233. Telegram From the Department of State to the Mission to the United Nations1

2380. Subject: U Thant and Vietnam. For Stevenson. U Thant has proposed through you that he might take public initiative to seek a three-month cessation of “all hostile military activity, whether overt or covert, across 17th parallel in Vietnam.”

At same time 17 “neutrals” have launched an appeal to all parties concerned, asking for peace talks without preconditions.2

These two initiatives are not mutually exclusive. But public appeal by 17 nations does accomplish one part of what SYG would have accomplished by public appeal to NVN, SVN, and US. It creates need for each of three countries militarily engaged (and other addressees as well) to respond publicly and reveal their present attitudes about moving toward a peaceful settlement in Vietnam.

Now that the 17 nations have made this appeal, this makes unnecessary a public initiative by SYG at this particular stage.3 Indeed, at the level of public discourse 17-nation appeal is preferable to SYG action since SYG appeal might draw from Hanoi a statement denying UN’s jurisdiction in the matter, thus making it difficult for SYG to conduct private explorations and play mediatory role at level of quiet diplomacy.

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We believe that explorations by SYG with Hanoi may be important element in search for ways of defusing war in Vietnam. But we would suggest his delaying action, and even suspending judgment on exact form and content of his explorations, until Hanoi has answered 17-nation proposal, and he (and we) can judge from that reply whether there is any possible basis for fruitful talks.

For our part, we expect to make a quite forthcoming reply to the 17, and would hope that Saigon will do likewise. We will try to schedule our reply to 17 in such a way that we can make it available as a courtesy to SYG prior to its public release.

On the substance of SYG’s proposal, he should be aware that we would want to see substantial changes in the arrangements proposed in his draft, before we would be able to agree with it. You have already mentioned to him two of the points that create difficulties here: the need to cover infiltration through Laos, and the need for some kind of enforcement or inspection machinery to make sure Hanoi would keep to its part of any deal, our part being self-enforcing. But beyond this, we see a more fundamental difficulty in trading a stoppage of the bombing in North Vietnam for a stoppage of the infiltration as such. For Hanoi to “leave its neighbor alone” means to call off organized Viet Cong activity in South Vietnam. Complexities this matter make it difficult, and inadvisable, to try to spell out at this stage with U Thant just what kind of mutual cessation of military activity might be acceptable. The main point to make to SYG at this stage is our judgment that military activity in South Vietnam must be somehow bracketed with stoppage of infiltration as price for diminution of our own military activity in support of Saigon.

In sum:

We want to preserve SYG as useful channel for quiet diplomacy as this situation develops.
17-nation appeal provides basis for reformulation each of nations involved in Vietnam war, of their attitudes toward moving in direction of peaceful settlement.
We strongly urge that SYG await replies to 17-nation appeal, especially from Hanoi, and then consult further about nature, content and timing of private explorations he might then undertake.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Exdis. Drafted by Cleveland, cleared by William Bundy, and approved by Rusk.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 228.
  3. For McGeorge Bundy’s recommendation to President Johnson on this issue, see Document 228.