36. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • DRV
  • Le Duc Tho
  • Xuan Thuy
  • Nguyen Co Thach
  • Nguyen Dinh Phuong (Interpreter)
  • U.S.
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
  • Major General Alexander M. Haig, Jr.
  • Ambassador William Sullivan
  • David A. Engel (Interpreter)
  • Mary Stifflemire, Notetaker

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, today could be a very important meeting because I think we have reduced the issues to a very few. And we should make one more effort to see whether we can resolve them. And then to pursue the normalization of our relations with the same tenacity but greater speed than our previous discussions. I spoke [Page 1007] first yesterday and therefore I don’t want to be impolite and speak again first today.

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Special Adviser. Yesterday you spoke last and I answered you and you said you would consult President Nixon. Therefore I propose that Mr. Special Adviser speak first today and I hope that you will make a great effort, then I will do the same and I will make an effort. Both sides will make efforts and probably will reach a settlement today. But on the contrary if you don’t make any effort then there will be a deadlock. But I am convinced that if both of us, you and I, if both sides make an effort we can advance to peace. And if we fail it is something beyond our desire, it is some objective reality that leads to that.

Dr. Kissinger: I hate to call Madame Binh an objective reality. (Laughter) I hope she doesn’t get a copy of my remarks. Do I understand the ground rules to be that I must make a great effort and after that the Special Adviser will make an effort? (Laughter)

Le Duc Tho: If I say so it is because I have made a great deal of effort. But that doesn’t mean that if you are making a great effort I will make no effort at all. Actually both sides should make an effort because without effort we can’t achieve peace.

Dr. Kissinger: I called on President Pompidou this morning and he asked me how the talks were going. It was a courtesy call. And I said to him that I don’t know whether the Special Adviser and I will succeed in making peace but we will certainly become professors of church law if we do not make peace, because we have learned the fine points of theological discussion in the last two weeks.

Mr. Special Adviser, as I see it, first of all let me congratulate you on your ability to let me speak first again. I think in the four years of our negotiations you probably spoke first twice. (Tho laughs) I just want you to know that I acknowledge it when I am defeated.

Le Duc Tho: But according to Vietnam’s custom and courtesy it is always the guest who speaks first.

Dr. Kissinger: But you are the guest.

Le Duc Tho: But it is a sign of politeness when we invite the other party to speak first.

Dr. Kissinger: Somebody once said that it is never clear how a Japanese gets through a door when politeness requires the other goes first. And you wouldn’t even let them into Vietnam to supervise Article 6. It would have been an interesting question. (Tho laughs)

Le Duc Tho: Because the Japanese controlled Vietnam for four or five years already.

Dr. Kissinger: And you think the international force will control Vietnam? (Tho laughs) But as I see it we have the following issues: [Page 1008] We have the issue of the Preamble. We have the issue of “administrative structure”. Of the word “administrative structure”. We have our proposal to add the requirement of a 90 day discussion of the demobilization clause. We have our proposal to add the phrase that North and South Vietnam shall not use force against each other. We have your proposal to change Article 1 back to its original form. And we have your proposal about the statute of the Demilitarized Zone. Those are the outstanding issues as we list them.

Is that a fair statement of the outstanding issues?

Le Duc Tho: There is the issue of civilian personnel associated with military activities.

Dr. Kissinger: My impression was that you had withdrawn that.

Le Duc Tho: Article 8(c). I would like to speak a few words about it. Besides that I will have a couple of questions to raise with you.

Dr. Kissinger: Would you like to raise them now?

Le Duc Tho: Very minor questions. Only one question.

Dr. Kissinger: How about—would you like to raise it now?

Le Duc Tho: Let us discuss these questions. These are important ones.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, I have a little difficulty following your procedures because the other day you withdrew both your objections to civilian personnel and to Article 8(c) and now you reintroduce them again. So I am always in difficulty in terms of my instructions.

Le Duc Tho: Last time I dropped the question of Article 8(c) and the question of civilian personnel provided that the agreement had no changes in substance, only the details to be changed. And since you raise many questions I would like to turn to the question of civilian personnel on the basis of what you proposed yesterday. As to Article 8(c) I will not mention, will have not much to speak. I maintain it. Regarding 8(c) I would like to recall your commitment to Minister Xuan Thuy on October 17 and afterward in a message I sent to you and to President Nixon regarding Article 8(c). Then President Nixon in his reply . . . in this message I recalled your commitment to Minister Xuan Thuy and in his reply President Nixon expressed his satisfaction about the solution.

Dr. Kissinger: I think we should review, if we come to an agreement we should review all understandings to make sure that there are no misunderstandings with respect to them. And I don’t actually have your message here. I mean I have it . . . I don’t have it in this building. But let me make one general comment. If we come to an agreement it is very important that you and we understand each other precisely. We have made many agreements in the past which only were a prelude to renewed conflict. After all this suffering on both sides when we [Page 1009] come—if we come to an agreement today we should then spend tomorrow going through the understandings very carefully, everything that has been exchanged so that each side knows precisely what it can expect of the other. And also if we come to an agreement today or whenever we come, but if we come to an agreement today I will ask General Haig to return to Washington immediately with the text to review it paragraph for paragraph with President Nixon and to explain it to him in the context of our discussions. Because that is not easy to do by cable. And the French probably listen in on our telephone. (Tho laughs) And I will stay here to go over the understandings and to begin discussing the protocols and then General Haig will confirm to me the text before I leave here.

I say this only to indicate that while we must struggle hard while we discuss, we should then be very serious when we implement.

Le Duc Tho: If there is satisfactory agreement we will sign it immediately and we will strictly implement it and you should do the same.

Dr. Kissinger: That is our intention. But if I send General Haig back to Washington, whom will you send back to Hanoi? (Vietnamese laugh)

Le Duc Tho: But after our settlement here I will return to Hanoi only when you go to Hanoi. But you should not do as the last time.

Dr. Kissinger: I think the best thing is if you come to Washington and escort me to Hanoi to make sure I won’t be stopped again. (Vietnamese laugh) But let me then go to the issues. With respect to the phrase “administrative structure.” As I have pointed out on many occasions we do not consider this a change or a concession. And it is truly impossible for us to agree to a word that has any connotation of government in view of the many statements that the President has made on that subject and in view also of the record of the negotiations. So if you cannot . . . if you feel that you must use that, you cannot use the Vietnamese word that we have that expresses our meaning, we have two choices: we can either together seek a new word, or we can drop the phrase “administrative structure” altogether. And if we do that we can each give newspaper interviews on the true significance of the meaning. (No one laughs) I meant this sarcastically. This is not a proposal. I think you have used up your quota of interviews on this subject. (Polite laughter) With respect to our proposal that the subject of demobilization should be discussed within a three months period, we believe it is fair because every other discussion that is mentioned in this agreement has this requirement attached to it. It is not an obligation to finish it but simply to make an effort to have a discussion.

With respect to our proposal that North and South Vietnam shall not use force against each other . . . (Tho confers with Minister Thach) I think the Minister has just advised you to agree.

[Page 1010]

Le Duc Tho: He only advised me to refuse.

Dr. Kissinger: I believe it.

Le Duc Tho: Ambassador Sullivan does the same thing.

Dr. Kissinger: He has been assigned to me because people think I listen to you too much. One of these cubes of sugar has a microphone in it so I know what you gentlemen are saying. (Laughter) With respect to the— You know, I think the Minister is reading my notes in the mirror. (Laughter)

Le Duc Tho: But if he saw it he did not understand.

Dr. Kissinger: He paid me a great compliment yesterday. He said I had a very imaginative approach to the DMZ.

With respect to the clause that says that North and South Vietnam shall not use force against each other to us it seems a very natural thing to affirm. And it is also a matter of great importance to our allies. And we have noticed that you have constructed your concessions very carefully in order to have very few for our allies—by accident, not by lack of good will. I probably misunderstood the intentions of the Special Adviser and if I did I owe him an apology. But in the interest of speeding the conclusion of our discussion we are prepared to withdraw this, if you are prepared to restore the sentence about the DMZ as it was last Thursday. That is to say with the phrase that the DMZ will be respected by both parties. That is not a very great concession for you considering the realities of the situation, which the Minister has understood.

Le Duc Tho: This is a great question.

Dr. Kissinger: But in the light of the fact that we have already communicated this and in the light of the fact that we also have some absolute minimum necessities we ask you to look at your proposal of yesterday again.

With respect to Article 1 this is a very painful problem for us. Now we recognize that when you say “all countries” that involves about 150 countries. (Laughter)

Le Duc Tho: Because it is too large a world and one doesn’t know which country will respect, which country doesn’t respect.

(At this point General Haig hands Dr. Kissinger a message.)

Dr. Kissinger: Do you mind if I read this? (Tho indicates he does not mind.)

So of course you recognize that by eliminating “all countries” you deprive yourself of protection against Mongolia and North Korea. But we suggest that we say “the parties”; that reduces it to four. (Laughter) We have made . . .

Le Duc Tho: So the DRV will respect the DRV.

[Page 1011]

Dr. Kissinger: We have no better idea on the Preamble than the one we gave you in which the United States is prepared to sign a Preamble that mentions the PRG.

These are our proposals and they are very difficult for us.

Le Duc Tho: You have finished, Mr. Special Adviser?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: Today when I arrived here you said that we will hasten the settling and conclude our work here. But among the five questions you have raised there is no change to these five questions. Except for the question of non-use of force by North and South Vietnam against each other. You have dropped it. So you have dropped what you have added, so it is not a concession. This was not written in the agreement when we agreed to it. As to the other questions, you maintained your stand. So you have not responded to our proposals. Then how can we speed up a settlement? For if you maintain your proposals as they are now then we will maintain our proposals too. Because I told you yesterday that if you make an effort to respond to our proposals then we will make an effort and respond to your proposals too. We have responded to your requirements on many questions. But you have not responded to any of our questions. So it would be difficult to find a way out from these negotiations. Then we will fall into a deadlock whether we want it or not. Because it is a reality, a fact. You have your principles. You have also proposed specific questions. We also have our principles. We also have our specific necessities. You told me that you respected our principles and then you require me to respect your principles too. I rearranged Article 8(c), but in respecting your principles we have agreed to keep Article 8(c). Then you should also respect our principles and keep the questions of principle I have raised. Thus how can we settle the war in Vietnam? Even if I wanted to make an effort I will be unable to do so. If one side is asked to make an effort and to respond to the requirements of the other side without receiving efforts and a response from the other side, then there is no fairness at all. You have been negotiating with me for a long time; you understand what is reciprocity. If only one side moves, then it cannot do.

Therefore the other day I said that there were two ways of settling the problem. One is to return to the former agreement and only the details can be changed. Second, to amend the agreement both for important questions and for minor questions. Which way of negotiating do you want? I said that the best way is the first one. It is the most rapid way. The second way would take time because if you ask for changes I will also ask for changes. You have your principles, we have our principles too. If you choose the second way and change the agreement, then I told you the other day that I was prepared to do so [Page 1012] too. But the changes if they are being done should be done on the basis of respect for each other’s principles. And then on this basis discussions will be held. And if we choose this way of bringing about the changes there should be reciprocity. If you concede to me on this question I will concede to you on another question. We do not prefer the second way. It is your proposal to bring changes. These changes are made because of your own requirements, and partly to meet the requirements of the Saigon people. But these changes are not called for by the difficulties caused by the interview given by Prime Minister Pham Van Dong to Newsweek or military activities in South Vietnam. The interview by Prime Minister Pham Van Dong was a normal one. And the PRG’s military activities were also normal activities, just like in other periods. So the cause for you to bring about these changes is your own requirements. But if you want changes, I agree that you ask for changes. This is one way of negotiating. But as I said, this second way of negotiation contains difficulties. Then there will be the possibility that we will overcome these difficulties. There is a possibility that we succeed in overcoming these difficulties, but there is also the possibility that we can’t overcome these difficulties. Each side has its own principles. Principles cannot be overlooked. Therefore if there is no serious intent and no great effort then there is no settlement possible. If on the one hand you make proposals and you ask us to respond to these proposals and on the other hand you did not respond to our proposals this is—I have said this in a very straightforward way. If now we review all our negotiations here and if we review all the problems raised here, then it is evident that all the changes have been proposed by you. As for us we have not proposed any changes. And if these negotiations come to a deadlock you should draw on past experience. The past experience is that there is no reciprocity. The past experience is that we will respect your principles but you don’t respect our principles. You ask for changes on very major questions of ours, then we should also ask you to change your major questions. But when we dropped our major questions, very great questions for us, for instance, the question of 8(c), then the changes you propose involve our very great questions and we ask you to drop it, you did not agree with that. If we want now to end the war and to restore peace then both sides should respect each other’s principles. Both sides should realize each other’s necessities and difficulties, and to bring about a reasonable and logical solution in the spirit of reciprocity in a very correct way, with no coercion from either side. Only thus can we settle the problem. Otherwise the negotiations will fall into a deadlock. If you make a great effort then we will make an effort too to settle the problem.

Dr. Kissinger: Just in principle, give me the adjective.

Le Duc Tho: Let me go on. If you make a great effort then we will make a great effort. If you make an average effort, then we will make [Page 1013] an average effort. If you make a little effort then we will also make a little effort. It is fairness. Therefore if we don’t come to a settlement the responsibility lies on your side. Please try now a great effort to see whether we will respond by a great effort or not. I will frankly tell you this. But with the way of dealing with the question as you have adopted now, raising various questions, no settlement will be possible. We have done our utmost so far. It was an effort of mine when I came back here again. We should have kept the agreement unchanged, except a few details. Now I told you there are two ways of negotiating. If you want to change I agree to find out the solution. You ask for changes, I have also the right to ask for changes. I agree with that if you want to follow the second way. But now you ask for changes and ask me to respond to your proposals, but on your side you did not respond to our proposals. You have said that you made a great effort. But actually this is not great effort at all. What shall I tell you now? All my proposals remain unresponded to—all of them. The way you evaluate the question of the Demilitarized Zone is not correct. You understand that the question of the DMZ is a major question, but you belittle its importance to me.

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t belittle it at all. We disagree not because we misunderstand each other but because we understand each other only too well.

Le Duc Tho: You say in the press and the Saigon news how you insist on the DMZ. But once you proposed the question of the DMZ, I responded to you. I only want to add another sentence.

Dr. Kissinger: Which destroys the previous one. (Laughter)

Le Duc Tho: So I can say that you have not responded to our proposals. If you give me a response now I will respond to you immediately. (Dr. Kissinger laughs) If you don’t, we cannot do it. I have responded to many of your proposals.

Dr. Kissinger: If I understand the Special Adviser he is saying that if I accept all of his proposals he will respond by saying yes. (Laughter) Probably not, because he will probably think it’s a trick. Let me say this, Mr. Special Adviser. I have negotiated with many people and I must say you are the most skillful negotiator I have encountered.

Le Duc Tho: No, I am only a frank speaker only.

Dr. Kissinger: No matter what proposal I make, no matter what concession I make, within five minutes after I am through speaking I am on the defensive explaining why I have just taken something away from you. In fact, the Special Adviser’s technique is to produce such a condition of psychological pressure that when he returns to normal negotiations one considers that a concession and one is relieved. (Laughter) So when the Special Adviser teaches at Harvard I recom[Page 1014]mend that rather than the course we had planned on Marxism and Leninism he should teach diplomatic tactics because we are an underdeveloped country compared to you in that respect. That will be part of the exchange that we will start after peace is reached. Now let me sum up again our necessities. And then I suggest a little break.

We have first of all the interview of your Prime Minister, whom I respect greatly ever since I read the interview he gave to Harrison Salisbury in 1966 or 1965, whichever it was, I forget, but it did have a major impact on us. It was a very brilliant interview. He said if I remember it correctly, it isn’t true that there are more Americans than Vietnamese as far as the Vietnamese war is concerned because, he said, there are more Vietnamese willing to die for Vietnam than there are Americans willing to die for Vietnam. So in 1965, not recently, that was very early in the war. So I take him very seriously. (Interpreter explains to Tho.) It was a very profound statement. But until he gave his interview with Newsweek we had not understood in which way the word “administrative structure” was going to be used by you. We are not challenging his right to give the interview, but as far as we were concerned we had never agreed to the use of the word “administrative” in the governmental sense. So this is not a concession we are asking from you. That is the significance of the interview.

So this is a very great issue of principle which we thought we had settled in October. It is not something we raised afterwards. We have included it in every communication to you. We stated it publicly and it was not a frivolous statement on our part. Now I am not arguing; I am not debating this with you. I am trying to explain what the issue is for us. So when we are asked now to agree to a document and to take the very difficult step of presenting it in Saigon it is necessary that at least some of our absolute minimum conditions are understood. And frankly I believe that is in our common interest, yours and ours. You take the problem of your forces in the South. It is a very grave question for us and I recognize it is also an issue of principle for you. It could make the whole agreement become very difficult to implement and yet we have gone to very great lengths to meet your point. If now that one sentence about the Demilitarized Zone to which we agreed last week and which we have already communicated disappears, it is going to be nearly impossible for the President to maintain the minimum moral position he requires to implement this agreement rapidly. You cannot measure this by saying you have raised 5 questions and we have raised 3 questions because what is asked from you. And I am speaking openheartedly, not negotiating, because we will either come to an agreement in the next hours or we will have to recess. So this is our problem. But if you agree let us take a brief recess and let us make another effort after the recess, but I know the Special Adviser wanted to say something before.

[Page 1015]

Le Duc Tho: Let me say one thing. I do not want to debate with you on the interview by Prime Minister Pham Van Dong. What I wanted to say is that the reason for you to propose the changes is not because of the interview by Prime Minister Pham Van Dong or the military activities in South Vietnam, but because of your desire to make the agreement conform to your interests, and partly to the requirements of the Saigon people. I speak frankly. I acknowledge that you have some difficulties with the Saigon people. But you should also understand that we too have difficulties on many questions regarding the agreement. The question of the Provisional Revolutionary Government, the mention of the PRG and of the signing of the agreement. You have not heeded our difficulties. You only raise your difficulties but you do not heed our difficulties. I realize too that on a number of questions you have difficulties with the Saigon people. But we too have a number of major questions which are very difficult for us with regard to our people and to the PRG. We have been fighting against you for over 10 years. Now if the role of the PRG is not defined in the agreement, do you believe that we can present the agreement to our people? Now the question of the detainees. It is also a major question for us but now we agree to what has been agreed with you. And this question has not been published yet. If now it is published imagine what influence it will have on our people. So you see only your difficulties. But you don’t see our difficulties. It is something obvious, something evident. I can tell you that we will never be able to accept an agreement where there is no mention of the PRG, and we will never accept the way of signing the agreement as you propose. At today’s meeting I speak open-heartedly. If only this question is unsolved then it will be impossible to settle. As I told you if you make a great effort I will make also a great effort. If you settle the problem I will settle the problem with you. You will see if now you settle the problem and take into account our necessities you will see how reasonable we will be. I have been negotiating with you for a long time. You should have realized that. You should also realize the fact if you don’t settle the problem in a reasonable and logical way we will never settle the problem with you. It is not a question of comparing the points you have conceded to me and those I have conceded to you. It is just a figure, but there is substance in the figure. Otherwise, I would not have compared them. But you have not given any response to our substantive problems. Let us have a break now.

Dr. Kissinger: I made a proposal to send the Minister back to Hanoi and you haven’t accepted it. (Laughter)

(The meeting broke for refreshments at 4:30. The second session of the meeting began at 5:37 p.m.)

Le Duc Tho: Have you found any way out after so long a break?

[Page 1016]

Dr. Kissinger: Shall we wait for your colleagues?

Le Duc Tho: Yes, please.

Dr. Kissinger: Does this tape go to Hanoi?

Le Duc Tho: Not yet, we have to keep it some time here. We had no time to listen again to the tape. (Others return)

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser and Mr. Minister. We are down now to very fundamental issues. And we are so close to an agreement that in the margin that remains we are not talking about getting advantage for one side or the other. (Tho nods) What will determine our relationship in the future will be the kind of dealings which I hope to be able to start on my visit to Hanoi. If we speak frankly, the issues which are now left are issues produced by both of our allies. If it were not for that, those matters which you and we can decide as being in our exclusive areas we have pretty well decided. What therefore is before us is not just to have an agreement we in this room can agree on, but to have an agreement that this time can be implemented rapidly. If we agree to something with you and if with all pressure we cannot get Saigon to agree, then we will have months of controversy and continuation of the war. And if the war continues and if this agreement cannot be made, for whatever reason, when we negotiate again, as I said to you yesterday it will have to be in a different framework.

So let me tell you candidly what I think. First with respect to Article 1. We cannot begin a treaty with this provision as a separate chapter. It looks like a surrender. But we will accept the Article and make it the first article of Chapter IV. And in that case the present Article 4 is superfluous. I frankly do not have the authority of the President for this proposal but I shall urge it very strongly. We shall write it exactly as it is written, that is, “the U.S. respects the independence.” This will be very painful to the President.

With respect to mentioning the PRG in the Preamble, based on my present knowledge, as I said to you privately, Mr. Special Adviser, and on the present agreement it will be impossible to get it agreed to. But we think we could make an enormous effort to get it accepted if we could find some phrase that we could point to that respects some of the principles of our ally. We have thought of two possibilities both of which you have already rejected but we want to put them before you to consider and maybe you have a better idea. One would be the proposal I made on Monday, to add to this sentence on the respect for the Provisional Military Demarcation Line the phrase “for each other’s territory.” Or the alternative—I am not recommending both, I am saying this is an alternative. If we could say in paragraph 20(d) in the chapter on Cambodia and Laos “the problems existing between the four Indochinese states.”

[Page 1017]

And then if we could get “administrative structure” changed in some way, as I indicated. And the sentence at the end of Article 13 about three months. I think we have all three discussed it. We are certain we could then if necessary force Saigon into a rapid acceptance of the agreement. And I want to say one thing, Mr. Special Adviser, in all seriousness. I am not proposing this to take advantage of you or to conduct unfair negotiations. It is our realistic assessment of how a peace treaty could be signed within the next two weeks. And in any other course we would have again a massive uncertainty. Even this will require the most massive American pressure and the most serious American threats. But we are willing to listen to some counterproposal on that formulation we gave you. And we would agree to add the sentence on civilian personnel we gave you yesterday of course.

Le Duc Tho: Now let me speak about Article 1 regarding U.S. respect for the fundamental rights of the Vietnamese people. I would prefer to put Article 1 as it is now, but to take into account that not only the United States respects, we propose to write it, “The U.S. and all other countries respect the independence . . .” There is no need to change the place of the provision as you propose. Then I would like to write it “The U.S. and all other countries.”

Now regarding the Preamble of the Agreement. If the four parties sign the agreement, then we will mention the four governments. If the agreement is signed by two parties then it will be written: the DRV Government with the concurrence of the PRG of the Republic of South Vietnam, the U.S. with the concurrence of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam. If the agreement is signed by four parties there will be mention of the four governments. If the agreement is signed by two parties, then it will be mentioned the DRV Government with the concurrence of . . . The U.S. Government with the concurrence of etc. . . . If you accept to write the Preamble as I just mentioned, then regarding the word “administrative structure” in Vietnamese—as you know it is a very great question for us. We have dropped the three segment government. It will have a very great impact if we drop these two words—four words. But if you accept dropping the word, the four words “co can chanh guyen.” I will agree with you to put “will form the National Council,” etc. Thus you realize that if you respond to our necessities I respond to yours immediately. Because it is our question of concern, and I know that “administrative structure” is your question of concern. But what do you propose regarding the Demilitarized Zone and the military demarcation line? This is another question. Likewise your proposal regarding the respect of each other’s territory, or the four Indochinese states in Article 20(d) that you propose. We can’t accept that. Because when we put “the Indochinese countries” we have responded to your requirement already, because previously we put [Page 1018] “the three Indochinese countries” and you agreed to that and we have agreed on that. But then you proposed an amendment to write “the Indochinese countries,” which we accepted on November 20.

Dr. Kissinger: I remember.

Le Duc Tho: And I agreed to you. It is a show of good will on our part because we understand the significance of this question. So it was formerly written “three Indochinese countries” and now you prefer “the four Indochinese states.” So we should say an average, a middle of the way solution that is “the Indochinese countries.” So it is already a logical and reasonable solution, “the Indochinese countries.” I told you this from the very beginning. I accept any reasonable and logical settlement immediately. I do not want to drag on the debate or the haggling.

Even the DMZ is an important question, but I agreed to you last time already. So I have proposed a satisfactory solution. But what I propose is that the two parties, north and south, will agree on the regulations for movement across the DMZ. So after the ceasefire the two parties shall respect the DMZ but at the same time they have to agree on the statute of the DMZ because the situation is different now. So I have responded to your requirement requiring the DMZ but at the same time I would like that discussion should be had on the statute, because at the same time they respect the DMZ they will discuss it. And moreover when the ceasefire becomes effective then there will be international control at that point. We will discuss the protocol. The two parties are prohibited from introducing troops, armaments and war material into South Vietnam when the agreement is signed. We will not do that. But for the movement in this region there should be some regulation because it is different now from what it was before. Because in the past there were two hostile parties; now it is different. There should be discussion. Because the main purpose of the DMZ is to prevent both parties from introducing armaments and war material. Because there is Article 7 of the agreement that the two South Vietnamese shall not accept any introduction of troops, armaments or war material into South Vietnam. The PRG will respect this provision. The Saigon administration will respect this provision. Moreover, there is the International Commission which will control the implementation of the provision. So when I take into account your concern and accept the mention of the DMZ you should also take into account my concern and accept adding the sentence I have just mentioned. So on the question of the DMZ and the question of the three Indochinese countries we should find an average solution acceptable to both. These are the points to which we think we have brought a correct solution.

Now regarding the demobilization within three months, here is my view. It does not mean that when we proposed the question of [Page 1019] demobilization that we will not carry out this provision. We can add a sentence “The two parties will complete these steps on the reduction of effectives and the demobilization as soon as possible.” We propose that because the real situation is as follows. While U.S. forces have not yet withdrawn the political situation in South Vietnam is not yet stabilized. It will be stabilized within three months if the Saigon administration fully implements the agreement. It would be unrealistic if the reduction of military strength is carried out during this period. So I would let this question to be solved by the two South Vietnamese parties, but these steps should be completed as soon as possible. So I have offered a middle of the road formula. You should also realize the real situation. When we implement the agreement we will carry out this provision on the reduction and demobilization of troops.

Now regarding the question of civilian personnel. We propose to add one sentence. I would like to add a sentence about the foreign civilian technicians in the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam. At the beginning of the last sentence of Article 5. But I would like to have a unilateral understanding with you regarding this provision. I would like to have a unilateral understanding as follows: American and other foreign civilian personnel in the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam will be withdrawn from South Vietnam. The greater part of them will be withdrawn from South Vietnam within 60 days and the rest will be withdrawn within 120 days after the signing of the agreement. It stands to reason that after the end of the war all civilian personnel associated with military activities should be withdrawn because you end your involvement in South Vietnam. By taking into account of your situation I have accepted that the greater part of the personnel of your forces will be withdrawn within 60 days but the remaining will be withdrawn within two months later, that is in all four months after the signing of the agreement. So on the questions you have just raised, I have pointed out our concrete proposals.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, there is one aspect in our negotiations that just when one thinks one is practically finished with the agreement something happens that makes it practically impossible. First let me make a comment with respect to civilian personnel.

Le Duc Tho: Please.

Dr. Kissinger: There is a sort of a fever chart in these negotiations which, like malaria, keeps going up and down and which never seems to be finally resolved. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: We have made some progress. It goes up all the time.

Dr. Kissinger: And the Special Adviser is so subtle that no concession of his is ever final and nothing he withdraws is ever fully withdrawn. I admire his skill. He finds a difficult point or a sore point and he sticks in a pin and then he asks for a reward for pulling it out [Page 1020] again, and then he sticks it in again and this process gets repeated indefinitely. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: It is not true.

Dr. Kissinger: It is about time we end our negotiations because I am beginning to learn many of the tactics the Special Adviser is employing. I was under the impression that the issues both of 8(c) and of civilian personnel had been settled two days ago and that we would then turn to other issues. Now yesterday afternoon I proposed some changes as a sign of good will without even being asked. I offered a change in the civilian personnel provision which happens to be the absolute maximum which we can make. I offered it without even being asked for it. It prevents us from assigning civilians to tasks which previously had been performed only by military. It prevents us from engaging in activities in which we are violating the spirit of the agreement. Now as for the civilians that are there they are mostly technicians of highly specialized capabilities who are training South Vietnamese. Over a period of time most of them will be withdrawn—all of them will be withdrawn. There is no desire to have a permanent civilian presence in this country.

Le Duc Tho: What time do you prefer then? Because you have said that they will be kept there for some time. But there should be some time.

Dr. Kissinger: I can tell you that our people tell us two years. But they would be gradually reduced. Since you are so eager to maintain the previous agreement, under the previous agreement they were permitted indefinitely. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: If then you would leave behind tens of thousands of civilian personnel, how can you end your involvement?

Dr. Kissinger: We are not talking of tens of thousands of civilian personnel. The total number is about 1,300 who are government people and about 5,000 who have nothing to do with the government.

Le Duc Tho: So far as we know there are tens of thousands of American civilians.

Dr. Kissinger: Total nonsense. I can give you the exact figure and we aren’t even playing games with you because if I wanted to I could say there are only a thousand government people which is true and the others are commercial. There are not tens of thousands. That is total nonsense. But I will give you the exact figures.

Le Duc Tho: But the information available to us, and in the American press too, it is said that there are tens of thousands of American civilians.

Dr. Kissinger: The American press has done more damage in the last few months with its stupid speculations than one would care to remember.

[Page 1021]

Le Duc Tho: Moreover it is not true when you say that we are approaching or nearing a settlement that an element arises and prevents a settlement. It is not true. Moreover, I dropped the question of 8(c) and the question of civilian personnel if the agreement was maintained as it had been and only minor changes are brought about. But since then you have asked for many changes. Among them there are significant changes. Therefore, I have dropped Article 8(c) but I retain the question of the civilian personnel because you have raised other questions.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, if this were purely a bilateral negotiation we could keep this up indefinitely and eventually we would settle. Because by proceeding in this way we would sooner or later find some position in which the various concessions balance each other off. But we are not negotiating bilaterally. I have tried to explain to you since November 20 what our actual situation is. Either we can go to Saigon with Presidential backing and say we have made an agreement which you do not like but which we believe is very fair and therefore regardless of consequences we will proceed. But we cannot do this if a significant part of our population believes that Saigon was right in refusing the agreement. If a significant part of our population does not believe this then they will think that we have acted totally morally incorrectly and nothing will happen. Then you can publish it again. We can start calling each other names again, but the result will be that we will conclude that the hostility between the Vietnamese parties is so great and that the complexity of making a comprehensive agreement between them is so great that this is a negotiation we will not again conduct. I am speaking very honestly to you. So we are not trying to squeeze you for another advantage.

What we proposed to you after we came back from the break was frankly our best judgment of what we could quickly, in a matter of days, obtain in Saigon. What you are proposing has the consequence of depriving us of support in America and then making it impossible to act rapidly if at all in Saigon, even assuming we wanted to do it. This is the fact.

What will determine the future of Indochina? First, it will be determined whether there is peace or war. We know the consequences of war so there is no sense talking about it. We can all make our guesses as to what will happen. We have debated it too often. If there is peace what will determine the future of Indochina? We know history will not stop the day the agreement is signed. We are not children. What will determine the future of Indochina will be the objective political tendencies in South Vietnam, in North Vietnam and in the other countries of Indochina. These realities cannot be invented; they either exist or they do not exist. Secondly, if we don’t want to disengage from Indochina we would not make any agreement. Thirdly, if you and we [Page 1022] can establish more normal relationships, many of the problems after peace is made will have a completely different aspect. Because we will not look at each other any more as mortal enemies. In some categories we will cooperate. In all categories we will have a normal relationship.

In 1970 Americans thought of the Chinese as a nation of devils and if a Chinese diplomat showed up anywhere there was great agitation. Today we have a different relationship. And we can deal with each other much less hysterically. Today you and we are enemies. And we look at each other with great suspicion. If we make peace and if after peace we have wisdom, which is not always guaranteed, then in a year or two years we will look at each other differently.

So those are the real issues. And strangely enough, and probably you won’t believe this, when we ask for some concessions we are asking for it in our common interest. We are asking for your help. The United States gets no benefit from whether North and South Vietnam write something that respects the DMZ under conditions in which the armies on both sides of the DMZ are not exactly hostile to each other, as the Minister has well understood. But it would strengthen both our domestic position with respect to the agreement and our ability to sell the agreement in an extraordinary way. I don’t get any rewards in Washington from getting any concessions out of you. The best result for us is if we can get an agreement that we can convince Saigon to sign rapidly and that we can be convinced we ought to pressure Saigon to sign rapidly. That is what we are after. So this is the point at which we now are, where we can either have peace rapidly or engage in an endless debate which will later perhaps be studied by students of theology rather than diplomacy.

I am sorry if I have spoken at such length.

Le Duc Tho: Let me express a few ideas of mine. You have just said that you would no longer amend the Preamble of the agreement as we have agreed to. Then I responded to you immediately by dropping the words “co can chanh guyen,” “Administrative structure, in Vietnamese, as you proposed. Regarding Article 1, about U.S. respect, I have also responded by offering a formula that was acceptable to you.

Dr. Kissinger: No it wasn’t. I haven’t discussed that yet because that is bilateral. But I will let you finish.

Le Duc Tho: Take the provision regarding demobilization. We did not want to change it, but we have added a sentence to show positiveness in presentation. On the question of civilian personnel, I raise it for us to discuss it. This shows that when you respond to our requirements, I also respond to your requirements. As I explained the other day, if peace is restored then it is in the interest of both sides. The other day I explained in detail. We know that you have your requirements, and there are points which are hard for you to explain to your [Page 1023] people. But we too, we have questions that would be hard for us to explain to our people. It is my expectation, my hope that after the settlement the relationship between us will become better and better. We envisage also the long term interests of both sides. Therefore we have made a great effort and you know that. I know that now a number of questions will have to be settled between us. We have already settled a number of them. It is now 7 o’clock already. I am a little tired already. Please, I would invite you to consider our views. I will ponder over your views and tomorrow we will meet again.

We need further consideration. But as I told you if you respond to me, I will respond to you. In this spirit tomorrow we will meet again if you desire that.

Dr. Kissinger: I will, Mr. Special Adviser, but please consider one problem. Of course you are a country of great dignity, which you have earned, and you have every right to demand strict reciprocity. But there is a reciprocity that is greater than trading one article against another article. (Tho laughs) And that is whether we can really now be colleagues in searching for peace. Because you have to measure now not only what you gain in this or that article, but what you gain by peace as against war. The only settlements that last are those where both parties in the long term believe that they benefitted from it. And if we haggle much longer, then events will have the great danger of running away from us.

We made an assessment, a genuine assessment of how we think we could within a matter of a few days get the agreement, the rapid agreement of Saigon. We presented it honestly to you, we really did. Now that can be modified here and there. But think it over in its structure.

Now let us talk about Article 1. I honestly had no authority to accept the text of Article 1. I was instructed prior to my last trip to Hanoi to suppress it on the basis of a personal appeal to your leadership in order to establish a better basis of relations. I think I can probably convince the President if we move it to another part of the document, if the rest of the document is acceptable. I don’t think your test helps. In many ways it makes it worse because it singles out the United States among the whole list of countries (Tho laughs).

Le Duc Tho: Why has it become worse?

Dr. Kissinger: It becomes worse because you say all countries have to respect it but unless the United States is mentioned separately it will evade that responsibility. So this position of that article is really impossible for us. So I think it has to be changed and then it can stay where it is or it can remain as it is and then be moved. I am trying to tell you what the reality . . . I am trying to have you understand what the reality is. So we are at this point and the reason I reacted so sharply [Page 1024] to your civilian language is that it weakens even further the ability to affect the biggest problem we have, which is the mission which if you ever let General Haig out of here we will send him with the Vice President. So we are really beyond the point of bargaining. We are at a point where we have to make a decision whether to settle or not to settle. I think we understand each other now. But I accept what the Special Adviser said to me—tomorrow—where and when?

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Special Adviser. Let me express a few ideas. Then we shall meet tomorrow again. As to the position of Article 1, we maintain that it should be Article 1 at the beginning of the agreement because it deals with our independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity. It overrides the whole agreement. Because if it is put in Chapter IV it deals with the Chapter regarding the exercise of the South Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination, but here it deals with the whole of Vietnam. So the position of Article 1 at the beginning of the agreement shows that the United States respects these rights for both North and South Vietnam. It is our desire to make it more general when I propose the U.S. and all other countries. It is not our intention to make it worse. It is also an important provision for us. This is a provision we had agreed to before. But I received instructions from my government not to change it. Hanoi criticized me very sharply on this point.

Dr. Kissinger: I am being criticized every day.

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Special Adviser, please bring a correct solution to this question tomorrow. I will have a correct solution to your proposition. Because this provision deals with you only. It is not a difficult one and moreover we have put it “the U.S. and all other countries”—all other countries because it is an agreement between the DRV and the U.S. That is the reason I put it like that. You are right when you say that we should differentiate what is bigger from what is smaller. But we should both look into both the concrete, the details and the bigger significance. It would be incorrect if we dropped the details and only kept to the bigger things. But if we look into the details, keep the details but drop the bigger things it is also incorrect. We should harmonize the big and the small things, because they have an interrelationship—complete each other. It does not mean that we only see the details and we overlook the big things. Tomorrow both of us will make efforts. Time is over now. Now we will consider your views.

Dr. Kissinger: May I make one procedural point, otherwise I will have to prolong the meeting. The Special Adviser always manages to speak last so that he can make me speak first the next morning. If the Special Adviser, even though he spoke last today, will agree to speak first tomorrow, I will agree to adjourn. Otherwise I will have to make another statement. (Laughter) Is that agreed?

[Page 1025]

Le Duc Tho: We will decide this question tomorrow. I propose tomorrow afternoon, to have time to consider your views. Because if we meet in the afternoon we will have time in the morning. If we have a meeting in the morning then we will have a rest in the afternoon. I am confident that if we make an effort as we have done today, tomorrow we will make a bigger step forward, in a realistic spirit and taking into account of each others necessities, then the settlement will be made quickly. If not, it will be prolonged. Whenever Mr. Special Adviser gives me an appropriate response, I always respond to you appropriately.

We can sum up the situation now. You propose the change. I insist on maintaining it. This is exactly the situation. And I have responded to many of your changes. And you have not responded to our changes.

Dr. Kissinger: But Mr. Special Adviser, we are reaching the point where it will turn into a debating exercise. Tomorrow we should make an effort. If it doesn’t succeed we should draw the conclusion that we can’t settle it and then whether you made seven concessions and we made three isn’t important—this isn’t a football game. We have stated to you what we think frankly is needed to settle the matter rapidly. None of these proposals do us as a nation any good. We will look again. The only area we have any margin left is the area which affects our honor, but that is practically the only area where we can do anything. And I must be very honest with you—not on the civilians and not on the DMZ.

So tomorrow will be very decisive. Shall we have it a restricted meeting again?

Le Duc Tho: You want to insist what you pay attention to is the question of the DMZ and the question of civilian personnel. Is it true? It is so hard to understand you.

Dr. Kissinger: We cannot go any further than we have on these issues.

Le Duc Tho: So you pay attention to those two questions. Your concern is these two questions. But regarding Article 1 you may bring one change to it. I understand you can go further in Article 1.

Dr. Kissinger: I do not know. I have to discuss it with the President. But really, please, you look very carefully at what we proposed right after the break. It is in our view the surest means of getting a practically immediate settlement not from our point of view but from the point of view of the whole situation. It is the best way of avoiding producing a piece of paper that does nothing but produce another set of controversy. (Tho nods) And maybe you can find a better formula. We have no particular interest in any one formula. We are not as subtle.

Le Duc Tho: Now you have understood what is the point I wanted to have. And I have understood which point you want to have. Now we should try to find out formulas for these questions.

[Page 1026]

Dr. Kissinger: All right. Now where shall we meet tomorrow?

Le Duc Tho: It is a good place to meet in Gif sur-Yvette.

Dr. Kissinger: The French Government has asked me why we accept hospitality from the French Communist Party but not from the French Government. (Tho laughs) Yes, we will meet in Gif.

Xuan Thuy: You should answer that you have been received by the French President and the French Foreign Minister.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, true, but not together with you. All I can say is whenever the Minister calls on the French Foreign Minister he confuses him even more than me. (Laughter) Good, we will meet at what time?

Le Duc Tho: Three o’clock.

Dr. Kissinger: All right. The whole group?

Le Duc Tho: Up to you.

Dr. Kissinger: Let everybody come. Otherwise I have a revolution on my staff. They all like to see me tormented. (Laughter) Will I tell the Special Adviser what his tactics are? I just want him to know I am on to him. I will aim for a point over here. Then he waves a red flag at a point over there. I charge like crazy at that direction and then he takes the flag away. I am terribly confused and I forget I wanted to go that way to start with. Like a bullfight. I have learned your methods, too late unfortunately. (Laughter)

[The meeting ended at 7:20 p.m.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 859, For the President’s Files (Winston Lord) China Trip/Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. XXII, Minutes of Meetings, Paris, December 4–13, 1972. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 31 Boulevard de la Saussaye, Neuilly-sur-Seine. All brackets are in the original.

    According to Kissinger’s report to the President, this meeting was “a brutal four-and-a-half hour session.” (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 151) Tentatively, however, the outcome was positive. In his memoir, Kissinger wrote that after the meeting, “we were now down essentially to two issues: the DMZ and American civilian personnel. Compared with what had already been settled, these could be dealt with in one session provided the desire was there. On this assumption I asked Haig to return to Washington. If we settled on December 9, I wanted him ready to leave for Saigon the next morning with the Vice President to obtain Thieu’s concurrence.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1436)

    The Politburo, however, remained unwilling to reach a settlement on those terms. A Politburo message to Le Duc Tho the next day commenting on the meeting and giving him guidance stated:

    “The 8 December meeting reveals that even though the U.S. is being forced to withdraw from the war in Vietnam, they still want to achieve the best possible settlement for the U.S. and their puppets.

    “We will not agree to any settlement that includes anything that might be interpreted as stating that South Vietnam is a separate country. This includes such wording as, ʻ. . . the four countries of Indochina,’ ʻ. . . within the territories of North and South Vietnam,’ etc. We must continue to demand the withdrawal of U.S. civilian personnel because this is an important aspect of ending U.S. involvement in South Vietnam.” (Message from the Politburo to Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy, 9 December 1972, in Doan Duc, et al., compilers, Major Events: The Diplomatic Struggle and International Activities during the Resistance War Against the Americans to Save the Nation, 1954–1975, volume 4, pp. 357–358)