68. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Mr. Le Duc Tho, Representative of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam
- Phan Hien, DRV Foreign Ministry
- Nguyen Dinh Phuong, Interpreter
- Colonel Hoang Hoa
- Pham The Dong
- Tran Quang Co
- Pham Ngac
- Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Secretary of State
- Ambassador Graham Martin, American Ambassador to the Republic of Vietnam
- Monteagle Stearns, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
- George Vest, Special Assistant to The Secretary for Press Relations
- W. Richard Smyser, NSC Senior Staff
- William L. Stearman, NSC Staff
- Peter W. Rodman, NSC Staff
- David A. Engel, State Department, Interpreter
- Mrs. Mary Stifflemire, White House
Le Duc Tho: I don’t know whether it is unintentional or intentional, but I meet you again today in the room in which we have initialed the Agreement. I still have a very fresh memory. I still remember that after I initialed the Agreement I offered you the pen with which I had initialed it, and I told you that I offer you this pen and hope that you will remember that day and the attention to the strict implementation of the Agreement, and you told me that you will keep it in mind. Now, nearly one year has passed and the situation has developed in a completely reversed way. So your statement has not come true.
Today, we meet here again and we have to review the Agreement again. I wonder if this meeting will yield some result or it will happen [Page 1731] as it had after we signed the Agreement. I am not pessimistic when I say this, but I would like to point out the fact.
And it is a pleasure to meet Ambassador Martin here. After the signing of the Joint Communiqué I spoke to him, and I said that you would go shortly to Saigon; you will exert an effort to promote the true implementation of the Agreement and the Joint Communiqué. And I don’t know why with your presence there in South Vietnam the war has been stepped up. This is also a fact. So I have opened our meeting today by these words.
Now please, I give you the word. Now you have been promoted to a new position now, so I call you Mr. Secretary.
Secretary Kissinger: I tell you, Mr. Special Advisor, that before I was Secretary, when Foreign Minister Gromyko was made a member of the Politburo I sent him a telegram congratulating him for having been raised to my level.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] But I have not been promoted. I keep my previous position.
Dr. Kissinger: But you are always in the Politburo, so you can’t be promoted. [Laughter]
I took the Secretary of State position in order to escape your attacks, but you have pursued me.
I think you have met all of the members of my delegation, Mr. Special Advisor. You, of course, know Ambassador Martin. You remember Mr. Stearman; Mr. Vest who is a Special Assistant to me. You remember Mr. Rodman. Mr. Smyser you recall from previous meetings. Mr. Stearns, who has replaced Ambassador Sullivan.
Le Duc Tho: Only two of you are unknown to me; the others are old acquaintances.[Page 1732]
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Vest, who is a Special Assistant, and Mr. Stearns. Mr. Stearns has replaced Ambassador Sullivan. He spent two years in one of your favorite countries, Mr. Special Advisor—Laos.
Le Duc Tho: You like the country, but you are not liked by the people. [Laughter]
Dr. Kissinger: No, the Lao-speaking population likes him very much! We have been told, as a matter of fact, that there are special language courses being offered now in the Pathet Lao territory.
Le Duc Tho: I am learning foreign languages, too.
Dr. Kissinger: Which?
Le Duc Tho: Indochinese languages. [Laughter]
Dr. Kissinger: Well, I am reassured the Special Advisor isn’t applying his special talents to American problems. I don’t think we could survive it.
Let me say, Mr. Special Advisor, that it is always a personal pleasure to see you again. We spent many years negotiating together, always with respect. I remember very well you handed me the pen a year ago and you were kind enough to refer to it when you wrote me a letter after we both won the Nobel Prize.
As a matter of fact, I had a glass case made for the documents we signed that day, and the pen, and they stand near my desk in my office.
So I remember it very well, and I remember our words on the occasion as well as when we completed the Joint Communiqué.
We have achieved an end of military operations in Viet-Nam and we laid down principles for the evolution of the political life. It is true, as the Special Advisor pointed out, that the Agreement has not been carried out in many major categories. It is our view of course that the provisions of Article 7, the provisions of Article 20, and many other provisions, have not been implemented. The infiltration of North Vietnamese forces in violation of the Agreement gives rise to the belief that perhaps another military effort will be made by your side. And that of course would have most serious consequences.
So I agree with the Special Advisor that the time is opportune to review where we stand and to see whether improvements are possible. And we approach these discussions with good will and a serious attitude. And it is of course in addition a personal pleasure to renew our acquaintance.
We still believe that a normalization of relations between our two countries should remain one of our principal objectives, not least because it would give us the pleasure of inviting the Special Advisor to the United States. We are delaying our space launches so the Special Advisor . . .[Page 1733]
Le Duc Tho: I have the impression that it will be long to come.
Dr. Kissinger: Do you think we shouldn’t hold up our space launches any longer so that the Special Advisor can see one?
Le Duc Tho: You are right. It is more realistic this way. Actually speaking, I do wish to visit your country. But since you are prolonging things, it is your fault, not mine.
Dr. Kissinger: These were the general observations that I wanted to make, Mr. Special Advisor.
Le Duc Tho: You have finished, Mr. Special Advisor?
Dr. Kissinger: Please.
Le Duc Tho: I wonder whether we will meet this time only one day.
Dr. Kissinger: Unfortunately, Mr. Special Advisor, as I pointed out to you, I must leave tonight for Geneva for the opening of the Middle East Peace Conference; then I must return to Washington because I have been traveling for two weeks. I warned you about this ahead of time.
Le Duc Tho: I ask this question so that we may fix the working method here.
Dr. Kissinger: Yes, we can meet now until about ten minutes to twelve. Then I have to see the President of the Republic, and then we can meet again from 2 to 4.
Le Duc Tho: So the duration of our meeting today is short. I know that our meeting today is not certain that it will yield some result, because our time is short. And the problem is complicated. So I have traveled five days to meet you only one day. So you should understand that it is our desire to meet you.
Dr. Kissinger: I appreciate it very much.
Le Duc Tho: But to meet you and to come to some solution to the problem, I am always willing to meet you. But if I meet you and the situation becomes more serious, this is not something beneficial, this meeting.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: Therefore in this time we meet we should push the situation in the better situation. But [since] last time when we met about the Joint Communiqué, there has been a set-back in the situation.
Now, please let me speak a few words, express to you some ideas. There are questions which I would like to present to you very clear, very explicitly.
Right after the signing of the Joint Communiqué, when we were leaving the conference room, I told you that the Joint Communiqué had been signed but probably you would violate it. I told you also that if you violated the Agreement then we would not stand idle and [Page 1734] let you and the Saigon Administration do whatever you like. The situation in Viet-Nam has now developed as I predicted. Particularly the situation in South Viet-Nam has become extremely serious, as you are aware.
Whose is the fault? Therefore we should make it clear and make a clear difference between black and white, right and wrong. The situation in South Viet-Nam shows the war is still going on. There is not yet a day of peace here. We signed the Paris Agreement on Viet-Nam for the purpose of having peace, but actually there has not been peace. And there is no reason that when we sign the Paris Agreement to have peace then we continue the war. The cause of that situation is that the United States and the Saigon Administration which receives U.S. encouragement and assistance have violated almost all the provisions of the Paris Agreement when your signatures had hardly dried up.
I should frankly say that the signature you affixed on the Agreement and the Joint Communiqué have no longer any value. You never know to respect your honor and your signature. Your pledges are nothing but empty promises. All your fine statements about ending the era of hostility, normalizing our relationship and advancing towards friendly relations between our two countries, are mere hollow words. The dangerous developments of the current situation in South Viet-Nam are caused by the United States and no one else. After your failure in Viet-Nam you had to pull out all your troops from South Viet-Nam and to end your war of aggression in Viet-Nam, but you are still unwilling to fulfill your commitment to respect the Viet-Nam people’s fundamental national rights and the South Vietnamese people’s right to self-determination as well as your commitment to end your military involvement and your intervention in the internal affairs of South Viet-Nam. On the contrary, you still want to continue the practice of the Nixon Doctrine through Vietnamization of the war, and therefore you are pushing the Saigon Administration to refuse to implement any provision of the Agreement and to continue the war.
If now you do not give up your scheme which is the cause of the present serious situation in South Viet-Nam, if you continue to Vietnamize the war, if you continue to violate the provisions of the Paris Agreement and the Joint Communiqué, if so, then I wonder whether this meeting between you and I will bring about any result or it will merely be a hoax to deceive public opinion. Even if the meeting will give some result, I wonder whether the result will be materialized or it will be only again on paper as it happened after the signing of the Joint Communiqué. This is a very big question indeed, but I wonder if it is possible for you to give a correct and serious answer.
Throughout my negotiations with you until we signed the Paris Agreement and then the Joint Communiqué, you repeatedly told me [Page 1735] that the objective of the United States was to end the war, to end the era of hostility, and to advance towards the normalization of relations between our two countries. I told you on many occasions, and when we signed the Paris Agreement with you, it was our earnest desire to see the Agreement scrupulously implemented and on this basis to establish normal relations with you and step by step to go forward to friendly relations between our two countries.
I would like to recall here the fact—probably you remember too—after the signing of the Agreement you proposed a visit to Hanoi. I accepted this proposal, only a few days after the signing of the Agreement, when our whole country was still boiling with hatred. This testified to our good will. But immediately thereafter you have not honored your statements and your signature. You have reversed everything. Then how can relations between our two countries be normalized? Therefore, I wonder whether the normalization of relations between you and us still remains one of your objectives. If it still remains one of your objectives, then what is the crucial factor that will lead to the normalization of relations? In our view, if normalization of relations is still a commonly desired objective, we think that the primary thing to be done is to correctly implement the Agreement, because this is the basis for the normalization of the relationship between our two countries.
Let me ask you, if the war goes on in South Viet-Nam, if your obligation to contribute to healing the wounds of war in North Viet-Nam is not fulfilled, how can the basis be laid for the normalization of the relationship? Therefore I am of the view that after the signing of the Agreement, in order to normalize our relationship, first of all you should scrupulously implement the Agreement. Above all there must be peace; there must be a ceasefire in South Viet-Nam; and you should fulfill your obligations to contribute to the healing of war wounds in North Viet-Nam. Only in this way can we shift to friendship in our relations.
On the contrary, if you continue to practice the Nixon Doctrine and to Vietnamize the war in South Viet-Nam, if you and the Saigon Administration, which you encourage and assist, do not correctly implement the provisions of the Agreement, then the South Vietnamese people have no other way than using every means to counter with the greatest determination the acts of war and the violations of the Agreement by the U.S. and the Saigon Administration and to get your side to strictly abide by the Agreement. We will never stand idle and let you and the Saigon Administration do whatever you like. You have to bear responsibility for the consequences of the present serious situation. Your scheme will finally meet with failure once again. This is something inevitable. Whatever threat on your part cannot intimidate [Page 1736] us. Of late you repeatedly sent aircraft to carry out air reconnaissance over North Viet-Nam and sent war vessels into our territorial waters. Your Defense Secretary also menaced us, but these threats are hackneyed to us.
Dr. Kissinger: We will have to get new speechwriters.
Le Duc Tho: Over the past 18 years you have intervened in and made an aggression against South Viet-Nam. You have threatened us both by words and by deeds. But you could not curb our firm will to fight for our just cause. We are not chicken-hearted people that you can intimidate. I told you that in the past, I tell you the same now, and I will tell you the same in the future.
Now we are facing only two paths. The first path is that you will continue to violate the Agreement, to practice the Nixon Doctrine through war Vietnamization, to support and encourage the Saigon Administration in making war in an attempt to wipe out the reality that there exist in South Viet-Nam two governments, two armies, two zones of control. If so, the situation there will prove more serious than ever, and finally he who sows the wind will reap the whirlwind. It is something certain. The army and the people of South Viet-Nam will never submit. They will devote all their energies to defend the Agreement and the achievements they have attained, and final victory will be theirs.
The second path is that you and the Saigon Administration will scrupulously implement the Agreement to end the war in South Viet-Nam. You will recognize the reality that there exist in South Viet-Nam two governments, two armies, two zones of control, and let the South Vietnamese people decide themselves their internal affairs in keeping with the Agreement and the Joint Communiqué.
At the same time you should carry out your obligation to heal the wounds of war in North Viet-Nam.
For our part, we will scrupulously implement the Agreement and the Joint Communiqué. Only in this way can peace be restored and relations between our two countries be normalized. This is something that both of us wish for and that is beneficial both to you and to us. I think this second path is the wisest, the best way. How the situation would develop depends on your choice.
I have finished.
Dr. Kissinger: I was glad to note from the Special Advisor’s comments that his perspective on events has remained as unilateral as ever. And of course it will not surprise him that our perception of what happened after the Agreement is somewhat different. I confess I became a little uneasy during our negotiations last year when the Special Advisor did not want to use the words “will observe” the agreement [Page 1737] in Laos on the theory that North Viet-Nam had of course always carried out the 1962 agreement strictly. I was afraid the same thing was going to happen in South Viet-Nam.
Let me speak first about the relations between the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam and the United States. First, as I have often said to the Special Advisor, the United States would like to normalize its relationships with Hanoi. But we do not believe that this is a favor that the Democratic Republic is extending to the United States. It is either in our mutual interest or it will not happen. So we continue to be ready to normalize our relationship, we believe it is in the interest of both of our peoples, and we hope that the objective conditions to achieve this will come about.
Now, as for the specific conditions in South Viet-Nam, the Special Advisor says that the United States is Vietnamizing Viet-Nam. That is a strange criticism to make. It is true we want to turn over responsibilities to the Vietnamese. But whatever we have done has been strictly within the terms of the Agreement. The United States has replaced military equipment on a strictly one-to-one basis as provided for in Article 7. But the difficulty has been that since the first day of the Agreement there has been a consistent violation by the North Vietnamese side of Article 7, of Article 15, of Article 20, and of many other provisions of the Agreement.
During our talks in June the Special Advisor pointed out to me that all the movements we were observing concerned civilian goods, and I pointed out to him that for us it was very difficult to believe that Article 7 was being carried out when civilian goods were so valuable that they were being transported in tanks. Besides, we have found that the civilian goods that were being so transported . . . that the vehicles in which they were being transported were making the trip only once. They never seemed to go back to get more merchandise. And some of it seems to be transported inside artillery pieces, which is an inefficient means of transportation.
So our observation is that there has continued to be a very great increase of military forces, in serious violation of the Agreement. And naturally we ask ourselves what the purpose of these forces is. When we spoke of returning to their native land, we thought of moving north, not south. And this creates the impression to us that the Democratic Republic is planning military pressure.
The Special Advisor knows also that the provisions of Article 15 have never been observed. He also knows that the demarcation of zones of control has never been carried out.
I do not want to go through the whole Agreement, but I cannot accept the proposition that it is the United States side and the Saigon Government which have violated basic provisions of the Agreement. [Page 1738] If the United States has resumed some reconnaissance activities in recent weeks, it is precisely because the United States cannot accept any pressure such as has been implied by some of the statements of the Special Advisor here. We have enough experience with each other to know that military pressure cannot work and always produces a response.
We will not bring pressure on you, and we are confident that when you look back on the history of our dealings with each other you will not want to bring pressure on us.
The Special Advisor pointed out that we have two choices: to bring about peace in Indochina, or to have a continuation of the state of warfare. But really we have only one choice. Warfare has been tried for 10 years and it will be no more successful in the future than it has been in the past. So we must try to bring about peace.
Le Duc Tho: But how can we bring about peace?
Dr. Kissinger: The Special Advisor said that we should try to bring about a ceasefire, the healing of war wounds, and implementation of the Agreement. We agree with these objectives. And so the Special Advisor and we, who have surmounted many difficult problems, should look at it from the point of view of how we can bring about a turn in the direction of peace in Indochina. And it is with that attitude that I have come here for a preliminary exchange of views.
Ambassador Martin’s feelings have been very much hurt by what you said to him, Mr. Special Advisor. He is very sensitive. [Le Duc Tho smiles] But he is one of our best men, and anything we do that is in a common interest he will do his best to implement.
Le Duc Tho: [laughing] He has done his best recently, to bring about very serious developments in this situation.
Dr. Kissinger: I think you misjudge him completely. But of course our belief is that you have brought about the serious developments, quite frankly.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] Please finish your speech.
Dr. Kissinger: I have finished what I wanted to say at this moment.
Le Duc Tho: If now we review the situation since the conclusion of the Agreement, we should seriously tell that after the signing of the Agreement if the war continues in South Viet-Nam it is because the Saigon Administration with U.S. encouragement and assistance sticks to making war and continues to make war in South Viet-Nam. This is the real cause. The Agreement is aimed at ending the war. But if after the signing of the Agreement the U.S. and the Saigon Administration which received your encouragement and assistance, if they continue to make a war, then no peace will be possible. Because the Saigon Administration with your encouragement and assistance have [Page 1739] launched continuous military activities, and this is known to the whole world. And I have told you that in the face of such a situation we will not stand idle and let the Saigon Administration do whatever it likes. And in the past, the U.S. had great huge quantities of troops and armaments in South Viet-Nam and we fought against you. There is no reason now that with the Saigon Administration alone, the Provisional Revolutionary Government will stop fighting against the Saigon Administration.
Dr. Kissinger: That is what we think too. We think the Revolutionary Government and your government is fighting against the Saigon Government—but not because our side is starting it. We think your side is.
Le Duc Tho: You have reversed the facts. I wonder if you speak what you are really thinking.
Dr. Kissinger: What I am really thinking, Mr. Special Advisor, is that 86,000 people have moved south since January.
Le Duc Tho: Now I can tell you, if we continue this course of talking, I can speak to you for months—how you have introduced troops and equipment, what quantity of armaments, of tanks, of planes into South Viet-Nam, and how many million dollars you have been spending to maintain the Saigon troops. I will not continue now; I will give you some documents.
You say that you have been replacing armaments on the basis of one-to-one, piece for piece, but who has controlled it? Therefore I think that the principal, the fundamental cause of the situation is that if there is no peace in South Viet-Nam no other problems will be solved.
Dr. Kissinger: May I say one personal thing to the Special Advisor?
Le Duc Tho: Please.
Dr. Kissinger: It is a pity that we deprived the Norwegians of our dialogue, because we could have had a fascinating debate at the Nobel Award, absolutely unique in the history of that ceremony. [Laughter] Mr. Special Advisor, it is obvious . . . or did I interrupt you, Mr. Special Advisor? I don’t want to interrupt your train of thought.
Le Duc Tho: I have not yet finished.
Dr. Kissinger: Excuse me. Please.
Le Duc Tho: Because the situation is that the war is going on and you are introducing armaments and war material to encourage the Saigon Administration to continue the war. In such a situation how can we stand idle? While you are not implementing the Agreement and you are demanding us to respect the Agreement and to let the other side violate the Agreement, it is something unacceptable. Therefore I think that now that [on] the question to be settled in order to ameliorate the situation in South Viet-Nam, you are right when you say that there [Page 1740] is only one choice to make. I think also that there is only once choice. But I can frankly tell you that this way does not completely depend on us.
Now one question arises to be put before you. This question is whether the United States and the Saigon Administration really want to engage in the path of peace. I think that if really you want to choose this path, I think it would be easy to settle. But this cannot be expressed only in words but it must be materialized by concrete acts, by deeds. And I think that only in this way can we go forward toward the normalization of relations. We have no other desire than the recognition of the reality written down in the Agreement, the reality that there exist in South Viet-Nam two governments, two armies, two zones of control. Therefore we should create conditions for peace. And I am also of the view that only in this way can we bring about the normalization of relations between the United States and the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam. And you are right when you say that the normalization of relations between our two countries is beneficial to both of us—to the United States and to the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam.
Now please imagine that if the war goes on in South Viet-Nam and the United States will continue to assist the Saigon Administration in making war, and we, the DRV, we will have to continue to aid the PRG, and you know that we will not yield to you. We only submit to peace only, but we are determined to make war if need be. It is something very clear and evident. Therefore our view is that only in peace can other problems be solved. And then there will be conditions to facilitate the normalization of relations between our two countries. And then your contribution to healing the wounds of war will be beneficial to the United States and to the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam, and only then can we usher in a new period.
And if the war goes on where will we arrive at? But if the Saigon Administration, with your encouragement and assistance, continues the war in an attempt to wipe out the reality of two governments, two armies, two zones of control in South Viet-Nam, then we are determined to counter these maneuvers and we are obliged to make the Saigon Administration give up these objectives. We have been fighting over the past 18 years, we have been fighting against U.S. aggression for 18 years, and if we count also our struggle against the French colonialists, it is about 28 years now.
Dr. Kissinger: It has almost become a habit with the Special Advisor to fight. The Special Advisor has become so used to fighting that he finds it difficult to imagine peace.
Le Duc Tho: It is not true. We sign the Agreement with the purpose of having peace. You know that we have been at war for 25 years. There is our desire to have peace. That is the reason we signed the [Page 1741] Agreement and this is the aspiration of our people. But our people have also another desire, an aspiration: our people will be determined to fight back against whoever wants to oppress our people, to subdue our people. Therefore once we are faced now with one problem—what to do to achieve peace. We have to discuss this.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: And we should also discuss what to do to create conditions for the normalization of relations, and, as you said, to create objective conditions for the normalization. I don’t know what you have in mind when you say “I agree.”
Dr. Kissinger: It is just that I have learned from the Special Advisor that everything depends on objective conditions and not on subjective belief.
Le Duc Tho: But I want to know what you mean by the objective conditions.
Dr. Kissinger: Remember the Three-Point Elaboration by the Special Advisor?
Le Duc Tho: I do.
Dr. Kissinger: Are you finished?
Le Duc Tho: I have.
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, in all seriousness, you have fought 25 years very heroically, as I have often said to you, and you know that while we sometimes joke with each other there is a great deal of respect on our side. No one has earned the right to peace more than the people of Viet-Nam, North or South. If our objective is peace, and if we are serious about it on both sides, and if our objective is to end acts of war, we can find a way of doing it. If our objective is, however, just to gain a pause in our struggle and to improve our tactical situation and to gain tactical advantages, then neither of us can succeed. We have proved that to each other now for over 10 years. We know you will not yield to pressure. You have proved that through a long and distinguished history as a people and you have proved it through an enormously courageous history in the last generation. And in our own complicated way, we also will not yield to pressure. So if either side brings pressure, the other will resist.
Le Duc Tho: But who is making pressure? Who continues the war?
Dr. Kissinger: It is our impression, Mr. Special Advisor, that you have not observed the military provisions of the Agreement for one day since it was signed. I don’t want to be insulting, but this is our impression. And that produces the objective tendency of pressure.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] But I wonder if the objective pressure comes from your side.[Page 1742]
Dr. Kissinger: The Special Advisor spoke about the introduction of war matériel. We have been prepared to deploy the teams, but it has been the other side that has not permitted the establishment of checkpoints. The Special Advisor said that the United States and its allies should respect the zones of control. Let me say first that we are prepared to do this, and to encourage it, and we believe that the Saigon Government is also. We should use the existing machinery to bring that about. We are prepared to bring about a strict observation, to encourage a strict observation of the ceasefire.
As regards the objective conditions for normalization of relations between us, when the Agreement is observed, including Article 20, all other problems will solve themselves very easily. And then all the objectives we have set for ourselves for normalization can be achieved.
One of the problems that concerns our families is better cooperation for the missing, for the finding and accounting for the missing in action.
So this is our present thinking, and I wonder if the Special Advisor has some concrete proposals which he might like to put forward, and if he also might be willing to consider a five-minute break.
Le Duc Tho: Please.
[The plenary meeting recessed at 10:55 a.m. After approximately five minutes, Secretary Kissinger, accompanied by Graham Martin and David Engel, walked down the corridor to meet privately with Le Duc Tho and Phan Hien. The private meeting, which lasted about 50 minutes, went as follows:]
Dr. Kissinger: If you are genuinely interested in the delineation of the zones of control and in stopping the fighting, we can arrange this. We can do it through direct talks between the DRV and Saigon, and we can use our influence. Then we can use the existing machinery. But if all you are interested in is tactical maneuvers, neither of us can fool each other. We know each other too well. Or maybe you can fool me, but I certainly cannot fool you.
Le Duc Tho: If peace is to become an objective for both sides, there will be no tactical manuevers.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: But if you engage in tactical maneuvers you cannot ask us to stop fighting.
Dr. Kissinger: The same thing is true the other way around. It is true for both sides.
Le Duc Tho: That is right.
Dr. Kissinger: But seriously, Ambassador Martin is a very serious man. His judgment is that if you are interested in peace and zones of control, this can be achieved. Some progress can be made if we restrict our topics to those issues. If you are concerned about U.S. war materials [Page 1743] and you are prepared to have inspection on your side, we are prepared to live strictly by the terms of the Agreement.
Le Duc Tho: If one wants to solve the situation in Viet-Nam, what is the crucial question? You have turned the two questions upside down by putting the questions of the introduction of war materials and zones of control first before the ceasefire. This cannot be achieved. And the crucial question, as I have said, is that of a ceasefire and the strict implementation of all ceasefire provisions of the Agreement. That is, first, to end the war and then to discuss zones of control.
Dr. Kissinger: Can we be specific? You emphasized strict observance of the ceasefire. What do you mean?
Le Duc Tho: We should stick to the provisions of the Agreement and the Protocols which are clearly stated. If these provisions are not respected, how can we have peace? After the ceasefire each side will remain in its zone of control. This is specified in the Agreement. Only then can there be control and the deployment of the teams.
Dr. Kissinger: I don’t exclude that approach, but taking account of this difficulty; we are prepared to discuss your ideas today on how the ceasefire can be established, keeping in mind some provision for the temporary delineation of the zones of control and then going toward permanent teams. But I agree with you about ceasefire as the principal objective.
Le Duc Tho: But can the ceasefire be achieved immediately? We signed the Joint Communiqué specifying a ceasefire within 24 hours, but the Saigon side continued the fighting. The same thing happened after we signed the Agreement. This has caused a great deal of mistrust.
Dr. Kissinger: My impression is that even after the ceasefire last time there was a very significant reduction in military activities for some months. But last time we confused the issue by introducing lots of extraneous circumstances that created a great deal of suspicion and bad feeling on both sides and affected everything else. So if now we concentrate on more limited subject matter and discuss procedures which would bring about a sense of participation by those parties who have to implement the Agreement, then we can be more successful.
Le Duc Tho: First, about the South Viet-Nam problem. To have peace you must first observe a ceasefire in keeping with the Agreement and Protocols. I think we should limit ourselves to this problem first of all. When the ceasefire is effective it will create a favorable atmosphere and there will be no more clashes. The parties will discuss the questions of delineation of zones of control and how the teams will be located.
Dr. Kissinger: But how can you determine a ceasefire if there is no concept of zones of control?[Page 1744]
Le Duc Tho: Under the Agreement and Protocols the forces remain in place in the zone under their control. You remember when we were still at war with each other there were occasional truces which lasted for a few days. The question is, do you really want a ceasefire? If so, a ceasefire can be effective. Then the control teams will be deployed. The zones of control are already clear except for some contested areas. If both sides have the common desire for a ceasefire, a ceasefire will be possible. But if you indulge in only tactical maneuvers, the fighting will go on.
Dr. Kissinger: You too.
Le Duc Tho: That is right. But the prime question is, will Saigon want to do this? It was clear after the Agreement was signed that Saigon did not want to do this. The restoration of peace will be beneficial to all.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: Suppose there were peace in South Viet-Nam, then you could devote money that you have been spending for arms to build your economy. Our relations can be different.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: That is the path we want to follow, but we wonder whether you and Saigon will follow the same path. There still remains distrust between you and us which was caused by past developments. So you should prove your desire to follow that path and go toward normalization of our relations.
Dr. Kissinger: If you are genuinely interested in a ceasefire which would lead very rapidly to the delineation of zones of control, if we set that as the principal objective and we do this with the full participation of those who have to implement it, it can be achieved. I agree with your perspective. We should concentrate on reconstruction instead of war, normalization instead of conflict. We will sincerely cooperate in this effort.
Le Duc Tho: I have told you this many times. Your visit to Hanoi was an expression of our intention. To our regret this could not have been achieved this year. I think that looking at the general world situation, ending the war in Viet-Nam is in conformity with the aspirations of the world’s peoples.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: So what shall we do now? If we fail again for the third time, the fighting will continue. We have a Vietnamese saying, “Twice yes, but not a third time.” There can be breaches of faith on two occasions but not a third time. We have already had two experiences with the Agreement and with the Joint Communiqué. If we can’t settle now, it will be impossible. The distrust between us is already [Page 1745] serious. If there is a third time it will be complete. You should start taking steps and we will see. You have not yet started, so how can we see?
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, we honestly believe—and I tell you this in our small group—that we have been decieved. So the serious problem of distrust exists on our side also.
Le Duc Tho: We always feel we have been deceived.
Dr. Kissinger: You may have a real problem there, your perception of reality. I must say we have made progress in five years. You threaten us now in a much nicer way than previously.
Le Duc Tho: How can I threaten you? How can we exert military pressure on you?
Dr. Kissinger: What should we do. Do you have a concrete proposal with you? I think so.
Le Duc Tho: I have come here just for one day according to our agreement. So that is all I have to say. Speaking concretely, what can we settle now?
Dr. Kissinger: We shouldn’t go through the same process as last time, where we had three-cornered negotiations for two months. I think the following things can be done: first, an immediate reduction of hostilities and, second, achievement of a permanent ceasefire coupled with the delineation of zones of control. We could both use our influence to move to a reduction of hostilities. Then I would like to send Ambassador Martin back to Saigon to get ideas of how a permanent ceasefire can be worked out using existing machinery. Then I will have him come to Washington for full discussions with me. Then we will give you our ideas on how to proceed. But I can agree with you now that that is a desirable and obtainable objective and it shouldn’t take too long.
Le Duc Tho: You speak of reduction of hostilities. This surprises me. Now there are only two possibilities—either we stop the fighting or we continue to fight. The Agreement and the Joint Communiqué have fixed the ceasefire. In South Viet-Nam they have to discuss and implement the ceasefire provisions of the Agreement and deploy teams to ensure a ceasefire and the delineation of the zones of control. The ceasefire is first, then they can discuss delineation. Not the reduction of hostilities, but a ceasefire.
Dr. Kissinger: Maybe I did not make myself clear. Until we have a complete ceasefire, both sides should exercise restraint informally. But if that bothers you, we can forget it.
Le Duc Tho: We are here to discuss the modalities of a ceasefire. If a ceasefire is the desire of both sides, it will be attainable. Immediately after a ceasefire and the control machinery is in place, we can discuss zones of control.[Page 1746]
But another problem is the problem of the release of political prisoners. I think we should discuss just these two problems. As for the others, we will let the National Council solve them.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: Discussion of these two questions is practical. Let us see what we can solve. After a ceasefire there must be implementation of democratic liberties. As far as North Viet-Nam is concerned, I raise only two points. First, after the ceasefire your reconnaissance should stop.
Dr. Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: It should stop even before, because the DRV is a sovereign country. But the main problem is that of healing the wounds of war. This has to be done in order to normalize our relations and it is in our mutual interest. So let us realistically discuss these questions. I agree with you on procedures for discussions: let the two South Vietnamese parties discuss the details. You will have a responsibility for Saigon to carry out the agreements that we will reach, and we have the same responsibility toward our allies. This will avoid the complicated procedures of last time signing the Agreement and the Joint Communiqué, etc. There are many problems in the Agreement, but let us concentrate on these problems.
Dr. Kissinger: I think we should avoid discussion of any political problems. It will open up all the problems of last time. How should we use our time today?
Le Duc Tho: The morning is almost over. In the afternoon we have only two hours. I don’t know how you intend to proceed.
Dr. Kissinger: I have the impression you have brought another paper with you.
Le Duc Tho: No, because you said we would meet for only one day. I know you have a lot of work to do. I told you that we should have a meeting over several days.
Dr. Kissinger: With the Middle East negotiations, I only have one day. I appreciate the great courtesy of the Special Advisor in traveling for five days for a one-day meeting. I consider it a sign of good will.
Le Duc Tho: I wish to recall that on the 19th the PRG released the last American they were holding. That is one day before our meeting.
Dr. Kissinger: I appreciate that. I had meant to refer to it.
Le Duc Tho: I am not talking about tens of thousands of political prisoners in South Viet-Nam but only of the 5,000 that Saigon promised to release but has not released yet, and especially the detention regime in South Viet-Nam. I read the report of Branfman to the House of Representatives which was a complete report of detention conditions. He said there were 200,000 political prisoners. He spoke of tortures, [Page 1747] etc. This is intolerable. We cannot ignore it. It is a violation of the provisions of the Agreement. I don’t now say that all these should be released. I am just now talking about an improvement of detention conditions. You promised this. I am taking advantage of Ambassador Martin’s presence here since he is going to return to Saigon in a few days. Let us see what results there are. It is a humanitarian question.
Ambassador Martin: As you recall, Secretary Kissinger told you in June that he would instruct me to make a special point of the prisoners when I am in Saigon. As always, I carried out his instructions. I found that Saigon was willing to proceed with the exchange of 5,000 prisoners. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps you do. There was never agreement on the points of return.
Le Duc Tho: There was no problem on points for return.
Ambassador Martin: Apparently your people in the Four-Party and Two-Party Commissions have not yet received their instructions. But you talked of the Branfman report. Also Don Luce and Cora Weiss have recently visited the DRV and the PRG zones of control. Perhaps it is thought that this is a good way to propagandize your charges. But these charges are almost wholly without any foundation. Concerning the numbers, we both know that is not true. What does concern me is that these activities of Branfman, Weiss and Luce will make it extraordinarily difficult for Secretary Kissinger to move on the question of economic aid for the DRV.
Le Duc Tho: My reply could be very long. There are many reports on the numbers of people being detained. The conditions of detention are obvious, not as you say. But I will give you documentation of this. Any man of good conscience must judge it intolerable.
Dr. Kissinger: As I understand it, your concerns are ceasefire, the delineation of the zones of control, and the 5,000 prisoners. I suggest that since I must leave in a few minutes we meet again at 2:00 to discuss concretely how to proceed, and also perhaps discuss Laos and Cambodia—since I don’t want to offend the Special Advisor and I know you would be offended if we did not cover that even briefly.
Le Duc Tho: It is your constant concern.
Dr. Kissinger: In 1939, the German Ambassador in London told Churchill, “The next war will be different because we will have the Italians on our side.” Churchill said “That is only fair, since we had them on our side during the last war.” I want to suggest to the Special Advisor that since you have had Sihanouk for three years, maybe you should give him to us for three years. Why don’t you think about it for this afternoon?
[The private meeting ended at approximately 11:55 a.m. and Dr. Kissinger’s party left the Hotel Majestic.]
[The formal meeting reconvened at 2:15 p.m.][Page 1748]
Resumption of Formal Meeting
Dr. Kissinger: Tomorrow I have to deal with three Arab countries as well as your allies.
Le Duc Tho: And also I am told that Syria will not attend.
Dr. Kissinger: That’s right, only two Arabs.
Le Duc Tho: It will be easier than the Vietnamese [laughter]. It will not take five years to solve.
Dr. Kissinger: We hope that those parties don’t fight as obstinately as the Vietnamese. [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: This morning at our private talks we have exchanged views on a number of questions. [Tho takes out paper.]
Dr. Kissinger: See, I knew he had another paper!
Le Duc Tho: I am always prepared. [Pointing to Dr. Kissinger’s briefing book.] You have a file even thicker than mine.
Dr. Kissinger: True, but that is all your misdeeds, while you have only a proposal.
Le Duc Tho: We have a very thick record of your misdeeds.
Dr. Kissinger: Of my misdeeds?
Le Duc Tho: Of your responsibility. [Laughter]
Dr. Kissinger: Of my misdeeds. Perhaps the Special Advisor will give me the file when I write my autobiography.
Le Duc Tho: At this meeting with you, my intention is to review the general situation, and to find out measures which will ensure the strict implementation of the Agreement and the Joint Communiqué. And on the basis of the strict implementation of the Agreement and the Joint Communiqué we will shift to a new period to end the period of hostility.
Please now, let me raise the questions we are faced with, questions that we have to settle in keeping with the Agreement. These questions are concerning all the four parties, and the responsibility to implement the Agreement and the Joint Communiqué is the responsibilities of all the four parties. I will raise problems concerning North Viet-Nam, then problems concerning South Viet-Nam, to facilitate measures.
Now what problems concern North Viet-Nam? I think there are two. First, U.S. air reconnaissance activities over North Viet-Nam. I think that in this connection there is nothing to agree upon now because this is a question we had agreed upon previously. You should now put an end to these air reconnaissance flights over North Viet-Nam, because these actions are in violation of our sovereignty and in violation of all principles of international law. I think that those air reconnaissance flights must be ended.
Now the second problem is your responsibility with regard to Article 21. It is also a debt you have to pay to us after so many years [Page 1749] of destruction of our country. The payment of this debt is beneficial not only to us but to you, because it will lead to the normalization of relations between our two countries. And it will redeem to some extent the honor of the United States, and to recompense to some extent the destructions caused to our people. But so far I have noted that you are procrastinating on these questions and you are putting political conditions for bargaining. This is contrary to your commitment that the U.S. contribution will have no political conditions attached. Therefore I think there is no reason for you to prolong this question because almost everything has been agreed upon on this problem.
The other day you said that the Joint Economic Commission should resume its activity. But since everything has been agreed, so if the Commission resumes now it is for signature of the documents. Therefore I think that if the Joint Economic Commission is to resume its work it is for the purpose of concluding the documents.
If you drag on all the questions and delay the implementation of the Agreement, no basis can be laid for normalization of the relationship. I think even if in his term, if President Nixon does not carry out his obligation, I think that for a future President we will insist upon the fulfillment of your obligation.
These are two questions concerning the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam. The following questions concern South Viet-Nam.
First, I think it is of paramount importance to observe the ceasefire and to implement all provisions of the Agreement and the Joint Communiqué concerning the ceasefire, and the Protocols concerning the ceasefire. If the war goes on in South Viet-Nam, then the normalization of relations between us is impossible, and no other problems can be solved if the war goes on. If the Saigon Administration which received your encouragement and assistance accepts the ceasefire, then the South Vietnamese People’s Liberation Armed Forces will be prepared to stop fighting. The army and the people of South Viet-Nam have no reason at all to continue the war. On the contrary, if the Saigon Administration continues the war with your encouragement and assistance, as I told you this morning, we have no other way to do it. Our people in South Viet-Nam will be determined to fight back, and defeat will certainly be on the side of the Saigon Administration which receives your support.
So the developments of the situation in South Viet-Nam depend on your side.
Now, for the second question. The second question, an important one, is the question of U.S. military personnel disguised as civilians left behind in South Viet-Nam by the United States. You undertook that you would pull them out within 10 months, the greater part of them, and within one year all of them. Now nearly that year is drawing to its close and the U.S. personnel still remain in South Viet-Nam in [Page 1750] great numbers. To our knowledge, as we have informed you in our message to you, the number is over 20,000. In your message addressed to me you said this number was only 4,000. But for that much, for 4,000, there is no justification for their remaining in South Viet-Nam after the time limit that they would be withdrawn. In your last message you linked this question of U.S. personnel with the so-called question of North Vietnamese troops.
Dr. Kissinger: With the so-called question, or the so-called North Vietnamese troops?
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] You can call this question as you like. I think if you pose the question in this way it is incorrect. I do not like to elaborate on this point because I have dealt with these questions at length throughout our five years of negotiations. So you should now abide by the understanding, your commitment with us.
The third question, the illegal introduction of armaments into South Viet-Nam. I have spoken about this question this morning.
Dr. Kissinger: Which question?
Le Duc Tho: Illegal introduction of armaments into South Viet-Nam.
Dr. Kissinger: From the north?
Le Duc Tho: From Washington.
The third question is the question of Vietnamese civilian personnel captured in South Viet-Nam. I have spoken about this question at length too.
Dr. Kissinger: Oh yes.
Le Duc Tho: So I think I have nothing to add on this. I will give you documents about the number of the political detainees and about the prison regime in South Viet-Nam. I think that you should also implement your pledges to me in this connection.
As to the missing-in-action, I think that both of us should implement this provision. But I have an idea about this question, that you are unwilling to return the alive people, but you insist upon the return of the dead.
These are urgent questions which need solutions. As to the political problems of South Viet-Nam, these are also questions which we should discuss and come to an agreement, and the two South Vietnamese parties will also discuss them and implement them—the democratic liberties, the National Council of National Reconciliation and Concord, the question of general elections.
Finally, there is another question, the budget of the ICCS. I thought that the troop withdrawal would be completed within 60 days of the signing of the Agreement and the political problems of South Viet-[Page 1751]Nam would take 90 days after the signing of the Agreement, and then the ICCS would have been dissolved and no longer exist. But now the existence of the ICCS is prolonged and the expenditure incurred by the ICCS is too big. Besides, the amount you have raised about the annual expenditures of the ICCS is $35 million U.S. dollars a year. So each signatory party will have to contribute $8 million per year. We ourselves, we cannot afford such an amount. Because frankly speaking we can’t afford such an amount, let alone the PRG. How can it afford to produce such a great amount of money? So I think now that the United States will pay all of the expenditures of the ICCS.
Dr. Kissinger: Are you offering that as a concession? Well, I tell you, if we pay the expenditures we want a written understanding that the Hungarians and Poles have to do what we tell them. We thought they had voted with you because you had paid for half and those were the two that you owned.
Le Duc Tho: Frankly speaking, Mr. Secretary, it is impossible for us to give money indefinitely for the ICCS for an unlimited time. It is an unbearable burden for us.
Dr. Kissinger: I am amazed when I consider how much devotion the Special Advisor gave to that section, Chapter VI. I can tell you gave more thought to that than to almost any other Section. Certainly longer than any other Section.
Le Duc Tho: It is an impossible burden. It does not mean that we do not want the activities. You will lend us money then and you will deduct the money from the contribution for the healing of war wounds.
Dr. Kissinger: There is a provision in here drawn from the Prussian Constitution of 1864, that if the new budget is not agreed to, the old one continues.
Le Duc Tho: That is true, but even the old budget is impossible for us to pay this.
Dr. Kissinger: I understand. We will look into that and we will give you our views.
Le Duc Tho: Frankly speaking, when I negotiated with you this question I did not think that the amount of money was so big. If I had an idea of the amount of the money to be spent, I would have proposed that the U.S. cover all the expenses. But it is a big amount for us. And in the meantime you do not carry out the provisions on the U.S. contribution on the healing the war wounds, and in these conditions it is impossible for us. In particular, the PRG, they have no money.
Dr. Kissinger: It has no taxation base. [Laughter on both sides.]
How is Madame Binh?
Le Duc Tho: She is now in the Soviet Union. It is one question I raise to you in a very frank way.[Page 1752]
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, I recognize that this does present difficulties. I will look into it as soon as I come back to Washington. We will approach it in a positive spirit, and I will let you have my views.
Le Duc Tho: Time is short, and I have a number of questions. We have to see which questions we can solve, which questions should be settled first and which questions should follow. So I have just raised the questions. Please now let me know your views and we shall see how we should proceed.
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, I appreciate the spirit in which you have spoken. And I want to add again to what I said this morning, to repeat again what I said this morning. We both really have only one choice, and that is to make peace. And that will be our attitude.
I appreciate also that the Special Advisor mentioned the list of topics that concern him but put emphasis on those that are susceptible of relatively rapid solution.
First, on reconnaissance—among the issues that concern the DRV and the U.S., that is between ourselves—reconnaissance in the context of a ceasefire in which also the problem of infiltration is taken seriously will be no problem.
As for Article 21, I believe that as our work progresses here we can arrange a resumption of the Commission.
Now the Special Advisor also mentioned a number of issues that concern South Viet-Nam. One of the complaints I may make about the Special Advisor is that he always gets his allies incensed against me and they come to see me about the 24,000 military personnel that are in South Viet-Nam. We never send our allies in to complain against him.
We don’t have 24,000 military personnel; we don’t even have 4,000 military personnel. We have 4,000 Americans, most of whom are civilians permitted by the Agreement. As for the illegal introduction of war matériel, what makes it illegal, Mr. Special Advisor, is that you have refused to establish checkpoints, which therefore makes everything appear illegal. But the solution is to establish checkpoints, which is in your power to have established. But I really think your intelligence information about that is wrong, is very poor, because we have no people engaged in combat or paramilitary activities.
That leaves three problems which the Special Advisor mentioned, which are capable of solution. He mentioned two, but I will add a third. One is the strict implementation of the ceasefire. The second is delineation of zones of control. The third has to do with the 5,000 Vietnamese civilians captured in South Viet-Nam.
With respect to the last point, I will have to await Ambassador Martin’s return to Saigon and we will be in touch with you about it very quickly. Of course there will have to be some reciprocity, but we will put that . . .[Page 1753]
About the ceasefire and delimitation of zones of control. Mr. Special Advisor, let me tell you my evaluation of the problem. Each time we have proclaimed a ceasefire, each side tried to grab as much territory as it could just before the ceasefire. And then whichever side lost territory spent the next weeks trying to get it back. So the ceasefire led first of all to an upsurge of military activity, and then to a period of more intense activity to try to undo the consequences of the ceasefire. So the ceasefire has had the paradoxical consequence of accelerating military activity.
Do you think we could get a window open, Mr. Special Advisor? We are obviously not suffering from an energy crisis in this room. If you agree, Mr. Special Advisor.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] I agree.
Dr. Kissinger: It is warm.
Le Duc Tho: Because if I don’t agree, then both of us will be asphyxiated [laughter].
Dr. Kissinger: Then we will go together. We will do something in common that we agreed to do. [Mr. Smyser gets up to open the window, which turns out to be locked. He goes out for assistance.]
Now therefore it is important that before there is a ceasefire, or simultaneously with a ceasefire, there is some idea of the location of the areas of control.
I notice Mr. Hien has a piece of paper. Are we going to get this before the end of the meeting?
The Special Advisor never commits all of his reserves at once. I’ve learned this.
[Mr. Smyser returns with a Frenchman, who manages to open the window.] I think it will require a decision by the Conseil d’Etat.
Therefore, I believe finally, one of the difficulties has been, in the last ceasefire, that we spent so much time drafting the document with so little participation from the parties in South Viet-Nam which principally had to carry it out, that the incentive to carry it out was not sufficient.
So let me agree with the Special Advisor on the desirability of an early ceasefire, and one that this time will be strictly implemented. But let me also ask the Special Advisor how he would propose to solve the problem to prevent either side from trying to grab territory just before the ceasefire. In other words, how would we know who is where?
Le Duc Tho: Have you finished?
Dr. Kissinger: Yes.
Le Duc Tho: I have made preliminary statements today to Mr. Secretary, because it is not yet the moment to go into the problems because we have no time. Because the problem needs discussion to come to concrete agreement. Only in this way can we solve the problem.[Page 1754]
So let me now make some comments on the views you have just expressed. I will answer you one by one in the order you have adopted.
There is no reason that these reconnaissance flights should continue, and there is no reason for you to link the reconnaissance flights over North Viet-Nam with what you call the infiltration of armaments from the north into the south. These reconnaissance flights constitute violations of the sovereignty of our country. So no country can allow itself to engage in such activities.
Regarding Article 21, we can discuss the resumption of the Commission. But everything has been agreed to at the Joint Commission. There are some of the questions which were deferred for further discussions, but those questions on which agreement have been reached [sic], so the reconvening of the Commission should be only for the purpose of the signing of the agreed document.
Now regarding the question of U.S. personnel disguised as civilians, we have evidence, we have documents, we have reliable sources on this question. These documents come from U.S. Defense Ministry. I will give you the documents, to save time. And a number of . . .
Dr. Kissinger: But who wrote the document?
Le Duc Tho: Secretary Schlesinger, answering questions of the Military Committee, the Committee of the Senate.
Dr. Kissinger: Of our Commission?
Le Duc Tho: Yes, the figure he gave here is not 24,000, but it is not as little as 4,000. And there are ample reports from the U.S. press.
Dr. Kissinger: But you are quoting your own people. Cora Weiss wouldn’t know what is going on.
Le Duc Tho: You are always thinking of Mrs. Cora Weiss, speaking about Mrs. Cora Weiss. [Laughter]
Dr. Kissinger: Madame Binh also. I am interested in women.
Le Duc Tho: I will give you the papers. Because you have undertaken to pull them out. Now there are only a couple of ten days or more left, and even for 4,000 military personnel, the time limit is over.
Dr. Kissinger: Wait a minute, Mr. Special Advisor. One thing that worries me is that you may actually believe these figures. I would not worry if I were convinced that they were only said for propaganda. Because the figures are absolutely wrong.
First of all, the 4,000 figure we gave you is not military personnel either. That is all Americans engaged in any activity that is even vaguely related to the Government. Very few are military personnel, very few—that’s less than 500.
Le Duc Tho: In your message you told me that there are over 3,000 military personnel remaining in South Vietnam for the maintenance of equipment.[Page 1755]
Dr. Kissinger: Civilian personnel taking care of equipment.
Le Duc Tho: But the maintenance of military equipment. So I don’t know whether Mr. Schlesinger, the U.S. Defense Secretary made a wrong statement when he said that.
Dr. Kissinger: The military?
Le Duc Tho: The U.S. Defense Secretary, although the figure he gave was less than 24,000.
Dr. Kissinger: OK, I understand. I will look into it again.
Le Duc Tho: Regarding the introduction of war matériel into South Viet-Nam, you said that it was necessary to have some checkpoints. We have no objection to have checkpoints. But after the ceasefire, then the checkpoints will be decided and control will be organized.
Now, regarding the three questions. The ceasefire, I speak about the ceasefire first. When the war is still going on and there is not yet a ceasefire, the belligerent parties cannot be prevented from making an effort to make advance. What is important is that when the ceasefire becomes effective, then the parties should remain there, in place. And I remember one provision in the Joint Communiqué, that when the ceasefire becomes effective, then the troops of each side should return to the position they occupied before January 28. So the provisions of the Agreement and the Joint Communiqué are very clear. But after the ceasefire comes into effect, no party has the right to launch land-grabbing operations.
Dr. Kissinger: But what I am trying to prevent is land-grabbing operations before it goes into effect.
Le Duc Tho: It would be difficult because there is not yet a ceasefire order. So it is difficult to prevent them from engaging in military activity. But when the ceasefire order comes into effect, they have to stop. And those troops who have launched land-grabbing operations after January 28, they will have to return to their positions occupied previously to January 28.
So in my view, after the ceasefire, the zones of control will be delineated. All the modalities of the ceasefire must be respected, and then the control forces will be deployed, then the ceasefire will be effective. And then we will discuss about delineation of the zones of control, and other problems. Because there are many other problems in the ceasefire protocols.
Regarding the 5,000 political detainees: When you visited Hanoi you told me that they would be released in a few days time, and afterwards the two South Vietnamese parties have agreed on the stages of the release of these prisoners. But until now the releases have not taken place. So they have to be released. It is something agreed to. But thousands of other prisoners are to be released too. And I would like [Page 1756] to say that not only prisoners captured before January 28 but also those captured after January 28, the parties should exchange a list of those prisoners, both military prisoners and civilian prisoners, and exchange.
So I have answered you point by point, the questions you raised.
Dr. Kissinger: Well, it doesn’t answer the question of how to avoid the problem of each of the previous two documents, where there were extensive land-grabbing operations just before the ceasefire. Why could the two parties not be instructed to get together to make a preliminary delimitation as of some date, and on the basis of that, declare a ceasefire? See, what I am trying to prevent is that one side starts a big offensive and then suddenly calls for a ceasefire.
Le Duc Tho: Because your proposal is contrary to the provisions of the Agreement and the Protocols we have agreed to. To avoid these other things, we will discuss all those other things before we come to the ceasefire.
Dr. Kissinger: Say that again?
Le Duc Tho: We should discuss all the questions relating to the implementation of the Agreement, then we agree on the order of a ceasefire, and then discuss the modalities of the ceasefire—the position of troops, the delineation of the zones of control, etc.
Dr. Kissinger: Well, it depends who is going to do this. Our view is it should be done between the PRG and the Saigon Government, in established machinery.
Le Duc Tho: No, I think that you and I should discuss all questions, including the question of a ceasefire then.
Dr. Kissinger: The Special Advisor and I?
Mr. Phuong: Yes.
Dr. Kissinger: I don’t know whether my nervous constitution is up to discussing with four Arab countries and the Israelis and the Special Advisor all in one time frame. [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: I have nothing to do with the Middle East. [Laughter]
Dr. Kissinger: But I do!
Le Duc Tho: Yes, you have to share your mind five or six ways. Your work is very tiring, very hard, and you have to travel a lot.
Dr. Kissinger: I have to tell the Special Advisor about the splendid organization of the new Department which I have the honor of heading. In early September a friend of mine from New York wrote me a letter congratulating me on my appointment to my new position. In the middle of November he received a reply thanking him for his helpful advice on the Middle East and he should approach me at any time if he has any advice on that subject! So if you ever get a document on Jerusalem, send it back to me, it’s a mistake. [Laughter][Page 1757]
Le Duc Tho: I do receive a great many letters from the United States. All kinds of letters.
Dr. Kissinger: You do, Mr. Special Advisor? But I am sure you answer them more intelligently than I do. But may I make this suggestion, Mr. Special Advisor? We agree in principle that there should be an effective ceasefire. Let us make that understanding. And a ceasefire that should be fully implemented this time.
We will contact you within two weeks, within the first part of January, to give you concrete proposals on how to bring this about. And we will both think about the modalities to meet each other’s concerns. Because I agree with what the Special Advisor said to me when we met privately, that it should not fail a third time.
Le Duc Tho: I think that early in January when you make a proposal, you should not consider only the question of the ceasefire but all the questions I have raised to you.
Dr. Kissinger: I understand, and we can then decide which questions are more appropriate for the Special Advisor and me to discuss and which subjects would be more appropriate for the parties concerned to discuss.
And so we shall perhaps leave today’s discussion on Viet-Nam at that. I will cover all of the items that the Special Advisor raised with me, in my reply.
But before we break up, I know the Special Advisor would feel sad if I did not give him an opportunity to express himself on his two favorite countries on which he has spent so much time and energy—Laos and Cambodia. We are utterly puzzled why the North Vietnamese keep building new roads in Laos when they are planning to leave it. But if the Special Advisor has any other points on Viet-Nam, we should listen . . . [He gestures to the Special Advisor to continue.]
Le Duc Tho: Regarding Viet-Nam, I would like to recall the question of military personnel disguised as civilians. You said that you would look into the question. But I would like to remind you that you should abide by the pledge you have given me that all military personnel should be completely withdrawn from South Viet-Nam and that no troops would be introduced, no new ones, into Viet-Nam. I recall the understanding, your undertaking, and remind you of that.
Dr. Kissinger: Yes, I understand this. But this is of course in the context of the implementation of the Agreement.
Le Duc Tho: [laughing] You link this matter. There has been an undertaking on your part regarding the time limit.
Dr. Kissinger: Yes, but there has been an undertaking on your part not to infiltrate military personnel, and 87,000 have come down into South Viet-Nam.[Page 1758]
Le Duc Tho: No, you cannot link one question with the other, because during our discussion you have made this undertaking and now the time limit is nearing a close, so the personnel should be withdrawn.
Dr. Kissinger: Well, first of all, we don’t have any military personnel disguised as civilians.
Le Duc Tho: One side say that there are such personnel, the other side says there is not. It will take the whole day.
Dr. Kissinger: We have civilians disguised as civilians.
Le Duc Tho: The main thing is implementation of one’s pledges.
Dr. Kissinger: I will see how much personnel would be covered by this understanding, and then I will give you a view. Because many of the figures I gave you this would not apply to.
Le Duc Tho: You should stick to the understanding, the commitment you have made in the paper.
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, it is an interesting thing to say that an unsigned understanding must be strictly implemented, but that signed provisions of the Agreement can be completely ignored.
Le Duc Tho: By the Agreement and by your undertaking, the U.S. will cease its military involvement and its intervention in South Viet-Nam. If now you maintain those personnel, it will mean that you remain involved in South Viet-Nam.
Dr. Kissinger: But my point is that it is not possible to apply this Agreement only partially.
Le Duc Tho: No, this is one of the questions I have raised. But if you say so, I can raise so many other questions where you have not sticked to the provisions of the Agreement. But here it is the question that after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Viet-Nam there is no reason that the U.S. will still maintain its military personnel in South Viet-Nam. Because if so, you will continue to help the Saigon Administration make war.
Dr. Kissinger: I understand the Special Advisor’s point, and I will look into it. I will have to review to what numbers it applies.
Le Duc Tho: Please consider it.
Dr. Kissinger: Yes.
Le Duc Tho: Now, about the resumption of the Joint Economic Commission. The other day you said about its resumption in early December. In my reply I said that we will decide the date of the resumption when we meet. But my view is that when the commission is reconvened it should preliminarily sign the agreed document. There is no point to reconvene the Commission if you will seek the prolongation of the work of the Commission and you are still unwilling to sign [Page 1759] the Agreement. There is no point. But I think that there should not be further prolongation of the Commission. That is my view.
Dr. Kissinger: Our experts think that the work has to be reviewed to be adapted to current circumstances. Mr. Williams, who represented us, was on a trip when I left. I will meet with him next week when I return and I will propose a specific date and terms of reference.
Le Duc Tho: All right.
Dr. Kissinger: So, to sum up, we will propose to you our ideas. We have agreed in principle on the desirability of a new ceasefire. We will give our ideas on how we can bring it about, keeping in mind all our concerns.
We will give you our ideas on Article 8(c) and on Article 21.
Le Duc Tho: You are finished now, Mr. Special Advisor?
Dr. Kissinger: Yes. This is just to sum up where we stand.
Le Duc Tho: So I think that this time we have just raised the problems. Concerning certain of them, of these questions, you told me that you will consider them when you return to the United States. As to the discussions of the problems relating to the implementation of the Agreement, we will discuss them in another meeting.
Dr. Kissinger: All right.
Le Duc Tho: The discussions will cover all these questions, including the question of ceasefire. If we meet again to discuss these problems we should come to some real results, not only on paper but also [so that] the decision will be materialized. Because, as I have told you, I have been twice the victim of breach of faith. The third time will mean the breaking off, because no trust is left. So it is my hope that our coming meetings will give some positive results not only on paper but also concrete facts, concrete actions.
It is up to you to fix the date for our next meetings. But I cannot come here early in January, because I have just time to go back and to leave again. [Laughter] So I will be travelling always!
Dr. Kissinger: I thought the Special Advisor would be taking his Christmas vacation then.
Le Duc Tho: This Christmas I will remain here for a couple of days more before leaving. So you will give the date of our next meeting, but not in early January.
Dr. Kissinger: No, it cannot be early in January for me either. When we send you the other communication, we will send you an idea. Maybe we should arrange a preliminary meeting between Minister Thach and, for example, Ambassador Martin, to narrow the issues. Or anyone else you want to send.
Le Duc Tho: Let me think it over.[Page 1760]
Dr. Kissinger: We will think about it, but when my own schedule for the month of January becomes clearer, we will make a proposal.
Le Duc Tho: Now this is my suggestion. Let us think whether we can find some closer place for our meeting.
Dr. Kissinger: Like Hong Kong?
Le Duc Tho: I have no idea, but we should think.
Dr. Kissinger: Hawaii?
Le Duc Tho: Let us think of it and we will exchange views.
Dr. Kissinger: I think it is useful to think of a closer place.
Le Duc Tho: Because it is a long journey to make, and it will take me a long time. If the meetings are frequent, then the time between the meetings is short, then it is very tiring for me. It is my suggestion; we will exchange views on that.
Dr. Kissinger: Exactly. Now what should we say to the press today? Should we say we have discussed matters of mutual interest and have agreed to keep in touch for further discussions as warranted by events? Or is that too daring a statement?
Le Duc Tho: According to me, we should agree on the statement to be made.
Dr. Kissinger: That’s right.
Le Duc Tho: The two sides have met each other and have exchanged views on questions of mutual interest in the context of the current situation. The two parties will maintain contacts with each other. The two parties agree to maintain this forum, this channel, for a further exchange of views.
Dr. Kissinger: Maybe “this channel” is better. Mr. Vest will read it back to us.
Mr. Vest: “The two sides have met today, and exchanged views on matters of mutual interest in the context of the current situation. They will maintain this channel for further discussions as warranted by events.” [They copy it down.]
Dr. Kissinger: I wonder whether the Special Advisor noticed my comments about him on arrival.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] I have read it.
Dr. Kissinger: I did not want my humor to go completely unnoticed by my old friend.
Le Duc Tho: Any statement of yours will receive my attention. [Laughter] I follow what you say.
Dr. Kissinger: Just don’t give technical advice to other countries.
So, Mr. Special Advisor, we will both say this and we will say nothing else.[Page 1761]
So we will be in touch very shortly. I would like to express our appreciation for your traveling this long distance to meet, and we take it as a sign of your serious intention.
I must say I cannot accept the proposition that it is our side that has broken faith. But we do not want to start that debate again. In any event we should now take steps at last to get the ceasefire firmly implemented so that the fighting at last stops in Viet-Nam. And I think each side should exercise restraint in the interval between meetings in their military operations.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] I avail [myself] of this opportunity to tell Mr. Ambassador that later in the future if we come to an agreement your responsibility is very heavy, because whether we can carry on the Agreement here depends on you.
Ambassador Martin: My instructions are from the Secretary always.
Le Duc Tho: I wonder whether the instructions from Mr. Secretary are positive or negative. [Laughter]
Dr. Kissinger: They are positive always. I wonder whether the Special Advisor will take account of my proposal in our private meeting regarding Prince Sihanouk.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] No one can control him!
Dr. Kissinger: That is why I thought [we would] take him now for a few years. You have carried him since 1970, so now we should take him for a few years.
Le Duc Tho: Now I would like to ask this question. The other day you proposed that photographers should be admitted here.
Dr. Kissinger: Yes.
Le Duc Tho: We disagreed to that. The reason why, it is my view that when we can achieve something, some result, then we indulge in realistic propaganda. But you want to let the journalists photograph at the beginning of the talks; it is not something necessary. But you complained that we were not serious.
Dr. Kissinger: Oh, no. We thought you were serious.
Le Duc Tho: So it is true that we are serious but we want to be realistic.
Dr. Kissinger: No, I understand. The Special Advisor is blackmailing me again. The only way I can get a picture with him is to make an agreement. [Laughter]
Le Duc Tho: Because it is something very merry, very gay, when we have photographs taken at this place.
Dr. Kissinger: Yes, I understand.
Le Duc Tho: Because you complained that I was not serious. But with you I can have a photograph taken at any moment.[Page 1762]
Dr. Kissinger: If I agree to a ceasefire? Or just you and me, you mean?
Le Duc Tho: So when the ceasefire has been agreed to.
Dr. Kissinger: No, I don’t fully understand the implications of what the Special Advisor is referring to.
Le Duc Tho: I mean we personally, there is no problem. But it is the negotiations.
Dr. Kissinger: Or it is to sit at a table. Well, if you want to, we can walk out together.
Le Duc Tho: We have not got any result yet. [Laughter]
Dr. Kissinger: See! That is all right. I am disappointed. My father, who collects these pictures, is even more disappointed. But now you have given me an even greater incentive to agree than I had before.
So we shall be in contact with each other, and I think we should both have an understanding that we will use our influence for restraint while these discussions are continuing.
Le Duc Tho: We will get in contact with each other, we will discuss all the problems, and on the basis of these discussions we will settle all the problems.
Dr. Kissinger: That is true, and in the meantime, we will urge the parties to the conflict to exercise restraint so that their impetuosity will not complicate our work.
Le Duc Tho: Now what the Saigon Administration is doing every day is known to you.
Dr. Kissinger: And what the PRG is doing. And of course I suspect that your troops are carrying out orders. I would hate to think that 87,000 troops are without discipline.
Le Duc Tho: Now the military forces of the PRG are much more than 87,000.
Dr. Kissinger: I mean the new ones you have infiltrated.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] No, they have to replenish their forces. It is in the competence of the PRG.
Dr. Kissinger: It is in violation of the Agreement.
Le Duc Tho: No, it is not in contravention of the Agreement, if the PRG replenishes its forces, just like the Saigon Administration has a draft.
Dr. Kissinger: Even if they draft them from North Viet-Nam?
Le Duc Tho: No, I don’t know where they replenish their troops from, but what I know is that they have a right to replenish them.
Dr. Kissinger: Just so they don’t come down from the north, because that would be a violation of the Agreement. I know the Special Advisor would not cooperate in that.[Page 1763]
Le Duc Tho: No, they take them from South Viet-Nam. The population in South Viet-Nam is big enough.
Dr. Kissinger: But not in the part controlled by the PRG.
Le Duc Tho: There are people in the Saigon-controlled area who want to join the PRG army. [Laughter]
Dr. Kissinger: And they go north first so they can come down south. [Laughter] Well, I still hope the Special Advisor, with the restraint which is so characteristic of him, will urge caution on his friends, just as we will, because the consequences of an expansion of military operations are not well foreseeable. We will do the same. We ask nothing that we will not do ourselves.
Le Duc Tho: No, you are now returning to the reviewing of the previous situation. What is the cause of the situation in South Viet-Nam during the past? If we had honored the Agreements as soon as it was signed, then we should have made a good deal of progress. And there was failure of the implementation of the Agreement, then we had to sign the Joint Communiqué, and it failed again. So I think that we should make another effort in the period to come. And if we fail again, then the situation will become much more complicated. And I told you that the situation, how it develops, depends on you and on the Saigon Administration. I will come to meet you once again for a last final effort.
Dr. Kissinger: I hope the Special Advisor meant that as a sign of the determination of his efforts, not as a threat, because I think we have enough experience with each other to know that it is always counterproductive.
Le Duc Tho: No, we are threatening no one. It is the United States which is threatening us on many occasions. You sent aircraft carriers into DRV territorial waters; your Defense Secretary made a statement that bombing of North Vietnam may be resumed. Since the conclusion of the Agreement we can say that we—the PRG—has only to counter the land-grabbing operations of the Saigon Administration.
So we are looking forward to the next meeting, to see whether we can solve it.
Dr. Kissinger: Mr. Special Advisor, we will try to work in a constructive spirit. We will be in touch with you and let us see whether we can bring about a ceasefire.
Le Duc Tho: It depends on you.
Dr. Kissinger: I am glad to know that the Special Advisor has not changed his basic approach to life. His ability to see anybody else’s point of view is exactly what it was before.
Le Duc Tho: I understand your view. It is because I understand that I gave you that answer.[Page 1764]
Dr. Kissinger: All right, we will be in touch with each other. And I think we had a useful discussion today. We have contributed to clarifying each other’s purposes. We have agreed that we should both make a major effort to produce peace. That will be our attitude.
Le Duc Tho: [laughs] You often refer to making great effort. Let us see whether this time you are really making a great effort.
Dr. Kissinger: All right, Mr. Special Advisor, we will be in touch with each other. It is always a personal pleasure to see you again.
[The meeting then ended.]
Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27–14 VIET. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting was held at the International Conference Center, Avenue Kléber. All brackets are in the original.
Kissinger provided Nixon a generally positive report of this meeting. He noted that Le Duc Tho was greatly concerned about “establishing the ceasefire,” although both sides had consistently been in violation of the cease-fire. Kissinger believed the meeting “was significant for this reason alone.” North Vietnamese “behavior and concerns in this meeting,” he continued, “revealed their considerable uncertainty about their military prospects as well. They took seriously, as a ‘threat,’ recent comments by you and other US officials that military action against the DRV could not be excluded if Hanoi launched another offensive.” He concluded for the President: “It is clear that they are even weaker than I believed . . . and it is the GVN that has been gaining territorially in the prolonged fighting.” (Message from Kissinger to President Nixon via Scowcroft, December 21, 1973; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 127, Kissinger Office Files, Country Files, Far East, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David, November 1–December 31, 1973)
Kissinger emphasized these points again in a December 28 meeting with Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger, Director of Central Intelligence William Colby, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Thomas Moorer, and Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Major General Brent Scowcroft. Kissinger and the group discussed U.S. policy around the world. Regarding his recent meeting with Le Duc Tho and what might happen in Vietnam, Kissinger said: “I think it’s 60–40 against an offensive.” He added: “I told him [Le Duc Tho] we would send him a message in January and maybe we’d meet again—but we wouldn’t tolerate any nonsense. I think he is scared and we should put everything we can into the GVN.” (Memorandum of Conversation, December 28, 1973; Ford Library, Digital Files, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, 1973–1977)↩