5. 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
(The meeting began with some opening pleasantries.)
Mr. Kissinger: I have one technical point, and then look forward to hearing your views. It is a minor technical point on the figures I gave you at the last meeting.
The figure for the number of U.S. troops now in Vietnam is 12,000 higher than the figure I gave you, that is the total figure is 434,000, not 422,000. You should therefore change the figures I gave you last time as follows: In the fourth month, rather than 27,000 men we would withdraw 35,000. And in the fifth month we would withdraw 39,000 rather than 35,000.
These figures do not make any substantive difference, but I wanted to be exactly accurate.[Page 68]
And, as I have said, there are elements of flexibility in our proposal with respect to timing.
At the last meeting, Special Adviser Le Duc Tho and Minister Xuan Thuy said you would carefully study our position on military issues and make a counter-proposal. I wonder if you are ready to do so now? Of course, we recognize this question will be dependent on the settlement of political issues, which we are also willing to discuss today.
Xuan Thuy: You have finished?
Mr. Kissinger: Yes.
Xuan Thuy: We said that you have made a proposal on military questions and we shall make our remarks on this proposal and put forward our own proposal. But last time I also said both sides should put forward their views on military and political questions, and you have not finished. We shall do the same, we shall put forward our position on both.
Last time you spoke only on military questions. I therefore propose you put forward your position on political problems.
Mr. Kissinger: I also pointed out two things last time. It is not admissible that we always speak first and put forward our position. You are then in the position of a critic commenting on our proposals.
There is nothing in your position which says you can’t speak now on military questions, and then we speak first on political questions.
Xuan Thuy: Last time, I said who speaks first or last is not an important point. It should not be raised as a procedural question. I also said that each side should present its stand on political and military problems at one time.
Mr. Kissinger: But I am sure the Minister will agree there should not be a procedure in which one side makes a proposal and then quotes itself as truth. This is an elemental way of proceeding. All the essential elements of our proposal on military issues are not on the table.
If procedure isn’t important, then the Minister should have no hesitation in commenting now.
Xuan Thuy: I wish to say this: the reason for my requesting this procedure is that previously you intended to settle only military questions. We said political and military questions are linked. Therefore if you speak only of military questions, it might make me believe you retain your original scheme of only discussing military questions.
Mr. Kissinger: I have told the Special Adviser that we will discuss military and political questions. We understand you will not agree to one without the other. We recognize that military and political questions are closely linked. I know the Special Adviser and Minister are capable of protecting your essential position, which is that military and political questions must be resolved simultaneously.[Page 69]
Xuan Thuy: You refuse to present your views on political problems; this is done intentionally by your side.
Mr. Kissinger: The Minister can assume that everything I do is intentional.
Xuan Thuy: However, I am prepared to express our views on military and political problems at one time.
At our last meeting on March 16 Mr. Special Adviser Le Duc Tho and myself have given preliminary remarks on the views expressed by Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger and on the schedule for troop withdrawal.
Afterwards, we have carefully studied your views and schedule for troop withdrawal.
Today, I would like to reaffirm the views we expressed the other day and would like to make ampler comments on it.
(Xuan Thuy now began to read from notes, and continued to use them throughout the remainder of this particular statement. He was occasionally corrected in a word by Le Duc Tho.)
First, we have expounded our view that the United States has insisted on demanding mutual troop withdrawal. We have also said that the U.S. has brought U.S. and other foreign troops allied to the U.S. one-half the way around the world for aggression in Vietnam. Therefore, the U.S. must completely withdraw all U.S. and allied troops from Vietnam without imposing conditions on the Vietnamese people.
As to the Vietnamese people who are fighting on their own soil, it is the legitimate self-defense right of any nation.
Therefore, the question of mutual withdrawal does not arise.
But in the views you expounded last time, you said the non-South Vietnamese forces cannot be put on the same legal, moral and historical basis as U.S. troops. It is only a technical problem.
But in practice your proposal is tantamount to a demand for mutual withdrawal. Therefore we cannot accept this principle.
Point two: As to the time period for troop withdrawal, previously the U.S. did not mention any time period. But in President Nixon’s November 3, 1969, speech he demanded mutual withdrawal in twelve months, and this was later repeated many times at Kleber Street.
But now at our private meetings, where we have agreed we should go directly into the heart of the central matter, and solve matters practically, you have put forward a higher price—sixteen months and not twelve as before. And for this sixteen month troop withdrawal, the greater part of U.S. forces will be withdrawn at the end of the period.
This shows that you still want to prolong your war of aggression, to prolong troop withdrawal so as not to withdraw all of your troops.[Page 70]
Point three: You also said that only when we came to agreement here would you appoint a new head of delegation at Kleber Street. This shows you want to prolong discussion and still want to downgrade the Paris talks on Vietnam, and want to use the appointment of a head of delegation as a condition for us.
Point four: While you have acted at the Paris Conference as I have just stated, you have also escalated the war in South Vietnam and Laos and you organized a coup d’état in Cambodia in attempting to use these two places to put pressure on the resistance fight of the Vietnamese people and to threaten the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.
The last time, you said we should not use military pressure on the negotiations. But in practice the U.S. has used military pressure. You want to compel the Vietnamese people to accept your terms.
All this makes us doubt your serious intent and your desire to make a settlement as has been affirmed many times by Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger.
And today you refused to expound your views on political problems following doing so on military problems. I have said many times that political problems should be linked to military problems.
But anyhow I will present our stand on military as well as political problems. As a matter of fact, we have presented the great lines of both our positions on military and political problems. Now, may I go into greater detail on both.
First, this military problem: we propose that U.S. and other troops of the U.S. camp should be withdrawn from South Vietnam in a period of six months. That expresses our support of Minister Madame Nguyen Thi Binh’s proposal.
In this six month period we propose that all U.S. combat troops—infantry, Marine, Air Force, Naval forces, motorized forces—should be withdrawn first, and then all remaining forces be withdrawn in the same period.
The other foreign troops of the U.S. camp should be withdrawn with U.S. troops.
At the same time with the withdrawal of U.S. troops and other troops of the U.S. camp, all U.S. bases should be dismantled or evacuated in six months.
As to the political problem, we propose that the U.S. respect the fundamental national rights of the Vietnamese people: independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity, and to recognize that South Vietnam be independent and neutral.
Another point—the form of government in South Vietnam and the organization of general elections will be implemented in three steps:
The first step—the present Saigon administration we recognize as a reality. But the leaders of the present Saigon administration—that is [Page 71] Thieu-Ky-Khiem—they are very warlike oppressing peace and neutrality. They terrorize the opposition forces in South Vietnam who are for peace in South Vietnam. Therefore they constitute an obstacle to a peaceful solution. Therefore the leaders of the Saigon administration—Thieu-Ky-Khiem—should be changed and a new Saigon administration should be formed which really stands for peace. It should send representatives to Paris for serious negotiations.
The second step is to form the provisional coalition government in South Vietnam including three components: the representatives of the Provisional Revolutionary Government, the representatives of the Saigon Administration without Thieu-Ky-Khiem, and the representatives of all other political forces whether in South Vietnam or abroad for political reasons. But all three components are standing for peace, independence and freedom of South Vietnam.
We think such a government is reasonable, and not the monopoly of any force.
The third step: after the withdrawal of U.S. troops and other foreign countries of the U.S. camp, then free and democratic elections will be organized in South Vietnam. Through these elections a national assembly will be established and a constitution drawn up. And then a definitive coalition government in South Vietnam will be formed.
As to the question of Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam: after agreement is reached on these military and political problems, we are prepared to discuss them.
As to the Paris conference on Vietnam, I once again request that the U.S. appoint a new chief of delegation.
These are our remarks and also our proposals.
Mr. Kissinger: I appreciate the remarks of the Minister. I would suggest we proceed as follows.
I will make comments on political questions which I have prepared and brought with me, and then make some comments on what Minister Xuan Thuy has said.
I recognize that the political issue is the most difficult problem that we face in these negotiations. It is at the heart of the problem as far as the Vietnamese are concerned. It is what the war has been about for over thirty years.
I pointed out at previous meetings that it is the view of my government that there should be created a process to register the existing relationship of political forces. This, we recognize, is not an easy matter to accomplish. It requires two things: that we agree on the existing relationship of political forces and secondly that we agree on a political process to express this relationship.[Page 72]
These are problems which people who operate in the same political and philosophical framework have difficulty in resolving. Given our philosophical differences, this is especially difficult.
I have had enough philosophical exchanges with Special Adviser Le Duc Tho and Minister Xuan Thuy on the meaning of Leninism to know that sharing of power is not an evident conclusion one can draw from Lenin’s theories.
I know that as Leninists you will agree with the proposition that there is no such thing as a static political situation. Our challenge, therefore, is to create a process which does not foreclose any outcome and gives every party a chance to participate and an adequate opportunity to contest the political issues.
What we are trying to do is to bring about a situation where the contest in Vietnam is political and no longer military. We are trying to separate the military from the political struggle.
Let me put it another way. We will not accept a military imposed solution. We will accept an outcome that reflects the popular will as reflected in a process that you and we have agreed on here in Paris.
I repeat: we recognize that this is difficult to do, but this is our objective. If we both could agree on this objective, we shall have taken a major step forward.
Our objection to your proposals is not their objective. But their practical result is to eliminate the possibility of a fair process. They would predetermine the political outcome by selecting those you define as peace-loving and by smashing the political forces of those who are opposed to you.
Let me make one more general observation. There is a big difference between discussing political and military issues. On military questions, we can make very precise proposals because they can make a change in the situation only if they are accepted. On the political field, however, the mere act of discussing political proposals changes political realities, as you understand better than I.
Le Duc Tho: What do you mean that the mere fact of discussing may change political realities? It is difficult to understand your philosophy, which is a little tortuous. It is different from Marxist philosophy, which is very realistic and practical. Bourgeois philosophy is very murky. I find nothing concrete.
Mr. Kissinger: When the war is over, I will invite Special Adviser Le Duc Tho to the United States to lecture on Marxist philosophy.
Le Duc Tho: If this would be good, I am prepared to do it any time.
Mr. Kissinger: I have noted that when the Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party speaks, it is never for less than four hours. Mr. Le Duc Tho should be grateful I never speak more than one half hour.[Page 73]
Le Duc Tho: But since you came here for these meetings, sometimes you speak over thirty minutes, but say nothing concrete. Last time you said Harvard professors never speak more than 45 minutes.
Mr. Kissinger: Never less.
Le Duc Tho: Never more than thirty minutes.
Xuan Thuy: Please continue. If not less, take some hours.
Mr. Kissinger: It is very difficult to please my colleagues from Hanoi. When I say something general, they accuse me of not being a Leninist. When I say something specific, they don’t like it.
If I may tell the Special Adviser one joke, I will then continue my remarks. Someone asked Anatole France if he had read Kant. France said no; he had read nine volumes, but the verb was in the tenth.
Le Duc Tho: I am waiting for the last part of your speech.
Mr. Kissinger: I will now respond to the Special Adviser’s question. He interrupted me just as I was going to make my point.
Le Duc Tho: Please continue.
Mr. Kissinger: Let me give an example of where a political proposal could change reality: If I told you Madame Binh was an obstacle to progress and should be replaced, and you agreed, and she found out, I think you will agree that her morale would suffer. And therefore the degree of precision which is possible in making proposals depends necessarily on the imminence of a settlement at that time.
Let me therefore state a few basic general principles of our approach to the political problem, which I hope you will find concrete enough.
It is unreasonable for either side to believe it can select the personnel with which it will deal on the other side. You have demanded the replacement of certain leaders of the Government of Vietnam as a prelude to the negotiating process. We cannot accept this demand any more than we ask you to renounce the Provisional Revolutionary Government.
On the other hand, after a settlement and once there is a political process on which we have agreed, we would expect that the control of power would be determined by that process and not by outside forces—neither we nor others.
Le Duc Tho: No interference by outside forces?
Mr. Kissinger: Correct. That is an important point.
We both seem to agree that the political process must reflect the will of the people. This is why we both have free elections as part of our political proposals.
We admit that understanding Vietnamese politics involves procedures which differ from ours and involves a culture and set of traditions very different from ours.[Page 74]
We recognize that you have a question about elections, as you believe who organizes them affects the results. We are willing to explore with you various methods of organizing the determination of the popular will or of determining the popular will. We believe, for example, that there are many creative possibilities in the mixed electoral commission we have proposed, possibilities which go far toward meeting your reasonable requirements.
Le Duc Tho: This is not a move at all. It does not go far, this mixed commission; it stands still.
Mr. Kissinger: The Special Adviser always interrupts just before the crucial sentence.
Le Duc Tho: I am always waiting for the crucial sentence.
Mr. Kissinger: His Leninist powers of prediction fail him.
Le Duc Tho: I have powers of prediction. This is just like Kleber. Nothing new.
Mr. Kissinger: I was going to say: And we are willing to entertain other proposals to achieve these objectives.
You also should understand that we are prepared to discuss the relationship between free elections and how political power is shared. For example, the following types of questions could be discussed:
—whether elections for the executive should be direct or indirect through elections for a parliament;
—how electoral districts can be drawn to give a realistic expression to the real political forces in the country;
—the relationship between executive and legislative power and between the provinces and Saigon; and
—how elections would affect the future safety and vitality of political forces on both sides.
It may also be possible that the most realistic way to begin the process would be in the provinces and locally before resolving problems in Saigon.
Finally, the shape of an outcome will be influenced by the character of military questions. For example, you cannot have elections in some areas without local ceasefires. In any case, we recognize there is a linkage between military and political issues.
These are the general principles which I wanted to put before you today.
But let me sum up the proposals we have made.
—We have agreed, as you have requested, to the principle of total withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces.
—Second, we have given you a precise schedule for this withdrawal and have told you the timing of this schedule is flexible and will not be an obstacle to a solution.[Page 75]
—Third, we have told you we are not committed to the maintenance of any political force in power once a settlement is achieved.
—We have told you the methods which we think are appropriate to consult the will of the people but we have said that we are willing to entertain proposals you wish to put forward.
—We have told you we are prepared not only to discuss free elections in the abstract, but also the relation of elections to various elements of the distribution of political power.
Le Duc Tho: Please clarify this.
Mr. Kissinger: I am referring to such questions as the relationship of the executive to the legislative power, the protection of minorities, the relationship between the provinces and Saigon, etc.
—We have indicated that we are prepared to discuss the relationship of military to political issues.
—We have indicated our willingness to link military and political issues, both in general and specifically in discussing ceasefires.
—We have indicated our willingness to set a target date for our deliberations.
Le Duc Tho: What do you mean by a target date?
Mr. Kissinger: When we began our discussions, I suggested we fix a date, a deadline, by which time we would have finished our work. The Special Adviser refused.
In short, we have shown good will and serious intentions, and we will not be responsible before history for any failure of these negotiations.
Now I would like to make a few very brief remarks about what Minister Xuan Thuy said.
Many of my remarks were included in the comments I just made.
I have not found in three sessions anything new in what you said, anything which you have not already said at Avenue Kleber.
Let me make a few points on withdrawals.
The Special Adviser and the Minister are simply making debating points concerning the sixteen month deadline. I have already said that we are ready to be flexible, if we come to agreement on other points. Although the six month demand is out of the question for technical and other reasons.
Secondly, a word about Laos and Cambodia.
(NVN discuss among themselves.) I am always hoping I can get you gentlemen to argue among yourselves.
About Laos and Cambodia: I am always very frank, and can therefore never tell whether what you say is what you think or for the record.
I participate in all the highest deliberations of our government. I know we have no intention of using Laos to put pressure on you in North Vietnam.[Page 76]
I know that we would have been prepared to settle for the status quo in Laos. I offered on two occasions, on behalf of the President, that we would reduce our military operations in Northern Laos if you will agree to cease your offensive operations.
We are prepared today to make an arrangement with you which guarantees the neutrality of Laos and guarantees also your security from anything which might happen from Laos.
As for Cambodia, we have no intention of using Cambodia to bring pressure on Vietnam and we have not used Cambodia to bring pressure on you.
We are prepared to make arrangements to guarantee the neutrality and inviolability of the neutrality of Cambodia.
The objective consequences of our proposal on the withdrawal of forces are sufficiently clear for us not to want to create other military situations in Southeast Asia.
I told you last time it is inconsistent with the purpose of our meetings to bring additional military pressure on the other side in Vietnam or in related countries. We apply this principle to ourselves as well as you.
To us it looks as if you continued your offensive actions in Laos all during our discussions.
You started new offensive operations in South Vietnam four days before I came here to Paris to talk in good faith.
This is why I believe we should return to the principles with which we started, to try to overcome the distrust which exists between us, and to make a major effort to settle this problem. You will find us willing to meet you.
As for the question of representation, we have expressed our point of view. We are well represented for the present negotiations, and we will adjust our representation to objective reality.
I would like to say again that I have come across the ocean four times, at my initiative, to see you gentlemen. I am prepared to negotiate in good faith, and hope we can someday look back on these negotiations as a turning point.
Thank you for your patience.
Xuan Thuy: I would like to propose a break for a few minutes. Then I will state some of my thoughts.
Mr. Kissinger: One more question: You said you would discuss the withdrawal of your forces after other questions were settled. You would discuss this with whom?
Xuan Thuy: I said, when we settle both questions, military and political, then the question of Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam will be mentioned.[Page 77]
Mr. Kissinger: With whom?
Xuan Thuy: We shall see.
Le Duc Tho: Principles are not clear yet.
Mr. Kissinger: I think that the Minister is more difficult than I.
Xuan Thuy: Since meeting with you, I have become more difficult.
Mr. Kissinger: You were always tough. Speaking for the Nixon Administration, we inherited you as opponents—we didn’t pick you. We will pick easier opponents.
(There was then a ten minute break. Tho and Xuan Thuy consulted upstairs. The meeting resumed with pleasantries during tea.)
Le Duc Tho: (to Xuan Thuy in Vietnamese): Ask.
Xuan Thuy: May I ask some questions for clarification?
Mr. Kissinger: I would rather tell stories, but please go ahead.
Xuan Thuy: It is quite right that you don’t like to answer, but I am forced to ask you to answer—although sometimes your answers don’t answer the questions.
Mr. Kissinger: Intentionally. I learned from reading the record of what Minister Xuan Thuy said at Kleber.
Xuan Thuy: The first question is that you spoke about general elections, when they will be organized, whether they will be organized when U.S. and allied troops are still in South Vietnam or after complete withdrawal.
Second, you spoke about organizing elections in the provinces before going upwards. What is your intention in saying this? Why do you put it this way?
Third, you spoke of the distribution of power among political forces; please clarify this. I am not clear about that.
Mr. Kissinger: With regard to the withdrawal of troops, we would do it either way. If your side prefers to defer elections until all forces are withdrawn, that would be acceptable. If the election is deferred until the withdrawal of U.S. troops, it should be in the framework we have given, that is to say that all non-South Vietnamese forces should be withdrawn. Including your own.
Second, concerning the question of local elections. Let me be frank with you. Understanding the political process in Vietnam is not the easiest matter for Americans. I put forward an hypothesis and not a condition. I was going to say that if it turns out easier to start with local elections and local sharing of power, we are prepared to envision this possibility. It simply seemed to us it may be easier in some respects, but we don’t insist on it.
On the third point, I indicated certain aspects of the apportionment of power which it might be possible to discuss. I did this because when [Page 78] one speaks about free elections in the abstract, it has a quality of winner-take-all. Therefore, we are willing to discuss precise provisions which would apply whoever wins the elections and how he would exercise this power.
Xuan Thuy: Now, I would like to make a few remarks on your exposé and your views.
First, on what you said about our not saying anything different from at Kleber. I disagree with you in this view.
In the past few sessions, we have been listening to you expound your general views and specific views. The exposé of your views was rather long. I therefore had to listen to your views and I listened to you very carefully. And if some point was unclear I asked you to clarify it. This shows our great attention.
I said I listened to you with great attention because Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger is a University professor, you have been following the Vietnam question for a long time, you have many views on Vietnam problems and you represent President Nixon to negotiate with us. We therefore listen very carefully, as there is some significance in your coming here.
In the military field, previously we demanded the U.S. withdraw rapidly and totally troops from South Vietnam. Madame Nguyen Thi Binh has proposed six months. We support her demand. Today I presented in detail how this withdrawal should be carried out.
You said this proposal of six months is unreasonable and impossible for technical reasons. But in this regard we have high respect for the U.S. technical capacity and means of transport and its desire to enter Vietnam quickly. Therefore your withdrawal should also be quick.
As for political points, we have also said something new. Previously we just proposed a provisional coalition government. Today, we have proposed steps to be taken.
My second remark concerns your remarks. I remarked there are points which remained at their original place, others which made steps backward.
Mr. Kissinger: I always like to receive encouragement. For a second I thought the Minister would say some went forward. I thought we were making progress.
Xuan Thuy: But I must point out weak points before encouraging you.
Mr. Kissinger: I will say that I am never over-confident when dealing with the Minister and Special Adviser. Excuse my interrupting.
Xuan Thuy: The points at the same place are:[Page 79]
—Your continued demand for mutual withdrawal;
—Your insistence on the maintenance of Thieu-Ky-Khiem;
—Your downgrading still of the conference in Paris.
You said that we only agree with those who stand for peace, and discard those who stand for war. This is right—we like peace-lovers. Therefore Thieu-Ky-Khiem must be changed.
And what points make a step backwards?
For instance, this period for withdrawal. It was previously twelve months; it is now sixteen months, and the greater part is left for the end. In the first period it is withdrawal by driblets.
I just point out these points in hoping your future proposal becomes more positive and progressive than this one.
The third remark is about the deadline. You put forward a deadline of the first of July. We do not oppose this deadline for negotiations. On the contrary. But the success of the negotiations depends on the U.S. If you come here with serious intent, success will come—and the sooner the better. It may be before July 1. If you do not come here with serious intent, then maybe later than the first of July.
Finally, I have to state that there are two ways open to us. First, the peaceful settlement of the problem. Second, the war can be extended.
We prefer the peaceful settlement of the problem, and the sooner the better. Therefore we welcome Special Adviser Kissinger to come here. And therefore we maintain the Paris Conference, although I do not attend after Ambassador Cabot Lodge left, but I stay in Paris.
I have been glad to talk to you at the last few sessions and will be glad to continue to talk with you. I wish to continue to talk with you and wish you to come to agree on big questions and reach agreement.
I know you represent President Nixon and have many views. I do wish we can settle the problem through the talks and therefore I appreciate your coming here.
I don’t know about the future, but so far your plan is not leading to a peaceful settlement.
And what you have said about the U.S. having nothing to do concerning Laos and Cambodia, and the U.S. showing good will on these questions, I think just the contrary.
You said four days before your departure for Paris there was an offensive launched in South Vietnam. But hostilities in South Vietnam have been going on—sometimes they are up, sometimes they are down, sometimes they are standing still.
So long as U.S. troops and other forces continue to be in Vietnam, hostilities will go on. And I as well as Special Adviser Le Duc Tho said last time that so long as we do not come to an agreement, then hostilities will go on in South Vietnam.[Page 80]
The last time we have laid stress on events in Laos and Cambodia and you returned to the U.S. A few days later, a coup broke out in the U.S. [Cambodia].
Mr. Kissinger: That is next, after I return this time.
Xuan Thuy: . . . in Cambodia and we have come to the conclusion in the statement by our government which said it is precisely the U.S. which wanted to wipe out the peace and neutrality policies of Cambodia, to turn Cambodia into a neo-colony, to use Cambodia to put pressure on the resistance fight of the Vietnamese people.
You also said the U.S. would reduce its air activities in Northern Laos if the other side would stop its activities. It is not a matter of reducing the bombing, it is one of ceasing it.
I must point out that during the nine year resistance war against French colonialism, the French colonialists used the same methods by seizing the government of Emperor Bao Dai, and using the royal governments of Cambodia and Laos to put pressure on the Vietnamese, to use these so-called “legal” governments to gain international standing, and to use these so-called “legal” governments to put pressure on the Vietnamese struggle. But the French were defeated.
Therefore, in conclusion, we should settle the problem. A settlement will be reached the sooner the better—a real settlement.
Now I give word to Le Duc Tho.
Le Duc Tho: Minister Xuan Thuy has expounded our point of view on political and military problems, and expressed our remarks on your remarks, and you have replied.
I would now like to add a few remarks on your views. I would like to speak very frankly and straightforwardly.
First, I would like to speak about the situation in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia—in the peninsula of Indo-China as a whole, and in what framework we are holding our talks now.
We should determine who has the desire of prolonging and extending the war. Who wants to make military pressure on the other side. And who has good will and serious intent in settling the problem.
In this connection, our views differ very greatly. Because if we don’t clarify these views, it will not be clear whether you want peace or war. Because our assessment differs from yours. This is the first question I would like to deal with.
The second point is I would like to make some remarks of mine on military and political questions and Laos and Cambodia.
In the last two sessions, you said you wanted a peaceful settlement. You said you didn’t want to make military pressure or negotiate from a position of strength. Whether your statement made us believe what [Page 81] you said, your practical deeds make us doubt the truth of what you have been saying.
Recent events in Vietnam and particularly in Laos and Cambodia make us think you do not want yet to settle the problem. They make us believe you still want to continue Vietnamization of the war, want to continue to expand the war to Laos and Cambodia.
Let us review events in Laos. For the last few years—2 to 3 years ago—we may say the hostilities were not so great. Hostilities were going on, but a normal level.
But who occupied first the Plain of Jars? The U.S. helped the reactionary forces occupy the Plain of Jars.
Therefore the Lao people had to strike back and reoccupy it. Therefore the consequences are from your actions. Now you have introduced Thai troops and carried out fierce bombing of the Plain of Jars. The quantity of bombs used for such a small area as the Plain of Jars equals the quantity of bombs used against Germany in World War II.
And what is the situation in Cambodia? Although there were hostilities in Laos and Vietnam, the Cambodian people for tens of years have been living in peace, independence, and neutrality. Who has caused the coup d’état to wipe out the neutrality, independence and peace policies of Cambodia? Who has brought to power this reactionary group in Cambodia? It was the U.S. and no one else. We charged you with that. Many people in U.S. political circles, the U.S. press and public opinion, many people said there was the hand of the CIA in this coup d’état.
Your intention is to extend the war to the whole of Indo-China and to use mighty military forces in support of your policy to bring Vietnamization to the success and negotiate from a position of strength.
In Laos, you said you didn’t want to use Laos to bring pressure. On Cambodia, you said the U.S. had nothing to do with events. This does not conform with reality.
The Vietnamese have a saying that you can’t use a basket to cover a lion or an elephant.
Mr. Kissinger: I like that.
Le Duc Tho: It is quite true.
Your actions are decidedly tantamount to a prolongation and an extension of the war. It seems you consider events in Laos and Cambodia have no relation to the Vietnam problem. But they are parts of your whole strategy. You want to use forces in Laos and Cambodia to make pressure on the resistance war in Vietnam. The events in Laos and the recent coup d’état in Cambodia show clearly your intention of prolonging and extending the war. With such an action, how can you ask us to overcome mistrust, how can you ask us to believe you.[Page 82]
Through this coup d’état in Cambodia, it is clear your intention is to turn Cambodia into a U.S. neo-colony, as Minister Xuan Thuy just pointed out. You wanted to combine the reactionary forces in Cambodia with South Vietnamese and U.S. forces to annihilate the new forces in Cambodia. This to you is President Nixon’s policy of having Asians fight Asians.
It is evident now it is your policy to use the military forces to settle the Vietnam problem—as well as Laos and Cambodia, on the basis of a position of strength, a position of power. In our view, it is only an illusion. I must tell you frankly. No militant power can subdue our people and the Lao and Khmer people.
The lessons of the failures of the French colonialists after a nine-year war and of your failures of the last few years have not made you renounce your ambitions.
You think military power can make our people submit. I think you are mistaken. Your defeat in Vietnam—where does it lie? Your defeat mainly lies in your wrong assessment of the political forces of our people in standing up against you. You have not fully foreseen developments. You rely mainly on your mighty military forces.
It is a fact that in South Vietnam our forces consist only of infantry. No planes, no helicopters, no tanks, no high speed machines. What is the cause of our success? It is precisely the union of our people, the political force of our people which helps us enhance our weapons, which are only infantry weapons.
Hence the strength of our whole people in fighting foreign aggression is in the union of our whole people.
Therefore the principal error of yours in Vietnam and Laos is precisely the point I have just made. But you have not drawn from your experience.
You thought you could use a group of military reactionaries to overthrow Norodom Sihanouk and it would be all over. It is too simple thinking. It is precisely your actions there which make the whole people of Cambodia fight against the agents of the U.S. They have responded to the appeal of Prince Sihanouk and the National Front of Cambodia. The Khmer people have stood up with all their strength to defend freedom and neutrality.
This situation has developed rather quickly. You are a researcher, and read a great deal of newspapers. You have seen probably that the Khmer people have united themselves in a very vigorous way. It is a strong blow against your design and your agents. This is the strength of the whole people.
It is a sign of your failure and your agents’ failure. It is a sign of your inevitable failure and that of your agents.[Page 83]
While you are suffering defeat in Laos and Vietnam, how can you fight in Cambodia?
You have sowed the wind, and you must reap the whirlwind.
You are sowing national hatred between Vietnam and Cambodia. But the three peoples of Indo-China—the Vietnamese, Lao and Khmer people—have had traditional unity in the fight against colonialism. This cannot be broken by you. Now, faced with the extension of the war to Cambodia by the U.S., the three peoples will continue to fight to have victory, no matter how great the sacrifices may be.
Therefore, whether a peaceful settlement for Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia can be reached does not depend on us only. It depends on you precisely. Just as Minister Xuan Thuy said, when you withdrew Ambassador Cabot Lodge and downgraded the talks, Minister Xuan Thuy stayed here. I am here too, we have talks with you. We wanted to go into substance to settle the problem. This is evidence of our good will and serious intent. But in the meantime, you caused the coup d’état in Cambodia. It shows you don’t want to settle the problem, you want to extend the conflict. You thought you could force us to submit. But you were mistaken. If you want to talk with weapons and guns, we must reply with weapons and guns. With all our determination and courage.
The fighting in Laos and the last few days in South Vietnam are only legitimate self-defense against your prolongation of the war and extension of the war.
You said that for the last four days, when you were coming to talk, we launched attacks. But while you are extending and prolonging the war, how can we refrain from striking back in self-defense? If you continue fighting, we will continue the struggle.
When you stop making military pressure, when you give up your intention of negotiating from a position of strength, when you are prepared for real negotiations, then we are prepared to really negotiate with you and to really settle the Vietnam problem. I think the door is wide open for a peaceful settlement.
Since President Nixon came to power, he has missed many opportunities to settle the problem peacefully. He doesn’t want to; he still nurtures great ambitions. But if he persists in doing so, he will sink deeper into the quagmire.
I hope that being a professor who has made a long study of international problems, you will help to settle the problem. I hope you will maintain a clear-sighted view, and look into the real problem, so we can achieve a settlement. Then peace will be restored in the Indo-China peninsula. This is a fact which I would like to put forward frankly to you.[Page 84]
Only by putting facts straight forward can one clearly see the serious intent of the other side for a settlement. If one side wants peace, and the other war, then no settlement can be reached.
Minister Xuan Thuy has said, and I have said many times, that we do want peace. But with the situation you have created in Indo-China, how can a peaceful settlement be achieved? The war has not been limited—it was extended.
Now I would like to make some remarks on what you said about Laos and Cambodia.
It is true that you have come 10,000 miles to the talks. And we persevere, we stay here while you are downgrading the Paris Conference.
But we hope you will make some new proposals. If I am not mistaken, you have not moved an inch in comparison with Kleber, mainly speaking. Although you have made some specific points, they are stepping backwards.
Militarily speaking, you are always speaking on the basis of mutual withdrawal. Concerning political questions, you always speak of a mixed electoral commission, which was put forward by the Thieu Administration.
In these conditions, how can we put forward something new? Although these proposals are called by you going into substance, you are always prolonging the war.
Now I wish to clarify a few points in our position.
Today, you have spoken on political problems. You said that the political process should reflect the relationship between political forces in South Vietnam and the popular will in South Vietnam. But the conception of the relationship of political forces in South Vietnam and of the aspiration of the people of South Vietnam differs from our point of view and yours. We consider a settlement must be based on reality and the relation of political forces in South Vietnam. But what is the relationship of forces in South Vietnam?
If the Thieu-Ky-Khiem Administration can survive until today, it is thanks to your weapons. They have no force at all. The Thieu-Ky-Khiem Administration tried to assemble four or five groups to unite with them. But these groups refused. Thieu-Ky-Khiem are isolated.
The great majority of the South Vietnamese people want peace, independence, and neutrality. Many of them are not communists, not members of the NLF.
So what is our conception of this relationship of political forces? If you speak of the political forces of Thieu-Ky-Khiem, you can count them on your fingertips. If you speak of the aspirations of the South Vietnamese people, they want peace, independence, and neutrality. This is a clear expression of their aspirations.[Page 85]
As to the aspirations of a handful of people in South Vietnam, military agents, people like Thieu, Ky, Khiem—they want war.
I agree with your words that a settlement must be based on the relationship of political forces and on the aspirations of the people. But we have a different understanding of the words in practice.
We want a lasting settlement, national concord. We do not want to carry out reprisals against anyone after the war.
But national concord cannot be achieved with Thieu-Ky-Khiem because they are frenziedly opposed to the PRG and NLF and opposed to all those who are for peace and neutrality. How can national concord be carried out with these people?
If you continue to maintain Thieu-Ky-Khiem, then no settlement can be achieved and no national concord is possible. Because they do not want peace. If you maintain Thieu-Ky-Khiem, it shows that you want to maintain them to continue the war.
We do want to realize national concord. We want to realize a broad union of political forces. But the forces must all agree on peace, independence, and neutrality. How can it be with those who are for war? That is the reason why we have put forward the three steps.
Therefore when Thieu-Ky-Khiem are changed, then the Provisional Coalition Government reflecting national concord provisionally, including all political forces, will be formed. Then we come to national elections to form a definitive coalition government. General elections must really be free. There should be no military pressures from any side.
Therefore our proposals are realistic, they reflect reality, they conform to the aspirations of the South Vietnamese people. Only such methods will reflect correctly the political relationship in South Vietnam and register it in a political process.
Accepting such a settlement will be accepting really the aspirations of the South Vietnamese people.
This is what I have to say on your proposals on political problems.
May I speak now a few additional remarks on Laos and Cambodia. We support the 5 points put forward by the Pathet Lao to find a peaceful settlement of the Laotian problem on the basis of the 1962 Geneva Agreements. But if you refuse to settle the Laotian problem in this direction, then the war will go on in Laos.
Concerning Cambodia, we have many times stated our respect for the agreement of 1954 and the independence and territorial integrity of Cambodia. We do not recognize the Lon Nol-Matak government. We support the 5 points of Norodom Sihanouk. We are convinced that so long as the Lon Nol-Matak government remains in Cambodia, then the Cambodian question cannot be settled. This policy of yours will fail. Our position on Laos and Cambodia is clear.[Page 86]
Therefore, if we now review the few sessions we have had, our points of view are still very different. I hope you will look into the real situation in Laos and really negotiate with sincerity not only on Vietnam but also on the Laos and Cambodia situations.
If you do not seriously negotiate with good will, then the situation will continue to be serious, and the disadvantage will be with your side.
And being a professor, philosopher, and statesman, I think Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger should have a clear view of this reality.
I speak my mind very frankly, I say what I am thinking. You said you wonder whether what we said is for the record. I speak for the record and what I think. Last time you said you wondered whether we speak for psychological effect or say what we are thinking. I am not used to psychological warfare, as you have been doing. We are Marxists, we speak realistically and straight into a problem.
Naturally, you disagree with some of what I have said. I ask you to think over what I have said, this is the only way to settle.
As Xuan Thuy said, we are prepared to settle if you are.
Mr. Kissinger: I can now recommend Mr. Special Adviser Le Duc Tho for the faculty at Harvard. He spoke for 55 minutes, exactly.
Le Duc Tho: What is important is the content.
Mr. Kissinger: I will of course study the remarks of Minister Xuan Thuy and Special Adviser Le Duc Tho with great care. At an appropriate moment, I will give a detailed reply.
I would just like to make a few observations now, and then ask a question about where we go from here.
At the end of my presentation, I listed six new proposals and suggestions we have made. If I understood Minister Xuan Thuy, he listed as a new proposal he made the order of the withdrawal of our troops under Madame Nguyen Thi Binh’s schedule. As I have had occasion to point out to Minister Xuan Thuy before, a new proposal which interests us is what you will do, not what we will do. Spelling out the modalities of an unreasonable demand we have already rejected is not a negotiating proposal.
I therefore still await with interest some proposal on what you are willing to do when we do something.
As for Special Adviser Le Duc Tho’s remarks, let me make some relatively brief remarks.
The Special Adviser said we are carrying out a policy of making Asians fight Asians as if we wanted Asians to fight Asians. As I have had occasion to point out to the Special Adviser last time, we don’t want anyone to fight anyone in Southeast Asia. I don’t think we should return to the Nixon Doctrine in this context if there is another meeting.[Page 87]
As to Laos, there is one reasonable, simple test to see who is expanding the war; to see who is advancing.
Having participated in all discussions in our activities, I would like the Special Adviser to report to his colleagues in Hanoi that they are completely mistaken about our intention and actions in Laos.
I agree with him it would be useful if we can agree on an analysis of the situation, because if we can’t, then we cannot make much progress. We are prepared to discuss immediately a ceasefire in Northern Laos. This would put an end to military activities once and for all.
As for Cambodia, I despair of convincing the Special Adviser that we had nothing to do with what happened in Phnom Penh, although I am flattered of the high opinion he has of our intelligence services. If they knew I was here, I would tell them of this high opinion.
Again, there is a simple test. Who has troops in Cambodia? Not the U.S. I am impressed again with the linguistic ability of the people of the Indo-Chinese peninsula. We discovered that the Pathet Lao speak Vietnamese, and now we find the same phenomenon in Cambodia.
We have shown great resistance vis-à-vis the bases you maintain in Cambodia and which you use in attacking our forces in Vietnam.
I do not want to discuss the history of Cambodia except to reaffirm that we support the neutrality of Cambodia and have no intention or interest in using Cambodia to put military pressure on Vietnam.
We are prepared to discuss immediately concrete and specific measures to guarantee the neutrality of Cambodia and to make absolutely certain it does not become a pawn in any international conflict. We are willing to do this bilaterally with you or in an international framework.
What is not admissible is for you to define what government should be in power and for you to use Vietnamese troops to change the government of Cambodia.
I repeat: we shall not be the ones to expand the war to Cambodia; we shall not be the ones to threaten the neutrality of Cambodia; we shall not threaten you from Cambodia; and we shall not extend our activities in Cambodia.
We shall be prepared to entertain reasonable propositions to guarantee that Laos and Cambodia—especially Cambodia, as it is a new problem—remain neutral.
What events in Cambodia prove to me is that the war in Vietnam sets in train events which cannot be controlled by any of the participants. The Special Adviser said that he did not know whether President Nixon wanted to end the war or extend it. You of course will make your own judgments. I can assure you—and no one is in a better position to know this than I—that he sincerely wants to end the war and will go to considerable lengths to find an honorable end to the war.[Page 88]
Now a word about the political problem. I will not debate with the Special Adviser his assessment of political conditions in South Vietnam. He and I disagree.
If he is right, I do not understand why he does not accept our proposals. We have said we will not intervene in political changes that occur in Vietnam as a result of free political processes.
The Special Adviser would like to exclude Messrs. Thieu, Ky, and Khiem before the political process even begins. We have indicated publicly, and I now reaffirm to you all in solemnity privately, that we are ready to respect the results of the political process even if it leads to the rejection of the political forces to whom you object.
Therefore the only thing we should need to discuss is how to arrive at a free political process not subject to pressure.
I have also listened with great attention to what Minister Xuan Thuy said about our withdrawal and the seemingly heavy emphasis on departures at the end. I do not follow the tactics of your side which professes never to be satisfied with any proposal, and the best we can do is to get back to the point of departure. There is some merit in the argument by Minister Xuan Thuy and I shall have to discuss with our technical people what adjustments are possible. I will use my influence in the direction of more emphasis on the first few months.
But the two key points that remain to us and where I do not see where we can go, are:
—First, with whom you propose to discuss the withdrawal of your forces and how to establish a relationship between the two processes; and
—Second, how we proceed to define a political process which does not prejudge the outcome in advance. And I repeat, we do not insist on a particular outcome for ourselves.
We have two choices. We can proceed and hide behind the complexities of the problem. Both sides are sufficiently intelligent, and particularly your side so well prepared in dialectics, that we can keep this up forever. It would be an academic exercise leading nowhere, and it would have to be done without my participation.
Or we can attempt, in the spirit of Minister Xuan Thuy’s remarks—and I was moved by his final remarks—to approach again these two questions in a new spirit to arrive at a solution, and to put an end to the war during this year.
Our two countries are not natural enemies. There is nothing either can want from the other.
The President sincerely wants peace. History will not judge us by how well we conducted our debates but only from the facts we have created.[Page 89]
I would therefore like to ask whether you see any point in continuing and, if so, how.
Xuan Thuy: You are finished?
Mr. Kissinger: Yes.
Xuan Thuy: I have said that we prefer to settle the problem peacefully. War is something reluctant to us. If the U.S. prolongs, extends, and continues the war, then the Vietnamese and other Indo-Chinese people will have to continue the struggle.
I may frankly tell you that all your explanations concerning Laos and Cambodia have not convinced us you are telling the truth.
We are prepared to negotiate with you. As to your proposal, we have remarked that there is nothing new. Indeed, they showed some setbacks.
Therefore, we shall continue the negotiations. We should think over each other’s views, and we shall put forward new ideas.
Le Duc Tho: May I make a few remarks on what was said.
Mr. Kissinger: Please.
Le Duc Tho: It is natural that each has his own assessment of the situation. But my assessment, I can say, is not prompted by a subjective assessment of wishful thinking. Objective events lead to our assessment.
I think if Mr. Nixon really does not want to extend the war, if he really wants a settlement, there should be practical acts to show his intentions. I expressed my assessment on the basis of recent events.
As you said, the U.S. does not want to see Asians fighting Asians. But what is the fact? Does not Vietnamization intend to see Vietnamese fight Vietnamese. Was not the introduction of Thai troops to Laos, Asians fighting Asians? Now civil war may break out in Cambodia—what is this? You stand behind the scenes to support the reactionary forces. Therefore I say that President Nixon’s policy is Asians fighting Asians. You say you would sometime like to discuss the Nixon Doctrine. I am prepared to do so. But not now, at an appropriate time.
You say there are linguistic attainments in Laos and Cambodia. But I must say we are an oppressed people who have suffered aggression. We have no intention of carrying out aggression against any other country. What is the origin of the situation in Laos and Cambodia? Not we.
Mr. Kissinger: Actually, yes.
Le Duc Tho: It is U.S. aggression. You say there is North Vietnamese aggression against South Vietnam. Is it reasonable to say that we aggress against our people? It is U.S. aggression against South Vietnam.
U.S. aggression is the deep root of the problem in Cambodia. You say we are advancing in Laos. But the present circumstances were [Page 90] created by the U.S. there too. It is obvious, as I explained, about the Plain of Jars situation.
We have stated our standpoint on Laos. The 5 points by Prince Souphanouvong and the Pathet Lao are now awaiting answer by the other side. We understand that the two sides sit down and discuss it in Vientiane; this is our desire.
I would not want to debate Cambodia as the problem is obvious. Our concepts of Cambodian neutrality differ. These are problems to be settled. How to settle the Cambodian problem? We have stated our stand.
You have stated some views on Vietnam. May I make some comments. You say we have put forward the same proposals as before, which you have rejected. But your proposals are not different from your previous proposals which we have rejected.
It is not true that we force you or oblige you to do something before we. These are negotiations. If you put forward something reasonable and logical, we will put forward something reasonable and logical.
We cannot accept your military and political proposals.
Your political proposal is not acceptable because we differ in our political assessments. We both agree there must be free general elections in South Vietnam. But in this political process, there should be a provisional coalition government. The reasons for this Minister Xuan Thuy and I have said. Because if at the end of the war, there are two governments existing, they cannot avoid a resumption of hostilities at some time. Therefore, we proposed a provisional coalition government to realize national concord and to prepare for free elections. And only by the formation of a provisional coalition government can peace be achieved.
These are my remarks on the political problem and a few additional remarks.
As to negotiations here, in a word, briefly, each side must make an effort to make progress. We are prepared to negotiate with you, as Minister Xuan Thuy said. So far, our positions are far apart. This is the difficulty.
Mr. Kissinger: What do you propose?
Le Duc Tho: We think your proposals need some further study from our side. But under present circumstances, in our assessment, it is difficult to settle the matter.
Because the intensification and extension of the war, as I have analyzed, does not show your good will. And your proposals do not move an inch. This is our analysis. So what do we do now?
Mr. Kissinger: Well, I have outlined six important respects in which we believe we have made important proposals in this channel. We [Page 91] believe, for example, that the electoral commission which you dismiss too easily could create an area of negotiation which could bring about a degree of interim control, at least over electoral processes about which you are concerned.
If you do not believe that further study of our proposals and further reflection will permit you to continue these discussions, then perhaps we should have an interruption in the negotiations. We know how to get in touch.
On the other hand, if you are prepared to study these proposals and meet in an effort to bring our positions closer together, I am prepared to make one more effort.
Xuan Thuy: We think if you believe your proposal should stand now, even if we make new proposals, then we should interrupt.
If you think your proposal is just an opening proposal put forward for bargaining, and we shall make further study, and you believe you need further study of our proposal, then we could each study and meet again.
Mr. Kissinger: All right. I propose we attempt one more meeting.
Le Duc Tho: We are prepared to meet once again. But I think that if you feel at the next meeting your proposal should stay where it is now and there is nothing new, then we should stop here. If you have new proposals, we shall meet again.
Mr. Kissinger: I have explained to Minister Xuan Thuy and Special Adviser Le Duc Tho that it is inadmissible that we always make new proposals, while all you do is tell us the sequence in which we should withdraw our troops. If this is what you believe, the war will run its course. We have a different assessment. For you have your evaluation and we have ours.
There must be reciprocity in this channel. If you think this channel is a place for us to accept your proposals, then there is no point in continuing. I am prepared to look at our position again. I don’t know the results. But there is no hope of success in these meetings unless you review your own position and unless we have an assurance that for the first time in these meetings we will have a real negotiation.
Le Duc Tho: Because you have requested to meet us, therefore we want to see something new in your position. It is not something we demand from you.
Therefore we would like to see something new in your position. Only in this way can we settle the problem. Otherside [otherwise?] we will be in contact later to settle the matter.
Xuan Thuy: In a word, you have not accepted our position today. We have not accepted your position. In addition to expounding these positions, each expounded views. We should study them, and whenever either side wishes it can get in contact with the other.[Page 92]
Mr. Kissinger: This is the right way to proceed.
Le Duc Tho: We stay in relations.
(The meeting ended at 2:30 p.m.)
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 853, For the President’ File—Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David, Vol. IV. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé.
In his April 6 memorandum to Nixon on the meeting, Kissinger reported that, as instructed by the President, he took a strong line with Le Duc Tho, “stressing that there was no sense in another meeting unless they were prepared to say something new. Though they were obviously prepared to meet again, without precondition, they were not prepared to promise this. Therefore, we agreed not to set another date now but to get in touch when either side was ready to meet next.” Kissinger further stated: “Since we are obviously at the end of a phase (and perhaps at the end of the meetings), it may be useful to sum up their results.” He then provided the President with a list of accomplishments from the talks so far, but concluded his list on this note: “It is probably just as well that there is not another meeting soon, since we would have been hard put to develop further proposals at the time.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VI, Vietnam, January 1969–July 1970, Document 223)
Kissinger later summed up the February 21, March 16, and April 4 meetings by noting Tho’s statement that “unless we [the United States] changed our position, there was nothing more to discuss.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 446)↩