37. 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
  • 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
  • Major General Alexander M. Haig, Jr., 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 see you have your language expert with you again. [Vietnamese laugh.] I am even prepared to speak first, Mr. Special Adviser.

Le Duc Tho: Please then. It is very good.

Dr. Kissinger: I know when I am defeated. There is no sense increasing its magnitude by struggle.

We agreed yesterday, I believe, that we have reached a point now in which we should be able to tell very quickly whether we can settle or whether a settlement is impossible. We both made efforts yesterday [Page 1029] to narrow the differences, and we made definite progress yesterday. And at the end of the meeting we explained to each other very honestly what our requirements are and what our needs are in order to have a very rapid agreement. And we said we would look at each other’s requirements. In this it isn’t only a question any more, at this late stage, of the number of concessions, but of whether we can find a realistic method that can rapidly end the war.

As I told the Special Adviser yesterday, if we can conclude today on the basic principles of the agreement I would send General Haig home tonight and he would leave tomorrow night with the Vice President for Saigon. This has its importance, because it would prevent any further acts of intransigence and would set matters firmly on the path towards a very rapid peace.

So we have been in touch with Washington over night, specifically with respect to Article 1, which, as I have explained to the Special Adviser, is a very painful and a very difficult one for us, one which involves the President very directly and which he had always instructed me to get changed. But as a maximum show of good will, and in order to be able to prove that he has done everything that he can possibly do to bring about peace, the President agrees with the formulation that the Special Adviser gave me yesterday: “The United States and all countries respect the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Vietnam.” And as a further sign of good will, he agrees with placing it as Article 1. That is a very big effort on his part. He had always insisted that it should be moved to Article 4.

Under those conditions he believes Article 4 is not necessary.

We also accept the formulation that the Special Adviser has given us for the conclusion of Article 13, about the compromise formulation “as soon as possible.”

We require the original language on the DMZ—the language we had last week, and something along the lines of what I said yesterday after the break.

And on civilian personnel we can go no further than the sentences we handed you.

So we have made a very big effort and we believe that we should on this basis now conclude the agreement.

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Special Adviser, I would like to know definitely whether we have reached agreement yesterday regarding the Preamble, the mention of the four governments: Government of the United States, the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Provisional Revolutionary Government and the Government of the Republic of Vietnam, and in return I will drop the calling of “administrative structure.” Because at the end of the meeting, Mr. Special Adviser had not expressed his view on that point.

[Page 1030]

Dr. Kissinger: Let me express my view on the Preamble, Mr. Special Adviser. We accept mentioning the PRG in the Preamble. We believe now that the formulation of the October agreement is the best way for us to proceed. That is to say, “The United States acting in concert with,” or “with the concurrence of,” “the Government of the Republic of Vietnam; the DRV acting in concert with,” or “the concurrence of”—“acting in concert with “is a little better—the PRG.” Then when we initial it in Hanoi it will be a binding document and then we can proceed to a signature regardless of what last minute obstacles may arise. So on this basis I confirm the concession of yesterday.

Le Duc Tho: And I would like to ask, Mr. Special Adviser, one more question. Then if the Preamble is written as you have described, then the signing, how the agreement will be signed? I want to ask this question for clarification.

Dr. Kissinger: It will be signed by the Foreign Minister of the United States and by the Foreign Minister of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and there would then be two letters of adherence by the PRG and by the Government of the Republic of Vietnam just as we had planned. It is exactly the procedure we had planned in October. But the signing would be in Paris—we proposed and I thought we had agreed—by our Foreign Minister, Secretary Rogers, and by your Foreign Minister.

Le Duc Tho: I ask you this question, Mr. Special Adviser, for my information. Now let me speak my views.

Actually yesterday we made a step forward. Today we both should make an effort to advance further. Of course, to make a further advance both sides should make efforts, but the greater efforts should come from you. [Laughter] It is also my desire to advance very rapidly.

Dr. Kissinger: I will never accuse the Special Adviser of excessive generosity.

Le Duc Tho: But now the remaining questions are great questions indeed. Yesterday we solved two questions with both sides, as yesterday we discussed. Now listening to Mr. Special Adviser speaking about Article 1 I was optimistic regarding “The United States and all other countries respect,” etc. But my optimism is removed when you ask for dropping Article 4, because Article 4 made specific provision for South Vietnam. Because if this provision, this Article 4, is dropped, then there is no pledge at all of U.S. to discontinue its military involvement and its intervention in South Vietnam.

And this provision is in very explicit language. Now we have published the document. If now we delete this article then the people of South Vietnam will think that the U.S. now will continue its military involvement and its intervention in South Vietnam. It would be very [Page 1031] difficult for us. Therefore this proposal is unacceptable to us. Therefore I propose to Mr. Special Adviser that if you desire rapid settlement, please keep Article 4 and keep Article 1 as you have just described. Both articles. This will speed up our negotiations. Probably you are still in a posture where you want to hand out with one hand but you want to pull back by the other.

Dr. Kissinger: The Special Adviser never gets into this posture. He doesn’t hand out with one hand.

Le Duc Tho: Because if Mr. Special Adviser gave by one hand and take back by the other, then it is tantamount to nought.

Dr. Kissinger: Incidentally I hope those tapes are never played in Washington, because when Washington hears how I get treated by the Special Adviser they will never let me negotiate again. [Vietnamese laugh.]

Article I was a very big effort for the President.

Le Duc Tho: No, Article 1 is one article we had agreed to. Now you ask for a change, but I would like to only maintain as it had been. You have been attacking me all the time and I am always in the defensive position. It is a fact, Mr. Special Adviser.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, I can assure you that the President had instructed me not to accept it. And in any event it is senseless to discuss, because we had agreed yesterday that it was a very difficult matter and I would make a special request to Washington. If I were to say now this was not considered very seriously, they will conclude that nothing we do can make any difference.

Le Duc Tho: Actually you have accepted to write Article 1 as we proposed, but fairly speaking if you now ask for the removal of Article 4 then it will neutralize your acceptation. Moreover the people of South Vietnam will be worried about the role that the U.S. will play in South Vietnam. Therefore after listening to your proposal I think that I have just got out of one difficulty to fall into another one. It is a fact.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me . . . why don’t we hear what else the Adviser has to say, and then we will discuss.

Le Duc Tho: It is my view that both of us want to reach a peaceful settlement and the sooner the better. But in order to settle the problem we should see or realize each other’s difficulties and necessities in an objective way. Naturally if you make an effort, we will make an effort too. Throughout our negotiation, even yesterday, I have made efforts to respond to meet your necessity. And actually what I want is to keep what we have agreed to. Today, to bring our negotiations to success both sides should meet each other’s necessities in a very fair way; otherwise, as you said, we will be in a very difficult position. As I told you, in our negotiation perhaps it may happen that there only two or [Page 1032] three questions left, but if these two or three questions are not solved then no settlement is reached.

Last week you raised many changes to the agreement. There were 9 points—9 changes. I responded to you 7 of the 9. Now there are 2 left. And with the outstanding questions left, here they are. Let me list them out and see how we have solved them. Now the outstanding questions are:

Regarding Article 1; now we accept your acceptations.

Dr. Kissinger: As a sign of good will and serious attitude?

Le Duc Tho: If you drop your proposal on dropping Article 4, it would be really a good will on your part. Then I would evaluate your good will. [Laughter]

The second question is the question of the DMZ.

The third question is the question of civilian personnel associated with military activities.

The fourth question regards Article 8(c).

Dr. Kissinger: 8(c) again?

Le Duc Tho: 8(c).

Dr. Kissinger: Oh, this is our daily discussion on 8(c).

Le Duc Tho: I add one thing only. We stand by what we agreed to yesterday. I accept your commitment you sent us in the message.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, we will discuss all understandings tomorrow so that they are very precise, or whenever the agreement is finished.

Le Duc Tho: I have written exactly your commitment here and I sent to President Nixon your commitment and President Nixon has acknowledged the message.

Dr. Kissinger: Simply for the record, we listed all understandings to you in a separate message. We did not include this as a formal understanding. But we are prepared to make an understanding of this. But I think the record does not support that President Nixon acknowledged, accepted this particular understanding; I sent you all the understandings. But we will make an understanding on this issue. I am not rejecting an understanding—I just want the record to be clear—so I am not rejecting an understanding. But I think we should discuss all understandings together.

Le Duc Tho: I would like to speak one word and then we shift to another question.

When there were two questions—two outstanding questions—the question of civilian detainees and the question of replacement of armaments. When President Nixon sent the message to our Prime Minister, he said these were the two outstanding questions, then we met your requirement on these two questions. And in the chapter on the captured [Page 1033] personnel, your understanding was rewritten, then President Nixon replied to our message saying that he was satisfied with our good will and said that the agreement might be considered as completed. This is a fact.

And when we discuss the unilateral understandings we will return to that.

Dr. Kissinger: We will return to it. I simply—because you have a tendency to be very free with President Nixon’s name. If we were talking about ourselves, we would reserve it. We were talking about two things: the first message dealt with the text of the agreement. Then there was the second message that dealt with understandings; we listed all the outstanding understandings and we said specifically, so that there will be no misunderstanding, these are the understandings that are outstanding. And so the record does not support [the assertion] that the President has accepted some understanding here. But we will come to an understanding on this tomorrow. We are willing to come to an understanding on the general framework that the Special Adviser has said; we just don’t want President Nixon’s name used all the time. Now I just wanted to clarify the record. I am not challenging what you have said in your notification to me.

But as long as you are talking about Article 8, I must call your attention to one other point. We have made clear on innumerable occasions, including our communications to you, that the U.S. will under no circumstances sign an agreement that does not unconditionally guarantee the return of all its military and civilian prisoners throughout Indochina. Madame Binh made a comment yesterday in which she implied that the American prisoners held by the PRG might not be released. This is totally unacceptable to us and will lead to a breakdown in the agreement.

Le Duc Tho: I do not answer the question you raise now. I will turn to it later. Because I am listing the outstanding questions before us.

Dr. Kissinger: I just say that every day the Special Adviser makes as a concession the withdrawal of Article 8(c), and I pay for the same thing only three times.

Le Duc Tho: It is not true. It is small things. I will raise to you later. I will keep as it was.

Dr. Kissinger: All right.

Le Duc Tho: So we are now facing four questions as I have just listed.

First, Article 1 related to Article 4.

Second, the question of the DMZ.

Third, the question of civilian personnel.

Four, Article 8(c), with a little change. Be calm. Be calm. [Tho laughs.] No big change.

[Page 1034]

Dr. Kissinger: The Special Adviser has already pocketed something. He is a great magician. But as long as he is listing it . . .

Le Duc Tho [laughing]: You are now returning the words to me earlier.

Dr. Kissinger: I beg your pardon.

Le Duc Tho: You are now returning the words to me earlier.

Dr. Kissinger: He’s pocketing a concession I gave to him, which he should list, namely the three months at the end of Article 13. The mere fact that I agreed to your point doesn’t mean you can drop it and keep a list of all the things you want from me. [Vietnamese laugh.]

Le Duc Tho: You have just touched the point.

Dr. Kissinger: I admit it was only an average effort, but I want to say that the Special Adviser owes me now an average effort.

Le Duc Tho: I want it two months only.

Dr. Kissinger: You want the two-months demobilization?

Le Duc Tho: No, 8(c). I will return to it later. Let me speak my views on the various questions. Now let me speak my views on these four questions.

Dr. Kissinger: I also had made a point that we asked for some understanding, some reference—unless he lists it under the DMZ—that would help us. Yesterday I gave you two possibilities. But I understand that—when there is another suggestion we will consider it.

I know the Special Adviser’s methods. We start out with four issues on each side. I concede one and it then disappears. So already . . .

Le Duc Tho: You will make some more effort to meet our requirements and we shall find out formulas. Let me speak to each of these questions.

Now first I would like to speak about Article 1. I have explained to you the reason why I stick to Article 1. If you write this article it is one further benefit for both sides. [Kissinger laughs.] I am speaking frankly.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser . . .

Le Duc Tho: I have explained many times the reason. I just repeat it. I really request you not to drop Article 4, because if you ask for dropping Article 4 then the difficulties will be very great for us. Therefore I told you that it may happen that only one question remain and it will constitute a roadblock.

The second question—the DMZ. Really we have endeavored to find out a formula to maintain as you propose. But if we just put only the word “the DMZ,” it will not do. The other day you referred to Article 24 of the Geneva Agreement of 1954. We did not accept mention of Article 24 and you agreed with us. Now you want to put the DMZ. Then we proposed to add that “North and South Vietnam will agree [Page 1035] on the statute of the DMZ and the modalities for movement across the demarcation line.” Now we drop the words “The two parties will agree on the statute of the DMZ,” but we propose to put “North and South Vietnam will agree on the regulations for movement across the demarcation lines.”

And we do not agree to put this sentence in the provision regarding the normalization of relations between the North and the South. I put this sentence further above, because the normal relationship between North and South on various fields [is not] including only the movement across the demarcation line, but the relationship between the North and South should be laid down on various fields. Moreover, the communications between the North and South includes [not] only communications on the ground; there are also sea communications and air communications. So this sentence, as you propose, is put in the wrong place. Therefore I propose to put it above. So we propose to write “shall respect the DMZ and agree on the regulations for movement across the demarcation line” for the movement of the population of either side, north and south of the demarcation line.

Dr. Kissinger: On the regulations for the movement of population?

Le Duc Tho: The regulation for movement across the demarcation line. I would like to add this sentence. Therefore we say we have tried to find formula to solve this question.

Regarding the civilian personnel. This is a great question too. So it will be unacceptable if you keep a very big number of civilian personnel in South Vietnam. They should be withdrawn. But regarding the time for their withdrawal we may come to an understanding on that point. Yesterday I told you that the period for the withdrawal is within four months after the ceasefire. Now I can accept the period will be six months after the ceasefire. We have strived to find out ways to solve the problem.

Now, regarding Article 8(c), I would like to say this. You understand our feeling regarding the prisoners. Now I will only want to propose that the period for the two South Vietnamese to solve this question is not three months but two months, to reduce the time of detention of these people, to ease their sufferings. On October 17 when you talked with Minister Xuan Thuy you said that this period might be two months.

Dr. Kissinger: The Minister has an extraordinary memory, for which I congratulate him. That is the danger in having poets conducting foreign policy.

Le Duc Tho: These are my views on the four outstanding questions. Now there is another question. I will point it out and probably you will say that I will bring out more problems. This question comes from [Page 1036] our difficulty with regard to the PRG, regarding the role of Indonesia within the International Commission. Madame Binh has on several occasions expressed her disagreement to Indonesia. In our negotiation it is against our desire to bring out more questions, new questions. But it is requirement by the PRG—Indonesia should be changed. I agree with you that if you want to change the membership of the International Commission on our side I agree with you to change it. If you agree to change Indonesia then you can propose us to change any member from our side. But this question I propose to discuss when we have solved all the other questions. The main thing is to solve the outstanding questions. As to the change of the members of the International Commission, both sides can propose. It is a minor question and both sides can change.

Dr. Kissinger: Except that I have already talked to President Suharto on behalf of the President. It is not a minor question to us, as you well know.

Le Duc Tho: I know that you have difficulties in this connection. This is a requirement [request] of the PRG and also of the South Vietnamese people. We will discuss this question later. Let us concentrate on these four questions.

So regarding the effort we have made yesterday to you, for instance, the question of the DMZ, we have tried to find out some solution. Regarding civilian personnel, we have prolonged the period for their withdrawal. So in each question we have made an effort. It is our great efforts. We have taken into account of your proposals for changes and among them there are significant ones. You should do the same.

If now we look into the agreement the only change we have proposed is regarding Article 8(c), to change three months into two months.

As to the question of Indonesia, I would like to raise this question. We will discuss it. Speaking of changes, these are the only two changes we propose. As to the other part we would not change any word. These are the outstanding questions. I have listed them now. Let us now discuss.

Besides the point we have raised now, we will not bring any other changes. The proposals we have made in the past we drop them—a number of questions I brought up regarding the political questions of South Vietnam. Besides the points you have raised and we have agreed to, the other points will no longer exist.

Dr. Kissinger: Which other point?

Le Duc Tho: Besides the changes you proposed and we have agreed to. Besides that there is no other questions.

Dr. Kissinger: But that was the situation last night already. I mean, we can’t pay every day for the withdrawal of things that were already withdrawn the day before. It is a good tactic. [Vietnamese laugh.]

[Page 1037]

Le Duc Tho: I would like only to recall that.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me make some observations, and then perhaps we should take a break. I thought yesterday at the end of our meeting we had done two major things. One, we had dealt constructively with some concrete issues. Second, we had reached a real understanding as to the nature of the remaining problems, and it seemed to me that if this attitude could survive on both sides for another day that we would come to a solution today. I also said that we would now know whether a solution is possible.

Now I have told you all week long what our problem is and I told you again yesterday. Our problem is not to engage in a sporting match with you in which we keep a tabulation as to who made what concession to whom, which will be forgotten in a month or two; our problem is to find an agreement which can then be implemented rapidly. In this effort I have tried, obviously unsuccessfully, to explain to you that some things you list as concessions are really in our common interest. We cannot, and we will not, make the extremely difficult and painful efforts unless the President is able to say with a clear conscience that certain minimum requirements had been met. We cannot keep our Vice President standing by to await the results of something that is becoming increasingly like a horsetrade, [Tho laughs] and where every session begins in such a way that we are asked to be grateful after two hours to be back at a point we thought we settled the night before.

What were the concessions? What were the issues today? You know very well that you don’t want Article 1 in order to make the U.S. popular among your population. This is not listed among the ten principal objectives in Ho Chi Minh’s Testament. [Tho laughs.] You want Article 1 because you will, after a peace is made, use it to say we were the aggressor, and this is how you will use it not only in North but in South Vietnam. I am speaking very plainly. If you were only interested in the substance you wouldn’t care where the article is placed in the agreement. So this is not just a symbolic act; it has a certain objective context. And, therefore this agreement to your formulation is a tremendous concession from us.

Le Duc Tho: But you ask to drop Article 4.

Dr. Kissinger: Which you will use the same way. [Tho laughs.] But let us put aside Article 4 for a moment. What are you asking us to do in return? You gave us a formulation on the DMZ which has the same practical consequence as the one we objected to: you are substituting the word “regulation” for the word “statute.” That is the only concession.

Le Duc Tho: These are two different things. One is statute of the DMZ. It is different from the regulation for movement.

Dr. Kissinger: At this particular moment it is not that the DMZ is untravelled. [Laughter] I think the Minister understands. Is this your expert on the DMZ?

[Page 1038]

Le Duc Tho: The two different situations. Now there is not yet ceasefire, and when there is a ceasefire the agreement will be implemented and the situation will become different. We did the same in 1954. But I do not want to recall here the historical circumstances of the DMZ. The DMZ contains many causes of the present situation. But when we come to an agreement and the agreement is implemented the situation is different.

Dr. Kissinger: Well, what the situation would be after an agreement is a different matter. I am talking about what we are facing, and you are then asking us to worsen Article 5 in such a way that the armed forces of our allies will be paralyzed after a certain number of months, and you have paid no attention whatever to even attempting to find a formula for what we said yesterday. In addition you are changing Article 8(c), making it two months, which inextricably links our prisoners with the civilian detainees and adds an additional burden on South Vietnam. And then you want to drop Indonesia, and then you say you are making a big effort on our side with a big effort on yours.

I frankly believe that my judgment yesterday must have been wrong, because we have an objective situation and maybe it is simply insoluble. I have stayed here one week attempting to find a settlement. No matter what you say, we have made a very great effort. We came here with very major concessions and a minor concession, on the 90 days, which you have simply pocketed and made no reference to it at all. So I feel now that I do not know what you will accept. Earlier this week you offered to return to the original language of both Article 5 and Article 8(c). Every day after that you have reintroduced them, then withdrawn them in return for a new concession. That is very skillful.

But we are now at a point where we must either settle or have a recess. We have done our absolute maximum. If we can get a satisfactory solution on these other issues, I can discuss the problem of Article 4 with you. But what I said to you yesterday came from my heart. It was a genuine attempt to make you understand what the requirements were, so very rapidly we could in good conscience bring this war to a settlement. It was not bargaining. Most of what I am asking for is of no benefit to us and of no practical consequence over a long period of time. But just as you wanted Article 13 and we made a great concession, so we still have a minimum requirement. If we cannot come to this question, then we must conclude that we came very close to an agreement and no one will ever be able to come closer, and we will never come this close to this kind of agreement again, so we will have to see where we will be after a certain period. This is my frank assessment of the situation after I have heard your presentation. Perhaps we better take a little break now.

Le Duc Tho: [interrupting translation after reference to Article 13] Let me—we have agreed on that point.

[Page 1039]

Dr. Kissinger: On what point? I don’t understand.

Le Duc Tho: We have agreed to drop this question of 90 days for demobilization, therefore I would . . .

Dr. Kissinger: But that was a concession. We withdrew our request.

Le Duc Tho: But I also made the concession. I have added that demobilization would be done “as soon as possible” in comparison with the formula.

[Mr. Engel then finished translating Mr. Kissinger’s previous speech.]

Le Duc Tho: Let me speak now. Let me speak a few words and then we will have a break briefly. I said that both of us should have to make efforts and should understand each other’s necessities, but you, you want your necessities beyond possibility. And regarding the questions we are facing now, we have made efforts too. We have found out formulas and regarding the question of civilian personnel we have prolonged the period to 6 months. You have wrongly evaluated my efforts. It is not true that we have made no efforts at all.

Regarding the question of the DMZ, it cannot be maintained as you propose. For us, we compare with what we have proposed: we have dropped a very important part of it. It is not true if you say that I have made no efforts at all.

Regarding the question of your civilian personnel they are in big numbers, and now the war is ended there is no other reason that they will remain there for a long time. The conditions for my dropping Article 8(c) and the question of the civilian personnel when we met the other day is that you should also drop your changes and we should return to the agreement agreed before.

Dr. Kissinger: You dropped it three more times in the interval. It is hard to keep track of it.

Le Duc Tho: We drop these questions only on these conditions that we would make only changes of the details and we keep what we have agreed to. Now you have proposed many changes and we have met many of them and we have made great efforts and we keep Article 8(c).

Now regarding the question of civilian personnel. When we negotiate here you agree with us that within 60 days all American forces would be withdrawn, and now the civilian personnel are left behind, and we have agreed with you that these civilian personnel, part of it, should be withdrawn within two months and the rest should be withdrawn within 6 months of the ceasefire. And you have tens of thousands of civilians . . .

Dr. Kissinger: I have told you yesterday this was nonsense.

Le Duc Tho: Through the press and through the information available to us it is not over 1000 but tens of thousands.

[Page 1040]

As to the proposal to reduce to two months with regard to Article 8(c), or the question of Indonesia, I just raise these questions for discussion just like you raise questions for discussion.

Dr. Kissinger: Not today. Are you finished? I did not raise—I came here today with the intention of rapidly settling and of reducing issues to the absolute fundamentals. The Special Adviser is setting up a horse-trade.

Le Duc Tho: It is not true.

Dr. Kissinger: Which is not equal to the seriousness of our occasion.

Le Duc Tho: It is not true. We have our necessities. You should take into account our necessities. When you propose your necessities we are prepared to discuss them. You should also be prepared to discuss our necessities. We did not reject any of your necessities without discussing it. The agreement that has been agreed should not have any changes, but we were prepared to discuss it.

Dr. Kissinger: But I am discussing it now, and I am telling you earlier this week you offered to return to Article 5, the categories of people that were to be withdrawn. They were precisely specified in Article 5. We have offered you an amendment that makes it impossible for us to abuse Article 5.

Now it is impossible for us. We must tell you this again. It is impossible—the President will not accept it; the Vice President will not go on such a mission—in which we are creating a situation in which certain technical jobs simply cannot be carried out. At the end of every day I send a list to Washington of changes which I propose to make. We are now reaching a point of increasing impatience and diminishing returns. And I said yesterday—even though we understand the implications and even though, quite frankly, if you were approaching this in a farsighted spirit you would have agreed to move the article, Article 1—that we would make one more very big effort. But we cannot do what we will have to do in the next two weeks if this agreement is to be finished, if we cannot plausibly say that there was some maximum effort made on both sides and now we think regardless of consequences we go ahead, if necessary, alone.

So that is where we are now, and maybe we should take a break and reflect. But I must tell you frankly if I do any extensive reflecting I will be without a job and you will have to settle with somebody else. Then you will never see me in Hanoi.

Le Duc Tho: No, we have taken into account your views regarding the question of civilian personnel. After this we have left some period for them to remain there.

Dr. Kissinger: But it is not your right to let anything because it is not in the agreement to start with.

[Page 1041]

Le Duc Tho: In our previous negotiation you told us that the U.S. will withdraw completely all its forces without letting any behind. But now you leave civilian personnel behind. And moreover I propose that I drop [my demands on] Article 8(c) and even Article 5, if you kept the agreement as it has been agreed to and only the details will be changed. Now let us have a break and we can discuss it.

[The group broke at 4:43 p.m. and reconvened at 5:15.]

Dr. Kissinger: I think the Minister is the world’s greatest expert on the DMZ.

Le Duc Tho: Let us resume our work. You will make a great effort and I will make also a great effort to come to a settlement, and if we can’t come to a settlement it is because of objective reality, but we should strive to come to a settlement.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, the great difficulty I have is that we have practically run out of margin in which to make efforts.

Le Duc Tho: And I have also, I have finished my margin of efforts too.

Dr. Kissinger: [laughter] I would hate to buy a rug from the Special Adviser! If everything else is settled satisfactorily, we will withdraw the proposal that Article 4 be remanded and maintain both Article 1 and Article 4. So that then we have both Article 1 and Article 4 in the agreement.

Le Duc Tho: Only that? Anything else, Mr. Special Adviser?

Dr. Kissinger: I have wracked my brain on the others. We can give you on the personnel, if you accept an additional sentence we give you, an understanding that we will progressively reduce it and withdraw it within 15 months. And I tell you candidly this is 9 months less than our experts tell me makes it feasible.

Since we are down to so few issues there is very little we can do.

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

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, I have, Mr. Special Adviser. Please.

Le Duc Tho: Now we have come to the point that we should speak everything we have to speak, to settle the problem. Now we maintain Article 1 and Article 4, as you have agreed to in the agreement. Then we are prepared to drop our demands on the question of civilian personnel of the U.S. in the agreement and we are prepared to have a unilateral understanding to consider, if not to write it in the agreement as you proposed. We will have an understanding between us.

As to the question of the DMZ, frankly, I can’t go further. I have made the utmost effort. When I accepted to drop the question of civilian personnel and not to write it in the agreement, it is a great effort. If you don’t realize that we can’t settle the problem. Is there any war in [Page 1042] which the agreement has written that all your forces should be completely withdrawn and you leave behind civilian personnel? Last year when we negotiated, we were talking then, two or three times you always said that at the end of the war the U.S. will totally withdraw its forces.

As to the DMZ we can’t go further.

Regarding Article 8(c), when I propose two months there is no link at all with the American prisoners in North Vietnam or in South Vietnam. I propose that two months only for humanitarian reasons and for feeling sympathy with the detainees only. Moreover 8(a) is a separate provision and there is no link with 8(c).

So I have expressed all my views regarding the four outstanding questions. If we come to an agreement now, we will come to an agreement. Otherwise we will not. So I have made a very great effort.

As to the question of Indonesia as a member of the International Commission, we will discuss on it to see whether you can change Indonesia as a member. If you can it is the best. If not, we will agree, because we understand you have difficulty. So I have made a brief statement already. My pockets are empy now, really speaking.

As to the understanding for 15 months for the withdrawal of civilian personnel, it is too long. Naturally we want a shorter period. It is our desire to have a shorter period. We shall discuss this.

Dr. Kissinger: Can you give us your sentence on DMZ?

Interpreter: I have not yet a clean copy of that.

[Mr. Thach hands over text at Tab A. Kissinger reads it.]

Dr. Kissinger: See, Mr. Special Adviser, our difficulty is—the problem is—that you have given us very little that we can tell the Vice President tomorrow to take to Saigon. I mean you have given us some things during the week, but in terms of the discussion today I said to you yesterday that we must have something we can take to Saigon. And your concession really consists of returning, in one paragraph, to an agreement we already had, and in another one adding a phrase whose practical consequence will be interpreted as taking away the significance of the previous phrase, because it implies that there will be substantial movement across the demarcation line and that the only thing to be discussed is the regulations. And I just know that this will not make it possible for us to succeed in our effort. [Tho laughs.] I tell you what our problem is. It may be insoluble.

Le Duc Tho: I can’t accept your saying that my effort is too little.

Dr. Kissinger: No, it may be great for you; it may still turn out to be too little for us. This may be the problem.

Le Duc Tho: We have taken into account of your difficulties. Now there is no other way for taking it into account. The movement here [Page 1043] referred to here is for the population, because for the military there is already the provision on the prohibition of introducing troops, armaments and war materials. For military, no movement.

We have come to the limit. As I told you, it may happen that only one question be left and the settlement is impossible. You should not ask me to go further.

Moreover the regulation for movement, you have put it in the normalization between North and South Vietnam. I would like to move it to this place only.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but I was wrong. My government withdrew it.

Le Duc Tho: As you say; so maybe it is impossible to settle the problem. Regarding this question we have come to the limits. As I told you in our negotiation it may happen that only one question left that we cannot solve. It is a great question for us, the question of civilian personnel, but we have made very great effort.

Le Duc Tho: Have you finished? Let me say a few words and we shall have a pause, because I am a little tired. Because we have made the greatest effort. And the phrase I have proposed to you is very correct. I have written “North and South Vietnam shall respect the DMZ and the two zones shall agree on the regulations for movement across the demarcation line.” I frankly tell you I can’t go further.

I had the intention to skip today because I suffer in my brain. It is a real fact. A headache.

Dr. Kissinger: I would have been prepared to do it. But we can take a break, or would you like to adjourn the meeting?

Le Duc Tho: It doesn’t mean that I do not want to settle with you, but I am tired because blood pressure increased.

Dr. Kissinger: You would like to adjourn?

Le Duc Tho: To adjourn, because whatever you find out, it is my only solution, because I have said everything I have to say. It is a very big question, the question of civilian personnel, but I have dropped it. The question of 8(c) is a very great question for us too, but I have dropped it. You see how big effort we have made. It is very reasonable and very appropriate. If you don’t solve the problem, how can it be solved? I propose then we have a break and then you will speak; then I propose to adjourn at six o’clock.

Dr. Kissinger: All right. Certainly.

Le Duc Tho: But frankly speaking I can’t go further. It is the instruction of my government. I have no authority to change it—really speaking, frankly speaking. Then we will see whether we can solve today. If not, I propose to adjourn until tomorrow because I have headache.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, of course. Only let us take a brief break and then let us stay inside so that people don’t comment on a break followed [Page 1044] by our departure. And we are down to one question now, and there must be some solution.

Le Duc Tho: And regarding 8(c), I propose two months. Please heed my views because it is a humanitarian question.

Dr. Kissinger: We won’t have time to discuss that and Indonesia today. Let us discuss that tomorrow. We will keep the Minister from the horse race and from church tomorrow. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: And I think we can easily agree on these two questions.

Dr. Kissinger: Not easily. Oh, Indonesia and 8(c). Yes.

Le Duc Tho: Tomorrow morning.

Dr. Kissinger: Also because it is really getting to be now a question in which both of us must make fundamental decisions. I am very serious now. I cannot stay here much more than another day or two. I propose that we prepare a text tonight—each of our sides—of the agreement as it stands, and also of the understandings, and if we agree tomorrow on this question then our experts should immediately compare the texts.

Le Duc Tho: I agree.

Dr. Kissinger: And the Special Adviser and I should begin—and my associates should begin—to discuss the understandings.

That is assuming we settle this question, and I will consider that perhaps I will ask General Haig to go back to Washington tonight and then if we agree he can leave tomorrow. If we do not agree then I will go back tomorrow night. But I will decide this. But if we do not agree very soon, events will get out of our control.

So let me talk for 5 minutes to my colleagues. I will talk to them in here. Which light fixture has the microphone? [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: Even if we come to an agreement today I propose a break tomorrow and let the experts work.

Dr. Kissinger: You don’t want to work tomorrow?

Le Duc Tho: Because I want a break.

Dr. Kissinger: I don’t think we can come to an agreement today, but let us have a brief break.

[The group broke at 5:48 briefly and reconvened at 6:05 p.m.]

Dr. Kissinger: I just received a communication that your compatriots in the South are not enthusiastic about what has been achieved. They do not think of it with an attitude of conciliation and concord.

Our problem is as follows, Mr. Special Adviser. We know that there is no possibility of progress or of getting a rapid settlement if we add the phrase where you want it. We would ask you to consider adding it at the end of the sentence about the reestablishment of normal relations. Here is the sentence I would like to add: “Among the ques[Page 1045]tions to be discussed will be the authorization of civil movement across the provisional military demarcation line.” And if you agree to this, I will drop the request for a reference to “respect for each other’s territory” even though this makes our task almost unmanageable.

Le Duc Tho: I can’t settle this problem, frankly speaking. I have done my utmost. I have no authority to settle this question.

Dr. Kissinger: Neither do I.

Le Duc Tho: Then we have to consult our governments. I have no authority. This is my instructions.

Dr. Kissinger: I believe you.

Le Duc Tho: For which questions I have authority to solve, I solve.

Dr. Kissinger: I believe you.

Le Duc Tho: Because I agree with you last week I was criticized for that. And that was our great effort when I have found this formula frankly speaking, because if I have authority to solve it, it is only one question remaining. It is not fair to leave only question unsettled if a solution is correct already.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me suggest—let me tell you this in all sincerity. When you talk to your government. We have really reached the limit of what we, in any kind of conscience, can present in Saigon. Compared to what we have been—I am telling you the reality—compared to what we started and where we are now, it is very little in terms of their perspective. Even with the sentence we proposed, this chapter is better for you than what we had agreed with you last week and what we had communicated to our allies. I want to tell you candidly what our problem is.

I will ask General Haig to return to Washington tonight to report to the President. And perhaps you will again consult your government, and I really believe they should look at it in a farsighted manner.

Now I propose, because time will be very short, since all that is missing is one phrase, that our experts get together to compare texts tomorrow, and that then the Special Adviser and I meet again on Monday morning and if we come to an agreement immediately go to the understandings. [Tho nods his head “yes.”]

Now one other thing. There is always very intense press speculation. In order not to destroy the atmosphere for a solution, we should avoid—could we say that we have agreed that we are recessing for one day so the experts can meet and that we will resume on Monday morning?

Le Duc Tho: All right.

Dr. Kissinger: All right. Let us agree on that and I hope the Special Adviser feels better. But for selfish reasons, I don’t know, the stronger he is the harder it is for us, but I would rather have him strong.

[Page 1046]

Le Duc Tho: Your proposals—I solved them very easily, but our proposals you find very difficult to.

Dr. Kissinger: No, Mr. Special Adviser, we are literally running an almost impossible risk of exactly the repetition of what happened in October. And I tell you in all candor that you are making it very difficult for us. Because the choice isn’t this or that phrase; the choice is really whether we can make peace that will be implemented. So it isn’t a question—those issues that affected only us, we have settled with you today, even when they were very difficult for us. And I still think that, curiously enough, if you could have found it possible—not for our sake—to give us any phrase at all, we could have moved with great rapidity. But I understand your problem. But if we now take away what we have already said we had achieved, and then on top of that overcome objections which we haven’t even told you about, we have a job that is almost impossible.

What time should we meet on Monday?

Le Duc Tho: Let me speak some sentences. I will answer. This is a great question. From the very beginning here I have told you that it is a question of our concern. Last week I have made a great effort, but now our government has a position of principle toward this question. Of course I will consult my government, but candidly speaking I have exchanged views with my government twice or thrice this week but the instruction I receive from my government is harder and higher level than the formula I have given you. But finally my government has agreed to the formula I have given to you but it can’t go further. I would like to tell you this. Therefore, I have to consult them again and tomorrow. After tomorrow we will meet.

Dr. Kissinger: And maybe if they can give us some other sentence of the kind we have proposed . . .

Le Duc Tho: Regarding your views regarding civil movement across the demarcation line, actually on one side of the demarcation line it is the DRV; on the other side it is the liberated zone of the PRG, and actually we have nothing that any regulation is needed for. We should have no regulation laid down for crossing this line. But because of our efforts to come to a settlement with you I have found out that formula. This is a real situation. On the other side of the demarcation line is the liberated zone of the PRG; on the demarcation line we need no stipulation therefore. We have shown our good will and make an effort to come to a solution. It is my view for your consideration.

Dr. Kissinger: And for your consideration we are leaving it in that chapter but want to move it to a different part, for the reason that we have already communicated this text. We have a very difficult problem, too.

[Page 1047]

Le Duc Tho: We have made very great efforts on these questions. I point out to you the whole situation on either side of the demarcation line, to show our great effort. Presently, for time being, I have no other solution. I have to consult my government. I cannot—I have no authority to settle it now.

Dr. Kissinger: Neither do I. In fact I don’t even have authority for this compromise I offered you.

Le Duc Tho: But I would like to explain the point to you because the instructions of my government is important for me. I agree with you that now there is only one question left regarding the agreement, and tomorrow the experts can start working together.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. No more 8(c); no more Article 5. There will be no further concessions for your withdrawing them!

Le Duc Tho: I will return to 8(c) on Monday morning. [Laughter]

Dr. Kissinger: What time should we meet on Monday?

Le Duc Tho: What I want to raise about 8(c) is only the question of two months. We shall further discuss this Monday morning.

Dr. Kissinger: I cannot be very encouraging.

Le Duc Tho: We will meet Monday morning at ten o’clock.

Dr. Kissinger: Ten o’clock. Certainly.

Le Duc Tho: At your place?

Dr. Kissinger: At our place. Where shall the experts meet? You can name it.

Le Duc Tho: At Darthe Street? It is convenient.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. Mr. Engel, Mr. Negroponte and Mr. Lord will be on our side. [Sullivan says something to Kissinger.] Mr. Sullivan’s contribution to the discussion is to point out that they are three equal segments. [Laughter]

Mr. Thach: And unanimous decision. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: And we will discuss the understandings.

Dr. Kissinger: On Monday.

Le Duc Tho: Each party will table the understandings.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but we will maintain the ones we already tabled. And I understand that the time period for Laos will be shortened.

Le Duc Tho: But you should also maintain the understanding already reached.

Dr. Kissinger: We will maintain all the understandings that have been confirmed by both sides.

Le Duc Tho: Right. And after that we shall discuss the schedule.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but—and the protocols.

Le Duc Tho: I will hand you the protocols of our side.

[Page 1048]

Dr. Kissinger: Today?

Le Duc Tho: Monday.

Dr. Kissinger: I hate to think of it. Could you give it to our people tomorrow so that we can study it?

Le Duc Tho: We will make an effort.

Dr. Kissinger: And the Special Adviser said there will be a control team on the DMZ. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: We will reject it.

Dr. Kissinger: And I told my associates it is probably at the bottom of a ravine where it can’t look in any direction. Ambassador Sullivan said maybe underwater in the Ben Hai River. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: We have not gotten yet to the protocol but I have already made a great effort.

Dr. Kissinger: I think he will probably introduce his version of Article 5 and Article 8(c) in the protocol. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: But 8(c) will follow you and I for a long time.

Dr. Kissinger: I am afraid. So what time should the experts meet?

Le Duc Tho: I mean two and a half.

Dr. Kissinger: 2:30.

Le Duc Tho: Today you and I have made very great effort. There is only one question left. It belongs to you to solve it.

Dr. Kissinger: [laughing] I don’t think we can. So you can all go to late Mass tomorrow. [Laughter] I hope you feel better, Mr. Special Adviser.

[The meeting adjourned at 6:30 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 [2 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. Tab A is attached but not printed.

    Late on December 9, Kissinger reported to Nixon about the meeting:

    “During the break Le Duc Tho took me aside and suggested that if I could start the next phase of the meeting with a concession, he would make a big concession. I thereupon at the meeting offered to drop our demand for the deletion of Article 4, and in return he agreed that American civilian personnel could continue to service complex military equipment in South Vietnam.”

    He continued:

    “5. We then settled all the other remaining issues, except for the DMZ. On that issue he stated with some conviction that on the language he had agreed to in November (ʻNorth and South Vietnam shall respect the DMZ’), he had been overruled by Hanoi. I suspect this may be true. My view is as follows: I do not honestly believe we can go to Saigon with anything that weakens what we now have on the DMZ (ʻNorth and South Vietnam shall respect the DMZ’). Therefore, difficult as it may be, I recommend that we hold firm on this.

    “6. If we can hold the line at this point, we will have accomplished the following since October:

    “—Deletion of the phrase ʻadministrative structure’, which removes any remaining ambiguity about the fact that the National Council is not a government.

    “—The sentence obligating both North and South Vietnam to respect the DMZ.

    “—Greatly strengthened provisions on Laos and Cambodia including the obligation to respect the Geneva Agreements.

    “—Deletion of the reference to ʻthree’ Indochinese countries, a usage to which the GVN strongly objected.

    “—A ceasefire in Laos closer to simultaneity with the one in Vietnam.

    “—An improved military replacements provision, which gives greater assurance that we can continue to provide all the military aid needed by Saigon under ceasefire conditions.

    “—Other less important changes which improve the tone or precision of the document.

    “—In addition to these improvements in the text, the last several weeks have given Thieu a billion dollars in military aid and considerable time to make preparations for the ceasefire, have disrupted enemy military plans geared to a late-October agreement, and have shown both Hanoi and Saigon that we go to bat for our allies. We have also insured that at least some of the international control machinery will be in place at the time of the ceasefire.

    “—Thus our requirements I indicated publicly on October 26 have been essentially met. In exchange for this, our only ʻconcessions’ have been to drop other changes we were requesting in an agreed text which Hanoi considered sacrosanct to start with.

    “7. This will be no mean achievement, considering we had no chips to play with.” (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. IX, Vietnam, October 1972–January 1973, Document 152)

    Absent from this list of achievements was any mention of North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam, despite the fact that their continued presence remained, as had been the case throughout the multi-year negotiations, unacceptable to South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu.

    After reading Kissinger’s report, Nixon conveyed his instructions to Kissinger via Haig, who had just returned from Paris and had briefed the President on the talks. Haig first told Kissinger: “I described to him [Nixon] at great length the brutal atmosphere of the negotiations and the incalculably frustrating tactics which had been used by the other side. I pointed out how carefully you had played the scenario with absolutely nothing but bluff, skill and determination to elicit what is now a very substantial list of North Vietnamese concessions.”

    Haig continued:

    “Concerning the negotiations from this point on, the President suggests the following strategy which I believe is consistent with your own outlook. He understands, of course, that you must have sufficient leeway to manage the tactics. Assuming you are able to slip Monday’s meeting to late Monday afternoon, you should then hold tough on the DMZ issue confirming that the President remains adamant. If Moscow’s assistance is evident, we may then find Hanoi caving. If not, the President believes, and I know you do as well, that we must not break off the talks on Monday. In that event you should return for a new session hopefully as early as possible on Tuesday morning thus giving me maximum time to leave Tuesday evening with the Vice President.” He continued: “Also on Tuesday you should again enter the talks in a tough posture by which time Moscow’s ultimate leverage should be evident if, in fact, they exercise it at all. If Le Duc Tho is still intransigent, you should then try our compromise as the final U.S. concession. If even this fails, the President, as we predicted, would even be willing to cave completely with the hopes that we can still bring Thieu around.” (Ibid., Document 155)