7. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Xuan Thuy, Chief of North Vietnamese Delegation
- Mai Van Bo, North Vietnamese Delegate General in Paris
- Phan Hien, Member of North Vietnamese Delegation
- North Vietnamese Interpreter
- One other North Vietnamese Official
- Henry A. Kissinger, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
- Major General Vernon Walters, Defense Attaché
- W. Richard Smyser, NSC Staff
- Winston Lord, NSC Staff
There were some opening pleasantries on the absent Le Duc Tho and the President’s upcoming trip.
Mr. Kissinger: I do not want to impose on the Minister’s good nature by making another initial statement myself, so I want to leave this to him this time.[Page 116]
Xuan Thuy: I am ready.
Mr. Kissinger: I am in Paris publicly this time.
Xuan Thuy: I would like to speak.
After the last meeting, I have examined the views of the Special Adviser and my own statements that day.
This is what I think:
About the schedule for total withdrawal of U.S. troops in twelve months as presented by you last time, in our view the period of twelve months advanced by you contains nothing new.
But you have said how troops will be withdrawn during these twelve months. This is something concrete.
And in our view, the troop withdrawal may be more rapid. It is not necessary to maintain a 12-month period.
If we go now into the number of troops to be withdrawn each month, we see that in the first three months the number to be withdrawn will be very small. Not even one-fifteenth of the total strength. These are rough remarks. I do not want to go into detail, but just to say this.
I would think that if the troops are withdrawn in greater numbers in the first three months, then in later months, there will be fewer troops to be withdrawn.
Thus the war will be rapidly ended and peace will be restored in Vietnam, and a favorable atmosphere created to normalize the situation in Vietnam.
However, in the schedule presented by the Special Adviser it is not clearly stated how various U.S. military units and branches will be withdrawn, and how U.S. military bases will be dismantled.
Therefore, I think that the proposal presented by Mr. Special Adviser for withdrawing U.S. troops is not rational.
At the last meeting I said that I think the proposal of Mme. Binh for total withdrawal of U.S. troops in six months was rational and you should take it into account.
Now there is a new element. That is, at the 84th session in the Paris Conference, to show once again her goodwill, Mrs. Binh proposed a new time schedule for total withdrawal of U.S. troops and others in the U.S. camp. That is nine months, by June 30, 1971.
If we count from October 1970, then the time period for troop withdrawal proposed by Mrs. Binh at the 84th session has been increased from six months to nine months.
Mr. Kissinger: That gives us three days to make peace.
Xuan Thuy: If we count from the day she made the proposal, then the time period is longer than nine months. If we count from the day she proposed six months, then it’s a longer period. This shows that the PRG is very flexible and realistic.[Page 117]
And if we compare this with your schedule, it shows that Mrs. Binh’s proposal has taken into account your proposal. Therefore I repeat that Mrs. Binh’s proposal for the time period for U.S. withdrawal on September 17 is very rational. Basing ourselves on Mrs. Binh’s proposal, I can now point out a number of principles for troop withdrawal.
The first principle is that big numbers of troops should be withdrawn in the first months, so that in the later stages smaller and smaller numbers will be withdrawn.
The second principle is that combat troops, including infantry, air forces, navy, and artillery should be withdrawn before other military branches, such as the logistics.
The third principle is that withdrawal and dismantlement of U.S. military bases should be carried out during the troop withdrawal.
The fourth principle is that the withdrawal of troops from other countries of the U.S. camp should be carried out with the same proportion and speed as the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Thus I propose a detailed schedule for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in nine months:
The remaining troops will be withdrawn in the seventh, eighth, and ninth months.
That is to say, 60,000 troops will be withdrawn for each of the first six months. The remaining troops will be withdrawn during the last three months.
If the United States agrees to the time schedule and the principles I have mentioned for troop withdrawal, two problems arise:
First, the People’s Liberation Armed Forces of South Vietnam will refrain from attacking U.S. military bases and units that are withdrawing or are preparing to withdraw.
On the other hand, the U.S. Government shall refrain from having U.S. troops and those of other countries in the U.S. camp, including infantry, navy, artillery and air forces, launch attacks against the liberation troops, or other hostile acts against them.
If the U.S. Government accepts this proposal, then the two parties will enter into immediate discussion of the plan for total withdrawal [Page 118] of U.S. troops and other foreign parties’ troops and immediate discussion for plans for the security of the troops being withdrawn.
We would like to clearly state that if the U.S. Government accepts this proposal on the time schedule for U.S. withdrawal, then discussions will be held on the release of prisoners, including U.S. pilots captured in North Vietnam.
Now I come to the political problems. The last time I said that the Special Adviser did not present anything new in this connection. You repeated the political principles put forward by President Nixon.
After consideration, we realize that the U.S. Government persists in maintaining the Thieu-Ky-Khiem Administration.
The second point is that Mr. Special Adviser referred to a political process in accordance with how you understand this term. But we understand that what you mean by political process is the organization of general elections in South Vietnam.
And I have pointed out with regard to the organization that if the Thieu-Ky-Khiem Administration still exists, then elections cannot be free and democratic.
The third remark I would like to make is that Mr. Special Adviser referred to electoral commissions or something else that it would be called. I don’t know what you mean by “something else.” I understand that the electoral commission is crucial at organizing general elections. But with the electoral commissions we will have the obstacles I listed, that is the existence of Thieu-Ky-Khiem. If so, the elections cannot be well organized.
Therefore, the principles put forward by President Nixon on April 20, 1970, and the views expressed by Mr. Special Adviser the last time, we feel are unacceptable to us.
As far as we are concerned, Mrs. Binh has very clearly stated on political problems on September 17.
I myself have on many times expounded my views on the political problem of South Vietnam, in accordance with Mrs. Binh’s proposals.
In accordance with Mrs. Binh’s program, the political process—to use your term—will include three steps.
The first step is that the U.S. Government will renounce Thieu-Ky-Khiem. This is also the demand of the South Vietnamese people, of South Vietnamese political circles, of the American people, of political circles in the U.S., and of world opinion.
Without Thieu-Ky-Khiem, an administration will be established in Saigon. This administration will favor peace, independence, and neutrality, will apply all democratic liberties, and will improve the living conditions of the people.[Page 119]
The PRG has clearly stated that it was ready to enter into direct talks with such an administration in Saigon about a political settlement so as to rapidly put an end to the war and restore peace in South Vietnam.
The second step is the formation of a provisional coalition government in South Vietnam including three components:
—First, persons in the PRG;
—second, persons of the Saigon Administration standing for peace, independence, and neutrality;
—third, persons of various political and religious tendencies, including those who for political reasons have to live abroad.
The third step. The provisional coalition government will organize truly free and democratic general elections all over South Vietnam. These will elect a national assembly, will work out a constitution, and will form a coalition government.
As to the future political organization in South Vietnam, the future government in South Vietnam will be decided by the general elections. Nobody will take a decision beforehand on these problems.
But there is one point I would like to stress. South Vietnam will in the future be independent and neutral, because only by so doing will this area be peaceful.
It is our desire that not only South Vietnam will become neutral, but it is our desire that all neighboring countries in this Southeast Asia area will follow the line of peace, independence, and neutrality.
We think that the provisional coalition government is most rational for the organization of general elections, since it will fulfill the task of organizing free and democratic general elections.
Because if the PRG will organize elections, you will naturally not agree to that. Or, if Thieu-Ky-Khiem organize elections, or some other organization including Thieu-Ky-Khiem, the elections cannot be free and democratic.
And I think that these three steps proposed by the PRG for the political process will reflect respect for the self-determination for the people of South Vietnam. They will reflect the general rights for self-determination of the people of South Vietnam. They will reflect the real situation in South Vietnam. It is a rational proposal for this purpose.
Naturally these three steps follow a logical sequence. The first step will lead to the second step and the second step will lead to the third step. Therefore in the immediate time frame the first step is important. If we make the first step then all the political process will go on.
If now the U.S. accepts these principles and the three step political process, then we shall enter into immediate discussion of this problem and the details.[Page 120]
Today I would like to present these two problems after consideration.
Mr. Kissinger: I appreciate this presentation, Mr. Minister, but I propose you let me ask you a few questions to clarify my understanding and then a very brief break, after which I will give you a reply.
With respect to troop withdrawal, you mentioned several ways in which one could compute the time in which to withdraw American forces and other allied forces—from the time of the announcement of the proposal, from the time of agreement, etc.
Am I correct in assuming that in your proposal these nine months will begin to run from the date of an agreement?
Xuan Thuy: This period of nine months counts from October. Mrs. Binh made the proposal on September 17 and it is based on your schedule, since you said your schedule was based on U.S. strength on October 15. Thus the nine months counts from October.
Mr. Kissinger: I have two questions. Since on October 15 we will have about 390,000 troops in Vietnam, and the Minister says 60,000 must leave in each of the first six months, I have developed the unhealthy suspicion that he is really talking of a six-month proposal since almost all will be gone by six months and after that we will have virtually nobody left. Or perhaps there is a subtlety which escapes me.
Xuan Thuy: (laughs) I said that big numbers should be withdrawn during the first months so that at the end there will be a very small quantity of troops to be withdrawn. This will be easier for you and the war will be ended more rapidly.
Moreover, I think that if the U.S. Government decides to end the war and pull out its troops, then we should visualize methods to pull out troops most rapidly so that the war will be quickly ended and other problems more easily solved.
Mr. Kissinger: Let me sum up my understanding of the Minister’s proposal at this point.
I must say that the Minister is not neglecting the advantages to his side in the negotiations in making these propositions. No matter when the agreement is made, if I understand correctly, the June 30 deadline remains? Is that a correct understanding?
Xuan Thuy: The deadline is put forward so that we can discuss here and come to a rapid settlement.
I remember that at our first meeting Mr. Special Adviser proposed a deadline for the talks. Now, if we should come to a settlement by October 15, it will be better if we come to an agreement now.
Mr. Special Adviser says that all advantage is on our side. That is not true. If the war is ended soon, the better interests of Vietnam, the U.S., and the entire world would be served. The questions put by Mr. [Page 121] Special Adviser make me wonder if Mr. Special Adviser would like to prolong the war. I thought it was not so. Then this is the best time to discuss the matter and settle the war promptly.
Mr. Kissinger: From this remark, I understand that if by October 15 we do not settle, we can then consider the question of the schedule again, although I share the Minister’s hope we can settle by October 15.
Xuan Thuy: So, if this question is put by Mr. Special Adviser, do you want to prolong? I still remember that last time Mr. Special Adviser said we could settle the matter of troop withdrawal in a few sessions.
Mr. Kissinger: We are now making debating points. We’ll put this aside for the time being. I understand what he’s saying and will come back to it. We have more difficult points to resolve.
Xuan Thuy: I would like to add this: The last time I remember Mr. Special Adviser said that we should come to an early agreement, and if so all U.S. troops would be withdrawn within twelve months, starting from October 15.
According to your schedule, if we come to agreement by October 15, 1970, you will complete your withdrawal by October 15, 1971.
Mrs. Binh previously proposed six months for troop withdrawal, counting from the day of her proposal. Now six months are over. She now proposes a deadline of June 30, 1971 for troop withdrawal. Therefore she was more positive in her proposal. We approve this positiveness, and in this position she took account of the U.S. view.
Mr. Kissinger: The Minister has an unfair advantage over me. He has studied dialectics over the years. I have only studied it recently since we began meeting. I hope he will keep this in mind in considering my reply.
But to make the meaning of my proposition of last time clearer. If the settlement, against all expectations, should be delayed beyond October 15, our proposal was not that the lower number of troops would reduce the time for withdrawals, but rather would be applied proportionately to each month, given the fact that there would be less troops after October 15. But, as I said, this is not our most difficult problem.
Let me ask another question, if I may, to clarify what the Minister has said. As I understand the Minister, after an agreement is reached on the troop withdrawal question, then the liberation forces would stop fighting if we stop fighting. What I want to ask is if they will stop fighting only against us or stop fighting altogether.
Xuan Thuy: If these other troops continue to fight, there is no reason for the liberation forces to stop fighting.
Mr. Kissinger: Let me understand it exactly. If there is an agreement, and if it is part of the agreement that the liberation forces stop [Page 122] fighting if all other forces stop fighting, will the liberation forces accept this?
Xuan Thuy: Then we should discuss this. We should discuss.
Mr. Kissinger: All right. The Minister spoke at some length about the withdrawal schedule and then he spoke about political settlement. I would like to understand if the Minister considers these two problems linked or if he considers them separable.
Xuan Thuy: We have previously agreed that discussion on these two problems must go together. They are linked.
Mr. Kissinger: That was my understanding. But there was some ambiguity in Mme. Binh’s statement and what the Minister said. I understand our previous agreement.
Xuan Thuy: It is very clear. It shows how military problems should be solved. How political problems should be solved. But these two kinds of problems should be related to each other. For clarity of presentation they are put separately. But when agreement is reached it should be on both points.
Mr. Kissinger: I understand this, but we have such high regard for your subtlety, we didn’t know whether you wished to say something we had missed. Since we are not so skilled in subtlety we wanted to make sure we understood.
Xuan Thuy: So we understand that both problems are related.
Mr. Kissinger: So do we.
I would like to say a few words about withdrawal. I would like to recall to the Minister that when we talked of withdrawal in the winter and spring meetings I had pointed out to him that there had to be withdrawal of non-South Vietnamese forces from South Vietnam.
I also pointed out we recognize the special legal and moral and political problems you face in relation to South Vietnam. We recognize that you do not want to be put on the same legal basis as the U.S. in South Vietnam. I suggested some ways to solve this and said that we were ready to listen to your suggestions.
I would like to make clear that the schedule I presented last time was put forward under the same general conditions as that of last spring concerning the withdrawal of other troops.
Xuan Thuy: In this connection, we have always told Mr. Special Adviser the same thing, and Mrs. Binh on September 17 has made known her position, which is that the question of Vietnamese armed forces in South Vietnam will be solved by the Vietnamese parties among themselves.
Mr. Kissinger: Another question. I have some others. The Minister made such a full statement that I have many questions. He must excuse me for not being a good student.[Page 123]
Xuan Thuy: But you are a veteran and famous professor.
Mr. Kissinger: Fortunately for me, none of my students were Vietnamese. If so, I wouldn’t be a professor. The Minister will be pleased to know that I have told the press that if the records of our negotiations are published in the future and people are told that these are negotiations between a developing country and a developed country, but without identifying what each said, people will not be sure which is the developing country and which is the advanced country.
Now, let me ask my questions.
The Minister spoke of the desire of his government that the settlement cover not only the peace and neutrality of South Vietnam, but also of all neighboring countries. I have two questions. One, what does he mean by neighboring countries? Two, what does he have in mind for assuring the peace and neutrality of neighboring countries?
Xuan Thuy: I mean by neighboring countries such nations as Laos, Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia, Australia, Thailand. In our view such countries should follow the path of peace and neutrality, so that this area will be peaceful.
Mr. Kissinger: Is the Minister saying that the war will go on until all this is achieved?
Xuan Thuy: It is our desire that this area be peaceful and neutral, South Vietnam should be peaceful and neutral. For the time being we know that Vietnamese are fighting on Vietnamese soil. For the time being we are discussing Vietnamese problems. To tell this, my intention is to show that we really want peace.
Mr. Kissinger: I notice that the Minister did not mention China, which is closer to Vietnam than Australia or Indonesia. Was that an inadvertence?
Xuan Thuy: No, it was not by inadvertence. Our foreign policy is as follows: We have a foreign policy toward Socialist countries, and we consider that other Socialist countries and Vietnam, which is also a Socialist country, are all brother nations following the same Socialist path.
Besides Socialist countries, countries with other political systems than ours, we follow the policy of peaceful coexistence, in accordance with the five principles.
This is my clear understanding. It is not by inadvertence that I omitted China.
Mr. Kissinger: I have enough confidence in the Minister to know that he does nothing by inadvertence. I am just using the opportunity to get a free education.
Let me then sum up my understanding of this point. First, are you making a distinction between the nations of Indochina and all other [Page 124] countries you mentioned? Second, are you stating your objectives of peace and neutrality for all these countries as a hope or as a condition?
Xuan Thuy: I will make myself clear. North Vietnam, i. e., the DRV, is now a Socialist country. We follow the same path of Socialism as other Socialist countries. We follow the same path of Socialism, but the DRV has its own independent policy. We do not compel any other country to follow the same path as ours. We respect other countries. Even for South Vietnam, that is part of Vietnam and that will be ultimately reunified into one Vietnam, but taking into consideration the real situation there, we approved the position of the PRG that South Vietnam should be neutral.
But since I am speaking of South Vietnam as peaceful and neutral, I extend my idea, saying that all other neighboring countries should be peaceful and neutral, so that the situation in this area should be peaceful.
It is our desire. It is our wish that Laos be neutral and maintain its territorial integrity. The Laos problem should be solved on the basis of the 1962 agreements and on the basis of the real situation in Laos, on the basis of the five points proposed by Prince Souphanouvong.
With regard to Cambodia, we have often stated that we respect the peace, neutrality, independence, and the integrity of Cambodia. We approved the proclamation of Prince Sihanouk in March 1970, and we support the policy of the national united front of Cambodia and the government of Penn Nouth.
With regard to Burma, we have consistently supported the neutrality and the independence of Burma.
But Thailand and Australia have been allies of the U.S. and have sent troops to South Vietnam. You do not want these nations to be neutral. So troubles arise, and make the situation in this area unstable.
Since you asked your questions, I have expanded my ideas. This is not our objective. But here we are discussing the problem of Vietnam. I propose we return to it.
Mr. Kissinger: I have corrupted the Minister, and tempted him into philosophy.
Let me ask a question on the political program which the Minister advanced, which was quite clear. I have one question.
Last year, when I had the pleasure of meeting the Minister, he said that Thieu-Ky-Huong had to be excluded from the government. Now he says Thieu-Ky-Khiem must be excluded. Am I to understand from this that Mr. Huong has become acceptable during this time?
Xuan Thuy: I think now, that if you replace Mr. Khiem by Mr. Huong, we have to repeat the same demand as before.[Page 125]
Mr. Kissinger: This gets me to my second question. What you are saying is that you and your allies reserve the right to determine who is for peace, independence, and neutrality.
Whoever you say does not stand for these things is automatically excluded.
Xuan Thuy: This is what I think about that.
If we speak of the real situation of South Vietnam, South Vietnam should be really independent, peaceful, and neutral.
I think this line is logical and reasonable. We can accept this line.
Mr. Kissinger: What line?
Xuan Thuy: We can accept this line. The U.S. can accept this line. The overwhelming majority of the South Vietnamese people can accept this line. The whole world can accept peace, independence, and neutrality in South Vietnam. Because it is impartial and not inclined to either side.
If the U.S. maintains Thieu-Ky-Khiem, it is a regime that the whole world knows to be dictatorial and fascist. I don’t know whether you listen to public opinion in South Vietnam, to many senators and people in the lower house in South Vietnam, and people in the street. There is a strong movement opposing Thieu-Ky-Khiem for their fascist and dictatorial character.
You are probably too busy to pay attention to public opinion of South Vietnam.
Last week, a number of Christians, Catholic people of South Vietnam, came to Paris and held a press conference. They demanded also the change of Thieu-Ky-Khiem. Without that, the people of South Vietnam will be choked. They are also people coming from South Vietnam.
Therefore, I think that after the formation in Saigon of a government without Thieu-Ky-Khiem, which favors peace, independence, and neutrality, and which talks with the PRG, it will be easy to come to an agreement.
Mr. Kissinger: But if I understand the Minister—I apologize for slowness of mind—he is not only speaking of Thieu-Ky-Khiem, but of everyone else who in his judgment, or what he considers the judgment of South Vietnamese public opinion, is not for peace, neutrality and independence. For example, Huong. I don’t wish to run through a list of who is acceptable or unacceptable, but I gather that it goes well beyond Thieu-Ky-Khiem. I have already cited Huong.
Xuan Thuy: I think that, like in the U.S., there are diverse people in South Vietnam. There are those who favor Communism. There are those who don’t like Communism. There are those who want to collaborate with the U.S. There are those who resolutely oppose the U.S.[Page 126]
I do not propose that South Vietnam should be Socialist. If I proposed this you could say I want to take advantage for our side. Since we face a very complicated situation in South Vietnam and the majority of people in South Vietnam want a solution which is most flexible and concrete, this is the most flexible and concrete way, that is, peace, independence, and neutrality of South Vietnam.
Even here, we should find a way which is most flexible and conciliatory to settle the matter.
Mr. Kissinger: One final question, and then I propose a break. My understanding of these meetings is that our objective is to say things to each other in the most private circumstances possible, so we can say things we cannot say in other forums. My question is: what has the Minister said here that has not been said publicly either at Avenue Kleber or in the public presentations of Mme. Binh?
Xuan Thuy: I think that all my public statements are known to you.
The last time you proposed twelve months for the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops and troops of other countries. I said then that Mme. Binh’s six months proposal was more rational. You said you had not been consulted and that she made her proposal on her own. I said that she was prepared to discuss her proposal with the U.S., but you said I should discuss it with Mrs. Binh. When I said this to her, I did not tell her about what Mr. Kissinger had said. I told her that it was said that the U.S. might accept to withdraw all its troops within twelve months. If that is true, what would you think, I asked her. She said, now, my proposal of six months is reasonable. I told her, you propose six months, but the U.S. does not accept this proposal. She said so far the U.S. has not put forward any deadline for full withdrawal of U.S. troops. This shows that the U.S. wants to prolong its troops in South Vietnam and refuses to completely withdraw its troops. She said that if the U.S. would only make a statement that the U.S. would completely withdraw its troops, it might put a time limit on it—maybe three, ten, fifteen years; only then would it be a complete withdrawal.
Therefore she proposed a deadline for withdrawal, June 30, 1971.
Considering what I told you last time, and what you told me, I think the proposal of Mrs. Binh is reasonable and takes into account the views of the U.S.
Mr. Kissinger: I propose we take a small break. I must say that we appreciate the Minister’s ability to deal with the terrifying Mme. Binh. We’ve never had such success in our sessions. We congratulate him. We are ready to take lessons.
When the Minister visits me at Harvard, I’ll ask his formula for dealing with Mme. Binh. I don’t ask it now.
Xuan Thuy: But if you argue that although you have tried to persuade the renouncement of Thieu-Ky-Khiem for 2–3 years, you have [Page 127] not succeeded, I will not say your persuasive power is bad, but I think you should persist.
(There was a break of about twenty-five minutes, during which Mai Van Bo remained to make conversation and to eat snacks with Mr. Kissinger and the other Americans. Bo asked why we did not recognize Communist China.)
Mr. Kissinger: General Walters asked me to explain why he came by before I did. This is because we are here publicly. We wanted to be sure there was no press.
Mr. Minister, I have listened to your statements with great attention. I have thought about them during the recess, and would like to make a few general observations.
Before I came here, I wrote a memorandum for the President, as I always do, to tell him what I hoped to accomplish here. He wrote on it in his own handwriting, from which I’m reading to you, two observations which I will read to you.
(Reading President’s notes) First, I want you to get quickly to the heart of the question—do they want a rapid decision or do they just want to repeat simply positions already explained.
Secondly, he wrote: I want you to make it clear at the outset that I have instructed you that unless real progress is made at this session, I cannot justify continuing this channel. He underlined the word “real.”
(Mr. Kissinger held up to Xuan Thuy the memorandum with the President’s handwriting.)
I had not intended to read this, but I feel obliged to do it in order to underline the seriousness of what I will now say.
When we met last time, I told you that the President would scarcely send his closest personal adviser to meet with you unless he wanted to give himself the maximum possibilities for flexibility and chance for progress.
I also said that the principal justification for this channel would be if things happen in this channel which do not happen anywhere else.
Now, I find that the Minister repeated, with his normal power and eloquence, in effect the proposal which had already been made by Mme. Binh.
While I appreciate his intervention with Mme. Binh before she made her proposal, it can scarcely be said that what he said here is different from her proposal.
Indeed, it can perhaps be said that the only difference between what the Minister said to me and what had already been stated publicly, is that in his observations to me he made more concrete and sharper the demands he made on us. He did not explain what your side should do.[Page 128]
Indeed, the element of nine months had already been stated publicly, and is further weakened by being in effect a six-month withdrawal schedule if we follow the proposals of the Minister.
It is for this reason that I am not using a prepared statement for my reply, but will simply comment on what the Minister has said.
First, with respect to the military issue, as I have said, the practical proposals of the Minister have the consequence of retaining the six-month schedule that had apparently been discarded, and therefore do not represent a significant element.
As for some of the other technical questions, about the types of troops which would be withdrawn first, and what bases should be closed when, I believe this could be handled by our negotiators here, and would not require my presence.
I continue to believe, however, that these questions are capable of a possible solution once an agreement in principle has been reached, and I do not consider the military issues the chief obstacles to a settlement.
In order not to mislead you, I must point out that before a final settlement is reached on the military issues, we would expect an indication from you as to your intentions, as you had indicated in your statement in March.
Xuan Thuy: Our intentions about what?
Mr. Kissinger: About the disposition of other non-South Vietnamese forces.
As to political issues, I would like to put our point of view before you with the greatest frankness.
The President stated three principles on April 20 which I have repeated to you before. We recognize that even with goodwill, they would be very difficult to implement.
We recognize that the issue of organizing a political solution in a country with your history, after a conflict that has lasted for 25 years, would be very complex. All we can say is that we would approach you with goodwill and a serious intention to find a solution.
I have been for many years among those in the U.S. who have most believed in the possibility of serious negotiations with you, and who have worked very hard to bring them about and make them succeed.
I have in recent months been criticized for being excessively optimistic on the possibility for negotiations. And perhaps it is true that the critics were right.
We can understand that you would want an end to military operations that could impose our solution in South Vietnam, but what you [Page 129] are asking of us is not only to terminate military operations but to do things which will have the practical effect of imposing your preferred political solution.
Your whole training and your whole history make it clear that you understand the nature of objective reality, and therefore you know and I know that when you speak of Thieu-Ky-Khiem you are asking not the elimination of three persons but of the forces they represent.
Your answers to my questions leave no doubt that you reserve the right to determine who stands for peace, independence, and neutrality . . . and thus to determine the composition of one of three elements of the provisional coalition government. In fact, of two of three elements. The objective consequence of your proposal . . .
Xuan Thuy: Would you please repeat?
Mr. Kissinger: Let me explain.
In fact, one can say that you reserve the right to determine the composition of all three elements. You determine the composition of the PRG. You decide who stands for peace, independence and neutrality in the Saigon Administration. Thirdly, since you define who stands for peace, independence and neutrality, you will also determine who is to come from all the other groups.
As a result, and since I have had occasion to point out previously that the Minister never does anything inadvertently, we have to conclude that the political outcome will be predetermined in these discussions.
I have repeatedly pointed out, and there is no sense repeating it, that you have the President’s word through me that we will make a most serious effort to establish a political process which reflects the existing political realities in South Vietnam. The forces you support and those allied with us.
But just as we will not tell you who should be in the PRG, we won’t accept your telling us who shall be in the Saigon Administration.
We are not concerned with three individuals as such. It is not three individuals who are the obstacle to peace. It is your insistence that the choice of the Vietnamese people be determined in advance. If your analysis of the will of the South Vietnamese people is correct, then we will agree to organize a process which will reflect that, and then Thieu-Ky-Khiem will be replaced. If your analysis is not correct, then we expect that you also accept the results of the process.
I repeat: we are prepared to negotiate with you a political process in which all political forces can participate, and which is conducted by neutral means, so that no political force has an unjust advantage. We are not prepared to determine in advance what the results of that process must be.[Page 130]
I would like to make one observation on a related subject, that of POW’s. I have not mentioned it in this channel because we believe it is not a proper subject for negotiations. It is simply a humanitarian problem.
We will not give up our principles because of the fact that you hold American prisoners of war. But we would consider it a sign of goodwill if you would enable people who have suffered enough to rejoin their families.
Let me return to the original discussion.
I have made the previous observations with some sadness, because they indicate, perhaps, that we have reached a point where nothing more fruitful can be done in this channel.
The President has sent me here as a token of his desire to end the war as rapidly as possible on terms just to all. I have accepted this assignment with great personal pleasure, because I believe, as does the President, that the war has gone on long enough, and that there has been enough suffering, and that we owe it to our people to bring the war to a rapid conclusion in accordance with what has gone before.
I would hate to think that you have chosen the road of public pressure and continued military confrontation, but I do not know what else to believe.
If it is possible for you to believe anything that any American can say to you, across the gulf of so many years of war and ideological difference, I want to tell you that I am here to testify sincerely to our desire to achieve a just peace. But by the same token, we cannot accept demands which are unilateral and which we consider unjust.
And therefore, we have now a choice to make, which road we shall go. The road of negotiation, with goodwill and a sense of justice, or the road of confrontation.
We have made our choice and you should now make yours.
If the Minister has any comment on my observations, I would be grateful for it.
Xuan Thuy: So you only make remarks and you don’t bring any new proposals.
Mr. Kissinger: Yes.
Xuan Thuy: Now let me say this.
I have also many times told the Special Adviser that we want to solve peacefully the Vietnam problem, the sooner the better. But this must be associated with genuine independence and freedom for the Vietnamese people. And I agreed with Mr. Special Adviser from the outset that we have three channels. And among the three channels, I shared your view that this one is the most important, because it is a [Page 131] high-level channel and can solve fundamental problems. And, particularly, Mr. Special Adviser is a very close associate of President Nixon.
But, after our previous meeting and today’s meeting, the views you have just expounded amazed me. I am particularly astonished by the instructions given by President Nixon to Mr. Special Adviser, and by the remarks just made by Mr. Special Adviser.
Why am I astonished? Because the instructions of President Nixon and the views you have just expressed boil down to the fact that the U.S. presents nothing new. On the contrary, you want the other side to express something newer, and this is to accept the U.S. position.
And what you called a new element in the U.S. position about troop withdrawal, was to go from a 12-months proposal to 16 months, and then to go back to 12 months again.
As to the three principles you presented for settling the South Vietnam political problem, the three principles have presented no change at all from Mr. Nixon’s views.
I am astonished by your request that I should say something I have not said publicly, while you only repeat public statements by President Nixon.
As for the three principles, you only repeat them and give some explanations, but there is nothing different.
So the U.S. makes believe that it is flexible, and that it is ready for negotiations with us, but in fact the U.S. wants us to accept its position. I do not agree with you when you say we bring nothing new today.
With regard to troop withdrawal, in our view, the statement made by Mrs. Binh on September 17 at Kleber represents something very new. Previously she asked for six months. Now she proposes nine months. Previously she asked for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. Now she set a time limit of June 30, 1971. This is new, whereas the U.S. sets no time limit for U.S. withdrawals. As I have pointed out, if we stick to the U.S. statement, even in ten years withdrawal is not completed.
Mr. Kissinger: Which statement?
Xuan Thuy: Because you set no time limit. Therefore, in our view, Mrs. Binh’s statement is not only new, but it is also very flexible. You criticize that she made the statement in public. But how else can she do this when she cannot meet you?
Mr. Kissinger: She can use her old friend, Mr. Thuy, who has such influence with her.
Xuan Thuy: I told her Americans made statements like this; I did not specifically say Mr. Kissinger. I did not tell her that I met Mr. Kissinger.
Therefore the question is not whether it’s a public statement or not, but rather in seeking a settlement we should find the most rational [Page 132] proposal to base ourselves on. It makes no difference who made the statement, but whether it is flexible and rational.
Mrs. Binh proposed six months, Dr. Kissinger 12 months. Now there is a proposal midway, nine months. Therefore I think it is reasonable and rational. In addition, besides a time period, there is a time limit, which gives an impetus to peace at an early date.
It seems that you wonder which will be the Vietnamese party which will solve the question of Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. I think this is an easy question. Everybody knows that now the forces opposing the U.S. and Saigon troops are the liberation forces, under the command of the PRG. I said that it is an easy question to solve, meaning now that with an administration other than the present, without Thieu-Ky-Khiem, this question may be easily solved.
With regard to political problems you say we set preconditions. But I say the U.S. sets preconditions, because the U.S. wants the South Vietnamese people to accept the present Administration of Thieu-Ky-Khiem until the organization of free elections. But it is our view that as long as Thieu-Ky-Khiem remain, there cannot be free and democratic elections. So we propose three steps which are more rational.
And when the provisional coalition government is set up, the PRG ceases to exist, and the Saigon Administration ceases to exist also. And I cannot understand how you comprehend this proposal, when you say that in deciding the three components of the provisional coalition government we take all advantage to our side.
The three components show great reasonability. But if you think that all three components in the provisional coalition government are people who favor peace, independence and neutrality and you do not like this, then you are against it.
Mr. Kissinger: The Minister is too intelligent not to have understood me better than that. What I mean is that the Minister is attempting to define who stands for peace, independence, and neutrality, and therefore you give yourselves a veto over those persons whom you don’t think are for peace, independence and neutrality as you define them.
Xuan Thuy: Let us consider the two extreme positions. The U.S. would want Thieu-Ky-Khiem to remain in power forever and to follow the U.S. The fighting will continue indefinitely. If we had wishful thinking, being a Socialist country, we would want South Vietnam to be Socialist. Then fighting would go on. So we make a proposal which is reasonable, of peace, independence and neutrality. What do you want then? Do you want Thieu-Ky-Khiem forever, to stay with the U.S.?
So, if now you agree to these three components, we must discuss who will participate in the government. It does not mean that we will decide on our own who will participate in the government.[Page 133]
Therefore, by presenting the three components of the provisional coalition government, favoring peace, independence, and neutrality, public opinion and world opinion believe we are flexible and reasonable. Only Thieu-Ky-Khiem are opposed to the three elements. Now you are the second voice who opposes this proposal.
As for the question of captured military men, I often heard American concern about the security of U.S. troops in South Vietnam, about the fate of the captured men. This is why I interpret the idea of Mrs. Binh’s September 17 proposal that she had taken into account U.S. concern about this question.
If now Mr. Special Adviser said this question is not to be discussed here, I am prepared to discard it.
Now I come to sum up, and I come to the following conclusions. President Nixon has had Mr. Special Adviser come here to talk. This shows that President Nixon and Mr. Special Adviser think this problem is important, and want a settlement. And I highly value the presence of Mr. Special Adviser in this channel. But through negotiations, I realize that the U.S. Government, or President Nixon, still want us to act in U.S. terms.
And we still see no sign of President Nixon’s taking into consideration the real situation in South Vietnam, and taking into consideration the logical and reasonable proposals made by our side.
The views and the proposals made by Mr. Special Adviser, the further we discuss the more I find them irrational, and the further we discuss the more I find that our proposals are rational and flexible.
By whatever means, by this channel or other means, we must find a way for the South Vietnamese people to have genuine peace and independence. And their political regime should be a neutral regime.
Mr. Kissinger: Mr. Minister, I don’t see much purpose in my repeating what I have already said, forcing you to repeat what you have said before. But I would like to summarize my position in two remarks.
First, with respect to the military side of the question, while your explanation of Mme. Binh’s position was perhaps excessively optimistic, I believe that the differences between us are sufficiently narrowed, so that if everything else could be settled, we could reach an agreement on this issue.
As for the political solution, I cannot accept your characterization of our proposal. I have said to you that we would work with you to establish a method by which elections could be organized and verified by a group which represents the existing elements in South Vietnam.
That is to say, these political forces are the Saigon Administration, as you call it, the PRG, and whatever political forces will participate in the electoral process. You are well aware that this is a different [Page 134] formulation from some that have been used previously. I am speaking now of elections, not of other processes of government.
We do not select the membership of the PRG, and you cannot select the membership of the Saigon Administration, but both participate in the organization of elections and neither monopolizes the conduct of elections.
We recognize this is difficult, but we are prepared to discuss it in this framework.
As for the POW’s, we are of course prepared to discuss them in this channel, but we wanted to appeal to you on the basis of humanitarianism, not to consider them as hostages for this purpose.
But perhaps we have reached the point where we should adjourn these discussions, and when either side has something to say we know how to get in touch with each other. Of course, the other two channels remain open.
Xuan Thuy: (Nods yes.) I want now to summarize by saying this: we feel that our points of view, our positions are logical and reasonable and flexible. But you do not accept our positions and points of view. Instead you want us to accept the U.S. Government position. But we are not prepared to do this.
It is precisely because of this difference of views that we should discuss together. But since discussion has not brought about an agreement, therefore this channel must be adjourned so that both sides will reflect over the other’s statements, and in case either party has something to tell the other party, we shall resume.
(Mr. Kissinger nods yes.)
As to the question of POW’s, you said now that this question can be treated here or not. But you say they should be treated in humanitarian ways. But we have said the DRV has said . . .
Mr. Kissinger: No, I asked you to release them in a humanitarian spirit. I make no charge on how you treat them.
Xuan Thuy: I have often said that the government treats them humanely.
I think that we should not repeat the question of POW’s. It would take time.
I repeat, we want peace. The Vietnamese people want peace. But not peace in slavery, not peace at any price. South Vietnam must have genuine peace and independence.
Therefore we are determined to achieve these objectives, by negotiations or other means. While we cannot fix a date for a meeting in this channel, I agree with you that we should keep the two other channels open.[Page 135]
Now there is another point, since you came this time publicly. The press may ask you if you met me. And they may ask me the same question. What will you say?
Mr. Kissinger: I have said publicly that I am here to see members of our peace delegation. And no one else. I will not say that I have seen you, and will deny that I have done it if I am asked. I think it is absolutely essential to keep this contact secret if we ever wish to resume it.
(Xuan Thuy nods yes.)
On our delegation, only Ambassador Bruce knows. Our Ambassador to Paris does not know.
Xuan Thuy: If somebody asks me whether Mr. Kissinger has met me during his stay in Paris, I will say that Mr. Kissinger has publicly stated that he saw the peace delegation.
Mr. Kissinger: You had better add that you did not see me. Otherwise it will be an enigmatic statement.
Xuan Thuy: Therefore I will say I have no opportunity to meet him. Our channel shall be kept secret.
Mr. Kissinger: I know how hard it is for your government to believe this. We don’t have differences with the principles you said at the end. If you ever wish to say something here which you have not said elsewhere, we will be receptive and sympathetic and not take advantage.
(Xuan Thuy nods yes.)
I would like to express my high personal regards for the Minister and his associates, and hope to see you soon in the U.S.
Xuan Thuy: I would like also to reciprocate this esteem to Mr. Special Adviser. Although no settlement is reached, each time we meet, the meeting is ended with a smile. And I would like also to express thanks to your associates, and particularly the “actor” (Walters as interpreter).
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1039, Files for the President, Vietnam Negotiations, HAK I, July 1969–September 27, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé. Smyser and Lord forwarded the memorandum of conversation to Kissinger under an October 14 covering memorandum, and Kissinger approved it. (Ibid.)
After this session, Kissinger told the President: “My four and a half hour meeting with Xuan Thuy and Mai Van Bo was thoroughly unproductive and we adjourned without setting a new date.” That is, “Xuan Thuy gave little on the military issues and was very unyielding on political questions.” Therefore, Kissinger concluded that “it was clear that there was no reason to continue the channel at this time.” (Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. VII, Vietnam, July 1970–January 1972, Document 45)↩