35. Memorandum of Conversation1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Le Duc Tho, Special Adviser to DRV Delegation to the 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
  • Tran Quang Co, Delegation Member
  • Pham The Dong, Notetaker
  • Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • 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

Dr. Kissinger: I have a brief opening statement here, which I will read from cover to cover.

Le Duc Tho: I give the opening to you, Mr. Special Adviser. You will speak first today and you will bring about breakthrough.

Dr. Kissinger: This is in contrast to yesterday when I also spoke first. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: Yesterday I spoke after you and I was the last speaker yesterday, and now you should be the first.

Dr. Kissinger: I will speak first but may I point out that when I am the first speaker it is inevitable that the Special Adviser is the last speaker. Therefore, when he is the last speaker, I am condemned to be the first speaker. [Laughter]

Mr. Special Adviser, Mr. Minister, we have very carefully studied what you said yesterday. And we recognize the fact that you have made an effort, and we are now in a situation where really fundamental decisions have to be made. As we explained to you yesterday in a rather long presentation, our objective situation is this: The agreement as it stood in October, prior to my projected visit to Hanoi, revealed certain ambiguities and certain difficulties which the interpretation that was given to it by some of your leaders, and the practice that was involved by some of your units in the south, indicated needed clarification. We believe that many of these clarifications are in our mutual interest, because they avoid disputes as to precise meaning afterwards. And if we are to begin a period of peace with each other, which is our most serious desire, then it is important that we understand the reciprocal obligations with clarity.

As I explained to you yesterday, we have been involved in a very intense debate with our allies in South Vietnam. It must be clear to you from the published record that we have not presented all of their proposals. We have dropped the larger part of the other changes that we have proposed. So we really have left a very few issues, some of which, as I pointed out to you yesterday, such as “administrative [Page 985] structure”, we had never agreed to; and others which reflect an elaboration of the implication of existing provisions.

Now in the light of all that has happened since October, of the public statements which have been made, and of the exchanges that have taken place, you must recognize that it is not possible to return to the situation as it stood on October 26th. These meetings that have been taking place since November 20 would have had no point if that were to be the case.

And so we have reviewed the drafts last night and we have been in frequent and close consultation with Washington. We have made a very earnest effort to reduce our proposals to the absolute minimum that is still consistent with our principles. And we have even attempted to find a way to include some of your requests that you did not formally make yesterday. And so we are now at the point of our absolutely minimum position from which it is impossible to retreat, which I would like to put before you.

First, we believe that the changes that were agreed to last week should all be maintained because they do not represent matters of principle but matters of detail.

Second, with respect to the issues I presented to the Special Adviser on Monday, we have reexamined them and I would now like to present our final position.

On the Preamble, we cannot go further than the proposal that I made in which the U.S. would sign a document which would include the phrase “the Provisional Revolutionary Government”.

With respect to Article 12(a), the President has authorized me to drop the phrase “whose members shall be chosen equally by the parties”.

As I told the Special Adviser yesterday, and as I explained to him at great length, we cannot accept the translation of “administrative structure”. Our proposal, in short, turns Article 12(a) in English to exactly the language that was agreed to in October and exactly the meaning it had in October. As I explained yesterday, we consistently rejected the word “government” and we consistently rejected the word “administration” when it was proposed, and therefore the record can leave no doubt that we could not have meant what the interpretation now suggests.

With respect to Article 13, we drop the “one-for-one basis” and we drop the phrase “return to their native places”, so that this sentence stays as it was. We maintain the sentence that “the two South Vietnamese parties will do their utmost to discuss this issue within three months of the signing of the agreement”, because this makes this consistent with other provisions that were left similarly vague.

[Page 986]

We have thus made a great effort to meet the objections that the Special Adviser raised on Monday, and all we are asking for now is a time frame that is similar to other time frames that have been established, for the resolution of this problem.

In Article 15, we are dropping the phrase “and each other’s territory”. But we are suggesting that the phrase we wanted to have in Article 20 be instead moved to Article 15, that is, “South and North Vietnam shall not use force against each other”. In return we are willing to make two changes that will ease somewhat your problem. We are prepared to add to Article 5 the following sentence: “No civilian personnel from the above-mentioned countries will engage in any function related to military activities which civilian personnel were not performing prior to October 15, 1972, or participate in military operations or operational military training.” [Hands over copy, Tab A] This prevents the assignment of civilians to military tasks.

Le Duc Tho: From October 15 onward?

Dr. Kissinger: Right.

Le Duc Tho: But those who have operated before that date, then they would continue to do it?

Dr. Kissinger: That is right. But it prevents a situation in which civilians replace military in military tasks. What it means is this: Any function that a civilian performed prior to October 15 he can continue to perform, but he cannot perform—no new function can be assigned to a civilian. That is point 1. Point 2: If any civilian is engaged in operational military training, even prior to October 15, that will have to be stopped.

So one category of activity before October 15 will be stopped completely. Second, it makes it improper to assign civilians to activities exclusively assigned to military prior to October 15. And therefore we cannot evade the intent of the agreement by assigning civilians to functions that were military. That is the meaning of that phrase.

The second proposal in your favor which we are prepared to add to the agreement is in Chapter V. At the end of the sentence that says, “South and North Vietnam shall promptly start negotiations to reestablish relations in various fields”, we are prepared to add the following sentence: “Among the questions to be discussed will be the modalities for movement across the provisional military demarcation line.” [Hands over copy, Tab B]

In other words, of the changes that we proposed this week we do not consider “administrative structure” a change we are bringing into this agreement but one which we have always held. We have asked for two changes that cannot be questions of principle. As to this question, if you cannot accept our word for “administrative structure”, we are [Page 987] prepared to work with you to find a compromise language which perhaps avoids these words altogether.

This concludes any proposals we have with respect to the agreement itself.

With respect to the ceasefire in Laos, we propose that the ceasefire will occur within 10 days of the signing of this agreement. We have explained the reason for this, that there now will be sufficient time for the negotiators to conclude their arrangements and it is difficult to understand any reason why so much more time should be needed.

And we propose also that the international machinery at least in part be in place when the agreement is signed.

I want to repeat, as I said to the Special Adviser on Monday, if we reach an agreement on this basis, our Vice President will leave for Saigon immediately. We will, under no circumstances, ask for any other changes of any kind in the agreement, not even . . .

Le Duc Tho: But you have too many changes already. Because with such changes it would be difficult to settle already if you add more.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, I have just pointed out that we will not ask for other changes. It would conclude the negotiations between us. It represents a very major effort we have made. It represents a great deal of good will and our belief that the time for peace has come, and this is what the President has instructed me to present to you for your most serious and earnest consideration.

Le Duc Tho: Have you finished?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: The other day I told you that we have two ways of negotiating. First, we will respect the provisions we have agreed to and we will change only the details. Second, each side have its own requirement and will ask for changes. If you ask for changes of our questions of principle, then we will do the same with your questions of principle. If you ask for big changes we also ask for big changes with you. With you, if you ask for small changes we will do the same with you. It is a question of fairness. There cannot be such unfairness that you ask for changes and we have to accept the changes. As to our own proposals you did not respond to them. You proposed nine significant changes. Among them there are proposals for changes of the details, but they are significant all the same. Among your proposals there are also important changes. And we have responded to many of your proposals.

Now let me [go] into the questions you have raised. I will give further explanations on two of these questions. I will maintain one of these questions. So I have responded to six of your proposals.

Dr. Kissinger: Could the Special Adviser—could he sum up for me what these nine are and these six are?

[Page 988]

Le Duc Tho: Let me point it out to you. I have agreed with you to change the provision regarding “The U.S. respects the national fundamental right of the Vietnamese people” in Article 1.

Second, I have agreed to the change that the cessation of hostilities will be “durable and without limit of time”.

Dr. Kissinger: Can you hold on just one second?

Le Duc Tho: In Article 7, regarding the replacement of armaments, you wanted to add the words “destroyed and used up”.

Article 9(c), previously it was “The United States shall not intervene in the internal affairs of South Vietnam or impose any political tendencies or any personality over the South Vietnamese people.” I agreed with you to change this last time, last week.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand what the Special Adviser is saying.

Le Duc Tho: Article 12(b), regarding the task of the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord. I have agreed to delete the words “maintaining the ceasefire and preserving peace”.

Article 12 regarding the DMZ.

Dr. Kissinger: Article 15.

Le Duc Tho: Article 15: “South and North Vietnam will respect the DMZ on either side of the provisional military demarcation line.”

Article 20(a), regarding the words “shall strictly respect their obligations towards the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Cambodia and the 1962 Geneva Agreements on Laos.”

Article 20(a), the last sentence regarding “encroach on the sovereignty and security of one another and of other countries”.

Article 20(d), the problems existing between “the Indochinese countries” instead of “three Indochinese countries”.

These are nine questions I agreed to you last week. Among them there are questions of details but significant questions too. Among them there are four important questions: The question of the DMZ; the question of replacement of armaments; third, the question of reducing the task of the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord; fourth, the question of the provision regarding “The United States undertakes to refrain from imposing any political system”. I have agreed to that.

Article 20(a), I have also brought an important change, a significant change, regarding the question of Cambodia and Laos, so among your nine . . .

Dr. Kissinger: What are the changes with respect to Cambodia and Laos?

Le Duc Tho: I have redrafted the article and put “strictly respect their obligations toward the 1954 Geneva Agreements”, and then “not [Page 989] to encroach on the sovereignty and security of one another”, and then “the three Indochinese countries” be changed to “Indochinese countries”.

These changes have some political significance. So among your nine changes you proposed last week, we have agreed to five of them, and five important changes. Among the nine questions there are five important questions. We have put forward five questions but you have not responded to any of them, except the only point regarding civilian personnel associated with military activities. You have only given us half a concession only. Is it fair negotiation, this?

Now the proposals you made last Monday, I recognize that you have changed them a little. But you have changed—reversed a number of questions and make them complicated. For instance, regarding the question of reunification of Vietnam you want to add “North and South Vietnam will not use force against each other”. So you bring complicated questions for both zones.

Regarding the DMZ you only propose to put the “modalities for movement.” We propose that the statute of the DMZ should be discussed, and the situation in the DMZ is utterly different from it was before. The situation of the war in 1954 was different. Now the situation is quite different from it was in 1954. Then there were two different regions, but south of the demarcation line there was the French and the puppet troops associated with the French; north of the demarcation line was the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Now today in South Vietnam there are two different administrations, the PRG and the Saigon Administration, and on the other side the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. And moreover this region, the region of the DMZ, is now a liberated zone controlled by the PRG. Therefore the movement in this region needs a statute of the DMZ. Therefore when we proposed that the statute of the DMZ should be discussed, it is something correct, and moreover you should realize that we have shown our good will when we agreed to add it to what was agreed. But the DMZ should have its statute now. Now you want to refer the question of modalities for the movement in the same Chapter V. But you put it in the same paragraph with regard to the normal relations between the two zones but it is not the statute of the DMZ. So I think that your desire is that the statute of the DMZ remain as it was for the agreement of 1954. It is no longer conforming to the present situation. We will respect the DMZ but the statute of the DMZ should be discussed.

Dr. Kissinger: Can the Special Adviser explain to me what that means in practice?

Le Duc Tho: [Heatedly] Let me finish. I will speak about the questions. I have not gone into the details yet.

It is superfluous to raise the question of “North Vietnam and South Vietnam will refrain to use force against each other” because we have [Page 990] put in the agreement that the cessation of hostilities will be without limit of time. Therefore, there is no question of using force arise here. And then there is a provision that “the two parties shall refrain from introducing troops, armaments and war materials into South Vietnam”. Therefore how can they use force against each other? When you put “North and South Vietnam shall refrain from using force against each other”, do you mean that North Vietnam has made aggression against South Vietnam? We have never made aggression against South Vietnam. The only aggression made there is by the United States.

So the question you raise here has very complicated political significance. While we have shown great good will when we take into account some of your questions of principle regarding the release of captured and detained personnel, you should understand our sentiment when we have to separate this question and we do not insist on it. We know that this is a question of principle of yours, therefore we respect your question of principle, but the questions of principle we are raising, do you respect them?

Dr. Kissinger: Could I make a suggestion, since I do not want to hear or read any newspaper stories—we don’t want to hear that the Special Adviser shouted at me and I shouted back, so could we keep our voices at a respectable level?

Le Duc Tho: No, you should understand that this is my sentiment. Toward you I am always very correct and courteous, but here it is a very hard question for us. You should understand our feelings, our sentiments, when we keep the provision as it was in the agreement and let tens of thousands of our people who are in jail now. Our question of principles you do not keep as it was and you wanted to change it. The Provisional Revolutionary Government is a real fact, a reality in South Vietnam. You wanted to wipe out the PRG from the agreement, don’t mention it, and then you propose a way of signing of the agreement. Then in your way the agreement will have no legal value and it will be a simple paper.

So you have proposed many changes and we have responded to many of them, and our proposals made to you we have reduced them. For instance, Article 8(c), so important for us and we have dropped it, while you are adding more complicated questions as I just explained.

So you affirm your desire for peace and for an end to the war. Is it real? Is it true what you are saying? So I should tell you that this way of negotiating is unfair and cannot lead rapidly to peace. I have told you on many occasions that it is a great desire of mine to have peace; otherwise I would have not put forward the October 8 proposal. But you propose some amendment to the agreement; I accept to come here again to meet you again. This is undeniable good will on our part.

I have responded to many of your proposals last week. Among them there are many important changes and among our proposals, [Page 991] five proposals of ours, a very important proposal regarding the Article 8(c). And we have dropped it and maintain as it was in the agreement. On the contrary you did not respond to any of our proposals. As to a number of your proposals I disagree to your changes because they involve our questions of principle. I have responded to your question of principle but you did not do the same with regard to our proposal. So yesterday I told you that we should mutually comprehend each other; we should take into account each other’s difficulties as to those necessities. I take into account your necessities and you did not do so with regard to mine. How shall I conduct the negotiations now? If I had to conduct negotiations only in accepting your proposals and I have no right to bring amendments at all, even maintaining what we both have agreed to, you are unwilling to do that. Please think of it and see whether this way of negotiations is fair or not. It is all my ideas I have to express to you, in all earnest, in all careful thinking.

But all these questions are very difficult for me. That is why I propose to you that we want to return to the agreed-to agreement, to avoid big changes in principles. So among the nine questions we agreed to with you last week, now I propose to have some clarification regarding two of them, to maintain as it were before the changes one of them, and I have responded to six of your proposals.

The question of the DMZ—you propose the amendment; I agree to it. I would like only to add that “South and North Vietnam will discuss and agree to the statute of the DMZ.”

The second question, the question of Laos and Cambodia. I would like to delete the word “obligations”, to delete “their obligations”, and the article will read “shall strictly respect the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Cambodia and the 1962 Geneva Agreements on Laos.” I propose now to delete the word “their obligations” and keep, as you proposed, “shall strictly respect the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Cambodia and the 1962 Geneva Agreements on Laos.” Why do I propose to delete the word “their obligations”? Because our ally in Cambodia, they would say that we will interfere in their internal affairs, and when I say our “obligations” they understand as I just explained to you. I frankly tell you this.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand your point. I will take it very seriously. I have a different tactic from you, Mr. Special Adviser.

Le Duc Tho: No other tactic.

Dr. Kissinger: In four years of negotiations, Mr. Special Adviser has never admitted that I have ever said anything that has merit, which is statistically improbable.

Le Duc Tho: I frankly tell you my views. It is unfair to say this, because I have admitted that some changes you have brought today [Page 992] have shown you have made some effort. But, fairly speaking, these efforts of yours is not an effort because you try to change the agreement. You only reduce your amendments. Previously you want more changes.

Dr. Kissinger: But I have explained to the Special Adviser on innumerable occasions what our problem is and how we are trying to get it. And he understands very well what our situation is. But let the Special Adviser continue to go through what you are presenting.

Le Duc Tho: So, if we compare your former proposed changes and your present changes, I say that you have made an effort.

So these are two points in which you have proposed an amendment but I responded to your proposal but I also add something.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand your point.

Le Duc Tho: So nine of your proposals, nine questions we have agreed to last week. I will maintain only one point we agreed to. “The U.S. respects the national fundamental right”, in Article 1.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me understand what the Special Adviser is saying. One, I think Mr. Thach is the evil influence. Maybe he should sit one seat removed from the Special Adviser!

Now, are you saying you are keeping only one of the nine or are you saying you would like to drop only one of the nine?

Le Duc Tho: Keep one of the nine as it was.

Dr. Kissinger: Oh, I was afraid he was taking away GMT from me, which we considered a tremendous concession. The President sent me a telegram . . .

Le Duc Tho: This is completely technical question.

Dr. Kissinger: The President sent me a telegram saying no other negotiator could have got that, plus the change in Article 23.

Le Duc Tho: So the reason why I propose to keep Article 1 as it was, saying “The United States respects the national fundamental right of the Vietnamese people” because it is some frequent statement made by American authorities, leaders, that the United States respects the 1954 Geneva Agreements and the 1962 Geneva Agreements. Because if we put this article, then our people will be assured that the United States will respect our independence. And after the war when we establish relations between the two countries, your technicians will come to our country and help us to reconstruct the country—our people will be assured. Because in my view the greatest honor for the United States is the way reflected in the agreement for the pull-out of the United States troops. The conditions for such pull-out and put forward by President Nixon, as explained to you, we have met your requirements. I explained to you yesterday. And really speaking, our political [Page 993] requirement is reflected here to some extent only. This is at its lowest level, really. It cannot be lower.

Dr. Kissinger: What is the highest? To have an American arrive in a cage? An American emissary in a cage?

Le Duc Tho: You say this is all for South Vietnam. But regarding Laos and Cambodia President Nixon has expressed in his message to us that he is fully satisfied with the response.

Now the question of ceasefire in Laos. I told you the other day that we could have an understanding on this too. All these moves of mine show greatly that we have good will.

So your questions of principle, I have met them all. Our questions of principle you did not meet them, and moreover you make some questions more complicated. For instance regarding the question of 8(c), your requirement is now higher than it was before. And moreover you ask for a number of changes; for instance, the question of “North and South Vietnam refrain to use force against each other”, the question of “modalities for movement” across the DMZ.

Dr. Kissinger: That is what you wanted. I don’t care about the modalities. I was trying to show good will to Mr. Thach. If you don’t want it, we will withdraw it.

Le Duc Tho: What I mean is that you have raised a number of questions and we have answered them all and now you raise new ones. So I repeal. Among the nine points we agreed to last week I have responded to you six of the nine. For two of the nine I have agreed to it in part and I propose some change to it. And I propose to maintain one of the nine. And besides that I will never—and so I will not ask for any other changes if you will maintain as it was and bring no other changes.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me understand.

Le Duc Tho: Let me finish please. So if comparing with the articles of the agreement of October 20, now until this date, I have responded to a number of your proposals and do not propose anything new, and what I request you to do is you should also propose no other changes. I respect your question of principles. You should also respect our question of principles. Therefore yesterday I dropped the question of Article 8(c). I have done our utmost and I would like to hasten the conclusion of the agreement, therefore I have dropped this question. I hope you will carefully consider our views. I have taken into account of your difficulties; you should do the same. You should carefully examine our views.

If now you should consider our question of principle, for instance the mention of the PRG in the agreement and the way of signing the agreement you propose—this very point, this one point, suffice to drive [Page 994] our negotiations into deadlock. How shall I tell the PRG and tell the people of South Vietnam when in the agreement there is no mention at all of the PRG and the way of signing the agreement is peculiar too? And how the people of South Vietnam would think of this question? And if it is done in such a way how can you visualize that these two governments can sit together and solve the question within three months? How can they solve the questions so as to achieve national concord and to have lasting peace?

Dr. Kissinger: I have always wanted to ask the Special Adviser that very question. How they are going to do that?

Le Duc Tho: When I told you that we desire peace, we desire national concord to be achieved, we will be determined to achieve this. I told Mr. Special Adviser to draw experience from the past. In 1954 it was said in the Geneva Agreement that the two sides shall refrain from terrorism and reprisals against one another. As soon as the regroupment of troops began in South Vietnam there were many, many cases of terrorism and reprisals staged by the French and puppets. And you know when you interfered in South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem came to power, how he massacred the people. He brought in every place the guillotine only a few months after the signing of the agreement. It was not we who did that.

Dr. Kissinger: Not in the south; you did it in the north.

Le Duc Tho: Never in North Vietnam. There was no massacre or terror like the cases in Can Duoc in South Vietnam. The other day I told you when we talked privately there was differentiation among families in South Vietnam: Some members side with one party; some others side with the other. The father participate in the Liberation forces; the son in the puppet army. We, our people, have suffered a great deal. We want to have peace, to have families reunited. We want to achieve real national concord. And you will see that after the agreement is signed we will put it in practice; we will abide by it. So I told you when we talked privately. After your interference in South Vietnam, now there has been formed in South Vietnam military strata of people, very warlike people. The chief of the district, province chief—all are military officers. Their interest is all associated with the war. You want peace but the puppets are different with you to some extent.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but we have an understanding that we don’t use labels for the sides which are allied to each of us.

Le Duc Tho: I just told it only to bring out the fact that we really want peace and national concord. This is our firm determination. But whether peace is possible now or not it depends on you too, and it depends also on the Saigon Administration, whether they want peace or not. If they don’t want it then how can settlement be made? Your approach to the changes make it very difficult to reach a conclusion.

[Page 995]

So what I propose now is two amendments to the two points I have agreed to you, and I propose to maintain one point we agreed to.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand. I think I understand. Let me put it into my language. Just to understand what you are saying. You are saying that of the nine changes you have agreed to, six of them can be maintained.

Article 1 you would like to return to its original form. [There is discussion on the other side.] Yes, Article 1 you would like to return to its original form. Then to the sentence you agree to on the DMZ you would like to add a sentence “They will discuss and agree to the statute of the DMZ”.

Le Duc Tho: Right.

Dr. Kissinger: All right. I am just trying to sum up as I understood you. As I told you yesterday my mind doesn’t work as rapidly as Vietnamese minds. The trouble is you all believe this! You don’t think I am being polite.

Le Duc Tho: You are very intelligent.

Dr. Kissinger: No, you think I am expressing objective reality! You would like to drop the phrase “their obligations” under the 1962 Geneva Agreements from the Laos Chapter.

Le Duc Tho: Simply “shall strictly respect the Geneva Agreements”.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand. I just want to understand exactly what you are saying.

Le Duc Tho: As to the “three Indochinese countries”, I responded to your proposal.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand. Now let me ask you, just so that I understand what you are saying, what exactly do you mean by “will discuss and agree to the statute of the DMZ”? Does it have a statute now? It has a statute now and you want to change that statute to a new statute?

Le Duc Tho: We have declared that we respect the DMZ, but now there should be a statute of the DMZ to stipulate about the modalities of the movement. Because there were only two parties, now there are three parties—the PRG, the Saigon Administration and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Therefore with the PRG and Saigon Administration on the other side and North Vietnam on this side, the movement in this region is quite different as it was before. The PRG is a government, [having] a relationship with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and other countries. Now in its relationship with other countries, international relationship, which itinerary it will take out will be its relations with the North Vietnam. And so discussions are necessary how movement across the DMZ—how many kilometers, how the movement should be made, how the modalities will be. Otherwise no solution is possible.

[Page 996]

Dr. Kissinger: But pending such an agreement, is the old status maintained?

Le Duc Tho: After the ceasefire, discussion on this question should start immediately.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but what happens until they are concluded?

Le Duc Tho: Discussions will be made on concrete points of this question. The two zones, North and South, should discuss together. It is some objective fact. It does not mean that we will violate it. After the agreement is reached, we will respect the agreement, we will not violate it.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand. You respect the agreement but I want to know how you interpret the agreement.

Le Duc Tho: It is reality. I can’t go into the details now. It is the military, the real situation at present.

Dr. Kissinger: What then does the phrase “respect the DMZ” mean, I mean “discuss the modalities and status”?

Le Duc Tho: Let me speak very briefly because the details should be discussed later. There is the demarcation line. On either side of the demarcation line there is a demilitarized zone of five kilometers on each side, and then the PRG, the Saigon Administration and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam will discuss how this zone must be. Such discussions are indispensable. It is something clear.

Dr. Kissinger: But my experience is that Vietnamese discussions sometime take some time, and also I have the impression that the parties involved do not immediately have complete faith in each other. So therefore my question is, until the discussions are concluded, what is the status of the DMZ?

Le Duc Tho: There is an explicit provision in the agreement—Article 7—that “after the ceasefire the two parties shall refrain from introducing troops, armaments and war materials into South Vietnam.” Moreover, in your protocol regarding the international commission your intention is to locate an international team at that point. I do not discuss yet. I do not discuss it now. When we discuss that protocol we will come to that.

Dr. Kissinger: See, the Special Adviser is threatening me again.

Le Duc Tho: No, the Special Adviser is always threatening me!

Dr. Kissinger: The major incentive, the primary incentive I have to conclude these negotiations is so that I do not have to negotiate with the Special Adviser again and can start a relation of personal friendship. He wants to see whether he can do to me what the Minister did to four American negotiators. I told Ambassador Porter that the Minister would be at the plenary session today. He immediately fell ill.

[Page 997]

Le Duc Tho: It is not true. You have known how I am. Through the last few minutes of negotiations I have made many constructive proposals. It is a fact. As to our personal relation now and in the future, it is always good relations. As I told you the other day, the war is very ferocious. You should understand my feelings towards our people, our nation, our people’s interests, of which I have responsibility. Therefore, some time in discussions, the discussions are hot. It is in this way of discussing not only with you but sometime with my friends I do the same. Sometime with Minister Xuan Thuy.

Dr. Kissinger: Is it true, Mr. Minister?

Xuan Thuy: Sometimes with me too, for four years.

Le Duc Tho: But after the discussions there is always comradeship between us. After discussions it is colleague-ship between us—you and I—and after the war probably there may be some more discussions, about other questions.

Dr. Kissinger: But after the war there will be such a relation between us that no more discussions will be necessary.

Le Duc Tho: Sometime.

Dr. Kissinger: We will meet in a spirit of reconciliation and concord without coercion or aggression from either side.

Le Duc Tho: You are the philosopher. You should know that in many things there are contradictions, but there is unity too.

Dr. Kissinger: You see, you Vietnamese have such subtlety that I sometime miss your meaning. When I read this provision about the DMZ, I am not sure if you are respecting it or abolishing it. Not that you would have any such intention. But unintentionally you might bring this about!

Le Duc Tho: I have this sentence. Then I propose a break. The most important provision regarding the DMZ is that the PRG will no longer accept the introduction of troops, war materials and weapons. This is the greatest respect of the DMZ, and there are other things. The main thing is that, and this point is written in Article 7. And your protocol proposes an international control in that region.

Dr. Kissinger: Are you going to accept it?

Le Duc Tho: We will discuss that. [Laughter]

Dr. Kissinger: You’re an optimist. Let us have a break.

[The group broke at 4:55 p.m. and resumed again at 5:45 p.m.]

Dr. Kissinger: Does the Special Adviser have any other comments on any of the other points that I have made?

Le Duc Tho: I have finished my statement.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, let me make first a specific comment on the three changes you wanted in what has already been discussed.

[Page 998]

First, with respect to Laos and Cambodia. You said that Article 20(a) you would like to change to—let me just read it to be sure I understand it—“The parties participating in the Paris Conference on Vietnam shall strictly respect the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Cambodia and the 1962 Geneva Agreements on Laos and shall strictly respect the Cambodian” and so forth. Is that how that now reads? Is that correct? That is how it will read with your deletion? Is that correct?

Le Duc Tho: Agreed, the formulation.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, I understand. I just want to make sure. We accept this. So we have settled one thing this week.

Le Duc Tho: But it is a return to your proposal.

Dr. Kissinger: I thought it was a sign of good will.

Le Duc Tho: This is a change in accordance with your proposal. It is a good will from our part.

Dr. Kissinger: Shall I withdraw it then? Shall I go back to the other? I don’t want to find this on the next list of unilateral concessions that the DRV side made to us. [Laughter] Of course, this gives me hope. At this rate it will take only three years for most of the outstanding issues.

Now with respect to Article 1, this is a matter of great personal feeling for the President, which I have no authority to accept. Because you say that when we say “South and North Vietnam shall not use force against each other”, you say that this implies that you are aggressors. That was not our intention. But to begin a major agreement, the first in his new administration, with a first chapter standing by itself that singles out the United States for special mention certainly has the implications which you pointed out. What we could do is to leave the changed article and add a footnote which says “The U.S. recognizes that it is a country.” I said this as a joke. Because if you want to . . . if you say . . . see, for legalists, I am sure what happened is that your Foreign Office said we would avoid these obligations by saying we are not a country and therefore don’t have to respect these obligations.

Le Duc Tho: This is our thinking! [Laughter] I admit that you are true when you say this.

Dr. Kissinger: That we would claim we are not a country? We could list all the countries in a footnote! But it is for us not primarily a substantive question, because as the Special Adviser has often pointed out, we are prepared to “respect the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Vietnamese people as recognized by the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Vietnam,” but to single us out the first article is very difficult for the President and, indeed, this is one of the issues that he wanted me to raise in Hanoi had I reached Hanoi. So I will have to consult the President tonight about his reaction to this proposal.

Now let me get to the question of the DMZ. A study of your history convinces me that you are not inevitably deflected from your purposes [Page 999] by a document. Our military people in the northern part of South Vietnam last year were under the impression that several hundred tanks managed to get across the DMZ even under its old statute. That is in addition to the ones that were in An Loc, about which I have already discussed with the Special Adviser.

So what is it that we are trying to do in these sessions? Because if we keep a scorecard of who makes what concessions, it will not really advance us very far. We are trying to demonstrate to our critics at home and to our allies that we are not signing a document that simply is a more sophisticated form of turning over the situation to our opponent, but that we are signing one that provides the basis for a genuine peace. We have differed with our allies in Saigon on one issue: They have asked us to support an absolute assurance of security which we believe can be attained only by absolute insecurity for their opponents. We have told you at these meetings over many years that we would not support total victory for Saigon. All we wanted was to give the existing forces in South Vietnam a reasonable opportunity on either side. Now at the same time we cannot sign an agreement whose objective tendency will be not to provide this reasonable security or reasonable assurance.

We have been accused of neglecting the question of your troops, and you have answered us that this will be taken care of under the provision for demobilization. We have been accused of not keeping in mind the integrity of the area. Now what is it really that we have asked? We have asked for some specificity on the demobilization provision, of the same kind that has been provided in every other paragraph in which something is supposed to happen in the future, namely a three-month period for discussions. You have not yet replied to this, so I don’t know what your answer will be.

With respect to the DMZ, the practical consequence of your proposal seems to be to abolish the DMZ. Because unless I misunderstand your proposal, it is to say that “South and North Vietnam shall respect the DMZ” but that first there has to be a discussion as to just what that DMZ is. So the practical consequence will be that there won’t be one until there is an agreement, and this is why that second clause presents us with extreme difficulty.

Now take our sentence that “South and North Vietnam shall not use force against each other.” We do not insist on that one sentence. We have tried many variations. We have avoided mentioning the North Vietnamese forces; we have avoided asking for the withdrawal of “non-South Vietnamese forces;” we have even dropped the phrase “native places,” even though there is a certain logical inconsistency in saying there are only Southerners in the country and you cannot mention returning to their native places. What we have looked for is for some [Page 1000] phrase somewhere in the document, in the most abstract way possible, to express the decision that South and North Vietnam will live in peace with each other and settle their problems in peace with each other.

As I explained to the Special Adviser yesterday, and I must repeat myself, if the Vice President goes to Saigon to present an agreement that we have reached, he will find that many provisions will be extremely objectionable. What we have asked for is some minimum that enables us with reasonable conscience to say that minimum concerns have been met but that the rest of them cannot be met by the United States. If now even the clause on the DMZ is changed, what concrete thing is there left at all to point to? So this is the problem we now have and to which I do not have a solution.

I will discuss with the President the issue of Article 1, which only concerns his feelings and his dignity, and in many ways it is easier for us to give up on matters that are only offensive to us—though I would not consider it the best way to start a new relationship. But even though we have progressively reduced our proposals over the last two weeks over what is, after all, a rather crucial matter, it has not resulted in coming up with an agreed formulation. So this is what we face now—in addition of course to the word “administrative structure” which we have communicated to you on innumerable occasions starting with October 23.

Le Duc Tho: Have you finished?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, Mr. Special Adviser.

Le Duc Tho: When I compared the responses to your proposal I have made with all the points on which you have not responded to me, I only brought out a fact, because I have responded to many of your proposals when you did not respond to my proposals. As I told you yesterday, I understand that you have some difficulties, but we have our difficulties too, and you have understood our difficulties. Now I will speak to your specific points you raise one by one.

Dr. Kissinger: Please.

Le Duc Tho: First, I would like to speak on the two questions I agreed to last week and I propose some amendments.

Regarding Laos and Cambodia, I returned to your former proposal.

Dr. Kissinger: And I made the concession of agreeing.

Le Duc Tho: So nine of your proposals, I have responded to 7 already. There remains only 2. Actually your proposal regarding the DMZ I have responded to it. I only add something to it for future discussions of North and South Vietnam. I have made the statement that we will respect the DMZ but the statute of the DMZ will be discussed by the two parties, the two zones. It does not mean that we want to return to the state of war.

[Page 1001]

Moreover, the origin of the war does not stem from our side. When you have scrapped up the Geneva Agreement then these agreements no longer have value. When our land is subjected to aggression it is our national obligation to oppose this aggression, to liberate our country. It does not mean that we now want to use force against each other. Because when the roots of the war no longer remain, there is no reason for North Vietnamese to go and to fight South Vietnamese—unless our people in South Vietnam is once again submitted to aggression. Then the people over the whole land will stand in force again and fight against them. Therefore, it is not necessary to write that North and South Vietnam shall not use force against each other.

Moreover, in Chapter V there is a provision stipulating that “the reunification of Vietnam shall be carried out step by step by peaceful means on the basis of discussions between North and South Vietnam, and without annexation or coercion from either side.” I think it is utterly adequate when we have such provisions. So it would be hard to understand if there is word saying that “the two sides will refrain from using force against each other,” and this will give the vague impression or understanding that maybe in the past North Vietnam has made aggression against South Vietnam.

Dr. Kissinger: Or maybe South Vietnam against North Vietnam?

Le Duc Tho: Therefore such a sentence is not necessary now.

Now regarding the reduction of military strength and demobilization of troops by the Vietnamese armed forces in South Vietnam.

Dr. Kissinger: I beg your pardon.

Le Duc Tho: Now regarding the reduction of troops or effectives, I think that this question will be discussed by the parties in South Vietnam and we maintain as it was.

Dr. Kissinger: Without three months?

Le Duc Tho: Without the three months.

Dr. Kissinger: Why?

Le Duc Tho: Because this question will be discussed and agreed upon by the parties.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but so will the political question and the prisoner question.

Le Duc Tho: We would like to maintain as it was and let the two parties agree on it, because it is a big question.

Dr. Kissinger: But all it says is they will “do their utmost.” And so is the political question a big question.

Le Duc Tho: For us the political and the military questions are both important. But in this connection we would like to maintain as it was because there has been too many changes. Since we have published, [Page 1002] when the agreement is published wholly our people will compare these two texts, and if there are too many changes it won’t be . . .

Dr. Kissinger: But you never published the whole text; you just published a condensed version.

Le Duc Tho: It is right. It is correct that we published only the condensed version. But even for the question of the return of civilian prisoners, although it is not yet published, but when we publish this article it would not be easy for us to explain. As to the word “administrative structure,” it is your understanding and conception of it, and we understand it in our way as I told you, and this is also very important questions for us. It is not a government. Moreover the stipulation for its task, for its authority, shows that it is not a government. It cannot be said to be a government. It is an administrative structure called National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord.

Dr. Kissinger: In English this sounds very good and that is why we accepted it. But apparently in Vietnamese the word “administrative structure” translates almost exactly the same as “administration for,” which we had refused. It is the usual translation of it. Moreover from our first communication on October 23, once we understood from the interview in Newsweek what significance you were going to give it, we explained that this was totally unacceptable to us.

Le Duc Tho: But you agreed with us on 20 October.

Dr. Kissinger: On the English word “administrative structure,” never on the Vietnamese word.

Le Duc Tho: But before that we have comparison of texts already.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Engel tells me that during the comparison of the texts we never agreed to that. We never even got the text, we didn’t get the text in Vietnamese until we were in Saigon.

Luu Van Loi: On that day you said that you can keep the English word; we keep the Vietnamese word. He did the task of comparing.

Mr. Engel and Mr. Lord [to Dr. Kissinger]: We never agreed to that.

Dr. Kissinger: My people tell me that they never agreed to the Vietnamese text.

Le Duc Tho: Now I would like to recall the whole process of negotiations with you, and then we had a comparison by our experts. Moreover, here is an administrative structure; it is not a government. In Vietnamese language there is two different meanings, an administrative structure and a government.

As to Article 1, many American personalities make the statement with regard to respect of the Geneva Agreement and so on. Moreover, this will have only good result when the agreement is published and our people read the provision. They will have confidence that after so many years of war now the U.S. pulls out and respects our independ[Page 1003]ence. Then there will come to have good relationship between our two countries.

Dr. Kissinger: Of course the President didn’t get reelected in Vietnam, and I have the impression he wouldn’t get 61 percent of the vote there. I have a lot of provisions that would make a terribly good impression on the American people, if you would like to consider them, Mr. Special Adviser.

Le Duc Tho: You see, you have raised many questions, 9 proposals, and we have responded to 7 of the 9, but regarding the question of the DMZ we would like only to add one sentence. As to another point, Article 1, we would like to maintain the provision as it was.

Dr. Kissinger: I told you I would put this to the President. I have no authority to change it.

Le Duc Tho: So regarding the question you have raised, this is my views I have expressed to you. If you disagree to our amendment to the provision regarding the DMZ we could return to what it was before the amendment—drop this sentence on the DMZ. But if you want to add the DMZ, then it should be added the sentence “The two zones will discuss and agree on the statute of the DMZ.”

Dr. Kissinger: Of course, now that it is known that this clause had been added, its omission would have very great significance.

Le Duc Tho: You can keep it but we would like to add one more sentence.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but the additional sentence has the effect of abolishing it. You will respect something, but the something has no status but will be given it only later, perhaps by Madame Binh. Moreover, I have the impression that even now the forces located south of the DMZ will not defend it with the greatest intensity against the forces north of the DMZ.

I think the Minister has understood me. Would you explain to the Special Adviser?

Xuan Thuy: I understand you and I am not pleased, because you speak in a very imaginative way and there is much significance in your sentence.

Dr. Kissinger: I tell you I have worked with Vietnamese for many years. I will write poetry next. [Laughter] Maybe we should have tried this agreement in poetry and have the Minister draft it.

Le Duc Tho: When the agreement is signed maybe the agreement will be turned into verses, for the easy memory of people.

Dr. Kissinger: An epic poem. I have told people that when the Special Adviser gets very angry with me he starts launching into epic poetry. I heard two epic poems before the break.

Le Duc Tho: I never make poetry on this subject.

[Page 1004]

Dr. Kissinger: Well, my difficulty, Mr. Special Adviser, quite honestly, is that I have given you what after very long exchanges with the President he has said is our minimum position, and if we cannot agree on it I will have to talk to him. It is an unusual position for me to be in, but it will show you the intensity of his convictions on the subject. I have not raised Article 1 with him, because I don’t want to raise extraneous subjects, but I will raise that tonight. To show you my ignorance of Vietnamese conditions, Mr. Special Adviser, I read the Nhan Dan editorial on the way over—in English of course—and it made some reference to this article and I thought the editorial writer was lagging in time behind the Special Adviser and had not been properly briefed. I forgot that your journalists are a little better disciplined than the crowd we have hanging around outside.

Le Duc Tho: But if we look into the American press they have been discussing the subjects much, much more.

Dr. Kissinger: No, no, I am not criticizing you. Our press has been disgraceful. They go around all over Washington and the less people know the more they tell them. You are quite right. I feel very badly about the way our press has behaved, and your side has preserved, since our last conversation, very strict discipline. I have been told Mr. Special Adviser, by the journalists, by Mr. Randal—or not by Mr. Randal, by his editor,—that the source who gave him the story last week is suddenly totally without any information.

Le Duc Tho: In the press there are many articles dealing with the subjects of negotiations here. I have the impression there have been some leak, but I have not raised this action with you.

Dr. Kissinger: I appreciate it.

Le Duc Tho: So I come here for the purpose of negotiating with you. I do not want to refer to these questions. A great deal has been spoken in the press.

Dr. Kissinger: Much of it untrue. But how should we now proceed, Mr. Special Adviser?

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Special Adviser said that he has to consult the President. Please do this, and if you want to meet again then I am prepared to meet again.

Dr. Kissinger: All right. I will consult the President with respect to Article 1 and also with respect to the other outstanding article. Although I am certain I know his answer on the other one. And perhaps the Special Adviser can contact whomever he needs to contact to discuss what changes may be necessary on his side. What time should we meet tomorrow?

Le Duc Tho: In the afternoon, 3 o’clock.

Dr. Kissinger: 3 o’clock. Shall we meet in Neuilly where we met yesterday? In the jeweler’s house?

[Page 1005]

Le Duc Tho: All right.

Dr. Kissinger: Now I wonder about the following, since we are down to very few issues now. We will either come to an agreement or not come to an agreement with respect to them tomorrow. Therefore it will not last very long, I would think, unless the Special Adviser has another epic poem. [Laughter] And I just wonder whether we should meet in a somewhat smaller group, maybe three on each side, plus an interpreter.

Le Duc Tho: All right.

Dr. Kissinger: Three. I will bring General Haig and Mr. Sullivan and an interpreter. And you exclude Mr. Thach. [Laughter] Every time I think we have an agreement he scribbles a little note to you. We finally have the Minister under control; now you brought a new reinforcement.

Mr. Thach: But Ambassador Sullivan is not behind me. Probably he thinks that all the changes come from me.

Le Duc Tho: At the next meeting please carefully consider our views. I have been expressing them for the last few days. We understand that you have some difficulties, but you should understand that we have also difficulties. We should both realize all these difficulties if a settlement is actually to be made. We have made the greatest efforts. For instance, the question of Article 8(c) is a very important question. I keep the provision as it was and I keep your undertaking on October 17. And when the agreement is signed and there is publication and our people read 8(c) as it is, it is a very great problem for us.

Dr. Kissinger: If our people read Article 1 they will never get to Article 8. [Laughter] At least yours will feel happy through 7 articles. But on the other points, Mr. Special Adviser, please consider our problem. It isn’t simply a problem of Saigon. In fact, at this stage it is not a problem of Saigon; it is a problem of our convictions. When we attempt to line up the conservative element in America to support this agreement by sending the Vice President to Saigon, that is a very important step. But therefore it must be an agreement that has provisions that from our point of view meet their minimum needs. And when the President takes the very grave step of dissociating himself publicly from an ally, that too must be justified—not to our ally, but to our own people, after we have lost 50,000 men there. This is a very difficult matter for us. This is why we stripped down our proposals to the absolute bare essentials. And you recognize that overnight we made a very great effort. Although I recognize the Special Adviser doesn’t like to give me any adjectives. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: Actually we have made a very great effort and it is almost our possible extent.

Dr. Kissinger: We are both in this position now, and let us see whether when we meet tomorrow with one more attempt we can finish it.

[The meeting adjourned at 7:00 p.m.]

  1. 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 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc in Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

    In his report to the President after the meeting, Kissinger first went into the details of the various proposals and counterproposals, amendments, and revisions presented during the session. Then he developed a broader view of what was happening and what it meant, observing that “it is now obvious as the result of our additional exploration of Hanoi’s intentions that they have not in any way abandoned their objectives or ambitions with respect to South Vietnam. What they have done is decide to modify their strategy by moving from conventional and main force warfare to a political and insurgency strategy within the framework of the draft agreement. Thus, we can anticipate no lasting peace in the wake of a consummated agreement, but merely a shift in Hanoi’s modus operandi. We will probably have little chance of maintaining the agreement without evident hair-trigger U.S. readiness, which may in fact be challenged at any time, to enforce its provisions.

    “Thus we are now down to my original question: is it better to continue to fight on by scuttling the agreement now; or be forced to react later, vindicated by the violation of a solemnly entered agreement? Were we to opt for the former, I can with ample justification recess the talks tomorrow on grounds that would leave us in a good public position, emphasizing Hanoi’s absolute unwillingness to give us any assurance on the issue of their troops in the South or to even accept modifications to the text of the agreement which would establish the principle of nonintervention in the future. If on the other hand we opt for an agreement, we would then have to be prepared to react promptly and decisively at the first instance of North Vietnamese violation. I raise these issues not because the agreement itself is bad but because the balance of existing forces cannot get us a better agreement; no war in history has been settled on better terms than the reality of forces on the battlefield could justify. Nor can our worries be fixed by specific provisions at this point. The GVN approach and our vigilance are the key factors.” (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 147)

    Kissinger did not express a preference in his report, but in a telephone conversation with Haldeman that day he made it clear that he favored the second option, and Haldeman so informed the President. (Ibid., Document 150, footnote 3)

    Nixon’s immediate reply gave Kissinger instructions for the December 8 meeting. “I have decided,” the President’s message reads, “that we should go forward with the second option with the only condition being that the agreement we get must be some improvement over the October agreement as you have indicated it is.” He added: “I am completely aware of all the problems we will have in getting agreement from Thieu and in policing the agreement if it is reached, however I believe the risks of the other option of breaking off the talks and escalating the bombing are far greater.” (Ibid., Document 150)