4. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Le Duc Tho, Adviser to the North Vietnamese Delegation
- Xuan Thuy, Chief of Delegation
- Mai Van Bo, North Vietnamese Delegate General in Paris
- North Vietnamese Interpreter
- Two Other North Vietnamese Officials
- Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Major General Vernon Walters, Defense Attaché
- W. Richard Smyser, NSC Staff
- W.A.K. Lake, NSC Staff
Mr. Kissinger was greeted warmly. Although at the beginning of the meeting Xuan Thuy seemed less friendly than at the last, all of the North Vietnamese except Xuan Thuy were even more friendly than at the last meeting, and Xuan Thuy himself warmed up during the latter [Page 47] two thirds. They seemed to enjoy the less serious exchanges as much as ever.
Mr. Kissinger: My plane last night had mechanical difficulties, so we had to land in Germany and I did not get as much sleep as planned. So you have me at a great disadvantage today, since I am tired.
I would like to make a technical point today before we begin.
When I came here last time, we informed the French Foreign Ministry. This time, only the Presidency knows. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not.
We would appreciate it if you would keep this in mind if you talk to anyone in France about my visit.
We have also kept knowledge of these meetings to a very small circle, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. Specifically, we have not spoken to any of your allies. We think that this is your problem, if you want to tell them.
Xuan Thuy: This is up to you.
Mr. Kissinger: I wanted you to know that we have no intention of doing so. I say this only because we are asked sometimes.
Xuan Thuy: We take note of that.
Mr. Kissinger: I had two questions which grew out of the last meeting and wondered if this is a good opportunity to ask them.
Xuan Thuy: Please explain what you have in mind.
Mr. Kissinger: Special Adviser Le Duc Tho said at the last meeting, when he spoke about the procedure of the negotiations, (I will have to read this in English as we translated it), “neither party will coerce [Page 48] the other party to a solution by applying pressure. Because we understand that these are now negotiations.” Could I ask Mr. Special Adviser Le Duc Tho what he had in mind?
Le Duc Tho: What is your second question, please?
Mr. Kissinger: I also have a subsidiary question to the first, but will have to hear your answer before asking it. I also have a second principal question.
Xuan Thuy: May I say a word here?
Mr. Kissinger: Please.
Xuan Thuy: Last time, we agreed between us that this time we enter into discussion of substantial questions. We said that we fully approve and support the 10 points of the Provisional Revolutionary Government. As to you, Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger, you said that you would speak about your views. Therefore, I think today we should not speak about procedural points. Today we should go directly into the matter. When we go into substantive questions and when we go into substantive views, we can put questions—not at the beginning of the meeting. This is more logical.
Mr. Kissinger: I wanted to put these questions because it is important for us to know clearly where we are going from here, and to understand each other before proceeding. It is particularly the phrase “without applying pressure” which interested me.
Le Duc Tho: May I speak now? I would propose this: Because your questions are related to one another, I propose you put forward all of them, so that my answers will be related to one another.
Mr. Kissinger: I would like now to ask my second question. We will then be finished with the last meeting, and we can go on. My second question is a procedural one. I want to understand how the Minister and the Special Adviser envisaged the course of the negotiations. It is not clear to me what Mr. Le Duc Tho meant when he spoke about the procedure of our negotiations. I want to understand whether he meant that we would first come to an agreement, then sign an agreement, then have separate discussions about implementation of an agreement, and then there would be a separate ratifying meeting, or if some of these would be concurrent. I want to know how you visualize all this.
You have been unusually clear. I have only two questions.
Xuan Thuy: The first question is not related to our discussions here so Le Duc Tho will answer it today whenever he likes.
The second question is related to our discussions here. We have repeatedly said that we fully approve and support the 10-point solution of the Provisional Revolutionary Government. In this, the last point concerns the signing of an agreement. As we have said at Avenue [Page 49] Kleber and at many other meetings, we are ready to sign an agreement with you.
Mr. Kissinger: You and we?
Xuan Thuy and Le Duc Tho: All four parties.
Xuan Thuy: In private meetings with Ambassador Lodge, I repeatedly told him that the United States should have direct private talks with the PRG. But since the U.S. is not ready to do so for the time being, the DRV will meet with the U.S. to discuss all questions and come to an understanding. These are private meetings but there should also be meetings among all four parties.
Mr. Kissinger: After we have come to an agreement?
Xuan Thuy: Yes.
Le Duc Tho: This is the experience we have had with other international negotiations. There are public meetings, but (also) private meetings to come to agreement before coming to the plenary. It is the same thing every time. After the private agreement, as Minister Xuan Thuy said, it will then be tabled at a public session with all parties, for public agreement.2
Mr. Kissinger: I understand. It is clear. Now how about the first question? If you do not answer it, I shall be obliged to answer it myself, which would be embarrassing.
Le Duc Tho: Please express your view. There is nothing difficult here.
Mr. Kissinger: Our view is that while we talk, any effort by either side to bring military pressure in Vietnam or in one of the related countries would be inconsistent with our purposes here.
Le Duc Tho: Is that one of your questions, or your view?
Mr. Kissinger: I am trying to see if I understand Mr. Special Adviser correctly. What I have said is my interpretation of his remarks.
Le Duc Tho: This is your interpretation, which forces me to answer your question.
Mr. Kissinger: It is always a pleasure to hear from the Special Adviser. I hope I will not hear from him that military pressure is desirable.
Le Duc Tho: I would now like to speak about the negotiations here. We have our standpoint, our position. You have yours. The ten points and your position.3 If negotiations are to take place, discussions should be about both sides’ positions, to come to agreement and to settle the [Page 50] problem. This is the purpose. That is negotiation. We cannot force you to accept our position, and you cannot do the same to us. So here each side can negotiate, change views, and come to agreement. That is the problem, and it is clear.
Mr. Kissinger: It is partly clear. But I want to add that neither side will bring additional military pressure to bring the other to agreement.
Le Duc Tho: This is a misinterpretation of what I have said. What I was saying, was pressure in negotiations. As to military pressure, this is another question. In this regard, we think you are the side which is constantly making military pressure.
Mr. Kissinger: Well I have explained our position with regard to it, and I think that I now understand the Special Adviser.
Xuan Thuy: Now let us shift to other questions. Please explain your points.
Mr. Kissinger: Let me speak in two parts—the first procedural, the second substantive. Regarding the procedural points, I have two: I have noted that at each of our meetings, I have spoken first. The same happened at our other private meetings. But I don’t think it is fair of us to take advantage of your good nature this way. I therefore suggest that at the next meeting we reverse the procedure and you speak first.
All right. Now, concerning the general procedure of these meetings.
We agreed in February that these would be serious negotiations. I told you then that we were entering these discussions with good will and earnest intent. We know that these negotiations will be difficult, but it will be no easier—and perhaps harder—to make peace at a later point. Therefore we are ready, as I told you, to be forthcoming and flexible in these negotiations. We respect your ability in negotiation as we respect your bravery in fighting. We believe, as I said last time, that our negotiations must come to a conclusion which is in the interest of both sides.
We are not here to repeat polemics or to repeat familiar positions. We are here to address the hard and specific questions, and to find agreement.
In that spirit, President Nixon has asked me to emphasize especially his conviction that what we achieve here will depend entirely upon the directness of our approach. I can make that point to you no more directly than to read you one of his handwritten instructions to me as I was preparing for this meeting.
He said, “I want you to come directly to the hard decisions and I want you to say ʻwe will leave details to subordinatesʼ—there should be a breakthrough on principle—and substance. You should tell them we are ready to go immediately to the heart of the problem.”
There are two principal reasons for such a direct approach. First, these talks offer a new opportunity to discuss essentials. We are [Page 51] obviously concerned about the fundamental issues, considering the level of representation around this table. We can go rapidly and authoritatively to the heart of those issues, without the restraints of normal diplomatic channels.
The second reason is the one Minister Xuan Thuy mentioned at our last meeting, when he said we all have urgent duties elsewhere. Our participation in these talks is justified only if there is real progress. Repetition of standard positions, which leads to an impasse, should take place at a different level. As a student of these meetings, I am struck that both sides take extreme positions and later change them slowly. And, as a student of these meetings, I can even say that you have taken extreme positions from which you do not move at all. This particular forum is not suited to that process, and we do not intend to follow it.
We will give you our best judgment and not a bargaining position, and we will take into account your concerns. We assume you will do the same thing.
Should I stop at this point? Do you have any comment to make on what I have just said about the approach to these meetings? Or should I go on now to substance?
Xuan Thuy: (Xuan Thuy began to say something, but was cut off by Le Duc Tho before it was translated. Xuan Thuy then said:) Please speak on substance, then it will be our turn to speak.
Mr. Kissinger: I am told that in Vietnamese culture it is not proper to come too quickly to the point. I hope I have now proved my respect for your civilization, and will proceed to substance.
Xuan Thuy: It is out of our respect for American culture that we ask you to speak. Americans are known to be practical; they go right to the point.
Mr. Kissinger: Not professors, they are never practical.
Xuan Thuy: But you are a professor now doing practical work. There has been enough philosophy, so you should go to the point.
Mr. Kissinger: I know I will get a grade from Special Adviser Le Duc Tho.
Le Duc Tho: No, no.
Mr. Kissinger: At the last meeting we agreed that each side would present its position and we would then see where we stand. At today’s meeting, I will state our position on the withdrawal of forces, and put forward a proposal. You then may wish to respond to this and perhaps make other proposals.
At the next meeting, if there is one, we each will have an opportunity to make further proposals and present further responses.[Page 52]
At our last meeting, Minister Xuan Thuy said he would like to know, “when the total withdrawal of U.S. troops—without leaving behind any troops or bases—will be completed.” Your statement raised two questions which you have often asked: whether the U.S. withdrawal will be total, and what is the exact nature of the schedule of our withdrawal.
With regard to the first question, I want to repeat what I have said before: We are prepared to negotiate now the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops. This includes all U.S. troops, and the evacuation of all U.S. bases—without exception.
Le Duc Tho: And also allied troops?
Mr. Kissinger: Yes. You have often said that there will be progress if we accept the principle of total withdrawal. We accept this principle.
As for a schedule for the withdrawal of United States troops, I am today prepared to present such a schedule to you, for such a withdrawal extended over a sixteen-month period from the date of an agreement. This schedule is based on the level of American forces which will exist by April 15—that is to say 422,000 men. In addition there are other allied forces not included in this number, which will be withdrawn.
I will now give you the proposed schedule:
—In the first month, we would withdraw 5,000 U.S. troops. Other non-South Vietnamese allied forces would be withdrawn in this and subsequent months in about the same proportion as U.S. troops.
Le Duc Tho: Please repeat the first month. (He also asked other clarifying questions of Xuan Thuy and the interpreter.)
Mr. Kissinger: I have given you only the first month. Since there are 16 months to go through, I don’t want total confusion. I want you to know the whole schedule. Each month, the same proportion of allied forces will withdraw as U.S. forces. For example, in the first month the same proportion will withdraw as 5,000 troops is to total U.S. forces. It would be the same with other months, so at the end, there would be no U.S. or allied forces.
I will now give the figures for each remaining month.
—In the second month, 10,000 U.S. troops.
—In the third month, 10,000 U.S. troops.
And in addition always allied forces, you understand, in the same proportion.
—In the fourth month, 27,000 U.S. troops.
—In the fifth month, 35,000 U.S. troops.
—In the sixth month, 35,000 U.S. troops.
—In the seventh month, 35,000 U.S. troops.
—In the eighth month, 35,000 U.S. troops.[Page 53]
—In the ninth month, 35,000 U.S. troops.
—In the tenth month, 10,000 U.S. troops.
—In the eleventh month, 15,000 U.S. troops.
—In the twelfth month, 10,000 U.S. troops.
—In the thirteenth, fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth months, 40,000 U.S. troops in each month.
The reasons for these numbers depend on complicated technical studies, some of which I can discuss with you.
I know the temptation is to argue about this or that figure, or this or that time schedule. The important thing to remember is this: it is a plan for the total withdrawal of American forces. It is a plan that leaves no U.S. or non-South Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. It is a plan that, once started, will proceed with ever greater acceleration, the consequences of which are obvious to you.
We reach here the heart of the problem. Both Minister Xuan Thuy and Mr. Le Duc Tho said at the last meeting that a settlement had to be on the basis of reality. I said at our last meeting that reality requires some reciprocity. It is for this that we are at these negotiations.
At the last meeting, I said that you have a special problem in placing your troops on the same legal basis as ours in a settlement, because you do not acknowledge their presence in South Vietnam and you cannot admit that they are “foreign.” I said that we would take full account of your special view of this question. We certainly have specific ideas on how this question can be resolved. But we think—in order to break the impasse—that the most productive way to handle the issue at this stage would be for you to tell us what your view is of how to handle this problem. We can then come to an agreement on the basis of two concurrent schedules which are not, however, directly linked.
In addition to this question, we believe that an essential part of an agreement would be measures which would allow each side to verify that the agreement is being maintained and completed.
Another essential principle is that all prisoners of war on both sides should be released at a very early point in the withdrawal process.
There are, of course, numerous technical questions involved in reaching an agreement on the basis of the principles I have stated. These would include such questions as the methods of communication between the two sides, regroupment areas, and whatever military arrangements such as cease-fires are related to the withdrawal process.
Once we have agreed in principle these technical issues can and should be negotiated rapidly between the two delegations at the Hotel Majestic. We would appoint a new head of delegation to conduct such negotiations.[Page 54]
As I said at our last meeting and repeated at the outset of this session, we are under no illusion about the difficulty of resolving these issues.
But we believe the issues can be fairly resolved, and that both sides can keep faith with their sacrifices and their interests.
We hope that you agree that the specific proposals we have made today represent a major move and that, together with the frank discussions we had in February, this could amount to a turning point.
Minister Xuan Thuy and Special Adviser Le Duc Tho agreed at the last meeting that we were engaged in “serious negotiations.” I propose now that we should make the negotiations successful.
Xuan Thuy: You are finished?
Mr. Kissinger: Yes.
Xuan Thuy: I propose a little break.
Mr. Kissinger: OK. We have a plane wandering around Germany so General Walters must make a phone call to bring it back.
Xuan Thuy: Therefore a break is suitable.
(There was then a 15-minute break.)
Xuan Thuy: After listening to what Special Adviser Kissinger has said, I have two clarifying questions. Madame Nguyen Thi Binh has stated that U.S. troops should be withdrawn within six months. We have supported this demand. And the U.S. side has said repeatedly, and publicly too, at Avenue Kleber that the U.S. is prepared to withdraw all its troops and bases within 12 months. And now Mr. Special Adviser says the U.S. would withdraw its troops and bases within 16 months after signing an agreement. So it is a longer period than, and not in accordance with, what the U.S. said previously.4
Mr. Special Adviser spoke about technical complexities, but not complications, so we don’t know why the period is prolonged. This makes us think about your intention of linking your withdrawals with the Vietnamization policy.
I am convinced that if you link withdrawals to Vietnamization, it would be difficult to settle the matter.
The second question is that Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger has today spoken about other non-South Vietnamese troops and said we should express views on this, although you have said that you have specific views. I therefore ask Mr. Kissinger to express his special views on this subject.[Page 55]
I then have the following remarks. You have spoken today about military problems and said nothing about political problems. In our view, military problems should be linked to political problems. Therefore, I wonder when Mr. Kissinger will speak of political problems?
Mr. Kissinger: Let me take the second question first. At our last meeting I raised military problems and your side raised political problems. We therefore assumed responsibility for making a presentation to you on military problems today, and we assume you are free to make a presentation on any problem at this or the next meeting, including political problems, and we could then comment on it. But we recognize that political problems have to be discussed also.
On the first question: you asked about the relationship between our troop withdrawal schedule and Vietnamization—whether our schedule is based on Vietnamization.
In case you and we come to an agreement, the agreement will supersede the Vietnamization policy. Under the Vietnamization policy, our troop withdrawals depend on the three criteria established by President Nixon.
Under a negotiated agreement, our withdrawal continues under the schedule of the agreement as long as the agreement is being maintained, and regardless of what happens elsewhere.
As for the time period of withdrawal, of course Madame Binh did not consult us when she established a period of six months for the period of our withdrawal.
The period we have given here represents our best judgment of what is technically feasible under present circumstances. But it has certain elements of flexibility.
The major problem is to agree on the principles—including some of the principles of reciprocity. We could consider this one of the technical modalities.
Xuan Thuy: And what about modalities?
Mr. Kissinger: I have listed a series of issues. We think they can be discussed at Avenue Kleber in greater detail.
If you want to, I can give you some rough ideas we have on how other non-South Vietnamese forces should be withdrawn, but we would like to hear your ideas on this. We think it might be more natural.5
(Thuy and Tho talk among themselves.)[Page 56]
Xuan Thuy: Because this is a requirement of yours, you have been thinking about it. We haven’t asked questions about it, so we haven’t been thinking about it. What is your demand?
Le Duc Tho: You have demanded from us, so what is your demand? We demanded six months for your withdrawal. Now you have demanded something from us, this is Minister Xuan Thuy’s question.
Mr. Kissinger: I find it difficult to believe that Xuan Thuy and Le Duc Tho have not yet thought about any question on Vietnam. But since you have appealed to my dominant characteristic—my vanity—I will give you some thoughts.
I want to repeat that if for historic, legal or moral reasons, you prefer to operate on the basis of two schedules, we are prepared to consider this. I am responding to Minister Xuan Thuy’s request.
We regard the presence of non-South Vietnamese forces in sanctuaries in neighboring countries as having a direct impact on the war and as being part of the problem—particularly those in camps along and near the borders of South Vietnam.6
We believe that with the agreement, no new non-South Vietnamese personnel should be introduced, and the withdrawal then begins.
We believe that 25 percent of the non-South Vietnamese personnel should be withdrawn by the end of five months.
We believe that the return of all American prisoners of war should be completed at the end of five months.
After eight months, the withdrawal should be 50 percent completed.
After 12 months, it should be 75 percent completed. After 16 months, it should be totally complete, and all the bases in Cambodia and Laos along the frontier and the infiltration trails should be closed. (There was a long delay then while the North Vietnamese compared notes.)
Xuan Thuy: That is clear. Do you have more?
Mr. Kissinger: No.
Xuan Thuy: Now we will express our views.
Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger today has spoken first about procedural questions, and then about substantive questions which you called the “heart of the issue.”
As to the question of speaking first, I think it is not an important question. In the previous meetings, since we met on your request, we invited you to speak first.[Page 57]
You also recalled today the words “serious intent.” As we understand by the words “serious intent,” we understand negotiations so as to come to a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam problem on the basis of respect for the independence, sovereignty and self-determination of the Vietnamese people. And under this meaning of earnest intent, we are serious at the Kleber Street meetings.
At this meeting, our attitude is also serious. Naturally, we do want to make rapid settlement, and we will speak frankly as you say. We understand the problem is difficult and complicated. But we are prepared to find a just solution with you. Now I shall express our views on how to discuss the problems.
We have said we support the overall solution of the PRG. Now, I think it unnecessary to repeat the 10 points. We have spoken a great deal about them. I would like to propose that the negotiation should be held on two principal questions out of these 10 points. That is, military and political problems. We would like to discuss all of the problems. But the main problem is that military and political problems are linked together.7
The discussion cannot be held on military problems without discussing political problems, and discussions cannot be held on political problems without discussion of military problems. Therefore, we would like to discuss both political and military problems. And, if the discussion of these two military and political problems leads to agreement, then the solution of other problems should be easy.
Mr. Kissinger: What else is there besides military and political problems?
Xuan Thuy: I am coming to that.
I have been speaking of our point of view. Now I will present my views on the way to discuss the problem. Military and political problems must always be linked together. First, when talking of military problems, we may shift to political problems, and when talking of political problems, we may shift to military problems. Secondly, when discussing political and military problems, when either side thinks of a problem outside political and military problems, it may raise them.8
As to the schedule of withdrawal, you said Madame Binh did not consult you. But Madame Binh raised it a number of times at Kleber Street. It is not necessary to repeat here.
As for political problems, we have raised the question of replacing Thieu-Ky-Khiem, and forming a coalition government composed of [Page 58] three components. This is our policy, and this is our view on the way to discuss the problem.
I now leave word to Mr. Le Duc Tho.
Le Duc Tho: I now have something to add to what was said by Minister Xuan Thuy.
It is difficult indeed to reach a peaceful solution to the war which has been going on between us and you. But whether these differences will be resolved will depend on good will and serious intent as defined by Minister Xuan Thuy.
If you continue the policy of Vietnamization or you decide to negotiate from a position of strength, then it will be difficult to resolve the problem.9
But if now you want really to settle the problem peacefully and seriously, we are prepared to have such an attitude. But a rapid solution will depend on this good will and attitude.
To settle this matter, Minister Xuan Thuy has asked a question of whether you are prepared to discuss all the problems contained in the 10 points. Among these problems contained in the 10 points there are two main problems: political and military problems. Minister Xuan Thuy has proposed a manner of discussion. I would like to ask if you agree on this manner of discussion. Last time I spoke clearly of my views in this connection. But today we have not received a clear answer. Instead you raised only military problems. We recognize you have gone partially into the substance of military problems. But we think we should agree on a work program and second on the manner of discussion, and then begin our work. When discussion begins, we shall present our views on political and military questions, linked together.10
But in the course of discussion, if we meet an obstacle in discussing military problems, we will shift to political problems; and if we meet an obstacle in discussing political problems, we will shift to military problems. There must be agreement between us and you on this point.
And if now we and you come to agreement on principles, then details may be referred to Avenue Kleber. When the discussions at Kleber Street are completed, then we come to the signing of the agreement.
This is one question we would like to have clear views from you on. As to military problems, you have started into the substance today, and we shall carefully study your position and I shall give you our [Page 59] answer at the next meeting, if any. But I would like to make some preliminary remarks. These are my remarks, not yet a counter proposal.
As far as your presentation is concerned with military problems, you have stated the U.S. would withdraw all U.S. and allied troops. It is a legal basis. As for what you have said on non-South Vietnamese troops, it is a different legal basis, it is a practical and technical question.
But when speaking about a schedule, your program shows two concurrent programs for the withdrawal of your and North Vietnamese troops, to be completed in the same period.
Therefore, your proposal amounts to mutual withdrawal. Your way of speaking is in very technical terms.
As for the period of withdrawal, we think there is some setback in your proposal. It is a longer period than that proposed by you at Kleber. It was 12 months for both sides to withdraw, and now it is 16 months for both sides to withdraw, a longer period.
Moreover, this schedule is withdrawal by driblets. Previously, under Vietnamization you withdrew your troops, in what we called driblets, on an average of over 10,000 men a month. Now, under this schedule, there are months in which you withdraw under 10,000, even 5,000 men. You said we should go into substance, not bargaining, then what is this schedule?
This is one of my preliminary remarks on your presentation. But we shall study your presentation, and give a response later. Now I would like to speak about what you said at the beginning of the meeting about military pressure.
In fact, we are an oppressed people. You came to our country to oppress us, and you have constantly maintained military pressure. And for the time being, the war continues to be intensified in South Vietnam in air activities, toxic chemical operations, and pacification operations.
And you have extended the war to Laos. Since Mr. Nixon came to power he has intensified the war in Laos. He occupied the Plain of Jars, and intensified the air war to unprecendented fierceness, so as to make pressure on the Northern part of our country, and to coordinate with the South Vietnamese battlefront.
With regard to Cambodia, you have been constantly maintaining military pressure on Cambodia so that country would give up its peaceful and neutral policies. It is the U.S., for the time being—no one else—who has created and maintained this tension in Phnom Penh.
We therefore wonder which side is using military pressure to put pressure on in negotiations.
It is our firm conviction that so long as you prolong and intensify the war, you will meet defeat. The experience we have had in Laos is clear.[Page 60]
In Laos, as in Vietnam after the peace, you intervened. You also launched the war on the Pathet Lao. But the Pathet Lao forces were not overwhelmed. Then in 1962 the Geneva Agreements were signed. The Geneva Agreements of 1962 were torn again and war resumed. But you cannot overwhelm the Pathet Lao. You occupied the Plain of Jars. Now you lost it again. Laos is evidence of your policy of using Asians to fight Asians. But your policy fails and you cannot win.
Therefore, your Vietnamization policy will fail. If you refuse to draw experience from this situation, then there would be a second Laos in Cambodia. Prince Sihanouk said himself that Cambodia will be turned into another Laos. If you failed in Laos and Vietnam, how can you succeed in Cambodia?11
We have repeatedly said that we respect the 1962 agreement on Laos and the 1954 agreement on Cambodia. But if you don’t respect these Geneva Agreements of 1962 and 1954, and you intensify the war, then the Laotians, Cambodians and Vietnamese will unite to fight you. These three people were united in the fight against the French.
If you don’t respect what you have signed, then certainly the three Indo-Chinese people will unite and defeat you. Therefore, the military pressure you speak about is not military pressure from our side. There is no other way for us but to continue to fight if your military pressure continues.
As for us, we don’t want to make military pressure. We are an oppressed people, and we do not want to fight, but we must against aggression.
If you really want a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam problem with good will, then we are prepared for it as I said.
This is what I have to add today. We should agree on a program of work, and then begin discussions.
Mr. Kissinger: Let me make some observations. This is a quick reaction to what you have said. I have not had an opportunity to study my colleague’s notes.
Very frankly, the problem exists between us that it is hard to tell when you are saying something for psychological effect and when you are saying what you believe. For example, last time and today you keep saying that our air operations have intensified. But they have actually been reduced 25 percent. I do not know what this may mean to you, but I know they have been reduced by 25 percent. It is a fact.
Xuan Thuy: Theoretically speaking.
Mr. Kissinger: No. Practically speaking.[Page 61]
Le Duc Tho: Counting raids against North Vietnam, including B52’s around the DMZ?
Mr. Kissinger: Counting everything. I am not saying that this is a consolation for those still receiving the bombs, but it is a fact.
Secondly, what you say concerning Laos is an interesting example of the problem we both face. You say you want to preserve the Accords of 1962 and that we are trying to upset them. We sincerely believe that we are trying to preserve them, and you are trying to upset them.
If I can make a personal observation, you are doing better in upsetting them while “seeking to preserve them,” than we are doing in preserving them while “trying to upset them.”
Le Duc Tho: What you have just said about Laos reminds me of what you say about South Vietnam. You are constantly saying that we scrapped the 1954 Agreements but the opposite happened. This was like Laos.
Mr. Kissinger: Rather than debate what happened in Laos and who is responsible for what in Laos, let me make the following statement.
If you are really interested in preserving the 1962 Accords and are not trying to advance further, we have no interest in increasing the bombing in North Laos. Under these conditions, any bombing by our side in Northern Laos would be sharply reduced to very minimal proportions.12
On the other hand, if offensive operations on your side continue, then the question you have put to me becomes very relevant to us—how can we have confidence in any future agreement between us if present agreements are being broken.
Le Duc Tho: It is the reverse of what you said. It is our side which must wonder whether you will respect and maintain agreements you sign, from the fact you violated the agreement in Laos.
Mr. Kissinger: I do not want to debate with Mr. Special Adviser. Rather than accuse each other of violating agreements, I think it is important to make a concrete step, and for both of us to stop what we are doing.
Le Duc Tho: This is our firm conviction: We have always been respecting the Geneva Agreements of 1962. And if now you propose that we no longer debate who is responsible for what, we can sign an agreement to stop the debate here now.
Mr. Kissinger: I don’t want to stop the debate. I want to stop what is going on. An interesting fact, as I said the last time, is that most of the Pathet Lao we meet speak Vietnamese very well.[Page 62]
Le Duc Tho: I think if you stop your aggression in Laos, the Pathet Lao will stop fighting.
Xuan Thuy: I would like to add one sentence to close this chapter. I agree we should not talk of the Laotian problem in our talks here.
As to the whole problem of Laos, since I was one of the negotiators on Laos, I am fully aware of the problem. If I now speak of Laos, I must speak of the beginnings—how the U.S. intervened, how the U.S. makes aggression, etc. It would be too long.
Mr. Kissinger: I do not wish to prolong the debate on Laos. We are prepared to maintain the Accords. We are prepared to discuss concrete steps to preserve the Accords. We have no intention of having Laos as a base in Southeast Asia or directed against North Vietnam. We cannot accept having the 1962 Agreement overthrown, which would have serious consequences on our discussions here. This is not a debating point, it is a fact. I want to state it as precisely as possible.13
One final point, we have no desire to take away territory from the forces which now occupy it on the Communist side.
Le Duc Tho: I firmly believe that if you stop your aggression and really respect the Geneva Agreement of 1962, then the matter can be easily solved.
Xuan Thuy: May I add one sentence, then shift to another? Not only do we respect the 1962 Agreement, we support the five points put forward by the Neo Lao Hak Xat. Now we should continue: Have you any other problems to raise?
Mr. Kissinger: Yes. I would like to raise a few points about what Mr. Special Adviser has said. We have made no effort to get Cambodia to abandon its policy of neutrality. Until a few months ago we did not even have diplomatic relations. Even today, we do not have full diplomatic representation there. And we do not have forces on Cambodian soil.14 Therefore, we have no problem respecting the neutrality of Cambodia. As you saw from what I said at Minister Xuan Thuy’s request, that is all we want from Cambodia.
It is also incorrect to interpret what President Nixon says as meaning that we want Asians to fight Asians. I don’t think it is useful to discuss the Nixon Doctrine at this point though I could do so at some point.
Le Duc Tho: All right.
Mr. Kissinger: We are interested in peace in Southeast Asia and the independence and sovereignty of the countries concerned. And I [Page 63] am enough of an historian to believe that the day may come when Hanoi perhaps will believe that this is a policy which can benefit it.
But I don’t think we should debate historic causes. Our participation is worthwhile only if we discuss solutions. These exchanges of who did what in 1962 are not appropriate at our level.
As for your comments on the specific proposal I made today, I would not expect experienced diplomats like Minister Xuan Thuy and experienced advisers like Special Adviser Le Duc Tho not to challenge whatever we said to see what I will say next.
Le Duc Tho: Because your proposal is still an argument of beginning, it has not gone into substance. You have put forward a high price.
Mr. Kissinger: On what you said about driblets, when one withdraws close to 500,000 men over whatever period, it is not driblets. Especially when it is a continuing process and the numbers increase each month.
Le Duc Tho: But the entry of your troops was very rapid.
Mr. Kissinger: It just seemed that way to you.
Le Duc Tho: It is a fact.
Mr. Kissinger: No, it took over two years.
Let me demonstrate my inexperience as a diplomat by making the following statement to Minister Xuan Thuy and Special Adviser Le Duc Tho: If we come to an understanding about the other issues in the negotiations, the question of timing will not be the one on which the negotiations will fail—although we will not reach the exuberant optimism of Madame Binh. Let me therefore say that in our future discussions, we should concentrate on solutions and not on placing blame.15
Now let me turn to the essential points Minister Xuan Thuy and Special Adviser Le Duc Tho made. As I understand the proposition, it is this: the 10 points advanced by your side and the various proposals advanced by ours resolve themselves essentially into two issues. There are military issues and there are political questions. You believe these two issues are closely related. We are willing to discuss these two points together.
As I understand it, there should be flexibility in switching from one set to another, so if progress is made in one area it can be used to reinforce progress in another. And if there is deadlock in one, we can try to reduce it by progress in another.
Le Duc Tho: Right.[Page 64]
Mr. Kissinger: We are prepared to proceed on this basis. It must be clear that this particular forum can only be maintained if there is real progress and not just general discussions. I don’t believe the President would agree to continuing these meetings if they are only for an exchange of views.
On this basis, perhaps the best procedure is to stop talking about good will, and to begin to practice it.
Xuan Thuy: To sum up, today we have agreed. We raised the 10 points, you the 8 points, and others. We shall concentrate the discussion on military and political questions. You have agreed that we will switch from one to the other. You have agreed on this manner of discussion.
As to your proposals on military problems, I agree with Mr. Le Duc Tho that we will study them and speak out our views later.
As to the military and political problems we have raised, we would like to hear from you next time.
Mr. Kissinger: We have spoken on military questions.
Xuan Thuy: Next time you will speak on political questions and we will speak on military questions.16
Mr. Kissinger: Mr. Minister I admire your skill but . . .
Le Duc Tho: We agreed in principle.
Mr. Kissinger: To maintain symmetry, and so that I do not develop a complete inferiority complex, I suggest that you speak on political questions, and we will be prepared to comment, and you give us your views, and you make your proposals, in a framework different from that we have already discussed.
Le Duc Tho: We would like to propose that you should speak on both problems, military and political, and then we will speak on both. It is not a question of inferiority complexes. It is negotiations. You expose your views on military and political questions and we will comment and make known our views.
And actually we have spoken on political questions, of coalition government with three elements. You only said that a solution must reflect the balance of political forces. We have spoken about the principles of how to solve the political problem.
Mr. Kissinger: I still believe that we cannot have negotiations if we are put in the position of students being examined by you on our understanding of your position on the 10 points.[Page 65]
Le Duc Tho: This is not true. These are negotiations between us. We have expressed our views. We would like to hear your views on the whole position. Then we will speak.
Mr. Kissinger: But there is no law of nature which insists that it is always our side which should make propositions. What concerns me is that I am always in the position of being a student of Mr. Le Duc Tho.
Xuan Thuy: Just as Special Adviser Kissinger said, our negotiations are aimed at coming to a real settlement. It is an exchange of views. The more rapidly this is done the better. That is why we like to listen to you on both of these crucial questions, so that it is easier for us to express our views. As to our positions, on the main, the principal questions, we have stated our positions.
Mr. Kissinger: So have we. If both sides state their points of view, there is no point in these meetings. Let me make one thing clear. You must not think that I have come here only to accept your propositions. I have come here to find an honorable compromise. If you believe that I have come here to accept your proposals, then we should stop these negotiations now.17
Le Duc Tho: But I have told you that we are here in negotiations, to come to an agreement. Neither side forces the other to accept its position. Neither side puts pressure to force the other to accept its position. We expound our point of view.
Mr. Kissinger: We will then both come to the next meeting prepared to be specific, and prepared to state our positions, not simply to comment on the other’s position.
Le Duc Tho: This is quite right and clear. Please comment on our position.
Mr. Kissinger: You must say something first.
Le Duc Tho: We will speak on our position.
Mr. Kissinger: I have some technical questions. When do you want to meet next?
Xuan Thuy: It is up to you to decide. We are busy from now to the end of March. It is up to you to decide after the beginning of April.
Mr. Kissinger: First, let me ask another question. Must it be in Paris?
Le Duc Tho: Where should we go?
Mr. Kissinger: I have no specific idea. The problem is that it is extremely difficult for me to move without being observed. For example, I have to be in Switzerland in mid-April for a conference. But I do not insist on this.[Page 66]
Xuan Thuy: Because you can come only on a weekend, we should meet on April 4th. You have easy transport means.
Mr. Kissinger: I would be happy to send a plane to bring Mr. Le Duc Tho to the United States. We could have a meeting of special advisers and ignore the other ministers and advisers.
Xuan Thuy: It is hard for us to go to other countries. And the French Government sends someone to accompany us.
Mr. Kissinger: I invite you all to the United States.
Le Duc Tho: After a settlement of the problem.
Mr. Kissinger: I could probably come on the 5th of April, if that is convenient.
Xuan Thuy: We are willing to sacrifice our Sunday.
Mr. Kissinger: If Minister Xuan Thuy goes to church, I must revise all my opinions of him. 10:00 a.m.?
Xuan Thuy and Le Duc Tho: All right.
Mr. Kissinger: It may have to be on the sixth.
Le Duc Tho: 9:30 would be better.
Mr. Kissinger: All right.
(The meeting ended at approximately 1:20 p.m.)
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 852, For the President’s File—Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. III. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at 11 Rue Darthé. No drafting information appears on the original, but Smyser and Lake sent it to Kissinger for transmittal to the President. Kissinger forwarded it to Nixon, explaining in an attached note that “the important passages have been sidelined in red. I have not sidelined any of my opening statement.”
In two memoranda drafted for the President before this meeting, Kissinger developed his approach to the meeting and asked the President to approve it. Nixon did so in a handwritten note on the first memorandum that reads: “We need a breakthrough on principle—& substance—Tell them we want to go immediately to the core of the problem.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970, Document 192, footnote 5)
In the first memorandum, dated February 27, Kissinger wrote:
“There are basically two issues involved in the talks:
“—mutual withdrawal of non-South Vietnamese military forces [i.e., North Vietnamese, United States, and United States’ allies], which we have raised; and
“—political settlement in South Vietnam, which they have raised.
“Agreement with the North Vietnamese on a verifiable mutual withdrawal is in our and the GVN’s fundamental interests, even if there is no political settlement. But the North Vietnamese will almost certainly not wish to withdraw their forces until they have a good idea of the shape of a political settlement, since the GVN seems at the moment to have the upper hand over the VC.
“As a general line of approach in the next meetings, therefore, I propose that I put forward a precise and fairly attractive proposal for mutual withdrawal, which could be negotiated with regard to timing but would necessarily include absolute reciprocity and devices for verification. I would seek to get from them a counter-proposal on this issue and a new proposal on political settlement.” (Ibid., Document 192)
In the second memorandum, undated but typed on March 16, Kissinger observed:
“From our viewpoint, there is one issue to which all others are subordinate—reciprocity in the withdrawal of non-South Vietnamese troops from South Vietnam (and foreign troops from Laos and Cambodia). Our first objective must be to reach agreement on reciprocity in principle or in fact. Once they have done so, they have given up their claim to moral superiority and can no longer argue privately that their forces are in South Vietnam on a different moral and legal basis than ours. This would be a quantum jump in the negotiations.”
Based on earlier negotiating sessions, Kissinger believed that the North Vietnamese would not accept a straightforward concept of publicly agreed upon mutual withdrawal. Therefore, he devised a complex scheme in which the two sides would develop independent plans for troop withdrawal, but each plan, once implementation began in the wake of a negotiated political settlement, would take place over the same span of time and result in all non-South Vietnamese forces being withdrawn by the same date. Thus, they would be implemented not on a single schedule, Kissinger told the President, but “based on two concurrent schedules.” Kissinger added that this approach “should make it easier for them to agree to withdraw their troops, since they can save face by not having to agree to a single withdrawal schedule.” (Ibid., Document 200)
Le Duc Tho responded to Kissinger’s plan in the March 16 meeting, saying: “But when speaking about a schedule, your program shows two concurrent programs for the withdrawal of yours and North Vietnamese troops, to be completed in the same period. Therefore, your proposal amounts to mutual withdrawal.” It is worth noting the North Vietnamese translation of Tho’s statement: “However, when you speak about the withdrawal of the troops allegedly belonging to the North, you demand that these troops also be completely pulled out [of South Vietnam] within the same time-limit. In fact it is a demand of simultaneous and complete troop withdrawal.” (Luu and Nguyen, Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris, p. 126)↩
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