Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series
This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. The subseries presents a comprehensive documentary record of major foreign policy decisions and actions of both Presidents. This specific volume documents the U.S. negotiations in Paris with the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam from August 1969 to December 1973.
Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Volume XLII
Consisting primarily of the memoranda of conversation between the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, Henry A. Kissinger, and North Vietnamese Politburo Member and Special Adviser to the North Vietnamese Delegation, Le Duc Tho (except for a small number of occasions when senior North Vietnamese diplomat Xuan Thuy substituted for Tho), this volume focuses on the negotiations that led to the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973, and on post-Accords meetings in 1973 (February, May, June, and December) between Kissinger and Tho. Except for the Hanoi round of meetings in February 1973, all the meetings took place in Paris.
Presented chronologically, the documents in this volume—memoranda of conversation recording the meetings—show, among other things: 1) the evolution of the U.S. and North Vietnamese positions in the negotiations, 2) how the parties reached agreement on the Accords, also called the agreement or the settlement, and 3) how the Accords failed to lead to a stable cease-fire or to a political settlement of the conflict.
The negotiations comprised 68 meetings in 27 rounds, from August 4, 1969, to December 20, 1973, with each negotiating round consisting of a meeting or meetings in Paris (except for one round in Hanoi) between Kissinger and his opposite number, usually Le Duc Tho. Initially, a meeting round generally meant a single meeting on a single day. From October 1972, however, each round tended to have five or more meetings except the last one which contained two sessions. Appendix 1 at the end of the volume lists the date and major participants of each meeting.
The negotiations following the signing of the peace agreement trace the course and dynamics of the unraveling of the Paris Peace Ac[Page VIII]cords. The first round took place in Hanoi in February 1973, as Kissinger conducted his long-discussed visit to the North Vietnamese capital in order to begin the work of implementing the accords. As fighting continued almost unabated and the enforcement mechanisms for the accords became increasingly ineffectual, the two sides met again in May-June 1973 to reaffirm the accords and attempt to establish a stable peace. This effort failed as well, leading to the final session on December 20, 1973.
The principle of document selection for this volume was straightforward: include the transcripts of all of Kissinger’s meetings with the North Vietnamese discussing a negotiated end to the war. In addition to the negotiating record presented by the memoranda of conversation, the volume includes two significant additions to the official documentary record of these protracted negotiations. Appendix 2 consists of the agreement reached by Kissinger and Le Duc Tho as they concluded their marathon round of negotiations on October 17, 1972. This agreement did not come into effect, however, as it was quickly rejected by South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu, who refused to accept its major terms. More negotiations followed, which ultimately resulted in the occasion of the Paris Peace Accords, formally known as the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring the Peace in Vietnam, initialed by Kissinger and Le Duc Tho on January 23, 1973, and formally signed by representatives of the United States, the Republic of Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and the Provisional Revolutionary Government on January 27. The accords consist of an agreement, four attached protocols, and a number of understandings negotiated and agreed to by Kissinger and Le Duc Tho. While the agreement and protocols were published at the time, by agreement of the two parties, the understandings were not published, and were meant to remain secret. The final texts of several of these understandings are printed in Appendix 3.
The documentary history of the larger policy context of the negotiations in the Nixon years can be found in the following volumes: Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume VI, Vietnam, January 1969-July 1970; Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume VII, Vietnam, July 1970-January 1972; Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume VIII, Vietnam, January-October 1972; Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume IX, Vietnam, October 1972-January 1973; and Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, Volume X, Vietnam, January 1973-July 1975.
The editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Nixon Presidential Materials Project of the National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, Maryland (Archives II). He also wishes to acknowledge the Richard Nixon Estate for allowing access to [Page IX] the Nixon Presidential recordings and the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace for facilitating that access. Furthermore, the editor acknowledges the care and professionalism with which Historian’s Office staff has handled the copy and technical editing and the declassification review.
Additionally, he wishes to thank the following individuals—Merle Pribbenow, David Geyer, Melissa Heddon, and Stephen Randolph—for critical contributions to this compilation.
Many who research, write, and, as in this case, prepare documentary histories on the Vietnam War are indebted to Merle Pribbenow—none more so than this editor. Pribbenow possesses an expert knowledge of: the Vietnamese language; the history of Vietnamese Communism; and the larger history of the Vietnam War. For this volume he fielded the editor’s numerous questions about the enemy side, questions whose answers allowed the editor to avoid missteps. More importantly, Pribbenow made available his translations of message traffic between the Politburo in Hanoi and Le Duc Tho in Paris, and translations of relevant enemy memoirs, histories, monographs, and official reports. Excerpts from these translations appear in the compilation’s footnotes, and there add breadth and depth to understanding the enemy side in these complex negotiations and, therefore, albeit indirectly, the U.S. side as well.
Former colleague, David Geyer, now Chief of the Europe Division, in 2010 saw this improbable project not only as probable but necessary and in subsequent discussions helped give it shape. Additionally, he and William Burr, Senior Analyst at the National Security Archive, made substantive contributions to compiling a comprehensive list of Kissinger’s 1969-1973 meetings with the North Vietnamese, a task more challenging than one might suppose. Geyer also took time from his own research at the Nixon Presidential Library to obtain transcripts of several memoranda of conversation missing from the editor’s collection.
Archivist extraordinaire at the Nixon Presidential Library in California, Melissa Heddon in 2010-2011 and 2015-2017 made it possible for the editor to conduct research important to the project long distance.
The editor also wishes to thank Rita Baker, Mandy A. Chalou, Vickie Ettleman, and Matthew R.G. Regan who carried out their challenging copy and technical editing duties with commendable skill.
Last but certainly not least, The Historian, Stephen Randolph, from mid-2013 on, provided the indispensable high-level support necessary to see the volume through to publication.
John M. Carland collected the documents, made the selections, and annotated the documents, under the supervision of Adam Howard, the [Page X] General Editor of the series. Jonathan Turner assisted on the compilation of the front matter. Stephen Randolph, The Historian, and Kathleen B. Rasmussen reviewed the volume. Chris Tudda coordinated the declassification review, under the supervision of Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification and Publishing Division.