On 20 February 1970, Kissinger began secret talks with Lê Đức Thọ and Xuân Thùy at a villa outside Paris. As the fifth-ranking member of the Hanoi Politburo, and head of the official negotiating team representing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), Lê Đức Thọ stated that the North Vietnamese position continued to require the unconditional US withdrawal on a fixed date. He also required the abandonment of the Nguyễn Văn Thiệu government as a precondition for further progress, all of which stalled the negotiations. The North Vietnamese rejected Kissinger’s proposals for a mutual withdrawal of military forces, the neutralization of Cambodia and a mixed electoral commission to supervise elections in the Republic of Vietnam. The other two meetings, in which there was a similar lack of progress, were held on 16 March and 4 April.
Excerpts from the memorandum of the conversation between the US and DRV delegations reveal telling signs of a breakdown in communication:
Xuân Thùy (Chief of the Delegation): I spoke at this morning’s meeting. I would now like to hear what you have come to say.
Mr Kissinger (Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs): I spoke last this morning. Minister Xuân Thùy said it was essential that we arrive at the heart of the problem. I believe that you, Minister Xuân Thùy or Mr Lê Đức Thọ, should say what this means.
Xuân Thùy: I said this morning that you had said nothing new in comparison with the last time. You had said in asking for this meeting that you had something further to say. Please tell us what you mean by that.
Mr Kissinger: I said this morning, as in the communication through General Walters, that we are willing to talk outside the existing framework. I said this morning that two things are needed: instead of arguing about the 8 and 10 points, we should establish a list of agreed objectives and a work program. We are prepared to negotiate as part of this program the complete withdrawal of US troops after a settlement is reached.
Xuân Thùy: I would like to ask a few questions. What did you mean by the phrase “logical political process” in South Vietnam in your statement last August? This morning there was another point not clear to me. What did you mean by your statement that we want political superiority and you military superiority?
By the end of the conversation, that finished almost four hours later at 8pm, it seemed the greatest question might have been how to move forward at all:
Xuân Thùy: It seems that there is a difference of views on this also. You think you have made all the concessions and us none. So I think we should not use this word “concessions” any longer. Let us say that we shall meet each other to meet the common goal, peace. You have a lot of work to do in Washington. So do Mr Lê Đức Thọ and I in Hanoi. Paris is not my only job. The question of being busy is not a problem. The question is that of peace. The question is respect for independence, of willingness for peace.
Mr. Kissinger: Let’s not argue now about what we will argue later.
Excerpts from the memorandum of the conversation between the US and DRV delegations on 21 February, US National Archives