth, it is the normal thing, because these negotiations are carried out between we and you. And our people, after the end of the war, if there is such a provision, then our people will be more confident, more convinced of the United States [Page 940] refraining from interfering in our affairs, and more confident that the United States will respect our national fundamental rights. Moreover, after the end of the war if our people see an undertaking by the United States to respect our fundamental national rights then this will strengthen the friendly relationship between the Vietnamese and the American people. This will do no harm at all to the honor of the United States, because the question of honor for the United States, as you told us previously, is the question of the Saigon Administration and the question of the resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu. And the question of honorable settlement of the Vietnam problem has been settled in the way which we put forward [in] our proposal on October 8. It is the way to settle the Vietnam problem in an honorable way for you. Therefore we would like to maintain what has been agreed between us. It is something reasonable and logical.
The last great question I raise to you is the question of civilian personnel detained in South Vietnam. This is a great question for us. Last time I have spoken in great length on this subject and I handed to you a formulation of Chapter III for your consideration. Now I am taking into account of your view and therefore I make the following proposal:
Regarding Article 8(a), we formulate it as follows: “The return of captured military personnel of the parties will be carried out simultaneously and completed on the same day as the troop withdrawal mentioned in Article 5.”
Article 8(b): “The return of foreign civilian personnel of the parties—the return of captured foreign civilian personnel of the parties—will also be completed within 60 days of the signing of this agreement.”
The same time period for the return of the captured personnel, but we separate it into military personnel and foreign civilian personnel of the parties, to make it clear. There is no problem about it. But we separate the question of captured Vietnamese civilian personnel detained in South Vietnam. So in Article 8 if there is any amendment it is on this point.
Dr. Kissinger: No.
Le Duc Tho: Actually we have agreed with you on this article. We know your difficulty on this question. But this question is a great one for us. Therefore we propose that the release of Vietnamese civilian personnel detained in South Vietnam should be completed within 60 days, as well as the other military personnel.
But to facilitate the solution of this question, we have proposed an understanding under which there will be a redeployment of a number of the forces of the Provisional Revolutionary Government in the northern part of South Vietnam so as to reduce tension in this region.[Page 941]
So such is our proposal.
These are some great questions of ours. I have expressed my view. Besides that, there are a number of minor questions, but after the discussions of these questions we will come to that. I have finished expressing my views on our necessities.
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, usually after you finish talking I ask for a recess to consult my colleagues. This will not be necessary today. I am not asking for it, because I know the answer.
Until today I was convinced that there would be an agreement. I said so publicly and I even was prepared to put my personal reputation on the line in that connection. I did so to reassure you and also to make clear to the other Vietnamese parties that we would not have any delay. After your presentation I no longer see a possibility for an agreement.
I will give you our reasoning. We can then decide to meet again tomorrow to see if any of us has any additional thought, but I see no basis left for discussion.
You are trying to take advantage of an accelerated procedure we adopted in October which then did not succeed. You are trying to hold us to those parts of the agreement that suit you, to change those parts of the agreement that do not suit you, and do all this in the name of alleged agreements reached in October. I do not want to mislead you. There is no possibility whatever that we will accept what you have presented. We could not even consider sending the Vice President to Saigon with such a proposal and we would never do it. It is up to you to determine whether you have judged our situation correctly. You have made mistakes with respect to that in the past.
Le Duc Tho: We were not mistaken.
Dr. Kissinger: We will see. Mr. Special Adviser, there is no sense discussing it because reality will determine that. I will simply sum up our view. We have spent the last ten days since our meeting in Washington making absolutely maximum efforts to go to the absolute limit of what can be conceded. We have used extreme pressure with our allies in order to get them to come along with what we consider a minimum honorable settlement. You have spent your last week increasing your demands.
Now let me reply in the order which you made your points.
You say you have no troops in the South, that all the troops that are in the South are southerners and sons of southerners. In that case your objection to what we proposed is almost incomprehensible. It is not a new—it is not a different principle, it is an elaboration of an existing one. We have gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid offending your principle.[Page 942]
With respect to Article 20(d), you say the phrase “non-use of force” is superfluous. If it is superfluous, why do you object to it?
To return again to Article 13, there are three separate issues: One, the modalities of demobilization; second, where the demobilized people go; and third, the length of time in which this demobilization takes place. As I understand you, you are rejecting all three. Though asking for extreme specificity with respect to the political measures, you reject comparable specificity with regard to the military measures.
Now with respect to Chapter V, on the demilitarized zone. Your addition is not a concession. Your addition in no sense takes into account our concern. What your addition does, as you very well understand, is to weaken the previous sentence with respect to the demilitarized zone by implying that its status is undefined. So its practical consequence is a withdrawal of the previous position.
With respect to the political provisions, you have adopted a truly extraordinary procedure. You are pocketing all the phrases we put in in order to make your concessions easier. On top of it, you reject the changes which these concessions were supposed to make possible. You propose a Vietnamese word for “administrative” which we never accepted in October, and then you add provisions which renounce many of the concessions you made in October and which deprive the three-months phrase of all meaning.
With respect to the Preamble, last time you said to us that if we could find you treaties that did not mention the name of the parties, you would drop your demand. We have found a large number of such treaties and will be glad to give them to you. Nevertheless we don’t hold you to this demand. We proposed a procedure that showed great good will in which the United States was prepared to make this concession in its own name. This has been ignored.
On Article 1, which was one of the fields in which we made progress last week, you withdrew your position.
With respect to Article 8(c), which was one of the significant points you had made in October, you have withdrawn that.
We are, therefore, in a situation in which—and you have made new demands about U.S. civilian personnel. The accumulation of all these changes would have the practical consequence that you would have destroyed the essence of the agreement.
Le Duc Tho: But you yourself had wanted to undermine the substance of the agreement we had reached in October. You have reversed many questions in it. Fairly speaking, if we review the text of the agreement now, the changes have been proposed by you. Because you have proposed the changes, then myself I have made some changes. If you keep the previous agreement we will keep the previous agreement without any word. We will think about it.[Page 943]
Dr. Kissinger: I have explained to you on innumerable occasions what our difficulties are. And we have made a serious effort to come to an agreement. We have come here with good will and with every intention of concluding the agreement very rapidly. What the Adviser has presented provides no basis for discussion. We could have understood a counterproposal. I was afraid maybe that I had misunderstood the Special Adviser last time—although it seemed unlikely after the many conversations we have had—and that maybe I acted hastily in asking for a postponement. But I am afraid I understood him only too well. It is personally very painful to me to come to this conclusion. All of us have invested a great deal in an effort to come to an agreement with you, and especially myself, but what the Special Adviser has proposed is unacceptable to us. I would be happy to hear his views. I would be delighted to meet again tomorrow but on the assumption that there must be no misunderstanding. I have expressed my views with the utmost frankness. But before the Special Adviser replies could I take a two minute break?
[The meeting broke at 5:25 and resumed at 5:32.]
Le Duc Tho: Let me now speak a few words. You can’t evaluate the situation by saying that we have made no efforts to progress to peace. If we had no desire to advance to peace, then we would not have made the proposal on October 8. After we reached the agreements you did not keep the agreement we had reached, and you asked for changes to the agreement. Then I returned to Paris once again to negotiate once again with you, and, speaking in a fair way, after the six days of negotiations of late, fairly speaking, you have brought many changes to the agreement. As for us, we have proposed only a small number of changes.
Dr. Kissinger: Only vital ones. Mr. Special Adviser is like one who shoots you in the heart and says he fired only one bullet.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] Probably I have shot home your intention only. Actually you have proposed many changes, and important ones, and we propose only a few changes only. What we would have liked to maintain is the agreement reached. We do not want to add anything more. The changes you proposed involved a great question of principles. I have explained many times this question. What you call North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam, for instance. Many times previously and even last time, too, I pointed out that this is a question of principle. We will not accept any mention in the agreement that implied the so-called North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. You, yourself, you said that in the agreement there remain two places where there is implication about the so-called North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. These two places are in Article 20(d) and second, Article 13.
Now you have dropped one implication at Article 20(d). I acknowledge that you have made an effort in this connection. But we should [Page 944] correctly evaluate your effort, because it was an article on which we reached an agreement, and now you propose to add new things, and now you propose to drop your new proposal. Regarding Article 13 you still maintain your stand.
It is our intention to settle the Vietnam problem and have lasting peace. That is the reason why we proposed the reduction of military strength and the demobilization and let the two South Vietnamese parties discuss and agree on the reduction of military strength and demobilization.
Regarding the political questions, these are internal affairs of South Vietnam that will be settled by the two South Vietnamese parties.
Dr. Kissinger: Except you want us to specify.
Le Duc Tho: Let me finish first, Mr. Special Adviser.
Now regarding the reduction of military strength, you propose it should be done on a one-for-one basis. This detail is unacceptable to us. You should know that the military strength of the Saigon Administration—how big it is. You know that. And you also know the military strength of the Provisional Revolutionary Government. So the basis on which you propose the reduction of military strength reveals it is your intention to keep the military strength of the Saigon Administration strong and in big numbers. Therefore we disagree with your approach. Our view is that these questions will be let to the two South Vietnamese parties to settle later. And you, yourself, acknowledged that your proposal in this subject implies also your intention to mention about the so-called North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam, and I have explained to you that any implication of such kind is unacceptable to us.
Now regarding the political questions, the organization of the Council of National Reconciliation and Concord. This is one question agreed between the two parties already and we have made very great concessions on this subject. This has been agreed to by you with us and now you propose a change. What we propose to do is to maintain what has been agreed to between the two parties already.
Last, the mention of the name of the Provisional Revolutionary Government. It is something which we too have agreed to mention in the text of the agreement. So your intention in removing any mention of the Provisional Revolutionary Government in the agreement is that you are unwilling to acknowledge the reality existing in South Vietnam, that there are two administrations, two armies, and two different regions in South Vietnam.
Now these three questions—Article 13 regarding the reduction of military effectives, the political questions, the mention of the name of the Provisional Revolutionary Government—these are three questions which have been agreed to between the two parties and now you want [Page 945] to change these questions. What we propose is to maintain the points which we have agreed to.
Now the question of captured and detained personnel of the parties. Actually it is a question on which we have proposed a change in comparison with what we have agreed with you. So while you have been proposing so many changes we have proposed only one change, on this question only. You say previously that our intention is to undermine the agreement, so this word “undermine” is inappropriate. While you are asking for changes and when we propose changes too, you want to prevent us from doing so. Do you mean we have no right to propose changes?
Dr. Kissinger: You have every right.
Le Duc Tho: If you maintain every point as it was in the agreement, we will also maintain this point as it was in the agreement. But although we have brought about a new approach to this question, we have also thought and found out a new formula convenient for you to accept.
We have also raised another question. That is the question of American civilian personnel associated with military services. It is something stemming from the real situation in South Vietnam, because you have been introducing a great number of civilian personnel now into South Vietnam.
Dr. Kissinger: That is simply not true.
Le Duc Tho: We have discussed this question previously with you.
Dr. Kissinger: That doesn’t make it true.
Le Duc Tho: You also acknowledged that there are civilian personnel coming into South Vietnam. Therefore you accept that civilian personnel come into South Vietnam after November 1.
Dr. Kissinger: I didn’t accept that. I didn’t say any were going in. I said this: Just to reassure you I accepted that prohibition. That is a very different thing. I also said that no civilians would perform tasks not performed by civilians on November 1, or October 15. This would prevent our using civilians to replace military personnel performing these functions. That was a sign of our good will. That didn’t mean that we were doing it. It was to reassure you against the same thing as happened in Laos happening in Vietnam; that military tasks being carried out November 1 or October 15 by a military man would not be undertaken by civilians. That is what I proposed. I did not acknowledge anything of the kind that you suggest.
Le Duc Tho: This has been discussed a great deal in the press. Moreover the actual situation in South Vietnam testifies to the fact. Moreover you acknowledged that only a number have just come into South Vietnam recently and those will be withdrawn. Those who have come into South Vietnam before that date should be withdrawn too.[Page 946]
Now you have proposed many changes, so we disagree to the changes you propose, and we propose to maintain the previous formulation. Besides that we propose a small number of changes only. So you have added many things and important things. We have agreed to a number of your changes, for instance the question of the demilitarized zone. Previously this question did not appear in the agreement. Now we have accepted to mention about the demilitarized zone.
As far as we are concerned, we only propose to maintain what had been agreed to between us, and we had proposed a small number of changes. In both these fields you have not responded anything yet. Whereas you want to compel us to accept the changes in accordance with your stand; what we propose to maintain or to change, you did not respond to our proposal. If so, no settlement can be possible. Do you respect the principles I have pointed out many times? Only when you respect the questions of principle I have raised, then settlement is possible. I have finished.
Dr. Kissinger: Well, Mr. Special Adviser, we are again approaching the sort of sterile exchange that characterized our meetings for three and a half years and which I confess I was deluded for one brief moment in October into believing was at last behind us. There are so many misrepresentations in what has been said that it is very difficult to know where to begin.
We have played a charade with you in which we have agreed to your pretense that there are no forces in the south. That was a sign of good will. We both know it isn’t true. You say that our one-to-one proposal is unfair because the Provisional Revolutionary Government forces are smaller than the forces of the Saigon Government. They are not larger than the forces of the DRV and the PRG put together. Therefore taking the DRV forces into account it was not at all an unreasonable proposal.
With respect to the demilitarized zone, you say it was not contained in the previous agreement. That isn’t exactly true. The previous agreement said it was only provisional. Something has to exist before it can be provisional. So there was some pretty clear reference to it.
While the changes you are asking for cannot be measured by their number but by their impact. And the impact is to destroy those parts of the agreement that gave it some equilibrium before.
I regret that the agreement could not be concluded when it was. But I also know that we came here this week with the absolute determination to conclude the agreement, and I know that with real good will it could be concluded this week. And we have made clear, as even the newspapers reported, that we would proceed if our minimum necessities were met. It is not true of course that we did not respond to the changes you asked for. We gave you a formulation.[Page 947]
Le Duc Tho: Please point out what you have responded.
Dr. Kissinger: I responded last time with a specific proposal with regard to the civilians, which was (1) that no civilian could assume any function that a civilian had not assumed on October 15 or November 1 or whatever convenient date.
Le Duc Tho: Please repeat.
[Mr. Engel repeated what Mr. Kissinger had said. The DRV side conferred.]
Dr. Kissinger: That is to prevent civilians from replacing military personnel.
Mr. Phuong: The civilian personnel should not assume responsibilities which they have not yet assumed before October 15.
Dr. Kissinger: That is right.
Mr. Phuong: But the responsibilities those civilian personnel have assumed before October 15, they will still do their task. Is it true?
Dr. Kissinger: Let me finish. I am doing it in three stages.
Second, I proposed that no civilian can be permitted to engage in military operational training or participate in military operations even if they did do it before. Thirdly, that the number of civilians in other categories is being substantially reduced. But there are a minimum number of technical personnel which cannot be replaced until their replacements are trained.
So we have answered your point here.
With respect to 8(c), I answered you this morning. Our position is that the article be maintained as written but that we have an understanding of a relationship between the redeployment and the release so that in practice it could work out very close to what you proposed.
Le Duc Tho: Have you finished?
Dr. Kissinger: So it simply isn’t correct that we haven’t answered you. You may not like our answer, but you have an answer.
Le Duc Tho: Let me reply to you on that very point. The many changes you have proposed, I have responded to a number of them. Others we wanted to maintain the previous formulation. Now you proposed the changes. I have responded to a number of them. Now our proposals you say that you have responded to them.
Regarding Article 8(c), now you want to maintain what it was before. That is no response at all. Regarding the wording, it is no response at all. Regarding the understanding you proposed this morning, this has been stated by you previously to Minister Xuan Thuy that you would exert a maximum effort so that civilian prisoners might be released within two months. Now you maintain the previous, the old formulation. Now you want to link it with the understanding we have [Page 948] made regarding the redeployment of a number of the PRG forces in the northern part of South Vietnam.
If you maintain the old formulation of this article, then there is no reason for us to propose such a redeployment. If you maintain as it was the article and your undertaking, then there is no need for us to make the understanding we have made. We have proposed this understanding we have made about this redeployment of a number of forces so as to have a partial change to Article 8(c), and at the same time when we propose this understanding with the practical solution to what you call the implication of the so-called North Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam.
As to the question of civilian personnel associated with military activities, there is not yet any response from your part to this proposal of ours.
Dr. Kissinger: Now wait just a minute, we went through three and a half years of this exercise and we can’t go through that exercise again. There has been a response. You may not like the response but there has been a response.
Le Duc Tho: Actually your response does not meet our requirements.
Dr. Kissinger: That is a different thing. It doesn’t meet your proposal. There are a lot of your responses that don’t meet our requirements.
Le Duc Tho: [heatedly] Because if you give us a response to meet our requirement then we shall take into account your necessities too. [Dr. Kissinger laughs.] As regards the question of principles of ours, you said that you will take into account these questions, but actually you have not taken any account of these. You have not made any concessions on these questions.
Dr. Kissinger: I have a great deal of experience with the Special Adviser when there is an impasse, and I have also happily had some experience with the Special Adviser when he wants to break an impasse. The Special Adviser is a great debater. He is also a great negotiator. I have seen both of these sides.
Le Duc Tho: If you speak of breaking of the impasse, I have broken many times many impasses. It is now your turn to break the impasse. If you break the impasse, then there will be a breakthrough.
Dr. Kissinger: You have always been very generous in giving us the possibility of completely accepting your proposals. And we had a period when there seemed to be a great possibility of a settlement. But we made what we considered great efforts in the last week to ten days, and we are certainly prepared to listen to some counterproposals. But a procedure by which you simply pocket everything that we conceded and then increase your demands will not lead to a solution.[Page 949]
Le Duc Tho: It is your way of doing; it is not mine. You want us to take out of our pocket but, as for you, you want to pocket our concessions. If you review the whole process of negotiations since July, then we have made many, many successive proposals, then we had the breakthrough and we come to the agreement. And you have also made a number of efforts. But we have made all possible efforts. Now my pockets are empty now.
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, let me understand precisely what you are saying. Are you saying that if we go back to the old agreement you will go back to the old agreement? Or are you saying in any event you will request the changes you are making?
Le Duc Tho: I mean that you should respond to our questions of principle and return to the agreement we have reached, because we stick to our questions of principle and these questions of principle should be respected.
Dr. Kissinger: What does that mean concretely? I have to explain it to the President tonight.
Le Duc Tho: It means that the agreement we have reached we would like to maintain the points we have agreed to, and as to the question of principles we insist on it. We can’t change our questions of principles. If you keep the agreement as it was, we will keep it too, without any change to any word.
Dr. Kissinger: That means you also withdraw the changes that you made last week? Or are we talking about the situation as it stood last Thursday?
Le Duc Tho: The agreement we have agreed to with you previously—if you change any word then we will change any word too. The agreement we plan to sign on October the 31st. If you change any word in it, then we will, too, change it, including Article 8(c), including the question of personnel associated with the military tasks, and we will add anything else including the question of formation of the Council within 15 days.
Dr. Kissinger: You will not.
Le Duc Tho: Any new addition will be dropped. Even one word.
Dr. Kissinger: We have to keep Indochina time also? [laughter]
Le Duc Tho: GMT can be maintained. Because if you bring about changes then we shall too put forward changes too. But if you change no word in it, then we will keep the agreement as it stands.
Dr. Kissinger: We have explained to you the nature of the situation. We believe that with good will and a statesmanlike approach it would have been easy to end the war. I will transmit your suggestion to the President and we can discuss it tomorrow. And then we can see where we will be. I think I know what his answer will be, but we can study [Page 950] each other’s remarks and consider what has been said today and then we can have another meeting tomorrow, if you agree.
Le Duc Tho: I agree with you that we will study each other’s statement today and we will meet again tomorrow. In order to settle the problems, as I told you, you should make a great effort; you should take into account our questions of the principles. Because when you respect our questions of principles and when you show good will in settling the problem, as I told you, we are most reasonable people.
Dr. Kissinger: I must tell you frankly that unless we find some other formula than the one you have proposed, it is not probable that we will come to an agreement tomorrow.
Le Duc Tho: It is up to you. Because we have our principles and now if we are asked to change our principles, we cannot do that. And you said also in your message that you will respect our principles. Because if you really respect our principles, as I told you, we will find out the way to settle the problem on the basis of respect for our principles. Whether a settlement or not is possible, this time this depends on you. We have made great effort.
Dr. Kissinger: I have told you for several weeks, Mr. Special Adviser, we do not accept the proposition that it depends only on us. We accept the proposition that it depends on both of us. We have made a very great effort, to the extent of gearing our whole policies to the expectation of peace. But I hope you do misjudge our situation. But I don’t believe that any additional arguments we make will do any good.
So I suggest we meet tomorrow to review each other’s position one more time. What time should we meet? 3 o’clock in the afternoon?
Le Duc Tho: I agree. You ask me not to misunderstand your situation. I would also say that you do not misunderstand our situation.
Dr. Kissinger: That is clear.
Le Duc Tho: Tomorrow until 3 o’clock. Tomorrow then we will come to your place.
Dr. Kissinger: Yes.
[The meeting adjourned at 6:32 p.m.]
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 865, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord)—China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, December 1972 [3 of 3]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 2 Rue de Marroniers, Ste. Gemme (par Feucherolles), Yvelines. All brackets are in the original.
Going into the December round of meetings, the Politburo expressed some unhappiness with Le Duc Tho’s performance in the November meetings. Although expressed impersonally, it nonetheless represented sharp criticism. A December 1 assessment of the round sent to Tho and Thuy noted: “After the U.S. double-crossed us and refused to sign the Agreement to which both sides had already agreed, we fought them and severely criticized them. However, during the first few days [of the November meetings] we did not steadfastly follow our principle of firmly maintaining the content of the Agreement, and instead we hastily presented a number of soft, flexible ideas.” (Message from the Politburo to Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy, 1 December 1972, Doan Duc, et al., Major Events: The Diplomatic Struggle and International Activities during the Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation, 1954–1975, volume 4, p. 352) Tho and Thuy accepted this criticism and even put it a little more starkly in a November 28 report to the Politburo: “we have made a number of concessions too early.” (Luu and Nguyen, Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris, p. 356)
When Kissinger reported to the President from Paris about the December 4 afternoon session, he stated that “we are at a point where a break-off of the talks looks almost certain.” In the meeting, according to Kissinger, Le Duc Tho “rejected every change we asked for, asked for a change on civilian prisoners [in South Vietnam], demanded the withdrawal of American civilians from South Vietnam thus making the maintenance of the Vietnam Air Force impossible, and withdrew some concessions from last week.” If the United States went along with Tho’s demands, he concluded, “we would wind up with an agreement significantly worse than what we started with.” Consequently, as Kissinger informed the President, he had told Tho “flatly that his approach did not provide the basis for a settlement.” Nevertheless, Tho “stuck firmly by his intransigent position. The only alternative he offered to his presentation this afternoon was to go back to the October agreement literally with no changes by either side.”
Kissinger was pessimistic:
“It is not impossible that Tho is playing chicken and is waiting for us to cave tomorrow. But I do not think so. There is almost no doubt that Hanoi is prepared now to break off the negotiations and go another military round. Their own needs for a settlement are now outweighed by the attractive vision they see of our having to choose between a complete split with Saigon or an unmanageable domestic situation. We have two basic choices, assuming as we must that their position is final: (1) go back to the October agreement or (2) run a risk of a break-off of the talks.
“I believe the first option is impossible:
“—After all our dealings with Saigon and his insistence on some changes these past weeks, this would be tantamount to overthrowing Thieu. He could not survive such a demonstration of his and our impotence.
“—We would have no way of explaining our actions since late October.
“—It would be an enormous propaganda victory for Hanoi.
“—Most importantly, it would deprive us of any ability to police the agreement, because if the Communists know we are willing to swallow this backdown, they will also know that we will not have the capacity to react to violations.
“Thus while the October agreement was a good one, intervening events make it impossible to accept it now.
“4. Therefore I believe we must be prepared to break off negotiations.”
Kissinger also put the afternoon meeting into a larger context for Nixon, observing: “The central issue is that Hanoi has apparently decided to mount a frontal challenge to us such as we faced last May. If so, they are gambling on our unwillingness to do what is necessary; they are playing for a clearcut victory through our split with Saigon or our domestic collapse rather than run the risk of a negotiated settlement. This is the basic question; the rest is tactics.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 139)↩