59. 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
  • Colonel 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 Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
  • Ambassador Graham Martin, Ambassador-Designate to the Republic of Vietnam
  • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, NSC Senior Staff
  • Mr. George Aldrich, Deputy Legal Adviser, Department of State
  • Mr. William Stearman, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
  • Mr. David A. Engel, Interpreter
  • Mrs. Mary Stifflemire, Notetaker

Dr. Kissinger: I see that Mr. Thach got himself a lot of publicity yesterday. [Laughter] The Special Advisor told me that he had many comments to make about our memorandum [U.S. draft Memorandum of Understanding, Tab A], and I wonder whether he wanted to begin.

Le Duc Tho: Yesterday I expressed my views. Today I think that today you will make comments on what I said yesterday.

Dr. Kissinger: You just have to sign the last page, Mr. Special Advisor. Please.

Le Duc Tho: Yesterday I expressed all my views. I recorded them all in the paper. Now, I would like to hand it to you. Basically it is the same as what I said yesterday. That is the Vietnamese text as well as the English translation. [He hands over DRV drafts of Joint Communiqué, Tab B, and “joint decision” on ceasefire, Tab C.] I have given you two or three apiece.

Basically these are the same as what I told you yesterday, Mr. Advisor. You can comment on what I said yesterday.

Dr. Kissinger: Oh, we are back to . . . we need two different documents again. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: If there were only one document I would have signed the paper you gave me yesterday. Or you keep the paper I am giving to you today.

Dr. Kissinger: Let me just skim it quickly. [Reads] Well, I see they want to resume the Joint Economic Commission on my birthday.

Le Duc Tho: I don’t remember it, but it will be the better if it coincides with your birthday. It will give you better remembrance of the day.

Dr. Kissinger: I think there was a paragraph missing about Cambodia, that I know you had intended to put in. I am sure your typist made an error. Well, Mr. Special Advisor, let me comment about your paper.

We have pointed out—and I will go through your paper point by point. But I want to say first that we attach great importance to the organization of the paper which we have given you. That is to say, to list those issues that concern the DRV and the United States and then [Page 1541] to have an urgent recommendation as to the other issues that concern the two South Vietnamese parties, the entire document to be signed by our two sides and carrying with it an understanding as to its obligatory nature.

Now, with this qualification, let me now go through your proposals, point by point.

First, with respect to Article 2, aerial reconnaissance, pursuant to the proposal made yesterday by the Special Advisor, no reconnaissance activities will be carried on while these talks are continuing, and we agree to the cessation immediately upon the conclusion of the memorandum of understanding.

We cannot accept the last sentence of your proposal because all these provisions are linked to each other.

With respect to the second point [mine clearance], we agree with the principle. The number of days we gave you represented the best judgment by our Navy as to what could realistically be done. But I am going to check whether this was calculated on the basis of working eight hours a day or whether they could extend the number of hours which they are working. And in that case we may be able to reduce the number of days that we gave you.

With respect to the ceasefire, we agree that there should be a joint appeal by the United States and the . . . Oh, you don’t have that in your draft. You left something out, Mr. Thach, of what the Special Advisor said yesterday. As a sign of our good will and serious intent I was going to make a concession and accept it. At any rate we agree that there should be an order by the Government of South Vietnam and by the PRG to effect a strict ceasefire through South Vietnam. We believe there should be a separate order, identically worded, issued at the same hour by both governments.

We agree that the Two-Party Joint Military Commission will meet 24 hours after the entry into force of the strict ceasefire. We want to leave open the number of hours after the issuance that this [ceasefire] should go into effect, but I am sure we can agree on that. That is to say, after the issuance of the order the timing between issuance of the order and the going into effect of the ceasefire we should discuss, but I think we can come to an understanding.

We agree that there should be meetings of commanders, but we would like to phrase it “at appropriate levels.” And the levels should be decided by the Two-Party Joint Commission. We also believe that the Two-Party Military Commission should immediately discuss the delimitation of areas of control. We do not agree that they should return to the situation as it was on January 28, since if they cannot agree on the delimitation of the area of control, how can they possibly [Page 1542] agree on what the situation was on January 28? But we wouldn’t object to it if the two parties can agree on it. We just don’t see how we can state it as a provision.

I have answered the point about local commanders and about delimitation of zones of control.

With respect to your Article 4, point (b) must make clear that the provisions of Article 7 [of the Agreement] apply: “war materials except those permitted under Article 7,” or something like that. [He confers briefly with Sullivan and Aldrich.] It is partly dealt with in (c), but I just want to make sure that we don’t misunderstand each other afterwards. Shall we agree on game wardens, about the movement of elephants through Laos? [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: Yes, one may always be mistaken.

Dr. Kissinger: Our European expert [Sonnenfeldt] has never heard the logic of our Vietnam colleagues that just because often the Vietnamese have managed to introduce equipment that we did not catch, the equipment we didn’t catch probably doesn’t exist. I am just explaining the logic to our European expert here.

Le Duc Tho: Yes, it is difficult for Europeans to understand Asians.

Dr. Kissinger: And it is difficult for anybody to understand Vietnamese. [Laughter] Can that be your secret weapon?

Now, with respect to points of entry. We agree that they should be designated by the Two-Party Joint Military Commission from places held at the time the agreement is signed. We want to discourage landgrab operations. And we want to make clear that this is without prejudice to the points of entry that have already been agreed upon. In fact, we believe that the most efficient way of doing it would be for the Vice Minister and Ambassador Sullivan to constitute a working group and to specify the points of entry in this agreement.

As to corridors and similar matters, obviously corridors cannot exist through areas not controlled by one side or the other.

With respect to your point 5, Article 8, we have given you the draft of what we are prepared to agree to.

With respect to the democratic liberties, we believe that our proposal is more efficient.

With respect to the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord, if the formation of the Council is linked to a clear commitment to an election, I think we can come to some understanding about it.

On Article 17, we substantially agree.

With respect to the location of the teams, we would like to study this problem further. Unless the Special Advisor would like to explain to me the full meaning—since I have learned there is always more to [Page 1543] the Special Advisor’s proposals than meets the eyes. I would like to understand a little bit better what he has in mind with Article 8(b).

Article 8(c) we have no problem with.

Article 9 is totally unsatisfactory. First of all it depends what you mean by “scrupulously implement Article 20.” Since we have maintained that it has not been scrupulously implemented. In fact, we believe it hasn’t been implemented at all. Secondly, even with respect to Laos, the article says nothing about the Special Advisor’s suggestion yesterday of setting a time limit on the political negotiations. Thirdly, it is impossible for us, as we have told you on innumerable occasions, to recommend a program according to your Article 10 and to Article 21 of the Agreement unless there is a ceasefire in Cambodia and the implementation of Article 20 with respect to Cambodia.

With respect to your Article 10, referring to Article 21 of the Agreement, the only difference between us is a question of days, which I am sure we can resolve satisfactorily if everything else is satisfied. We will agree, if everything else is agreed to, we will agree to a fixed date for the resumption of the Commission and a fixed brief period for the completion of the work program for the first stages. It will be a little longer than this, but it will not be held back.

Finally, we note there is no reference to Article 15, which is covered in our paper and on which we have spent so much time in December—and January. I am sure the Special Advisor wouldn’t want something on which we spent so much time ignored.

There is also no reference to Article 18, the free movement of ICCS personnel.

Well, these are our comments on your paper.

Le Duc Tho: Have you finished, Mr. Advisor?

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: Please now let me express my views. We have spent many days in the past and much arduous work to come to the Paris Agreement on Vietnam. Now, how the situation is at present, I have expressed my views on the past few days. And so we are reviewing now the implementation of the Agreement, chapter by chapter, and we try to find out points on which we should find out the measures for better implementation of those articles. Therefore our approach to the review of the implementation of the Agreement is to stress upon the common responsibility of the four parties to the Agreement in strictly implementing the Agreement.

But looking into your memorandum I think that your division into two categories of problems—first, problems regarding the U.S. and the DRV, and second, problems regarding the Saigon Administration and the Provisional Revolutionary Government—I think that this division [Page 1544] is not conforming to the Agreement. Those provisions mentioned in the Agreement constitute a common obligation to all signatory parties. Therefore, if now we review the implementation of those provisions we should not depart from the provisions of the Agreement and the provisions of the protocols. We should not divert from the Agreement and its protocols, and we should not act contrary to the provisions of the Agreement and its protocols, but at the same time we should not go beyond the Agreement and the protocols.

For those points which fall beyond the Agreement we may have understandings.

And our approach to the problem is that we do not put conditions and not linking one provision of the Agreement to the implementation of other provisions of the Agreement. For instance, you have linked the resumption of the meetings of the Joint Economic Commission to the question of ceasefire in Cambodia. It is contrary to our agreement that we come here to review the implementation of the Agreement and to find out measures to insure the strict implementation of all the provisions of the Agreement. The provisions regarding the Joint Economic Commission, that is to say, Article 21 of the Agreement, the U.S. should implement this article of the Agreement. You cannot deny implementation of this article. And moreover, the implementation of this article is in the interest of the two parties and it will lay a basis for the normalization of relations between our two countries.

So on the basis of what I have just said, which bears some character of principle, please let me now comment on the memorandum you gave us yesterday.

First, let me point out those paragraphs in your memorandum that are contrary to the Paris Agreement on Vietnam and contrary to the protocols to the Paris Agreement. If we adopted what you have proposed in your draft memorandum we would have to redraft the Paris Agreement and its protocols.

Now let me address the first part of your memorandum and point 5 of the first part. Article 15 of the Agreement stipulates that “North Vietnam and South Vietnam . . .”

Dr. Kissinger: Just a minute. I have to find it.

Le Duc Tho: “North Vietnam and South Vietnam should respect the Demilitarized Zone.” If we put as you have put in your point 5 that military personnel and equipment be removed immediately from the Demilitarized Zone, then if you put as you have done, then you have put something new in the Agreement and you imply that we have been violating the Agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: But you agree . . .

Le Duc Tho: Let me finish first, Mr. Advisor.

[Page 1545]

Dr. Kissinger: Well, that way you might agree with me and I can’t get the argument down. Please finish.

Le Duc Tho: Now why there is no mention of this article in the paper we have just given you [is] because this article is very explicit and there can be no additional phrases or paragraphs in connection with this article. Moreover, Article 7 is also very clear. Article 7 prohibits any introduction of armaments and war materials into South Vietnam. Only replacement of arms are permissible, but it must be introduced through designated points of entry. Therefore this question has been clearly laid down in Article 7 and in the paper I have just given you there has been clear mention about this.

Dr. Kissinger: Except that it is our impression that Article 15 has been violated, and therefore, just to put our mind at ease, we would like to call attention to it again.

Le Duc Tho: But I think that Article 7 may have given you quietness of mind if it is clearly implemented. It is a basic article.

Dr. Kissinger: 15 is a basic article too.

Le Duc Tho: But the Article 15 is explicit enough. It says that the DMZ must be respected. Now, regarding your second Part, B, and Point 1.

Dr. Kissinger: What is the next article?

Le Duc Tho: Second part, B(1).

Dr. Kissinger: Can I assume then that the Special Advisor is accepting all the other points in Part A?

Le Duc Tho: I am presenting my views, Mr. Advisor.

Dr. Kissinger: No, but he is now in Part B.

Le Duc Tho: Now I am pointing out the paragraphs in your memorandum that are contrary to the Agreement.

Dr. Kissinger: Oh, I see.

Le Duc Tho: And those points that are not agreeable to us.

Dr. Kissinger: I will let the Special Advisor continue.

Le Duc Tho: And for those points on which I agree I will make further comments.

Dr. Kissinger: All right, fine. Now I understand.

[Page 1546]

Le Duc Tho: Now your Part B, point 1, you mention that the present level of violence in South Vietnam should be reduced as quickly as possible and before the cessation of hostilities. I think that this is contrary to Articles 2 and 3 of the Agreement which stipulate that there must be immediate ceasefire. If it is worded as you have done it means that the fighting will continue in South Vietnam.

Dr. Kissinger: I understand the point.

Le Duc Tho: Now your Part B, point 3: in this paragraph you propose that “local military commanders at appropriate levels should be authorized to meet” and with the presence of teams of the Two-Party Joint Military Commission. I think this is contrary to Article 3 of the Agreement and Article 4 of the Protocol on the Ceasefire.

Dr. Kissinger: Just a minute. I have to find why is it contrary to Article 3 of the Agreement.

Le Duc Tho: Let me explain this. Article 4 of the Protocol on the Ceasefire clearly stipulates that the commanders of the opposing armed forces at those positions in direct contact will meet. There is no mention of the presence of the Two-Party Joint Commission.

Dr. Kissinger: And “pending regulation by the Joint Military Commissions.”

Le Duc Tho: It is mentioned that it is pending, but there is no mention of the presence of the Two-Party Joint Military Commission.

Dr. Kissinger: But it only speaks about commanders in direct contact.

Le Duc Tho: And those positions in direct contact of opposing armed forces. And there is no mention of “at appropriate levels.” The wording in the Protocol is concrete and clear and now the wording in your memorandum is contrary to the Protocol.

Dr. Kissinger: [Aside] In contrast to the memorandum they gave us, which strictly adheres . . .

Le Duc Tho: Now Part B, point 9.

Dr. Kissinger: Point 9, right.

Le Duc Tho: So your paragraph is contrary to Article 11 of the Agreement. Article 11 of the Agreement explicitly stipulates that “as soon as the ceasefire comes into force the two South Vietnamese parties shall immediately enforce all the democratic liberties of the people.”

Dr. Kissinger: Ensure.

Le Duc Tho: “Ensure all democratic liberties to the people of South Vietnam.” Here you write that each of the two South Vietnamese parties should inform the other parties to the Paris Agreement of the measures it has taken to ensure. Is that right?

Kissinger: One reason we did not want to spell it out is that we believe this article is scrupulously being carried out, and that this article is clear. So we did not see any reason to . . . It is as clear as Article 15.

Le Duc Tho: I think that in our document we must have correct, adequate wording. In your Part B, on point 10, you propose that each of the two South Vietnamese parties should proceed quickly to designate those persons who are to compose their segment of the National Council and half of those persons who are to compose a third equal segment. [Page 1547] But you do not propose any specific time limit for formation of the Council, which is contrary to Article 12 of the Agreement.

Kissinger: Article 12 only says that they should do their utmost.

Le Duc Tho: But within three months.

Kissinger: Do their utmost to do it within three months.

Le Duc Tho: So the three-month period is over now.

Kissinger: Should we give them another time period to do their utmost?

Le Duc Tho: Let us have a specific time period and we will prod them to carry out within the time limit and we will struggle to have it implemented.

Kissinger: We are willing to discuss this.

Le Duc Tho: Now your Part B, point 14.

Kissinger: Well that is Thach’s problem, because I know the Special Advisor is sympathetic to the International Control Commission. I know he wouldn’t want the Canadians unhappy.

Le Duc Tho: In this paragraph you propose that the International Commission and its teams is authorized to carry out all necessary travel that is deemed necessary, and at any moment, without giving notice to any South Vietnamese parties, which is completely at variance with Article 18 of the Agreement and at variance with the Protocol regarding the International Commission of Control and Supervision. And you have also proposed that the International Commission and its teams may travel wherever they like. And there is no such mention in the Protocol.

To our view those are the points that are at variance with the Agreement and protocols and that we cannot agree to. Because our purpose is to review the implementation of the Agreement, and to find out measures to ensure correct and scrupulous implementation of the Agreement and the protocols, and not to amend the Agreement and the protocols.

Besides those points which are at variance with the Agreement and the protocols, there are other points which go beyond the Paris Agreement on Vietnam. And among those points there are points regarding Cambodia and regarding Laos and thirdly regarding the information about the missing-in-action in Laos and Cambodia. I will express my views regarding those points, but those points are points which cannot be mentioned in the joint communiqué or memorandum.

Now let me express my views regarding the point you mentioned in your memorandum and the comments you have just made of the paper we have just given you. Now, I base myself on the draft joint communiqué and I will point out which points we can agree with you and which points we cannot agree with you.

[Page 1548]

Kissinger: Your draft joint communiqué or our draft memorandum of understanding?

Le Duc Tho: I will combine my comments on your memo and my draft . . .

Kissinger: I understand.

Le Duc Tho: And those are the points which we can discuss.

Now regarding the draft communiqué, point 1, “in implementation of the Article 2 of the Agreement, the U.S. will immediately cease all reconnaissance flights over the territory of the DRVN. This cessation is complete, definitive, and unconditional.” I think that the mention of “this cessation is complete, definitive and unconditional” is a correct position, because the DRV is a sovereign country. There is no reason that reconnaissance flight is not stopped completely, definitively or unconditionally. I recall to you the understanding we had with you on this question. Now the wording is not so good as the wording of the understanding we had, the understanding with respect of the reconnaissance activities: “the U.S. side confirms that with the coming into effect of the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam the reconnaissance activities against the territory of the DRVN will cease completely and indefinitely.”

Kissinger: But not unconditionally.

Le Duc Tho: But the present wording constitutes a step backward.

Kissinger: [laughs] Some day we are going to have a meeting where the Special Advisor will praise me. It is what brings me back to all these meetings, the hope that he will say a friendly word.

Le Duc Tho: No, the only praise I will make to you is that you are very forgetful. [Laughter]

Kissinger: All right.

Le Duc Tho: Regarding the clearance of mines, I think the time period of twenty days we propose is reasonable, twenty days after we reach agreement here. This is a reasonable proposal. And according to the American technicians and according to their schedule of work, they say that it would take twenty days to complete all the work. They said no. Now the third question.

Kissinger: Have you been fraternizing with our people in Hanoi, in Haiphong?

Le Duc Tho: I have not met them.

Kissinger: We are checking with our people. We have no interest in prolonging it.

Le Duc Tho: But I have a feeling you have dragged on the mine clearance.

Kissinger: That is because you have a very suspicious nature.

[Page 1549]

Le Duc Tho: No, we are not suspicious. Throughout the process of the mine clearing you have interrupted the operation twice, so it makes us suspicious. If you had continued the operation it would have been completed by now.

Kissinger: We will let you know what adjustment we can make in our proposal tomorrow. I am sure we can settle this satisfactorily. We will let you know tomorrow whether we can make any adjustment in our proposal.

Le Duc Tho: Regarding the ceasefire. Since we will issue the joint communiqué, I think it is sufficient, and we will leave the two South Vietnamese parties to issue the ceasefire order.

Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: It is a reduction of paper, red tape.

Kissinger: Yes, each in their own way.

Le Duc Tho: But if you like to issue an appeal by the U.S. and the DRV, we are prepared to do that. But my view is to reduce the papers. As to the ceasefire order I think a joint order of ceasefire is stronger. And previously the Four-Party Joint Commission issued also a joint order.

Kissinger: The Four-Party Commission, not the Two-Party.

Le Duc Tho: Yes, Four-Party. Thus if the Four-Party Joint Military Commission could issue a joint order, with more reason the Two-Party can.

Kissinger: That was a joint appeal. It was an appeal. The Four-Party had no right to issue an order.

Le Duc Tho: Yes. If you like, a separate order, but it must be the same wording, the same time, and so forth.

Kissinger: Yes. All right, we can agree to that if we can agree to a text. Why don’t we have the Two-Party Commission work out the text?

Le Duc Tho: I have given you a draft of the order. [Tab C] I think it better . . .

Kissinger: Well, let us study it. We haven’t really studied it yet. In principle it is a possibility. [He reads DRV draft at Tab C.]

Le Duc Tho: The two governments. As for the entry into force of the ceasefire, I think twenty-four hours is appropriate, in keeping with the Agreement. If the wording you propose here, “the gradual reduction of violence,” it is at variance to the provisions of the Agreement.

Kissinger: You wouldn’t be thinking of a little land-grabbing operation in the interval, would you, Mr. Special Advisor? As in November?

Le Duc Tho: Now if the ceasefire comes into force within twenty-four hours there can be no land grab. But in November there was no ceasefire then.

Kissinger: [laughs] That is true!

[Page 1550]

Le Duc Tho: They were in their right to carry out such operations, but when the ceasefire went into force they have to respect the ceasefire.

Kissinger: But very suspicious people could say—very unworthily—the idea was to grab some territory and then to protect it with the ceasefire. Like a seaport or two. I know the Special Advisor specializes in jungle trails, but the Vice Minister is a specialist on seaports.

Le Duc Tho: Now let me come to the question of the “Twenty-four hours after entering into force of the ceasefire the armed forces of the two parties will return to the positions they occupied before January 28.” We can add another sentence saying that we can let this question be discussed by the two South Vietnamese parties in the Two-Party Joint Military Commission.

Now regarding the point about “the commanders at all levels at those places of direct contact will meet and agree on measures,” we can delete the words “commanders at all levels” and stick to the Protocol. As to commanders at which level should meet, we can leave this question to the Two-Party Joint Military Commission. They can discuss and decide which level of commanders. But we maintain that the commanders of opposing armed forces at those places of direct contact should meet.

As to Article 7 . . .

Kissinger: Just a minute. I think to make it consistent with the Agreement we should say “they meet for the purposes of Article 4 of the Protocol.” That would make it strictly in conformity with the Agreement.

Le Duc Tho: I propose to maintain the wording of the Protocol that commanders of opposing armed forces at those places of direct contact will meet.

Kissinger: Just “will meet?”

Le Duc Tho: And that . . .

Kissinger: Yes, but that is not what the Protocol says. That is not what Article 4 of the Protocol says.

Le Duc Tho: All right. They will meet for the purposes of Article 4 of the Protocol.

Kissinger: Okay. In that case we are all right. And then, shall we say the Two-Party Military Commission will decide the appropriate level?

Le Duc Tho: If now we have adopted the wording of the Protocol then we rest strictly consistent to the Protocol. We will let them decide later.

With regard to Article 7, we agree to adopt the wording of the Agreement, as you propose. Regarding Article 7, the Two-Party Joint Commission will decide the modalities for the replacement of arma[Page 1551]ments and designate the points of entry of each party and the corridors to and from those points. The points of entry which have been designated I think we keep them, and those which are still lacking we should designate them.

Kissinger: Okay. But the points of entry should only be designated from points which either side held on May 19. Do you see what I mean? We don’t want you to grab Cam Ranh Bay and claim it as a PRG point of entry. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: It is related to the provisions of return to the positions the armed forces occupied on January 28.

Sullivan: That is his favorite point.

Kissinger: We will build a hotel there and let the Vice Minister visit it. Is that his native place?

Le Duc Tho: So now you admit that it was a violation of the Agreement that your side seized it?

Kissinger: No. First it was a violation of the Agreement that you seized Sa Huynh. And then our forces took it back.

Le Duc Tho: No, it was before the ceasefire went into effect.

Kissinger: [laughs] How about that marine base north of the Cua Viet River? Do you want to give that back to us?

Le Duc Tho: It was decided to allow operations against Cua Viet after the ceasefire came into effect and when you visited Hanoi you told me that it was a violation of the Agreement.

Kissinger: Well, so was your grab of Sa Huynh.

Le Duc Tho: The capture of Sa Huynh happened before the ceasefire, a few days before the ceasefire.

Kissinger: I understand that the ICCS found unanimously that it was a violation of the Agreement, which cost the Polish officer his job. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: So we should no longer refer to these questions. It is bygone. So some of the points of entry have been designated, and the points of entry which are lacking will be designated by the Two-Party Joint Military Commission.

Kissinger: Within what time period?

Le Duc Tho: Within fifteen days. It is mentioned in the draft. The three remaining points of entry, including the modalities. And after the designation of points of entry then the teams of the Joint Military Commission and the ICCS will be deployed as the deployment before the ceasefire, including the designated points of entry, provided that the immunities and privileges are insured.

Kissinger: After the designation of those points the teams will be deployed provided their privileges and immunity . . .

[Page 1552]

Sullivan: But he said before the ceasefire.

Le Duc Tho: After the ceasefire.

Now let me address Article 8 of the Agreement. What you have said in your memorandum regarding Article 8 is at variance with the Agreement. In the Agreement it is said that the parties should do their utmost to complete the return of prisoners within ninety days, and in the understanding you had with us it was said that the greater part of the prisoners would be returned within sixty days and the remaining will be returned within ninety days, and this has not been implemented, and your promises have not been kept too.

In your memorandum it is said that the Vietnamese civilian personnel should be identified before they can be returned. So this identification, I don’t know it will last until what date, and therefore we can say that the civilian personnel will be never returned. And there is no mention about such identification in the Agreement. Therefore in our proposal we maintain the spirit of Article 8 of the Agreement and of the understanding, but what we have here is the time limit of thirty days.

And we stick to the understanding you have with us. We consider it as a serious promise to us. And as to the promise you made to me when you visited Hanoi, you said then in a few days 5,000 civilian prisoners would be released, you should keep this promise too. In brief, we maintain all the provisions of Article 8 of the Agreement and the understanding you have had with us, but since the time period is over now therefore we propose a time limit of thirty days now.

Kissinger: Well, first Article 7(c) of the Protocol requires an exchange of lists, which has not yet satisfactorily taken place. Secondly, when I told you that 5,000 prisoners would be released it is my understanding that this in fact took place, that the Saigon Government is prepared to give you a list of these 5,000 and to have the ICCS check the list.

Le Duc Tho: They have not been returned, because according to the Agreement and the Protocols the prisoners should be returned.

Kissinger: I am told that they have returned to their native places.

Le Duc Tho: So far they have returned only a few hundred of them.

Kissinger: I am told that 5,000 have been returned to their native places and that they can be checked there by the Commission.

Le Duc Tho: But this is contrary to the Agreement and the Protocol, because according to the Agreement and the Protocol these prisoners must be returned to our side. They alleged to have released, but it is not known. Nguyen Van Thieu stated that there were no political prisoners in South Vietnam; therefore he did not release anyone.

Kissinger: No, he released 5,000 civilians.

Le Duc Tho: Where? It is contrary to the Agreement.

[Page 1553]

Kissinger: He has offered to release 20,000 others, anyone you can identify as a cadre.

Le Duc Tho: There is no mention about identification in the Agreement and the Protocol. It is said that the captured persons for political reasons during the time of war, whether they belong to the National Front for Liberation or they do not belong to the Front, but because of their activities for the country they were captured or arrested by the Saigon Administration, they should be returned. So Point 8 in your memorandum cannot be written contrary to the Agreement and contrary to the Protocol. And we stick to the Agreement. Before, there was a time period of three months; now this period is over. We propose now another period of thirty days.

Kissinger: Let Mr. Sullivan make a point here because he negotiated this Protocol.

Le Duc Tho: Article 8 and 9 of the Protocol, regarding the humane treatment of the captured and detained persons and permission to the national Red Cross societies to visit the places of detention, those provisions must be implemented.

Sullivan: We have talked with the South Vietnamese and we are talking with you, and we see a great deal of confusion on this question of civilian detainees. As Dr. Kissinger indicated to you at the time the Agreement came into effect, there were about 25,000 civilians under arrest and in prison in South Vietnam or in detention camps. About 5,000 of those at that time were being held under what was called the An Tri procedures, under investigation as possibly being involved in Front activities. Since none of them had been convicted of anything, they were released, and released to return of their own volition to their own place. This leaves about 20,000 who are convicted of various criminal actions under South Vietnamese law. Since the provisions of the Agreement require that they should be returned if they are cadre defined under Article 21(b) despite a criminal conviction, that can be carried out.

Among these people who have been convicted, there are 5,081 who have been identified by the Saigon authorities as being cadres under Article 21(b) of the 1954 Geneva Agreement. They have given your people the names of those 5,081 and are in process of attempting to work out return procedures with you. Some 750 have already been returned. However, several people whose names are on that list insist they are not cadre and that they do not wish to be returned to the PRG. We would be opposed, and the GVN is opposed, to returning someone to the PRG who says he is not one of your cadre. President Thieu’s current statement is that these will be returned and any others among the civilian detainees will be returned if you can identify the people as being cadre who are eligible under 21(b) of the 1954 Geneva Agreement.

[Page 1554]

The impression we have is that the people who have been discussing this subject in the Two-Party Joint Military Commission have been talking past each other and not making very much mutual comprehension. For example, the GVN has submitted a list of some 60,000 people that are missing. And the PRG has given various lists. They started out with a list of only 100 and some; then they went up to 200 and some; then they ended up with a list of 600 and some. Your presentation suggests that this is only a unilateral problem. We think it is a mutual problem, and there has to be a reciprocal return of prisoners and detainees. All those people who have been captured from places where they were taken by the forces of the PRG and your forces and have been put into coolie details and working camps and are working on the Ho Chi Minh Trail are civilian detainees just as much as the people who were taken from Loc Ninh and taken into Cambodia are being detained. So we think it needs a little more reciprocity and a little more mutual comprehension in these discussions if this is going to be carried out.

Le Duc Tho: Have you finished?

Sullivan: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: I can discuss this question with you for months. This is a slander to say that we oblige the prisoners to labor on the construction of routes. I have not mentioned all the cruelties and brutalities towards our prisoners. I have just mentioned one per cent of this. What the Saigon Administration alleged, that we are holding 60,000 prisoners, is completely untrue. Presenting this figure is only to have a pretext to refuse to return the prisoners.

You know, during the war between the U.S. and the Vietnamese there is not a place capable to contain such a big number of prisoners. If you understand that our troops have to sleep in hammocks and to live in huts, then you will understand that there is no prison capable to detain such a big number of prisoners. We have not as many dollars as you have to build so many model prisons as in South Vietnam. So you can understand that there is no place in which we can detain 60,000 prisoners.

As to the lists of prisoners the PRG has given to you, it is because of the scattered conditions of the prisoners. In this district, five of the prisoners were held; in this province a number of the prisoners were held. And you can understand that the means of transport and communications are not easy in such conditions and it is not easy to compile all the names of the prisoners at one time, and we can’t give just at once a complete list of the prisoners. I think you can understand that there is no reason that we hold prisoners after the end of the war. You are aware of the rations our troops have. There is no reason that we keep those prisoners and have to feed them. Not speaking of our humanity.

[Page 1555]

As to the prisoners held by the Saigon authorities, it is not 25,000. The figures of prisoners held by the Saigon authorities have been revealed by the South Vietnam press, by political people in Saigon, and many of the well-known personalities have given the conservative figure of 200,000 prisoners.

Kissinger: That is ridiculous. There are not that many prisons.

Le Duc Tho: Let me finish my views. The Deputy Ngo Can Duc is a parliamentarian in Saigon. This deputy has published a diagram of the prisons all over South Vietnam with the number of prisoners held in each prison. If you want, I can communicate you the diagram.

Kissinger: Could we have that list?

Le Duc Tho: I will give you the diagrams of all the prisons in South Vietnam, with the number of prisoners in each of the prisons.

Kissinger: That can be subject to verification. We will certainly investigate it.

Le Duc Tho: Now let me point out briefly the following. Because if we debate that point, probably you will have to remain here for months. Now what I would like is that you should abide by Article 8 of the Agreement, the provisions of the protocol to improve the living conditions of the prisoners and to treat them humanely. And you promised me these measures. And I would wish only that the understanding that you had with us be implemented. The only difference in our draft joint communiqué in comparison with the Agreement is the time period, thirty days.

Kissinger: And the firm commitment.

Le Duc Tho: If you wanted to repeat here the wording of the Agreement I can accept it, provided that the time period is changed now and provided that all the prisoners be returned. And your promise about the provisions of the Agreement, the provisions of the protocols . . .

Kissinger: About humane treatment.

Le Duc Tho: Humane treatment of the prisoners, and visit to the detention places by the national Red Cross societies.

Kissinger: And paragraph 7(c) about the exchange of lists.

Le Duc Tho: All the provisions of the protocols.

Kissinger: I am not sure that the GVN believes that all 60,000 on its lists are still being held as prisoners. But I think it does believe that more than 600 are being held.

Le Duc Tho: I told you the other day that the 600 prisoners is the complete list of prisoners. Frankly speaking, I have explained to you that we are not in a position to hold a big number of prisoners. I think you understand this. If you have not understood this, please make an effort and come to understand it.

[Page 1556]

Kissinger: Your point is, as I understand it, Mr. Special Advisor, what you want is to have the provisions of the Protocol expressed in our communiqué, plus perhaps the language of the Agreement, with a shorter time period than the language of the Agreement. Is that correct? Did I understand that correctly?

Le Duc Tho: It is correct.

Kissinger: We can consider that.

Le Duc Tho: And your commitment, I still have it in hand, your understanding.

Kissinger: You have it.

Le Duc Tho: And I have never forgotten your commitment.

Kissinger: [laughs] When we travel through America together, we will discuss it again. I mean we will discuss the whole history of our negotiations.

Le Duc Tho: I would like to tell this. What I want in this connection is that you and I—when you get old and you die, and when I get old and I die—we should go to the other world without some grief, some worry in our conscience that we have not kept our promise. [Laughter]

Kissinger: We will meet, as the Special Advisor says, and I will say, “I am dead.” He will say, “You are not sufficiently concrete.” [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: If you carry out your understandings, your commitment, then there will be no problem. But you fail to carry your commitment and if you die, I will come to your place and remind you. [Laughter]

Kissinger: Now you are giving me an incentive not to carry it out! At least now I will know I will not be lonely.

Le Duc Tho: Now let me shift to another point. Chapter IV, Article 11. According to the provisions of the Agreement, democratic liberties of the South Vietnamese people must be guaranteed immediately.

Kissinger: I don’t remember anything about relatives’ graves in the Agreement.

Le Duc Tho: Regarding the graves of the dead, we will respect the Agreement.

Kissinger: Is that in the Agreement?

Le Duc Tho: In the draft communiqué there is something about the graves.

Kissinger: Yes, but that was not from the Agreement. That is a new idea.

Le Duc Tho: In the Protocol.

Kissinger: We just want to make sure the 325th Division won’t show up to look after their relatives’ graves. [Laughter]

[Page 1557]

Le Duc Tho: Let me tell you this. In the draft communiqué there is a mention about this question. When you interrupted the mine clearance operation in North Vietnam, at this very moment we allowed the Four-Party Joint Team dealing with the dead and the missing to go to Hanoi. So we have not retaliated the interruption of the mine clearance operation by stopping the travel of the Joint Team to Hanoi. Actually I thought about this measure, but I decided, no, let the team go to Hanoi. This is an evidence of my good will. This problem will be dealt with as provided for in the Agreement.

I propose now a little breaking point.

Kissinger: Good idea. Mr. Special Advisor, in spite of your intensity I think we are going to make significant progress. I have the impression that if we stick to the language of the Agreement as recommended, that this is the easiest way to settle most of our disputes. Except for ceasefire and a few other items.

Le Duc Tho: Perhaps when we leave each other, still the point we remember 8(c) as the sticking point.

Kissinger: I think your idea is a constructive idea.

Le Duc Tho: It is the colleagueship that we miss.

Kissinger: No, I think it is a constructive approach.

[There was a break beginning at 5:30 p.m. Dr. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho conferred privately. The meeting resumed at 6:55 p.m.]

Dr. Kissinger: The Special Advisor and I have settled everything. We now have to go through the motions of pretending that we are negotiating. [Laughter] Especially on Cambodia. I was really amazed how the Special Advisor has seen the merit of our point of view.

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Advisor, it is now 7:00, and please let me speak a few words and probably we should adjourn. Now, regarding Chapter IV of the Agreement, Article 11, regarding democratic liberties, I think that they should be immediately implemented. And after the ceasefire comes into effect and after the democratic liberties are enforced, then the National Council for National Reconciliation and Concord should be formed within 30 days. It was previously proposed that they should do their utmost to form, to set up, this Council within three months, and this period of three months is over now, so we propose again 30 days. And after the democratic liberties are applied and after the formation of the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord, then the general elections may be held six months thereafter.

Now regarding the Two-Party JMC, we have made some proposals regarding the location of the headquarters of the JMC and some proposals regarding the immunities and privileges. Here we propose that all the 11 points about the immunities and privileges should be fully implemented and not “similar to those”—you used the word “similar [Page 1558] to those of the Four-Party Joint Military Commission”. We do not like the word “similar”.

Regarding the Laos and Cambodian problems. Regarding Laos we can have an understanding with you that after these meetings, as soon as possible and no later than one month, we can try to have our friends finish their settlement of the protocol on the political problems, and after that the foreign troops will be withdrawn within a period of 60 days, in accordance with Article 4 of the Agreement on Laos.

Regarding the Cambodian problem, I have been expounding on many occasions our view in this connection, and recently I have had a long exchange of views with Mr. Special Advisor. I repeat here again that we stick to the understanding we have had with you regarding Cambodia.

Now in this draft joint communiqué there is no mention about Article 15 because we keep it as it is in the Agreement. And moreover, Article 7 of the Agreement has explicitly stipulated about the replacement of armaments through designated points of entry. As to articles we have not mentioned, about Article 18, because we stick to the provisions of the Agreement and protocols, if now we refer to your memorandum then it would be tantamount to a change of the Agreement and protocols.

So I have finished my presentation to you.

Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, let me make a few observations. As I understand the Special Advisor’s proposal, it is that in our draft joint communiqué or memorandum of understanding we express to the maximum extent possible our conclusions in the language of the Agreement and of the protocols. Where the deadlines have passed for certain activities we should reaffirm a new deadline in substantially the same language as the language of the Agreement and protocols. The articles that require additional concreteness as far as your side is concerned are those dealing with reconnaissance, with mine clearing, with the Joint Economic Commission, with the ceasefire. The articles that require additional concreteness as far as we are concerned, as we have pointed out on a number of occasions to you, concern Laos and Cambodia.

With respect to Laos, I would say that the work of the political settlement should be completed no later than the work of the Joint Economic Commission.

With respect to Cambodia, I have carefully listened to what the Special Advisor had to say to me, and I want to think about it. We are concerned with bringing about a solution based on reality, and I would like to consider how we can express some of these considerations. But I want to repeat again what I have said on many occasions, and what [Page 1559] Mr. Williams has pointed out on many occasions, that even if we proceed with the work of the Joint Economic Commission there is no possibility of getting a Congressional approval of our projects in the economic field unless there is major progress on peace throughout Indochina.

Now that raises a question of how we can most effectively proceed from here. We are still disagreed on whether the draft communiqué should be in one part or in two parts. But it does not affect the substance of the matter, and of the formulations. I therefore propose that tomorrow Ambassador Sullivan and Minister Thach meet to draft as much of a document as we can agree on and as many of the specific clauses. And then on Monday we could get together to settle the issues that remain.

I think with a day’s rest and religious observance the Special Advisor will be even more formidable than usual. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: We break off, to have peace.

Dr. Kissinger: And if this proposal is agreeable—I am prepared to participate in this process, but I think now we are really engaged in a drafting process, and if we can then narrow the issues that remain . . .

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

Dr. Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: Please let me add a few words, and we will adjourn.

Dr. Kissinger: I think the Special Advisor has evening plans which he hasn’t shared with us.

Le Duc Tho: It is too late now!

We have come here to review the implementation of the Agreement and the protocols, to ensure a strict implementation of the Agreement and its protocols. Therefore the wording should not be at variance with the wording of the Agreement and the protocols. As to the time periods mentioned in the Agreement, some of them are over now, and have to set another time period, as we proposed in the draft. There are many time periods for many questions.

Regarding the question of Laos, I think it should not be linked with the question of the Joint Economic Commission. The Lao question will be dealt with by the two Lao parties; we will use our influence over them. As to the Joint Economic Commission, it is a matter dealt with by the U.S. and the DRV. We cannot link these two questions. Regarding the problem of Laos I have told you it should be settled as soon as possible, but 30 days at the latest. As to the time limit for the completion of the Economic Commission work, we propose 10 days and the American delegation proposed previously 15 days. I don’t think there is much difference between 10 days and 15 days. We will leave this question to be decided by Ambassador Sullivan and Minister Thach.

Dr. Kissinger: They will settle on 18 days. Fifteen working days. [Laughter]

[Page 1560]

Le Duc Tho: Regarding the Cambodia problem, I have presented my views on this problem, and we stick to the understanding we have with you. I think this question of Cambodia should not be linked to the question of U.S. obligation of healing the war wounds in North Vietnam. If so, it would be tantamount to posing conditions to the healing of war wounds question, and whereas in your message it is said that this question is not attached to any political conditions. Moreover, this question of healing the war wounds will lay a basis for the normalization of the relations between our two countries beneficial to both sides.

Therefore on many questions you propose to combine them together and I think it is illogical. I agree with you that tomorrow Ambassador Sullivan and Minister Thach will meet. And I think that we will have a joint communiqué to draft and, besides that, we have some understandings to draft. I think that the understandings, the few understandings we have to make, should be discussed by Minister Thach and Ambassador Sullivan.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: And on Monday morning we will have a plenary meeting between you and I with all the other people, and the remaining problems will be settled by us on that day.

Dr. Kissinger: I agree.

I might prefer Monday to do it in the afternoon, and I will let you know through Ambassador Sullivan tomorrow. Is that agreeable?

Le Duc Tho: I agree.

Dr. Kissinger: So we will leave open whether to meet Monday in the morning, or in the afternoon. Is that agreeable?

Le Duc Tho: I agree.

Dr. Kissinger: And where should we meet on Monday? Here? Tomorrow we meet at Gif.

Le Duc Tho: It is up to you.

Dr. Kissinger: Let’s meet here.

Le Duc Tho: And on Tuesday we will meet at our place.

Dr. Kissinger: At Gif. By Tuesday I will have the films of the initialling and of my visit to Hanoi.

Le Duc Tho: Thank you.

Dr. Kissinger: I am having a copy made for the Special Advisor.

Le Duc Tho: Thank you, Mr. Advisor. It is some keepsake, some souvenir.

Dr. Kissinger: So we will meet again then on Monday.

[The meeting ended at 7:25 p.m.]

  1. 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 La Fontaine au Blanc, St. Nom la Bretèche. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.

    Kissinger commented in his message to the President that the talks had gone better at this meeting: “Today’s session with DRV was a genuine working meeting, in which we appear to have made some progress towards an understanding. Le Duc Tho was in the mood for straight talk and went through the various items which were tabled in a generally constructive way.”

    Specifically, Kissinger continued:

    “He [Le Duc Tho] tabled a draft communiqué and a ceasefire order which were written in extreme terms; but he backed off them in the give and take. I can now see the possibility of making a bridge between his opening position and ours. This will mean the probable emergence of a document which may lead to an enforcement of a ceasefire in South Vietnam, a precise date for a Laos withdrawal, but nothing concrete on Cambodia.”

    Indeed, Kissinger told the President: “The primary stumbling block I see in this [the path to an agreed text] is still Cambodia.” Despite this, he concluded: “As of now, I feel it is possible we can produce a paper by Tuesday [May 22] which we will be able to define as a restoration of the basic Paris Agreement.” (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. X, Vietnam, January 1973–July 1975, Document 53) That paper would be turned into the communiqué that would be signed at the next round of Paris meetings in June.