58. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Le Duc Tho, Representative of the Government of the DRV
- Nguyen Co Thach, Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs
- Phan Hien, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Col. Hoang Hoa
- Dong Nghiem Bai
- Pham Ngac
- Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
- Two Notetakers
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Ambassador William H. Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for E. Asian and Pacific Affairs
- Ambassador Graham Martin, Ambassador-Designate to the Republic of Vietnam
- Mr. George Aldrich, Deputy Legal Advisor, Department of State
- Mr. William L. Stearman, NSC Staff
- Mr. Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
- Mr. David A. Engel, Interpreter
- Mr. Richard P. Campbell, NSC Staff
- Mrs. Bonnie Andrews, Notetaker
Le Duc Tho: Yesterday you were not concrete enough, therefore, you should have something more concrete today.[Page 1516]
Kissinger: That is in contrast to tomorrow. I know the Special Advisor has a statement here that he . . . [laughter]. Then we can become more concrete about mine.
Le Duc Tho: Today we will go into more concrete details. As to the statement, we have finished that.
Kissinger: Mine is larger than the Special Advisor’s and I have two pair. [Referring to his glasses]
Le Duc Tho: To see better and to look better into the problems we have.
Kissinger: I am prepared for everything.
Le Duc Tho: Have you anything to add to what you said yesterday?
Kissinger: Well, the Special Advisor said yesterday that today we could discuss Cambodia and Laos. Why don’t we do that first, and after that we could give you a document in which we express some of our ideas from yesterday.
I am told that on the other side in Cambodia the leading people are all the students of the Special Advisor. [Laughter]. I wish I could say that for our side. The only man on our side who is from Harvard is Mr. Duc from Saigon, and he gives me almost as much trouble as you do.
Le Duc Tho: We have different difficulties. Our difficulties between you and I are different than between you and Mr. Duc. Two different categories of basic difficulties.
I agree with what you said yesterday, to the problems that you raised yesterday, and I agree that we should go into the Agreement article by article to see our stands article by article and to see how we should correct the problem article by article. As to the Laos and Cambodian problem, they are covered by the Agreement and we will come to that. Now, Mr. Advisor, do you have anything to add to what you said yesterday?
Kissinger: [laughs] I think the Special Advisor is carrying politeness to absolute extremes.
Le Duc Tho: So yesterday you told me that today you would speak more concretely. Therefore I propose that we openly speak out our views.
Kissinger: Let me say two things. First, our view about Laos and Cambodia. And then I will give you a document which spells out what we hope to achieve at this meeting.
First, with respect to Laos and Cambodia. Now you will see from the document we gave you that we propose to resume within a fixed number of days the work of the Joint Economic Commission and to finish its work within another fixed period of days. This means that [Page 1517] upon the completion of the work of the Joint Economic Commission we will be obligated to present to Congress at least the program for the first year. And there is no question that this program will face enormous difficulties before Congress—and I don’t say this as a bargaining device; I say this to describe an existing reality. We are prepared to use our full authority to urge passage by Congress for this program, and once the first year’s program is achieved, the subsequent programs will be much easier. We will have no basis whatever for obtaining approval unless the provisions with respect to Laos and Cambodia, especially the part relating to the withdrawal of foreign forces, are in process of being implemented. Secondly, there should be a ceasefire in Cambodia.
If these two objectives can be achieved—and I realize that they are difficult—and we can come to an understanding on the other points, as I believe we can, then I think we have a good possibility on our side of implementing the economic provisions of the Agreement. Now this is the reality I am attempting to describe, and this should be our objective.
Now, with respect to the Agreement itself—maybe the Special Advisor would like to comment on what I have just said.
Le Duc Tho: Yes, I will say just a few words. I think that today we meet and we should base ourselves on the provisions of the Agreement and we should see how we can implement each provision of the Agreement. And we should not link the healing of the war wounds, which is an obligation of the US, and which is in the interest of both parties, we should not link this with any other problems we are facing.
In the message sent by President Nixon to the Prime Minister regarding the healing of the war wounds and the reconstruction of the DRV, President Nixon said this was not attached to any political conditions. Therefore, I think that our meeting this time will mark a shift to a new period. We should review the implementation of the Agreement. We should go into the Agreement article by article and see how we can implement it. It is no longer the period when you come here for horse-trading.
Dr. Kissinger: Buffalo-trading.
Le Duc Tho: As to Laos and Cambodia, I will express my views in this connection.
Kissinger: The Special Advisor has been keeping me in suspense for the last 24 hours, and I suppose will for the next 24 hours. Of course, a man who has acquired all the buffalos has no incentive to do any buffalo-trading. [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: We have shifted to a new period since we have concluded the Agreement. And on the basis of the Agreement we will [Page 1518] review how it has been implemented—what has been implemented and what has not been implemented—and including the questions of Laos and Cambodia.
Kissinger: I agree to proceed on this basis. It is not a question of horse-trading but a question of implementing the Agreement which is an integrated whole. So, I am prepared to discuss article by article with the Special Advisor. But it is also important, if we are to make progress, that the Special Advisor understand existing realities.
I think he [Mr. Engel] has a speech of his own which he gives on every occasion, which is not necessarily a translation of mine. Because it seems to me it takes him longer to translate than for me to speak.
But I agree with Le Duc Tho that a new period of our relations started with the Agreement and we should both go through the Agreement and see what we can do to bring a constructive outcome to the Agreement.
Le Duc Tho: I agree.
Kissinger: So let me give you this memorandum [Tab A] and let me set up this new memorandum. We follow essentially the presentation the Special Advisor made yesterday, separating out those things which the DRV and the US can agree to do jointly from those matters which the two South Vietnamese parties must carry out.
So in the first part of this Memorandum of Understanding we list obligations we take toward each other. For those which related only to the US for those we have given specific time periods.
The second part of the memorandum deals with those matters which the South Vietnamese parties could take. We express those as matters which the US and the DRV agree should be taken and will recommend urgently to the two South Vietnamese parties.
We are prepared to have an additional understanding with you that “recommending urgently” means maximum pressure—maximum influence.
And then there is a third part, which is just one paragraph, in which the US and DRV agree with each other that they will cooperate closely about the fate of the missing in action and the remains of prisoners. [Mr. Kissinger hands over two copies of the Memorandum of Understanding, Tab A.]
Le Duc Tho: Mr. Kissinger, let me comment on what you have just said. Yesterday I divided the problem into categories, first, the problems regarding NVN and secondly to SVN, with a view to pointing out the major problems to which we have to pay attention and sort out. It was not for a purpose of dividing these problems into those two categories meaning that the US will be responsible for some problems and not responsible for other problems. I think that all the articles of the Agree[Page 1519]ment make a complete whole, closely linked one to another. Of course, there are problems which fall under the main responsibility of the two South Vietnamese parties, for instance the political problems. But we both have common responsibility to ensure strict implementation of the Agreement. Therefore, the responsibility for strict implementation of the Agreement is the responsibility of all four parties to the Agreement.
Suppose now the DRV solved with the US a number of problems, but on the other hand in South Vietnam the present situation goes on and the war goes on; then what solution can we arrive at? I wonder whether we can establish normal relations with each other while the war continues in South Vietnam. Therefore, I mean the responsibility to discuss the problems here and ensure strict implementation here is the responsibility of all, of every party. Of course, there are problems such as the political problems. This problem is under discussion between the two parties of South Vietnam. But we cannot be just bystanders to developments in South Vietnam; and practically, we cannot be bystanders. Therefore, in my view, all the problems covered by the Agreement are closely linked to one another and we have the responsibility to strictly implement all the provisions, and we also have the responsibility for the bad development of the situation. We have to bear the responsibility for the bad situation.
Kissinger: That is what we have been trying to tell you for three months.
Le Duc Tho: I mean that there are some problems that will be solved between the two South Vietnamese parties but we have responsibility for those too. But on the other hand, there are questions that we have to directly bear the responsibility for, too, for instance the question of the war in South Vietnam. If now the war goes on in South Vietnam, then you will want to continue to give military aid to the Saigon Administration and we will continue to give assistance to our friends. But on the contrary, if the war ends in South Vietnam, then the question of implementation of Article 7 no longer arises.
Therefore, there are problems for which we have direct responsibility but there are other problems which we also have responsibility for but come under the direct responsibility of the two South Vietnamese parties. Therefore, our approach to the problems still differs. So my division of the problems is based on the problems facing North Vietnam and South Vietnam. It is not a division on the basis of division of responsibility.
Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, I agree with you in your basic approach. I agree that the various articles of the Agreement are organically related. I agree also that we are here to bring about the implementation of all of the articles, and not just some of them. I agree also that [Page 1520] the normalization of relations between our two countries, if the war starts up again in South Vietnam, will be impossible. And, therefore, I agree a ceasefire in South Vietnam is one of the principal objectives of this meeting. Finally, it is true that the DRV and the US have a special obligation and that all signatories of the Agreement have a responsibility to see that it is being implemented. So I have no difficulty with this part of the Special Advisor’s presentation.
However, in expressing the responsibility a different form of words had to be chosen for the different categories. But it is clear that a responsibility exists. But I can assure the Special Advisor that we have every intention of bringing about the implementation of whatever we bring about here. And it is clear that it is not possible for either side to pick out only those parts of the Agreement that it wants to see implemented.
So perhaps what we should do is go through this point by point and see where we agree and where we disagree.
Le Duc Tho: Yes, I agree with the point you raised yesterday and we will discuss it point by point. The paper you have just given us, we will have it translated and study it later. Now let me first express my views. And after reading the paper if I have anything to supplement my statement, I will give it to you later. But I still think the concrete points are still in the dots.
Kissinger: The point is that we will fill in the blanks together.
Le Duc Tho: So I will fill the blanks and you will look at it.
Kissinger: That’s fine.
Le Duc Tho: But the points I am raising will be agreed to by us, maybe not.
Now, regarding Article 2, first regarding the reconnaissance flights. I propose that these reconnaissance flights be immediately stopped without condition. There is no reason to await the completion of these meetings to stop them. There is no reason while we are sitting here for the US aircraft to fly over the DRV, a sovereign country. Because if these flights continue, of course, we have to take countermeasures for the sovereignty of our country. We will have to shoot at the aircraft and maybe the conflict between our countries will start again. We may hit the plane or capture the pilot, and it will be a contentious problem. You said you would punish pilots who intrude.
Kissinger: There are two separate problems. We said we would punish those who intruded without authorization; we cannot punish pilots who intrude with authority.
Le Duc Tho: Of course. Naturally the pilots who transport the ICCS personnel—so you order the pilots to fly reconnaissance over the DRV?
Kissinger: [Laughs] There are two separate problems. I could say they were delivering civilian goods to our aircraft carriers. But I think [Page 1521] the Special Advisor knows the circumstances. But why don’t you go through all your points and then I will reply.
Le Duc Tho: It is another question about the civilian planes transporting the members of the ICCS, or the liaison or communication of the ICCS.
The second question is the mine clearance operation. Yesterday I told Mr. Advisor that you have been protracting too much these operations. Your equipment is very modern but your efficiency is very little.
Kissinger: [Aside] That’s probably true!
Le Duc Tho: I can say that the efficiency is probably greater by our rudimentary means and by our two hands. Frankly speaking to you, there are the waterways in which you have not removed any mines, and we did, and boats have been sailing. This is one thing astonishing to many people, and they know it. Therefore, I propose, in order to speed up the mine clearance operation, you should call back the mine clearance forces within 2–4 days and the mine clearance operation should be completed within 20 days. And these time limits are counted after we finish these meetings.
Kissinger: In other words, you cut in half the time limit we proposed.
Le Duc Tho: It is the first time I learn what you proposed. It is too long, the 40 days. And after completion of the mine clearance in each channel, then the U.S. should make an announcement, and when all of the operations are completed then a general announcement should be made.
Kissinger: Our Navy is very efficient at that. [Laughter] They love to make announcements. I accept that condition right away.
Le Duc Tho: Yes, when you were laying the mines, it was very rapid. But when you remove the mines it is very slow. Regarding the mines you laid in rivers, I propose that you should hand sufficient means to our people and we will do it ourselves.
Kissinger: If you don’t ask for one-half of our Navy as adequate equipment, two aircraft carriers.
Le Duc Tho: For waterways that equipment is not needed.
Kissinger: I think it is a reasonable proposal.
Le Duc Tho: So this is our proposal regarding mine clearance. Now, regarding Articles 2 and 3. As I told you, Mr. Advisor yesterday, since we signed the Agreement the shooting never stopped. It is because the Saigon Administration never ceased their encroachment operations, their mopping up operations, their police operations. And faced with such military operations by the Saigon Administration then the Provisional Revolutionary Government has been very resolute in striking back. Therefore, the war has never stopped in South Vietnam. And [Page 1522] what is more serious, on May 9 and 12 your aircraft bombed Loc Ninh region. Therefore yesterday I put the question to you as to if this situation continues then what it will lead to. And Mr. Advisor, you should understand if the Saigon Administration continues these military operations with U.S. backing and encouragement, then the South Vietnamese people will be resolute in fighting back these things, and you understand that in the military field we have never been on the defensive. We will never remain in the passive defensive position, militarily speaking. Because, militarily speaking, passive defensive position means to go backward. So if this situation continues, we will resolutely fight back.
Kissinger: I thought we were going to conduct these meetings without pressure and threats.
Le Duc Tho: No, we are not making pressure. Because right now the Saigon Administration is making many offensives. As I told you yesterday, each war has its laws. We have never resorted to threats, and speaking straightforwardly, over the past years you have often resorted to threats against us. But our people are not intimidated by threats. Therefore, in our view in our interest there must be immediate ceasefire.
Kissinger: I don’t think you are in any danger of falling into passive defense, because there are no foreign troops on your territory but a lot of your troops are on the soil of many other countries. The question is whether you consider the existence of opponents as a threat to you and you therefore take countermeasures, or whether you are willing to work out a pattern of co-existence.
Le Duc Tho: You mean the Laos and Cambodian questions?
Kissinger: No, I just have the impression, based on the history of the last 10 years, that there are more NVN troops elsewhere in Indochina and no other troops in NVN. But that may just be based on a misreading of history.
Le Duc Tho: In fact, your historical conception is wrong. Because this is basically two different historical questions. I think we should not indulge in such a debate because we have had this debate over the past 10 years.
Kissinger: Well, in any case, we have agreed that a ceasefire should be established in South Vietnam, and we should not discuss the consequences of offensives because that would be serious for both sides.
Le Duc Tho: Now, my concrete proposals, how to bring about a ceasefire. I propose, first the DRVN and the US will issue an appeal to the two South Vietnamese parties to put an immediate end to the hostilities and to strictly abide by the ceasefire provisions laid down in the Paris Agreement and in the Protocol on the Ceasefire. Secondly, [Page 1523] the two South Vietnamese parties should issue an order as to the ceasefire, jointly issued orders. Parallel.
Kissinger: Parallel. Each separately, but a common text at the same time.
Le Duc Tho: Yes. The two South Vietnamese parties will issue jointly the same order.
Kissinger: Parallel. Each on its own, but with the same text.
Le Duc Tho: No, I mean a joint order of ceasefire. A joint order.
Dr. Kissinger: What is a joint order?
Le Duc Tho: A joint order of ceasefire signed between the two parties. Let me explain our proposal and you will see.
Dr. Kissinger: On separate pages maybe.
Le Duc Tho: We will discuss it. The two South Vietnamese parties will issue a joint order of ceasefire 24 hours after we come to an agreement here. Twenty-four hours after the issuance of the order of ceasefire, then there will be a ceasefire through South Vietnam in keeping with the provisions of the Paris Agreement and protocols. Then 24 hours after the ceasefire comes into force, then the armed forces of each party will return to the positions they occupied before January 28, 1973. Then the commanders at all levels of the opposing armed forces in positions of direct contact will meet, 24 hours after the ceasefire becomes effective. Then 24 hours after the ceasefire becomes effective, the Two-Party Joint Military Commission will discuss the modalities for troop stationings and the corridors, the routes, and other regulations for movement of military means for each party.
Now, regarding Article 7.
Dr. Kissinger: Let me write this down first. I can’t complain that you are not concrete enough.
Le Duc Tho: Regarding Article 7. It is your matter of concern and it is mine too.
Dr. Kissinger: I know now that the Special Advisor is going to say 24 hours after the understanding that foreign troops are going to leave Laos, because he has focussed on 24 hours. I can feel it.
Le Duc Tho: [Laughs] There have been provisions for this in the Agreement on Laos and Cambodia and we will abide by the provisions on Laos. Now for Article 7. It is a matter of great concern to yourselves and it is a matter of great concern for us too.
Dr. Kissinger: Right.
Le Duc Tho: If you say that after the ceasefire we have introduced armaments and war material into South Vietnam, then I can tell you your intelligence service is not efficient. When we introduced armaments into South Vietnam in the past, you said that your intelligence [Page 1524] service told you there was nothing. And when we stopped introducing armaments your intelligence service affirmed that there had been war material introduced into South Vietnam. I still remember the military operation along Route 9 in southern Laos. Your intelligence service did not realize the network of anti-aircraft guns that had been set there, and then when the operation began, your intelligence service said it was the thickest network of anti-aircraft guns, even thicker than in World War II. And then in the operation in 1972 your intelligence service did not think that there were so many tanks and armored vehicles. And in wartime your intelligence service was also more active than since the restoration of peace.
Dr. Kissinger: I must say, with all due respect to the Special Advisor, that the fact that we do not always find what we think you put into South Vietnam does not increase our sense of security. From the fact that we don’t find anything, what I would deduce is that on top of what we do find there is a lot more we have not been able to find. [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: Now let me point out another thing to let you know what I mean. Now we no longer introduce war material in South Vietnam. And your intelligence service reported we have introduced a great amount of war material in South Vietnam. I can say that the PRG has now a sufficient reserve in case the Saigon Administration launches offensive attacks against the PRG. Moreover, we think it is not necessary to introduce war material in South Vietnam now because the maintenance of the war material in South Vietnam is more difficult. It would be damaged. If the war continues, or breaks out, then there is no reason that we do not assist the PRG. And we do not introduce war material when there is no longer war. So the important question is how to stop all hostilities, to observe a ceasefire, then the question arising from Article 7 no longer exists.
Dr. Kissinger: Let me repeat, because the Special Advisor’s mind is so agile that I have difficulty following him. I have understood him to say that the DRV has not introduced any military equipment in the last three months. Is that right?
Le Duc Tho: You are right. But your intelligence service has been mistaken.
Dr. Kissinger: I understand that point of the Special Advisor. I am afraid someone has just stolen 350 tanks and have just driven them down the Ho Chi Minh Trail—probably they will sell them on the black market in Saigon. [Laughter] Secondly, the Special Advisor has said that under conditions of a ceasefire there is no reason to introduce any equipment.
Le Duc Tho: You are right.
Dr. Kissinger: Because even though nothing has been introduced, there is now so much down there it is not necessary to bring more [Page 1525] down. So, if I understand the Special Advisor, he is saying that the DRV will do exactly in the next period what it has done in the last period.
Le Duc Tho: You are right.
Dr. Kissinger: And if that is the case, there is no reassurance to us whatsoever.
Le Duc Tho: Are you finished, Mr. Advisor?
Dr. Kissinger: Yes. I am just trying to understand the subtleties of this presentation.
Le Duc Tho: First of all, I would like to point out your intelligence service sometimes mistakes an elephant for a tank. [Laughter]
Dr. Kissinger: Are you pumping water through your oil pipeline now so your elephants have enough to drink? [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: Maybe you have mistaken this; you have seen it wrong. But I think you understand also that, militarily speaking, in military operations the PRG must have some reserve. So now if the Saigon Administration continues its military operations, this reserve will be sufficient to cope.
Dr. Kissinger: And you think under those conditions that our intelligence service will improve? That we will be more reasured, less nervous?
Le Duc Tho: But your intelligence service is often confused.
Dr. Kissinger: But you will contribute to ending its confusion? The mass migration of elephants will stop? You will do your utmost to keep all the elephants in northern Laos?
Le Duc Tho: When the elephants are hungry and thirsty, they must look for food and drink!
Let me speak specifically. Militarily speaking, the PRG must have some reserve in their operation; the reserve is sufficient to cope with operations by the Saigon Administration wants to continue the war. If the Saigon Administration continues their military operations and the hostilities continue a developing war, then there cannot be any prevention of aid to the PRG, because the Saigon Administration has scrapped up the Paris Agreement. It is something evident. If there is no war it is no use to introduce war material. Because if they are introduced in great quantities and stored in jungles, they will be damaged; maintenance conditions are not so good as in North Vietnam. Therefore we have no need to introduce more war material in South Vietnam.
Therefore, in our view we must put an end to the war and then Article 7 no longer arises. You will stop all additional introduction of war materials into South Vietnam and so do we. No need for them.
Dr. Kissinger: But you haven’t introduced any anyhow.[Page 1526]
Le Duc Tho: In fact we have not introduced, but if the war continues because of the Saigon Administration . . .
Dr. Kissinger: But the Agreement provides for the fact that equipment which is damaged, worn out, and so on, can be introduced as replacements, under international control.
Le Duc Tho: I will come to that provision. In order to insure strict implementation of Article 7 by the U.S. and by the DRV the best method is to observe a ceasefire and the best method is to put an end to all hostilities. Then there will no longer be complaints on both sides. It is the most realistic way to solve the problem. And when peace is restored, then you and we will introduce only civilian aides.
Dr. Kissinger: No, plus military equipment permitted as replacements under the Agreement—which assumed that peace would follow. You are trying to amend the Agreement.
Le Duc Tho: No. We do not amend the Agreement. Article 7 forbids introduction of weapons but allows replacement of armaments.
Dr. Kissinger: Right.
Le Duc Tho: We will come to that later. So 24 hours after the ceasefire comes into force, the Two-Party Joint Military Commission will discuss the determination of the points of entry for each party as well as the corridors leading to and from these points of entry. They will decide also the modalities for controlling the replacement of the armaments. I propose that the points of entry may be changed by either party when necessary, and neither party will attempt to annex the point of entry of the other party. The discussions of all these questions should be completed within 15 days. After the agreement on the above questions is reached, then the Two-Party Joint Military Commission will deploy its teams to carry out its missions, along with the ICCS teams.
By the way, I would like to remind you of the understanding between us regarding the civilian personnel serving in the military branches. Under this understanding most of these personnel must be withdrawn from South Vietnam within ten months, and they must be withdrawn within 12 months. You often forget, so I have to remind you!
Dr. Kissinger: It is integrally related to other parts of the Agreement.
Le Duc Tho: Exactly. Now, regarding Article 8, we have been lengthily expressing our views in our negotiations over this question. You have made a promise to me in this connection. I wonder if you still remember your promise; if you do, there is no need for me to remind you.
Dr. Kissinger: But I know the Special Advisor. You will do it anyway, just to make sure.[Page 1527]
Le Duc Tho: I know you are always dreaming of the question. I think that your promises should be carried out. Now the 90-day period is over, then we have to set a new time period.
Dr. Kissinger: Twenty-four hours?
Le Duc Tho: I hope that this time we set a time period it will be the last, and that there is no need to set a time period for the third time.
I propose that there will be an immediate return of all Vietnamese military personnel and Vietnamese civilian personnel still being held in custody no later than 30 days after we agree here. Regarding the military prisoners, according the list given us in Paris here, there are still 242 prisoners who have not been returned. And, moreover, there are still 10,000 military prisoners of the Saigon Administration alleged to have rallied to the Saigon Administration but in fact the Saigon Administration is still holding them in custody, so it is a violation of the Protocol.
Regarding the military prisoners captured on Route 9 in southern Laos before the signing of the Agreement, I told you that the prisoners of war captured in each battlefield comes under the competence of the commander of each battlefield. As for the DRV, we will return only the American prisoners. As to the civilian prisoners that the Saigon Administration had alleged we are holding, there is a big number of them, but in fact this is not true. Because in the PRG region there cannot be conditions to have so many prisoners and jails. Moreover, when we captured them we release them right afterward.
Dr. Kissinger: If you release them right afterward, why do you capture them?
Le Duc Tho: Because we have no accommodation to keep them in custody. Also the food is difficult.
Dr. Kissinger: Then why do you bother to capture them?
Le Duc Tho: They have committed a crime and therefore we have to capture them. But the question of their food is not easy and moreover, we do not have prisons enough to keep them. The question of food supply for our troops requires a lot of efforts on our part. It is only a pretext they invoke to delay the return of civilian prisoners.
Dr. Kissinger: I must say the Special Advisor never ceases to astonish me. But I always learn. It is a new approach to criminal justice that you arrest people who have committed a crime for the specific purpose of setting them free.
Le Duc Tho: There are two jurisdictions. Your jurisdiction is different from ours. You see, in our jurisdiction we capture them, educate them, and release them. As for your jurisdiction, you capture innocent people, you torture them morally and physically. So these are are two different jurisdictions. So you are not aware of this.[Page 1528]
Dr. Kissinger: Well, we have had a few prisoners who were aware of your jurisdiction.
Le Duc Tho: Let me come to that. As to the detention regime, I should say some words, because I can say myself from some 10’s of years I have passed through almost every prison of the French and I can say that the detention regime under the French also were not so brutal or harsh as those in the Saigon Administration built by the U.S. I have talked to some of the prisoners. I was a prisoner myself [but] it was unbearable for me to hear their stories. I have also been in Germany and saw the fascist detention camps there, and I have also listened to the stories told by former prisoners. I can tell you it is no comparison with any prisons throughout the world with Saigon. The prisoners are tortured both morally and physically. Even Mr. Vu Van Mau, a member of the Saigon Administration, a few days ago had to say that the statement made by Nguyen Van Thieu that there are no political prisoners in South Vietnam and no prison for political prisoners—this will make Nguyen Van Thieu as harsh as with Hitler. I can’t imagine such treatment between human beings and human beings.
You promised me the detention regime would be improved. But so far there has been no improvement at all.
So it has been laid down in the Agreement and the Protocol that there must be a promulgation of the Agreement and Protocol to every prisoner. But when the prisoners are returned to us, not a single man is aware of the provisions of the Agreement and Protocol.
So far there has been no inspection of the prisoners by the Red Cross Societies. And you are aware of what treatment we have given to your American prisoners. The American officers who came to receive the prisoners were satisfied with the prisoners and when the prisoners were checked at Clark Base they said they were in good health. But if you could see some of the prisoners in Saigon returned to us, you would see they are mere skeletons with skin.
Dr. Kissinger: I don’t make a point of this—I don’t know what you did in the last 30 to 60 days before their release, but I have talked to enough of the prisoners who returned so I don’t want to listen here to the argument that they were treated well.
Le Duc Tho: You are not right. But it is reliable evidence when you see the American prisoners, what state of health they are. If you could see some South Vietnamese prisoners then you could make a comparison if you have a conscience. I think that only conscienceless people do not realize the truth.
So I think that this regime of detention cannot continue. There are American religious people who visited South Vietnam and what they [Page 1529] said about the prisoners in South Vietnam I told you at great length on this question in our negotiation. I think you understand the feelings I have on this question. Therefore if this question remains unsolved in South Vietnam, it will be a major question. Many organizations in South Vietnam and international organizations have raised their voice with this subject. No one can tolerate the continuation of such a situation.
Now let me come to Article 11 and 12.
The two South Vietnamese parties have been meeting for a couple of months without settling. The positions of each party are still opposing. The proposals made by the Saigon Administration, it can be said that they are upside down. When the war is still going on, when democratic liberties are not enforced in South Vietnam, and a proposal is made regarding the organization of general elections with a fixed date, it is a mere deception. The war is still going on; there are no liberties; the population is under coercion. And then the general elections are proposed as the first step. Under such conditions there can be no democratic and free elections. So then the proposal of the PRG is as follows: First, put an end to hostilities.
Second, enforce all democratic liberties provided for in the Agreement, and these democratic liberties must be enforced immediately after the signing of the Agreement. And only in such conditions are free and democratic elections possible, because then the people can freely express their views. And when the democratic liberties are enforced, then the National Council for National Reconciliation and Concord will be set up, and only in such conditions can free and democratic general elections be organized.
So the proposal made by the Saigon Administration is only for the purpose of making a proposal. It is not in keeping with the Agreement. Therefore, we propose now that after the ceasefire is observed in South Vietnam, then the democratic liberties must be enforced, and within 30 days the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord will be established. And then the two parties will agree upon the time for the organization of the general elections.
I think that you and I, the US and the DRV, are responsible to ensure the correct implementation of this problem between the two South Vietnamese parties. Only in this way can we ensure lasting peace in South Vietnam.
I would like to add this point to you. I would like to add that now the present system in South Vietnam under Nguyen Van Thieu is a very harsh system, a fascist system. And if this situation continues I think that the war will continue in South Vietnam. Nguyen Van Thieu has stated that he would continue the pacification operations, that he [Page 1530] continue the war. Yesterday it was reported that he dissolved all political parties. And only Nguyen Van Thieu’s party remains.
Dr. Kissinger: That will distinguish the situation in South Vietnam from that in North Vietnam.
Le Duc Tho: It is completely different. It is two different conceptions, you and I. If you think it is a new situation, if you want to follow a new policy, then this situation in South Vietnam cannot continue forever. There must be a democratic process to change this situation. If you have a new policy, then the old people are no longer suitable for the new situation. This is what I would like to add to my statement. It is up to you to decide.
Now I come to Article 17.
Dr. Kissinger: 14 and 15 you think are satisfactory, I suppose.
Le Duc Tho: I base myself on the points you raised yesterday.
Dr. Kissinger: I raised Article 15.
Le Duc Tho: Article 15 you referred to comes under Article 7 as I have mentioned.
Regarding Article 17, regarding the Two-Party Joint Military Commission, you are aware of numerous events happening to the Four-Party Joint Military Commission. I referred to them yesterday. So the obstacle to the activities and deployments of the Two-Party Joint Military Commission stems from the events happening to the Four-Party Joint Military Commission. So therefore I agree with you that the Two-Party Joint Military Commission should apply the eleven points on immunities and privileges agreed to by the Four-Party Joint Military Commission, and then the Two-Party Joint Military Commission may still discuss some additional points still lacking.
Then as to the headquarters of the Two-Party Joint Military Commission now situated at Tan Son Nhut, they should be shifted to Saigon or to the border between two zones of control. And then the site of the headquarters of the Two-Party Joint Military Commission should also be at the border of two zones of control.
Dr. Kissinger: All the teams should be at the border?
Le Duc Tho: All of them.
Dr. Kissinger: Every Two-Party team should be at the border?
Le Duc Tho: Except the teams at the point of entry.
Dr. Kissinger: That is an interesting conception. What are they going to do at the borders?
Le Duc Tho: They will carry the activities in their zones of authority, in the region coming under their authority. We mean here the site of the team. Then after the ceasefire becomes effective, after agreement is reached on the sites of the teams and on immunities and privileges, [Page 1531] then the teams of the Two-Party Joint Military Commission be deployed.
Dr. Kissinger: To the borders. To the interzonal frontiers.
Le Duc Tho: The border between the two zones of control. It is the site of the teams. The areas of activity are decided in keeping with their missions. The purpose is to avoid the misdeeds committed by the Saigon Administration.
Article 18, regarding the freedom of movement and liaison between the ICCS teams, I think they must abide by the Article 18 and Article 10 of the Protocol.
Dr. Kissinger: What does that mean? That they can be shot down?
Le Duc Tho: If they go around any old way, then it is difficult to avoid being shot down.
I propose a little break, because I have been talking for two hours.
Dr. Kissinger: You are still trying to torment me with Article 20. I know 24 hours afterward he will leave Laos and 24 hours after that he will leave Cambodia.
Le Duc Tho: I propose a break so that I can speak more lengthily after I resume. And you will be prepared to listen.
Dr. Kissinger: I will await with enormous anticipation. I appreciate the spirit of goodwill.
[The meeting recessed briefly, from 5:07–5:43 p.m.]
Le Duc Tho: Mr. Advisor, please let me now speak about the Laos and Cambodia questions, that is, Article 20, that you are greatly concerned about.
Dr. Kissinger: I am glad that Article 19 is accomplished.
Le Duc Tho: Then I will speak about Article 21. And I would like to propose that after my presentation we should adjourn, so that you can consider my views and I can consider your views that you have just handed to me. And tomorrow we will make comments.
Dr. Kissinger: Good.
Le Duc Tho: With regard to Laos, I can say that it is thanks to the effort and the goodwill on both sides to discuss and agree with our respective allies, we have brought about an early ceasefire in Laos and we have set a date for the withdrawal of foreign forces in Laos. Now the two Lao parties are discussing the two protocols on the political problems and on the military problems.
Dr. Kissinger: On the few occasions when the Pathet Lao negotiator comes to Vientiane.
Le Duc Tho: They are now available in Vientiane.
Minister Thach: For over two weeks now.[Page 1532]
Le Duc Tho: To my knowledge they had to exchange their views among themselves. The protocols take some time.
So I think it is your wish and our wish to see the discussions between the Lao parties be completed promptly and to bring about a political solution between the parties so that Article 20 of the Paris Agreement can be implemented. And to my knowledge they have achieved certain progress. But of course there remain problems they will take some time. And on other questions, they think that the Vientiane people attempt to protract the discussions.
Therefore, in order to implement Article 20 of the Paris Agreement and Article 4 of the Agreement on Laos, you and we have the responsibility to push our respective allies to come to a settlement in keeping with the Agreement on Laos. The time limit of the Agreement on Laos is that they must settle the political problems within one month, the formation of the government within one month. Therefore, I think that we should discuss with our allies so that they come to agreement as soon as possible, but not later than one month from our agreement here.
Dr. Kissinger: From now?
Le Duc Tho: From what we agree here.
Dr. Kissinger: But we really agreed to that in February.
Le Duc Tho: But it is the same as with the Agreement on Vietnam. There are many time limits that have been passed. As on the agreement on Vietnam, we need to discuss again and set new time limits.
Kissinger: It is bad enough that the Special Advisor gets all the biggest buffalo, but when he sells them twice and three times, that is too much. It reminds me of December, when the Special Advisor sold the same thing every other day.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] It was Ambassador Sullivan who put so many prices . . .
Kissinger: In December? Let’s just be specific. For example—since the Vice Minister seems to be an expert on Laos while Cambodia seems to be the province of Le Duc Tho—the Pathet Lao raised the question of the Vice Premiership when it had been agreed there would not be one, and raised the issue that the political and military protocols should be linked together when it had been agreed that there would be a military solution first and then discussion of the political questions. So it is really your side that has raised new conditions since the agreement of February 23.
Le Duc Tho: I think that if now we go into specific problems of Laos, it would be difficult. Moreover, we can’t settle them here. It belongs to the Lao parties to settle there. But I propose the following: After we settle here, after one month the U.S. and the DRV will endeavor to discuss with our respective allies so that they settle their political [Page 1533] problem as soon as possible, but no later than one month after we reach agreement here, in accordance with the Laos Agreement.
Kissinger: How many articles do I have to sell you for fifteen days? It is like the old days of December.
Le Duc Tho: The period of buffalo trading is over now.
Kissinger: Now it is an ultimatum! We have progressed from buffalo trading to ultimatums. Well, we will discuss it tomorrow.
Le Duc Tho: Let me finish. So this is what I have to say about Laos.
Now we come to the difficult problem of Cambodia. It is a question difficult not only for you but also for us. I don’t speak about your difficulties, but I will explain our difficulties. On many occasions I told you that since we have peacefully settled the Vietnam problem with you and since we have contributed to the peaceful settlement of the Lao problem, it is our desire to contribute to the peaceful settlement of the Cambodian problem. The Cambodia question, it is a complicated question, on many aspects. And it is not we who can decide the question; we have to respect the sovereignty of our allies and friends. Before my coming here, Prince Sihanouk has stated that Vietnam has no right to settle the Cambodian problem. As for you, you are still unwilling to speak to the Cambodians. So therein lies the difficulty of the problem.
And I add to the statement of the Prince: He also stated he also said that after the cessation of the bombing in Cambodia and after the cessation of aid to the Lon Nol administration and after the withdrawal of the non-Khmer forces—these are his conditions—so it is Prince Sihanouk’s desire that not only your troops but also the so-called Vietnamese troops, he doesn’t like these troops present.
Kissinger: He didn’t like it before when they were present. His capacity to effect his wishes is less than his capacity to make speeches.
Le Duc Tho: Now the situation is different. I would like to point out, so that you will have a correct judgment of the situation in Cambodia. When you staged the coup in Cambodia, you misjudged the situation in Cambodia.
Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, I have told you a hundred times, I was as surprised as you by the coup. I thought Sihanouk had staged it. I thought Sihanouk had staged it to bring pressure on you.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] So, I am also astonished about your statement that Sihanouk himself had staged the coup!
Kissinger: Quite honestly, I thought he had staged it because he was going to Moscow and Peking and it would show unhappiness with Hanoi. I thought he would then come back a popular liberator. I didn’t think Sihanouk was a protege of the Special Advisor.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] So you have misjudged the situation of Cambodia then. Now the question of who staged the coup, we will let to history to decide.[Page 1534]
Kissinger: Maybe you staged the coup. [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: But I think you know better than anyone else about who ordered the coup.
Le Duc Tho: So the situation of Cambodia has changed, and I think that you are still misjudging the situation in Cambodia. In fact, there is at present no division of the PRG on Cambodian territory.
Kissinger: How about battalions?
Le Duc Tho: Now the Cambodian fighters, they carry out themselves the fighting there. As to their equipment, most of it is transferred to the troops by Lon Nol troops. You are right when saying there are Vietnamese battalions, but they are very few. But these are Vietnamese residents. You should remember there are a half million Vietnamese nationals in Cambodia. And you should remember how the Lon Nol Government massacred them. The Vietnamese nationals organized themselves into units. And I think you will remember . . .
Kissinger: May I ask for my own clarification. May I assume that Mr. Special Advisor means that the Vietnamese forces, being Cambodian will never withdraw from Cambodia?
Le Duc Tho: No. These are Vietnamese nationals. They do not belong to the PRG.
Kissinger: So they will never leave.
Le Duc Tho: If they are considered as non-Khmer troops they will be dissolved, but they do not belong to the PRG. But what you told me, about part of the logistical units it is true.
Kissinger: Of the DRV?
Le Duc Tho: Of the PRG. These units have been assisting the Khmer units. So Article 20 of the Paris Agreement stipulates that after a settlement of the Cambodian problem all foreign forces must be withdrawn.
Kissinger: No. With all due respect, Article 20 says foreign troops must leave Cambodia, and it doesn’t say anything about after a political settlement.
Le Duc Tho: Let me finish my statement and I will answer this question of yours. But at present you are still helping the Lon Nol Government—your air activities—you are giving aid and assistance to the Lon Nol Government. So it is natural that the Vietnamese will assist their friends; the Vietnamese are helping them in transport questions, in logistic questions. As to their equipment, they are given them by foreign powers and transferred from Lon Nol soldiers.
Kissinger: But how does it get there?[Page 1535]
Le Duc Tho: I have told you. We help them in transporting it. There is a solidarity between the three Indochinese peoples. But since the Paris Agreement, this transportation has stopped.
Kissinger: So it’s all going into South Vietnam now?
Le Duc Tho: I have presented to you about Article 7. And Prince Sihanouk openly spoke about this question.
Kissinger: But Sihanouk openly speaks about so many questions, it is hard to know what it is.
Le Duc Tho: So you are reluctant to talk to Prince Sihanouk because you are afraid he will talk all the time.
Kissinger: Life is too short. [Laughter] You used me as a means to shorten his visit to Hanoi.
Le Duc Tho: No. He wanted to avoid talks in Hanoi. He wanted to talk in another place. You understand.
Kissinger: If you had kept him there, we could have fought for that big bedroom. [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: So this is the complexity of the situation.
Kissinger: And what is the solution?
Le Duc Tho: Now, if a settlement is to be found, now I think you should talk to Sihanouk and the Khmer resistance. And we do hope to see that such discussions happen, and settle the question. I think since you have settled the Vietnam problem, and the Laos problem I think you will find means to settle the Cambodian problem. So we expect to see the settlement of the Cambodian problem, and Article 20 will be strictly implemented. Therefore, I think it is not realistic if you propose an immediate ceasefire and the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops. Even for Laos, only after negotiations, after the ceasefire, then the problem of withdrawal of foreign forces are posed. Even for the Vietnam problem.
So I have explained on many occasions this question. We do want, we earnestly want, to contribute our part to the settlement of the Cambodian problem but we can’t do it by ourselves. But we always think that we will contribute—we will endeavor to contribute our part—to the peaceful settlement of the Cambodian problem, by discussions, by exchanging views with our allies. But the decision will be theirs. To solve the problem, or not to solve the problem, it is up to them. At most we can contribute our views to them. But whether they listen to them or not, we cannot decide. But this question is complicated in many aspects. I have explained this on many occasions. I think you understand the problem. You will find out ways to solve the problem. As for us, we will do our utmost to contribute to the peaceful settlement of the problem. And when a settlement is reached, we are resolute to respect Article 20.[Page 1536]
In a word, the Cambodian problem is complex question and you should realize the situation. You should correctly assess the situation and discuss with the parties, and then the question may be settled.
I know it is a matter of your concern. Before we concluded the Agreement on Vietnam and when you visited Hanoi, you raised the question. But we can’t settle the question. And finally we came to an understanding on this question. So in brief, please understand our difficulties. It does not mean that we don’t want to settle the Cambodian problem.
Now let me address Article 21. Regarding Article 21, we are of the view that you dragged on the discussion and now you have interrupted the discussion. I think that the healing of the war wounds and the reconstruction of Vietnam is an obligation of yours, and beneficial to both parties. You should not link this question to other questions. Therefore, I propose that after we reach agreement here the Joint Economic Commission should resume its meetings by the end of May, and complete its own within ten days. According to your proposal the Commission should finish its work within fifteen days. We propose ten days.
Kissinger: I thought we said three weeks. No, we didn’t say anything. Oh, during the JEC talks.
Le Duc Tho: Previously you proposed two weeks. But whether seven days in advance, or seven days late, it doesn’t matter. If you propose two weeks, and I propose ten days, five days more does not matter.
Kissinger: Peace has made the Special Advisor mellow. It’s a big concession. [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: And moreover, there are a number of projects we envisage in the five-year plan. I think we should come to an agreement. Because these projects meet our needs in developing our industry and agriculture. According to the U.S. side, these projects depend on our capability to receive such projects. I think this is contrary to our previous agreement that the projects should respond to the needs of our developing industry.
Kissinger: What projects are you talking about?
Le Duc Tho: I have a number of projects I will give to you. And it is mentioned in President Nixon’s message to our Prime Minister that the aid is based on the respect for our sovereignty, and the projects carried out in the DRV will be carried out under the direction of the planning section of the DRV side. But you put forward a number of regulations and modalities that are contrary to the spirit of the agreement. I think that this should be discussed again.
Now about the prices of the commodities supplied to us and those supplied to us and the projects. The prices by you are too high. [Laugh[Page 1537]ter] I think these prices should be reduced to the international market price.
I just mention this to draw your attention to it. And the JEC will further discuss these questions. I just would like to add these few points because in fact they have attained certain progress in the Economic Commission.
I think now, finally, if both sides make a effort and come to agreement on a certain number of problems, then finally we can make a public communiqué. And besides the public communiqué, on a number of questions we can have understandings. And the understandings we may arrive at, you and I may sign the understandings. These are the few forms of resolution we might apply. I would like to raise these for your consideration so you can think it over. So, finally I would like to point out that we should endeavor that we should reach good results, that will lead to normalization of relations between our two countries. It is what both of us are longing for.
So I have finished my presentation. I propose that we should adjourn now and resume tomorrow.
Kissinger: I would like to ask the Special Advisor a question or two, and then make a comment, so he can put his subtle mind to work on it over night, and we can discuss it in detail tomorrow.
First, on the procedural question. Mr Special Advisor, if we sign a communique, do you envision a short one or a long one that covers every point we discussed?
Le Duc Tho: I think that in the communiqué we would announce all the points that we have reached on which we reached agreement.
Kissinger: Then what is the understanding?
Le Duc Tho: If there are some problems and you find it better not to publish it, then we can have an understanding. Otherwise there is no need for an understanding.
Kissinger: And we sign both?
Le Duc Tho: It is up to you.
Kissinger: I am not arguing. I am just trying to find out your views. Communiqués are generally not signed.
Le Duc Tho: It is up to you. We will discuss.
Kissinger: So your idea is that we publish a communiqué?
Le Duc Tho: The points on which we have reached agreement.
Kissinger: Of course. And there may be some points, as in January, in which we reach a private understanding. As January.
Now, I will answer you tomorrow, but I must say that it is absolutely essential for us that a solution of the Lao and Cambodian problems coincide in time with our presentation to Congress. I think that [Page 1538] in his presentation of the Cambodian problem the Special Advisor showed uncharacteristic self-restraint, and I know he has greater influence over his three students who are managing things for Sihanouk in Cambodia than he is giving himself credit for.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] You overestimate my influence. It is not conforming with reality. And you have not quite correctly assessed the situation.
Kissinger: But I think if the Special Advisor spends seventeen hours with Hou Youn, Khieu Samphan and Hu Nim, he would have a certain impact.
Le Duc Tho: I have not gone to Cambodia to meet Mr. Hou Youn and Khieu Samphan. I don’t know physically the face of Hu Nim. But I did meet with Ieng Sary; from time to time he comes to Hanoi, but he lives in Peking. But I think if you talk to him you will understand better.
Kissinger: I don’t see why we should talk directly. We are prepared to arrange talks between this group and the Phnom Penh group and to have a settlement similar to the Laotian settlement.
Le Duc Tho: Tomorrow I will try to analyze your approach to the problem.
Kissinger: I simply would like you to think again about the fragility and impossibility of a situation in which the U.S. is told to bring about a total ceasefire in Vietnam but in which we are told that the two sides cannot even appeal to the two sides in Cambodia to bring about a ceasefire in Cambodia.
But I will reply to your other points tomorrow, and we will also discuss our paper. Should we meet at 10:30 tomorrow morning?
Le Duc Tho: I will have to consider your paper, so I propose the afternoon. I haven’t perused it.
Kissinger: All right. Three o’clock.
Le Duc Tho: At your place?
Le Duc Tho: I will return it again tomorrow. I have it translated.
Kissinger: Good, so we will meet tomorrow at 3:00. And if you want to bring your golf clubs, we can talk as we walk around the golf course.
Le Duc Tho: I am not strong enough to play golf now, and I don’t know how to play.
Kissinger: I don’t know very well either. I have been described as a non-practicing sportsman.
Le Duc Tho: You should make an effort with sports!
Kissinger: If I make an effort, will you make an effort? [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: I have made an effort. I have much experience in gymnastics.[Page 1539]
Kissinger: Oh, really? Running up and down the Ho Chi Minh Trail? [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: Yes. When I was in my forties I went up and down it twice.
Kissinger: That is why he is so possessive about it.
Le Duc Tho: It is a matter of course.
Kissinger: Well, we shall meet tomorrow at 3:00 p.m.
[The meeting adjourned.]
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 114, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam, Paris Memcons, May 17–23, 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at 108 Avenue du Général Leclerc, Gif-sur-Yvette. All brackets are in the original. Tab A is attached but not printed.
Kissinger reported to the President later the same day, addressing both the tone and substance of the meeting. Regarding tone, he wrote:
“Although outwardly pleasant in his general demeanor towards us today, Le Duc Tho turned tough and insolent in his presentation of DRV proposals for remedial measures for implementation of Paris Agreement. His proposals amounted to a renegotiation of significant portions of the Agreement and protocols and were reminiscent of attitudes he displayed last December.”
Regarding substance, several topics were discussed, prominently among them the U.S. role in, to use a frequent phrase of Le Duc Tho, “healing the wounds of war,” which Kissinger called “economic aid.” On this he told Nixon that “it is quite clear that they want it badly, but as yet unclear what, if anything, they are prepared to pay for it. This would seem to be major card we have to play. However, I did, once again, warn of serious military consequences if they fail to reach satisfactory understandings with us.”
The cease-fire, which was supposed to have gone into effect immediately after the Accords were signed, had yet to be achieved. On this, Kissinger told the President that Le Duc Tho had “suggested new ceasefire arrangement, which would result in GVN withdrawal from all areas it reclaimed after Communist land-grab immediately following signature of Agreement last January.” ( Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. X, Vietnam, January 1973–July 1975, Document 51)↩