9. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Le Duc Tho, Adviser to the North Vietnamese Delegation
- Xuan Thuy, Chief of North Vietnamese Delegation
- Vo Van Sung, North Vietnamese Delegate General in Paris
- Phan Hien of North Vietnamese Delegation
- North Vietnamese Interpreter
- Two other North Vietnamese Officials
- 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
Kissinger: I am sorry about the delay. We were held up in landing because the President of France was leaving at the same airport at which we arrived and there was a twenty-minute delay.
My presence here is known among Americans only to the President and to Ambassador Bruce in Paris. In France, it is known only to President Pompidou. I am in Britain for an official visit. They think I am in the countryside visiting friends for the day.
It is a great pleasure to see you again, Mr. Minister and to see my old friend, Mr. Special Adviser Le Duc Tho in Paris. I hope the fact that we are sitting at a table is a good omen.
Xuan Thuy: On our part, all the people present here are known to you.
We have studied your Seven Point Program. I have also informed Mr. Le Duc Tho of our exchange of views last time.[Page 153]
Before expressing our views on the Seven Point Program that the Special Adviser explained on behalf of President Nixon on May 31st, 1971, I would like to ask some questions for clarification.
I am sure that Mr. Special Adviser is always prepared to answer my questions.
Kissinger: Someday when I am alone with the Special Adviser I will ask him to send a less tenacious negotiator.
Le Duc Tho: I think rather that I should send a more tenacious negotiator.
Xuan Thuy: I remember that in our previous meeting on March 16, 1970, the Special Adviser agreed that we should discuss military and political questions at the same time. But at the last meeting you did not mention political problems.
Therefore my question is, in what context shall we discuss political problems?
My second question, is that in your Seven Points, you mentioned about Vietnam but also about Indochina. Therefore it is not clear to me whether your intention is to discuss Vietnam or the whole of Indochina. If Indochina, it is also not clear how we should discuss it. You said that the Indochinese people should discuss the question of troop withdrawals. You also spoke of a ceasefire throughout Indochina.
Therefore, how should we discuss military and political questions regarding Indochina?
My third question is that in our meeting of August 4, 1969, Mr. Special Adviser raised the question of the neutrality of South Vietnam. You said the U.S. would agree to the neutrality of South Vietnam, but it was not then the time to discuss this. And now in your Seven Point Program you mention the neutrality of Laos and Cambodia, but you did not mention anything about the neutrality of South Vietnam. Therefore how should the question of neutrality be discussed?
My fourth question is that Mr. Special Adviser said that the United States would name the date for the withdrawal of U.S. and allied forces if our side agreed to settle the question of prisoners. At another point of your Seven Point Program you said the question of prisoners should be settled as part of the overall solution in the Seven Point Program.
I hope that you will give the answers to these questions.
Kissinger: Mr. Minister, these questions are asked with your usual perspicacity. Let me take them out of order.
Let me begin first with the last question, the issue of prisoners. Our view with how to proceed with fixing the date is as follows: if you agree in principle with these proposals, that is all seven points, then we will give you the date and then of course we can discuss the [Page 154] date. The date concerns not only the prisoners, but the other five points also.
We understand, of course, that your agreement is conditional, and requires that the date is mutually acceptable.
Is that clear?
Xuan Thuy: That means the date is related to the whole Seven Points.
Kissinger: That is correct.
Xuan Thuy: I understand.
Kissinger: Now let me go to the second question of how we should discuss Indochina problems. We believe that there should be a ceasefire throughout Indochina, meaning of course cessation of all military activities by our side as well as your side throughout Indochina. This cessation of military activity of course also includes air activity on our side, except for reconnaissance.
We believe that there are three different problems with respect to Indochina:
The first is the ceasefire.
The second is the relationship between the political elements in each country.
The third is the international status of each country.
With respect to the ceasefire, we believe it should be discussed in the first instance between you and us, and that we should then recommend it to each of our allies in each of the three countries.
With respect to the political structure in each country, we believe it should be discussed by the parties concerned in each country.
With respect to the international status of each country, we are prepared to recognize and affirm the neutrality of each country, and that this can be established at an international conference.
But let me say that with respect to how to guarantee the neutrality of these countries, we are prepared to listen to your counterproposal.
With respect to the international status of South Vietnam: as I pointed out to the Minister on August 4, we have no interest in maintaining a military alliance with South Vietnam. And we are prepared to discuss the nature of the military relationship as part of the general problem of withdrawing our forces.
Now I have left to last the most difficult problem: this is the political future of South Vietnam.
We are not children. We recognize that this is the issue which in many respects is most on your mind.
The problem, as it appears to us, is as follows. If we do not come to an agreement on the basis of these Seven Points, we will continue [Page 155] our present program of gradual withdrawal and gradual turning over of responsibilities to the South Vietnamese. I know that you do not believe that this will succeed, and I am not here to debate that point. The practical consequence will be that at some point we will lose the ability to influence the situation in South Vietnam, no matter whether we succeed or fail.
We have told you at many meetings that we are prepared to permit the political evolution of South Vietnam that reflects the political realities in South Vietnam. We are prepared to set a withdrawal date for our forces in order to speed the day at which this political evolution can be left to the South Vietnamese.
We believe this is the most realistic way of affecting the political process in South Vietnam, as the Minister also hinted in our last meeting in one comment he made about the elections this year in South Vietnam.
I know that the people of Vietnam have not maintained their independence during 2000 years by developing qualities of excess of confidence in foreigners. But I believe that the Minister and the Special Adviser are sufficiently acute students of the American scene to know that when we withdraw our forces it will not be in order to return to overturn the consequences.
These are the answers I have for the Minister’s questions.
Xuan Thuy: Your answer regarding the political future of South Vietnam—I’m still unclear on this point. You said that you are prepared to fix a date to hasten the process of the determination of the future of South Vietnam through the South Vietnamese. When you mention the date, is that the date of a troop withdrawal or of elections in South Vietnam?
Kissinger: This is what I meant. There will be various stages. When you and we agree on a date for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, that in itself will create a new political reality in South Vietnam. When our forces are withdrawn, another new reality is created. From that day on the political future of South Vietnam will be essentially in the hands of the South Vietnamese.
Expressing a personal opinion, if we were to agree this summer on a program such as we have outlined, it may perhaps even have an influence on the South Vietnamese elections. But you are a better judge of this than we.
I’m trying to follow the instructions I received last year from Special Adviser Le Duc Tho about studying objective realities.
Le Duc Tho: These are not so objective.
Kissinger: Am I making any progress?
Le Duc Tho: Not an inch forward.
Kissinger: I have a very difficult professor.[Page 156]
Xuan Thuy: It is still unclear to me as to what you have said about the international status of South Vietnam in the framework of an overall settlement. You avoid speaking about the neutrality of South Vietnam. Is this lack related to the three points of Nguyen Van Thieu, who is opposed to Communism, neutrality, and coalition?
Kissinger: No, we are prepared to discuss an agreed international status for South Vietnam.
Xuan Thuy: So it is true that this point is not mentioned in your Seven Point Program, but in the process of discussing these Seven Points we shall take up this question.
Kissinger: That is correct.
Xuan Thuy: I have another question.
The last time Mr. Special Adviser said the U.S. would fix a date for troop withdrawal when it knew about the release of POW’s, but would not fix a date if it is not clear about prisoners. But from the answer today I understand that even if the U.S. gets the prisoners you would still not fix a date because a date still depends on your other points.
Kissinger: I made clear last time that the Seven Points are a package. One of these points is prisoners. Our proposal is that the withdrawal of prisoners occur simultaneously with the withdrawal of forces. Therefore in explaining point 7 to the Minister, I wanted to make clear that prisoners should be released, not just a discussion of this question. There must be agreement on their release, not just on discussion of it.
Let me make one explanation of the Seven Points: If you read them carefully, you will see that they are not all of the same character.
Point one fixes an obligation for us to give a date for the total withdrawal of all our forces.
Point two is really taken from your own program, namely that the disposition of other forces should be discussed among the peoples.
Point three requires a ceasefire.
Points four and five are really expositions of point three.
Point six establishes the principle of the neutrality of the Indochinese states and has been part of your program.
Point seven involves the release of POW’s, and I have explained our thinking about this before.
So the essential principles are the withdrawal date, the ceasefire, neutrality, and the return of POW’s.
Xuan Thuy: So, will you fix the date for your troop withdrawal if you know about the release of POW’s?
Kissinger: If you agree that there shall be agreement on ceasefire, release of POW’s, and a general agreement on neutrality, which you have already agreed to, we shall fix a date for withdrawal.[Page 157]
Xuan Thuy: What do you mean by international conference to guarantee the neutrality of the Indochinese states? Do you mean that the Paris conference will be extended to include Laos and Cambodia or do you mean another international conference?
Kissinger: I would like to point out to the Minister that he started out by posing four questions.
Xuan Thuy: These questions are in supplement to my four principal questions. I do not go out of the framework of the four questions. In the course of discussion I may develop them.
Kissinger: I regret to say that they are very good questions.
Mr. Minister, we are open minded on this point. We proposed on October 7 a Geneva-type conference like 1954. However, we are willing to listen to other proposals on this.
We are prepared to do it either way, within the framework of other countries or by extending the present conference. On this we are concerned with the practical solution, rather than with a particular formality. We have not discussed this proposal with other potential participants in an international conference.
Xuan Thuy: Since you have limited the number of my questions to four, I will stop here. But since Special Adviser Le Duc Tho just came, I will give the floor to him.
If I have other questions, they will be within the framework of my four questions.
Kissinger: I’m sure that is a very flexible framework.
One good result of our previous discussion is that you have succeeded in inviting Special Adviser Le Duc Tho to be present here.
Xuan Thuy: I am glad too to have him here.
Le Duc Tho: After my coming here, I have read the minutes of the meetings between Xuan Thuy and the Special Adviser on May 31. Today I have just heard your answers to the questions put by Minister Xuan Thuy. Therefore I think it is clear to me about your intention.
But it is not yet completely clear. Because there are still many things which are still unclear. In spite of your answers, there are still points which are not concrete.
May I say a few words?
Kissinger: I would be very grateful.
Le Duc Tho: This is the seventh time you are meeting with us.
Kissinger: Actually it is the eighth.
Le Duc Tho: We have reviewed the past meetings to draw conclusions about them. To see whether we have some hopes of settlement at this time.
The first time we met was in August of 1969. And in September you launched military operations against the Plain of Jars. The second [Page 158] meeting was between Minister Xuan Thuy and you in February 1970. This series of meetings included three meetings. And if you read the minutes again you would agree that at that time we were advancing towards substantive negotiations.
Kissinger: I agree.
Le Duc Tho: But you carried out the coup in Cambodia. You launched operations in Cambodia. As a result our talks were interrupted.
Kissinger: May I make one point, Mr. Special Adviser.
It really is important we understand each other on some historical points.
I agree with the Special Adviser that we were making progress in the spring of 1970. I can assure the Special Adviser, as I did then, although I know he does not believe me, that we had absolutely nothing to do with the overthrow of Prince Sihanouk.
Le Duc Tho: (laughs)
Kissinger: I know you do not believe it, but it’s important for you to understand. It was an event that occurred within Cambodia that has cost both of us another one and a half years of conflict and suffering.
It is irrelevant now.
Le Duc Tho: I temporarily believe that you had nothing to do with the coup in Phnom Penh.
By the end of April 1970, you and the Saigon puppet sent up to one hundred thousand troops for the invasion of Cambodia. As a result of this, we opposed you. Not only us, but the people of the United States and of the world were opposed to these operations. And the authors were the U.S. and the Saigon puppets.
Kissinger: But the point I wanted to make, for the future not for the past, is this: I told Mr. Special Adviser and the Minister in April 1970 that we were prepared to guarantee the neutrality of Cambodia. You said that your concept of neutrality was different from ours. I believe if we had then taken the opportunity, we would have found a solution and would have avoided another year of war.
Le Duc Tho: I have not forgotten that at that time Minister Xuan Thuy and I were talking with you. In our minds, we were making progress at that time. I believe that if we had continued those talks we would have made progress. I no longer accuse you of the coup in Cambodia, because you do not admit it.
Kissinger: It is not true.
Le Duc Tho: I don’t accuse but facts are facts. You launched military operations. How can we solve problems when there are military operations?[Page 159]
You say we should not talk of the past. But since you raised it, I must discuss it.
Minister Xuan Thuy met you again in September 1970. It was the third series. But in November you launched large-scale air attacks over North Vietnam, unprecedented since the cessation of bombing, and you sent commando troops to attack a place near Hanoi.
Early in 1971 we met once again. We did not meet, but we talked through Ambassador Dobrynin in the U.S. You proposed to Ambassador Dobrynin that we should meet. You made a number of proposals. We gave the answer through Ambassador Dobrynin that we agreed to meet you and that the problems you raised should be discussed at a forthcoming meeting. The meetings had not taken place, but in February you launched large-scale operations against Southern Laos, in Lam Son 719.
So I think each time we met you, with the intention of settling the problem, immediately afterwards either you launch military attacks against us or you use force against us.
Kissinger: May I tell the Special Adviser a factual thing.
I made certain suggestions to the Soviet Ambassador on January 9. I received the reply of the Soviet Ambassador only on February 23. And I was only told that you were in principle willing to meet but not what you were willing to discuss. That was over two weeks after the operations in Laos had started.
Le Duc Tho: We do not know the answer given to you by Ambassador Dobrynin, but we gave our reply before the operation in Laos. And we said that we shall discuss the proposal you wanted to make at the next meeting.
But I think that even if we had met before the operation, it would have taken place all the same.
Kissinger: I am not sure.
Le Duc Tho: The preparations for such large-scale operations cannot be made overnight. According to information available to us, Secretary Laird went to South Vietnam to discuss with Thieu the operation.
Kissinger: I don’t think it is appropriate for me to comment on this, except perhaps to draw the conclusion that we should not use intermediaries but should deal directly with each other.
Le Duc Tho: As far as we are concerned, we always have direct contact with you. But you first used an intermediary, Ambassador Dobrynin, so we had to give a reply through the Soviet Union. You used an intermediary, not we.
Kissinger: This proves that even a Harvard professor is not right 100 per cent of the time.[Page 160]
Le Duc Tho: This is the first time I hear you admit such a thing.
The reason I recall these past events is to show the experience we have.
I wonder what will follow our meetings this time. What do you intend to do? I wonder whether you are willing to settle the problems now? What are you up to?
Being an oppressed people, the victims of aggression, we fully understand imperialism. Over the past twenty-five years, we had the fate of having twice to cope with the U.S., and to sign agreements. Therefore we understand the U.S.
The articles published in the American papers on the documents of the Pentagon have revealed only part of the truth. We also understood Mr. Nixon when we fought the French. We understood Mr. Nixon came to Indochina, advocated sending troops to save the French, and advocated the use of nuclear weapons at Dienbienphu. Over the past two years, when Mr. Nixon succeeded to the White House, we have all the more clearly and deeply understood the Nixon Doctrine.
Since Mr. Nixon came to the White House, he has been talking a great deal about peace, but actually he has been making war with a very vicious strategy. Now you are talking once again on behalf of President Nixon and you tell me you are willing to negotiate, and not deceive us.
But from past experience we wonder whether you are really ready to settle the problem this time or if you want to continue the war. This is the point we are still worried about and still have doubt. Through your propaganda, it is not yet clear to us that you are willing to negotiate. Because your approach to the settlement of the Vietnam war is not yet correct.
The first thing and the important thing is that you want to separate the military question from the political problems, and you do not want to settle the political problems. But this is not a realistic proposal, a practical proposal. How can we dissociate the military problems from the political problems?
And, as Minister Xuan Thuy has just recalled, when we first met in 1970 you agreed with us that we should discuss the military and political problems at the same time.
There is no war without political goals. Military operations aim to achieve political goals. Military means are the only instruments to reach political ends.
We cannot settle problems if we separate the military questions from the political ones. If now our struggle is only a military struggle, without resolving the political issue, that is genuine independence, freedom, and democracy, then the war will continue.[Page 161]
You propose that we settle the military questions and we have a ceasefire without settling anything about political problems. The aim in our view is to buy time to consolidate the puppet Administration. You still want the puppet Administration to continue the implementation of your policy of Vietnamization, using Vietnamese to combat Vietnamese, Indochinese to combat Indochinese so as to implement your neo-colonialist policy.
You want to use your proposal regarding military questions to make pressure. You want to use your proposal regarding military questions to bargain with us on political problems.
Moreover, you said that your Seven Point Proposal is the final one. So if it is a final proposal, it is an ultimatum. So you want to compel us to accept these seven points, and there is no other proposal. I think that if it is real negotiations, then it should not be a final proposal.
Therefore with this proposal, how can we really believe that you are really negotiating?
I have been telling you that we should look at the realities. But I must say that you have not seen the realities objectively.
I don’t want to refer to the realistic situation on the battlefield, but I feel obligated to say a few words about this. The past twelve years of the war in South Vietnam has convinced you that it is a mistake. Moreover you have been saying that you want “no more Vietnams.” I think that no mistake can come to success, to victory.
But I believe that Mr. Nixon has not clearly seen this reality. He still wants to continue his policy, his doctrine, that is his policy of Vietnamization. But the reality of the battlefield during the last year shows that the policy of Vietnamization will certainly fail. No doubt you feel that our views differ on this point. It is your right.
In implementing your policy of Vietnamization you want to use the Saigon puppet troops as main forces to launch many operations in 1970 and 1971. You have given a great deal of equipment to the Saigon puppet troops. But the spinal cord of the policy of Vietnamization, that is the puppet troops, have been defeated during the last year. This is the test of the Vietnamization policy.
You have launched also many pacification campaigns aimed at destroying the Viet Cong bases, structures. But this has gone on over the past twelve years since the days of Diem, the bloody dictator who set up so many strategic Hamlets carried out throughout South Vietnam; he did not suppress the structures and bases. And now Thieu, backed up by you, has also carried out many pacification campaigns, but he didn’t succeed.
I think that in this term of President Nixon, even if he is reelected once again, he will not succeed in carrying out his policy. I think that [Page 162] time is not on your side. And I think you should not continue your policy of Vietnamization of the war; you should look to reality and begin genuine negotiations so as to peacefully settle the Vietnam problem. This is the only concrete way. We know how to look to reality. We know how to look to the balance of forces on the battlefield so as to settle the problem in a realistic way.
We have on many occasions told you that you are a great country. You say that you should not lose prestige. I frankly tell you that we want to seek a political settlement too of the South Vietnam problem. As a result we have been talking to you for over two years now.
The war is now going on throughout Indochina. Our aim, our policy, is to come to a peaceful settlement of the problems of this area.
We want South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to become an area really independent, neutral and nonaligned. You must understand this.
South Vietnam cannot be turned into a neo-colonialist country. South Vietnam is not yet a socialist country. South Vietnam must be really independent and neutral. South Vietnam must have a government really reflecting national concerns, including various parties. This is something factual, real.
No party should coerce any other. There must be a really independent and democratic administration, standing for peace. That administration will enter into genuine talks with the PRG. To enter talks with the PRG, to settle all problems, to restore the peace of South Vietnam—that is the imperative demand of various strata of the South Vietnamese population.
If you do not listen to this demand of the South Vietnamese people and you persist in maintaining Thieu-Ky-Khiem, then it would be difficult to come to a settlement.
You keep saying that you do not interfere in the political administration of South Vietnam, that you will not intervene in the political process. This is understandable. But these meetings are real negotiations. We should face the facts.
With regard to Laos and Cambodia, we respect the 1954 and 1962 Geneva Agreements on Laos. We never violate the sovereignty, the neutrality, and the independence of Laos and Cambodia. We shall continue our part to settle the problem of Laos and Cambodia. We shall discuss with our Laotian and Cambodian friends. Only by such a way can we come to a peaceful lasting settlement in this area.
In the negotiations to settle the problems of this area, we should associate the political and military problems. In each country, not only the military questions should be settled but also the political questions.
When this overall settlement is reached, then we can observe a ceasefire. And then we will have international supervision and interna[Page 163]tional guarantee. In the first instance, the problems must be settled between us, you and we.
This is a statement in general terms, an overall view. Further explanation of this will be given by the Minister Xuan Thuy.
What we want is a radical settlement of the problem. Not just a settlement of the political problem of the war, but also a long-term settlement between you and ourselves.
If we really enter into genuine talks, you should seriously study our views, and we will do the same with yours. We want a real negotiation. We should look into the realities and come to a logical settlement, a reasonable settlement.
If you persist in pursuing a policy war, I think that with the experience of the past few years of war you can visualize the prospects. Do you want to settle the war or do you want to extend the war? If the war continues, it will abide by the laws of war. Only with the desire to settle the war, can war be ended. I think peace will be in the interest of you and us. After so many years of war it is our desire to have peace and to rebuild our country. We also, after the restoration of peace, want to establish relations with you. We want to establish new relations in many fields of interest. But if you continue the war, we have no other way but to continue our fight.
This is not a test for us now. The past twelve years have shown you this test. We know that war brings about losses, but we have no other way. There is nothing more precious for us than independence and freedom.
These are a few words that I wish to express.
Kissinger: Did I understand you to say that the Minister will follow your eloquent remarks with specific proposals or something else?
Xuan Thuy: I propose this. Now we should have a little break and when we resume Mr. Special Adviser shall express his views, if any, on the words of Special Adviser Le Duc Tho. And then I shall make my statement.
Kissinger: Objective reality forces this break.
At this point there was a break lasting about forty-five minutes, during which refreshments were served. Le Duc Tho remained downstairs during the break, engaging in relaxed and pleasant conversation. He sometimes spoke French, but otherwise through an interpreter. Xuan Thuy remained upstairs working on his statement. After the break, the discussion resumed.
Kissinger: Mr. Special Adviser, I found your remarks very eloquent and very important. I would just like to make a few observations.
You began by saying that our previous meetings have always been followed by military actions. I do not think that any purpose is served [Page 164] by reviewing history, but it may be important for you and your colleagues to understand how the same situations look to us.
For example, when we met in February, March and April of 1970, at the same time there was significant North Vietnamese military activity in Laos. Whenever I returned to Washington, I was told that the North Vietnamese were only using these talks in order to gain time to do what they wanted to do militarily.
And the same was true last winter, when I chose perhaps an inadequate method of communicating some thoughts to you. And then it—the delay—was interpreted in Washington as a desire to obtain a military advantage.
So there is a fact that both sides tend to think that the other one is trying to take military advantage and is trying to bring military pressure. Now this problem becomes more difficult in view of the completely different style with which you and we approach negotiations. You have a very principled approach, and therefore you always reason from general principles and you give ground, if at all, only after long intervals of time.
So our people think that you are not negotiating at all. Because we are very practical and we like to talk about very concrete things.
Le Duc Tho: But recently your points are not concrete at all. Minister Xuan Thuy refers to a date. But you give no specific date. You’re not specific; let you be specific now.
Kissinger: Special Adviser Le Duc Tho’s definition of concreteness is to agree with Hanoi’s proposals.
Le Duc Tho: Minister Xuan Thuy has been proposing that you should fix a specific date for consideration.
Kissinger: I have only one request of Mr. Special Adviser Le Duc Tho—that he should let me win in one argument, if our negotiations go on for years, so that I may tell my children that I have won one.
Simply for information, and not to win an argument, I must tell you that every time I return from our meetings here I must justify to my colleagues, primarily the President, what has been accomplished. I agree with the Special Adviser that we were making progress in February-March-April 1970. But, since not everybody knows your methods, it was not that clear to our principals, and therefore they did not think that they were risking a great deal by undertaking some of the measures they did.
Therefore it would be important, for psychological reasons, that if we really want to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion, that at some point as soon as possible we register an unambiguous definite point of progress. This could have great psychological effect in Washington.[Page 165]
Now let me turn to a few of the specific points that Mr. Special Adviser Le Duc Tho has raised.
Special Adviser Le Duc Tho has asked are we sincere in trying to have negotiations and are we really determined to end the war?
I can assure the Special Adviser that we would consider it the greatest objective that we have set ourselves if we could end this war by a negotiated settlement and end the suffering and bloodshed.
There is nothing to be gained or to be proved anymore by either side by continuing the war.
I can assure the Special Adviser and the Minister that when we make a decision to settle, we shall do it with even greater energy and dedication than in the events of the past few years when we were obliged to make war.
Now, as to specifics.
Special Adviser Le Duc Tho referred to the fact that I pointed out that this was our final offer. Of course, it is our final offer, but you are of course free to make your proposals. We are talking about a negotiation, and not an ultimatum.
The most important issue that Special Adviser Le Duc Tho raised was the issue of the political solution for South Vietnam, and for all Indochina. When we met in March 1970, Special Adviser Le Duc Tho said let us deal with both issues, and if we are blocked in one area let us move to another area.
We think that we are now blocked in the direct approach to the political problem and we have therefore made our proposal first to settle the military problem and thereby indirectly affect the political problem. You have often said that the government in Saigon is held up only by American power. We do not agree with you, but in any event by proposing withdrawal of American forces and a fixed date we can test the correctness of your proposition.
If we do not settle now, the only result will be that we will arrive several years later at the same point we propose today. That is to say, a point where the American forces will be withdrawn and the South Vietnamese will be left to themselves.
I have explained on a number of occasions to Minister Xuan Thuy, and I believe also Mr. Special Adviser, that we cannot, consistent with our principles, simply betray people with whom we have been working for many years. But we are willing to discuss processes which bring about an opportunity, indirectly, for the people of South Vietnam to determine their own future. As I have pointed out before, we do not want anybody to impose his political solution by force, and we will not impose ours.
Maybe there has not been enough imagination on how to bring this about. But my principal point in replying is to assure you. Nobody [Page 166] sees the President more often than I. I know that he sincerely wants peace, and that he will do what is possible consistent with his principles and obligations to bring it about.
So I would like to join the remarks that Mr. Special Adviser made at the end. If we can today make a commitment to peace, and if we can truly agree to make rapid progress, you will find us eager partners on a road toward a peace which will benefit both our people and all people of the world.
Le Duc Tho: I have some remarks.
I do not want to return to your justifications about the fact that after each meeting there were some military attacks. Because the facts are facts.
Now you say you want to come to negotiate a settlement. But this can be done not by words, but only by facts, by realistic proposals, by concrete proposals. But through your proposals, and through your further explanation of your proposals, we don’t see anything concrete yet.
If a settlement of the problem is to be reached, it is necessary to settle both military questions and political problems. And as you recall, if we are blocked on one, we shall move to another. But now you reverse your position. If we only settle the military question the problem is not settled.
We shall see how you will settle the problem concretely. We shall continue to listen to you.
Kissinger: We have made our proposal. If you have no other proposals of your own, I have nothing more to say.
Xuan Thuy: Now let me say a few words.
After considering your Seven Point Proposal made in a private meeting on May 31, 1971, and after listening to the further explanations given by Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger, we see that your proposal is not yet complete because your Seven Point Program said nothing about the political problem as we have agreed.
Mr. Special Adviser Kissinger says that Mr. Le Duc Tho and I said once that we should settle parallelly the military and political problems, and if we are blocked on one we should shift to a discussion of the other.
Actually we did make such a statement. But we maintain our stand that both questions should be discussed parallelly. We should raise these two questions; we should speak of them, because they are linked.
Yet in the Seven Point Program the U.S. government made no mention at all of the political. Only in your further explanation did Mr. Special Adviser say that the military settlement would have an indirect effect on the political problem.[Page 167]
Le Duc Tho: The U.S. participated in the 1954 and the 1962 Geneva Conferences. And then the political and military problems were never separated. When we settle military problems we should see the perspectives of the political settlement.
I just mention here a few small things, but very concrete. If we end the war, will there be democratic liberties for the people. Will they be free from reprisals? Will they be free to have general elections in South Vietnam?
We see we have come to an agreement just a few months ago and now you have changed your stand. Now we wonder if we come to an agreement, will you keep your agreement or will you tear it up?
Xuan Thuy: Now, as I have said here on many occasions, the U.S. withdraws troops, but it does not withdraw its forces rapidly and totally. According to the statements made by representatives of the White House and Pentagon we see that the intention of the U.S. is to leave behind its naval and air forces to support Saigon. In the meantime the U.S. wants to support the Saigon Administration. As I told you last time and in many previous times.
Mr. Special Adviser said you did not intervene in the political affairs of South Vietnam. But the facts are just the reverse. If so, we cannot put an end to the war. The U.S. cannot achieve what it has been saying, that it will get out of the war. It cannot do that.
For instance, you have just said when you answered my question, you talked about ceasefire throughout Indochina, all military activity except air reconnaissance, and this air reconnaissance can lead to war. I don’t know about Laos and Cambodia, but as for the DRV, as a sovereign country, we cannot bear reconnaissance flights over our country. This is our position.
Now, on behalf of the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam we would like to put forward to the U.S. Government our Nine Point Peace Program.
Kissinger: Is that a new proposal?
Xuan Thuy: Yes, you said last time that after considering your proposal, we should bring something new. After considering your proposal we feel it is not complete enough.
Kissinger: You are two points ahead of us again. I accept it, but I notice it.
Xuan Thuy: This proves our desire is more earnest than yours to end the war because we have more points.
Kissinger: George Bernard Shaw once said that, “I wrote a long letter because I didn’t have time to write a short one.”
(Xuan Thuy then reads the nine points from a prepared text.)[Page 168]
Point One. The withdrawal of the totality of U.S. forces and those of foreign countries in the U.S. camp from South Vietnam and other Indochinese countries should be completed within 1971.
Point Two. The release of all military men and civilians captured in the war should be carried out in parallel and completed at the same time as the troop withdrawals mentioned in Point One.
Point Three. In South Vietnam the U.S. should stop supporting Thieu/Ky/Khiem so that there may be set up in Saigon a new Administration standing for peace, independence, neutrality, and democracy. The Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam will enter into talks with that Administration to settle the internal affairs of South Vietnam and to achieve national concord.
Point Four. The United States Government must bear full responsibility for the damages caused by the United States to the peace of the whole of Vietnam. The government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam demand from the U.S. Government reparations for the damage caused by the U.S. in the two zones of Vietnam.
Point Five. The U.S. should respect the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Indochina and those of 1962 on Laos. It should stop its aggression and intervention in the Indochinese countries and let their people settle by themselves their own affairs.
Point Six. The problems existing among the Indochinese countries should be settled by the Indochinese parties on the basis of mutual respect for the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in each other’s affairs. As far as it is concerned, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam is prepared to join in resolving such problems.
Point Seven. All the parties should achieve a cease-fire after the signing of the agreements on the above mentioned problems.
Point Eight. There should be an international supervision.
Point Nine. There should be an international guarantee for the fundamental national rights of the Indochinese peoples, the neutrality of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and lasting peace in this region.
The above points form an integrated whole and are closely related to one another.
Le Duc Tho: This provision is similar to yours.
Kissinger: Can I have the text so I can ask questions? I will give it back. (He was given the text.)
Xuan Thuy: Our proposal is a comprehensive one, a complete one, a logical, reasonable, and realistic one. It will lead to a lasting settlement. It will bring about a peaceful, independent, and stable Indochina, in [Page 169] the interest of the Indochinese people and of the U.S. and peace. I hope the U.S. will promptly respond to it so that we may reach a settlement.
Kissinger: May I ask some clarification?
On no. 3, where you say in South Vietnam the U.S. should stop supporting Thieu, Ky, Khiem, what do you mean by that phrase?
Xuan Thuy: In this connection, we have expressed our views to Mr. Special Adviser and other U.S. delegates many times. We mean that the leaders of the Saigon Administration, such as Mr. Thieu, which is a group, although the U.S. says they are elected by the people, and they have a political structure, as a matter of fact, they are put into power by the U.S.
Kissinger: But what concretely do you want us to do besides withdraw our troops? If we accept this, what is our obligation?
Xuan Thuy: The Thieu, Ky, Khiem Administration constitutes an obstacle to the ending of the war, and to the restoration of peace, and to the work of the Paris Conference, because this Administration is opposed to communism, neutrality, and coalition. They always say they would use military means to end the war.
Therefore this Administration should be changed. How to change them I think you know better than we do.
Kissinger: I just want to understand. In other words, you are saying that we should leave Vietnam by the end of 1971, and on the way out we overthrow the Thieu, Ky, Khiem government. Is that correct?
Xuan Thuy: We have been saying all the time that both military and political questions should be settled at the same time. So in the military field you should complete withdrawals by 1971. In the political field you should change Thieu, Ky, Khiem. You have put them into power. You know how to change them.
Actually both problems should be settled in 1971. I think you have actually an opportunity to achieve this, to show that you are really willing to withdraw, really willing to respect the right to self-determination in South Vietnam.
Le Duc Tho: Because the internal affairs of South Vietnam can be settled only if there is in South Vietnam an Administration standing for peace, independence, neutrality and democracy. By forming such an Administration you will create a favorable atmosphere for talks with the PRG.
For so many years now this Administration, set up by the U.S., is very bellicose, warlike. And it would be very difficult to talk and settle the problem with this Administration. There must be some favorable atmosphere for negotiations.
Kissinger: Let me ask one more question, just for clarification.[Page 170]
On point six. “As far as it is concerned, the DRV is prepared to join in resolving these problems.” What does this mean?
Xuan Thuy: The DRV has common frontiers with other Indochina countries. In April 1970, the Summit Conference of the Indochinese peoples was held and in this Conference, the people of Indochina expressed their sense of solidarity and unity to repel the war of aggression, to defend their sovereignty, their independence and their territorial integrity. This is the connection, the relationship we have. That is why we put that sentence.
Kissinger: You have no common frontiers with Cambodia.
Xuan Thuy: It is because of the solidarity of the Indochinese people.
Kissinger: Does this phrase mean that you will withdraw your troops from these countries?
Xuan Thuy: We have always said that the DRV respects the Geneva Agreements of 1954 on Indochina and 1962 on Laos. We have refrained from interfering in the internal affairs of these countries. At the Indochina Conference of peoples we expressed solidarity and mutual help.
Kissinger: If you consider what you have been doing in Indochina since 1962 as noninterference, it is not considered particularly reassuring for my colleagues in Washington. They suffer from the illusion that there are 100,000 North Vietnamese in Laos.
Xuan Thuy: The Vietnamese are present in Laos and Cambodia, even in France, in the U.S.
Kissinger: In organized military units?
Xuan Thuy: I do not think so.
Mr. Special Adviser says that your colleagues in Washington will not be assured by this point because they are worried about history. If you speak about history, then I should refer to the historical origin of the situation and it will be long. And you have expressed no wish to return to the origins of the war. It will be long and we will be worried if we look into the origin of the war.
Kissinger: Can you answer one question that I will be asked in Washington? What is new in this proposal that you have not offered before?
Xuan Thuy: Please examine and you will see something new.
Kissinger: But you cannot tell me?
Xuan Thuy: I find many new points.
Kissinger: Give me one or two examples.
Xuan Thuy: All this is new. If you compare with the four points, with the eight and the ten points, that we support, and even with the seven points you will find something new.
Kissinger: Compared to the seven points, I have no difficulty finding something new. But that is not my question. Are you saying any[Page 171]thing that we should give special consideration? That’s what you asked me last time.
Xuan Thuy: Last time when I asked you the question, you did not answer and you said we should consider your proposal. I think you should do the same.
Kissinger: Are you now proposing we discuss your nine points and our seven points, or only your nine points?
Xuan Thuy: We are prepared to discuss both the nine points and the seven points.
Kissinger: Let me make final observation.
We will consider all this, except point four, which is completely inadmissible and should not be put to a great country. We have offered on a number of occasions voluntarily economic aid, but the phrase reparations is completely inadmissible.
Le Duc Tho: It is your view. Both sides should study and consider.
Xuan Thuy: I would like to add one more point. You are the professor. If the U.S. has prestige in the eyes of the world, if the U.S. is respected by the world, it is not because the U.S. has a great amount of modern weapons or a great amount of finances. The U.S. is respected and appreciated because of the history of the U.S. and the struggle of the U.S. for the cause of independence and peace. And what is the noblest thing is the equality of people in the world.
Therefore you should not say that being a great country you cannot accept this point. Because after causing damages, now you repair damages.
As you said that your seven points is a final proposal, we said this was an ultimatum if you use the word final. You said it is not an ultimatum. Therefore we said it is our view that it is natural that you should give a response.
Moreover this point four will be discussed and you should also consider.
Kissinger: Keep in mind that there are points of honor and principle involved for us. Two American Presidents have indicated that we are ready to give economic aid. We will do this as a voluntary act and a sign of good will and basis for new relationship. We will not do it as an obligation and as a condition for ending the war.
Le Duc Tho: As Minister Xuan Thuy has just said, these nine points will be subject to discussion.
But there is one point I would like to mention.
Our country has been subject to aggression and tremendous destruction for over twelve past years. If now a small amount of money is paid for damages that is something legitimate, and common sense shared by everyone in the world.[Page 172]
But it is one of the questions. The main thing is that military and political problems, these great problems should be settled.
Kissinger: Let me ask one more question. The last time I saw Minister Xuan Thuy, you had a peace proposal which was published two days after we met. What do you plan this time?
Xuan Thuy: These nine points are given to you for consideration.
Kissinger: My question is: If we discuss them, along with our seven points, will you keep them secret during our discussions or will you publish them?
Xuan Thuy: We shall discuss together these seven and nine points. Your question is not yet clear to me.
Kissinger: The question is, we have kept our proposals to you secret while we discussed. You have presented these nine points. Can we assume you will keep them secret while we discuss them or will you publish them?
Xuan Thuy: The private meetings will be kept according to habitual rules.
Kissinger: In other words, we will keep our proposal secret and you keep yours secret.
(Xuan Thuy nods yes.)
Xuan Thuy: Agreed.
Kissinger: We will consider your proposal and give you our reply at another meeting.
In addition, I wanted to mention two things.
But first, can we set a date for another meeting?
Xuan Thuy: Yes. You should consider our proposals and have views to express and we should meet again.
Kissinger: I agree.
In the light of this and other matters, I intend to pay a visit to Saigon to form my own judgment of the situation. I intend to do this within about a week or so. I will do it with a minimum of publicity, but it will be known especially since my colleague, Mr. Special Adviser, is always well-informed on my program.
Xuan Thuy: Your trips are unknown to us. Also your weekends. Only the weekends when you come here do we know where you are. We know only of your working hours.
Have you finished?
Kissinger: I would suggest, because it would fit into my travel schedule, July 12th, that’s a Monday.
This would be on my return from Asia and therefore would attract little attention. Is that agreeable?[Page 173]
Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy: (After discussion) We agree.
Xuan Thuy: By the way, I would like to mention to you that Mme. Binh recently told me that it would be advisable and appreciated if she would have the opportunity to meet an American representative and if possible high-ranking, for example you, so that she may expose completely and fully her views. With you would be good.
Kissinger: I am afraid of her.
Xuan Thuy: She’s a very attractive lady.
Kissinger: Let us see if we make progress in our discussions. Then we can see what the prospects are.
(Xuan Thuy and Le Duc Tho nod concurrence.)
Let me make one general proposition. We have talked together for a long time now. It is obvious to me that in drawing up the nine points you stated your ideal program. Obviously, each side in preparing its program is more conscious of its own needs than those of the other side’s. I think you know which points of this program are most difficult or most objectionable for us, without my describing them in detail.
We shall look at these points with the attitude, which I have described to the Special Adviser, that we would like to come to a rapid solution.
I hope you will look at ours from the same point of view.
Let us both make an effort next time to see whether we can register some concrete progress at one meeting, so that we will be encouraged when we return to our respective duties that we have made some progress and that more progress must be made.
Perhaps one way to proceed is for both of us to try to see which of the other’s points we are willing to accept so that we can put those aside and at the end of the next meeting we will have reduced them to those which we haven’t solved.
Le Duc Tho: Minister Xuan Thuy and myself have told you many times that we have been talking for six or seven times but this time today we put forward the nine points. It is obvious that these nine points mark progress. Now we have made our proposal. You will consider it and next time you will put forward concrete things, logically, seriously, and reasonably.
Kissinger: The Special Adviser is not implying that this is different from what I say today?
Le Duc Tho: What is important is that you give an answer to our nine points. At least we have given concrete points and your seven points are too general. So next time you should raise your questions. And if we put aside points we agree upon we should refrain from reversal of agreement. There should be parallel settlement of military and political problems.[Page 174]
Kissinger: We will look this over and you will again look at our remarks. Let us both try to make significant progress at the next meeting.
And let us both keep secrecy about the nature of these discussions. Otherwise it will be impossible to continue.
Xuan Thuy: While apart we will keep these meetings secret.
Kissinger: And the points?
Xuan Thuy: Yes.
Kissinger: And Mme. Binh also?
Xuan Thuy: But you refuse to meet her.
Kissinger: That is a serious question. If Mme. Binh publishes these nine points, we will publish our seven points and break off the channel.
Xuan Thuy: We shall keep this forum secret. As for Mme. Binh or the PRG, the last time you suggested a number of things. I told you that this was suggestion. I cannot answer for Mme. Binh.
Kissinger: I just want to tell the consequences. If your persuasive powers fail, and she publishes a nine point program, we will only discuss it in the public forum, at Kleber. If we make significant progress, the time may come when we can talk to other parties.
Xuan Thuy: We should all say that we desire peace and should come to a settlement of the war. Because the continuation of the war will not be in the interest of anyone.
Kissinger: That is our attitude. We will make major efforts in that direction.
I also have the selfish reason to keep my colleague, the Special Adviser, here in Paris for a while.
Le Duc Tho: It depends on you.
If you put forth something concrete and there is progress, I will stay to settle.
Kissinger: We will meet on the 12th. At 10:30?
Le Duc Tho: We should make an effort and serious negotiations to come to a settlement.
Kissinger: This will be our attitude. But we should look at each other’s necessities. We will look at yours. But we hope you will make an effort to look at ours.
10:30 on the 12th.
Thank you very much, Mr. Minister. It’s always a pleasure to see you.
(To Le Duc Tho) It’s a pleasure to renew our acquaintance.
Xuan Thuy: We are very glad to meet you.
Kissinger: It’s our misfortune that people I like so much personally are on the other side.[Page 175]
Xuan Thuy: That is precisely the reason why we should promptly end the war. Then there is no difference of sides.
And so, as I told you, we always end our meetings with a smile.
Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1039, Files for the President, Vietnam Negotiations, HAK II 1971. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only. The meeting took place at the North Vietnamese Residence at 11 Rue Darthé. In the list of participants, Nguyen Minh Vy’s name was crossed out and Phan Hien’s inserted in its place. Kissinger summarized the meeting in a June 27 memorandum to the President. (Ibid., Box 853, For the President’s Files—Lord, Vietnam Negotiations, Camp David, Vol. VIII)
Kissinger later related what he believed significant about this meeting. “In the fairy-tale atmosphere of Vietnam negotiations,” he wrote, “after two years of Communist stonewalling and domestic flagellation, my colleagues and I were elated that Hanoi had for the first time responded to a proposition by us, even though the response could hardly be called generous. It was a major step forward only by the standards of previous exchanges. For the first time Hanoi presented its ideas as a negotiating document and not as a set of peremptory demands.” (Kissinger, White House Years, p. 1023)↩