64. 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
  • Dang Nghiem Bai, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • Pham Ngac
  • Tran Quang Co
  • Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
  • Notetaker
  • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Mr. Ronald L. Ziegler, Press Secretary to the President
  • Ambassador William H. Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Ambassador-designate to the Philippines
  • Ambassador Graham A. Martin, Ambassador-designate to the Republic of Viet-Nam
  • Mr. George H. Aldrich, Deputy Legal Adviser, Department of State
  • Mr. Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Deputy to the Assistant to the President for National Security Council Operations
  • Mr. William L. Stearman, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Richard S. Thompson, Department of State, Interpreter
  • Miss Kathleen Anne Ryan, NSC Notetaker

Kissinger: I don’t think you have met Miss Ryan. Miss Ryan suggested to us, since she is Irish, that we put the Irish on the ICCS, since they have the same pugnacious mentality as the Vietnamese.

Now, Mr. Special Adviser, our principal subject today is Cambodia. And we were going to spend the night thinking over each other’s necessities.

Le Duc Tho: So I had a sound sleep last night and this morning. [Laughter]

Kissinger: Because you have understood our necessities.

Le Duc Tho: Yes, I understand too well your necessities.

Kissinger: Let me . . . I don’t want to interrupt the Special Adviser if he has decided to agree to the understanding that Mr. Sullivan offered to Minister Thach.

Le Duc Tho: If so, we should have settled the matter long ago.

Kissinger: But I thought after he had heard my eloquent presentation yesterday, he had decided to agree. As a sign of good will.

Let me put before you our reflections.

Le Duc Tho: Please.

Kissinger: We understand the delicacy which prevents you from speaking for sovereign allies. And we understand why you cannot make assertions about what your allies have told you if your allies have not in fact told you anything. At the same time, it seems to us, however, there is a distinction between speaking for other countries and speaking for oneself. And we believe that it is important that the United States and the DRV, in view of the requirements of Article 20 and in view of the interrelationship of various issues, at least express their own attitudes.

We have looked at the understanding which you gave us yesterday [Tab A] and we have made an effort to take into account your views. And we would like to propose the following: We accept substantially your first three paragraphs. We have slightly rewritten your third paragraph in which the Special Adviser expressed himself with uncharacteristic restraint.

[Page 1674]

The way it reads now, let me read you. The first and second paragraphs are substantially the same as yours. Let me read you the third paragraph. And then I will read you a new fourth paragraph.

Le Duc Tho: Please go on.

Kissinger: The Special Adviser laughs before he even knows. For all you know I might have offered to accept Article 8(c) immediately in your original version. [Laughter] May I read paragraph 3?

Le Duc Tho: Please.

Kissinger: [reads] “The United States of America and the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam will exert their best efforts to promote the early conclusion of a negotiated political settlement in Cambodia.” Which is a slight change.

And paragraph 4: “The United States of America and the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam undertake to appeal to the Cambodian parties to cease all offensive military operations and observe a strict ceasefire beginning 0400 G.M.T., June 15, 1973.” And we would undertake to stop our bombing as of that date. [He hands over two copies of U.S. draft, Tab B.]

There are slight variations in paragraphs 1 and 2, but not very significant. Paragraph 1 is the same [as in the DRV draft].

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

Kissinger: Yes.

[Both sides confer]

Le Duc Tho: Have you finished, Mr. Adviser? [Dr. Kissinger nods yes.] I have talked with you on this subject very lengthily, and yesterday before leaving we talked about it too. I said I did not want to change anything to the understanding on Cambodia and I said I did not want to lie to you. And whatever I told to you I keep my words, and I do not change my words.

As you know regarding the problem of Cambodia, since the coup d’etat in Cambodia and the invasion of Cambodia by U.S. troops and Saigon troops, the people of Cambodia have stood up to defend their land and their independence. Of course, in this struggle, we and the three Indochinese countries unite with each other and help each other in the fighting. Now in order to have a peaceful settlement of the Indochinese problem, each Indochinese people should settle themselves their own problem, in conformity with their sovereignty.

Even regarding the problem of Laos, we have agreed with you on a number of points but those agreements should be obtained by agreement with our allies. But the Cambodian problem is much more difficult, as I have explained to you.

Now you are aware of the point of view expressed by the Government of National Union of Cambodia and the point of view of the [Page 1675] resistance forces of Cambodia. Therefore how can we replace them and settle the problem as you propose in your draft paragraph four? Therefore in order to have a ceasefire in Cambodia you should talk to the Government of National Union of Cambodia and settle the problem with the Cambodians.

We can only say as we have written in our draft understanding that together with the United States we will “endeavor to contribute to bring about a peaceful solution to the Cambodian problem,” since this is what we can really do. Therefore we can’t write paragraph 4 as you propose, because the ceasefire order, the time of the ceasefire, the cessation of the hostilities in Cambodia, should be decided by the Cambodians themselves.

As far as we are concerned, we reaffirm that we will strictly implement Article 20 of the Paris Agreement. This is my view regarding your paragraph 4. We can’t accept it. Now regarding the first three paragraphs: I think it is adequate when we say that “the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the United States reaffirm the obligations of Article 20 of the Viet-Nam Agreement.”

So then . . .

Kissinger: That is Article 2.

Le Duc Tho: Paragraph 2, “All foreign troops, advisors, military personnel should be withdrawn from Cambodia.” When you add the words “and agree that it must be implemented,” it is what we have reaffirmed previously.

Now your third paragraph, we write: “The Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam and the United States will endeavor to contribute to bringing about a peaceful solution to the Cambodian problem.” We think it adequate. And when we write a “peaceful solution” it means a negotiation, a negotiated solution. Therefore I think that it is superfluous as you write. But if you like to amend and write “will exert their best efforts,” I think it is all right. This is my comment on your draft. Your proposed paragraph will make the problem more complicated.

By the way, I would like to bring to your notice the following regarding the Lao problem. Of late, one of your American counselors in your Embassy in Laos, he told Mr. Phoumi Vongvichit that the Lao Patriotic Front had to release the nine American prisoners of war under the pressure of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam. I received this message on this subject yesterday. I frankly tell you this. It is not beneficial, this statement. It makes the problem more complicated. But this is a minor question. The more reason when you add such a paragraph as paragraph 4 on the Cambodian problem.

So I think our third paragraph is very adequate. And I think that “the United States and the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam will exert [Page 1676] their best efforts in that direction.” We will make an effort, both of us, but whether they will agree to it is up to them. So what I would like to tell you is that the problem is not so simple.

And regarding the question of Laos, I would like to suggest to you to tell your counselor in the United States Embassy in Laos that such a statement is incorrect. And it aims at what purpose?

I think that I have talked with you on this problem on Cambodia, we came to talk about it long ago. The first time you raised this problem was July, 1972, and now it is June, 1973. So it is nearly one year now. We have been negotiating for a long time, both of us. You have understood me. In negotiations between both of us, whatever problem I feel is possible to settle with you, then both of us will make an effort to find out a formula to solve the problem. But whenever we have a difficult question, whatever efforts we make, the problems cannot be solved. So I have talked with you a very long time on that subject. You should understand me.

Frankly telling you, I have been thinking about these problems since you raised the problem. So it is nearly one year now, and I have pondered over it very carefully. Previously I have sent you messages. We should abide by the message and we should not say anything more. But I have made an effort to find out if I can say anything more. Therefore the effort we have made is reflected in this paper, and it is the last effort we can make. And no matter what you refuse to sign, we can do nothing otherwise.

I hope it is the last time I speak to you about this question.

Kissinger: Whether it is the last time, Mr. Adviser, depends on what happens after our discussion. One reason why paragraph 2 of your understanding presents us some difficulties standing alone is because Article 20 has not been implemented since January 28, so to repeat that it should be implemented isn’t very reassuring.

Our negotiations have generally progressed when we took into account each other’s basic problems, and our negotiations have generally failed when either side tried to insist on maintaining its maximum position.

Now, the Special Adviser has made a number of points. He has told us that the relationship between Hanoi and the three local Cambodian leaders are one of total standing apart. In fact, from 1967–69 Prince Sihanouk repeatedly labeled them as your representatives. In fact he used the word “your lackeys.” I am not using the word; I am merely quoting him, Mr. Special Adviser. I wouldn’t use such language about the Special Adviser’s students. I am quoting Prince Sihanouk. The first time these three gentlemen were mentioned, in fact, was by your service, your VNA services in April 1970, and it wasn’t until several weeks, [Page 1677] months afterward that Sihanouk announced that his former enemies held three key positions in his government.

So I repeat, we think you are too modest about the degree of your persuasiveness, and we think if Minister Thach took a trip to what you call your “liberated areas” as he occasionally did to Sam Neua, there might be the same positive results. It is not that I want to keep the Special Adviser from a reunion with his students, which I am sure would be very moving.

Le Duc Tho: [laughs] It is an incorrect statement that they are my students. They are our allies.

Kissinger: The second point which we cannot of course ignore is your logistic support, which we have already mentioned. We believe that each country in this sense has a certain responsibility.

Finally we have taken great care with your proposal, with your arguments yesterday that it would be inappropriate for you to assume a conclusion on the part of the Cambodian parties. And it is therefore that we have formulated the fourth paragraph not as an obligation on the Cambodian parties but as something that you and we would jointly undertake, namely to appeal to them to observe a ceasefire. We do not see in what way this is a derogation of their sovereignty, since they are perfectly free to refuse our appeal. It is in fact a reaffirmation of their sovereignty. And we therefore find it difficult to understand your reasoning in refusing to go along with this.

I have told you many times that we consider the Agreement as a whole and we have told you many times there are no conditions attached to Article 20 and that all the conditions are in your interpretations, which can find no support in Article 20. So a great deal in our relationship depends on the ability to implement Article 20. Though of course we will be glad to discuss with you the methods by which this can be achieved.

One word about Laos. I have the impression that all the parties in Laos are somewhat excitable and their comprehension of foreign languages leaves something to be desired. It is therefore difficult for us to make a judgment on what our counselor might have said, without consulting our counselor.

Le Duc Tho: Please check up, Mr. Special Adviser.

Kissinger: But I agree with you, Mr. Special Adviser, that both sides should take great care in not putting out statements that make it difficult for each other and we will not put out statements implying pressure. In this . . .

Le Duc Tho: And we never make pressure. It is an agreement with our allies.

Kissinger: Well, you don’t even make pressure on me, so how could that thought occur to me?

[Page 1678]

As long as we are speaking about Laos, where everyone seems to report what everyone else is saying, one of your representatives there has been making eloquent statements about the great victory you are about to have over me here. And if my father sees this he will be very upset. And your representatives have the unfortunate habit, wherever they are, of saying you forced us to agree to what you and I know was a free-negotiated agreement, therefore falsifying the spirit in which you and I negotiated. So I think both of our representatives should be instructed to be careful to curb the exuberance of their perceptions of things they don’t fully understand. So to sum up, we agree that neither side should exert pressure nor imply that either side has exerted pressure.

With respect to Cambodia, we agree the problem must be settled in a way consistent with the sovereignty of the Cambodian people, within a timeframe relevant to other elements of this Agreement, as implied by Article 20. Though the modalities are of course subject to discussion.

That is all I have to say.

Le Duc Tho: Let me answer the points you have just raised.

Kissinger: On what country?

Le Duc Tho: Regarding Cambodia, the central point for you. You have justly said that in the course of our negotiations we should understand each other’s problems and a settlement of the problem required to meet the real situation and the requirements of each side. But in negotiations, if the demands of one side go beyond the position possibly acceptable to the other side, then no solution is possible. This is the way negotiations should be carried out. So your demand in this question has gone beyond the limit that our position permits us to accept.

The relationship between us and Cambodia is not one of standing apart, as you say, but it is related. They are our allies. With any of our allies, we have to respect their sovereignty, their independence, and we should be equal to them and they should be equal to us. That is the reason why there are problems on which our allies can agree with us, but there are other problems on which our allies disagree with us. When they disagree with us, we have to respect them. So, regarding the Cambodian problem, if you pose the problem of Cambodia as done in your paragraph 4, Cambodia will never accept it.

But now you propose to use the words “appeal to the Cambodian parties.” But the appeal will be made by the United States and the DRV. That means that the United States and the DRV have agreed on that question, which means to put a pressure on Cambodia. This means a violation to their right to decide on a ceasefire. Therefore this proposal makes the problem more complicated. Therefore I think our wording in paragraph 3 is very adequate and sufficient.

[Page 1679]

Now what you said about Article 20 of the Agreement, I have repeatedly told you that we will respect this article of the Agreement.

Kissinger: “Implement” would be a better word.

Le Duc Tho: Just like in Laos, the problem in Laos, the two Lao parties have settled the problem in this way. Therefore I think that the ideas we have expressed in our understanding is appropriate and adequate. Now another point you are raising, the word you have said about Prince Sihanouk.

Kissinger: I was quoting Prince Sihanouk, I wasn’t saying it about Prince Sihanouk. We are not responsible for . . .

Le Duc Tho: Maybe it is a correct quotation of Prince Sihanouk. It is understandable, this statement, when the Prince made it in 1967, 1969. It may be that the Prince has said it, but if because of that statement you think those Cambodians are my students or my lackeys, it is completely incorrect. I confirm to you that they are our allies, the resistance forces in Cambodia are our allies. And it is understandable, too, Prince Sihanouk’s statement in 1970 that these Cambodians are now in the government, in the GRUNK. It is Prince Sihanouk’s position. So I have answered the points you raised about Cambodia. We can’t write anything other than what we have written in our understanding.

Regarding Laos, there is no problem. The only point I would draw your attention to is what I have just said.

Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, I have listened to you with great interest, and I understand the relationship you have with Cambodia. But as a former professor of international relations, it is a new theory to me that one cannot make a proposal to an ally and that a proposal constitutes a pressure. Because we are talking here of an understanding that is unsigned, and will presumably not be published. It is difficult to understand why advice to an ally would be considered pressure. One would think that an ally was easier to talk to than an enemy.

Le Duc Tho: You are right that we can raise our views to our ally, but we will raise and communicate our views directly to our allies. But here you propose that you and I will issue something without the agreement of our allies. So I think you have lacked this way of doing in foreign relations. So I’d like to complete your theory. [Laughter]

Kissinger: I think, Mr. Special Adviser, you and I will be an unbeatable team when we give our joint lecture tour around the United States. Mr. Ziegler may in fact put us on television. [Laughter]

Of course, I think the Special Adviser is suffering from a misapprehension. We are not proposing a joint public appeal from Paris. We are suggesting, and perhaps there has been some inadequate drafting here, a separate appeal by each side to whichever party it has the most influence with. And this appeal should be made by whatever means [Page 1680] is considered appropriate to the state of relations of these two sides. And as I pointed out, we would consider it very appropriate if the Vice-Minister made a special trip, so there would be no publicity whatever. We don’t want to suggest which procedure you should follow, but seriously what we have in mind is that each side should appeal to its friends, in whatever way is appropriate to its relationship with its friends, and in a private manner.

Le Duc Tho: Now let me answer your points, Mr. Kissinger. You have put in your draft “the two parties undertake to appeal to the Cambodian parties.” Now you redraft and say “each side will appeal to the Cambodian parties,” but each side will make a separate appeal. But it is written in a common understanding between the DRV and the U.S., so it is the same. And when we do this we have not obtained the agreement of our allies.

Kissinger: But if you had agreed with your allies, you wouldn’t need an appeal to your allies. I am trying to understand. This is a new approach to diplomacy. Do you say “we would now like to make a proposal” and you then make a proposal?

Le Duc Tho: The problem is the following: The proposal is written in a common understanding between you and I, and these people will understand that between the United States and the DRV there has been some agreement already. And if this comes to their knowledge, it would make more difficult the implementation of paragraph 3, as we have said. I just pointed out to you that only a sentence said by an American counselor at the American Embassy in Laos gave me difficult problems.

Kissinger: Maybe they will throw your forces out of Laos.

Le Duc Tho: Each nation has its sovereignty and dignity.

Kissinger: Maybe the Lao got so mad at you they will now ask all your forces to leave.

Le Duc Tho: Yes, the pulling out of foreign forces from Laos also obtains an agreement of the Lao parties, because it falls under their sovereignty.

Kissinger: It is a novel theory: The trick is to get the forces in the country; once there, it is a violation a derogation of their sovereignty to get them out. We spent three and one-half years in Choisy-le-roi on the subject of American troop withdrawals, and if that theory had occurred to me we would still be discussing it. It is unfortunate that my mind is not as fertile as the Special Adviser’s.

Le Duc Tho: And no doubt your theory reflects your mind. Because you don’t make the difference between the two forces, foreign troops in a foreign country. Your troops are troops of aggression against Laos and South Vietnam, so these troops should be pulled out under an [Page 1681] agreement as in the Paris Agreement in Vietnam and the Agreement on Laos. But the Vietnamese force in Laos, we operate with our allies. We entered to unite with our allies to fight against you. So these troops will pull out under the provisions of the Agreement; in that case there should be agreement of our allies. But with American troops it is different. You entered the country; you have to pull out. But in Laos we Vietnamese, we enter and we will pull out; it is an obligation under the Agreement, we will do that. Therefore when we enter and when we pull out, there must be concurrence with our allies. So there are two different problems.

So our point of view in this question differs. We cannot act against the Agreement, when our allies have not agreed to that. Before we discuss the problem with you, everything we have to discuss with our allies. It is the same thing as on your side, but there is a difference with your side. The nature of our alliance is different from that of your alliance. Our alliance is characterized by equality. Discussion is made, but whether they agree is a different matter. You can look at Communist countries and see that. There are problems, and views are listened to. But your allies, if they disagree with them, you force them to follow you.

Kissinger: It is a curious phenomenon that Communist armies have repeatedly been used against allies since the war, but American armies have never been used against allies. In fact, a case can be made that in Europe Communist armies have been used only against allies. [Tho laughs.] But I don’t want to discuss political philosophy with the Special Adviser.

I want to say one thing very clearly, so there is no misunderstanding. When we negotiated Article 20 I don’t remember that the Special Adviser said, “Yes, but this applies only if our allies agree.” Because then we would have never accepted it. In fact, when we wrote Article 20 we specifically pointed out—and the Special Adviser agreed—that with respect to Laos and Cambodia Vietnamese armies would be considered foreign. So I defy the Special Adviser to find me one sentence or one clause that says the DRV can keep its armies in Laos and Cambodia until these countries ask it to leave. It is an interpretation we would never have accepted and it is an interpretation we do not accept now. And if it is maintained it will result in very serious consequences for our future relationship.

Le Duc Tho: Let me answer this point. First, your idea that Communist troops were used against another Communist country, you said you didn’t want a debate on that. O.K., I agree. But our points of view on this subject are diametrically opposed.

Kissinger: I have enough trouble studying Vietnamese history, let’s not get into any other.

Le Duc Tho: Let me address Article 20. When I discussed with you Article 20, we had obtained agreement with our ally. Therefore we [Page 1682] agree that foreign troops in Laos and Cambodia have to implement Article 20.

Kissinger: No, that is not what it says. It says foreign troops in Laos and Cambodia have to be withdrawn.

Le Duc Tho: You are right. Foreign troops have to be withdrawn. But in our negotiations, it has not been defined even when they will be withdrawn, how the troops will be withdrawn. We only discussed the principle, and our allies share the same view with us on this principle. But when these troops have been withdrawn, it has been clearly defined in the Laos Agreement. Therefore we will implement Article 20 in principle as we agreed with you, and in details as in the Agreement on Laos. It will be the same for foreign troops in Cambodia.

So I have answered your views regarding Article 20, so you are clear.

Kissinger: So, if I understand the theory of negotiation of the Special Adviser is that if he and I agree, it is only an agreement in principle; then we have to have a discussion about modalities. Then if we agree on that we have to negotiate on the details. So we never do anything that is in the Agreement.

Le Duc Tho: Actually when we discussed on the Paris Agreement, it is an agreement on principle. In regard to Vietnam there have been protocols which give details to the principles in the Agreement. Regarding foreign troops in Laos and Cambodia there will be protocols drafted by the Lao and the Cambodians to define the modalities and details of the troop withdrawal.

Kissinger: The modalities are simple. They should head north.

Le Duc Tho: There are many points in the modalities, but they must be agreed upon.

Kissinger: It will not surprise the Special Adviser that we do not agree to that interpretation.

Le Duc Tho: And I do not accept your interpretation and your demands.

Kissinger: You have proved that you don’t accept it. You have kept your troops there.

Le Duc Tho: It is not correct.

Kissinger: You haven’t kept your troops there?

Le Duc Tho: Foreign troops are still there of various parties. But in Laos the time period is fixed for the troop withdrawal and all troops will have to be withdrawn. We will implement this article.

Kissinger: Can we go back to Cambodia?

Le Duc Tho: And you have to implement this article.

Kissinger: Of course we have to implement the article. To go back to Cambodia, what we are saying is that each party should appeal to [Page 1683] its own friends. This could be expressed in many ways. It could be expressed in simultaneous statements that we inform you that we intend to appeal to our friends, and that you intend to appeal to your friends. In that case it would not be necessarily an agreement between us that we should jointly appeal.

Le Duc Tho: You have offered three formulas so far.

Kissinger: As a sign of my good will and serious intent!

Le Duc Tho: I know that you have made an effort to find various formulas to come to an agreement, but the basic thing is that in this problem your three proposals basically have the same content. The US and the DRV undertake the same understanding; the two parties in the same understanding make a separate appeal. It is not written in the understanding but you will make an appeal and we will make an appeal, but it is a common appeal. And our ally will think it an interference in their affairs and that this has been agreed to by the United States and the DRV. It will make the problem more complicated, so the complications will make it more difficult than you think it can be.

So I think you should be more realistic. You are very tenacious in sticking to the problem. But tenacity doesn’t mean that finally the problem will be solved. For me, whatever problems I make an effort to solve, I am tenacious in sticking to it, too, but finally when we realize that in practice the problem is impossible, then you and I should give up. Because it has come to the point where no solution is possible. But you have understood me, that whenever I can settle the problem, I do settle it. And in the process of our negotiations you have come to this conclusion and I think that this conclusion is correct. And whatever the problem is, if it cannot be settled, then I am resolute from the beginning to the end. When it is possible, then I settle it. For instance, the question of North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam, throughout the five years I can never settle it with you.

Kissinger: That was easy because there have never been any North Vietnamese troops in South Vietnam. Thus it is very easy. You could not settle something that wasn’t there.

Le Duc Tho: [Laughs] We understand each other in negotiations. But there are problems that I stick to very tenaciously, for instance, the immediate resignation of Nguyen Van Thieu, but when I realized that this was impossible—you told me that our demand for the immediate resignation was unacceptable to the United States—but finally, to be realistic, I have accepted the solution as reflected in the Agreement.

In brief, we have talked about the Cambodian problem for too long, for so many months now. We have been talking about this question for two hours this afternoon. So I think we should stop this discussion; if we repeat today our argument, it is the same argument. It is up to you.

[Page 1684]

I have finished. I propose a little break now. You are stronger than I am, and . . .

Kissinger: Could I just make a comment and during the break study the papers that Minister Thach has been circulating? It would speed up matters if you let us have them now. Then I don’t have to reply.

Le Duc Tho: I have given you a paper. This is the utmost effort. [Laughter]

Kissinger: Your redraft of paragraph 4, just to speed things up a bit.

Le Duc Tho: If you want to redraft paragraph 4, probably Ambassador Sullivan and Minister Thach will have to remain here one month more and still without any solution.

Kissinger: Your comments are full of ambiguities which we have learned to admire from you, because they draw historical precedents in opposite directions.

It is true that you were very tenacious about the nonexistent North Vietnamese forces. [Laughter] In fact it is a pleasure to do business with such a pacifist nation that has almost no forces on its own territory.

Le Duc Tho: Actually I should tell you there are ambiguous things but there are very clear things. In real life there are some things concrete but we cannot implement, but there are ambiguous things that we can implement.

Am I not concrete enough? [Laughter]

Kissinger: When we were talking before privately, I told him, the Special Adviser, that he and I for one session would change sides because we know each other’s speeches so well that we could change easily and negotiate with great effectiveness. [Laughter]

May I now finish what I started saying? What I started saying was, the examples quoted by the Special Adviser permit both interpretations. When the Special Adviser recognized we were very serious in the case of the political structure of South Vietnam, he recognized reality. He didn’t say he was recognizing reality, but we appreciate whatever comes our way.

The Special Adviser has given innumerable explanations of why a set of individual statements addressed to one’s friends expressing a point of view is pressure. When one looks at the situation there are two possibilities. Either the DRV wants to settle the Cambodian problem by force in its own way, or secondly, the DRV is willing for a rapid settlement, but there is a disagreement as to the method. If it is the first course, we have had innumerable experiences; if there is the use of pressure there will be very unfortunate consequences. Whenever one side has ignored this, it has turned out to be serious. If it is the second, there must be some way of expressing it. As you know, when [Page 1685] I negotiate, I don’t often refer things to Washington. But when I do, it is because it is of great importance in Washington. And yesterday I did so. If it is the first course, I can tell you now that if you attempt to settle this unilaterally, we will not be able to draw the consequences that both you and I for personal reasons and other reasons hope for.

Are you finished? Now I accept the Special Adviser’s proposal for a break, beause objective necessity demands it. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: Please let me speak one word. You have tackled this problem with me and you have made me very tired. You wait for my exhaustion before you attack me. But I am strong enough.

The two explanations you gave, these are my views on that. The first possibility is as you said, that the DRV now wants to settle the Cambodian problem by force. It is completely wrong. If it were our desire to settle the Cambodian problem by force, then we would not have written our paragraph 3. So this interpretation of yours is untenable.

Now the second thing is, we said we should have a peaceful solution to the Cambodian problem. But our competence in dealing with you about the Cambodian problem cannot go beyond the sovereignty of the Cambodians. That is the reason why we can only have this solution and we will strive in that direction, and you should also strive in that direction. Now we shall have a break, for objective necessity.

Kissinger: I will answer you now, I will not let you have the last word. You can not speak both the first and the last.

Le Duc Tho: Now I give you the last word. I will listen to you.

Kissinger: All right. I call the recess!

[The meeting broke at 4:56. Kissinger and Tho conferred privately out on the lawn. The meeting resumed at 5:30 p.m.]

Kissinger: I am going to give you five minutes and then settle unilaterally. Since now we are resuming our work, I will show you . . . Since you asked for the break and since you were in animated discussion with your associates, what do you think? I know the usual gentleness of your nature would long since have prevailed if it weren’t for Thach.

Le Duc Tho: Our discussion during the break were hotter, more animated, than those I have with our colleagues.

Kissinger: But I still don’t know what you are trying to tell me. I am like the man who is still trying to understand the Two-Point Elaboration.

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Adviser, I have expressed all my views. How should we proceed now?

Kissinger: Let me first read the third paragraph of your document as you expressed it: [Reads:] “The Democratic Republic of Vietnam [Page 1686] and the United States will exert their best efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the Cambodian problem.”

Le Duc Tho: “Will exert their utmost efforts to bring about a peaceful solution to the Cambodian problem?”

Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: So we agree on that wording?

Kissinger: No, I am just asking for your proposal.

Is this how we now have it?

Le Duc Tho: Yes, it is our position.

Kissinger: How about adding “including an early ceasefire?”

Le Duc Tho: I think a “peaceful solution” is sufficient.

Kissinger: I think an early ceasefire would be more concrete.

Le Duc Tho: It is more correct to put the words “peaceful solution.”

Kissinger: I want both.

Le Duc Tho: I have explained to you long my views about the ceasefire.

Kissinger: You want peace without a ceasefire. [Laughter]

Le Duc Tho: The “peaceful solution” includes a ceasefire. Because without a ceasefire there will be no peaceful solution.

Kissinger: Can we add that as a unilateral interpretation of the North Vietnamese side?

Le Duc Tho: And I think we should write only these words. Anything added to it will make it more complicated.

Kissinger: Well, we have to find a middle way between your complications and our difficulties.

Le Duc Tho: I think this going between our position, our complications and your difficulties, is the result of too much thinking. As you say, this is only a mere sentence. What the problem is is whether we will really do our best efforts. But we should not exert our best efforts as you have done regarding 8(c)!

Kissinger: Well, Mr. Special Adviser, I will have to refer this in this form to Washington because, as I said, it is of great importance to them.

Le Duc Tho: I agree.

Kissinger: And we then have to meet tomorrow at Gif.

Le Duc Tho: I agree.

Kissinger: We have to discuss the schedule now. I propose that in light of these delays that we cancel the four-party meeting.

Le Duc Tho: I agree.

Kissinger: There will be certain speeches that will be lost to posterity. But if Professor Hieu wants to submit a written document, we will look at it. [Laughter]

[Page 1687]

Now we have to discuss procedure as to the signatures. Assuming I get approval from Washington.

Le Duc Tho: Please go ahead.

Kissinger: Also I would then propose, after we have heard from Washington, that we initial the agreement tomorrow in Gif and that we stick to the schedule of signing on Saturday.

Le Duc Tho: Who will sign?

Kissinger: I was just coming to that problem, Mr. Special Adviser. We thought Mr. Ziegler should sign. He hasn’t ever done it before.

As you are no doubt aware, there have been statements today from Saigon about their reluctance to sign an agreement. Since you know the delicacy of dealings with one’s allies—and we have gone further than you and we are strongly recommending that they sign. Our proposal is as follows. This is assuming the President accepts this understanding on Cambodia. If Saigon clarifies its view, we will proceed as we have agreed to previously, that is, we will have a two-party and a four-party signature. If Saigon doesn’t clarify its view, we propose the following: We propose that you and we sign a two-party document which, however, is phrased “they shall do the following,” which is phrased not as a recommendation but as a prescription. In other words it is exactly the current text minus the phrase “with the concurrence of.” There is no change in the text at all, except the phrase “with the concurrence of” is deleted. And there is a similar technical change in the conclusion.

At the signing, you and I would make brief statements appealing to all parties to observe this agreement, this communiqué. Or if you want, we sign a joint statement appealing to all parties to observe the communiqué.

We would regret it if the situation arose, but as one famous negotiator has said, when we and our allies disagree we must respect their views. So these are the two possibilities that I foresee. The second situation may not arise, but we should be prepared.

Le Duc Tho: Have you finished?

Kissinger: Yes.

Le Duc Tho: I have come here to negotiate with you. You should have realized what was our intention, but you should also understand us. We never resorted to about-faces or changes, but in negotiating with me you have often made about-faces and changes. Regarding the timing, if you don’t sign then I won’t sign. I don’t need to. But you should respect your promise. Before you left last time, you promised me on your honor that you would stick to your schedule and you told me about the way of signing. You sent me a message saying that your promise was being respected, but you resorted to various maneuvers. [Page 1688] But I say you can’t make pressure on me. If you want to settle the problem, I show good will and settle with you; if you don’t want to settle it is all right. It is something definite. I frankly tell you this. I have told you on many occasions that I will never accept pressure. I will solve only on the basis of reason and truth. You should know that, since I began the negotiations with you.

The understanding I had with you I always stick with you. But you have never implemented many understandings and promises to me. What you said to me before you left Gif-sur-Yvette to go to Washington, what is your promise now? Your promise has no value. I have self-respect. Whatever understandings I have with you, I implement them. But you have not respected the understandings and the promises you have made to me. Therefore now if you have good will and want to settle the problem with us, we are prepared to do it as we agreed. But if you don’t want a settlement and you prolong the negotiation, I am prepared, and even if you want to interrupt the negotiations. I say this with open heartedness. Please review what you said last time before you left for Washington. Now it is different. You said that Thieu had made a statement. But this statement of Thieu is made on your suggestion.

Kissinger: Just a minute.

Le Duc Tho: Let me finish. You see how difficult it was in the Agreement; you could force him to sign. And the joint communiqué it is the same content as the Agreement. So you use these statements to deceive me. I am not a child; I am your interlocutor. I have never used such sentences as you are just making. Therefore I think it is wrong what you have just said. Whatever you do, whether you prolong the negotiations, you interrupt the negotiations, we will follow suit. So what is my intention when I come here, I have responded to you. I have finished.

Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, during today and tomorrow, it is totally inadmissible to conduct negotiations in a raised voice. I understand you, and it is not necessary to do so in a raised voice.

Le Duc Tho: But it is your changes, in a most strange way. Therefore I have to raise my voice. Have you seen any cases where I say something where I change and reverse my statement?

Kissinger: I have seen many cases where you have changed your position but I have not raised my voice. But in any case, raising your voice will not change the circumstances.

Let me tell you the situation the way we see it, and whether you believe it or not is up to you. You obviously think this is a maneuver which we engineered. It is a strange attitude from someone who argues that a resistance group operating in a restricted territory is totally out [Page 1689] of your control but a leader with a large army is totally subject to our control. When we communicated with you we had every assurance that what we communicated to you was correct. And what we communicated to you reflected the position as we understood it at the time and we knew we were correct.

The first I heard of any difficulties with respect to the signing was last evening after our meeting. And the reason I asked for a delay was in order to ask for possibilities to deal with that situation.

Now then, I have made a proposal to you in good faith. We can not say “with the concurrence of Saigon” if Saigon does not concur. Nevertheless, if you and we sign a joint statement and make a public appeal that it should be executed, we and you would take a certain responsibility. And if Saigon refuses to carry it out it will have deprived itself of the necessary American support.

Now, as I said, the situation may not arise, and our arguments may still prevail. If our arguments do not prevail, then you have the choice of believing that it was a trick and then you can refuse to go ahead. And then each side will naturally explain what happened. Or else we sign together and jointly bring pressure on all parties to execute the agreement that you and I have made. We prefer the four-party signing because it is much less embarrassing for us. And it is an absurdity for you to pretend that I have treated you as a child when as a sign of good will and of what we have negotiated that we are willing to dissociate ourselves publicly from our allies.

But if we can not obtain the concurrence of our allies by tomorrow and you want to delay another two weeks to see if we can get it, that is up to you.

We have informed Saigon that we will proceed to sign the agreement on Saturday with or without its approval. But accusations of trickery are totally inadmissible. Though I regret the change of mind of our ally.

Le Duc Tho: Let me speak now. It is not the first time you and I negotiate, but you and I have been negotiating for a long time and I have understood you. And during this series of meetings you have made three promises to me and three times these promises have been changed. So what I have said is reflecting the situation created by you. During the five years you negotiated with me, is there any case where I behaved in such a way? But I can definitely tell you that I will never sign the document as you proposed, that is, the documents signed without the concurrence of Saigon and the concurrence of the PRG. That is something definite. And whatever I say will be definite, it is definite. You have understood me. Therefore if now we don’t agree, then we have to interrupt the meetings. You will return to Washington and I will return, and whenever you feel that a solution is possible on [Page 1690] the points we have agreed to . . . The documents have been prepared by the experts and completed; now everything has been changed, and I disagree to these changes. But if you maintain that, then we can return. This is what I say.

And what is the relationship between you and Saigon, you are more aware of that than I. And I think that a great number of other people understand this question better than I do.

I think that the proposal that you have just made will not bring about a solution. But if you want to discuss tomorrow, I am prepared. Because you say there remains two possibilities: There is the possibility that Saigon might accept, and it might not. I will wait until tomorrow to see what possibility that Saigon might accept, and it might not. I will wait until tomorrow to see what possibility will come true.

But I have expounded my definite point of view. I will not sign the document as you propose. I will only sign what has been agreed to. And Ambassador Sullivan went to Saigon for so many days, and so you have exchanged views with your allies, and then after the return of Ambassador Sullivan, Ambassador Sullivan and Minister Thach have discussed everything and agreed to [everything]. Even the way of signing has been agreed to, and the understandings have been decided. Therefore I maintain this agreement and I maintain your promise and I value your promise. But if now you adopt another way of doing as you propose, then I can definitely say I do not accept this. I am prepared to discuss with you tomorrow but I have to clearly expound my position. It is clear.

Kissinger: The situation is out of my control. The record leaves no doubt that we have made maximum efforts in Saigon and here. If you think when I have spent two weeks here two weeks before the visit of the General Secretary, negotiating with you, and more for Sullivan, we would deliberately raise procedural difficulties—it takes a convoluted mind. If Saigon agrees, the only issue is whether the President accepts the Cambodia understanding. If Saigon doesn’t then it is up to you to accept if you want to accept a joint U.S.–DRV statement.

We are prepared to implement every provision in this agreement. We are prepared to induce Saigon to implement every agreement if we sign it bilaterally. And it would be a heavy responsibility for Saigon to not go along if we two have signed the agreement. If you do not go along with this we will have proved to ourselves that the complexities of the Vietnamese situation and perhaps of the Vietnamese mind are too great for us, that we have reached an impasse, and we can document that we have done our best, and in that case we will have to wait for the future.

Le Duc Tho: You said that my mind is strange. It is nothing strange at all or complicated at all. My mind is very clear. As far as we are [Page 1691] concerned, I have expounded to you our views. We will accept only what has been agreed to after the visit of Ambassador Sullivan to Saigon and after he returned here and after we have completed the document. We will accept nothing but this document, and if you don’t change your mind and if you maintain the proposals you have just made it is certain that our negotiations will come to no results, and then we have to postpone. There is no other way. I have expressed my views. We will meet you tomorrow to see what is the decision of the President of the United States and the decision of Saigon. But I expounded my positions to make it clear to you beforehand.

Kissinger: I understand your position, Mr. Special Adviser. There are two things that are now out of my control. One is the reaction of the President to the Cambodia understanding, and the second is the decision that Saigon will make in the face of our appeal. I propose to meet tomorrow at three o’clock.

Le Duc Tho: I agree.

Kissinger: If Saigon agrees and the President agrees, we can then initial there. And we can keep to the schedule of signing that was established for Saturday. That is my strong hope. In that case we should announce tomorrow that we have achieved an agreement and will release the documents the next morning. Or later that night. We can decide. If we cannot bring about a change in Saigon, then we will have regretfully to postpone the negotiations. It will be a great personal regret for me, as it must be to you. Because we have both made considerable efforts. But I think we should face that situation tomorrow when it arises.

Le Duc Tho: Yesterday, I told you already, because I have got experience with you, therefore when I was asked by American journalists, I told them that it is possible that there would be a solution but it is possible that the negotiation will be prolonged; it is possible we will obtain results and possible we will not. It is the practical experience we have gotten throughout our negotiations.

Therefore tomorrow I will meet you again. It is your great hope that we will come to a solution; it is also my wish too. But if tomorrow we cannot settle the problem, then I will shake your hand and we will leave. There are two possibilities, and I have foreseen it. And therefore when asked by journalists I gave my answer. When I first came here it was my foresight. It might be that we could settle the problem with you, but also the possibility that we would shake hands and leave.

Kissinger: Well, Mr. Special Adviser, if you foresaw it earlier this week, you saw it earlier than I did.

Le Duc Tho: [laughs] Because I have got ample experience with you.

Kissinger: I have to say one other thing.

[Page 1692]

Le Duc Tho: You are the author of these things, therefore it is clear in your mind!

Kissinger: I have heard a lot of accusations from the Special Adviser over four years. But when I make a statement of fact to the Special Adviser and I am in effect accused of lying, it will be impossible for us to continue to negotiate in these conditions, and we should do it no further.

Le Duc Tho: But you have created the situation; it is not me.

Kissinger: I have explained the circumstances to the Special Adviser, and will not go through it another time. It is up to him to see if he believes that I have had nothing to do for the last two weeks but to go through these detailed negotiations and invent a situation . . . I have no desire to discuss it further. I will not discuss it further. We have an objective difficulty which is as surprising to us as it was to you.

Le Duc Tho: But my interpretation differs from your interpretation of the fact. It is our respective thinking. But if that is the situation you should have told me from the beginning.

Kissinger: I had no reason to suppose what I told you would happen. If I had any reason to doubt that we could not complete this week, I would not have come over here.

Le Duc Tho: We have been negotiating for a long time and we had understood each other very well. Therefore everything you wanted to tell me, you should tell me the truth, and also whatever I wanted to tell you, I should tell you the truth. It is not now similar to the beginning of our negotiations. You should have told me from the very beginning that it may happen, such-and-such things, and would take such-and-such time. And I would never have complained.

Kissinger: If I had foreseen it. We started proposing an appeal, and Saigon objected. We then proposed a two-party and a four-party document and thought we had solved the difficulty. Then Ambassador Sullivan was in Saigon and we communicated to you the procedure was acceptable. It was only yesterday after our meeting, that I learned of the difficulties in Saigon. We failed to overcome them, even after a direct appeal from the President to President Thieu. And we are even now engaged in other discussions in Saigon. You can believe it or not believe it. This is the fact.

We gave you the paper that they gave us for the signatures. These were the facts. They are the realities which we now face which we did not invent. If we had not wanted an agreement we had ten practical reasons on which to hang it up. We told you the exact truth and we are telling you the exact truth now.

Le Duc Tho: We have been negotiating for a long time and therefore we must understand each other and we must stick to our promises. [Page 1693] You told us I often complain and blamed you, but you don’t keep your promises, and that is why I complain. Otherwise I don’t. If you don’t promise then I have nothing to complain about. If you don’t make a promise and I blame you, then I am wrong. My complaint is justified and you create the circumstances for my blame. I wanted to negotiate with an open heart and good will and settle the problem. You interrupt the work of the Joint Economic Commission and the mine-clearing and continue the aerial reconnaissance, and bomb South Vietnam again, but when you propose meetings to come to settle the problem, and while these actions were taken by your side, we did not prevent the work of the Joint Military Teams on the graves. We do not want to. Therefore when I come here it was with good will and desire to settle the problem. And after a few days of negotiations we have settled many problems. Then Ambassador Sullivan had to go to Saigon. I agreed to await his going to Saigon. Then when he returned he had agreed on everything. You proposed two to three schedules and I agreed to all of them. I never objected to any propositions. You changed three times and I never objected. But finally you change everything, the way of signing. So you do not want a solution. If you were in my position . . .

Kissinger: If I were in your position I would have two choices: I would either believe what I have been told or keep repeating over and over again what you seem to be doing. If we don’t want a settlement, I would say so. If we don’t want a settlement, we wouldn’t negotiate an agreement to wind up with no settlement.

Le Duc Tho: Previously there was once when everything had been agreed to and finally you did not accept it. It is now the second time. So you say that I am complaining against you. But if I had done such a thing you would have been doing the same. I would have accepted your criticism.

Kissinger: I am not going to waste my time about what I would do in your situation, or what I would not do. In any case let us not continue this discussion. Let’s talk concretely.

We will meet tomorrow at three o’clock.

Le Duc Tho: I agree.

Kissinger: At Gif.

Le Duc Tho: I agree.

Kissinger: We will tell the press now only that we meet at three o’clock at Gif. We will make no other comments, hints, leaks or enigmatic statements, or jokes.

Le Duc Tho: When I promise it to you, I will stick to you, I will say nothing.

Kissinger: How about the porte-parole here?

[Page 1694]

Le Duc Tho: He will do the same as I do.

Kissinger: All right. This is our understanding. If we tomorrow come to an agreement—there are two possibilities: One is subject to our control, the reaction of the President to the Cambodia understanding, and the other is not in our control, namely Saigon. Then we will proceed on Saturday. Then we will have to moderate our comments until Saturday, when we meet in a spirit of conciliation and concord. If we don’t agree—if Saigon refuses to agree—then each side will be free to give its explanation for the difficulties.

Le Duc Tho: Of course. Each side is free to give its reactions if we cannot settle.

Kissinger: I know the Special Adviser will be heartbreaking. But let us discuss that contingency at three o’clock tomorrow afternoon if it arises.

Le Duc Tho: I agree. The first possibility, then I will do what has been agreed to between us; then the second possibility is there is no solution, then we will be free to make any statements we like. Before we leave I will shake your hands. [Laughter]

Kissinger: And I will watch your other one! [Laughter] I will watch your other hand. All right. We will meet at three o’clock at Gif.

[The meeting then ended.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 124, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David Memcons, Joint Communique May–June 1973 [3 of 3]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at La Fontaine au Blanc, St. Nom la Bretèche. All brackets are in the original. The tabs are attached but not printed.