U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
Other State Department Archive SitesU.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
U.S. Department of State
Home Issues & Press Travel & Business Countries Youth & Education Careers About State Video
 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Office of the Historian > Foreign Relations of the United States > Johnson Administration > Volume VII
Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969
Released by the Office of the Historian
Documents 227-242

227. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, November 20, 1968.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting lasted from 1:15 to 2:30 p.m. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) Nitze and the President met the previous evening to discuss Vietnam and other issues with Rusk, Clifford, Rostow, McPherson, and Christian. (Ibid.) No record of that meeting has been found, although an agenda in a November 19 memorandum from Read to Rusk indicates that the topics were the same as those discussed the next day. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-EX Files: Lot 74 D 164, Secretary-President Luncheons (2))


The President
The Vice President
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
General McConnell
CIA Director Helms
Walt Rostow
George Christian
Tom Johnson

[Omitted here is discussion of the European monetary crisis.]

Secretary Clifford: Danang: The shelling was directed at the military base--not cities.

On the DMZ there is some sporadic activity.

There is substantial movement of supplies to Laos--not through the DMZ. Helms says 100,000 North Vietnamese troops are still in South Vietnam.

We are doing a good interdiction job in Laos. I think we should clear out the southern half of the DMZ when the talks start.

General McConnell: AA and SAM's are being shipped into Laos. They are concentrating north of the DMZ. Harriman wants to see if there are North Vietnamese in the southern half of the DMZ. We propose sending patrols in there to capture a few to positively identify them as North Vietnamese rather than Viet Cong as North Vietnam is charging in Paris.

Secretary Rusk: I would be for that.

We should be tough about the DMZ. We should be in a position to make demands.

Secretary Clifford: We could have a battle in the southern half of the DMZ.

Secretary Rusk: These fellows are looking for the margin of tolerance. We must tell them that we expected this when we stopped the bombing.

Walt Rostow: They are occupying all of the Northern half of the DMZ. They have some men in the southern half./2/ We must do what is right on this.

/2/In a memorandum to the President, November 16, 12:30 p.m., Rostow cited the NSC's estimate of NVA troops in South Vietnam as 90,000-110,000 and the CIA's estimate as 100,000-130,000. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 106)

CIA Director Helms: I agree with the Secretary.

Secretary Clifford: We have twelve reconnaissance flights per day. Now they have bad weather. They want to do it on a weekly basis.

The President: I'm for it.

General McConnell: Abrams wants to send some small units in to capture North Vietnamese in the southern half.

78 violations of the DMZ.

7 fired at us.

72 people observed.

The President: Do the Joint Chiefs think we should do it?

General McConnell: Yes.

The President: Rusk, Helms, and the Joint Chiefs are for it. So is Rostow.

Secretary Clifford: I would go along since Abrams recommends it.

The President: Let's do it.

Secretary Clifford: We'll send out an order today.

Diplomatic Situation

Secretary Rusk: Congress would murder us with Thieu acting like he's acting now. We are short of measures.

CIA Director Helms: We may need more patience.

Secretary Clifford: We are getting a run-around in Saigon. Before, Bunker could always see Thieu.

The points they stick on are fundamental to agreement. We cannot agree to what they're insisting on. We have a perfect right to go on with plans for the talks.

You've stopped bombing and want to get talks started. 20 days have gone by. I think time is running out. We have exactly 2 months left today.

I would meet on Friday of next week./3/ If the GVN come, a wide range of talks can take place. If they don't, we can talk on purely military matters.

/3/November 29.

We cannot go indefinitely without talks starting.

--the DMZ will erode.
--military support will be lost.
--cities agreement will erode.

I think the talks will get us somewhere.

I would like to withdraw a contingent of troops. We have right to proceed with this.

It would be a great day to pull out 5000.

Secretary Rusk: I would go ahead and talk to North Vietnam in a private session.

The President: It should be a shove to Thieu.

Secretary Rusk: I would shove him hard.

The President: Would you go along?

Secretary Rusk: I'd go pretty far. There will be fast erosion of support here otherwise.

I do not really know what is holding up Thieu.

Secretary Clifford: We are encountering a sharp difference in goals--a policy difference.

The South Vietnamese are

--not for talks
--not for pause
--they'd be for us to just go along as we are now.

We want to terminate the present type of involvement. They do not./4/

/4/Warnke outlined this conflict of interest between the United States and the GVN to Clifford in a November 20 memorandum. (Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 73 A 1304, 1968 Secretary of Defense Files, VIET 092.2)

Vice President Humphrey: The public will be very disenchanted unless something happens. The attitude in Saigon is hurting the Administration. Nixon will move and move fast. He'll sell them down the river.

You ought to proceed with Hanoi without being abrasive with Thieu.

This isn't your problem--it's a problem. I think you should proceed.

The President: Have we suffered any militarily?

General McConnell: No, sir. We haven't except for the supplies in Laos and above the DMZ. There is eleven times as much POL in the DMZ in November as there was in all the preceding months.

I agree with everything Secretary Clifford said, except the military will stay with you a lot longer than the public.

I heard not one--not one--complaint about stopping the bombing when you stopped it. I was in Vietnam at the time and talked with, I guess 100,000 men.

The President: I have been shaken by Thieu. I thought we would have known about Thieu's problems prior to October 31.

Let's be sure this is a desirable thing.

Nixon may be tougher than we are toward the GVN.

Secretary Rusk: You come to a different conclusion when you see what happened in Eisenhower's years. We don't have a credible justification for what GVN is doing. Let's try to get Thieu aboard.

Secretary Clifford: I would like to see both Hanoi or [and?] the NLF present.

Secretary Rusk: I would like to see it worked out with North Vietnam only.

The President: Walt, Clark and Secretary Rusk go back and put it on paper./5/

/5/See Document 229.


228. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, November 21, 1968, 1050Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 84, S/AB Files: Lot 74 D 417, Files of Ellsworth Bunker, Vietnam Telegram Chronos. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. Received at 7:41 a.m. Repeated to Paris for Harriman and Vance. On November 21 Clifford wrote to the President: "I note with concern in Ambassador Bunker's report on his talk with President Thieu that Saigon continues to urge the two main points that have been the basis of the disagreement between our two countries. These involve the desire of Saigon to take the lead in the Paris talks, and their refusal to permit problems of internal politics to be considered." He recommended that a telegram be sent to Bunker containing a strong message from the President in order to expedite the decision by the GVN to come to Paris. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country Files, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. VII)

43182. Ref: A. Saigon 43099;/2/ B. State 274093;/3/ C. Saigon 43016./4/

/2/Telegram 43099 from Saigon, November 20, reported that Bui Diem told Bunker that he "would try to impress on the President [Thieu] the importance of proceeding rapidly now toward a conclusion." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 84, S/AB Files: Lot 74 D 417, Files of Ellsworth Bunker, Vietnam Telegram Chronos)

/3/Document 226.

/4/Telegram 43016 from Saigon, November 19, reported on the GVN suggested modifications. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 84, S/AB Files: Lot 74 D 417, Files of Ellsworth Bunker, Vietnam Telegram Chronos)

1. I saw Pres Thieu this morning at 10 o'clock. (Bui Diem had just preceded me.) In handing Thieu our latest draft statement, I said we had now had several long sessions with the FonMin and Mr. Duc and this was the sixth of a succession of drafts and counter-drafts. The time had now come to move ahead, to get away from legalism and to make a decision. I reminded Thieu that he had told me several times that he wanted to help Pres Johnson to help him. I said this was the time to do it. Only a few points remained to clear up, and we should try to do so at this session.

2. I then went through our draft (ref B) point by point, comparing it with the last draft they had given us (ref C), dwelling at length on the two principal outstanding points, our paragraph 11 ("immediate and direct concern" and their erstwhile para 11 ("problems of internal politics will not be considered"), putting forward our arguments in accordance with instructions.

A. With respect to our para 11, I told Thieu that we do not insist on the precise words "immediate and direct" but could not accept the statement, without any qualification, that the GVN would be the principal spokesman "on all matters of concern to South Vietnam." I said we were pretty much agreed on how subjects would be divided between us according to who was primarily concerned, that it was most reasonable to be flexible and to leave it to our delegations to work out on the spot, and I offered as alternatives "all matters of concern primarily to South Vietnam" or "all matters of paramount concern to South Vietnam" or "all matters relating to the substance of political settlement in Vietnam." Thieu did not argue in favor of the GVN draft and just noted down our suggestions.

B. With respect to para 11 of their draft, I explained in great detail why it would be both tactically unwise for both of us and also inconsistent for the US to say that internal political matters couldn't be discussed. I mentioned the many times when we had publicly stated that we would be ready to discuss any subject, quoting the President's 1966 State of the Union message and other pronouncements which had been made without objection from the GVN. I said we simply could not make a statement that would be in contradiction to what we had said publicly so many times. I noted that the GVN could make such a declaration, but stressed that by doing so they would be incurring serious political liabilities and would, in fact, deprive themselves of important political advantages. I said the GVN should welcome the opportunity to contrast its free and increasingly prosperous society with the controlled Communist system in North Vietnam. They would be very unwise to foreclose themselves from carrying the propaganda battle to the enemy in the Paris discussions. Again, Thieu did not take issue.

3. The President was in fact remarkably relaxed throughout our discussion. I believe that he had already made up his mind to take part in the talks but that he still needs one more go around at the statement before he can move to agreement and public announcement. He listened to the rest of my presentation, which also stressed that we regarded the final sentence of para 3 as important (because it really is introductory to the next six paragraphs describing how we will treat the other side), and then began to talk about tactics in Paris.

4. He asked me what we (collectively) would do if Hanoi claims that the NLF is a separate delegation. I said of course they would claim this, but this was no reason to walk out of the meeting. In para 8 of our statement we were giving the GVN the key on how to handle this. We would be in a very strong position to work together to counter such propaganda, to make our case before Vietnamese opinion and international opinion. I said if we go ahead on the basis of our statement, with the full endorsement of our fighting allies as Thieu himself had proposed, we need not be afraid that the other side will put anything over on us. We would have a united front, and especially if the GVN is not reluctant to speak as a sovereign government in nailing enemy propaganda claims about the internal situation, we would have the strongest possible position. I added that at the same time we understood the GVN position that substantive talks on internal matters are better handled in side talks, and I remarked that if the GVN refuses to discuss a subject of this kind, obviously we could not do so on our own.

5. I might add here parenthetically that I did not use the argumentation provided by the Dept in para 11 ref B to rebut the claim about the 1962 Geneva Conference because it is possible that we had misunderstood Thanh on this point. Perhaps the GVN position in this matter was really that they dreaded the precedent of that conference precisely because internal matters had been discussed, because this had resulted in establishment of a coalition government in Laos. I thought it best to lay stress on the positive elements of that paragraph of the instructions.

6. Thieu remarked that he thought Hanoi was planning another offensive, not because they expected to achieve anything militarily but because they might be able to make fanciful claims about a "victory" and about the losses they were inflicting on us, to put pressure especially on American public opinion. I said this was entirely possible, but the facts would speak louder than Hanoi's words. Thieu agreed and remarked "We are more practical." I enumerated the factors of strength in the present position of the GVN as they had been reviewed with us the same morning by the PriMin (septel)./5/ Thieu also said he thought the other side was making a special effort with respect to attacks on the cities to convey the impression that the US had really obtained nothing in connection with the bombing halt; to prove that the US was giving a false impression to the people of SVN; and that it was too weak to protest. But he volunteered that our statement of Nov 13/6/ had provided welcome, if belated, ammunition in countering such allegations.

/5/Not found.

/6/See footnote 8, Document 217.

7. I then said we had now in successive drafts. [sic] It was very important when we could have his decision. Thieu said he would have another meeting of the NSC today and then we would talk again. He said, "We are very close now. We need only one more draft." I asked if he thought seven would be the lucky number. He smiled and repeated, "We are very close" and said we would be hearing from FonMin Thanh. Since Thieu would be taking our new draft to the NSC meeting, I left with him a sanitized version of my talking paper, so that he would have the full array of our arguments in connection with the points that were still unagreed.

8. In the course of our discussion Thieu also made some remarks which show, I believe, how he intends to proceed. I noted he had been to Vung Tau twice in the last few days and asked if this was in connection with the pacification counter-offensive. He said he had really been meeting with his psychological warfare people and with administrators from the provinces, and that he had called those meetings to make especially two points: (A) that it was absolutely untrue that the GVN was boycotting the Paris talks; and (B) that any expressions of anti-American feeling must be immediately countered, that we were working closely together and that that cooperation must and would continue. It was apparent from this remark that he is methodically laying the groundwork for public support when he announces that the GVN will participate in the Paris talks.

9. The other remark that he made is especially important. He said that a number of people (he mentioned the Italian and New Zealand Ambassadors) were going around asking questions about the composition of the GVN delegation. They were for instance asking whether Sen Tran Van Lam would head the delegation, as if everything else were already arranged./7/ He said this was bad because it created the impression of foreign pressure and intervention. I said I had had no knowledge of this activity. (Incidentally, just as I was leaving, the Italian Amb arrived to call on Thieu.)

/7/In telegram 43018 from Saigon, November 19, Bunker reported that although Lam had not yet been appointed, private contacts had been developing in Saigon between Lam and NLF representatives. Bunker noted: "Lam, as a reputable older Southern politician who is persona grata in most quarters, also seems a fairly logical candidate for such an approach if NLF leaders feared that they might be left out of any US/DRV arrangements. (These soundings could have been a disciplined gambit by the DRV/NLF for their own tactical purposes.) There is presumably little more that Lam can do at the present time to further this matter, but it would seem a useful reason to include him in a future GVN delegation. He has already been tentatively mentioned to us as a logical choice by a number of would-be delegation makers." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 84, S/AB Files: Lot 74 D 417, Files of Ellsworth Bunker, Vietnam Telegram Chronos)

10. I think this is a time when we should be especially careful to avoid any leaks or speculations that would give the impression that everything is in the bag and that it is a foregone conclusion that the GVN will be sending a delegation to Paris. There have been some unfortunate stories of that kind recently, not only from here but especially with Paris and Washington datelines. Thieu mentioned that he had refused to talk to reporters at Vung Tau yesterday. If, as is apparent, Thieu is carefully laying the groundwork for his announcement hopefully sometime during the next few days, we should refrain from anything that would deprive him of the psychological effect that he needs to carry his country with him. That effect, after all, is the purpose of our draft statement. We should not dissipate it by anything said to the press at this time./8/

/8/The South Vietnamese NSC accepted the U.S. draft on November 23. (Telegram 43342 from Saigon, November 23; ibid.) In telegram 43417 from Saigon, November 25, the Embassy transmitted the text of a letter on tactics for the upcoming expanded conference, which Bunker sent to Thieu that day. (Ibid.)



229. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson/1/

Washington, November 21, 1968.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-EX Files: Lot 72 D 192, Dean Rusk's Files, White House Correspondence. Secret.

It seems to me that we should try to avoid, within the next few days, additional public controversy with South Viet-Nam while proceeding quietly to assert and take care of our own interest in further contacts with the North Vietnamese Delegation in Paris.

I would make no public announcement about what we are doing because we would (1) create even more severe problems of face for President Thieu, and (2) expose ourselves to a rebuff from Hanoi which could make us look ridiculous.

As a first step I would ask for the comments of Bunker, Harriman and Vance on the attached telegram./2/ This telegram is based upon the idea that we would proceed to take up certain questions with Hanoi in Paris unless there were a public agreement by Saigon to participate in the Paris talks. These contacts with Hanoi should be private and not public and we should attempt to have them as a continuation of the bilateral contacts we have long been having with Hanoi rather than on the framework of "expanded talks" which would include the NLF. This means we would not, at least at the beginning, talk with both Hanoi and the NLF; if this proves impossible because of Hanoi's refusal, we would then have to reconsider that point. The central idea is that we follow up specifically with Hanoi on formal and firm arrangements about the DMZ and the principal cities. These subjects we have already discussed with Hanoi at great length on a bilateral basis. They were crucially involved in the decision to stop the bombing. They are just as crucially involved in our ability to maintain a cessation of the bombing.

/2/Attached but not printed.

If we succeed in engaging Hanoi in discussion of these matters, we should let President Thieu know that we are engaged in such discussions. In a formal sense this would be a continuation of our policy of informing him about our private contacts in Paris; in a political sense, it would serve as pressure on him to get his delegation to Paris because he would know that we are proceeding to discuss important matters with Hanoi whether he is there or not.

I would prefer to let Ambassador Bunker have a little more time to try to work out an agreement with Thieu before we make the situation even more difficult by further public announcements or threats.

My suggestion would be that, as the next step, we send out the attached telegram to get a quick reaction from Saigon and Paris. Over the weekend, we can then decide whether Harriman should proceed to contact Hanoi and could make this decision in the light of the current estimate as to the prospect of Thieu's agreeing to join the talks./3/

/3/In notes of a meeting of Secretary of Defense Clifford with his staff, November 22, Elsey noted the following statement by Clifford: "We've conceded every point in controversy to S. VNam in order to get them to Paris." (Johnson Library, George M. Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts) In notes of a meeting of the same group the next day, Elsey recorded Clifford as remarking: "Dean Rusk was good on Wednesday--but as soon as he got back into hands of Bundy et. al., he yielded & gave up. State was unwilling to pressure Saigon at all. So nothing really is going on other than Saigon continuing to kid & bamboozle Bunker into thinking 'just a few more days.'" (Ibid.)

Dean Rusk/4/

/4/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.


230. Telegram From the CIA Station in Saigon to Director of Central Intelligence Helms/1/

Saigon, November 23, 1968, 0710Z.

/1/Source: Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/ISS Files, Job 78-32, [name not declassified] Chrono File, Vol. III. Secret; Rybat.

CAS 702/IN 40384. Please pass following message from Ambassador to Assistant Secretary William Bundy:

1. Although momentarily overshadowed by our collective preoccupation with the bombing halt and negotiations issue, the need to proceed with priority programs in the political development field is obvious and urgent. Our Lien Minh effort is one such program. I should now like to resume our exchange on this subject, looking toward an early confirmation of our intention to support the Lien Minh over the coming months.

2. First, I want to express the opinion that Lien Minh is making adequate progress given the manifold difficulties which attend any venture of this kind in this particular country. Its governing bodies are meeting, its cadre are beginning to develop projects, "peoples' committees" have been elected in all Saigon precincts, an information program is being developed, the process of forming Lien Minh provincial committees is underway, a new top level political council has been formed and, in general, we discern steady if slow movement forward. Still, problems of internal stress, leadership and lack of participation by major religious groups persist. During the past several weeks, partly as result of the negotiations crisis noted at the outset, we have seen an internal financial emergency develop.

3. It appears the Lien Minh ran out of funds around mid-October. Nguyen Van Huong failed in his efforts to discuss this with the President and solve the problem. Thieu was obviously not able to divert his attention from the boiling pot on the front burner. The financial problem for the Lien Minh did not go away, however. Finally, Huong was able to obtain a stop-gap remedy from Thieu of one million piasters, a sum not sufficient to cover what we understand to be the backlog of obligations.

4. You understand that, at my direction, there were no CAS contacts with Thieu during the period from 16 October until this week. The President was not about to raise with me the Lien Minh and our subsidy thereof while in the midst of our diplomatic tug-of-war. In fact, we had a CAS report indicating that he found the idea of accepting our Lien Minh funds during this period embarrassing and awkward. He apparently feared that it could be used as another pressure point on him to conform to our wishes. In any case, it was necessary and, perhaps in retrospect, politic to delay direct discussion with Thieu on Lien Minh until the air had cleared somewhat on our critical negotiations issue.

5. Accordingly, I authorized CAS to contact President Thieu only on 19 November and to include prominently on the agenda a discussion of the Lien Minh in an effort to determine Thieu's present intentions concerning it. Following is a summary of what transpired:

A. Thieu was asked if he planned to continue to provide his full support to the Lien Minh. He was reminded of my earlier assurances that the USG stood behind him in this effort with both funds and political endorsement. Thieu was informed that I remain persuaded of the important potential of the Lien Minh, especially as a bridge between government and people in the provinces. He was told that the new administration would soon be briefed on the Lien Minh in order to obtain its views on this enterprise. Our presentation to the new team in Washington would require an up-to-date expression of Thieu's support for the organization. If Thieu had changed his mind, we were prepared to adjust accordingly.

B. Thieu stated that he remains fully committed to the Lien Minh and professed his intention to attend to its problems shortly. He then described some of these problems as he saw them, to wit: Tran Van Don's lack of organizing talent and cadre, faults in the system of cadre salaries, etc. These have been reported in FVS-17,978./2/

/2/Not found.

C. When reminded that the Lien Minh was in financial difficulties, he reiterated his desire for USG help in this area. While he expressed the view that Lien Minh officials had not used funds for personal gain, he asked our assistance in evaluating the "wisdom" of the financial expenditures made thus far.

D. Thieu then requested a change in procedure with respect to the passage of funds. In order to improve the security of the support arrangements, he asked that the funds be given to his private secretary, Hoang Duc Nha, who in turn would give them to the President. The latter would, of course, dispense as needed to the Lien Minh organization. (Comment: Whether this request was based on Thieu's assessment of the need to improve security or reflects a residual embarrassment at personally receiving these funds is an open question. In my view, the change is essentially mechanical and does in some ways improve security. In any event, this is how Thieu wants to handle the affair and we will comply. We have no derogatory information on Nha and assume that Thieu, a most prudent man in these matters, has placed his confidence in Nha with reason. Embassy has had continuing contact with Nha and has found him cooperative and well inclined towards U.S.)

6. We have approximately [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] remaining from existing authorization and plan to pass that to Nha as soon as possible. Additional sums will be required almost immediately. I would hope that in the natural order of briefings for the new administration, this important project would receive early attention. There will soon come a point where the Lien Minh will expand (we hope rapidly) as committees are formed and cadre recruited in the provinces. It would be unfortunate if momentum were lost by uncertainty of the financial side.

7. My desire to have a clear statement of willingness to support and to have funds clearly earmarked does not mean that I have altered previously stated intentions to avoid a blanket or open-ended commitment to the Lien Minh. The process of careful evaluation of its progress and potential will go on. If at any point we believe that forward motion is irrevocably arrested, I will so inform the President and can, if desired, arrange to terminate the subsidy. Moreover, intend to remind Thieu at the earliest expedient moment of the need to develop indigenous sources of funds. You will recall his strong feeling that this could be done but not until Lien Minh had become a going and successful concern. With hard work and some luck, the latter condition could apply before the end of the current fiscal year.

8. I can appreciate the possible difficulties in arranging a full dress review of the Lien Minh with the new administration during this hectic period. If this cannot be done, I must ask you to authorize a second [number not declassified] allotment to be passed by CAS at my direction pending the final decision on the entire package previously put before the 303 Committee./3/

/3/The reply to Bunker from Bundy in CIA telegram 54540 to the Saigon Station, November 27, reads: "Your review of present state of play with respect to Lien Minh has been understood and appreciated at the appropriate levels here. Your comments on 'possible difficulties of arranging a full dress review of the Lien Minh' are quite apt, and I have, therefore obtained approval for the more limited allotment of [number not declassified] dollars requested in your para. 8 to be passed to Thieu by CAS at your direction. We naturally will need continuing reporting on developments affecting Lien Minh and the use to which the funds passed have been put. This reporting will be essential for the eventual revival of the effort to obtain appropriate clearances for the entire package previously put before the 303 Committee." (Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/ISS Files, Job 78-32, [name not declassified] Chrono. File, Vol. III) In telegram 44649 from Saigon, December 12, Bunker noted that he told Thieu in a December 11 meeting that "while we respect the President's judgment that he should avoid over-identification with the Lien Minh, we believe it is clear that an enterprise of this kind is not going to gather momentum, let alone become a powerful non-Communist popular movement challenging the NLF/VC apparatus, unless there is a greater expression of Presidential interest." (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Subject File, Vietnam)


231. Telephone Conversation Between President Johnson and Secretary of Defense Clifford/1/

Washington, November 23, 1968, 11:45 a.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Clifford, November 23, 1968, 11:45 a.m., Tape F68.09, PNO 9. No classification marking. This transcript was prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian.

Clifford: Hello, Mr. President.

President: I was kind of under the impression these folks were going to accept our reconnaissance. Apparently, these negotiators don't know what they're doing over there. Now they shot down this plane this morning--I think that's pretty serious./2/

/2/A single reconnaissance aircraft had been shot down over North Vietnam on November 23.

Clifford: Yes. I had my boys in as soon as we got the flash, and we talked it out. Here is my understanding of the agreement over there. Maybe somebody ought to check with Cy, because we'll have it, we'll get questions on it, and I go on this program tomorrow, and I want to be sure I have it right. But you'll remember we went through the stage when Hanoi was insisting on a written minute of agreement--

President: Yeah.

Clifford: And they had language in there that said that we "shall not engage in any act of war." After a couple of weeks of argument, when we talked about reconnaissance and all, that was changed to we "shall not engage in any act of force." And that specifically meant that we were going to fly reconnaissance.

President: That did to us. Now what it meant to them, I don't know. I thought they--I thought it meant that to them. But apparently they never have taken that position.

Clifford: No. I was just going to say that I think all that did was to permit us to fly reconnaissance. But I have never seen a word that indicated that they were not going to try to knock our planes down. We could have agreed ahead of time not to fly any reconnaissance. We said, "We've got to fly reconnaissance." They finally say, "Well, okay, we'll change the words--you fellows fly reconnaissance." But at no time did I remember that they have said they would permit us to do that without trying to knock our planes down. And I think that's the understanding.

President: Well, do we have an understanding we won't knock hell out of their anti-aircraft?

Clifford: No, we do not.

President: Well, then, why in the hell don't we do it? Just go right in there--that son-of-a-bitch that hit him, and let everything we have on him, so that maybe we could temper their shooting down a little bit.

Clifford: Yes.

President: I don't think we can ask our boys to go over there and get hell shot out of them and then throw kisses at them.

Clifford: We cannot. Now this particular plane that went down was an unarmed reconnaissance plane but it was escorted. Now we don't--we know that--we know it was escorted by an armed escort. Now we don't have the details yet to know whether or not the armed escort went and attacked the ground fire. But my understanding is that the orders are, I'll check with Bus, but I'm practically certain that our orders are that any plane that's fired on we are to fire back at once and attempt to stop the firing on our planes. That's the instruction.

President: I sure hope so. I don't know any other reason why we'd have an armed escort with him.

Clifford: Well, the only other reason is--

President: Unless he's just keeping him company. [Laughter]

Clifford: Well, no, no. There're a couple other reasons. One other reason is to protect him against Migs at night.

President: Well, that's what I'm talking about, though. I mean, if he has no authority to fire, there's no point of having an escort.

Clifford: Right. He has authority to fire. And then the other purpose is that if a reconnaissance plane goes down, then this armed plane hopefully can stay in the vicinity and try to spot the fellow and then try to direct helicopters in to rescue the man. That's all set up, and we've gotten a little hint yet in the reports that they were staging rescue operations here, but that they weren't able to get the man.

President: That's right. They heard a beeper, and heard his voice, but pretty soon they picked him up, I guess, got his beeper and everything.

Clifford: That's right. Now, there is a flash out of Hanoi, just 5 minutes ago. You've seen it?

President: Yeah, yeah, they've announced it. I think this is going to give us great problems with our hawks here--that if our reconnaissance planes are being shot down and we're not doing anything about it, and everybody thinks that our agreement at least implied that we could have reconnaissance, they wouldn't be knocking them out of the air all the time.

Clifford: Well, I thought I'd straighten that out tomorrow. I'm sure I'll get a question on it. I thought I'd be ready, and I thought I'd straighten by saying that we said that under no circumstances were we going to stop flying reconnaissance, that the President has to know what's going on north of the DMZ. We can't live in a vacuum.

President: What is going on there? Does that disturb you at all?

Clifford: As to what's going on?

President: Yes, yes. What was the information you're getting from there?

Clifford: Oh, there's a lot. There's a lot of movement in North Vietnam. There's a good deal of truck movement. Interestingly enough, quite a lot of it moving from south to north, and there's substantial movement of north to south. I've just been going over some figures here that are damned interesting. As far as men are concerned, in July and August, they were coming down at a rate of between 20 and 30,000. In September, it fell off to around 12,000. In October, it fell off to around 3,500. And so far this month, it's run--it's been--there've been about 600. So the last 3 months, there's been a very substantial fall off in personnel moving from north to south. Now, there are more trucks moving over in Laos now than were moving before. Probably the main reason being--that that's the road that's passable. So that we're moving--we don't say this publicly, but as you know--we're moving our air power over, attacking them in Laos, and doing quite a good job.

President: I wonder what results are coming out of that. Are we getting much more since we stopped the bombing of North Vietnam in Laos than we were getting before?

Clifford: I'll have--I'll get those figures.

President: Get what we were doing October 31st and what we're doing now.

Clifford: Now, also, one of the main points is, of course, why we were interested in the DMZ is that we wanted to be sure that there wasn't going to be any infiltration through the DMZ. That's another reason we've been watching North Vietnam very carefully. As far as we can ascertain, that's been okay. There's not been any infiltration through the DMZ. Now, the boys here have been putting me through a skull session. One of them asked a very good question. One of them said, "Now, Clifford, you say that over in Paris that there was a general understanding that involved the DMZ and involved the cities. Was that all that there was in consideration of our stopping the bombing?" I said, "Well, no. Of course, the GVN was to come to the table." And then they said, "Was that all?" Then I said, "No. And my answer to that, unless somebody persuades me to the contrary, is the President has said all along, and it's just as clear as it can be, that if they take any steps during the bombing halt that places our men, particularly up in the I Corps, in greater jeopardy, then that means that there is the kind of violation of the understanding that we cannot permit. And up until now, during the 22 days since the bomb halt, we do not believe that our men are placed in greater jeopardy in I Corps, and neither does General Abrams." That's the way I thought I'd handle that, because I don't believe we can just confine our--the kind of general understanding we have with Hanoi to just the cities and the DMZ. I think we've got to include this other. If we saw, for instance, two divisions massing north of the DMZ, and saw them establishing a great military base just north of the DMZ, we couldn't go on, you see. So, that's the--

President: I'll see you at 1 o'clock, I guess, won't I?

Clifford: Yes, I'm coming over at 1 o'clock./3/ But that seems to me to be the best way to handle that. That would protect us.

/3/From 1:25 to 3:10 p.m. that day, the President met with Clifford, Rusk, Rostow, Fowler, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Monetary Affairs Frederick Deming, Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System William McChesney Martin, Murphy, Edward Fried of the NSC Staff, and Christian. The President's Daily Diary indicates that the meeting was "a rundown on what happened at the Bonn meeting of the Financial Ministers." (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) A record of the meeting is printed in Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VIII, Document 221.

President: I'm worried about this plane. I think that our people will start coming, saying, "Okay, now, what are we going to do?" And they'll think that we kind of left them under the impression--matter of fact, I was under the impression--that they were not going to knock our planes down.

Clifford: Well, I intend to step up to that one tomorrow, and tell them that our planes are being accompanied by armed escorts, and we will continue to accompany them by armed escort. But we might lose one of them once in a while. Of course, we're not losing near the planes that we were before. But we're--they're flying with armed escorts who are authorized to destroy or to attempt to destroy anyone firing on our planes./4/

/4/For comments made by Clifford during his televised interview the next day, see The New York Times, November 25, 1968.

[Omitted here is discussion of an agreement for the sale of aircraft to Israel.]


232. Editorial Note

President Johnson remained concerned over what he perceived as a connection between the South Vietnamese Government and Republican Party operatives. In a telephone conversation with Senator George Smathers on November 23, 1968, President Johnson stated: "This bunch of fools that moved in and got South Vietnam not to go to the conference because of Nixon, they just screwed up everything, and it's taken us 3 or 4 weeks. And I didn't expose it because I just couldn't use those sources and I didn't want to make it impossible for him to govern. I think if I had've said to the country and exposed this, brought it out, I think it would've shocked the country so that he would've been seriously hurt. So I just told you, and he told Dirksen, and got it kind of back on the track again. But that damned woman is still messing around, causing trouble, that Mrs. Chennault." (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Smathers, November 23, 1968, 1:08 p.m., Tape F6811.05, PNO 9-10)

In a telephone conversation with Senator Everett Dirksen the following day, Johnson noted: "We're making some progress on the South Vietnamese thing. We haven't got it quite back where we had it in October. But we're hoping in the next day or two to do it. Your performance was A-plus. We read you loud and clear. Your speaking for both Presidents prompted action and as a matter of fact, they not only got their dispatches out rather quickly and rather alarmingly, but you cleaned up a big mess for your party that would've been a national scandal. And I think it put Dick [Nixon] in a lot better position than some of his other people put him in. I don't think he knew too much about it, but they had been playing with it some. Bui Diem was impressed enough that he went on out there himself--the Ambassador--and he has been there personally pulling it through every day and just working like a dog and I think largely because you impressed him. And I think--I just thank God that Congress is not in session now, because if Fulbright and Mansfield and them started working on him for not going to the table, we'd be in a hell of a shape." (Ibid., Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Dirksen, November 24, 1968, 9:36 a.m., Tape F6811.05, PNO 17) Both transcripts prepared in the Office of the Historian specifically for this volume.


233. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State/1/

Paris, November 24, 1968, 2105Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. Repeated to Saigon.

24385/Delto 987. From Vance. Subject: Report of meeting, November 24.

1. In accordance with instructions in State 276999,/2/ I met with Lau at our place in Sceaux afternoon November 24. Vy, an interpreter and a notetaker were present on their side. Engel/3/ and Holbrooke were present on our side.

/2/In telegram 276999/Todel 1639 to Paris, November 23, the Department transmitted the following instructions: "Vance should see Lau as soon as possible and make the strongest possible case that the shooting down of U.S. reconnaissance planes in the southern part of North Viet-Nam is wholly unacceptable to the United States. Vance should call upon all the background of the previous talks about reconnaissance and use any additional arguments he thinks will be effective, such as North Viet-Nam has its own forces in South Viet-Nam and, therefore, has its own means for informing itself about movements of our own and allied forces in the South and that we cannot, therefore, be blind to what is going on in those parts of North Viet-Nam which could directly threaten our forces in the South. Make clear that it will be necessary for us to insist upon reconnaissance and to protect our reconnaissance planes by whatever means are required. Our preference, in the interest of talks leading to a peaceful solution, would be for the North Vietnamese to comply with their clear understanding of our point of view and leave our unarmed reconnaissance planes alone." (Ibid., A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-November 1968)

/3/Foreign Service officer David Engel.

2. I began the meeting with the following statement: Begin statement. "At our last two meetings we discussed at length the conducting of reconnaissance flights by US aircraft over the DRV. At those meetings I told you that we continue those flights as required.

3. I further said that the conducting of reconnaissance flights was totally consistent with our understanding at the time of the cessation of all bombardments and was necessary for the safety of allied forces. I pointed out that it in no way constituted a threat to the security of the DRV.

4. I protested the firing by the DRV on our reconnaissance aircraft, and asked that it be stopped. I warned that if the attacks on our reconnaissance aircraft continued, we would take all steps necessary to defend our aircraft and to protect our pilots, and this could lead to a serious and dangerous situation.

5. What I spoke of has now happened. Yesterday, as you well know, one of our reconnaissance aircraft was shot down in the vicinity of Dong Hoi. That action on the part of your government is wholly unacceptable to the United States.

6. I previously said to you that I assumed that both of us did not wish to see anything happen which would seriously endanger movement towards a peaceful solution of the Viet Nam problem. As I understood your remarks at our last meeting, you agreed with that assumption. Yet your gunners have continued to attack our reconnaissance aircraft which are in no way endangering the security of the DRV.

7. As I told you before, until we move closer toward peace, it will be necessary for us to continue reconnaissance as required for the protection of our forces. You have your own forces in South Viet Nam, therefore, your own means of informing yourself about movements of our own and allied forces in the South. We do not have any forces in the North. We have stopped all bombardments and all other acts involving the use of force against the territory of the DRV. We are therefore, except for aerial reconnaissance, blind as to what is going on in those parts of North Viet Nam which could threaten our forces in the South.

8. Our preference in the interest of talks leading to a peaceful solution would be for North Viet Nam to comply with your clear understanding of our point of view and to leave our reconnaissance aircraft alone.

9. I wish to make it crystal clear that we will continue reconnaissance and, if fired upon, will defend our aircraft and protect our pilots by whatever means are required.

10. I ask that you convey this message to your government promptly. End statement.

11. Lau said that he would like to comment on what had just been said. In connection with the activities of US reconnaissance flights over the territory of the DRV, and in connection with the military activity of the US in and around the DMZ, Lau said that, at the last private meeting on November 14,/4/ he had emphasized the serious situation created by continued US reconnaissance flights over the territory of the DRV. He said that he had also emphasized the absurdity of the US point of view that it has the right to violate the sovereignty and security of the DRV, and, at the same time, deny the DRV's legitimate right of self defense against these illegal US acts.

/4/See footnote 6, Document 221.

12. Lau said that he also rejected the slanderous US accusations against the DRV, such as saying that the Peoples Army of Viet Nam (NVA) had opened artillery and rocket fire against US positions south of the DMZ.

13. At this point I interrupted and asked Lau to repeat his statement. He did so. Comment: We note that Lau pulled back from DRV public charge that US had positions in southern half of DMZ.

14. Lau said they felt that since the last meeting the US has not paid attention to the serious situation it has created, but rather had committed further illegal acts not only in the DMZ but also on the rest of the territory of the DRV.

15. Lau then handed me a piece of paper containing excerpts of the November 21 DRV Foreign Ministry statement protesting, he said, the repeated US artillery shellings from south of the DMZ and shellings by US Navy ships in the vicinity of south of the Cua Viet River against the northern part of the DMZ on November 16, 17, 20 and 21./5/

/5/For text of this statement, see The New York Times, November 22, 1968.

16. Lau said that the US was also continuing to send manned and unmanned reconnaissance flights over the territory of the DRV in increasing numbers. Lau said he wanted to convey the statistics on US violations of the air space of the northern part of the DMZ. He then handed me a paper in French, the informal translation of which is as follows: Repeated violations by American airplanes against the air space of the DRV: November 14, 1968--15 times of which two times north and 13 times south of the 19th parallel. November 18, 1968--18 times, twice north and 11 times south of the 19th parallel. November 20, 1968--12 times, including on L-19 above the northern half of the DMZ. November 21, 1968--15 times, including four times north of the 19th parallel and on L-19 above the northern half of the DMZ. November 22, 1968--14 times, including 3 times north and 11 times south of the 19th parallel, and on L-19 above the northern half of the DMZ. End translation. Lau asked us to note that they were making a distinction between violations north of the 19th parallel and south of the 19th parallel./6/

/6/Harriman and Vance later commented in telegram 24479/Delto 988 from Paris, November 26: "It would appear from the foregoing that the DRV is especially sensitive to flights north of the 19th parallel and particularly in the Hanoi-Haiphong area." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968) In telegram 278383/Todel 1672 to Paris, November 27, the Department replied that "Lau's distinction between reconnaissance north of the 19th parallel as opposed to the south of the 19th parallel aroused our curiosity too" and requested that Harriman "probe" Lau on this point. (Ibid., HARVAN-(Outgoing)-November 1968) In a meeting with Lau that day, Harriman brought up the subject, and reported in telegram 24610/Delto 990 from Paris, November 27: "As for my question regarding the distinction between reconnaissance flights above and below the 19th parallel, Lau said the distinction he had made had no particular significance. It was just to make a geographical demarcation." (Ibid., HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968)

17. Lau then said that it was not mere coincidence, immediately after the cessation of bombing of North Viet Nam, that, according to UPI November 4, Harold Brown the Secretary of the Air Force had warned that actions might be taken and that according to The New York Times on November 1, President Johnson gave General Abrams the right to resume bombing in the DMZ and even just north of the DMZ.

18. In answer to my question as to what exactly Harold Brown had allegedly said, Lau said that Brown had said that we would continue to order reconnaissance flights, and that if North Vietnamese forces returned to the DMZ, then the US would take action. He said that Brown had made these remarks in Washington on November 4.

19. Lau continued: In the November 14 private meeting, the DRV had demanded that the US stop reconnaissance flights immediately. After conveying this warning about the violations committed by the US against the status of the DMZ, Lau said that he was now instructed to reject completely the position of the USG in regard to reconnaissance flights over the territory of the DRV. He said he was also instructed to ask me to convey to my government the energetic protest of the government of the DRV against these actions against the sovereignty of the DRV and the infringements upon the status of the DRV.

20. Lau said that he was also authorized to state that if the US side did not put an end to these violations it would have to bear full responsibility for the consequences which might arise from this situation. The allegations of the US side concerning the DMZ are aimed only at justifying its ambitions and schemes in South Viet-Nam, and in covering up its increasingly serious violation of the status of the DMZ and its encroachments of territory of the DRV by reconnaissance flights. Lau said that the US was also making these allegations in order to evade the responsibility for hindering the holding of the four-party conference to find a peaceful settlement of the Viet-Nam problem as had been agreed upon. Comment: Lau was obviously prepared for a discussion of reconnaissance flights and the DMZ, and spoke from prepared notes.

21. I said I would express my views on his comments. First, I said that the information which has been provided to me concerning the DMZ indicated that there have been numerous sightings of military personnel in uniform in both the northern and the southern halves of the DMZ since the cessation of bombing. During all this time there have been no US or allied forces in the DMZ; therefore, the persons in uniform in both the northern and the southern halves of the DMZ are members of either the North Vietnamese Army or of the Viet Cong. I reminded Lau that he had told me previously that there are and have been no military personnel in the DMZ and I asked Lau again if that was correct.

22. In response to attacks by rockets and mortar against allied forces south of the DMZ, I said that I had spoken of this matter before and I would not go into it again tonight.

23. I then said that between November 10 and 23, on nine days there had been firing upon air observers, all of whom have been flying in observer aircraft over the southern half of the DMZ. These air observers have been fired upon 35 times; nine times with 30 or 50 caliber machine guns, and 26 times with small arms. Twenty-one times the firing has come from the southern half of the DMZ, and 14 times US air observers have been fired at from the northern half of the DMZ. The artillery fire from south of the DMZ has been primarily for the protection of the forces which have been fired upon, including the air observers. With respect to firing into the northern half of the DMZ, this has taken place only on two occasions: first, on November 21 when a 50 caliber machine gun opened fire on an air observer flying over the southern half of the DMZ. In this case artillery fire was directed against the guns in order to protect the pilot of the aircraft. The second occasion in which fire was directed into the northern half of the DMZ was on November 22. As in the previous case, a 50 caliber machine gun fired approximately 75 rounds at an air observer. In order to protect the observer, artillery fire was directed from south of the DMZ against the machine gun which had opened fire on the US air observer, who was flying over the southern half of the DMZ.

24. With respect to troops in uniform seen in the DMZ, I said that they have been seen in varying numbers up to two sightings of platoon-sized groups. I told Lau that I rejected the allegations that the US had violated the DMZ. The US had kept its troops and other allied troops out of the DMZ. No firings or attacks were made into the DMZ until rocket and mortar attacks were directed against allied positions south of the DMZ on November 10.

25. I said, further, since that time there have been continuing violations of the DMZ on their side both by the presence of troops and the firing of weapons out of both halves of the DMZ against US and other allied forces. I said that it is the policy of the US to respect the DMZ and we expect that that will be the policy of the Government of the DRV.

26. I said the information available to me did not accord with the allegations made in the Foreign Ministry spokesman's declaration which he had handed me earlier. I said that I would review the material he had given me on reconnaissance flights and I reserved the right to comment further at a later date. I wished to repeat again, however, what I had said at the opening of the meeting, namely, that we would continue reconnaissance flights and if fired upon would defend our aircraft and protect our pilots by whatever means necessary. I said I hoped he would reconsider the untenable position he had expressed concerning the flying of reconnaissance aircraft over North Viet-Nam.

27. Concerning the alleged statement of Harold Brown, it was not clear what he was alleged to have said, and I reserved the right to comment further at a later date.

28. Finally, concerning the baseless charge that the US has taken certain alleged actions to cover up the fact that a wider meeting has not yet taken place, I said that I rejected those allegations.

29. Concerning matters under the control of the US, as Lau well knew and as I had previously pointed out, the US has taken the actions which it said it would take. Concerning other matters not under US control, as he well knew and as I had previously pointed out many times, complexities had arisen. So far as a wider meeting was concerned, I might have further information to give him on this subject--namely, a wider meeting in which there would be present on our side representatives of the RVN, and on the DRV side representatives of the NLF--in the not too distant future.

30. Lau said he would like to speak about the aerial observers over the DMZ. The US had said that aerial observation was carried out in the southern part of the DMZ, but his information was that violations had been made over the northern part of the DMZ not the southern part. (I interjected that our information was different.) Since the violations were made on the territory of the DRV, Lau continued, the DRV had the right to defend itself. He wanted to reiterate that the US position, denying the DRV the right to defend itself, was unacceptable. As he had said previously today, if the denial by the US Government of the DRV's legitimate right to self-defense leads to a more serious situation, the US Government must bear full responsibility for this situation. He had stated this at our last private meeting on November 14, and he wanted to reaffirm it now. He wanted to express his point of view strongly and firmly. The DRV feels that if the US side deliberately creates this serious situation, that is, by continuing reconnaissance flights over the territory of the DRV and threatening to use the necessary means to protect its aircraft and pilots, that was evidence of the US scheme not to abandon its scheme of aggression, and it proves once again that US words of good will and peace were not sincere.

31. Secondly, Lau continued, concerning the DMZ, not long after the US cessation of bombing against North Viet-Nam, the US again violated the DMZ by firing artillery from south of the DMZ against the DMZ and by naval bombardment against the DMZ. Therefore, the DRV demands that the US Government stop these violations of the status of the DMZ. He wanted to repeat again that allegations of the presence of North Vietnamese Army personnel in the DMZ were only aimed at justifying the violations of the DMZ by the US. The DRV had said many times and said again today that DRV policy has consistently been to respect the Geneva Agreements, and as part of the Geneva Agreements, the DMZ.

32. As far as a four-party conference was concerned, Lau said the DRV felt that the fact that the US Government had raised the matter of complexities or difficulties does not allow the US to be free of its responsibilities in carrying out the agreement we had reached, no matter what the situation was. If this conference could not be held, and he wanted to point out that almost three weeks had elapsed since November 6, the responsibility will be that of the US Government. He reiterated that if we could not meet with four delegations, we should hold a conference with three. The NLF representatives are already here, having come to Paris on November 4.

33. I said I wished to comment. First, on Lau's statement that the US must bear responsibility if the continuation of reconnaissance flights led to a more serious situation, I rejected it and wished to state that it is the DRV which must bear full responsibility.

34. Secondly, on his charges of aggression and the matter of who is the aggressor, we had spoken of that many times in the last six months, we know each other's positions, and nothing further need be said tonight on this subject.

35. Concerning the DMZ, I said that it was important that I clearly understand what the factual situation is. Had I correctly understood him to say that there are and have been no North Vietnamese Army forces in the DMZ since the cessation of bombing, and by that I meant both the northern and southern halves of the DMZ? I also wanted to ask him whether he was denying the fact that there are at this time persons in military uniform in both the northern and southern halves of the DMZ. I reiterated that, as I had said many times, it has been US policy to respect the DMZ.

36. Finally, on the issue of a wider conference, as I have said many times, the US does not consider it a four-party conference, but a conference of two sides, including representatives of the DRV and the NLF on one side and the US and the Republic of Viet-Nam on the other side. With respect to such a wider conference, I had said I might have further information to give him on this matter in the not too distant future.

37. Lau said he wanted to make a few comments before closing this session. He requested that I convey to the US Government the DRV protest against the continuing US reconnaissance over the territory of the DRV and that I convey clearly to the US Government the DRV position that the US Government must bear full responsibility for the serious situation which might arise due to these reconnaissance flights. Those actions were actions which violate the sovereignty and security of the DRV, and the DRV has the right to act against these violations.

38. Secondly, as far as the DMZ is concerned, as he had said previously and had repeated many times today, the information according to which there were DRV troops in the DMZ was only a fabrication to justify violations of the DMZ by the US. He said he again demanded that the US stop firing artillery from south of the DMZ into the DMZ, both northern and southern halves, and stop its naval bombardment in the DMZ. I had said the US policy was to respect the DMZ. In fact, the US has repeatedly violated the DMZ. In the documents which he had given us today, these violations were clearly mentioned: the date, place, and means of violation, whether by guns, warships, etc.

39. Finally, on the matter of a four-party conference, Lau said he took note of our statements that we might have information to convey to them in the not distant future but he wanted to maintain his position that if the four-party conference could not be held, it was the responsibility of the US. It was their position that it was four party, not two sides. He had never agreed it would be a two-sided conference.

40. I said I wanted to make three brief comments. First, I would report fully to my government on this meeting, including their protest, and I asked and assumed that he would report fully to his government on the meeting, including our protests on the DRV actions. Secondly, since the cessation of bombing, the US has taken no actions concerning the DMZ except in retaliation to violations by others. Third, I still had not gotten an answer to my question as to whether he was denying the fact that there were soldiers in uniform in both halves of the DMZ.

41. Lau replied that he had already answered. He said that allegations about the presence of the DRV troops in the DMZ were mere fabrications.

42. I asked him whether he was denying that there were NLF forces in the southern and northern halves of the DMZ.

43. Lau said that for that matter there was a representative of the NLF here, and we should talk to Madame Binh about this. He could reply for the North Vietnamese Army only. But Mrs. Binh was prepared to come and talk to us. She had been here since November 4.

44. We then adjourned.



234. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, November 25, 1968, 12:06-12:41 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. This was the 594th meeting of the NSC and was held in the Cabinet Room of the White House. These notes were taken by Tom Johnson; additional notes taken by Bromley Smith are ibid., National Security File, NSC Meetings File, Vol. V, Tab 76. A summary and a full transcript of the meeting are ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.


The President
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
General Wheeler
CIA Director Helms
Ambassador Wiggins
Secretary Fowler
Walt Rostow
Ed Fried
Joe Sisco
George Christian
Tom Johnson

Secretary Clifford: We lost three planes in 48 hours in North Vietnam./2/ It is getting serious.

/2/In addition to the unarmed reconnaissance aircraft shot down over North Vietnam on November 23, on November 25 an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft and an armed escort plane were shot down in separate incidents. Vance and Lau discussed these events in a private meeting on November 27. (Telegram 24610/Delto 997 from Paris, November 27; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968)

[Omitted here is discussion of the European monetary crisis.]

The President: We have three messages:

--State of the Union
--Budget Message

Don't tie me to a situation. I don't know what I might do. I notice Rusk and Clifford are in disagreement.

Secretary Rusk: What are we in disagreement about?

The President: About the basic Vietnam policy, so the press says. It's imaginary, but we must watch it./3/

/3/Smith's account of the President's discussion at this point in the meeting reads: "A newspaper story alleges there is disagreement between Secretary Rusk and Clifford. (Secretary Rusk interjected to ask what are we disagreeing about now?) There is no reason for having stories about differing views in the Administration, particularly when such did not in fact exist. We do not want stories during the remainder of this Administration which report disagreements on Vietnam or any other subject." (Ibid.)

I do not want to submit a reform message.

Mills seems reconciled at our not doing it.


General Wheeler: Situation is good. 230 violations of the DMZ since November 1. (Indications of enemy presence.) We fired 66 times into DMZ.

There have been 60 attacks on population centers. Nine in the last 24 hours. Three major attacks.

There have been 80 hostile reactions to reconnaissance planes. Two reconnaissance planes and one escort plane have been shot down. These were south of the 19th. No manned aircraft north of the 19th except at very high levels.

In route package one, there is much activity. Tactical reconnaissance in Laos.

General Abrams says pacification has stepped up. 3% population gain in the last month.

69.8 percent under GVN control.
14 contested.
15.3 under Viet Cong control.

Chieu Hoi Program is up. The best month in attacking Viet Cong infrastructure.

General Abrams has a good assessment.

1. The enemy shifted from military to political.
2. The enemy recognizes our strategy. 69% of attacks on hamlets this month by the Viet Cong.

The tone is optimistic and driving.

The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese lost 2900 last week.

The President: Are there any second thoughts on the bombing halt?

General Wheeler: No second thoughts, but he said reconnaissance up to the 19th was essential.

The President: Anything to cause you to reassess the decision to halt bombing?

General Wheeler: No.

The President: Any second thoughts by General Abrams?

General Wheeler: None as of this time.

Secretary Clifford: Late Friday/4/ we lost a reconnaissance plane with an armed escort.

/4/November 22.

You authorized armed escort to shoot back at facilities shooting at our aircraft. We decided to stand down reconnaissance until we had time to tell Hanoi. Cy told the North Vietnamese. At 7:00 p.m. Bus reissued reconnaissance. Three and one-half hours later we lost it.

We lost a Navy reconnaissance plane and AF-F4D escort craft.

The problem is ahead. There may be a buildup. We could bomb a village accidentally. We may be able to get out information with less provocation./5/

/5/According to Smith's notes, Clifford said: "The problem is as follows: we go into North Vietnam on escorted reconnaissance missions. They shoot at our planes. We reply with attacks on the ground, possibly including villages. What should we do in the brief period until the talks in Paris get going? Once these talks begin we can take up the subject of the North Vietnamese firing on our reconnaissance planes. Meanwhile, can we get the information we must have without provocation? We are using drones and low-level flights now and we shall be looking to see if there may be ways in which we can obtain comparable information in a different way. It would be a tragedy if this problem of reconnaissance derailed the Paris talks." (Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Meetings File, Vol. V, Tab 76)

[Omitted here is discussion of a possible summit with the Soviets, European security, and events in the Middle East.]

The President: There are two basic problems:

1. Position of allies.
2. Nixon doesn't want it done too close to the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Secretary Clifford: The Germans and the British want to go ahead with talks with the Soviets.

The President: Tell Murphy that.

Secretary Clifford: The others feel if they go ahead with his okay. Don't ask a girl if you should kiss her--go ahead and it's all right.

The President: A meeting might help: 1. Vietnam. 2. Mideast. 3. Missile talks.


235. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency/1/

Washington, November 26, 1968.

/1/Source: Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, VIET 092.2, (November) 1968. Secret; Sensitive. In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of the memorandum to Clifford, November 26, Helms wrote: "Attached is a report on the 25 November South Vietnamese National Security Council meeting obtained from a reliable Vietnamese source who has been reporting accurately on Vietnamese political affairs since 1962. This report has been passed to Ambassadors Bunker and Harriman. In Washington it is being disseminated only to you, and the Messrs. Rostow, Rusk and Bundy." A stamped notation, dated December 6, on the CIA memorandum reads: "SecDef has seen."

Government of Vietnam (GVN) Decision to Announce on 27 November Its Decision to Attend Paris Peace Talks; President Thieu's Plan to Send a Delegation of "Representatives of the People" to Paris; Possibility that Vice President Ky Will Not Go to Paris

1. The South Vietnamese National Security Council (NSC) agreed at a meeting on 25 November 1968 that Government of Vietnam (GVN) participation in the Paris peace talks should be announced to the public on 27 November./2/ On the morning of 27 November, at about the same time as the U.S. Government makes its announcement, Foreign Minister Tran Chanh Thanh will make a simple statement about the GVN decision. That afternoon, at about 1600 hours, Thieu will make a follow-up announcement, probably on television. During the NSC meeting, Vice President Ky advocated that Thieu make the announcement at a press conference, with a bit of fanfare, rather than on television.

/2/A November 23 CIA report reads in part: "The National Security Council met from 1030 to 1400 hours on 23 November, was briefed on the detailed text of the newly drafted Vietnamese/American 'statement of understanding,' agreed that the understanding satisfied the governments' requirements for attendance at the Paris talks, and approved the dispatch of a South Vietnamese delegation to Paris." (Central Intelligence Agency, Job 80-R01580R, Executive Registry Subject Files, 280--Paris Talks)

2. Much of the 25 November NSC meeting was taken up in discussions of the GVN posture at the negotiations on matters of both substance and procedure. For example, Thieu, who chaired the meeting, asked what the GVN delegation should do if the National Liberation Front (NFLSV) representative insisted on describing himself as the only true representative of the Vietnamese people. Senate President Nguyen Van Huyen declared that in such a case the GVN delegation should walk out. Ky demurred, saying the GVN representatives should ignore the comments and simply address their reply to the "representatives of the other side." When one of the NSC members asked what the GVN delegates should do if the NFLSV or North Vietnamese (DRV) representatives addressed them in profane or unacceptable language, Ky said the GVN delegates should make it clear at the beginning that they would look at the ceiling the first two times this happened but would walk out the third time. The GVN, Ky went on, should make it clear it was present for serious talks and was wasting its time if the other side did not want them. Ky added he did not think this was a serious problem since he believed the NFLSV/DRV does not want to torpedo the talks.

3. The meeting also discussed the position the GVN should take if the DRV/NFLSV should move for a quick ceasefire. All those present agreed that the GVN is not yet prepared to face the Communists politically and therefore must oppose an immediate ceasefire. The consensus seemed to be that the GVN should agree to a ceasefire only if the Communists were willing to make serious and important concessions which would lead to a just peace. Most NSC members doubted Communist willingness to make such concessions and therefore thought that the GVN, at least for the present, must be prepared to expose hollow concessions for what they are. The GVN, they agreed, must not appear opposed to a ceasefire per se but only to one that did not appear as a true and significant step toward peace.

4. After the meeting, Thieu told Ky he had put together a delegation of "representatives of the people" that would go to Paris and observe the work of the peace talks. This delegation will consist of 20 to 30 National Assembly members and other politicians who would remain in Paris for some time. Ky was not pleased by Thieu's announcement since he thinks the members of the group will be running around giving interviews to the press and reinforcing the belief that the GVN is disorganized.

5. Thieu also told Ky following the meeting that, having postponed their scheduled lunch meeting on 25 November, he would get together with Ky on 26 November to discuss the make-up of the GVN delegation. However, at about 1400 hours on 26 November, the President's office informed Ky's office that Thieu was too busy to see Ky that day. Ky was disheartened by Thieu's seeming lack of interest, which suggested a possible change in Thieu's thinking, and said he would not go to Paris if Thieu just threw in his name as an afterthought after selecting the delegates himself. Ky later remarked that he and his entourage may soon be back on vacation in Nha Trang.


236. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/

Saigon, November 26, 1968, 1135Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 108. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Double Plus. Repeated to Paris for Harriman and Vance. In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of the telegram to the President, November 26, 12:55 p.m., Rostow wrote: "Herewith Bunker's latest talk with Thieu. As you will see (para. 3), Thieu is still a little foggy about getting into substantive talks until towards the end of next week. This cable underlines the urgency of our working out our own negotiating strategy and talking it over with the GVN--an item on today's lunch agenda." The notation "L" on the telegram indicates that the President saw it.

43517. 1. I called on President Thieu this afternoon. We noted that at that time, about 5 pm here, concurrences for our statements had arrived from all troop-contributing countries except the ROK (which arrived after I returned to the Embassy)./2/ Thieu was relaxed and fully expected President Park's concurrence in time for announcement as contemplated morning November 27./3/ I asked if he intended to address the nation in connection with these statements. He said he would probably make a TV and radio broadcast tomorrow evening. He remarked that the South Vietnamese people are now psychologically prepared for the talks. This had been very important. Of course there would be some who would criticize, but they would be few.

/2/In telegram 43314 from Saigon, November 24, Thanh agreed in principle with a draft to be sent to the Ambassadors in the TCCs in order to gain their endorsement. (Ibid., Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Chronological, Vol. XXIV) In telegram 43513 from Saigon, November 26, the Embassy reported that it had received concurrences from all five TCCs. (Ibid.)

/3/For the full text of both the U.S. and GVN statements, see Department of State Bulletin, December 16, 1968, pp. 621-622.

2. I inquired about composition of the GVN delegation. Thieu said he had asked the Vice President to work on this and expected to discuss the matter with him tomorrow. He added that I might talk with him, too. I said I presumed it would be better not to do so until Thieu himself had talked with Ky, but he said I might talk with Ky before. (I am asking for appointment with Ky tomorrow morning.)/4/ Thieu remarked that it is difficult to find the right people. It was possible that Ambassador Pham Dang Lam, who had headed the observer delegation, might also head the full delegation. Ky would probably have overall supervision, shuttling between Saigon and Paris.

/4/In telegram 43606 from Saigon, November 27, in which he reported on his meeting with Ky, Bunker noted that Ky would arrive in Paris on either December 7 or December 9. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968)

3. We next discussed timing. Thieu said the problem is not so much getting a delegation to Paris as getting prepared to discuss substantive matters. I said we were very anxious to get the meetings going. Thieu said he might be able to get the delegation off soon, but he did not see how they could go into serious talks this week or even early next week. I said we hoped it would be before then, and in any case the first meeting would be procedural and need not have full delegation in attendance. I also said in any case we could go ahead with the DRV bilaterally to lay the groundwork for the first meeting on the wider basis, which itself would also deal with procedure. Thieu agreed that this would be useful.

4. Thieu was very anxious to resume our consultative meetings on broad strategy and key issues. I agreed and said while we expected to be in daily consultation in Paris, we would need frequent meetings here, too. Thieu asked how often I thought there would be meetings in Paris. I said it seemed to me they did not have to be in weekly intervals but could be somewhat more frequent. Thieu speculated that the Communists probably would want longer intervals since their delegation would be bound by strict instructions; but it might be possible to work on a basis where the day after a meeting one would study the record, the next day outline our response, then spend a day in preparing the presentation, and meet on the fourth day if the Communists were then ready.

5. I took the occasion to bring Thieu also up-to-date on the latest Vance-Lau discussion of November 24./5/

/5/See Document 233.



237. Editorial Note

From 10:21 to 11:11 a.m. on November 26, 1968, President Johnson met with Secretary of State Rusk, Secretary of Defense Clifford, Walt Rostow, Assistant Press Secretary Johnson, and Senator Fulbright. The issues discussed included European security, the Middle East, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the proposed summit with Soviet Premier Kosygin, and Vietnam. Rusk made the following comments on the opening of the expanded peace talks: "The logjam is broken. We expect Saigon to send a delegation to Paris. In Paris, we worked out an arrangement with Hanoi where we had agreed language with Thieu to announce this, but when the horse came to the hurdle he would not jump." Relating the Vietnam peace negotiations to the overall arms control process, Rusk noted: "In Southeast Asia, we are in a position to demand a lot from the Soviets. We did what they asked us to do--stop the bombing of a fellow Socialist Republic." He added that, as a consequence, "We think it would be good for the President and Kosygin to meet."

Later in the discussion, Clifford cautioned: "We wish to maintain close working arrangements with South Vietnam. We must keep up reconnaissance to protect our men. We must know if they are moving substantial number(s) of troops and supplies north of the DMZ. Some black Monday they might pour over the DMZ and kill many of our men. We have stopped bombing for 26 days--now it is time for them to produce." He also advised: "We have a momentum going now. It started with the decision to stop the bombing. Now we will have the Paris talks. If we could get talks with Soviets, there is a momentum toward peace." The complete meeting notes are printed in Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, volume XIV, Document 323.


238. Notes of Meeting/1/

Washington, November 26, 1968, 1:45-2:25 p.m.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, Tom Johnson's Notes of Meetings. No classification marking. The meeting was held in the Family Dining Room of the White House. Afterwards, the President met privately with Clifford, Rusk, and Helms for an additional quarter hour. The President left for the LBJ Ranch in Texas that evening and returned to Washington on December 2. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)



The President
Secretary Rusk
Secretary Clifford
Robert Murphy (Nixon Staff)
General Wheeler
Walt Rostow
CIA Director Helms
George Christian

Tom Johnson

The President: I talked about the possibility of meeting with the Soviets with Senator Fulbright and Bob Murphy, liaison with Nixon.

Secretary Clifford: I said we had meeting after meeting after Glassboro/2/ on missile talks. I think it was the best prepared effort I had seen. At the eleventh hour, they (Soviets) went into Czechoslovakia.

/2/Reference is to the Glassboro Summit held June 23-25, 1967. See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. XIV, Documents 217 ff.

The Soviets can't see how they can face the costs of the missile race.

They are ready for talks. We are ready. There is support for this at Defense. When Nixon comes in, it could be a year before you get back to the point where we are now.

We now have substantial nuclear superiority over the Soviets. If a freeze goes into effect, we would be ahead. They are gaining in ICBM and submarine field.

Robert Murphy: I don't know if we have superiority or not, based on intelligence briefings and reports I have had. We need to cut down on expenses. We have something going. The bombing was stopped. South Vietnam will come to Paris./3/

/3/Two memoranda prepared on November 26 discussed future U.S. strategy in the expanded Paris talks. In a memorandum to Clifford, Warnke suggested continuing holding private U.S.-DRV bilateral talks on mutual withdrawal simultaneously with the expanded talks. (Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, VIET 092.2 (November) 1968) In a memorandum to Rusk, Bundy also called for continuing the private talks with the DRV on the DMZ and withdrawal, with other issues such as Laos, a cease-fire, and a holiday truce likely to emerge as well in these exchanges. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-S Files: Lot 74 D 164, Secretary-President Luncheons (2))

Secretary Rusk: An announcement will be made tonight./4/

/4/See Department of State Bulletin, December 16, 1968, pp. 621-622.

Secretary Clifford: I think it would be in President-Elect Nixon's interest to get these talks started. During his term, I expect an agreement could be reached.

A number of forces are in position now to let talks begin. Then technicians can take over.

Items to be discussed:


Walt Rostow: The Soviets said they have done full staff work. They have a paper to hand us--a bargaining paper.

They are prepared to have agreed statement before we go.

We would go back and study papers each handed us.

Robert Murphy: That Communiqué would be a great achievement.

They use "equality of security."

Secretary Rusk: We have used this.

Walt Rostow: This is Dobrynin talking to Rusk and me.

The President has long history of correspondence on Vietnam. We could lay out this. They seem to want to work the Mideast out.

Secretary Rusk: We were far down this track before Czechoslovakia.

Neither one of us has decisive influence on countries of the Mideast. But we both do have legitimate claims on Southeast Asia.

Robert Murphy: I have a reservation about summit meetings. The thought of another Glassboro would be unappealing.

The President: The question of preparation is not a relevant one. We have been prepared.

Secretary Rusk: We are under pressure from non-nuclear countries to get going on these talks.

The level of talks is related to Vietnam and the Mideast. Every week that goes by without progress increases the danger.

Robert Murphy: On the balance, this should appeal to Mr. Nixon./5/

/5/In a memorandum to the President, November 29, 9:43 a.m., Rostow noted Murphy's comment on Nixon and his possible attendance at the proposed summit along with Johnson: "Frankly, he is blowing hot and cold." (Johnson Library, Walt Rostow Files, Nixon & Transition) In a memorandum to the President, November 19, 2:35 p.m., Rostow cited a note transmitted to him by Murphy: "Nixon asks whether Cy could be asked tactfully and confidentially whether he would be willing to continue in Paris after January 20, depending, of course, on state of negotiations." (Ibid.)

The President: [While] We don't want to commit Mr. Nixon, we do want him to know of it.

Bus, any comment?

General Wheeler: No, Sir.

The President: Dick?

CIA Director Helms: No, Sir.

Secretary Rusk: North Vietnamese representatives told Cy Vance there is difference between what happens north of the 19th parallel and what happens south of the 19th parallel.

General Wheeler: We could probably live with it.

CIA Director Helms: We must keep our eyes south of the 19th. Not much north of the 19th.

Secretary Clifford: We are only firing drones north of the 19th.

General Wheeler: If there is a known AAA site or SAM site, the idea is for armed reconnaissance.

Robert Murphy: What is the infiltration?

CIA Director Helms: 7000 month. Still good deal of traffic.

Walt Rostow: That is a good figure.

CIA Director Helms: 410,000 since '65.

General Wheeler: Walters/6/ knows lots of North Vietnamese people. He saw Le Duc Tho and his people. He saw a very bleak situation in North Vietnam.

/6/Major General Vernon A. Walters, Defense Attaché at the Embassy in Paris.

Walt Rostow: They have great respect for General Abrams, U.S. Forces. They have manpower problems.

Secretary Clifford: The Soviets have been limited in what they can do while we were bombing a sister Socialist State.

Robert Murphy: It's interesting that issue was never raised of bombing during the talks there except hitting the bridges over the Yalu River.

Walt Rostow: The report says they want peace, but they won't come on their knees to Thieu.

Secretary Rusk: Let statements speak for themselves.

The President: When is Dobrynin going back?

Secretary Rusk: Tomorrow.

I'll be on "Face-the-Nation" next Sunday./7/ Next steps in Paris.

/7/For full text of this December 1 interview, see Department of State Bulletin, December 23, 1968, pp. 645-650.

There will be a donnybrook over procedural questions.

One of the first questions of substantive matter will be a more formal agreement on the DMZ, cities and reconnaissance.

They will press for a political settlement. We cannot agree to type of political settlement they can agree to.

I would lean toward mutual withdrawal of forces./8/

/8/In notes of a November 27 meeting between Clifford and his staff, Elsey recorded the following passage: "At Tuesday luncheon, CMC talked about withdrawal of troops; Rusk got into the matter 'one of the early subjects to be taken up is withdrawal of troops.' Rostow looked like he was kicked in the stomach. Major fallacy of Rostow position is that we'd have to keep troops there forever. (We then note that Bundy in last nite 'backgrounder' talked about withdrawal of troops so it looks more & more that Rostow is isolated from DoD & State." (Johnson Library, George M. Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts (1 of 2))

We would have to believe South Vietnam could look after the rag tag elements of the Viet Cong that would be left.

Robert Murphy: A ceasefire--wouldn't you shoot for that first?

Secretary Rusk: We could ceasefire if troops were moving north.

The Viet Cong claim now they control 75% of the area.

Our figures show 69% of the South Vietnamese under GVN control--15% contested.

We need to get Laos back to independent basis and territorial accords on Cambodia.

I do not see how they could accept the terms we would find acceptable, or vice versa.

We have not had flags at the table so far. No name plates.

CIA Director Helms: On November 19, the North Vietnamese director and the Indonesian Foreign Minister/9/ said Hanoi would ask for a declaration of withdrawal of troops--after that they would talk.

/9/Adam Malik.


239. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State/1/

Paris, November 27, 1968, 1924Z.

/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Paris Todel-Paris Delto, Vol. XVI(a). Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Plus. Repeated to Saigon.

24609/Delto 996. 1. In the meetings between Vance and Lau since November 1st, and in particular in the meetings preceding November 6th, we discussed a number of matters concerning the procedural and physical arrangements for the first wider meeting which will deal with the rules of procedure for the next phase. The following reflects the status of these discussions and the exchange of notes verbale of November 5th./2/ It should be emphasized that these discussions concerned only the arrangements for what both sides have agreed would be meetings on the rules of procedure for the plenary sessions (i.e., analogous to the Vance/Lau meetings of May 10 and 11, 1968)./3/ Prior to and after our resuming discussion on this subject with the DRV, we intend to have detailed consultation with GVN delegation on which we will report fully.

/2/See Document 198.

/3/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 230.

2. Based upon the discussions which we have held with the DRV since November 1, the following is a summary of US-DRV positions regarding procedure and other matters for the wider talks:

A. Both sides agree that the first wider meeting (with GVN and NLF present) will discuss the rules of procedures, and that the subsequent meetings will also be devoted to procedural questions. It is not clear whether both sides agree that substantive, plenary sessions will not begin until after the rules of procedure have been agreed upon.

B. Press. Our position is that there should be no press at the first meeting in the wider format and the press should not be permitted "until such time as the rules of procedure have been agreed upon" (similar to last May). The DRV originally wanted press at the first wider meeting. In their November 5 note verbale, the DRV conceded the point "temporarily" in an effort to have a meeting the following day. We may assume that they will similarly yield on barring the press from the meetings on procedure, while insisting on a press session at the opening of the first plenary.

C. Language and Translation. During the November 5 Vance-Lau meeting, we agreed to continue the system we have used so far. This will, however, have to be determined in final form during the procedural meetings; as our discussion now stands, the procedural meetings will be concluded using the double translation system.

D. Name of Conference. Prior to the cessation of bombing, we had told the DRV that we wanted to refer to the next phase as "meetings" and they had indicated acceptance. However, on November 5, during a discussion which focused primarily on the question of participants, we stated that "we cannot agree on what the wider format will be called and that will be decided in the rules of procedure as it had been done with our official conversations."

E. Number of People. We told Lau that we thought that each side should have about nine to ten people in the room during the procedural meetings. Lau said that he thought each delegation could send somewhere between five and seven persons. Comment: Discrepancy here is not serious, as Lau himself said.

F. Room. Originally, the DRV wanted to hold the first wider meeting in the large conference room. In its note verbale of November 5, the DRV conceded this point and agreed to our suggestion to hold the procedural meetings in the smaller room. Their agreement was, as on the question of press, "temporary" in an effort to get a meeting on November 6. However, we can expect the DRV will agree to remain in the smaller conference room in the procedural meetings.

G. Seating. This appears to be the major unresolved question. The DRV has informed the French that since there will be a four-sided conference, they should prepare new seating arrangements to reflect this fact; i.e., a four-side table. We have told the French so far only that we do not agree with the DRV suggestion and that we will let them know our views later. We have agreed with the DRV that it would be preferable to work through the French for the final arrangements subject to the agreement of each side on this matter.

H. Order of Speaking. Lau has said that he does not consider this matter important. Presumably, we can therefore take the initiative and propose that we speak first at the first procedural meeting.

I. Designated Spokesmen. This matter has not been adequately aired. It is possible that the DRV may raise a problem on this point, although it is more likely that they will propose that each delegation designate its spokesman or spokesmen in advance. We will presumably want to counter by proposing that each side designate its spokesmen. We would intend to designate both US and GVN representatives.



240. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State/1/

Paris, November 28, 1968, 1405Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968. Secret; Immediate; Priority; Nodis/Harvan Plus. Repeated to Saigon. The Department terminated the Harvan Double Plus series on November 27 and reserved Nodis/Harvan for the most sensitive subject matter on the Paris talks. (Telegram 279033 to Bangkok, Canberra, Manila, Seoul, and Wellington (repeated to Saigon and Paris), November 27; ibid., HARVAN-(Outgoing)-November 1968)

24611/Delto 998. Subj: Consultation with GVN delegation.

1. An called on Habib morning November 28. He informed us that Ambassador Lam would not be arriving in Paris on Friday, November 29 as planned, and that he had no idea when Lam would get here, although he thought there would only be a short delay. Habib said that this was an unfortunate delay and that it is vital that the GVN be properly represented in Paris immediately so that we may consult with them closely on procedural and substantive issues.

2. Habib then gave An a ten point paper covering procedure and physical arrangements for the first wider meetings of the two sides. He explained carefully to An that these were the points that the US would resolve in private talks with the DRV prior to the first wider meeting at the Hotel Majestic. Habib emphasized that arrangements and procedures agreed upon in this manner govern only the limited meetings that will in turn determine the rules of procedure that will govern the plenary sessions. Habib told An that we wanted to begin discussing these points with the DRV on Saturday. Therefore, if the GVN had further comments or suggestions on these points they should bring them to our attention as soon as possible. Our desire to move expeditiously made the delay in Lam's return most unfortunate.

3. The paper we gave An follows:

Begin Text:

(1) At the first wider meetings of both sides we propose that we discuss the rules of procedure which will apply to the Paris meetings on Viet-Nam, to determine with the other side acceptable rules of procedure governing the conduct of the meetings. Nothing that is decided in the rules of procedure and arrangements for the limited will prejudge the rules of procedure for the plenary session.

(2) These meetings should be limited in size. We propose to suggest to the DRV that each side bring about ten to twelve people to the procedural meetings. This number would be split evenly between the US and the GVN on our side. The other side may divide itself as it wishes.

(3) The US delegation at these opening sessions will be headed by Ambassador Vance. He will be accompanied by an advisor, a secretary, an interpreter and a stenographer.

(4) We propose that the press not be present at the opening sessions of the wider meetings. (They were barred from the Vance-Lau meetings at the Hotel Majestic May 10-11, also. The press will undoubtedly cover the arrival and departure of the delegations from the Hotel Majestic area, as they always do.)

(5) We will propose continuing the language and translation system used during the May-October meetings. Under that system, everything is translated from its original language into French by the interpreter of the speaker's side, and then from French into either English or Vietnamese, as the case may be, by an interpreter of the listener's side. (This means that the GVN delegation should include qualified conference interpreters capable of Vietnamese-French and French-Vietnamese consecutive translation.)

(6) We will propose that these opening meetings be held in the smaller conference room in which the US-DRV conversations were held. (This will not necessarily be binding on the location of the meetings following the determination of the rules of procedure.)

(7) We intend that there should be two long tables, facing each other. There will be no tables on the sides, or, if there are sides to the tables, they will be empty. We propose that there be no flags or nameplates on the tables.

(8) Determination of the order of speaking will be worked out. We propose that we seek to have our side speak first at the first wider meeting.

(9) While we of course propose to have tape recordings of the latter sessions, we do not have any strong preference for tape recordings of these first abbreviated sessions.

(10) The French Government will be expected to provide proper working sites for each side at the Hotel Majestic. The French will be responsible for physical arrangements, but these should be as agreed by the two sides.

4. We went through the paper point-by-point. Second sentence in point (1) was added at An's request. On point 9, An said that the GVN would like tape recordings of all meetings, and Habib said that we could change our position. Accordingly, when we talk to North Vietnamese we will request that each side be permitted to tape record first abbreviated sessions.

5. Comment: We are concerned that the GVN will not get representatives here without delay. Our present plan is to proceed into private talks with Lau on Saturday, or at latest Monday, and tie down the procedural matters covered in the paper contained para 3. Once this is done, the first wider meeting at the Hotel Majestic can be held. We propose that this meeting be held as soon as possible and not await Vice President Ky's arrival in Paris. We are not sure who the GVN intends to send to this meeting; will Ambassador Lam attend or will the GVN send Minister An? In any event, we believe that the GVN must be aware of timing we are thinking of, and we have asked An to report fully./2/

/2/Simultaneous discussions on the procedural issues were occurring in Saigon among Bunker, Lam, and Thanh. (Telegram 43667 from Saigon, November 29; ibid., HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968) As a result of both channels of discussion, the delegation in Paris believed that it could move ahead with a discussion of procedural matters with the DRV immediately following the arrival of the GVN delegation. (Telegram 24677/Delto 1000 from Paris, November 29; ibid.) News that Lam and Bui Diem would not arrive as scheduled, however, troubled the Paris delegation: "If the GVN drags its feet and we do not even get into procedural discussions in the near future, we not only lose time in resuming the momentum of negotiations, but also we run the risk that things may begin to become rapidly unstuck." (Telegram 24691/Delto 1002 from Paris, November 30; ibid.)



241. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State/1/

Paris, November 30, 1968, 1515Z.

/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968. Secret; Priority; Nodis/Harvan Plus. Repeated to Saigon. Bromley Smith sent the text of this telegram to the President at his Texas Ranch in telegram CAP 82851, November 30, and informed the President: "Herewith Ambassadors Harriman and Vance report on their conversation with Soviet Ambassador Zorin about the Paris talks. Zorin was selling full withdrawal of U.S. troops and acceptance of a coalition government. Zorin asked if Harriman and Vance would be leaving after January 20 and they replied affirmatively. Thereupon Zorin said all should push forward as rapidly as possible before that date." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Double Plus, Vol. III) Prior to the meeting with Zorin, the Department sent Harriman and Vance as background an account of the subjects discussed during a November 25 meeting between Rusk and Dobrynin. (Telegram 278474/Todel 1681 to Paris, November 27; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-November 1968) For a detailed memorandum of the Rusk-Dobrynin conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. XIV, Document 325.

24703/Delto 1005. From Harriman and Vance.

1. Zorin gave lunch at Soviet Embassy on November 29 for us, Habib and Perry. Also present on the Soviet side were Bogomolov, Counselor Utkin and Second Secretary Goritsky, specialist on Viet-Nam. Zorin said the latter two dealt with Viet-Nam matters.

2. Zorin opened the conversation by asking about the status of the negotiations. We replied that we did not yet have a specific date on which the South Vietnamese delegation would arrive but had been informed that it would be some time within the next week or so. We said in the meantime, however, we had proposed a meeting with Ambassador Lau to discuss the procedures for the first wider procedural meeting. We said we hoped the meeting with Ambassador Lau would take place on Monday, December 2. We also said that we hoped that the procedures for the wider conference would be worked out expeditiously as had been the case at the opening of the official conversations.

3. Zorin plunged into the question of "two sides" versus "four delegations," asserting that we had gone back on our commitment. He said that we had agreed that there would be a four-delegation meeting and referred to a document which he had seen describing it as four delegations. The document to which he referred turned out to be the draft of agreed minute. We said that his recollection of the draft was incorrect and gave him the exact wording of that paragraph of the draft.

4. We then said that our position had been consistently that the meeting would be one of two sides--our side/your side--with each side organizing itself as it chose. We reminded Zorin of the history of the development of the "our side/your side" formula and pointed out that we had said to him and to the North Vietnamese many months ago that our side would consist of ourselves and the GVN, and that the North Vietnamese could have on their side anyone whom they chose. We said they had informed us that they chose to have representatives of the NLF on their side. Accordingly, there would be a two-sided meeting which would include representatives of the US, the RVN, the DRV and the NLF.

5. We said that the "our side/your side" formula was purposely ambiguous so as to permit the principal belligerents to sit down together and discuss the means of reaching a peaceful settlement without becoming enmeshed in the problems of status, recognition, etc.

6. We said the really important problems at the moment were, first, the shooting at our reconnaissance planes and, second, violations of the DMZ. With respect to the former, we pointed out to Zorin that we had refused to accept the DRV language "other acts of war"--which the DRV had defined to include reconnaissance--and had substituted our own language, "acts involving the use of force." We said the reason we made this substitution was that we intended to continue reconnaissance and that reconnaissance was not an act involving the use of force. We said we had good reason to believe that the North Vietnamese knew exactly what we were doing when they accepted our substitute words for their words, and that they accordingly knew that we were going to continue reconnaissance.

7. Zorin replied by saying that we had conceded that reconnaissance flights were acts of war. We said that was not the case; that, as he well knew, under international law only acts involving the use of force or the threat of the use of force are "acts of war." Zorin receded from his prior position and took the tack that our reconnaissance constituted a violation of DRV sovereignty. We acknowledged the fact that it did violate DRV sovereignty but pointed out that, although we had stopped all the bombardments and all other acts involving the use of force against North Viet-Nam, a war was still going on in the South. Accordingly, it is necessary to continue reconnaissance over the north for the protection of US and other allied forces. We said that the conducting of reconnaissance which initially had been unarmed, did not in any way constitute a threat to the security of the DRV. All the DRV had to do was to stop firing on our planes.

8. We said we hoped that Zorin and the Soviet Union would use their influence to get the North Vietnamese to stop all firing on our reconnaissance aircraft. Zorin replied that they could not do this and would not become involved in this situation.

9. Zorin then raised the issue of the DMZ and charged us with repeated violations of the status of the DMZ. We responded by saying we were happy to have the opportunity to set the record straight and give him the true facts on the DMZ. We reviewed at length the facts relating to the DMZ and DRV violations thereof since the cessation of all bombardments as we had done with Lau. We emphasized the point that we had fully respected the DMZ after the cessation of bombardments and it was the DRV who violated it by the presence of their soldiers and the firing of rockets, etc., against allied installations south of the DMZ.

10. We gave Zorin details on our patrols into the DMZ during the last few days and the evidence we had accumulated, including the capturing of NVA prisoners. We concluded by saying that it was the United States' policy to respect the DMZ; that we were prepared to do so; and that we expected the DRV to do the same.

11. Zorin replied that he and his associates had talked to both Ha Van Lau and Le Duc Tho, who both denied any DRV activities within the DMZ since the cessation of bombardments. We replied that they were either misinformed or uninformed, and that we would be happy to give Zorin any further proof that he wanted, including the delivery at his Embassy of one of the North Vietnamese prisoners recently captured in the DMZ. Zorin recoiled at this suggestion and said this was a matter for the US and the North Vietnamese, and that he didn't want to get involved in it.

12. We reminded Zorin that the US had stopped all acts involving the use of force against North Viet-Nam and were abiding by our agreement, while the DRV was shooting at our reconnaissance planes and was violating the status of the DMZ.

13. After an interlude in which Zorin questioned us about the warming of Franco/American relations, Zorin gave his advice about the forthcoming negotiations. He urged that the US push forward as rapidly as possible toward agreement that would allow full withdrawal of US troops from Viet-Nam and the acceptance of a coalition government. We replied that the word "coalition" did not exist in the US diplomatic vocabulary, and that we expected to leave internal matters in South Viet-Nam to the South Vietnamese. We said we were, of course, prepared to discuss withdrawal, but it must be a mutual withdrawal of North Vietnamese and allied forces. We urged that Zorin and the Soviet Union use their influence in advising the North Vietnamese in the forthcoming negotiations to act realistically and flexibly so that it might be possible to achieve a peaceful settlement.

14. Over coffee there was some discussion of the future makeup of the negotiating delegations, including the function of General Ky. We said we understood Ky would be here in a supervisory capacity and would probably not take part in the negotiating sessions. Zorin said this was similar to Le Duc Tho's position. We replied that in some ways it is similar but that we hoped very much that Le Duc Tho would continue to take part in our negotiating sessions--particularly the informal discussions. We said that we felt that his presence had been helpful to date. Zorin asked if we would be leaving after January 20, and we replied affirmatively. He said all should push forward as rapidly as possible before that date.

15. We concluded by saying that we wished to emphasize the three points that were of urgent importance: First, the cessation of all attacks against US reconnaissance aircraft; second, respect for the DMZ; and, third, the reaching of agreement on the mutual withdrawal of US and DRV forces. We said we too hoped there would be rapid progress in the talks and that the Soviets would play a helpful role and would explain our position clearly to the North Vietnamese.



242. Editorial Note

In telegram 43777 from Saigon, November 30, 1968, Ambassador Bunker reported on how the Paris negotiations affected the South Vietnamese Government and impacted upon the situation inside South Vietnam:

"12. The major events of recent weeks have revolved about the reluctance of the GVN to send a delegation to Paris unless it received certain assurances from us. Working out these essentially face-saving assurances has taken up much of our energies and those of theirs, but spelling them out in precise and clear terms as we have, will, I believe, have certain advantages for the future. I am pleased that this difficult period is now over.

"13. Unfortunate as the government position toward the talks in Paris has been during this last month, it has had some side effects which in the long run may be constructive. The government today has wider support than it has ever enjoyed. Thieu's position as a national leader and Vietnamese confidence in his ability to defend Vietnamese interests has been strengthened. In the eyes of the people the image of the GVN as a sovereign government has been enhanced and Hanoi's propaganda that it is a puppet of the US countered.

"14. The crisis atmosphere of the early days of November in US-South Vietnamese relations had largely subsided by mid-month. The rather truculent and emotional statement of Minister of Information Thien on November 12 really marked the final spasm. When I saw Thieu on the morning of November 15, he agreed with me that it was time that we put an end to public utterances and later in the day put out a carefully drafted statement designed to calm tempers and restore perspective. He said, 'I think this is a moment to avoid pouring more oil on the fire. Differences can arise between any allies, but we do not allow them to be exploited by our common enemies, the Communists . . . Everything can be solved with calmness and patience, frankness and understanding.'

"15. Vietnamese leaders in general had been deeply concerned by the public split with the US and anxious to find a way to repair their relationship with us, although some still have reservations and concerns about our course of action, the public assurances that we have worked out during the past three weeks have been generally welcomed. As a result of these patient negotiations and assurances, the GVN delegation now goes to Paris to face the Hanoi delegation with more national unity, which in turn should make it easier for them to win acceptance of whatever agreements eventually come out of the Paris talks. As another result of Thieu's strengthened position, I think the GVN can be expected to exhibit somewhat more flexibility in negotiating. Another good effect of our recent difficulties is that the Thieu/Ky relationship has been improved, at least temporarily. They seem to be working together effectively, and Thieu has just announced that Ky will exercise overall supervision of the negotiation effort.

"16. I believe the period between Thieu's November 2 speech and the November 27 announcement of the GVN intention to go to Paris was also useful in preparing Vietnamese opinion for negotiations. While both Thieu and Huong have made consistent efforts for many months to prepare public opinion, events have shown that these traumatic last weeks were necessary to persuade the people that their interest would be vigorously protected. This particularly true as regards top government cadre and legislative leaders.

"17. On the other hand, our public differences with the GVN had some important negative effects here, as I know they had in the United States. Few Vietnamese believed our version of what happened, and most still believe that the bombing halt was an election maneuver. They also believe that, for all practical purposes, we got little from North Vietnam in return for stopping the bombing. The result is that apprehensions about our ultimate intentions deepened, and Vietnamese hopes for peace in honor and independence temporarily clouded.

"18. I think, therefore, that our decision against opening talks November 6 without the GVN was critically important in terms of Vietnamese morale. I believe that going ahead without the GVN would have set in motion a very serious decline in governmental and military effectiveness. Once such a decline became evident, the process would have been likely to snowball.

"19. The dangers that would flow from unilateral US negotiations with Hanoi and the NLF were and are apparent to thoughtful Vietnamese both in and out of the government. They also understood that from the point of view of world opinion--and to a lesser extent, Vietnamese opinion as well--the GVN could not long be in the position of seeming to reject peace talks.

"20. At the same time, I should add that the majority of the Vietnamese are profoundly skeptical about Hanoi's willingness to negotiate seriously. There is widespread feeling that Hanoi will try to use the talks to further decrease our military pressures on the Communist forces, to discourage American public opinion, to create further division among the allies, and to gain time in which to prepare for new military attacks. Fear of a coalition still remains strong in the minds of most Vietnamese.

"21. Nevertheless at the seminar in Vung Tau, Thieu took a moderate and realistic approach to these problems. He said that the GVN is, and always has been, ready to sit down with Hanoi provided that reasonable conditions are met, that it must be recognized that Hanoi is in fact the 'Government of North Vietnam' and that, therefore, 'we must negotiate with them.' He said that 'the present situation forces us to strive for a limited objective. Our limited objectives are that the North Vietnamese cease their aggression. We want a peace to last, with effective international control against re-aggression . . . We must remember that our enemy includes our own brothers so we must aim at eliminating hatred within our own family.' In this context he mentioned the national reconciliation program as one of the most important weapons in the arsenal of the nationalists.

"22. I think the main thing now is to let bygones be bygones, to let the late unpleasantness sink into the past, to get the GVN to Paris, and to start talking substance. If we consciously try to create confidence between us, I believe we can work together effectively. We shall need to do this for I have a feeling that the negotiations will prove to be arduous, complex, difficult and long. As you have said, we must expect hard bargaining and hard fighting in the days ahead." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S)

The full text of the telegram is printed in Pike, ed., The Bunker Papers, Volume II, pages 622-628.



Return to This Volume Home Page

  Back to top

U.S. Department of State
USA.govU.S. Department of StateUpdates  |   Frequent Questions  |   Contact Us  |   Email this Page  |   Subject Index  |   Search
The Office of Electronic Information, Bureau of Public Affairs, manages this site as a portal for information from the U.S. State Department. External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views or privacy policies contained therein.
About state.gov  |   Privacy Notice  |   FOIA  |   Copyright Information  |   Other U.S. Government Information

Published by the U.S. Department of State Website at http://www.state.gov maintained by the Bureau of Public Affairs.