66. 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
  • Ambassador William H. Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Ambassador-designate to the Philippines
  • Mr. George H. Aldrich, Deputy Legal Adviser, Department of State
  • Mr. Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Deputy to the Assistant to the President for National Security Operations
  • Mr. Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Richard S. Thompson, Department of State, Interpreter
  • Mrs. Bonnie Andrews, NSC Secretary

[The Vietnamese arrived at 12:25. After brief conversation in the living room the formal meeting convened at 12:37.]

Le Duc Tho: Please go ahead, Mr. Adviser.

Mr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, when I entered the plane last night in the United States I expected to have a brief visit, to initial, and to have two signing ceremonies. I have come here—I have crossed the Atlantic twice in the last 48 hours—because I believe implementation of the cease-fire in Vietnam should be one of the principal objectives of our countries. I have come here also because I believe that the normalization of relations between our two peoples is one of the principal goals of our foreign policy. And in the 36 hours that I spent in Washington I spent almost my entire time to remove the difficulties that I presented to you on Saturday. When I left yesterday I thought that they had been substantially removed. And if I had not thought this, I would not have come here in this week when really all my time should be occupied with preparations for the forthcoming visit of the General Secretary of the Soviet Union.

[Page 1711]

Just one hour outside of Paris I was informed that difficulties still remain.

Now you and I have worked together for many years, Mr. Special Adviser. You have not exactly been distinguished by confidence in my word. But you have also told me that a correct assessment of the situation is essential. I tell you now that for once you should accept the fact that we are as much surprised by this turn of events as you are.

Now let me present to you what the proposal is that Saigon has made to us.

They would like to quote Article 9(b) between Article 8 and Article 9. Prior to paragraph 9 they would like to quote Article 9(b). [The Vietnamese confer.] Secondly, in paragraph 11(b) they would like the following. Where it says “where an area controlled by one of them adjoins an area controlled by the other,” they propose two possibilities: either to delete the phrase or to say “where an area under the military control of one of them adjoins an area under the military control of the other.” And this appears twice. The preference is to eliminate it. But either is acceptable. [They confer.] And this appears twice. The argument is there is nothing in the protocols like this. They have given us their assurance that they will sign it if these two changes are made.

Now, I would like to make the following proposal to you. If you accept these two changes, we can initial the document this afternoon at Avenue Kleber. On the occasion of the initialing I will give you a letter in which I declare that the United States will undertake to carry out its side, its obligations, of this agreement, even if for any reason we should not be able to sign tomorrow. That is to say that the United States would carry out paragraph one, paragraph 2, and paragraph 14. On the basis of initialing. Even if Saigon overnight should again change its opinion.

It is the maximum show of our goodwill that we can make. And it protects you against any further deceptions. We could at the initialing announce the signing, which I would then propose for tomorrow. If you accept this I would propose that we announce after this meeting that we will meet at 5:00 p.m. at Kleber. Without saying for what we are meeting. This gives us a chance to inform Washington and Saigon of our decision.

I regret that this situation has arisen.

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

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, Mr. Special Adviser.

Le Duc Tho: Mr. Adviser, I have come here with goodwill for the purpose of reviewing the implementation of the Agreement and of finding measures to be taken to settle the question of implementing the Agreement in the best way. And since my arrival here we have been talking for nearly one month now. The private talks we have had, including the talks between the experts, amount to 16 days, and [Page 1712] repeatedly you proposed suspension of these meetings and we agree to that. Now for 12 days, now for 48 hours, now for 24 hours. And I always agree with you. You proposed that Ambassador Sullivan should go to Saigon for consultation with the Saigon people, and then after his return you put forward changes to the joint communiqué. And we have agreed to discuss the changes. And the Saigon people have proposed changes to the agreement twice or three times already. Yesterday Ambassador Sullivan said the United States side had rejected the proposed changes by the Saigon side, except the English word “territory” for “area.”

Mr. Kissinger: The other way around—“area” for “territory”.

Le Duc Tho: Now I tell you I completely, I totally do not accept these present proposals. The first reason is that many suspensions have been proposed and many changes have been proposed. And these two changes by Saigon contain dark schemes here. They propose to quote the provisions regarding the general elections before the provisions regarding implementation of democratic liberties. Their intention is not to implement the democratic liberties; therefore they put democratic liberties behind, after the general elections. Secondly, the paragraph dealing with the headquarters of the Two-Party JMC: The Saigon people now propose the change that the “area under the military control of one party adjoins the area under the military control of the other.” But this word “under the military control,” their intention is to deny that there are two governments, two armies, and two zones in South Vietnam. That is contrary to the Paris Agreement of January 27. And in the Agreement it is stipulated that there is delimitation of the zone of control of each party.

Now we are facing one problem. Now you and I and the two South Vietnamese parties, the PRG and the Saigon Administration, we will sign a two-party document and a four-party joint communiqué for the purpose of having better implementation of the Agreement and to advance towards our objective of normalization of relations. We wonder whether you will follow this objective or will you follow the Saigon people in requirements that we cannot accept. If the first case, then we can come to the signing of the document so that we may see the Agreement implemented, and on the basis of that we will advance towards normalization of our relations. The second possibility, should you follow the Saigon people and insist on those changes, then our talks will have to be ended. We have no other solution to adopt. Before you left last time you proposed a number of possibilities. I have clearly expressed my views already. So I have finished.

Mr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, the reason Article 9 is mentioned before democratic liberties is because it precedes democratic liberties in the text of the Agreement. Article 9 precedes Article 11(b). [Page 1713] And there remains in the Agreement the requirement for delimitation of zones of control, and it remains in the communiqué as well. And the deletions we are proposing do not preclude that the teams can be situated where the areas adjoin; it just doesn’t mention them as one of the criteria.

But Mr. Special Adviser, I admit I did not raise these issues previously. We cannot force Saigon to sign. We are prepared to sign a two-party document. We are prepared to sign anything that is within our power to do. We are also willing to listen to any proposal you may have to avoid a breakup.

Le Duc Tho: First, what you said about the implementation of democratic liberties, the order of provisions is not true. The democratic liberties should have been implemented as soon as the Agreement, the cease-fire, came into force. And the general election is an internal matter for the two South Vietnamese parties to settle through discussions. Therefore, when you insist to present the general elections before implementation of the democratic liberties it reflects the scheme of the Saigon people, because we have known that at the conference at La Celle St. Cloud, the discussion between the two South Vietnamese parties, the Saigon side repeatedly proposed elections before the implementation of the democratic liberties.

But since we have agreed on everything, we should proceed and sign. I should point out to you that since we have an agreement we will not change. I say this to you to show you that this posing of the problems is wrong. But the point is that since we have agreed on everything then we should not change anything in the document.

Mr. Kissinger: Well, Mr. Special Adviser . . .

Le Duc Tho: Please let me add a few words.

Dr. Kissinger: I’m sorry.

Le Duc Tho: And that is, as I have said, they have put forward successive changes, and changes have been put forth in such a short interval that I have had no time to think them over. After Ambassador Sullivan returned, he had some changes. We settled some. And then on June 9 you proposed to quote the whole Chapter IV. Then yesterday Ambassador Sullivan said that now everything has been put aside and there is only one point left. Now today you propose two points more. You always allege that these are made by Saigon. But the other day I asked you whether you lead Saigon or Saigon leads you. Therefore, we definitely will not accept the changes. As to the zone of control, as I told you, the intention of Saigon is to deny the recognition of the PRG. Therefore Saigon does not want an area of control under the control of the PRG. Therefore Saigon is unwilling to accept this sentence. Therefore we will never accept such proposals. Is there any serious negotiation in which there are four or five times changes within a period of three or four days?

[Page 1714]

I have expressed my views regarding the joint communiqué. The fact that I have remained here nearly one month to negotiate with you, this is evidence of my goodwill. But my goodwill has some limits. We can’t go beyond those limits. It is my desire to settle the problem with you, but how can we come to a solution with such method of negotiations? If we come to an agreement we will sign a document and we will be responsible for all the four parties in implementation of the Agreement. We cannot do that. You and I will sign and you make a statement that you will carry out the U.S. obligation to North Vietnam. That will not do. The implementation of the Agreement is the responsibility not only of the four parties signatory to the Agreement but also of all countries signatory to the Act of the International Conference.

Mr. Kissinger: Are you finished?

Le Duc Tho: Yes, I have finished.

Mr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, Article 9(b) precedes in the Agreement Article 11. And it states a general principle. It does not say that general elections must preceed democratic liberties because that is an absurdity. It states the principle—it does not state the obligation—that there should be democratic elections; it does not say when. And the communiqué covers the articles in the order of their appearance in the Agreement. That is the reason for inserting Article 9(b) there. And then Article 10 (b) states clearly that after the democratic liberties, “the two South Vietnamese parties shall agree through consultations on the institutions for which the free and democratic general elections provided for in Article 9(b) of the Agreement will be held.” So it is quite clear that the sequence of implementation is that the democratic liberties have to come first.

With respect to Article 11(b), the proposal is to go back—since there is a dispute—to the precise language of the Agreement.

But, as I said to you on Saturday, if we had wanted to press these proposals earlier we would have instructed Ambassador Sullivan to do so. But we have now this difficulty. We can sign what we can sign. But we cannot make somebody else sign. We can draw our lessons from this negotiation, and we shall. But this is not the situation we face today.

Le Duc Tho: I should have told you that we will not accept any changes. First, because we have been negotiating for one month now, and secondly, that Ambassador Sullivan said yesterday that you have rejected all proposals. Now you arrive and raise three new points.

Mr. Kissinger: But the proposals that we rejected yesterday were different than the ones today. The ones yesterday were to drop Article 10 and 11—9 and 10.

[Page 1715]

Le Duc Tho: But you frequently propose changes. Yesterday you propose some; today you propose some new ones. Even three times within the last 24 hours. What is now your promise to me before you left? I have told you this on too many occasions. I can’t use other words. I have to say this. I wonder whether there has been such negotiations as we have had here. You make changes in turn.

Mr. Kissinger: But I don’t think anyone has had the experience of trying to negotiate with three Vietnamese parties. So I agree with you. There haven’t been any negotiations like this. But there aren’t many people like the Vietnamese either.

Le Duc Tho: But here the question is you yourself, no one else. I have completely rejected your proposal to have a private signing and statement by you of the obligation of the U.S.

Mr. Kissinger: I don’t think the Special Adviser understands my proposal. If the Special Adviser thinks I give one damn about the phrase “areas under military control,” he has a misassessment of the American . . . My proposal to the Special Adviser is as follows: That if he agrees to these changes, we will publicly initial the agreement this afternoon and we will give you a written statement, which you can publish, on behalf of the Government of the United States, that even if other objections are raised by Saigon, the U.S. will carry out its obligations under the agreement—paragraphs 1, 2, and 14—regardless of whether there is any signing tomorrow or not. It is not a private understanding; it is a formal commitment. And it is a signed document.

Le Duc Tho: Please, Mr. Special Adviser, let me speak. First, what you said about the determination of the zones of control of each party, you said that it was not your desire in the proposal. But I should recall a statement here of President Nixon that you recognized only Saigon as the sole government of South Vietnam. And thus we say that your words correspond with your actions.

Secondly, I do not accept the proposal you made. Third, we do not accept the U.S. letter to make your commitment. We only accept the agreement we have reached up to now.

Mr. Kissinger: May I point out that the delimitation of areas of control is provided for in paragraph 5 of the communiqué, and is in the Agreement, and is in no way affected by the change we are proposing.

Le Duc Tho: This I will not accept. In brief, I will not accept these two proposed changes. Yesterday Ambassador Sullivan made another statement and in less than 24 hours you have made another statement. And maybe within a few hours time there will be another change. When you made the promise to me I respected your promise, but now you have broken your promise. In spite of that when Ambassador [Page 1716] Sullivan returned I agreed with your proposals. Because we would have to remain here for months if there is further changes.

Mr. Kissinger: It is not worth continuing the debate. For whatever it is worth, we have a written statement from Saigon that if these two changes are made they will sign immediately. Now if this turns out to be wrong . . .

Le Duc Tho: But I have answered to you that we will not accept these changes, these two points, and we have to sign as it was.

Mr. Kissinger: Then what do you propose?

Le Duc Tho: I have no other proposals. What we have agreed to we should carry out. Late yesterday afternoon, Ambassador Sullivan submits two proposals, and now less than 24 hours later you make new proposals. And you will make other proposals. I can frankly tell you that these are not serious negotiations.

Mr. Kissinger: I will not make other proposals, but it’s senseless to debate it.

Le Duc Tho: But I do not accept the proposals. What shall we do then?

Mr. Kissinger: I can do nothing. I do not know what to do, to be quite honest. This negotiation has taken longer than I had thought; it has now become more complex than I believed possible. I frankly do not know what to do. The only thing I can think of doing is that I will withdraw from any further negotiations and leave any further negotiating to the Vietnamese parties.

Le Duc Tho: [laughs] But we can’t prevent you from withdrawing. If you review our negotiations, you should realize that we have made most efforts to reach a settlement with you. But if you keep proposing changes and changes, then how can we negotiate with you? So I think these negotiations should be ended. Then I will shake your hand and return to my country. There is no other way. Because we have agreed on everything already. Because yesterday Ambassador Sullivan said that all the difficulties have been removed, except the one word, the word “territory” and “area.” I have discussed with Minister Thach and we agreed.

Mr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, I can only say that Ambassador Sullivan reported to you exactly what our understanding was of the situation yesterday.

Le Duc Tho: But today it is changed.

Mr. Kissinger: We rejected the proposal that Articles 9 and 10 be dropped, that is, the article about the democratic liberties and the article about the political process. We have now the agreement that those two articles can be maintained. So the only question is whether we can find a solution to what we have been told in writing, in a letter to the [Page 1717] President, is the only change that is needed. But we confronted this new situation at the moment we telephoned you. We sincerely believed the problem was solved. We genuinely want this communiqué, or we would not have spent this much time. But we face a situation at this moment which is just as I have described it to you. Now if the negotiations break up, Saigon will have achieved its objective, which we have tried to avoid.

Certainly if we had wanted to prolong the negotiations and delay the agreement, we would have found a more intelligent way to do it than to conclude an agreement, tell you it’s concluded, and then keep raising new issues. Certainly if we had not wanted an agreement I would not have flown all night to come here to present new proposals. That could equally well have been presented by Ambassador Sullivan first. Certainly if we had known last night at 4:00 that these were the proposals, there is no reason in the world that Ambassador Sullivan could not have presented it then. Certainly we would not have made all the preparations at Avenue Kleber if we had not been serious.

So what we face is a difficulty which concerns us both. Article 5 of the communiqué provides for the delimitation of areas of control, and that is not affected . . .

Le Duc Tho: I have told you that since we agreed on everything, and now you want changes, and I am disappointed with it. If now you say that Saigon wanted the proposals and if the proposals are not met that they will drag on the negotiation, then it is proof that the Saigon people want to continue the fighting. But if they want to continue the fighting, then we are prepared for that. But I think that the U.S. is responsible for the implementation of the Agreement. Moreover, you have created the Saigon Administration. If you want the implementation of the Agreement and normalization of relations with us, then you should reject the unreasonable proposals of the Saigon Administration.

Mr. Kissinger: Yes, but that won’t get them to sign it. That will create a crisis but it won’t get them to sign it. And then they will appeal to the conservative elements in America and we will have a very difficult situation.

Le Duc Tho: But you know the difficulty we had in negotiating the Paris Agreement, and at that time the Saigon intention was not to sign but finally they had to sign.

Mr. Kissinger: But it took . . .

Le Duc Tho: But now the problem isn’t as difficult as the Paris Agreement. Saigon is in your hands. If you negotiate in this way, no negotiation is possible, and it would be difficult to create mutual trust.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree with you, Mr. Special Adviser. And as I said before, we have learned some lessons from this negotiation. But it took [Page 1718] us three months in the winter to obtain the agreement of Saigon. This time we have had a much shorter time. Now the Special Adviser is in the habit of saying he has foreseen everything. I can tell him we have not foreseen this situation. If we had foreseen this situation, we would not have started this negotiation. We would not have permitted it to go this far. And the Special Adviser is under a severe misapprehension if he believes we have not done our utmost. Now the Special Adviser has in this case not assessed the situation adequately. It is for this moment out of our immediate control.

Le Duc Tho: [laughs] I think it is something ridiculous.

Mr. Kissinger: That may be, Mr. Special Adviser, but the fact is that the President scheduled a meeting this morning to tell our Congressional leaders this morning that we had come to an agreement. He has had to cancel it. But there is no sense in debating it, because I have reached the limits of what I can do.

Le Duc Tho: I have also come to the limits. Shall we adjourn now?

Mr. Kissinger: May I suggest we take a five-minute break, and then discuss methods of adjournment.

Le Duc Tho: All right. But to adjourn is something easy.

[The meeting adjourned at 1:43 p.m. Kissinger and Tho conferred privately on the back lawn. The DRV agreed to the incorporation of Article 9(b) of the Agreement, calling for elections, but only if it followed the quotation of Article 11 on democratic liberties. Lunch was served from 2:30 to 3:30. At 3:30, Sullivan and Thach drafted the specific language for paragraphs 9 and 10 of the Communiqué. The formal meeting resumed at 4:30 p.m.]

Mr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, we are in an extraordinary hurry to get off this message [to Saigon]. But I feel that I must express appreciation for the extraordinary goodwill you have shown and to express my regret that it was necessary. I will not make any other demands and I recognize that any further request only means the breakup of these negotiations. I propose that we meet at Gif at 12:00 tomorrow. We will be prepared to initial at Gif tomorrow, if that is acceptable with you. And we will sign at 4:00 tomorrow afternoon, the four-party signature, at Kleber, and then let us say at 7:00 with the two-party signature. The cease-fire order will be at 1200 Greenwich Mean Time June 14, to be effective at 0400 GMT June 15. We must rush back now to get a message off to Washington and Saigon. And if the negotiation fails, the fault will be entirely Saigon’s. You have made the utmost effort.

Le Duc Tho: Please let me speak a few sentences and then we will adjourn. So we have come here to negotiate for nearly one month now, and now you propose a modification of one more sentence. I have [Page 1719] agreed to your proposal on condition that there will be no more modifications, no more changes, and on the condition that the schedule you have proposed for tomorrow will be kept. As you said, any more proposed modifications will mean the breakup.

Mr. Kissinger: I agree.

Le Duc Tho: We meet tomorrow at Gif at the time you proposed.

Mr. Kissinger: Well, when we leave here we will say we will meet tomorrow at Gif.

Le Duc Tho: I agree.

[The meeting ended at 4:45 p.m.]

  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.