1964-1968, Volume VII, Vietnam, September 1968-January 1969|
Released by the Office of the Historian
261. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State/1/
261. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State/1/
Paris, December 20, 1968, 1752Z.
/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-December 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Plus. Received at 3:21 p.m. Repeated to Saigon.
25633/Delto 1084. From Harriman to Vance.
1. This afternoon we met with Vice President Ky for private talk at our request for about one hour and a quarter at his house. Only the three of us were present./2/
/2/In Washington, Bui Diem also presented Ky's views on resolving the procedural impasse in a meeting with Rusk and Bundy, as reported in telegram 290751 to Saigon and repeated to Paris, December 20. (Ibid., HARVAN-(Outgoing)-December 1968)
2. We opened the meeting by saying that Vance was going home tomorrow for consultations and we wished to get the benefit of Ky's latest thinking before Vance's return. We asked how Ky viewed the situation and how he felt we would proceed from here.
3. Ky said that he was very concerned about the continuing impasse on procedures. He said that the longer the issue dragged on, the worse it became; it had become a matter of great importance to both North Vietnam and South Vietnam. He said he had been searching for a way to leap over the procedural problem and had come up with the idea of releasing a three-phased peace plan. (See Paris 25590, Delto 1082.)/3/
/3/Dated December 20. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Paris Todel-Paris Delto, Vol. XVII(a))
4. Ky said the first phase would be concerned with discussions of military matters leading up to the withdrawal of all external forces from South Vietnam. In this phase, the 17th parallel would be re-established as the dividing line between North and South Vietnam, and all North Vietnamese forces would be withdrawn north of the 17th parallel. Presumably, allied forces would also be withdrawn according to the Manila formula.
5. He said the second phase would be concerned with the internal political problems of South Vietnam. It would deal with the question of the future of the NLF and would involve discussions with them.
6. The third phase would be concerned with bilateral discussions between North and South Vietnam concerning the question of peaceful reunification, trade and similar matters affecting the two countries.
7. Ky asked our views with respect to the proposal. We said that we first wished to ask a few questions for clarification. In response to questions, Ky said that the first phase would involve discussion between the DRV, the RVN and the US. The NLF would be excluded and, thus, there would be, three-cornered talks. He said that the problem of withdrawal of external forces had nothing to do with the NLF. We asked what he had in mind with respect to the withdrawal of NVA fillers from NLF units, and he replied he really hadn't given much thought to the problem because he was concerned with the withdrawal of North Vietnamese divisions and regiments.
8. Ky said that the second phase, i.e., discussions of a political solution, would not begin until all North Vietnamese forces had been withdrawn from South Vietnam. Ky added that perhaps he might be willing to start discussions with the NLF at an earlier date, but that he did not believe that Thieu and other members of his government would agree to such a position.
9. Ky also said he contemplated that either he or Thieu would put forward this peace plan as a way of overcoming the procedural questions and did not contemplate holding it until the Paris talks got under way. He expressed belief that his plan would receive favorable reaction in world opinion.
10. In response to Ky's question, we said that we foresaw serious problems with the proposal if the plan were to be made public prior to the first plenary session. We said we believed that the plan would be turned down flatly by the other side because it excluded NLF participation in the discussion of military matters. Further, it would repudiate the "our side-your side" formula which was the basis on which the GVN had agreed to come to Paris. And it would still leave us with the same old procedural problems. We said, on the other hand, if he was talking about making a peace proposal in the substantive discussions in the new meetings, that would be an entirely different case and serious consideration might be given to it in that form.
11. We said that we were sure that Ky understood that the American people simply did not understand why we could not resolve the question of procedures, and would certainly not understand any action which could break up the proposed peace talks. We said this was a reality which had to be dealt with. Ky replied that he understood this very well and that that was the reason that he had come up with the idea of trying to jump the procedural question. He said that, as we knew, he had already exceeded his instructions in trying to solve the procedural problem and that he could go no further unless he got further authorization from his government. He said that it was because of this that he planned to return to Saigon tomorrow to consult with President Thieu and others.
12. We said that Ky would recall that it has been said many times in the US that we will discuss any proposals and consider the views of any group. In this connection, we referred to the President's 1966 State of the Union message in which he said, "We will meet at any conference table, we will discuss any proposals--four points or forty--and we will consider the views of any group."/4/
/4/See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. IV, Document 19.
13. We reviewed with Ky the facts leading up to the GVN delegation's coming to Paris and said that we understood when the GVN came to Paris they were prepared to enter into discussions with the other side, and that they knew the other side included the NLF. Ky acknowledged this fact but said that they had never thought that they were going to be a separate delegation. We reminded Ky that it had always been understood that either side would organize itself as it wished and that, although we did not view the other side as one of two delegations, that the other side would claim that it was composed of two delegations.
14. Ky referred to the November 26 statement of the US that we would treat the other side as a single delegation./5/ We pointed out to Ky that what was said in the US statement was that we would regard and treat all the persons on the other side of the table--whatever they might claim for themselves--as members of a single side, that of Hanoi, and, for practical purposes, a single delegation. We underscored the fact that the words "whatever the other side might claim" were recognition of the fact that they would claim they were two delegations. Ky acknowledged this fact but said it didn't lessen the problem he had at home.
/5/See footnote 3, Document 236.
15. We repeated again that we thought it would be a mistake to put forward his proposed peace plan prior to the first plenary session for the reasons which we had given, but that, without commenting on the specifics of the proposal, it would be entirely different if the substance of his proposal were to be put forward by the GVN at the first substantive session.
16. Ky said that he was going home either tomorrow or the next day, depending on when he could get a plane, to consult with his government and hoped to be back within a few days.
262. Personal Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to Henry A. Kissinger/1/
Washington, December 23, 1968.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Walt Rostow Files, Nixon & Transition. Secret; Personal. In an attached note transmitting a copy of the memorandum to the President, December 23, 7:40 a.m., Rostow wrote: "Henry Kissinger has asked me for my view of the key problems and possibilities ahead. I have done the attached memorandum on a wholly personal basis. He is coming in today and I should like to give it to him. But I do not wish to pass even such a personal document to him on a personal basis without your knowledge and assent." At the bottom of the note, Rostow provided the President with options to check, including "No" and "See me." The President checked "You may give it to Kissinger." On December 2 President-elect Nixon had named Kissinger to be Assistant to President for National Security Affairs in the new administration.
These should be understood, Henry, as wholly personal notes and reflections.
I. Set out below are some critical issues that will require decision in the weeks and months ahead. But I should perhaps begin by saying simply that if the new Administration is patient and steady, the following are objectives within its grasp, looking ahead over the next 12-18 months.
[Omitted here is a list of other recommended U.S. policy objectives, including regional security in Asia, normalization with China, peace and development in the Middle East, measures for European unity, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, arms control, Latin American integration, and revamping of the international monetary system.]
II. The Vietnam Settlement. Here are things to watch:
--An early reaffirmation by President Nixon of President Johnson's instruction to General Abrams is required. President Johnson gave an instruction to go with the ARVN absolutely flat out in a pacification offensive. Without momentum inside South Vietnam, our leverage for a settlement in Paris or elsewhere is minimal. Vague talk of "de-escalation" could easily take the heart out of the ARVN and, indeed, adversely affect the morale of U.S. forces.
--Clarity about general shape of a political settlement inside SVN. Only those who have lived with a succession of SVN governments can understand how precious [precarious] the present government is, notably with its constitutional basis rooted in the election process. The understanding with Thieu-Ky is that they will have to face a popular front party running against them at some time. That is why they are working to build a big national political party./2/ That is why at Honolulu Thieu said that those who give up violence can "run for office as well as vote." There are all sorts of complexities that lie ahead in negotiating this outcome; but, if we continue to extend population control on the ground at something like the present 3% a month rate and chew away at the infrastructure, such a settlement is, I believe, within our grasp. We achieved a reasonably good understanding with Thieu at Honolulu. One of the most essential first tasks of the new Administration will be to reaffirm this basic understanding so that the struggle in Paris and elsewhere will not pull us apart and set in motion a disintegration of the political process in Saigon. Although we must leave the details of the negotiations to the South Vietnamese, a fundamental understanding on where we both wish to come out inside South Vietnam is essential.
/2/See me. [Footnote in the source text.]
--Keep your eye on Laos. It is almost certain that Hanoi will try to negotiate its position on the ground in Laos to the maximum. There must be a contingency plan if they try to extend their situation in Laos down to the Mekong. (You should know that the only rational military riposte that any of us can think of is to seize some ground north of the 17th parallel and hold it until they get out of Laos--if they, in fact, should play this card.) In any case, a Vietnam settlement without a Laos settlement would bring no peace to Southeast Asia. Another anxiety is the road building by Communist China in Northern Laos. Some of us have feared for years that the Chinese might make a land grab in Northern Laos in the context of a Vietnam settlement. The truth is we do not have a good feel for Communist Chinese intentions toward a Vietnam settlement. I suspect there will be a test of will over Laos before we're finished. The Russians may be helpful, if they are sure we'll be tough.
--Monitoring the settlement. You should bear in mind that the only new policy made in Paris was on the first day when Harriman was instructed that in a Vietnam settlement the governments of Southeast Asia should play a part, in monitoring terms. We have stimulated the Thais, Japanese, Indonesians, and others to think about their role in a settlement. Specifically, some of us feel we need an Asian force (using the new sensors, helicopters, etc.) to monitor against renewed infiltration. We would like to get the Japanese and Indonesians into this role since, unlike the Indians, Canadians, and Poles, they would have an abiding interest in the stability of a settlement. The optimum is to bring the Japanese out of the islands into a security role in Asia as part of a multilateral peacekeeping exercise.
--U.S. troop withdrawals. Don't be too surprised at some stage if Hanoi and Moscow indicate they do not want total U.S. troop withdrawals from SVN. There is some body of intelligence which suggests they may want a U.S. military presence in South Vietnam (as well as elsewhere in Southeast Asia) as a counter to Chinese Communist pressure on Hanoi.
[Omitted here is discussion of the other issues facing the incoming administration.]
/3/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
263. Memorandum for the Record/1/
Washington, December 24, 1968.
/1/Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Job 72-207A, DDO/IMS Files, AA-3 FE Division, 1968. Secret.
Conversations With United States Delegation to the Paris Talks
1. En route to Christmas leave in Washington, I stopped in Paris for discussions [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] primarily on the question of organizing Agency support for the United States Delegation to the Vietnam Peace negotiations. During the stopover on 16 December 1968, I briefed and was debriefed by Mr. Philip Habib, Governor Harriman and Ambassador Vance in three separate sessions involving a total of four hours. The focus of the discussions was the political and psychological situation in South Vietnam and its relationship to events in Paris and Washington.
2. Principal Political and Psychological Factors in Vietnam Today:
A. There is discernible and significant momentum in a forward direction on virtually all fronts. (I described some of this progress in detail including such items as GVN efficiency, Phoenix, ARVN performance, political institutions., etc.) A clear cut military and political victory is not in sight, but there is a sense of accomplishment at having prevented an enemy takeover. There is a gathering confidence on the part of the South Vietnamese in their own capacity to govern, to fight, to talk, and ultimately to deal politically with the residual communist organization in their midst.
B. The gathering sense of confidence should not be exaggerated. There is also an evident fragility between this "strong side" and the "weak side" of anxiety about American intentions. Decreasing confidence in the willingness of the United States to stay the negotiations course puts South Vietnam on a kind of tight rope. It is obvious that the prospect of precipitous massive withdrawal of American troops (real or imagined) without verified and guaranteed reciprocity from North Vietnam, will move many Vietnamese to reinsure with the Viet Cong. Acceptance of cease fire conditions which dilute GVN sovereignty, talk of amending the Constitution and other possible concessions which suggest eventual communist ascendancy all tend to reinforce this movement. Disdainful and critical public statements by American officials can aggravate this fragility.
C. Actually both sides have this tight rope to walk and are trying to push the other off. The enemy line is: The Americans are pulling out and quickly. The GVN is nothing without the Americans. We are strong in the country. We will take over, rewarding friends and punishing enemies. It is not too late to make your deal with us. Do it now. And why get killed when peace is coming. The US/GVN line is the converse, to wit: The NVA is pulling out, leaving you to the mercy of the GVN. Come over now, etc. It is not clear which side is enjoying greater success but it is clear that the balance of advantage is a delicate one and is affected by signs of United States intentions.
D. The essential thrust of the NLF/VC/DRV in the political and psychological war is advocacy of a "peace cabinet" wherein elements more amenable to a compromise with the communists would exert decisive influence on the GVN side. The ideal arrangement for the communists would, of course, involve the removal of Thieu and Ky. This is often, but not always stated as essential. Addition of more "peace minded" individuals is, however, definitely desired.
E. The burden of this ploy is being carried by the new Movement to Struggle for Peace, a coalition of Buddhist, Student, Intellectual, and non-CVT labor forces. As an organization it does not yet demonstrate real muscle. It must be watched however since this kind of amalgam could make serious trouble especially if active enemy proselytizing in the armed forces produced resonance there.
F. A crucial point for the United States Government is the gathering consensus in the GVN and among key political leaders in South Vietnam that there must be a political settlement, that it will be sooner rather than later, that it will involve some form of negotiations with and recognition of the NLF as a political entity, that elections will be held with communist participation, that real risks will have to be accepted by the GVN. (This was born out in a sense by the [name not declassified]-Ky conversation and Ky's CBS interview.)/2/
/2/The conversation between [name not declassified], who had previously been the Saigon Station's primary contact with Ky, and Ky has not been identified. Regarding Ky's TV interview, see footnote 6, Document 258.
G. Properly handled, the GVN, given the above development, can be brought to a truly joint position with the United States on all key negotiation issues. The GVN must be made to feel, however, that we have not in fact abandoned our original purpose in the Vietnam intervention, namely, the denial of communist domination of the South. If so reassured, the GVN leadership will and can bring its own citizens around to acceptance of considerable political risk.
H. Whether the South will succeed in its political confrontation is another matter. Thieu is more successful and impressive as a president than as a politician. He has not yet been able to bring unity out of traditional political diversity. He must exert himself more strenuously and creatively to this end. There are signs that many Saigon and provincial political leaders are more susceptible than ever to a major effort by Thieu to unite nationalist political forces in a grand coalition to face the communists under post-hostilities conditions.
The following opinions, advanced partly in response to questions, were presented as the personal views of the undersigned:
I. The proper "mix" for United States/GVN policy (strategy and tactics) would involve (among other things) the following:
1. Crystallization of concrete American views on the shape of the political settlement and discussion thereof with the GVN. The GVN NEEDS to KNOW what we have in mind.
2. Application of necessary pressures on the GVN in a private, rational, and diplomatic manner, one which reflects appreciation of the Vietnamese character and style. This kind of pressure can be effective.
3. Conversely, the avoidance of blatant public pressure which is bound to be counter-productive and provides "contradictions" for enemy propaganda and political exploitation.
4. Adherence to a basic, clear, militant, yet flexible line in the negotiations which manifests both our absolute determination to arrange a settlement through negotiations and our refusal to hand the enemy a victory at the table which they failed to win on the ground. This also involves, and here we move closer to the American domestic political problem, avoidance of any suggestion that we have a timetable for withdrawal and settlement. To do so will surely convince the communists that we will meet their positions eventually, that they need only hang on in obstinate certainty of this while our political pressure clock ticks away. It is important to understand that the enemy also desires a negotiated settlement and is willing to accept some risks in connection with same.
J. The above suggestions were made in the context of what kind of posture will permit the GVN to continue to build its own administrative and political strength in Vietnam during the "fight and talk" stage. They are based on an assessment of the underlying psychological climate in the country.
3. There was no diametric disagreement with any of the above points. However, it may be useful to note a few of the observations made by Messrs. Habib, Harriman, and Vance during the discussions.
A. There is a feeling that the GVN is stalling for time through its insistence on procedural niceties. The GVN probably still hopes that the Nixon Vietnam team will change both the substance and the style of the approach in Vietnam and Paris, to wit: will be tougher with the enemy on all counts, less in a hurry to settle the affair.
B. This is probably erroneous as the new Nixon team will be under the same instructions to get on with the talks and on to a settlement involving prompt American troop withdrawal without delay.
C. If the GVN had any sense, it would understand that the only hope for gaining the time needed to prepare for the political confrontation lies in moving into serious negotiations quickly and in an early significant United States troop reduction. Under these circumstances, it is possible that the American public opinion would permit a more deliberate playing out of the negotiating process. The amount of time which might be gained under these circumstances is one year more or less.
D. Since the GVN still seems not to grasp completely the imperatives of the American intention, some kind of pressure is essential. We cannot be held back by our allies. Perhaps public pressure is to be avoided, but the essence of Mr. Clifford's position is correct.
E. Governor Harriman acknowledged that we had never really described to the South Vietnamese our views on the shape of the future, what we might find acceptable as conditions for withdrawal and for a political settlement. While we say that the Vietnamese must work this out for themselves, the issues are clearly interrelated. The DRV is unlikely to withdraw its troops and keep them out of the South unless and until it has some idea of the kind of political deal which is in the offing. Governor Harriman believes that we should be more candid with the GVN on this score.
F. The North will never abide by any settlement unless they feel it in their interest to do so. They broke the Laos agreement immediately. They will break any Vietnam agreement unless they find it in their interest not to do so. Governor Harriman was not explicit on the kind of agreement which they might respect. He stressed his view that we are dealing with an aggressive nationalist form of communism out of the North. Thus, he believes that a key point in common among the USA, the USSR, and the DRV is the wish to avoid Communist Chinese domination of Vietnam and Southeast Asia. A sound settlement should play on this common ground. If this is true, some fraction of the United States troop presence could perhaps remain in South Vietnam after the major withdrawals have occurred.
G. Governor Harriman believes that we should try to negotiate a prompt reduction of the "violence" in South Vietnam, e.g., stop B-52 strikes if the Viet Cong will desist from all acts of "terror". He saw little point in further attempts at pacification and in "killing a few more communists".
4. Governor Harriman asked that I convey the following additional observations to the DCI:
A. The [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] efforts to strengthen its capacity to support the Delegation are commendable. He hopes the DCI will endorse the Station's requests for additional manpower. He believes that the principal need, however, is for better intelligence on NLF/DRV plans in the negotiations. He regrets the paucity of intelligence on the enemy negotiating positions. The Governor was not critical, as he so stated several times, since he fully appreciated the operational difficulties. It was clear that he greatly appreciated the existing support rendered. His regard for [name not declassified] of the DDI was very evident.
B. A related problem and possibly not immediately susceptible to covert action is the role of the French in influencing the negotiations. The communist side has continuing contact with French officials who have already been asked for their views on the shape of the future political settlement. It is possible that French influence could be used either for good or evil in this context. Governor Harriman did not express concrete ideas on the implications of this phenomenon either diplomatically or covertly.
C. I had the distinct impression that Governor Harriman felt frustrated and disappointed at the prospect of leaving the Paris talks in such an inconclusive state. He has told the new President that he was ready to help in any way after returning to Washington on or about January 20th and asked that this be reported to the DCI.
D. The Governor asked that his views not be repeated outside the Agency, but that he planned to speak "totally frankly" now that he was about to leave his present post. It is clear that he is deeply disillusioned with the United States military failure to understand the nature and true purpose of the Vietnam conflict and its constant ill-based optimism both of which he considers largely responsible for the over commitment of United States resources to this ill-fated enterprise.
[name not declassified]
264. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to Ambassador Bunker and Ambassador at Large Harriman/1/
Washington, December 24, 1968, 2058Z.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. VIII. Secret. [text not declassified] Repeated to Saigon.
CAP 82919. I am sending this back channel because it is the afternoon of December 24 and this is a convenient way to make a memorandum of conversation which I believe you should have promptly available.
Bui Diem and Khoi came in this morning with Bill Jorden.
1. On the question of modalities, I took the line in State 291645:/2/ Namely that we ought to have an early agreement before Congress got back and we had more of the kind of pressure represented by Senator McGovern. I explained that it was hard in the context of American traditions to be against a round table. They asked about flags and name plates. I took the position of paragraph 8 of the referenced cable. They asked about speaking order. I said I was not an expert but I believed some formulae were open for discussion.
/2/In telegram 291645 to Saigon, December 24, the Department urged Bunker to impress upon Thieu the need for some degree of leeway on procedural issues. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks/Nodis/Paris Meeting Plus, Vol. I)
2. Their main point--underlined by Khoi--was this: if we came to an agreement on modalities, would it stick? If the other side refused our next position, would we again come back at Saigon for still another compromise? Vital issues were involved for the GVN in the matter of modalities. I said that clarity about our sticking position was an understandable question for them to present. I hoped that Amb. Bunker and President Thieu would come to grips with an agreed position while Vice President Ky was in Saigon--in the days ahead.
3. I then underlined how helpful Vice President Ky's television broadcast had been and talked about the favorable surprise of Mary McGrory, Chalmers Roberts,/3/ etc., who had telephoned me. I said the optimum position for our side was to have the burden put on the shoulders of Hanoi and the NLF for not talking to the GVN. I recalled to both of them that I had often said to Bui Diem that it was important for the GVN to take the lead in peacemaking and to do so from a position of confidence as an elected constitutional government.
/3/Mary McGrory was a syndicated columnist with the Washington Evening Star, and Chalmers Roberts was a reporter for the The Washington Post.
4. Bui Diem then said that since the anxiety in Saigon was whether we were putting GVN on to a slippery slope in Paris, where they did not know what next concession would be asked of them, would it not be useful to agree at an early time what our basic negotiating strategy might be. Political figures in Saigon would then know what lay behind an agreement on modalities and where we would next proceed.
5. The following four headings emerged as their notion of the basis for an agreement with us on the substance of a negotiating strategy:
--Nail down the DMZ. This would be done in Paris on a your-side our-side basis.
--Negotiate the framework of troop withdrawals, including troop withdrawals from Cambodia and Laos, plus international monitoring against the return of North Vietnamese forces across their frontiers. This also would be done on your-side our-side basis in Paris.
--Following upon Ky's TV statement, Honolulu, etc. reassert the willingness of the GVN to talk with the NLF "as a reality" about a political settlement in the South. This would be done bilaterally in Paris or elsewhere.
--Saigon-Hanoi discussions of normalization of relations between North and South Vietnam. This would be a bilateral in Paris or elsewhere.
6. Making it quite clear that I was speaking personally, and not for the U.S. Government, I said that I thought there might be wisdom in our coming to grips with (and letting Saigon announce) some such simple framework for the substantive negotiations at the same time that we came to a private agreement on the unresolved questions of modalities.
7. Bui Diem and Khoi said they would report our conversation to Saigon as a personal conversation.
265. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, December 28, 1968, 0940Z.
/1/Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks/Nodis/Paris Meeting Plus, Vol. I. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Plus. Received at 8:19 a.m. Repeated to Paris for the Vietnam Mission. Telegram 45708 from Saigon, December 28, contained Bunker's report on additional topics discussed during this conversation. (Ibid.)
45710. 1. In my talk with Thieu this morning, he said he would like to talk a little about questions of substance, how these might come up after procedures are settled, and how they might be handled in a very preliminary and tentative way. (He said that Ky had reported to him day before yesterday and to the Security Council yesterday, and what follows may have been stimulated by Ky's report.)
2. Would Hanoi want to tie a political settlement to withdrawal? Thieu said he believed Hanoi strategy in Paris would be to try to obtain recognition of the NLF as equal to Saigon and to insist on a package solution. Hanoi may be willing to talk, after mutual withdrawal, to Saigon about normalization of relations, reunification, etc., but will want to be sure what we (GVN) will give to the NLF; in other words, they would not want to "abandon the child in the market place."
3. There are, therefore, two separate problems: 1) Invasion of South Vietnam by the DRV which must be solved by the withdrawal of NVN troops followed by allied withdrawal under the terms of the Manila Communiqué, and 2) the situation of the NLF before and after NVN withdrawal.
4. In the case of withdrawal, this will involve not only the withdrawal of main force units, but the more difficult problem of identifying and withdrawing NVN in VC units, the problem of Laos and Cambodia, and of verification and supervision. Thieu expressed the possibility that since Hanoi would not agree to admit to world opinion that they have had troops in South Vietnam, they might want to discuss the problem of withdrawal confidentially on a bilateral basis with us, agreeing to "fade away" so that we could then also withdraw.
5. On the question of the NLF, Thieu foresaw three possible solutions: 1) coalition; 2) a general election before 1971 (the date under the Constitution when the next general election would be held) in which the South Vietnamese people will determine the make up of their own government on the basis of one man, one vote; 3) authorize the NLF members to organize a non-Communist political party under the Constitution and engage in local and national elections as these were scheduled (for example, one third of the Senate is to be elected in 1970 and other local elections may take place before 1971).
6. Thieu observed that the first alternative, i.e., coalition, the GVN could not accept, but that the other two offered possibilities. He rather leaned toward early general elections on the ground that it would be advantageous to the GVN to hold elections before giving the NLF too much time to organize, which they were already trying to do through efforts to establish liberation committees. On the other hand, Thieu said, he had expressed the view as long ago as 1965 that once the GVN became strong, they could absorb the NLF into the body politic. He thought the GVN was approaching the position now when "the system could absorb some bacteria" and that by the time a settlement might be reached in 1969, they would be in a position to do this. As continuing preparations for such a situation, the GVN would emphasize strongly in 1969, along with pacification and revolutionary development, the consolidation and strengthening of hamlet and village administrations and a dramatic land reform program. This latter, the Cabinet was actively working on now and he hoped to announce something shortly.
7. At the end of our discussion, he referred to a matter he had mentioned once before to me, i.e., the need on the part of the US in response to public opinion to withdraw some troops in 1969. He would like to know our views in order to discuss with us how further Vietnamization of the war could be worked out, what the nature of the withdrawal might be, and how the GVN would fill the gap. If, for example, we planned on withdrawing say 100,000 troops, what would be the nature of the withdrawal? Would this be apportioned on a basis of say 50,000 logistical troops and 50,000 combat troops? He said that he would like to pursue this question with us on a very secret and secure basis.
266. Letter From Ambassador Vance to Henry A. Kissinger/1/
Paris, December 31, 1968.
/1/Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, HAK Office Files, HAK--Administrative & Staff Files--Transition, Vietnam. Secret; Nodis. A review of the status of current issues in the Paris talks was prepared for the next administration and placed into a briefing book. (Ibid., RG 59, S/S-S Files: Lot 69 D 217, General Briefing Book for the Secretary-designate, Volume V: Vietnam, December 1968)
This letter contains my suggestions on the main points on which the new negotiators will need immediate guidance.
There is, of course, the possibility that we will be still bogged down on procedural matters. If so, the first thing will be to try to break through the impasse. This will require sufficient flexibility on the part of the GVN to allow us to resolve the issues. We have already made our proposals to the Department in this regard, and the matter is under discussion in Saigon with the GVN. If it is resolved before the 20th, then the new administration need be concerned only with the questions of substance. If not, then the new administration will have to pick up the argument over procedures with the GVN.
If, despite all efforts of persuasion, the GVN continues to insist on a position which postpones negotiation on matters of substance, we will have to consider alternatives. One alternative which should be high on the list is to seek to open bilateral negotiations with the DRV on such matters as the DMZ, withdrawals, prisoners of war, Laos, postwar relations between the US and the DRV, etc. We would remain ready to engage in full plenaries with all parties concerned but would try to make progress bilaterally on matters of substance which directly affect the United States. We would not propose to discuss an internal political settlement in this context, but rather leave that to the Vietnamese./2/
/2/Kissinger's ideas on a dual-track negotiating strategy appeared in his article actually published in mid-December, "The Viet Nam Negotiations," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 47 (January 1969), pp. 211-234.
If it is possible to overcome the procedural impasse and to get into plenary sessions on matters of substance, then the initial negotiating instructions should contain clear guidance on the following questions:
a. Will we follow one or two tracks? As you know, I strongly favor two tracks.
b. What is our policy concerning troop withdrawals? Must they be mutual, and over what time period should they be phased? What is the maximum number of troops which we should seek to take out before the end of 1969?
c. If the GVN dig in their heels, what items of leverage should we use, e.g., troop withdrawals, cease-fire, etc.? How far can we go bilaterally, or perhaps trilaterally (include the NLF), under such circumstances?
d. What is our position on reducing the level of hostilities? Are we going to follow a policy of all out pressure on the ground? If so, what part will US forces play? If we do not follow a policy of maximum pressure, what kinds of de-escalation should we propose?
e. What is our position on a cease-fire?
With all these questions in mind, I suggest that the negotiating instructions define specifically the basic objective along, such lines as the following:
"To negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Viet-Nam problem under conditions which provide the people of South Viet-Nam the opportunity to determine their own future free from external aggression."
In terms of specific objectives, the initial negotiating instructions should speak to the following:
a. Restoration of the DMZ.
b. Withdrawal of external forces from South Viet-Nam.
c. Reduction of the level of hostilities--including the question of a cease-fire and phased de-escalation.
d. The creation of a situation in which the contending Vietnamese forces within South Viet-Nam can work out a political settlement.
e. Prisoners of war.
There are in existence policy papers on these issues, but they should be reviewed, reaffirmed, or modified.
There are, of course, a number of other important items on which guidance will be required, but they can await further thought and study.
Finally, I would like to stress that the negotiating instructions should be stated in over-all objective terms and the maximum flexibility should be left to the negotiators to operate within such broad guidelines. We should seek to avoid a situation in which every move the negotiators wish to take must be approved in Washington and Saigon. The general rule should be maximum flexibility on tactics consistent with the over-all policy objectives./3/
/3/Before assuming his position as the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs on January 20, 1969, Kissinger began secret contacts with the North Vietnamese in December 1968. The primary conduits were Jean Sainteny, a retired French official with long experience in Vietnam, and Mai Van Bo, the DRV's official representative in France. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Vietnam, 1969-1970.
267. Editorial Note
Contacts between the United States and the National Liberation Front (NLF) regarding military issues occurred at the end of 1968. On December 19 the NLF offered to release three American prisoners of war. Following meetings on December 25, 1968, and January 1, 1969, between Viet Cong and U.S. military officers in an area of Tay Ninh Province where a temporary stand-down had been ordered, the three soldiers were released. Seven North Vietnamese seamen were subsequently released by the U.S. Navy on December 16. Despite this successful "exchange," the U.S. and South Vietnamese Governments refused to recognize a Viet Cong-sponsored New Year's truce due to enemy violations of an earlier Christmas truce. Documentation on the prisoner release is in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 3 D (1), Prisoners of War (General Material), 1/66-1/69; and in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 17-5 US-VIET S and POL 27-7 VIET.
268. Telegram From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas/1/
Washington, January 2, 1969.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. VIII. Secret. No transmission time is indicated.
CAP 9026. Cy Vance reports by telephone:
--He had a meeting of 4 hours and 15 minutes with the North Vietnamese on modalities;/2/
/2/The delegation transmitted a summary of the meeting in telegram 38/Delto 1116 from Paris, January 2. (Ibid., HARVAN Paris Todel-Paris Delto, Vol. XVIII) The full report of the meeting is in telegram 75/Delto 1119 from Paris, January 3. (Ibid., HARVAN Chronological, Vol. XXVI)
--They insist on a simple round table;
--They caved on the flags and name plates;
--On drawing they shifted from one of our proposals (in which the U.S. and Hanoi would draw, determining the first speaker, with subsequent speakers following in a sequence we could determine) to a proposal in which the GVN and the NLF would do the drawing for the two sides.
If we are to get a simple round table, Thieu tells us he will have to go back to the Vietnamese NSC. Moreover, Saigon will not like at all the drawing to be done by the NLF and the GVN for the two sides. Therefore, we have had important movement (on the flags and name plates) but we still do not have a deal.
269. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State/1/
Paris, January 3, 1969, 1028Z.
/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-January 1969. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Plus. Received at 6:20 a.m. Repeated to Saigon. In telegram CAP 9031 to the President at his Texas Ranch, January 3, Rostow included the full text of the delegation's telegram, prefacing it with the following sentence: "Herewith Harriman and Vance's recommendation on modalities." (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. VII) The notation "ps" on Rostow's telegram indicates that the President saw it. The President left the Ranch and arrived at the White House at 3:20 p.m. that day. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary) Paris, January 3, 1969, 1028Z.
42/Delto 1117. From Harriman to Vance. Ref: Paris 0038 (Delto 1116)./2/
/2/See footnote 2, Document 268.
1. After reviewing carefully our lengthy meeting of last evening, we have reached the following conclusions and make the following recommendations.
2. We believe we have a good chance of closing out the procedures at the next meeting, if we have flexibility to move to an unmarked, circular table, which we believe will be required. Without this flexibility, we do not believe that we can wrap it up.
3. We have achieved what the GVN has agreed is the most important issue--that is, that there be no flags or nameplates. We believe strongly that it will not be difficult to maintain the principle of two sides by the manner in which we seat ourselves and conduct ourselves without a line of demarcation on the table. We can arrange ourselves on our side of the table in a manner which will make clear that there are two sides. We find it difficult to understand GVN contention that an unmarked round table (without flags or name plates) somehow gives NLF greater status than if there was a baize strip dividing the sides. We therefore recommend strongly that we be authorized to accept a circular table without a line of demarcation.
4. We also recommend that we be given the additional flexibility which we originally requested on order of speaking, as set forth in State 291645/3/ paras 9-12, all of which preserve the principle of two sides.
/3/See footnote 2, Document 264.
5. With the achievement of their prime objective--no name plates and flags--the GVN should be in a position to agree to a circular table while maintaining the "our side-your side" formula.
6. We urge that Embassy Saigon raise the matter immediately with Thieu and obtain the flexibility which is requested.
270. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, January 4, 1969, 1230Z.
/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-January 1969. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Plus. Received at 6:20 a.m. Repeated to Paris for the Vietnam Mission.
154. Ref: A. Paris 0038 (Delto 1116);/2/ B. Paris 0042 (Delto 1117);/3/ C. State 00954 (Todel 1911)./4/
/2/See footnote 2, Document 268.
/4/Dated January 3. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Paris Todel-Paris Delto, Vol. XVIII)
1. I realize the need to get more flexibility into Vance's instructions and will do what I can. I do not think it advisable for me to see Thieu as the next step here. Instead this morning I sent Berger and Herz to talk to Foreign Minister Thanh and Presidential Assistant Duc on the results of the Vance-Lau meeting (see septel)/5/ and this afternoon I called on Ky, accompanied by Berger./6/ I thought it better to prepare the ground with them before seeing Thieu, and let them work on him for a day or so.
/5/Regarding this meeting, see Document 268.
/6/Bunker reported further on this meeting in telegram 160 from Saigon, January 5. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Chronological, Vol. XXVI)
2. I don't think we shall be able to get Thieu to agree to the full authority we asked for in the original statement we submitted to the GVN, but it may be possible to get him to agree on a continuous circle without baize, and perhaps go a little further on the speaking order in the direction of including ABAB, as an additional alternative. Ky remarked that the difference between a piece of baize and no baize is hardly something we can fight for, and he also mentioned that the easiest solution to the speaking order problem is simply toss a coin, or let the other side speak first. He said he would discuss both with Thieu.
3. At the morning meeting with Thanh and Duc, they at first took the position that the other side was intransigent and we should wait before making any further move. By the time the meeting ended, however, they saw the danger of this course. Berger asked them to take another look at our original proposed instructions to see how much further they could go, arguing that the greater Vance's flexibility the better would be the outcome. They promised to have another look, particularly at the unbroken circular table and at the ABAB formula, and to discuss the whole matter with Thieu this afternoon, if they could get to him.
4. I hope to hear something from the Foreign Minister or Ky tomorrow, but if by Monday morning we have heard nothing I will ask to see Thieu, or ask for a joint meeting. I told Ky, and Berger told the Foreign Minister, that we would like a joint meeting on next steps as soon as they have finished studying the Vance-Lau exchange, and the NLF statement.
5. Given Thieu's past performance, his caution and stubbornness, he may land us, and himself, in trouble again by taking too long to come to a decision. Even if we can persuade him to give Vance more room for bargaining, he may feel he cannot do this without first going to the NSC and the leaders of the Assembly.
6. There is a feeling here in top GVN circles that we have not sufficiently publicized to the American public the importance we attach to the two-sided nature of the new talks, and that in the argument over table shapes this fundamental issue is being lost. I think we should be making a strong public case that the war in Viet-Nam is between two sides and not between four sides, and that the conference arrangements must reflect this. If we make this public case, if we show why the enemy's attempts to put the NLF on a basis of equality with the GVN go the heart of the conflict, I think the GVN will find it much easier to go along in accepting the round table because they will be better convinced that we stand with them on the principle that is involved in the current impasse. The Secretary's press conference, just received, is very helpful in this connection.
7. I have two further thoughts. I think we might propose to Thieu that as between the circular table divided by baize, and the unmarked table, this is not an issue on which we can long stand, and we might propose to Hanoi that we draw lots on the two. My second proposal is to push Ky's thought that the other side can start on the AABB formula. Would like Paris and Washington views.
271. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France/1/
Washington, January 4, 1969, 1539Z.
/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference, Delto Chron., January 1969. Secret; Flash; Nodis/Harvan. Drafted and approved by Bundy, and cleared by John P. Walsh of S/S.
1359/Todel 1915. 1. You should have Saigon 154/2/ reporting useful step and thoughts.
2. In line with the fundamental GVN desire to depict the solution in terms of two sides, it seems to us that an order of speaking arrangement could be worked out that would give both the GVN and ourselves ample support for a two-sided interpretation, assuming we go along on the continuous and unmarked round table. We think you were wise on January 2 not to get deeply into this, and thus to leave our hands reasonably free.
3. Specifically, it is simple common sense--both for private argument with the North Vietnamese and for public exposition--for the order of speaking to be clearly by sides. Just as so many lawyers and others familiar with adversary proceedings have found it extremely difficult to understand our apparent rejection of the round table, so the same influential groups will readily see that in any multi-party litigation the common sense way to proceed is for all the parties on one side to present their views, and then for all the parties on the other side to respond. In short, a position on order of speaking that calls for two lots and then each side completing its presentation would have wide appeal and could become very difficult for Hanoi to stick on.
4. The thought this leads to is that we should seek to get Thieu's concurrence on accepting the continuous and unmarked round table but insisting at the same time on two lots and an AABB order of speaking. With the indication that Ky might advise even letting the other side go first, we would have even more of a persuasive case.
5. Could you advise at once your judgment of such a proposal, in substance and in terms of its being accepted by the North Vietnamese? We would like to send additional instructions to Bunker with your advice in hand.
6. While you are at it, it would help to have in writing a statement of the additional physical elements that tend in the direction of two sides already. For example, we understand that it has become a regular practice for our delegation and the North Vietnamese to use separate entrances to the conference room and to reach their seats, in effect, on a two-sided basis. There may be other elements that are likewise useful both in explaining the position to the GVN and in describing the ultimate result publicly as entirely consistent with two sides.
7. Please reply to Department only. We can repeat if necessary./3/
/3/In telegram 113/Delto 1127 from Paris, January 4, Harriman and Vance replied: "We agree that order of speaking by sides is sensible and defensible. With a continuous, unmarked round table in hand we believe our chances would be good to get DRV to accept lots by sides and speaking by sides." They also noted additional means by which to "promote a two-sided image," such as the particular manner in which the combined U.S./GVN delegation arranged itself at the negotiating table and public and private references to the DRV/NLF delegation as the "other side," "your side," or "their side." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference, 1968-1969, Delto Chron., January 1969)
272. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Washington, January 4, 1969, 2231Z.
/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference, 1968-1969, Todel Chron., January 1969. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan. Drafted by Bundy, cleared by Smith and Lowell Kilday of S/S, and approved by Rusk. Repeated to Paris as Todel 1917.
1411. For Ambassador from Secretary.
1. We have reviewed the report in Paris 0038, the recommendations in Paris 0042, and the progress report and comments in Saigon 154./2/ News stories here reflect excellent backgrounding in Paris and some expectation of progress. We believe this has improved our position somewhat for the moment. Nonetheless, we continue to believe--and to surmise that Hanoi believes--that their proposal for an unmarked and continuous round table appears plausible and reasonable to American and significant third-country opinion.
/2/See footnote 2, Document 268, Document 269, and Document 270, respectively.
2. Hence, we continue to believe that we must make every effort to resolve this matter without further delay on some reasonable basis, and we accept the thrust of Paris 0042 that Thieu's concurrence in our accepting in the last analysis the unmarked continuous round table is crucial. Like Paris, we reject totally any thought of changing the present agreed format (Paris 110),/3/ and likewise believe that there is no effective way to cushion the effects of delay by any form of useful bilateral in Paris that would not become rapidly disruptive in Saigon.
/3/Telegram 110/Delto 1124 from Paris, January 4. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference, 1968-1969, Delto Chron., January 1969)
3. On the table shape, our reading is that further progress is most unlikely if we stay where we are. Although we can understand that the GVN may well read Hanoi's dropping of flags and nameplates as proof that standing firm gets results, we note from Paris 0038 that the dropping of flags and nameplates remains conditional on our acceptance of a continuous round table and was only put forward after we had shown motion in our position on tables. We come back to the basic judgment that Hanoi thinks it has a good thing going, in terms of American public opinion, in resisting any physical demarcation of a round table.
4. At the same time, we believe that accepting the unmarked continuous round table would put us in a very strong position to get strong two-sided flavor on the order of speaking. While our maximum objective in Saigon should be Thieu's concurrence in the full range of possibilities contained in paras 9-12 of State 291645,/4/ we are concerned that these complexities may delay our next move in Paris. Moreover, we feel that--just as it is almost impossible to explain our resistance to a round table--a position that calls for two lots and for each side completing its presentation before the other side speaks (AABB) is an extremely persuasive one for public opinion here and elsewhere. It is simple common sense, conforms to the normal practice in any multi-party litigation, and fits the basic fact that there are two sides both in the fighting and in our concept of the arrangements for the meeting.
/4/See footnote 2, Document 264.
5. In sum, I believe that you must seek to see Thieu as soon as possible, hopefully Monday at latest, to go over the situation with the following maximum and fall-back objectives:
a. As a maximum objective, to get his concurrence in the full sweep of authority covered by Paris 0042.
b. If in your judgment he simply will not agree to this--or will not do so without significant further delay--to get his concurrence to a further meeting in Paris at which Vance would accept the continuous and unbroken round table, contingent upon the dropping of flags and nameplates and also upon Hanoi's acceptance of a two-lot draw and an AABB order of speaking. You could further suggest that Vance might open by offering to let the other side speak first under a two-lot draw and an AABB order, provided that Hanoi accepted the baize strips.
6. In seeking to get the maximum possible freedom, you should of course reiterate all the arguments concerning the state of opinion here. Moreover, you may make clear that we would certainly join with the GVN in stressing the fact that, even with the unbroken and continuous round table, space would be allocated on a 50-50 basis--i.e., by sides--and the definitely two-sided flavor that any of our proposed order of speaking arrangements--but particularly two lots and AABB--would have. As we see it, the total deal would be taken not only as more two-sided than anything else, but as representing a serious and sober arrangement in which Hanoi backed down heavily, first on the flags and nameplates and finally on its unrealistic and now public position on order of speaking.
7. If you should move to the position described in para 5-b above, you should of course make clear that we cannot be sure this will produce agreement, and that it would be necessary to consult further if it did not. In other words, we must not get into a flat and final position at least at this stage.
8. This instruction reflects discussions at highest levels today. As I am sure you realize, we all feel a very great sense of urgency in getting these procedural matters resolved./5/
/5/In a January 4 meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, the President, Rusk, Clifford, Bundy, Christian, and Tom Johnson discussed the Vietnam peace negotiations. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) Although notes of this off-the-record meeting have not been found, Clifford discussed it during a meeting with his staff 2 days later. He noted: "We wallowed around. Pres didn't show any particular impatience, so I surmise Walt & Dean had gotten to him. I only stated that I thought we ought to act promptly on Harriman request for decision. I said I thought LBJ shld approve the Harriman plan/convention. The record shld show decisions & so tell Saigon & order Bunker to get Pres Thieu's concurrence. Finally Pres told Rusk to get out a cable to Bunker (it did not get out [until] 10:00 p.m. Sat nite)." Clifford added: "Bunker's answer is 'miserable'. He's not pressing hard; it's too bad. No movement. I had hoped we could get movement for Pres. J's record & so the new administration would have something moving. 'They' want Lodge & Nixon & so they'll not move at all before the 20th." (Ibid., George M. Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts [1 of 2])
273. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, January 6, 1969, 1045Z.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Paris Todel-Paris Delto, Vol. XVIII. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan. Received at 6:57 a.m. Repeated to Paris for the Vietnam Mission.
245. Ref: A. Saigon 154; B. Saigon 160; C. State 1411./2/
/2/See Document 270 and footnote 6 thereto, and Document 272.
1. Having given them two days to let our message (Ref A) sink in, I had Herz telephone Thanh this morning to ask what the GVN proposed to do next. Thanh made it clear that Thieu would not take the initiative to see me, and so I did two things: I sent Berger and Herz to call on Thanh to prepare the ground further, and meanwhile I immediately asked for an appointment this afternoon with Thieu.
2. The word from the Palace is that Thieu was sick this morning and that we would be informed if he was able to see me this afternoon. Word has just come from the Palace, in response to my further inquiry, that Thieu is still not feeling well and is unable to see me. If he is well enough to go to II Corps tomorrow, as scheduled, I have asked to see him on his return, but I conclude that it may be Wednesday/3/ before I am able to see him.
3. Meanwhile, the conversation with Thanh served to bring out the attitude with which we will have to contend. Thanh said the President "is not satisfied" that Vance put forward all the six new proposals in one session, just to have them turned down one after the other. He (and Duc, who was also present) indicated that the GVN would like us to mark time, put pressure on the other side, and make it clear that we are waiting for them to call the next meeting. They also felt that after the Secretary's press conference we are in a good position and all that is required is to hammer away at the theme that the table is not a procedural but a substantive question.
4. We quickly disabused Thanh of the idea that the Secretary shares his view that we are in a good position. We stressed that there is no chance at all that the American public, or world opinion, would feel that the difference between a circular table with and without a baize strip is worth delaying the inception of serious negotiations. We explained that the other side has made important (though conditional) concessions, including the important statement that they do not regard a round table as expressing their contention that the meetings are four-sided. We went over the elements of the present situation as compared to that in which we would be if we made a reasonable proposal along the lines of Ref C.
5. The upshot of this meeting was that Duc undertook to convey to Thieu what we had said and also to give him a paper that we had brought for the occasion. (Thanh left for Dalat immediately after our meeting.) So the stage is somewhat better set for the meeting I hope to have with the President tomorrow or Wednesday.
274. Editorial Note
On January 6, 1969, Secretary of Defense Clifford met with representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the service secretaries, and nearly two dozen other Department of Defense officials. The Vietnam-related portions of the notes of the meeting drafted by R. Eugene Livesay, Staff Secretary to Clifford, read:
"2. Paris Talks.
"Mr. Clifford said that today marks about the 66th day that has passed since the President stopped the bombing of North Vietnam on 1 November. The President stated that he was willing to stop the bombing if prompt and productive talks started. So far there haven't been any prompt or productive talks. In behalf of the Saigon Government we have submitted to Hanoi 9 proposed table shapes and in each case the table is divided into two sides. Each has been refused by Hanoi who insists that there are 4 rather than 2 representatives. They have, however, come forward with a proposal along the following lines. Let's agree on a table which will, as soon as possible, eliminate the entire controversy--an unmarked round table. Mr. Clifford's view is that it will be ultimately impossible to turn this proposal down, first because it does not divide the parties and second, it is so traditional and historical an approach to a conference. Hanoi has also suggested other plans to get the talks started which appear quite reasonable. Mr. Clifford is personally concerned about Saigon's attitude. They continue to find reasons to delay. He feels that Hanoi's new proposals are reasonable and he feels that when they are known, the world opinion will also think them so. Saigon proposes that they will have to submit them to their National Security Council and after that to their National Assembly. He thinks our hope of getting the talks started prior to 20 January is diminishing. He feels it is still important to get them started. If the present negotiating teams have the talks started we should be able to make headway more promptly. We would have the procedural basis for the talks out of the way and be able to proceed on substantive issues. He would assume that Mr. Nixon's Administration would rather have the talks going with the procedural controversies behind them. There will be a whole new team, Harriman will be out and Lodge in, the current State team will be out and the new one in, and these cannot help but run into natural delays while they become acquainted will all the elements of the controversies. Mr. Clifford finds it difficult to know what to do about it.
"He has said publicly and privately that the talks should proceed along two lines--one between Hanoi and the U.S. on military matters and towards mutual disengagement and the second between Hanoi, the National Liberation Front and Saigon on political matters. There has been an editorial or two this past week saying that this would constitute a move on our part to 'cut and run.' There is nothing further from the truth. These two efforts could be conducted simultaneously. There is a clear difference between the goals of the Saigon and the U.S. Government. He doubts they would start negotiating until they are convinced that a mutual withdrawal of troops would occur. If we wait until a political settlement is reached he could see our troops in Vietnam for years.
"Mr. Clifford noted with interest and comfort that Mr. Rusk in his Friday [January 3] press conference emphasized that there was no personal feud between him and Mr. Clifford, as some have suggested. He wants everyone here to know that there is no personal animosity between the two. When the President consults with him and other advisors, there are differences of opinions expressed. If not, the President would be in the unfortunate position of not hearing various sides of issues. He emphasized that there is no personal animosity whatsoever.
"3. Military Situation in Southeast Asia.
"General McConnell reported that this past week that 104 U.S. were killed compared to 113 the week before. Total Allied killed is 270 and North Vietnamese/Viet Cong 1,957. This is a ratio of 7.25 to 1 in favor of the Allies. During the week ending 28 December 2,253 enemy were killed, a ratio of 6 to 1 in the Allies' favor. We continue to destroy extremely valuable caches of food and ammunition. In November 1968, we found 62 caches, totaling 380 tons; in December, 65 caches totaling 311 tons; and so far in January 1969, 14 caches totaling 98 tons.
"With regard to the reconnaissance situation we have flown 453 tactical reconnaissance missions over North Vietnam since 1 November. A total of 108 have been fired upon with 4 aircraft lost. Of 77 drone missions flown during the same period, 10 were lost. This is not a bad ratio. Supplies continue to move down the North Vietnamese Panhandle and through Laos. The infiltration of personnel continues. We have identified 30,000 personnel on their way to South Vietnam from North Vietnam since 1 December. It appears that about 17,000 could reach the two Northern Provinces of South Vietnam between now and 1 April 1969. About 12,000 appear destined for the III Corps area and 3,500 for Kontum/Pleiku in Region V. The enemy continues to put antiaircraft sites into the Laotian Panhandle. We have identified 143 AAA threat areas. We think that there are some 85-mm guns there but have not confirmed their presence. The North Vietnamese still have 35 surface-to-air missile battalions, with 30 of the battalions still north of the 20th Parallel. We have indications of SAMs in Laos but no indications of radar capability.
"Yesterday the enemy attacked Qui Nhon tank farm. During the shelling and attack the enemy suffered 7 killed and 2 captured. We had 4 U.S. personnel wounded and 134,000 gallons of fuel destroyed. (At this point General McConnell discussed some other items listed below, after which the discussion returned to Vietnam, as follows.)
"General Walt said that morale continues high among the Marine Corps personnel in Vietnam. In December 1968, over 3,000 extended their tours of duty there. General McPherson said that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong are beginning to zero in against our pacification actions. They are beginning to see its effects. General McConnell said they are beginning to send their own civilian teams into the various populated areas.
"Mr. Clifford said he asked the question last Monday [December 30] and will ask it again. Around 1 December we started getting full intelligence reports on an enemy winter-spring offensive. These reports were from unusually reliable sources. Dates were estimated for it to start and then the dates slipped. It is now 6 January 1969 and he is at a loss to know what has happened. Have they tried to get these attacks going and had them spoiled?
"General McConnell said that it is his personal opinion that they had tried to get these offensives going, particularly in the III Corps. They can't get them underway because of their losses of matériel and food and the high casualties they are taking. General Abrams and his troops keep pounding the hell out of them. General McConnell personally feels that if they are going to attempt an attack before Tet that it would come about 20 January. Tet occurs around 15 February. However, he does not believe they will get it off the ground.
"Mr. Clifford said how are we doing with the bombing in Laos. General McConnell said that it is going well. We are not killing as many trucks but we have blocked the access routes. We have had a considerable number of secondary fires and explosions from the bombing. There have been over 3,800 secondary fires and 4,200 secondary explosions in the present campaign. He believes our bombing is quite effective. There is a lot of truck movement going on but it is mainly shuffling between supply points. Admiral Moorer said our analyses show that supply movements are running about 28 tons a day. With regard to the mounting of attacks, he would emphasize that the enemy does not have the kind of communications that we do. The authentic documents that we capture are probably plans rather than orders. He asked General Palmer if he wouldn't agree. General Palmer said yes. General McConnell said that we also killed about 200,000 enemy last year and they haven't recouped their losses. Dr. Brown said what they are saying is the documents that we capture are plans which they have been unable to execute.
"General Palmer said the enemy continues to overestimate his capabilities. He makes grandiose plans but they don't come to pass. He looks for the enemy to shift more and more to political type targets, particularly in III Corps, and do most of the fighting in I Corps.
"Mr. Clifford said that our casualties are following a hopeful trend. For the week ending 14 December, there were 222; 21 December--151; 28 December--113; and 4 January--104. We can all hope that they will continue downward.
"General McConnell reported that the car of the Minister of Education [Nguyen Van Tho] was attacked in Saigon. He was wounded and several other casualties occurred. The Minister was a strong anti-corruptionist and it is possible that the attackers may not have been Viet Cong." (Johnson Library, Papers of Clark Clifford, Minutes of Secretary of Defense Staff Meetings, October 1968-January 1969)
At his January 3 news conference, Rusk had stated: "I don't recall that I have ever wrestled on the rug with Secretary Clifford. The instructions which the President has sent to Ambassadors Harriman and Vance and to Ambassador Bunker go out with the full agreement of the Secretary of Defense and myself." For full text of Rusk's remarks, see Department of State Bulletin, January 20, 1969, pages 45-52.
275. Editorial Note
On January 7, 1969, President Johnson along with Secretary Rusk, Secretary Clifford, Director of Central Intelligence Helms, General McConnell, Walt Rostow, and Tom Johnson met for their regular weekly Tuesday Luncheon Meeting. The meeting lasted from 1:40 to 2:50 p.m., and Vietnam was one of the issues discussed. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) Although no formal record of this meeting has been found, Clifford recounted the meeting for his staff at its morning conference on January 8 as follows:
"LBJ opened by saying, 'What do you have to say Dean?' Rusk admitted no progress, Hanoi has turned down all our proposals. It appears we shld stay with it--when Hanoi learns/accepts our firmness there will be progress. LBJ wanted to know what WAH & Vance say [?] Rusk said they were critical of Hanoi--Bunker reports no action. LBJ then asked CMC 'to add' any comments. CMC said he had nothing to add--rather, a diff't interpretation.
"CMC: Hanoi has said it will accept--it has a reasonable offer--they will sit at a round table, they will give up nameplates & flags, & they will accept our proposal on who speaks. I said we [have] not given any attention to 9 diff't table sizes, we're way past that, we have a situation that parties can agree to. Saigon knows this proposition is acceptable to US & Hanoi, so they just stall--Thieu says he's 'sick,' yet he's able to go on inspection trip. All this is just part of deception & deliberate dilatory tactics. They just stall, delay, devious--for 67 days they've hamstrung us. We have a reasonable proposition--But we can't move because we have let Saigon have a veto. 'I think it's wrong'--we pay, we fight, we owe it to ourselves & U.S. to get talks started--before 20 Jan--It'll take weeks & months for a new team to start. It's wrong--to go on killing Am. boys week after week, by sitting supinely by.
"LBJ asked sharply to Rusk-- 'Is the argument fair?' Rusk said yes. LBJ asked Rusk to defend any objections--Rusk couldn't defend Saigon. LBJ asked CMC what he should do. CMC said, 'Look at last Bunker cable' (all did). CMC: LBJ shd send a private letter to Thieu saying this is eminently fair--we believe Hanoi will accept. Leave no flexibility, no options, no choices--It'll be fair, & leave an excellent record--tell Thieu support is eroding. Second, order Bunker to sell this; Congress is back & wild. Do it today. If Thieu is negative, we shld convene at once & decide next step.
"LBJ asked Rusk--Rusk says lv it up to Bunker. CMC broke in--Bunker doesn't deliver the message! Only way to get it across is from you. LBJ sat. Finally said, 'I'm getting fed up!' (CMC said this is the first time he ever so said) 'It's apparent to me, "they'll" toss anybody to sharks. They are planning delay. We are shut out of it.' He turned to Dean Rusk: 'I want these talks to start before Jan 20 even if we have to admit Clark has been right.' CMC (It was not rec'd happily by Rusk & Rostow) LBJ asked how to get talks going--CMC says he cautioned about 'grand-standing.' If Thieu is negative, take another step. Rusk sat still & numb--this is not what he wants or likes. CMC played on--Why not get support out of Nixon admin. To get talks started--It'll be to their advantage
"LBJ not sure that'll work--'I'm completely disenchanted about Nixon, they'll pull the rug out from under us--They've thrown a wrench into SALT, they've screwed up Paris before the election.' LBJ--says--'It's actually a possibility Saigon is acting under instructions from Nixon.' [LBJ] ended: to Clark and Dean: 'Get talks started!'" (Ibid., George M. Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts [1 of 2])
276. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam/1/
Washington, January 7, 1969, 2350Z.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Paris Todel-Paris Delto, Vol. XVIII. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Plus. Drafted by Bundy, cleared by Rostow and John Walsh of S/S, and approved by Rusk. Repeated to Paris as Todel 1930 literally eyes only for Harriman and Vance. In telegram 4101/Todel 1944 to Saigon, January 10, the Department reported: "Highest levels desire that you definitely deliver Presidential letter. I am sure you are fully aware of the great importance President attaches to satisfactory agreement from Thieu at this critical time. Good luck and all best wishes." (Ibid.)
2624. Saigon Eyes Only for Bunker from Secretary.
1. To give added force to your presentation to Thieu, or to speed up his seeing you by notifying him of its existence, the President has authorized you--in your complete discretion--to deliver the following personal message from him to Thieu:
Dear Mr. President:
I have asked Ambassador Bunker to deliver this personal note to you, concerning the dangerous implications that I see developing from the situation in Paris.
The simple fact is that a continued stalemate on present lines can only have most serious effects on basic American public support for our whole effort to assist your country to preserve its independence. You and I must rapidly reach a common position that will produce agreement--or that will at the very least put the public blame squarely on Hanoi for failure to do so.
Specifically, neither the American public nor the American Congress can understand our inability to accept a continuous, and if necessary unmarked, round table. Such a table is not inherently four-sided in any way. With space at the table divided, as it would be, on a 50-50 basis, the table would indeed have a clear two-sided tendency even if it were not marked.
As you know, Hanoi has already said that it could drop its demand for flags and nameplates if we agree to a round table. As we have previously agreed through Ambassador Bunker, this was the most important single element for us to obtain, and it is now clear to the public that it is within our reach.
Moreover, I have every confidence that if we are prepared to accept a round table, we shall be able to get a clearly two-sided order of speaking arrangement. If Hanoi should reject this, on any of the several lines Ambassador Bunker will be putting to you, then the burden would shift to them and we would both be in a much stronger position.
Hence, I see no reason why we cannot agree to a reasonable position that can produce arrangements which we could convincingly depict as two-sided and in full accord with the statements made public on November 27./2/
/2/See footnote 3, Document 236.
In my judgment, this would be the proper course for us to take at any time, and regardless of public opinion factors. But these factors cannot be left out of account either by you or by me. At the present moment, the situation in the Congress and in the American public is as dangerous and volatile as I have seen it at any time in the last four years, or indeed in my 40 years of public service. Failure to make these reasonable adjustments in our position can only mean a real avalanche of criticism directed in part at the American Government, but far more acutely and damagingly at the image of your government in the American Congress and with the American people.
As I come to the close of our official relationship, I have no regrets for the course we have followed, and I have every hope that I and my associates will be in a position to support your cause effectively into the future, so that we may emerge with an honorable settlement that preserves your country's right to determine its future without external interference. You and I have a long history of close and constructive collaboration. We have tried always to do the right thing, and this is what I am asking you to do now--in the firm belief that it is right, and in the equally firm belief that it is essential if my country is to go on with the basic course of action which I have supported throughout. Please do not force the United States to reconsider its basic position on Viet-Nam.
Sincerely, Lyndon B. Johnson.
277. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, January 10, 1969, 1250Z.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN-Double Plus, Chronological Papers and other Misc. Material. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan. Received at 10:15 a.m. Repeated to Paris for the Vietnam Mission.
527. Subject: Morning Meeting with President Thieu January 10.
1. Before handing President Thieu the letter from President Johnson,/2/ I briefly reviewed with him what had happened since the Vance-Lau meeting in Paris on January 2,/3/ especially how we had unsuccessfully tried to engage a dialogue about next steps with Foreign Minister Thanh, and I recalled that I had tried to see Thieu since January 6.
/2/See Document 276.
/3/See footnote 2, Document 268.
2. I then handed him the President's letter, which he read carefully. When he had finished I said to him that President-elect Nixon and Mr. Rogers associate themselves with what I would now be saying.
3. There is no basic disagreement between the US and GVN, I said, on procedural issues. Both of us want to get the best possible deal. Where we have a disagreement is on the assessments of our mutual interests in making the next tactical move./4/ If I was not mistaken, I said, Thieu seemed to feel that he has a problem with Vietnamese opinion while President Johnson has a problem with American opinion. I suggested that this is not the way to look at the matter. Both of us, the USG and the GVN, have the same urgent problem--to avoid a situation where American opinion will make it impossible to continue our commitment here.
/4/In a conversation with a senior CIA officer in Saigon on January 9, Ky said that Thieu could not accept a round table without some sort of division, a point that Thieu would not concede. (CIA memorandum, January 9, attached to a memorandum from Helms to Rostow, also January 9; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 1 EE 9(a), 10/68-1/69, Post-Tet Political Activity) In a conversation on January 10, Ky's Special Assistant Dang Duc Khoi told a CIA officer that he convinced Ky to try to persuade Thieu to accept the round table formula. (CIA memorandum, January 11; Central Intelligence Agency, DCI/IMO Files, Job 80-R01580R, Peace Talks)
4. This problem is totally unrelated to the changeover from one administration to another on January 20, I said. Mr. Nixon will be faced with it just as much as the present President, and Mr. Nixon had asked me to inform Thieu that he regards a round table, and any formula for speaking order based on two sides, as acceptable. He wants to get the preliminaries out of the way so that we can move to substantive negotiations immediately after January 20 if they have not started before that time.
5. I then said, further drawing on instructions, that Mr. Nixon's reason for taking this stand is as follows: the deal in getting substantive negotiations started is so rapidly eroding American Congressional and public opinion that if we are to stay in Viet-Nam and continue to give the GVN our support, we simply have to move to substantive negotiations at once. We mean to continue to negotiate and fight at the same time, and to stand firm with the GVN on matters of principle, but the American public and Congress will not at this stage tolerate fighting alone when there is an opportunity to negotiate, and they have no patience with arguments over procedure that seem to them unreasonable. The Government of Viet-Nam must be careful not to drive the United States Government into a position where it is compelled to move ahead on its own.
6. I said as Thieu had seen from the President's message, he supports the GVN completely on the principle that the meetings must be two-sided, but he points out that the arrangements that we propose protect their essentially two sided character. I called Thieu's attention to one key passage of the letter in which President Johnson said that the situation in the Congress and in the American public "is as dangerous and volatile as I have seen it at any time in the last 4 years, or indeed in my 40 years in public service," and I also read to Thieu the next following sentence which warns against a "real avalanche of criticism directed in part at the American Government, but far more acutely damaging to the image of your government in the American Congress and with the American people." I also called special attention to the last two sentences of President Johnson's personal message. For good measure I added a remark, which I characterized as a personal one, that Thieu will very much need Mr. Johnson's support also after the President leaves office. I reminded him that the President has been a great friend of South Viet-Nam, and I said Thieu should be careful to keep him as a friend.
7. Because Foreign Minister Thanh (Saigon 245)/5/ had favorably referred to Secretary Rusk's January 3 statement/6/ that procedural problems contain elements of substance, I stressed that Mr. Rusk likewise personally believes that it is imperative that we resolve the procedural impasse immediately, noting again that Mr. Rusk's successor takes the same position. I then read to Thieu the key passage of the Secretary's personal message to me including the sentence: "I hope the Vietnamese Government is not taking undue comfort from the fact that (the time being saved in Paris) may be well used on the battlefield, because the damage to their cause by adverse reactions here could be irreparable."/7/
/5/See Document 273.
/6/See Document 274.
/7/See Document 276.
8. Next I turned to the decision that now needs to be made. I explained that we propose a package deal of which the most important element is to nail down the two-sided nature of the talks through the order of speaking AABB. The drawing of lots is to be by sides. There are to be no nameplates and flags, and we would accept the unmarked circular table at which they arrange themselves on their half and we arrange ourselves as we want on our half. I said this is what we propose to put up to the other side if they are not forthcoming at the next meeting.
9. I emphasized that we are not in any way receding from our statements of November 13 and November 27,/8/ that these are two-sided meetings. (I noted that the two-sides principle would also be maintained if we had to fall back on the ABBA order of speaking.) We will take measures to make clear that the table arrangement is essentially two-sided. This can be done in several ways. One way, which we had discussed earlier, involves leaving a space between our side and their side, by removing one chair at each mid-point or leaving it unoccupied. Another way is to put a pile of books or files of briefing papers on top of the table between our side and their side. Both of these things, and others as well, such as our addressing them as "your side" or speaking of "the other side," would further mark the two-sided nature of the new meetings. I said the total package which I had described is certainly more two-sided than anything else. By Hanoi's own admission the round table does not reflect their contention that the talks are four-sided. If they do not accept our package, we will have placed them on the defensive. At the present time, no matter what we may say publicly, it is we who are on the defensive. Hanoi wants to keep us in this position. We have to break out of it.
/8/See footnote 8, Document 217 and footnote 3, Document 236.
10. Winding up my presentation, I said it is now more than two months since the final bombing halt, over a month since the GVN delegation arrived in Paris, eight months since the talks began in Paris between the United States and DRV, and in the view of my government the time has definitely come when we must move to substantive matters on which we can together present a firm united front. The issue of the shape of the table is a liability for both of us.
11. Thieu, who had taken careful notes of my presentation, replied that I knew him to be no "super-hawk". He recalled that as long as two years ago, he had outlined to me how he saw the evolution of the conflict, that he did not expect it to end with a clear military victory and that eventually there would have to be political settlement involving competition with the Communists, a competition which would be decisive. He had then said that the people had to be prepared for that contest and that that would take time. Many issues would have to be resolved, and one of them would be how to arrange the contest. Meanwhile he had steadily moved ahead, he publicly enunciated the principle of "one man, one vote." This showed how far we had come in those two years. The Vietnamese people now understand that there will be peace without victory, that they must expect a difficult contest with the Communists, and that the US also wants and expects this.
12. The question, therefore, has become how to make South Viet-Nam politically strong enough to win that looming contest. In this situation, Thieu said, the battle of propaganda is of the utmost importance. This has become a crucial factor in the relationship between the GVN and its allies. If they will help to "push the enemy back," both militarily and in the field of propaganda, they will make it possible for the South Vietnamese people to solve the political problems by themselves after the end of the war. This is not only a matter of substance, it is equally, and sometimes even more, a matter of appearances, of face, of prestige. Pushing back the enemy's propaganda claims affects the morale of the people and of the troops, and the strength of the government depends on the support of the people and of the troops.
13. Thieu now turned to the question of the tables. Of course the shape itself is not important, he said. What is important is that the people must not get the impression that the NLF is accepted as an equal of the GVN in the forthcoming talks. If that should happen, it would have a very dangerous effect on morale in South Viet-Nam. If people feel that the North Vietnamese can get anything they ask for, that our side is giving ground before the enemy, that the enemy gets the table he wants by just holding out for it, what will be the effect? The people will come to feel that this may also happen in the issue of a coalition government, that our side may make concessions in such vital matters, too.
14. I interrupted the President. I certainly did not agree, I said, that the enemy has gotten everything he wants so far. He wanted Phnom Penh or Warsaw as meeting place, and he had to settle for Paris. He insisted that the bombing halt must be unconditional and then had to accept what are virtual conditions. He wanted nameplates and flags, and now he is ready to give in on them. In fact, we can get 90 percent of what we want in the matter of procedures. In negotiations one cannot expect to get 100 percent unless the other side surrenders. The order of speaking which we propose is clearly two-sided, and if we accept the round table we will have half the area and can arrange ourselves in such a way, and pile files at the ends of the diameter, so as to make still clearer that the talks are two-sided. I repeated that we stand by our public statements of November 13 and November 26. We intend to refer to the other side as "your side" or "the other side," thus constantly emphasizing the two-sided character of the meetings. Again, I said the American people simply cannot understand why we should get hung up because of a dispute over a line on the table.
15. Thieu said the question is how all this can be explained to the Vietnamese people. He said he understood the problem with American opinion. I said I wasn't sure that others understand it the same way. Some seemed to think it is just President Johnson's problem. Actually the next President will have the same position. Thieu said our common problem is how to win the political war and how to develop a propaganda position that will support that war. I said there is no reason why we should be less effective than the Communists. The basic question that he and the Vietnamese have to ask themselves is this: How important is US support to them? Is it important? If it is, then they have to take American opinion into consideration.
16. Thieu said, of course American opinion is very important for American support is essential for a successful outcome, but he had to explain to his people. He said the time that was spent in November was well spent in preparing the ground to enable the GVN to send a delegation to Paris. If the GVN had rushed to Paris it would have created an exceedingly difficult position here. He said, "I don't know how I could have governed the country. We needed that time." I agreed that the delay in November was useful here, but it was not useful in the United States where it had a seriously adverse effect on the image of South Viet-Nam and its President. Thieu agreed. He also agreed when I said once more that we have mutual problem now and that we must solve it.
18. Thieu said he has a dilemma how to satisfy American opinion and at the same time maintain the morale of the Vietnamese people and armed forces in order to win in a political settlement. He again said the Vietnamese people had come a long way, but they had to be brought along gradually. He had to move carefully and skillfully in making the people face the need for political compromise. I said once more that Thieu need not feel that the American people wouldn't support Viet-Nam on matters of basic principle. But they will not support continuation of the fighting when they see that an opportunity to negotiate is not being used. Thieu asked how we could be sure that the enemy would negotiate on matters of substance. I said the enemy would be forced to face up to questions of substance as soon as we got over this last remaining procedural hurdle. The negotiations will be long and arduous and complicated. We have to make a beginning now. Thieu said he agreed. I said: All right, what are we going to do?
19. Finally, Thieu said he wished to talk about the next move at our afternoon consultative meeting in the presence of his colleagues./9/ He had asked for a report from Ambassador Lam in Paris on where we stand on the tables, speaking order and other matters after the last Vance-Lau meeting. He said he hoped we would be able to work up a package this afternoon.
/9/The full report of the meeting was transmitted in telegram 592 from Saigon, January 11. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-January 1969)
278. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, January 10, 1968, 1500Z.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN-Double Plus, Chronological Papers and other Misc. Material. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan Plus. Received at 11:39 a.m. Repeated to Paris for the Vietnam Mission.
530. Ref Saigon 529./2/ Subj: Suggested Joint Instruction for Paris.
/2/In telegram 529 from Saigon, January 10, the Embassy reported on that day's consultative meeting to decide positions on procedural issues at the Paris negotiations. (Ibid.)
1. Following is the agreed text, confirmed by Foreign Minister Thanh, of what we undertook to submit to Washington for approval as joint instructions to US and GVN delegations in Paris, in an effort to resolve the procedural impasse:
2. Begin Text.
We have agreed on a two-stage strategy. We will make a serious effort to get the other side to agree to one of two proposals at the next following meeting. If that serious effort fails, and in agreement on the timing, we would fall back on the second stage proposal.
3. At the next US-DRV meeting in Paris to prepare for the new meetings, the US representative will first inquire whether the other side has given serious consideration to our most recent proposals (the final one of which was a circular table with baize strips, no flags and nameplates, and lots to decide which side is to begin under an AABB order of speaking, with two lots, possibly four, representing sides and not delegations, i.e. lots in two colors). Should the other side refuse to move, he may table two alternative proposals:
A. The circular table with baize strips, no flags and nameplates, but the other side to begin without any drawing of lots; or
B. Round or circular table with thin but visible line separating the two sides, no flags and nameplates, and drawing of lots by sides with two colors.
4. If efforts to obtain acceptance of these proposals prove unavailing, we would make a further proposal at a next meeting whose timing is to be decided by mutual agreement. At that meeting our representative would first make another attempt to get the other side to accept one of our previous proposals, and if this is unavailing, would propose the following fall-back position:
A. Unmarked circular table;
B. No flags or nameplates;
C. Order of speaking by sides, the side that begins to be decided by drawing from two lots, e.g. one red and one yellow. The drawing to be by a third party (possibly a French official), with the first lot drawn determining which side begins.
5. Should the other side accept our fall-back position, each of us will make a concerted effort to explain to our own public opinion and to world opinion that the agreed arrangements will be essentially two-sided. Should the other side not accept our fall-back position, we will make a concerted effort to explain to our opinion and to world opinion that we have proved our good faith and serious intent and that the other side is responsible for the failure of substantive talks to begin.
6. It is essential that complete security be preserved about the existence of a fall-back position. End Text.
7. In clearing foregoing with Thanh, Political Counselor elicited the following comments:
A. The terms "round or circular" in para 3B above are understood to mean that our representative will have flexibility to move from round to circular shape. (GVN had originally proposed round and we had argued in favor of circular shape.)
B. Absence of mention of the number of lots in paragraph 3 means that our representative should have flexibility enabling him to settle for four lots (of two colors) if this is helpful in obtaining agreement. This flexibility would not be given, however, if we go to the fall-back position in paragraph 4.
C. Most important, when we expressed concern that provision for timing of second meeting "by mutual agreement" might involve further delay, Thanh said it was his impression that Thieu was chiefly concerned that fall-back position not be used at the next meeting but that he would not expect to have a long interval between that meeting and the subsequent one if the positions outlined in paragraph 3 above do not result in agreement./3/
/3/In telegram 4935 to Saigon and Paris, January 10, the Department instructed the delegation in Paris to proceed along the basis of the two-stage strategy, with the caveats that the marking system for lots would not necessarily be limited to colors and there would be no insistence that a third party draw these lots. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-January 1969) In a January 12 meeting with Lau, Vance proposed both the package proposals, first without the caveats and then with the caveats. Lau rejected the proposals as mere variations on a two-sided formula that the United States and Vietnam were attempting to impose upon the DRV and the NLF. (Telegram 434 from Paris, January 12; ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks/Nodis/Paris Meetings Plus, Vol. I)
279. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, January 13, 1969, 1040Z.
/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks/Nodis/Paris Meetings Plus. Secret; Priority; Nodis/Harvan Plus. Received at 6:49 a.m. Repeated to Paris literally eyes only for Harriman and Vance.
683. Literally eyes only for the Secretary from Bunker.
1. President Thieu asked that I transmit the following letter to President Johnson. The letter was transmitted to me today although it is dated January 11th.
Dear Mr. President:
I have received your letter of January 8th,/2/ transmitted to me by Ambassador Bunker, and have given very thoughtful consideration to the points you made concerning the implications you saw developing from the situation in Paris.
/2/See Document 276.
At this time, I am hopeful that the preliminary difficulties will be awaiting our two governments after the talks begin, but I am also confident that our two countries will be able to meet them together successfully, in the pursuit of our common goals which are the defense of freedom and the establishment of an honorable and durable peace. The outcome of the present events will affect generations to come, and the Vietnamese people are proud to be with the American nation in meeting this crucial challenge.
As you know, side by side with the American Government, our government has made the utmost efforts in the search for a peaceful and honorable settlement of this conflict, and to give an early start to the peace talks. Among our major concessions to that end, the Vietnamese Government has accepted the presence of the so-called NLF at the talks, the possibility for the other side to organize itself as they wish, the absence of flags and nameplates (while at an international conference governments and only governments could and should have their flags and nameplates), and finally the round shape of the table which the Communists proposed.
We regret that the American public are not fully aware of the extent of our good will because, as Secretary Rusk pointed out in his press conference of January 3rd, "These procedural matters do conceal important questions of substance," and "The delegates of Hanoi are trying to accomplish something indirectly, by means of procedural arrangements, which they are not entitled to do."
In any case, now as before, you have always, as you have had in the past, our fullest cooperation, because our two nations are shoulder to shoulder in this vital struggle for freedom, and the Vietnamese Government as well as the Vietnamese people remain deeply grateful to you for the courageous decisions you have taken in meeting the challenge of Communist aggression in Viet-Nam.
We know that without the noble and courageous help of the United States under your leadership, the Republic of Viet-Nam may have been overwhelmed by Communist forces in 1965. American support has been also instrumental in the Vietnamese building of democratic institutions in recent years.
But the Vietnamese people are also proud people, and with the wholehearted support of the National Assembly of the Republic of Viet-Nam I have stated our purposes to make increasing efforts to alleviate gradually the burdens nobly assumed by the United States in this struggle. To that effect, I hope that a beginning of execution can be made this year.
Again, let me assure you, Mr. President, of our abiding gratitude for what you have done for Viet-Nam and the free world in the recent crucial years during which I have had the privilege of being in close and cordial relationship with you.
Nguyen Van Thieu
280. Situation Report by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read)/1/
Washington, January 13, 1969.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Misc. & Memos, Vol. III [1 of 2]. Secret; Nodis/Harvan Plus.
Ambassador Vance called on the Secure Phone at 10:30 a.m.
1. Oberemko called on Vance and Harriman this morning at Oberemko's request.
2. Oberemko said that he was putting forward a procedural compromise proposal. He said it was authorized by his Ambassador but not by the Soviet government and it was simply a personal initiative by Zorin and Oberemko designed to break the deadlock./2/
/2/In telegram 376/Delto 1139 from Paris, January 10, Harriman and Vance reported that in a January 9 meeting Zorin promised to help get the expanded talks started by proposing to the DRV delegation that it accept an unmarked round table. (Ibid., HARVAN Chronological, Vol. XXVI)
3. Oberemko suggested a round table with two small rectangular tables adjacent at opposite sides--the closer to the round table the better from the U.S. point of view, the further removed the better from Hanoi's point of view./3/
/3/As reported in the delegation's summary of this meeting with the Soviets, transmitted in telegram 474/Delto 1146 from Paris, January 13, Oberemko proposed that the separation distance between the two separate tables and the main round table be "far enough for Bogomolov to walk between." (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference, 1968-1969, Todel Chrons, January 1969) In telegram 5746/Todel 1959 to Paris, January 14, Bundy noted that "the Oberemko proposal has echoes of Geneva [Conference on Berlin] in 1959, when the final seating arrangement for the two German delegations was in terms of one or two hand-widths from the main table." (Ibid.)
4. He said that Lau was coming to see him tonight and he asked if Harriman and Vance had any reaction to his proposal./4/
/4/In a meeting the previous day, Lau had rejected both Vance's initial proposal of a baize strip across the table and his alternative package proposing instead a thin line. (Telegram 434/Delto 1143 from Paris, January 12; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Chronological, Vol. XXVI)
5. Harriman and Vance said they could not get a Governmental position on this proposal or commit the GVN on the matter today. They pressed Oberemko to make sure that his proposal was part of an overall package deal in which the drawing of lots for the order of speaking was satisfactorily resolved as well, and Oberemko said he considered it a part of an overall solution. Harriman and Vance did not encourage him but asked him to put the matter to Lau without any commitment on our part at this time.
The delegation suggests that we not advise the GVN on this move at this time but let Bunker continue to press Thieu to go to the fall-back proposal of a round unmarked table until we know whether Oberemko's idea is acceptable to the DRV--which they doubt.
281. Situation Report by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read)/1/
Washington, January 14, 1969.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN-Double Plus, Chronological Papers and other Misc. Material. Secret; Nodis/Harvan Plus.
Ambassador Vance called on the Secure Phone at 10:00 a.m.
1. Oberemko came in this afternoon to see Harriman and Vance./2/
/2/The delegation transmitted an account of this meeting in telegram 521/Delto 1150 from Paris, January 14. (Ibid.)
2. Oberemko saw the DRV delegation last night after he saw Vance and he reported that he had "good reason to believe" that the following proposal would be acceptable to the DRV and the NLF:
(a) Seating--A circular unmarked table with two rectangular tables at opposite points of the circle 45 centimeters from it (the same proposal he made yesterday to Vance except for specification of the distance of the two smaller tables)./3/
/3/See Document 280.
(b) No flags or name plates.
(c) Order of Speaking--France would draw lots to determine which side spoke first. They would inform the side that had the winning lot and that side would speak first with two speeches permitted. The order of speaking would then alternate--other side, our side, etc.
3. Oberemko indicated that he was pressing hard to have agreement reached on these procedural matters tomorrow, and he indicated that time is of the essence.
Harriman and Vance, based on past experience, think Oberemko's report can be taken as accurate. They recommend that we authorize Bunker to mention this new proposal to the GVN and get its concurrence (a) to accept the Oberemko proposal, and (b) to authorize the fall back to an unmarked circular table in case Oberemko is unable to deliver the other side on his proposal. The Paris delegation believes the GVN will readily accept this new proposal and they would like to be able to inform Oberemko of this fact tomorrow morning (Paris time).
Benjamin H. Read/4/
/4/Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
282. Situation Report by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read)/1/
Washington, January 15, 1969.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN-Double Plus, Chronological Papers and other Misc. Material. Secret; Nodis/Harvan Plus.
Ambassador Vance called on the Secure Phone at 9:45 a.m.
1. Vance reported that he had just reached agreement with Lau on procedures./2/ Seating would be arranged as set forth in the Soviet proposal. There would be no name plates or flags. On the order of speaking Vance and Lau agreed that each would send a subordinate officer to see Manach at the French Foreign Office at 6:00 p.m. (Paris time) today. In the presence of the US and DRV officers Manach would be asked to determine by chance, either by lots or flip of a coin which side would speak first.
/2/The delegation's account of this meeting was transmitted in telegram 608/Delto 1156 from Paris, January 15. (Ibid.)
2. Lau told Vance that he would have to get the agreement of the NLF delegation to this arrangement before it could be considered final and he would call Vance as soon as this had been done.
3. At that time Lau and Vance will go together to see Manach to spell out the above arrangements.
4. After the winner is determined on the question of order of speaking by Manach, it was agreed that the US and DRV officers would telephone Vance and Lau from the Quai and that two hours later the US and DRV delegations would make separate public statements about the procedural agreement.
5. Part of the understanding reached is that the first US/GVN-DRV/NLF meeting--which would be devoted to procedural questions--would be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, January 18.
6. Vance had talked to Lam when GVN concurrence to these arrangements was cabled from Saigon and Lam had not raised any problems. Vance intended to see Lam again, after hearing from Lau, to report developments.
Vance urged greatest precaution in handling this information until NLF concurrence is obtained and the arrangements are carried out as outlined above.
283. Situation Report by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read)/1/
Washington, January 15, 1969.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN-Double Plus, Chronological Papers and Other Misc. Material. Secret; Nodis/Harvan Plus.
Vance Phoned at 11:45 a.m.
1. Vance had not yet heard from the DRV about NLF concurrence. Our delegation had heard that the "other side" had asked to see Manach at 5:30 p.m. (Paris time), but does not know if the Front or the DRV or both are involved.
2. Lam just called Miller to say that he had phoned Thieu with the information which Vance had given him on earlier developments. Lam wanted Miller to come over right away to the GVN delegation headquarters and asked Miller to tell Vance to "stop everything he is doing."
3. Secretary Rusk got on the phone and advised Vance to inform Lam that it was too late to stop action and to tell him that Vance was proceeding with Lau and Manach in accordance with the instructions approved by President Thieu.
Vance Called at Noon
1. Vance said the DRV delegation had just phoned to advise us that the NLF delegation concurred in the Vance/Lau arrangement as agreed upon earlier in the day.
Vance Called at 12:25 p.m.
1. Vance and Lau are scheduled to meet with Manach at 7:30 p.m. (Paris time). Harriman and Vance have sent an officer to see Lam to find out what the GVN problem is but have not heard back from him.
Vance Called at 1:00 p.m.
1. The GVN problem is a minor one--Thieu does not want the drawing or flip of the coin to be at the Quai. He prefers that it be done at the Hotel Majestic, but Lam raised no other problems.
2. Accordingly Vance plans to see Manach and Lau at 7:30 Paris time and propose the change in site of the drawing and suggest a new time schedule so that the drawing would occur at 10:00 a.m. Thursday/2/ (Paris time) and the announcement to follow at noon Thursday (Paris time). He thinks Lau will agree to these changes, but if the delay is a serious problem for the DRV he will agree to set it up for this evening at a later hour.
/2/January 16. For the meeting with Manac'h, see Document 284.
284. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State/1/
Paris, January 16, 1969, 1420Z.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan-Double Plus, Chronological Papers and Other Misc. Material. Secret; Flash; Harvan/Nodis. Received at 9:41 a.m. Repeated to Saigon. Read also reported the sequence of events described in this telegram in situation reports based on telephone calls from Vance at 3 p.m., 6 p.m., 6:45 p.m., and 10 p.m. that day. (Ibid.)
642/Delto 1160. From Vance. Ref: Paris 608 (Delto 1156)./2/
/2/See footnote 2, Document 282.
1. As Department aware from telecons during past 12 hours, our agreement with DRV became slightly unglued after they informed us of NLF concurrence (reftel). Things are now back on the track after this morning's meeting with Lau (septel)./3/ The first procedural meeting at the Majestic will be held at 10:30 am Paris time Saturday./4/
/3/In telegram 757 from Paris/Delto 1174, January 17, Vance reported on the meeting he had with Lau in the DRV's safe house in Choisy on the morning of January 16. Lau proposed that, in lieu of the French drawing lots or flipping a coin, his government was prepared to let the United States or GVN speak first in whatever order they desired, and then the order of speaking would be reversed and rotated henceforth. Vance agreed to the proposal. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Peace Talk Material for Ginsburgh-Hold for Ginsburgh)
/4/January 18. Regarding the first procedural meeting of the expanded talks, see Document 286.
2. The sequence of events following yesterday's meeting with Lau, to the extent that we know them, is as follows: DRV delegate Mai Van Bo went to see Quai Assist Direct Manac'h at about 5:30 pm to inform him of our agreement. The fact that Bo did this before the DRV informed us at 1800 of NLF concurrence was contrary to what we had agreed. Moreover, Bo gave Manac'h an inaccurate account of what had been agreed between us. When I later met with Manac'h at 7:30 pm, he said that Bo had at first suggested that the meetings would be in the large rather than the small conference room as agreed. Bo had also neglected to tell Manac'h that the table would be a solid circle and, finally Bo had insisted that in deciding the speaking order the French should draw lots in a manner which reflects the four party concept.
3. I told Manac'h that Bo had given him an incorrect account of our agreement and suggested that he contact him again promptly to set things straight. Manac'h met again with Bo and the minor misunderstandings about the conference room and the table were eliminated. Bo, however, insisted on his version of how to determine the speaking order. After receiving Manac'h's account of his second meeting with Bo, I asked Oberemko to join me shortly after midnight and told him where things stood. Obermeko confirmed our understanding of the agreement on speaking order reached with Lau and said that he had seen Lau at 6 pm and Lau reported his meeting with me in a manner consistent with our understanding. At my request Oberemko then met with Lau at the Soviet Embassy and about three hours later sent First Secretary Bogomolov to report to me on the conversation. According to Bogomolov, there was a "misunderstanding" and it would have to be cleared up directly between me and Lau in the morning. I asked several times what kind of misunderstanding there had been and Bogomolov's replies were rather cryptic, but he did express the view that "everything will be all right."
4. At about 8 this morning Paris time, Lau called us seeking an immediate meeting, and the remainder of the story has been reported in a separate telegram. While it is not clear what happened between yesterday's meeting with Lau and today's meeting, we suspect that the "misunderstanding" was either Bo's misunderstanding because of lack of familiarity with the agreed procedures or the NLF's objection to the drawing of lots in our presence with only one winner. Perhaps it was a combination of both.
285. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State/1/
Saigon, January 16, 1969, 1200Z.
/1/Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Repeated to Paris for the Vietnam Mission. Printed in full in Douglas Pike (ed.), The Bunker Papers, Vol. 3, pp. 636-652.
894. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my seventy-fifth message.
1. In this, my last message to you as President, I shall try to sum up the progress and the shortcomings of the past year in our effort to move forward toward the achievement of our objectives in Viet-Nam. These I take it to be: A) a just, durable, and honorable peace through negotiations; B) a chance for the Vietnamese people to choose freely the form of government under which they wish to live; C) to help them develop their own stable political institutions and a viable economy; D) to make credible our obligations under the Charter of the U.N. and SEATO to resist aggression; and E) eventually to develop regional organizations through which the Southeast Asian countries can carry on joint undertakings in economic development and mutual cooperation. I shall try to give an overview in the first section, followed by more detailed accounts of political developments, Communist trends, military and pacification activities and the economic situation.
2. 1968 was in many ways a momentous year. Two events which proved to be major watersheds from which much else flowed were the Tet offensive and your speech of March 31./2/ In retrospect, they were the source of many constructive developments; and although some immediate problems, material and psychological, followed in their wake, I think they can be judged as major factors in stimulating the very substantial progress that took place in 1968.
/2/For documentation on the Tet offensive of 1968, see Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, volume VI. President Johnson's speech announcing the partial bombing halt and reporting his decision not to seek re-election is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book I, pp. 469-476.
3. Ironically, from a political point of view, the Tet attacks were a failure within Viet-Nam, and a brilliant success in America. It is true that very heavy material damage was inflicted by the enemy during the Tet and May/June attacks; 150,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, a million temporary evacuees created, substantial damage was done to the industrial plants, the economy set back and business confidence impaired. Yet there was no panic here. The people rallied, not to the Communists but to the government. There were no uprisings, no defections in the armed forces, the Vietnamese military units fought well, the government did not fall apart; on the contrary, it reacted with great determination and vigor. Operation Recovery was carried out with great energy and skill. By September, the million evacuees had been resettled, homes rebuilt and new housing provided. The establishment of a reconstruction fund and war risk insurance made possible the reconstruction of industry, business confidence returned, and in the last quarter of the year, commercial import licensing was running at a record rate. The decline in the relatively secure population, which had dropped from 67.2 percent in January to 59.8 percent as a result of the Tet attacks, was not only made up but at the year end the figure reached a record high of 76.3 percent. The population under VC control dropped from 16.4 percent in January to 12.3 percent at the year end. Even if one discounts these figures, the trend is clearly up and the situation substantially better than a year ago.
4. Your speech of March 31 and the partial bombing halt brought the Vietnamese Government and people face to face with the fact that we would not be here indefinitely and that one day they would be on their own. The realization of this fact and the confidence created by the successful reaction to the Tet attacks tended to inspire the Vietnamese with greater determination, a greater willingness to sacrifice, a new confidence in their own government and armed forces. From this fact flowed other constructive developments. It resulted in general mobilization and an ambitious self-defense program. Military and paramilitary forces now number well over a million men. Of the increase of 220,000 in the forces this year, 160,000 have been volunteers. (A force of comparable size in the United States, based on our population, would require 18 million men under arms.) In addition, more than one million men and women have been organized in civilian defense groups, more than half of these trained, and 100,000 armed.
5. Given the small population base of South Viet-Nam, these figures represent a prodigious effort to mobilize the entire population for the war effort. Coupled with a substantial improvement in RVNAF weaponry and greatly improved performance--General Abrams has said, "They are paying the price, and exacting the toll"--it means that the GVN faces Hanoi today with a military machine greatly superior to the one it had at the beginning of 1968.
6. A further development flowing from the two watersheds I have mentioned was the continued strengthening of constitutional government, the formation of a more popular and more effective cabinet under Tran Van Huong, and Thieu's consolidation of his constitutional powers as President. The Assembly proved itself by and large a responsible body meeting its constitutional responsibilities while working quite effectively with the executive to meet the demands of recurring crises. The Thieu/Ky rivalry, while not entirely resolved, declined greatly in importance as Ky's power was reduced and Thieu's increased. Their relationship today is probably better than at any time since the inauguration of the present government.
7. The large increase in money supply brought about by the impact of general mobilization contributed to inflationary pressures. In spite of an increase of nearly 60 percent in money supply, price increases were held to about 30 percent for the year, a tolerable increase if not a comfortable one. In a year that saw the heaviest fighting of the war, the steady decline in the rice deliveries from the Delta, which had continued since 1963, was finally reversed. The IR-8 rice program was initiated, proving more popular even than had been anticipated, resulting in plans for an accelerated program in 1969. Progress was also made in poultry and other protein production. Recovery from the setback of Tet has been achieved and the economy has resumed its forward movement.
8. Beside these very substantial achievements of 1968, I set forth some important shortfalls, weaknesses, and hazards. Thanks to his safe havens and external support, the enemy probably still retains the capability to prepare and mount further attacks. Pacification gains would be inevitably set back if the enemy proved able to mount another even partially successful offensive. Such an offensive would also have adverse effects on American opinion, probably its main purpose, since the enemy must be aware of the fact that any real military success is no longer possible.
9. On the political side, very little progress has been made toward the development of a strong and united nationalist political organization. While the Thieu/Huong alliance has resulted in the best and most effective Vietnamese Government in many years, the GVN is still plagued by inefficiency and corruption. While popular support for the government has improved, it is still not strong enough.
10. Probably as important as the major accomplishments and shortcomings of 1968 are the chief political trends of that eventful year. While all of those trends may not continue into 1969, I believe it is reasonable to expect that most will. I think we can identify at least four:
(a) Increasing Vietnamese recognition that the American commitment is not open ended. This in turn has led to a growing Vietnamese willingness to accept a political settlement, and also a realization that it will be necessary to deal with the NLF in some way. At the beginning of the year, most nationalist leaders still felt it was impossible even to talk about negotiations in public. Now they are not only openly willing to negotiate with Hanoi, but they are thinking--often out loud--about how to talk with the NLF. I think Thieu must be given much credit for bringing people gradually to the awareness that the contest will change some day from a predominantly military one to a predominantly political one.
(b) Decline in confidence in the strength of the U.S. commitment. While most responsible leaders do not believe the U.S. will deliberately turn its back on Viet-Nam, many have grown doubtful of our determination to stay the course long enough to achieve an honorable peace. This, of course, is a critical factor which could affect everything else.
(c) Increasing Vietnamese willingness to make sacrifices and carry a heavier war burden. The Tet attacks, general mobilization, the threat of American withdrawal, and growing confidence in their own capabilities led to a significant increase of involvement of the entire population, urban and rural, in the war effort.
(d) Increased SVN military and political strength. With the development of democratic institutions and the consolidation of Thieu's power, the political stability of South Viet-Nam has increased markedly. The growing strength and improved performance of RVNAF complemented and increased SVN political strength. Improved political stability was also coupled with a marked decline in the influence of the military in the making of policy and the administration of the government.
11. Adding up the plusses and minuses, I think we can say objectively that 1968 has been a year of very substantial progress. We have seen the development of a government that is more stable and effective than any since the early days of the Diem regime. The military situation has greatly improved, the RVNAF has made significant progress in leadership, morale, and performance. At the same time, there are growing evidences of the decline in enemy morale and leadership. Security has improved and pacification accelerated; so has the Chieu Hoi program and the attack on the VC infrastructure. In almost all areas, the government is moving with determination and vigor. In the last half of the year, progress has accelerated in almost all areas. It is my view that if, as a result of the present negotiations, a true, verifiable, and properly supervised mutual withdrawal of North Vietnamese and allied forces can be worked out, the Vietnamese Government and people will be capable of handling their internal domestic problems with the Viet Cong on their own. A true withdrawal obviously will be a difficult undertaking involving as it will not only verification and supervision, but among other things identification of North Vietnamese in Viet Cong units, and prohibition against the use of the Cambodian and Laotian sanctuaries. It is nevertheless a hopeful situation.
[Omitted here is Bunker's report on political issues, areas of shortcomings, the Paris negotiations, possible Communist strategy, pacification, and military and economic issues.]
35. I believe it can fairly be said that substantial progress toward the objectives I mentioned at the beginning of this message has been made during the past year. An encouraging element is the fact that this progress has accelerated, especially in the last half and even more particularly during the last quarter of the year.
Determination on the part of the Vietnamese Government to maintain the momentum is evident. Plans to sustain the tempo of the pacification program and for a dramatic land reform program in 1969 have already been announced. The Vietnamese Government has made clear its intention to assume an increasingly large share of the war effort. With a modicum of patience, I believe that the goals and objectives we have set for ourselves will be reached. Whatever success we in the American Mission here, civilian and military, may have had has been due to your steadfast and unswerving support and your determination to stay the course. For this all of us are deeply grateful.
286. Editorial Note
By the end of the Johnson administration, substantive peace talks had finally been arranged. After successful conclusion of an agreement on procedural matters on January 16, 1969 (see Documents 282-284), President Johnson issued the following statement on the Paris talks:
"We are all pleased that certain basic procedural problems in Paris have been solved and new talks on the substance of peace in Southeast Asia can open. There are three lessons of our experience since March 31st. First, we must be clear and firm in pursuing with our allies the limited but vital objectives we seek in Southeast Asia. Second, we must be patient and face the hard fact that fighting is likely to continue as the negotiations are carried forward. Third, we should be confident that an honorable peace is possible if we here at home remain steady. We have had three crises in these negotiations since they opened 9 months ago: on the place for the talks, on the terms for a bombing cessation, and on the procedures for the new talks. In each case, patience, firmness, and fair-mindedness achieved a satisfactory result. We must pursue peace as diligently as we have fought aggression. And this year we have made steady progress toward the peace we all devoutly pray for. I deeply believe that if we only remain united and stay together on this path we will achieve honorable peace in Southeast Asia. (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1968-69, Book II, page 1308)
In his last press conference on January 17, the President commented:
"We think that we have had a move forward. We have got a breakthrough now with what kind of a table we will have and perhaps we can get on with the substantive talks that we envisioned back in March when we took what we thought were rather far-reaching and dramatic steps in that direction, and certainly what we anticipated in October when we made those decisions. If I could have one thing presented to me today that I would rather have than anything else in the world, it would be that I could bring back from Vietnam all the men I sent out there and that we could have peace in the world so that those men could come and enjoy being with their families again and enjoy the benefits of our affluence in this great society that we have." (Ibid., pages 1360-1361)
At 10:30 a.m. on January 18, 1969, the first procedural meeting of the Paris peace talks was held at the Majestic Hotel. In accordance with the procedural arrangements, the delegates of the United States, Republic of Vietnam, Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and the National Liberation Front sat around a circular table with two rectangular tables for secretarial purposes on opposite sides of the circular table 45 centimeters from the mid-point of the circular table. Also as agreed, the Delegate of the Republic of Vietnam, Phong, spoke first, followed by U.S. representative Vance. Madame Binh, representing the National Liberation Front, spoke next; she was followed by delegate Lau of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The U.S. delegation transmitted its detailed report of the meeting in telegram 788/Delto 1186 from Paris, January 18. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Peace Talk Material for Ginsburgh--Hold for Ginsburgh) A full transcript of the first procedural meeting was transmitted in telegram 852/Delto 1200 from Paris, January 20. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, I/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference, 1968-1969, Delto Chrons, January 1969)
287. Memorandum of Conversation/1/
Washington, January 19, 1969.
/1/Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Trips and Missions, Paris Peace Talks, 1968-1969, Memoranda of Conversation. No classification marking. Drafted by Harriman. At 3:30 p.m. on January 19, Rusk met the returning Harriman at Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington. (Johnson Library, Dean Rusk Appointment Books, 1968-69) From 5:55 to 6:04 p.m. that evening, President Johnson met with both Harriman and Rusk at the White House, primarily as a photographing opportunity for the press. The next day the President awarded Medals of Freedom to Harriman, Rusk, Rostow, Clifford, and journalist William S. White. (Ibid., President's Daily Diary)
MEMORANDUM OF CONVERSATION WITH THE PRESIDENT
The President asked me to come to the White House Sunday evening. Dean Rusk showed up as well. I heard afterwards that he was told he could come if he wished.
I told the President that Cy and I were gratified that we could get the new talks on the track before the end of his Administration, not only because of our deep sense of appreciation for him, but we thought it was useful for the new Administration since there were certain forces, particularly from the Saigon Government, that wanted to break up the talks./2/ Therefore, it might have been more difficult for the new Administration to get things started.
/2/During separate meetings with Herz on January 15, Thanh expressed several concerns regarding the course of the peace talks. (Telegrams 814 and 845 from Saigon, both January 15; ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Peace Talk Material for Ginsburgh--Hold for Ginsburgh) In a personal message to Bunker transmitted in telegram 759 from Paris, January 17, Harriman urged that "it be pointed out to Foreign Minister Thanh in a diplomatic manner that he should stop seeing ghosts and to realize that we are embarking on serious and sober discussions here. Difficulties are created by fertile, devious and terrified imaginations. It is important that the GVN act with the dignity and confidence of a sovereign government. If they don't, how can they expect others to treat them as such?" (Ibid.)
I said Cy had done a yeoman's job in settling the other administrative matters at one meeting, on Saturday January 18th. The President said he was pleased. He said a polite word or two about Cy and myself.
Rusk mentioned a few matters that were on his mind. Then photographers were called in, and I repeated part of what I said to the President in the hearing of the reporters that came along; namely, that we were gratified that, carrying out President Johnson's initiative, we had been able to settle all matters which would permit the new talks to begin on substantive questions by the new Administration./3/
/3/In a meeting with incoming delegation head Henry Cabot Lodge at his home in Georgetown on November 19, Harriman encouraged Lodge to treat his deputy Lawrence Walsh as a co-equal head of the delegation as Harriman had treated Vance (since it would make an impact on the North Vietnamese). He also urged Lodge to have his negotiating team develop close contacts with their Soviet counterparts in Paris. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Trips and Missions, Paris Peace Talks, 1968-1969, Memoranda of Conversation) Previously, on January 14, Harriman, Vance, Habib, and Negroponte met with Thuy, Tho, and Lau at the U.S. safe house in Sceaux and discussed the likely policies that the incoming administration would follow, personalities in the new delegation, and specifics on various procedural and substantive issues in the expanded talks. (Telegram 734/Delto 1173 from Paris, January 17; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Paris-Delto-Todel, Codeword, TDCS and Memos and Misc., etc-BAMBOO)
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