6. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Xuan Thuy, Chief of North Vietnamese Delegation
  • Mai Van Bo, North Vietnamese Delegate General in Paris
  • Phan Hien, Member of North Vietnamese Delegation
  • North Vietnamese Interpreter
  • One other North Vietnamese Official
  • Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Major General Vernon Walters, Defense Attaché
  • W. Richard Smyser, NSC Staff
  • Winston Lord, NSC Staff
[Page 93]

There was some opening exchange of pleasantries, during which Xuan Thuy introduced Mr. Phan Hien, a member of the North Vietnamese delegation in Paris.

Mr. Kissinger: And how is Mr. Special Adviser Le Duc Tho?

Xuan Thuy: Thank you for asking. He is alright. But he has a great deal of work to do in Hanoi. He asked me to convey his regards to you.

Mr. Kissinger: I appreciate that. I hope you will convey my warm personal regards. May I present Mr. Winston Lord, one of my close collaborators on my personal staff.

I will not debate you today over who should speak first.

Xuan Thuy: Of course, since Mr. Special Adviser said he has a new approach to expound, I am prepared to listen.

Mr. Kissinger: As I pointed out in my message, I believe we should both look for new approaches. But I shall say something, and then I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

One practical matter for the information of the Minister. In France, the only organization which knows of these meetings is the office of the Presidency, not the Foreign Ministry. You may want to keep this in mind.

On our delegation, only Ambassador Bruce knows about these meetings, and nobody else.

No other U.S. diplomat knows.

We do not talk about it to any of your allies, though we are often asked. I say this only for your information, without requesting anything.

Lastly, I would like to tell you that Ambassador Bruce has our full confidence and is fully empowered to negotiate with you on all issues. He was selected because we believe he is the ablest and most experienced diplomat now available in the United States.

We regard the appointment of Ambassador Bruce as a significant step, which we took after repeated urging from you and your friends. At our meeting on February 21, Special Adviser Le Duc Tho said that a new American negotiator would be taken as a sign of good will, and such a step would contribute to serious negotiations. We expect that this will be the case.

The President has also asked me to emphasize again his desire to end this conflict as soon as possible through a negotiated settlement.

The two sides have fought for many years. As I have said on many occasions, we recognize the difficulties in ending your long and heroic struggle. The President has made it clear that we seek a peace which is just to both sides, which humiliates neither. We approach you with good will and a serious attitude. We hope that you will approach these discussions in the same spirit.

[Page 94]

This is the fifth time that I have flown across the Atlantic to meet with you. Clearly the President would not send his Special Assistant on these missions to either hear or pronounce tired slogans. I am here not to win a dialectical debate but to work with you to forge an early peace. I would not be here if the President did not want a forum which provided us with a maximum flexibility to treat the problems of war.

Let me state very frankly that very soon you will have to make certain basic decisions about the way you wish to end this conflict. We continue to want to end the war swiftly through negotiations. But since we have not been able to engage you in serious negotiations, we have been forced to follow the alternative route of gradual withdrawals keyed to the strengthening of South Vietnamese forces.

We are prepared to continue this route, but we prefer a negotiated settlement. I ask you once again to take the path of negotiation with us. It is consistent with the self-respect and the objectives of both sides. We recognize the depth of your suspicions but they will not fade as time goes on and the struggle persists. This is the nature of war.

We are nearing the time when the chances for a negotiated settlement will pass. After a certain point you will have in effect committed yourselves to a test of arms. I do not want to predict how this test against a strengthened South Vietnam, supported by us, will end nor how long it will last. But you must recognize that it will make any settlement with the United States increasingly difficult.

Let us therefore move toward a negotiated settlement while there is still time. In our last meeting, I explained that time is not necessarily on your side. This is even more true now.

We should negotiate before time runs out and we are irrevocably committed to letting events run their course.

In previous sessions I proposed setting a target date for completing these negotiations, but you have not accepted this proposal. I still believe such a target date would give our talks concreteness and urgency.

I would now like to make a procedural point and then go on to a discussion of substantive problems.

On the procedural point, we agreed previously that we could have three forums. There would be these meetings, in which I would participate.

There would be private meetings, at which henceforth Ambassador Bruce will represent us. And there will be the meetings at the Hotel Majestic, which will test the endurance of all parties.

As for the meetings I attend, we believe they should deal with the fundamental principles and the main outlines of a settlement. They should take place only when significant progress is possible and when [Page 95] flexibility is required. The principles agreed to in the meetings between the Minister and myself should be translated into specific procedures and detailed agreements in the other forums.

The President has asked me to say that he cannot justify my attendance to hear a repetition of arguments made in other forums. This forum affords both sides the maximum possibility for flexibility because its participation is restricted and because the level of its participants is high. If it is not used for that end, it serves no purpose.

Let me now turn to the problems which confront us at this juncture.

Let me state first, in all frankness, the obstacles presented by your side, as they appear to us.

The first problem is your insistence on preconditions.

These prejudge the outcome of a settlement before negotiations even begin. There is no point in my being here for such an exercise.

Secondly, on several occasions in the past we have made moves that you told us would produce serious negotiations, and in one of which I was personally involved, as the Delegate General will remember. We stopped the bombing; we began withdrawing our forces; we agreed to meet with the National Liberation Front; we agreed in principle to the withdrawal of all our forces from Vietnam; we have withdrawn forces, close to 200,000, over the last year and a half. Last year, in one of the enigmatic statements in which the Minister specializes, he indicated on September 2 that a withdrawal of 100,000 Americans would be significant. We have withdrawn nearly double that number and there has been no response.

I am here to tell you that we will be generous and flexible once there is serious progress in our negotiations. But I must tell you equally seriously that we have no intention of once again paying a price merely to open negotiations.

Most importantly, you must understand that your two preconditions are mutually inconsistent. You insist that we withdraw unilaterally and completely and that we remove the leaders of the present government of South Vietnam. What possible incentive would we have to do both of these things? If we withdraw unconditionally, and if you want to change the government of South Vietnam, that would be your problem, not ours. If you want to discuss the political problem with us, you have to give up your preconditions. We, in turn, are prepared to discuss political and military issues together with good will.

We have also noticed in your negotiating approach the tendency to step up military pressure to accompany negotiations. At our last meeting, I told you that such actions were bound to have unfortunate consequences. I repeat that today and I must caution you against increases in military pressures throughout Indochina. At the same time, [Page 96] I want to remind you of our note of July 1, 1970, in which we agreed to forego military pressure as a means of settling the war. We mean to carry this out very seriously.

Now let me turn to substance. In our last series of meetings we agreed to deal with political and military issues side by side. We gave you a precise withdrawal schedule and we advanced some principles for a political settlement.

You said at the last meeting that you considered our withdrawal schedule which we presented to you on March 16, as a step backward.

I recognize that Minister Xuan Thuy is notoriously difficult to please, but nevertheless we looked at the schedule again in the light of his comments. We have looked at the schedule again and I want now to present to you the following proposal covering a period of 12 months instead of a period of 16 months. I hope the Minister takes me as seriously as I take him. I am presenting you this new schedule as proof of our good will and of our intention to find a means of settling the conflict.

Under a 12-month schedule, we would withdraw our forces at the following rate: Should I give this?

Xuan Thuy: Please.

Mr. Kissinger: The First Month: 5,000
Second Month: 10,000
Third Month: 10,000
Fourth Month: 45,000
Fifth Month: 35,000
Sixth Month: 44,000
Seventh Month: 60,000
Eighth Month: 60,000
Ninth Month: 60,000
Tenth Month: 20,000
Eleventh Month: 20,000
Twelfth Month: 15,000

This schedule is based on the level of our troop strength that we will reach on October 15. If we were to negotiate a settlement before then, or later, appropriate adjustments would be made. The exact details of the schedule can be negotiated.

As I told you before, we would arrange for roughly the same proportion of Allied forces to be withdrawn as our own. You will notice that we have moved the heaviest withdrawals into the period starting with the fourth month, taking account of a point the Minister made at our last session.

There are two fundamental points: first, we have accepted the principle of total withdrawal; second, we have presented a schedule [Page 97] for total withdrawal. We believe that our attitude, if reciprocated, can lead to a rapid end of the conflict.

Let me now turn to the political questions. I talked at some length on these matters at our last meeting and elaborated on some of our proposals.

We have made it clear both privately and publicly that we are ready to discuss a political settlement that could meet any reasonable objective. For example, on April 20, the President publicly defined three basic principles that govern our view of a fair political settlement and which I had already described in our political discussions here.

—First, our overriding objective is a political solution that reflects the will of the South Vietnamese people and allows them to determine their future without outside interference.

—Second, a fair political solution should reflect the existing relationship of political forces.

—Third, we will abide by the outcome of the political process which we have agreed upon.

The essential task is to find a political process that meets the requirements of reflecting the existing political realities in South Vietnam.

What results from a political process can be different from what exists when that process is established. We have no intention of interfering with the political evolution produced by the process agreed upon here.

As I said at our last meeting, we fully recognize that it is very difficult to work out a political process that is fair to everyone.

I also pointed out that the sharing of political power is not the most obvious conclusion that one draws from a study of Leninism nor for that matter from Vietnamese history. We recognize the difficulty of the task. But, if there is to be any purpose to meeting, we must make progress on this issue as well as on the military issues.

Having said this, it is important that we understand fully the limits of one another’s positions. Our flexibility is clear. However, the one condition we cannot agree with is the replacement of the leaders of the present South Vietnamese Government.

We believe that our principles for a political settlement provide the framework for a negotiated end to this conflict. If you adopt a positive attitude toward them, you will find us willing to search in good faith and with great flexibility to find a political process that will meet your essential concerns.

I recognize the depth of your suspicions. But I sometimes wonder whether the same qualities which make you fight with so much courage, dedication, and stubbornness, may not be the same ones which make negotiations difficult.

[Page 98]

If we had agreed last year, there would now no longer be American troops in South Vietnam.

If you could accept the principles which I have advanced here as being expressed in good faith, you would find that we would move rapidly toward a negotiated settlement which would be fair to you also.

In this small group, there is no point in vilifying each other. We are empowered by our governments to go directly to the heart of these problems. We have an obligation to our peoples to do so. So let us set up a work schedule for an early end of the conflict.

Let me conclude by reiterating my pleasure at meeting with you again and by saying that I hope our efforts will be crowned with early success.

In that case, I hope the Minister and the Delegate General, and the absent Special Adviser, will remember that they have promised to visit me in the United States when this is finished. They can address my seminar at Harvard.

Xuan Thuy: But I think not about Marxism or Leninism.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes; there is a probability that you will be greeted there with greater enthusiasm than I.

Xuan Thuy: You have finished? Before we have a little break, I would like to ask a few questions for clarification.

Mr. Kissinger: I see that absence has not diminished the Minister’s tenacity.

Xuan Thuy: Regarding the military problems, Mr. Special Adviser has spoken with some concreteness.

But regarding the political problems, Mr. Special Adviser only repeated the three principles put forward by President Nixon. May I ask you then, what is new in this political proposal? It is not yet clear to me.

Because what you mean by “existing relationship of political forces” is not clear. What do you mean by that?

You said also that the political process should meet the requirement of reflecting this relationship. What do you mean by that principle? And what do you mean by political process? May I ask you to explain your views?

Mr. Kissinger: Could the Minister adopt a principle I have learned from him? Please ask all questions at once and I will answer them at once.

Xuan Thuy: So there are two questions.

Mr. Kissinger: Are these the only questions?

Xuan Thuy: There are two questions in connection with substance, but if your answers enlighten me, I will have no more questions. If the answers are not clear then I may have more.

[Page 99]

Mr. Kissinger: The Minister would have a great career as a professor. And I have many colleagues who wish him that.

Xuan Thuy: If I adopt this career as professor I wouldn’t be equal to you, because you are a veteran in this matter.

Mr. Kissinger: Let me answer your questions:

As I pointed out at the last meeting, Mr. Minister, in discussing a political process the matter is different from a military process. In the military process, the decisions remain under our control until they are carried out. In the political process, the mere fact of discussion creates a new reality.

I have told the Minister that we could not agree to the replacement of the existing government as a precondition to negotiations.

I have also pointed out that the political process should reflect existing realities. The NLF is clearly an existing reality. If we agree to move toward a political settlement, keeping this in mind, and particularly if we are working within a fixed time limit, we would do our very best to take this into account.

Let me remind you of another principle I established at a previous meeting. You seem to have an overwhelming fear that you will be tricked by us, as you think you were in 1954.

I have too much respect for your intelligence to believe that it could be done. But even if it were possible, we would not do it. Not necessarily out of goodwill, but out of self-interest. If a settlement is to last you must want to keep it. If we keep to our withdrawal schedule, you will be much closer to South Vietnam than we. And history teaches that you will fight when you believe that an accord has been violated.

So, greater precision will have to await an agreement in principle on what we are trying to do.

Xuan Thuy: Have you finished?

Mr. Kissinger: Yes.

Xuan Thuy: But I must tell Mr. Special Adviser and at the same time professor that your explanation about the political process is not clear yet. Could you give further explanation about it?

Mr. Kissinger: In a general way.

What we should agree to do is to accept all the existing political forces in South Vietnam as existing realities. We will not tell you who the members of the PRG should be. You should not tell us who the members of the Saigon Government should be.

We should then attempt to set up a political process which gives a possibility for each side to achieve whatever political support it can muster, but which does not guarantee in advance that either side will win. And we should both agree to respect the outcome.

[Page 100]

One reason it is not clear is because it is a very difficult problem.

Xuan Thuy: Have you finished?

Mr. Kissinger: (Nods)

Xuan Thuy: Let us take as granted that I have that uncertainty now, and I propose that we should break a little moment.

There was a break of about twenty-five minutes, during which there was some initial exchange of pleasantries between several members of the group. After that, Xuan Thuy retired with Phan Hien to work on his text. Mai Van Bo remained to chat with Dr. Kissinger.

Bo made the following principal points: that Americans do not understand Vietnamese; that the Vietnamese want complete freedom, without foreign interference; that it was important to get to the heart of the political problem; that the elections held in South Vietnam were not a true expression of the popular will; that he recognized that the problem was very difficult to resolve. He was very cordial throughout.

Dr. Kissinger made the following points: that Bo was his oldest friend here (at which Bo smiled); that we recognized that elections were not the traditional way of settling political issues in Vietnam; that the United States and Vietnam were not historical enemies; that in 50 years, somebody reading the history of this period would wonder how the war could have developed.

At the end of the break light refreshments were served in a social setting, different from earlier meetings, before resuming the session.

Mr. Kissinger: May I compliment your interpreter who is always patient and capable.

Xuan Thuy: Mr. Special Adviser has said he was glad to meet us again and he inquired after Mr. Le Duc Tho. I would also like to express our gladness at meeting you again and thank you for your inquiry about Le Duc Tho.

After listening to the presentation by the Special Adviser of the views of the U.S. Government, I would like to express the following views:

Regarding the procedures and the reasons, you have spoken at great length. But, on substance, you have spoken briefly. Therefore, I shall also speak at length in the first part, and briefly in the second. Because in the first part, you are very abundant in ideas.

Our people, the Vietnamese people, want nothing from anyone but independence and peace and friendship with all other people in the world. When invaded by foreign aggression, the Vietnamese people, both in North and South Vietnam, will fight against foreign aggression.

The whole world knows that Vietnam is a very small country in Southeast Asia. But the Vietnamese people have been fighting for [Page 101] independence and democracy, no matter how great the enemy. Nobody can threaten us. We want peace, not violence or force. We have been compelled to use force to defend our fatherland and our right to live. We have been compelled to do so.

Mr. Special Adviser said he has come here for negotiations, but we want to use force to make pressure in the negotiations. This is the reverse of what we understand. It is with the desire for a peaceful settlement that we come here. That is why we have continued to participate in these negotiations for over two years now.

But I must reiterate what I told Mr. Bruce at the last session. It is President Nixon who has used force to make pressure in negotiations. The Vietnamization policy is aimed at continuing and prolonging the war, refusing to withdraw U.S. troops and maintaining the Saigon Administration. President Nixon stated that the U.S. Government must negotiate from a position of strength, in order to make pressure on us in the negotiations.

The U.S. has intensified the war, the activities in the air, and has launched a great number of sweep operations, and extended the war to Laos and Cambodia. The statement by President Nixon that the U.S. must negotiate from a position of strength is known to everyone.

Mr. Kissinger: Except me.

Xuan Thuy: Yes, it is in one of his speeches.

Mr. Kissinger: I’ll let you finish.

Xuan Thuy: The dispatch of U.S. troops into Cambodia is obvious. You can’t say we are making pressure on you. It is the U.S. which makes pressure on us. The U.S. thought it could intimidate the Vietnamese people by extending the war to Laos and Cambodia. As a result, the U.S. has sunk deeper and has met with more difficulties, and it will be difficult for the U.S. to get out of the war now. Maybe the evaluations differ on your side. You may think that by your operations in Cambodia you have gained an advantage. As for us, we understand that the more the U.S. extends the war, the more difficulties the U.S. meets with.

As for your statement that time is not on our side, it may be different. We think time is on our side and not on the U.S. side.

But there is no need to debate whose side time is on.

I want to stress that so long as the Vietnamese people have not achieved genuine peace, genuine independence, and genuine democracy, they have to fight as long as necessary. No matter how long or how large the war conducted by the U.S.

This does not mean we do not want a peaceful settlement. We do want a peaceful settlement, the sooner the better. But if the U.S. prolongs and extends the war we have to cope with it.

[Page 102]

You are right in saying that if we had agreed last year, the situation could have been better now. But how can we accept the conditions put forward by the U.S.?

As to the appointment of Ambassador Bruce to the Paris talks, Mr. Special Adviser said it was at our demand and other persons’ demand. I remember that once I criticized the call-back of the U.S. representative, and I criticized the downgrading of the conference by the U.S., making the deadlocked conference fall into a serious impasse.

I told you then, and so did Mr. Le Duc Tho, that we remained in Paris to meet with Mr. Special Adviser once a week or every two weeks.

Mr. Kissinger: You are trying to ruin my social life.

Xuan Thuy: Without attending a session at the Majestic.

Mr. Kissinger: We appreciated that.

Xuan Thuy: And when you proposed to meet us again, we had to say that we had to await the arrival of Mr. Bruce before we could come to Paris to meet with you. So that question is resolved. Let’s overlook it.

Regarding procedure, Mr. Special Adviser pointed out three forums. We have agreed. We will maintain our agreement.

Now for substance.

We have agreed to discuss both military and political problems.

As for the military problem.

Regarding your military proposal, at an earlier meeting you had proposed 16 months for withdrawal. We criticized this proposal as a setback. Now you return to a 12-month proposal. This is not different from what President Nixon originally said. So we must say that this is nothing new, and this is just a return to what President Nixon originally said and what we criticized before.

Mr. Kissinger: The Minister is a very hard man to please.

Xuan Thuy: This is not a question of satisfying me; it is a question of a reasonable proposal.

Mr. Kissinger: I am in no danger of becoming overconfident in dealing with Minister Xuan Thuy.

Xuan Thuy: As for us, we said previously that we support Mme. Binh’s proposal for six months. You said this proposal had been put forward by Mme. Binh without consultation with the U.S. Then I told you that Mme. Binh is prepared to discuss this with you.

But since you will not discuss the question with Mme. Binh, then we can discuss it here with you.

You said that a six-month period seemed unreasonable for technical reasons; I don’t know the technical reasons. The U.S. in the past could bring troops rapidly into South Vietnam. Then what technical reasons prevent you from withdrawing rapidly?

[Page 103]

But if there are differences, then we can discuss these differences.

Secondly, regarding political problems.

You pointed out again President Nixon’s three principles. I asked for clarification. But after your explanation, I am still not clear, and I still feel that they are not concrete enough.

Regarding the three principles:

The first is about the opportunity for the South Vietnamese people to decide their own future, without outside interference. We have expressed ourselves many times on this principle. But how should we understand the context of this principle? We understand that this question should be solved by the Vietnamese without foreign interference, that is, without U.S. interference.

The second statement is that the political settlement should reflect existing political relationships in South Vietnam. Maybe our views differ on understanding this political relationship.

I do not know how you understand it. But you said this morning that if the U.S. withdraws completely from South Vietnam, the question of the Saigon Administration will not arise. This shows that your view is that if the U.S. withdraws rapidly from South Vietnam, the Saigon Administration will not be able to stand.

It is our view that the Saigon Administration has been established by the U.S. It is not genuinely democratic, and it is not democratically elected by the South Vietnamese people.

So, in order to make clear the political relationships, we should let the South Vietnamese people decide themselves.

I do not know how you understand the political relationships, but I assume it is as follows: that now all densely populated areas are under the control of the U.S. and the Saigon Administration; I am not sure. If this is your understanding, it does not conform to the real situation.

Because the population has been forced into one area and put under guard, and compelled to do as you like, does not mean a real political relationship.

The third point you raised is about respect for the political process. The view of Mr. Special Adviser is not yet clear to me. But in the ten points of the PRG, free elections have been mentioned. And the PRG spoke of general elections before President Nixon raised them.

But the main question is who will organize the elections. The PRG does not demand to have the right to do this. However, the Saigon Administration always says that it is the legal government, and has the right to organize elections. If it does not overtly say so, it presents solutions or proposals which boil down to the same ideas. That is why the PRG proposed to have an organization for assuming the tasks of [Page 104] elections, a provisional coalition government. And this provisional coalition government is not the monopoly of the PRG or of the Saigon Administration.

So how can you say that this proposal is unfair?

Mr. Special Adviser asked me to clarify the provisional coalition government. I say the provisional coalition government would include three components. But now you make the assertion that you will maintain the Thieu-Ky-Khiem Administration as it is. Then, if so, no settlement can be reached.

Because, Mr. Special Adviser said the U.S. wants to withdraw from South Vietnam. The U.S. wants to rapidly end the war. But it is precisely the present Saigon Administration which does not want to end the war, does not want the U.S. to withdraw, and does not want neutrality for South Vietnam.

So the present Saigon Administration is opposing communism, opposing withdrawal of U.S. troops, and opposing a neutral South Vietnam.

This means it wants the U.S. to stay in South Vietnam. If this is the desire of the Saigon Administration, does it reflect realities, the aspirations of the South Vietnamese people? No, it does not. It represents only a handful of people within the Saigon Administration.

So, in making these proposals, it does not mean that we are rigid. It means that we are reasonable and flexible. Therefore, I would like to propose that we should discuss the two problems, the military and political problems.

Covering military problems, Mme. Binh has proposed 6 months. If now you have any new ideas, we shall discuss them. If you want us to discuss your proposal, you should also take into account Mme. Binh’s proposal. You should explain how this proposal is unreasonable. What are your technical difficulties?

As for political problems, I feel that Mr. Special Adviser’s views are always the same he expounded before. There is no difference yet. The reason you have given for not being more concrete is not forceful. Therefore, I would like to propose that you think about the political question.

As far as we are concerned, we have come here to discuss with you, and the sooner we reach a settlement the better.

The prolongation of war is not in the interest of the Vietnamese or U.S. people. We want a prompt end of the war so that we can devote our efforts to reconstruction of our country. And I am sure some Americans also want to devote their efforts to other things. There are many areas where the U.S. can contribute its efforts. But if we are compelled to fight on, there is more reason for us to do so than you. [Page 105] We are on our own soil, not outside our country. The Vietnamese people are only defending Vietnamese soil. We fight because we are compelled by the U.S.

Peace is always the best course. Therefore, we share Mr. Special Adviser’s views on a prompt end to the war. We have always maintained these views.

You are a busy man. These trips take a great deal of time for you. We too are busy. It is longer for us to come here than for you. The U.S. is only a few hours from Paris, but it takes me a week.

In brief, the sooner we come to a settlement, the better. It is not our desire, our will, if we are forced to prolong the fight.

Now, please, it is your time to speak.

Mr. Kissinger: I will do something you do not normally do with me, which is to say that I like the spirit in which you presented your remarks. I would like to ask for five minutes to talk with my colleagues about your remarks. This is an important meeting. We have to decide whether and how to continue.

(There was a thirteen minute break.)

Mr. Kissinger: Mr. Minister, let me make a few comments on your remarks, which I want to say again were put forward in a constructive spirit. I do not think any useful purpose is served by debating about every individual factual item in which our evaluation is different from yours. I will just make two factual points which I believe are relevant.

First, it is not true that we have intensified our air activities in Vietnam. The opposite is true—we have decreased our air activities in Vietnam and all of Indochina. I say this only in order to make sure that your leaders in Hanoi receive the exact reports. Our military people sometimes are over-enthusiastic; I don’t say yours are.

The second point is that President Nixon, since he has become President, has never used the phrase “position of strength” vis-à-vis Hanoi.

Now to substance. The Minister said that our 12 month schedule returned to our original position. This is not quite accurate. As the Minister himself has pointed out to me on many occasions, the statements of the President never made it clear that we were talking about total withdrawal of American forces. There are two things at least which are new. First, we accept the principle of total withdrawal, including all military bases. Secondly, we give for the first time a precise schedule, month by month, which we declare irrevocable, in the case that you accept the whole settlement. You will notice also, Mr. Minister, that the vast majority of forces, about four-fifths, will be withdrawn in the first nine months.

Now, the Minister asked me about technical difficulties. Contrary to how it may have looked to you, it took us three years to bring the [Page 106] total number of forces we have into South Vietnam. The schedule we gave you here is based on realistic assessments of what is feasible if we are to move men together with their equipment. The only way it could be speeded up would be if we were to leave all our equipment behind. This is not to say that if after consultations with Mme. Binh you have a suggestion for minor adjustments that we would not consider it. I have the impression in any event that this is not the most difficult problem that we face.

Let me now make a few observations on the political side. First, a factual correction. I did not say, I did not mean to say, that if we withdraw our troops quickly the Saigon Government could not survive. What I meant to say was that if we withdraw our troops unconditionally and quickly what happens in Saigon is your problem and you will have to decide whether you can win a war with the Saigon Government or not. I am not making a prediction of what will happen—I’m stating a fact that you cannot ask us to do both things simultaneously.

Now let me turn to the Minister’s particular observations on the political process. As I understand the Minister, he had no major difficulties with our statement of principles. His difficulty was on how to realize them.

With respect to the first principle, of course we would consider North Vietnamese pressure also as outside pressure.

But let me turn to what I consider the most important part of what the Minister said. I have the impression that the Minister believes that when we speak of the existing relationship of political forces in South Vietnam, he thinks we are talking about partition. He seems to think that we believe that in this manner we or the Saigon Government can control densely populated areas and we would leave to the PRG some of the not-so-densely populated areas. This is not our understanding of the solution. We are prepared—I can say this on the highest authority—to have a political contest in all of South Vietnam, in areas controlled by the Saigon Government as well as in other areas.

This of course gets to the next question the Minister raised—how can you have such a political contest? Your proposal has been that the Saigon Government must be replaced before such an election can take place. As I have told you, for many reasons, this we cannot do. We are, however, prepared to work with you in order to try to find methods by which the people of South Vietnam can express their wishes freely through a number of devices which I believe we can work out together. You have been very suspicious with the concept of mixed electoral commissions. I don’t care what we call them. I think that the essential thing is to concentrate on how to organize elections rather than how to organize a government. I believe we can then make progress.

[Page 107]

I want to repeat again that we will accept the outcome of the political process that we agree to here, even if it should have an outcome different than what now exists.

The Minister has said that he does not believe that the present Saigon Government will accept any fair solution. With all due respect, I don’t ask the Minister whether the PRG will accept whatever he agrees to, even though I am told Mme. Binh is a formidable figure. We would rely on your persuasive power on your allies, and you have to rely on our persuasive power vis-à-vis our allies. I would only like to point out that our persuasive power will be greater the earlier the settlement and the greater our presence in South Vietnam.

We are not children—we recognize that you did not fight 25 years in order to leave your friends in South Vietnam to the mercy of their opponents. We are prepared to have a realistic settlement, and if your assessment of the situation is correct, you should be prepared to have a realistic settlement.

Now, let me say a word about the future of our meetings here. During our first break, the Delegate General pointed out to me that the American people and leaders don’t understand Vietnamese history and psychology adequately. He is undoubtedly correct, although, as I pointed out to him, you didn’t survive for 2,000 years in the face of enormous outside pressures because you were easy people to understand.

But if I may use this occasion to be equally frank with you, I’m not sure you always understand American psychology adequately. We have a shorter history and less complex mind. You sometimes ascribe to us Vietnamese subtlety and complexity. I told the Delegate General that sometimes I have the impression that you are more afraid to be deceived than to be defeated by us. You indicate toward us sometimes slight changes in your position through a subtlety of language and nuances of formulation which for somebody like myself, who has spent many years to understand you, is comprehensible, but which is very difficult to make understandable to people in Washington. Even though I demonstrated my inexperience in diplomacy by telling the Minister that I thought his presentation was constructive, it will not be easy to convince my colleagues in Washington that he said anything radically different from what he has said before.

I am not trying to win arguments with you, whether you believe me or not. They will want to know why the principal assistant of the President should spend time engaged in these discussions. Therefore I believe that the quickest way to make progress is in these discussions, because we can cut short all bureaucratic debates. But in order to do this we must have a concrete work program.

Now my proposal is this. First, I believe we can settle the withdrawal issue in a few more meetings. On the political issue, we should [Page 108] put aside debate on who represents whom on the two opposing sides in South Vietnam. We should try to define precisely how we would organize elections in all of South Vietnam, whoever controls what territory. You should tell us what specifically worries you in those territories where the Saigon Government seems to have control. We will try in good will to work out procedures, not to guarantee you victory, but to satisfy your concerns.

If you are interested in a free expression for the people of South Vietnam, you will find that we will share your objective.

If we adopt this program and meet fairly frequently, I believe a rapid and fair end to the war is possible. And we know, as I said before, that if you should feel yourself deceived, it would not be an end of the war, but only an armistice; and this would not be in our interest.

But in all frankness I don’t believe that the President will authorize many more meetings of this group if we do not have a concrete objective and a program to achieve it. If we are not going to be flexible, then discussions should be in diplomatic channels. That’s all.

Xuan Thuy: Then what do you decide? On what day shall we meet again?

Mr. Kissinger: May I ask the Minister first whether this general approach is one I can report to the President as in principle agreeable to you?

Xuan Thuy: If so, then I should be allowed to express my views.

Mr. Kissinger: To answer your question, in principle, I am prepared to meet whenever it’s useful.

Xuan Thuy: I should now express my views on the points you have just made. You said that the U.S. is also afraid of pressure North Vietnam will make on Saigon, and the U.S. considers this pressure as outside pressure. This is not true.

Mr. Kissinger: What is not true?

Xuan Thuy: I should tell you that the Vietnamese love one another. It’s always easy to find solutions among the Vietnamese themselves. Whether in North Vietnam or South Vietnam, all of them are Vietnamese. Only there are a handful of Vietnamese foolish enough to listen to foreign aggressors, and they act counter to the aspirations of the Vietnamese people. Mai van Bo is from South Vietnam and I am from North Vietnam, but we live in good terms with each other.

Everyone knows that North Vietnam is socialist and we shall continue our path to socialism. You often said I’m a Marxist-Leninist, but I’ve never raised questions of Marxism-Leninism to you. Marxism-Leninism is something we understand among ourselves. Therefore when you invite me to come to Harvard, I ask you immediately whether I shall have to talk about Marxism-Leninism. Being a socialist country, [Page 109] we approve South Vietnam’s being independent, peaceful and neutral. This shows we respect the reality of South Vietnam and the general desire of the South Vietnamese people. We don’t want to make any pressure on the South Vietnamese population, to compel them to follow North Vietnam.

You also said that it appeared we understood your statement to mean partition for political expression.

Mr. Kissinger: That was my impression.

Xuan Thuy: If that was your impression, therefore I must explain that that is not our thinking. You see, the South Vietnamese people want Vietnam to be reunited. All Vietnamese want the reunification of the country. You see, the Vietnamese now living in South Vietnam but forcibly put into concentration camps and under guard, even they themselves and others out of sight are all Vietnamese, all the same nation. Vietnam is now partitioned into two parts. Many Vietnamese have deep thoughts that some day in the future the country will be unified. But North Vietnam will not make pressure or coerce South Vietnam to have immediate reunification. Reunification must be realized through peaceful negotiations on mutual agreement. This is a longer period problem, not an immediate problem. It should be stressed that the will of South Vietnam is to be unified.

And I said previously that I presumed your understanding of political relationship is partition into areas. This is what I presumed you had in mind. I thought you have in mind that in case general elections are organized all over South Vietnam you believe Saigon will have a majority because the densely populated areas are under Saigon control. Then Saigon will be the winner in elections.

Even now you say you have no intention to guarantee victory to either side, and this will be left to the will of the people. This is what I mean—I think your understanding of political relationship is not correct. And therefore the herding of people into areas and putting them underground, forcibly done, is not a reflection of political relationship. Therefore this kind of political relationship should not be allowed to define political relationship. This is what I had in mind. I don’t understand what you mean by partition.

You said that we were more afraid to be fooled than defeated. It is natural that in conditions of war there is suspicion on either side. But I don’t mean that we are afraid to be fooled. We are afraid of nothing. We are not afraid of threats. Prolongation of fighting doesn’t frighten us. Prolongation of negotiations doesn’t frighten us. We are afraid of nothing.

The question is how to find a reasonable and logical conclusion.

Mr. Kissinger: I just wanted to caution the Minister not to overestimate me.

[Page 110]

Xuan Thuy: Now you say that fair elections should be organized, but you insist on the maintenance of Thieu-Ky-Khiem and you consider this as a real political relationship. This is the most difficult obstacle to be resolved.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree.

Xuan Thuy: For the time being, the South Vietnamese people do not agree to Thieu-Ky-Khiem.

Mr. Kissinger: Let me make a point. If we can organize elections, then this point is academic. If the Minister is right, if the majority of the people want what he says, then they will be replaced, and we will accept this.

Xuan Thuy: A question arises on this point. The question lies in this point, in the fact that the puppet army is still there and the Thieu-Ky-Khiem Administration has been using this army to terrorize and force people. Then how can free general elections be organized?

That is why the proposal of the PRG is very logical and reasonable—because it proposes formation of a coalition government with the three previously stated components and then this provisional coalition government will not be under the influence of either.

Mr. Kissinger: In order to understand the PRG proposal, could Thieu-Ky-Khiem be part of the provisional government?

Xuan Thuy: You see, the provisional coalition government will include members of the present Saigon Administration except Thieu-Ky-Khiem because the South Vietnamese people hate Thieu-Ky-Khiem because they are very cruel. Therefore, they do not want to keep them. The longer you stick to Thieu-Ky-Khiem, it shows you don’t want withdrawals from South Vietnam and you still want to use Thieu-Ky-Khiem as instruments of your policy. Thieu-Ky-Khiem excepted, then other members of the Saigon Government might participate in a coalition government. And since the three components of the provisional coalition government participate in the new government, then there is no longer the existence of the former government.

Therefore we believe that the PRG is very logical and reasonable. As to your approach, you want the situation as it is now and to continue it.

Mr. Kissinger: No, we are prepared to set up procedures, common or in other ways, in which no one is in control of elections.

Xuan Thuy: How will your views be feasible, particularly because your views deal only with the upper part but not the basic problem. U.S. troops will still be there.

Mr. Kissinger: The elections can be while U.S. troops are there, or not, as I told you last time. We have no fixed views on this point.

Xuan Thuy: But I want to say now with the present Saigon Administration with its army, how can fair elections be organized with such [Page 111] conditions, with the present Administration in power and with its army?

Mr. Kissinger: I understand your question and we should discuss it in greater detail. Here is my quick answer. For example, if we organize commissions—or whatever we call them—if we set out rules on who can do what in each area, on these commissions the NLF, the Saigon Government, and other groupings could be represented. As for the question of violations, one of two things could happen. Either there will be free elections which we all accept. Or there will not be free elections and you will continue fighting and you will be no worse off than you are now. Of course both armies will have to stop military operations as part of an arrangement.

Xuan Thuy: We don’t want that after elections the two armies will resume fighting. I am sure that this is in the interest of the U.S., that they do not resume fighting after elections. Therefore a radical solution must be found.

Therefore, here is what I am thinking. First, we have agreed to maintain the three forums. Secondly, at this forum, as we have agreed previously, we will continue to discuss military and political problems together. And at this forum the sooner we reach a settlement of fundamental problems the better.

Besides this, both sides must think over the two problems we have raised. For instance, for the period of troop withdrawals you have proposed 12 months and Mme. Binh 6 months. She is not here today.

Mr. Kissinger: You have to talk to her.

Xuan Thuy: Then what period should we adopt, 6 or 12 months? What is most reasonable? By what way?

You said that the great majority of U.S. troops would be withdrawn in 9 months. During the four first months there are very small withdrawals. It takes 6 months for them to be significant. This is one detail to be discussed.

Therefore even for military problems we should think them over and discuss further.

As for political problems, you do not bring anything new. We have proposed a number of points previously and today. We have given further clarification. After these clarifications, we believe that the proposal of the PRG is all the more reasonable. Therefore I agree with Mr. Special Adviser—there are many things which need further discussion.

But there is one thing Mr. Special Adviser laid stress on: that you cannot drop Thieu-Ky-Khiem before elections. As for us, we lay emphasis on the fact that if Thieu-Ky-Khiem are not changed then we can’t settle this fundamental problem. This is not an expression of preconditions, but is designed to find the most reasonable solution. This is what we have been saying. Let us think it over; you think it over.

[Page 112]

Mr. Kissinger: You want us to think it over?

Xuan Thuy: You should further think it over because what we have been saying we feel is all the more reasonable today.

Mr. Kissinger: If the President asks me—and he will—what have I achieved that has not been achieved at the Hotel Majestic and what the Minister tells me that is different, what should I tell the President?

Xuan Thuy: You will answer to the President that since you are at this meeting with instructions not different from what the American delegates say at Avenue Kleber (Mai Van Bo interjects in Vietnamese and Xuan Thuy qualifies)—nothing different on political problems—therefore Minister Xuan Thuy says nothing different either. It appears that after a preliminary exchange of views that Xuan Thuy has given clearer explanations and believes he is more reasonable.

As for military questions you have proposed 12 months and Mme. Binh 6 months. There must be discussions to settle this.

Mr. Kissinger: That is conditional on other domains that we must settle. If there is not agreement in other domains, then there will be no withdrawals.

May I ask the following question? Does there exist the theoretical possibility that after studying my remarks the Minister might discover something new and maybe make changes? Or do we have to make all the modifications?

Xuan Thuy: For the time being I tell you what I have been saying is reasonable and what you point out is unreasonable. Therefore both sides should study each other’s statements.

On the point about Thieu-Ky-Khiem, I cannot agree with you.

There are many ways to answer the White House people. You say you come here to make explanations, you make threats—

Mr. Kissinger: No threats.

Xuan Thuy: After what both sides have sat down to discuss. In brief we want to find ways to reach a realistic and reasonable solution. The essential objective of the Vietnamese people is genuine independence and freedom.

Mr. Kissinger: I think we have taken this discussion as far as we can today. (Xuan Thuy nods.) How long does the Minister need to study the discussions today?

Xuan Thuy: It is up to your program.

Mr. Kissinger: Two or three weeks.

Xuan Thuy: All right. Fix a date, please.

Mr. Kissinger: I take it we would not interfere with the Minister’s religious observances if we fixed Sunday?

Xuan Thuy: Being a Marxist-Leninist, I don’t go to church. I respect those who go to church. I don’t know whether you go to church.

[Page 113]

Mr. Kissinger: September 27?

Xuan Thuy: (Some discussion among the Vietnamese.) Sunday?

Mr. Kissinger: 9:30? If you have given up Sunday, I must do the same to express my respect for you. My girl friends worry. I disappear on Sundays and can’t say where I am.

Xuan Thuy: It is lucky you are not married. If you were married, your wife would be much more worried.

Mr. Kissinger: That is a good point.

Let me say a few words in the domain of a political science lecture about the U.S. Government. Your government, as I understand it, is highly organized and well disciplined. Our government is very large and complicated—it is one of the penalties for being an industrially developed society. In our government only the White House and Ambassador Bruce are familiar with our discussions. It is therefore possible that other things happen which, precisely to guard the confidential nature of our discussion, we will not be able to control. Therefore it is possible that certain events happen which in order to preserve confidential discussions we cannot stop. I am not talking about military actions.

You should keep this in mind and if you have any questions you should ask me. I shall tell you exactly what will happen.

While confidence in Americans is not your most distinguishing feature, I would say that if you don’t have a minimum of confidence in our relationship the situation could become complicated.

When you study these remarks I would like to take the liberty of calling your party’s attention to my explanation of American thinking and the impact of your approach on us. I know you have not come through 2,000 years of history by being very yielding and excessively flexible. But since I think our next meeting will be very important, I would like to suggest for you to study and consider the following.

I am not one of those Americans to whom you must prove that you must be tough or strong or unyielding. I am not trying to trick you. You see many people who make many declarations, but they are not in a position to produce anything. This channel is the best—maybe the only, way to have maximum influence in Saigon. We would not abuse a generous attitude on your part because we know that if we did you would only redouble your efforts. There is nothing that we would rather do than to be able to make a contribution to a just peace which takes account of the suffering of all people, expecially all the courageous Vietnamese people.

That is why I would like to urge you to consider the modifications which could give our discussions vitality and urgency.

Xuan Thuy: As you know, our history has shown that when the adversary party shows rigidity, the Vietnamese people know how to [Page 114] show greater rigidity, but when the adversary party shows reasonableness, the Vietnamese people know how to show reasonableness. (Mr. Kissinger nods. Xuan Thuy nods and smiles.)

Now, Mr. Senior Adviser says that this is the best channel to settle problems. I think so too. Of all the forums this is the best one to discuss a settlement of the problem.

I told Mr. Senior Adviser that in extended fighting the Vietnamese people remain resolute and determined, but they prefer a prompt settlement of problems. A peaceful settlement reached here will be in the interests of both peoples, Vietnamese and American. Therefore both sides should show good will and serious intent. We have been saying to each other these things, but the question is how to go into specific problems in a logical way and a reasonable way. We are prepared to discuss with you in a forthcoming, logical and reasonable way.

Mr. Kissinger: We have only one other problem, purely technical. General Walters has been driving me crazy all summer to go to Japan. I have kept him here for a variety of reasons. Now he plans to leave town and will be back just before September 27. Is there any possibility you would wish to contact me before September 27?

Xuan Thuy: (Xuan Thuy consults his colleagues.) For the time being I don’t see any.

Mr. Kissinger: There are two ways to handle this. If for urgent reasons you wish to contact me, we could designate another person here. I am reluctant to do this, because we want to keep the number of people who know our relationship very small. Another possibility is that you send Mr. Lord a telegram at his home address with a fictitious name, saying you have a message from a friend. (Kissinger and Walters discussed dates.) In that case, we would then send Mr. Lord over here to see you. (Xuan Thuy nods.) Perhaps it would be better to contact Mai Van Bo.

General Walters: He could use the same name, André.

Mr. Kissinger: Conversely, if I have a message, I will send a telegram to you under his name. This is all very unlikely, but I like to prepare for the unforeseen.

Like what I told you about our large bureaucracy, we now have the problem that one of General Walters’ superiors is arriving that particular week and how do we explain why he is not here? I will try to use my influence to change the schedule of his superior’s trip. In the unlikely event we cannot change the date, my influence will be even less than I thought. This won’t be necessary.

Xuan Thuy: As to what you said about our discussions only being known to us, Ambassador Bruce, and the President’s office here, any leakage is from your side. We do not leak anything.

[Page 115]

Mr. Kissinger: There has been none.

Xuan Thuy: We should maintain this habit.

Mr. Kissinger: It is very much in our interest.

Xuan Thuy: We do not leak.

Mr. Kissinger: This is very secure.

The meeting ended at 2:30 p.m. with some closing pleasantries, during which Xuan Thuy, in reply to Mr. Kissinger’s question, said that Le Duc Tho would return to Paris. Thuy was very friendly in this parting exchange.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 853, For the President’s File—Lord, Vietnam Negotiations, Sensitive, Camp David Vol. V. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé.

    In reporting to the President later in the day, Kissinger wrote: “As you know I had expected little but vituperation. Instead, the atmosphere was the friendliest of any of these sessions—indeed of any session with the Vietnamese in the whole history of the negotiations. This was particularly striking since it was the first meeting since Cambodia.” He continued: “Not only did they change their tone, but they also indicated a readiness to move on substance.” (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 35)

    At this meeting, according to Kissinger, the United States made an important change in its negotiating position. “The most significant concession,” he later wrote, “was to make clear that the American withdrawal after the war would be complete; no residual forces, bases, or advisers would be left behind.” He also modified the schedule of U.S. troop withdrawals from 16 months to 12, calling this a cosmetic change since the United States had elsewhere committed to the 12-month timeframe. Although Kissinger made his points within the context of mutual withdrawal he did not emphasize this aspect of the U.S. position. (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 976)

    The North Vietnamese, however, considered the U.S. position, in Xuan Thuy’s report to the Politburo, to be “actually a trap.” He continued: “Now the US was aware that a great part of our main forces had been pulled out [of South Vietnam] and the guerrilla forces were weak. That is why Kissinger posed the question of troop withdrawal without clearly demanding the withdrawal of our forces. On the contrary he stressed the settlement of political issues.” (Luu and Nguyen, Le Duc Tho-Kissinger Negotiations in Paris, p. 151)