49. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Le Duc Tho, Special Adviser to DRV Paris Delegation
  • Nguyen Co Thach, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Phung Manh Cung, Vice-Chief of Protocol
  • Phan Hien, Member of DRV Paris Delegation
  • Other Members of DRV Paris Delegation
  • Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Herbert G. Klein, Director of Communications for the Executive Branch
  • Ambassador William H. Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
  • Richard T. Kennedy, Senior NSC Staff
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff
  • Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
  • David A. Engel, NSC Staff, Interpreter
  • Miss Irene Derus, NSC Secretary
  • Mrs. Bonnie D. Andrews, NSC Secretary
  • John D. Ready, U.S. Secret Service
  • William J. Bacherman, U.S. Secret Service
  • Gary McLeod, U.S. Secret Service
[Page 1369]

[Dr. Kissinger’s party landed at Noi Bai (Phuc Yen) airfield northwest of Hanoi at 10:30 a.m., where they were welcomed by Special Adviser Le Duc Tho, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Co Thach, Vice Chief of Protocol Phung Cung, Nguyen Dinh Phuong, the interpreter, and other members of the DRV Paris delegation. Le Duc Tho briefly showed Dr. Kissinger the facilities newly set up at the airfield for housing the crew of the U.S. aircraft. The group then transferred to an AN–24 jet transport and was flown to Gia Lam international airport northeast of Hanoi. A convoy of official cars (Chaikas for the principals and Volgas for the rest of the party) drove the party into Hanoi.

[The party arrived at the Government Guest House (the former residence of the French Governor-General of Tonkin) at about 11:00 a.m. The group took seats in the main reception room. Tea was served and photographers took pictures.]

Le Duc Tho: I will exchange views on the schedule. You will have lunch at 1300 hours and we will leave you completely free then. At 1500 hours you will call on the Prime Minister. The Foreign Minister and myself will be present.

Dr. Kissinger: All right. The whole delegation, or . . .?

Le Duc Tho: You tell us those people who will attend.

Dr. Kissinger: I will give you a list.

Le Duc Tho: Then you can rest for half an hour. Then from 15:30 to 18:30, talks at the Prime Minister’s office, that is, the President’s House. And the Vice Premier and Foreign Minister and I will be there.

[Page 1370]

Dr. Kissinger: We will bring one of our notetakers, one of the girls, along. I will give you a list.

Le Duc Tho: On our side will be the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, Vice Minister Thach, and Mr. Hien.

Dr. Kissinger: As long as Loi isn’t there.

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Loi is now in Saigon.

Ambassador Sullivan: Malheureusement.

Le Duc Tho: In the evening I myself will give a reception for your whole delegation at the President’s House.

Then tomorrow there will be talks from 9:00 to 1300 hours.

Dr. Kissinger: Who will participate on your side?

Le Duc Tho: The same composition: The Prime Minister, the Vice Premier, and myself. Then at 1500 hours there will be a little sight-seeing tour of the city.

Dr. Kissinger: Good.

Le Duc Tho: Then you resume talks at 1600 hours. Then dinner at 2000 hours and a little film show. Then on the 12th the remaining questions after the talks with the Prime Minister will be discussed between you and me.

Dr. Kissinger: You are threatening me already!

Le Duc Tho: Then a sight-seeing tour in the afternoon. Then at 2000 hours a reception given by the Prime Minister in your honor for your party. Then a film show about the landscapes of Vietnam.

Dr. Kissinger: That is very nice.

Le Duc Tho: So on the 13th, if we have not finished our work, we can talk.

Dr. Kissinger: We can use the morning for talks.

Le Duc Tho: This is only a tentative program. If we have not finished our work we can change it. [He hands Dr. Kissinger a copy of the schedule, Tab A.]

Dr. Kissinger: It sounds like a very good program and we can decide this afternoon in which order we discuss the topics. At the beginning of the meeting.

Le Duc Tho: In my view we can follow the following order . . .

Dr. Kissinger: We can discuss this in a smaller group.

Le Duc Tho: All right. Now I invite the party to see your rooms.

[At 11:35 Mr. Klein, the photographers, and Secret Service left the room.]

Le Duc Tho: So roughly the program is good? Here is an announcement of your arrival. [Tab B]

Dr. Kissinger: Yes. What time tomorrow shall we make this statement?

[Page 1371]

Le Duc Tho: Probably it will be broadcast for the newspapers tomorrow.

Dr. Kissinger: We will want to do it at the same time in Washington. Do you want to do it at 10 o’clock tonight?

Le Duc Tho: Yes. At 10:00 tonight here and at 10:00 a.m. in Washington.

Dr. Kissinger: We have to get it to the plane.

Vice Minister Thach: We have a telephone.

Dr. Kissinger: This announcement is agreed. It is fine. We will do it at 10:00 a.m. Washington time.

Le Duc Tho: Let’s speak about the agenda. Probably the ceasefire becomes effective over ten days. Let us therefore review the implementation of the Agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: Both sides will have a very strict implementation of the Agreement. Secondly, we will talk about the healing of the war wounds and the post-war reconstruction in Vietnam.

Dr. Kissinger: I thought the Special Adviser had forgotten about that.

Le Duc Tho: I am still interested in that.

Ambassador Sullivan: I notice the painting on the wall there [behind Dr. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho]. It shows all your buffalo!

Le Duc Tho: We will discuss about normalization of our relations, diplomatic relations. Then fourth, we will talk about the content of the International Conference. These are the four main questions.

Then we can discuss about the ceasefire in Laos. We have agreed with each other. Then you should prevail upon Mr. Souvanna to resolve the questions about the joint communiqué and the ceasefire on the date we have agreed to.

Dr. Kissinger: He is willing but he thinks the Pathet Lao are raising many unreasonable questions. He is prepared to have a ceasefire on the 12th.

I had a long talk with him about it yesterday.

Le Duc Tho: The talks may be continued by both sides. As to the ceasefire, we agreed to it. Let them have a ceasefire on the date we agreed.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: But I think Mr. Phouma should raise the question and the two sides should issue a short communiqué.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me understand: The Pathet Lao are prepared to have a ceasefire without a general settlement pending negotiations? [Page 1372] They are prepared to have that on the 12th? [Le Duc Tho nods yes.] So you think Souvanna should propose to have a ceasefire and to negotiate the other issues later.

Le Duc Tho: And then both sides can issue a short joint communiqué, an order of the ceasefire.

Ambassador Sullivan: That is not the way the Pathet Lao are now proposing it.

Dr. Kissinger: That is not the way the Pathet Lao are now proposing it.

Le Duc Tho: No, the Pathet Lao agrees to that. We have agreed with our allies.

Dr. Kissinger: You are saying that if the Prime Minister proposes to issue a ceasefire order, it will now be accepted.

Le Duc Tho: That is right.

Dr. Kissinger: I will consider it, and we may make the suggestion. Maybe if the Special Adviser could come here a half hour before the meeting this afternoon, I could discuss with him the message we might send, so we understand each other.

Le Duc Tho: A message to whom?

Dr. Kissinger: A message to Vientiane.

Le Duc Tho: I propose let us exchange views now on the program. This afternoon you will meet with the Prime Minister and discuss it.

Dr. Kissinger: All right, we will discuss it. Because it is a matter of very serious importance to us that this understanding be observed.

Le Duc Tho: Whatever understanding we have with you, we will abide by it. But whatever understandings you have I think you should also abide by it.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: Let’s exchange views on the agenda.

Dr. Kissinger: We had the others slightly different. I agree we should discuss the implementation first. I agree we should discuss the normalization of relations and the content of the International Conference. I would have proposed that we discuss the reconstruction problem last. But since the Special Adviser yielded to me in Paris, and since he is the host, I propose that we discuss implementation of the Agreement, then the issue of Laos and maybe briefly Cambodia—the Special Adviser’s old hunting ground—then we can discuss economic reconstruction. Then normalization of our relations, and then the International Conference.

So I substantially accept your program. I have just moved Laos before economic reconstruction because there is the urgency of time. It is part of the implementation of the Agreement.

[Page 1373]

Le Duc Tho: Let me propose this. Let us discuss the implementation of the Agreement and the Lao question and then the problem of economic reconstruction and normalization of relations and diplomatic relations, and finally the international guarantee conference. There is nothing much to be discussed on this subject; we leave it to last. After that we discuss anything about Cambodia. Sihanouk has just left here.

Ambassador Sullivan: He stayed in this building.

Dr. Kissinger: That must be why my arrival was delayed. We really must have a serious discussion about Cambodia. Why not discuss it this afternoon?

Le Duc Tho: You want to discuss implementation and Laos and Cambodia today, and then economic reconstruction, and then normalization.

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: I agree then.

Dr. Kissinger: One technical question about the invitation to the Conference. This is for Ambassador Sullivan and Minister Thach to discuss. They have probably already settled it.

Vice Minister Thach: Yes.

Dr. Kissinger: A conspiracy of diplomats.

Le Duc Tho: They settled this question while driving.

Dr. Kissinger: You know we already have a seating plan? [Laughter] I think one requirement is that Madame Binh not sit next to Foreign Minister Lam.

Le Duc Tho: The agenda is fine.

Dr. Kissinger: The agenda is fine.

Le Duc Tho: The program I have proposed to you is only tentative. If according to our discussion we choose to do so, we can change it later.

Dr. Kissinger: And we have time on the 13th which we can use. One other thing . . .

Le Duc Tho: And the joint communiqué.

Dr. Kissinger: I was just going to raise it. Minister Thach and Ambassador Sullivan drafted it in the car but we should look at it, Mr. Special Adviser! At the end of the second day’s discussion, we should review it. Our proposal is to publish it maybe on the 14th, the day after I leave, at 10 o’clock in the evening here and 10 o’clock in the morning in Washington.

Le Duc Tho: All right.

Dr. Kissinger: But we attach great importance to this visit as the beginning of a new era in our relationship.

Le Duc Tho: In our assessment, your trip this time has its significance in the relationship between our two countries. It shifts into a [Page 1374] new period in our relations. We have seized power nearly thirty years now. We have never had any relations with the United States Government over this period, and we have never received any U.S. delegation led by so high-ranking an American official as you. This fact in itself shows the importance of our meeting here.

Dr. Kissinger: Let us all make an effort so we will look back on this as the beginning of a new relationship.

Le Duc Tho: You are right. So we have agreed on the agenda and the program. Do you have anything else to raise?

Dr. Kissinger: No. Previously this would have taken us two years to settle!

Le Duc Tho: I will rest now and you will have lunch in one hour. I will leave you to yourself. This evening I invite you to the President’s House.

Dr. Kissinger: May I tell the Special Adviser what a personal pleasure it is to see you again.

Le Duc Tho: So am I. We are now entering a new relationship. But between you and I, the period of tense sessions is over now.

Dr. Kissinger: And we will have as good an outcome in peace as in our previous talks—but faster.

Le Duc Tho: I am confident in that, and I am convinced that if both sides are making an effort we can achieve fruitful results.

[The meeting then ended.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 113, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Hanoi Memcons, February 10–13, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held in the Reception Room of the Government Guest House. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

    Kissinger’s long-planned visit to Hanoi, beginning on February 10 with this meeting and continuing until February 13, included consultations with Le Duc Tho and senior members of the Government of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam and the Lao Dong (Communist) Party. Kissinger’s later reflections on this round of meetings noted:

    “We had wrung [in the Paris Peace Accords] a tenuous compromise from these ideologues, but it took a greater act of faith than I was capable of to believe that they would abide willingly by an inconclusive outcome. The purpose of my journey to Hanoi in February 1973 was to encourage any tendencies that existed to favor peaceful reconstruction over continued warfare, to stabilize the peace insofar as prospects of American goodwill could do so, and to warn of the serious consequences should these hopes be disappointed.” (Kissinger, Ending the Vietnam War, p. 435)

    After the last meeting on February 13, Kissinger wrote: “I left Hanoi with determination [to make the agreement work] rather than optimism [that it would].” (Ibid., p. 451)

    Regarding the fate of the Peace Accords, now primarily in the hands of the North Vietnamese and their Southern allies, Kissinger reported to the President:

    “They [the North Vietnamese] have two basic choices which I frankly pointed out to them [on February 11]. They can use the Vietnam Agreement as an offensive weapon, nibbling at its edges, pressuring Saigon, confronting us with some hard choices. In this case they would carry out the release of our prisoners and wait till our withdrawals were completed before showing their real colors unambiguously; they would keep their forces in Laos and Cambodia through procrastination of negotiations or straight-forward violations; and launch a big new attack soon. They would calculate that we would not have the domestic base or will to respond.

    “Their other option is to basically honor the Agreement and seek their objectives through gradual evolution. They would welcome a more constructive relationship with us, seek our economic assistance and concentrate on reconstruction and building socialism in the north. Their Indochina allies would be told to pursue their objectives by political and psychological means. They would, in short, adhere to a more peaceful course and let the forces of history work their will, at least for a few years.

    “The North Vietnamese naturally proclaim the second option as their settled course, but this means nothing. I could not judge from my talks whether their enormous losses, isolation from their allies, and the prospect of [American] aid mean they are ready for a breather. For them the ideal course would be to follow both options at once: violating the Agreement to pursue their objectives and improving relations with us so as to get economic aid. Our essential task is to convince them that they must make a choice between the two.” (Kissinger’s report quoted ibid., pp. 451–452)