164. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State 1

UNMIS 21. For Cleveland only. From Yost. Ref: Deptel 2083.2 At meeting this morning at which only SYG, Bunche and Yost were present, latter read full text of instructions with occasional appropriate comment, particularly emphasizing points made in paragraph one. Thereafter, SYG launched into following lengthy explanation of his position.

He said he had been reading carefully and regularly since 1963 Hanoi broadcasts as reported in USG publication. From these broadcasts he had become convinced that Hanoi was ready to talk peace with US, that it was closer to Moscow than to Peking, and that, indeed, though having to take account of geography, it was clearly not pro-Peking.

His first piece of advice to US had been after Diem ouster when he had suggested to Stevenson that US encourage formation in South Vietnam of broad-based government which would include certain Vietnamese leaders in exile, for the most part in Paris. He had never had any reply to this suggestion and did not know whether US had endeavored to follow it.

His second step had been taken last year when he had become convinced that the situation was deteriorating seriously and that the longer it deteriorated the more likely it was that the Communists would take over South Vietnam. At that time the Hanoi radio was still indicating willingness to negotiate.

He had asked Hanoi through the Soviets whether they would negotiate directly and privately with US. To his surprise, Hanoi had promptly replied in the affirmative. SYG had communicated this fact to [Page 370] Stevenson, emphasizing his belief that we should explore means of drawing Hanoi further away from Peking, taking advantage in this respect of Moscow/Peking rift.

Stevenson had subsequently inquired at what place and at what level these contacts should occur, if we should be disposed to pursue them. As to place, SYG had suggested various alternatives, including Cambodia and Pakistan, but had recommended Rangoon, since both US and DRV had diplomatic representation there. He had sounded out the Burmese govt as to whether it would offer necessary facilities and GOB had replied it would be happy to do so. This he had passed to Stevenson in Dec.3

In January Stevenson had resumed conversation, pointing out great difficulty of US negotiating with DRV without RVN participating. SYG had recognized cogency of this objection but had nevertheless felt that some risks must be taken, that time is wasting and that Hanoi might change its mind about negotiations at all. As alternative to bilateral negotiation, and also to full-scale Geneva conference, they had discussed possibility of meeting of five great powers plus two Vietnams.SYG himself thought this was an excellent idea and suggested Geneva as appropriate locus. He had, however, had hitherto no reply from Washington to this suggestion, and meanwhile, of course, Hanoi radio had become much more militant.4

Subsequently, he had through Lord Caradon sent message to Prime Minister Wilson informing latter of his suggestion of bilateral, and later of 5-plus-2 negotiations, and asking Wilson to use his good offices in Washington to bring about acceptance of this idea. He presumed Wilson had raised problem in Washington though he did not know in what form. SYG had also discussed question of negotiations with Couve de Murville during latter’s recent visit. Couve had advocated Geneva conference with original composition but SYG said this was impossible and mentioned 5-plus-2 proposal. To this Couve did not comment. (Seydoux subsequently confirmed to Yost that SYG had raised with Couve suggestion of Geneva conference with smaller participation.) SYG added that Couve had expressed opinion that more than half of the population of South Vietnam favors the Viet Cong. Yost contested this vigorously, expressing view that if this were the case South Vietnam would long since have been taken over.

Finally, SYG remarked that he had not mentioned 5-plus-2 idea to Soviets, though they were of course aware of his original idea of bilateral contacts since they had at his request sounded out Hanoi.

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SYG concluded his exposition by emphasizing his continued conviction that, while it might already be too late, it is still of utmost importance to find some means of coming to negotiations, first of all because he believes that continuation and escalation of armed conflict will force Moscow to rapprochement with Peking, which would be greatest possible disaster, and second because of his conviction that, on account of highly unstable political situation in South Vietnam, continuance of war will inevitably end in total Communist takeover.

At this juncture Yost repeated several salient points of our assessment of the situation, particularly the fact that we have seen absolutely no sign that Hanoi and Peking are prepared to negotiate in such a way as to take account of security and interest of South Vietnam on the same basis as their own security and interest, or that they have any conception of negotiations other than as a means of facilitating total Communist takeover of South Vietnam. At this point SYG suggested that US prepare proposals or agenda for negotiation, for example, for 5-plus-2 conference, which might be submitted through appropriate intermediary to Hanoi and which would smoke out basis on which they may be prepared to negotiate. SYG said it would not be appropriate for him to put forward any such proposals but implied he would be willing to transmit them as coming from us.

Reverting to SYG press conference, Yost made several efforts to determine what elements of “truth” Thant feels are being withheld from the American public. It was obvious he was embarrassed and unhappy at the reaction which this particular comment of his had provoked. He emphasized he had not meant to accuse the US govt of withholding info but had merely meant to bring out that in a war situation many elements of truth are ignored or forgotten, such as appeals of Shastri, Ayub, Ne Win and others for negotiations, and such as markedly different way in which Asians and Americans regard many of the questions at issue in this conflict. In other words, it appeared that what he had had in mind was not that facts and background are being withheld from the US public but simply that factors which he considers of utmost importance tend to be swamped and obscured in the volume of day-to-day war news. He admitted that the only “fact” which had not been revealed was Hanoi’s private indication to him of its willingness to negotiate bilaterally with US, and that this was largely procedural point since everyone has been aware of their desire for a Geneva conference (without the slightest indication in either case that they are prepared to negotiate even-handed settlement). SYG was relaxed and cordial throughout conversation, obviously firmly attached to basic conceptions on these issues which he has had for many years, but still distressed and embarrassed that what he had said, particularly in regard to “facts” and “truth”, had given rise to such deep concern in Washington.

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It would appear that SYG considers he has had provisional response to various suggestions he has been making to US in recent months. However, he obviously expects US to continue to consider urgently desirability of early negotiations in one form or another and to hope he may be of service in this connection. The only concrete point on which he might expect some early comment would be whether or not we saw any merit in his idea that we should smoke out Hanoi’s intentions by suggesting through him or another intermediary our idea of agenda of meeting in case it should eventually take place.

Subsequently, at SC luncheon, Bunche told Yost that he and SYG had discussed the matter further after Yost’s departure and had come to the tentative conclusion that it would be desirable to issue to the press this afternoon clarification of those of SYG’s remarks which had caused most concern in Washington. Yost said he thought this would be most helpful and further indicated to Bunche his personal view that SYG’s ill-considered public comments on Vietnam risk undermining his and UN’s possible usefulness in later stages of this problem. Bunche fully agreed. He later drafted press clarification for SYG and accepted several modifications which Yost proposed.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret.
  2. See Document 161.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Document 427.
  4. See Document 145.
  5. Printed from an unsigned copy.