255. Intelligence Memorandum From the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (Denney) to Secretary of State Rusk 1
- Hanoi Lays Down “Basis” for Vietnam Talks
The recent flurry of North Vietnamese policy reflects a change in Hanoi’s position on negotiations by allowing that talks are possible after certain principles have been “recognized” as the basis for a settlement. Actually the conditions for settlement enunciated are not new, but heretofore Hanoi has not conceded the possibility of a conference at any remotely reasonable point. For the most part, North Vietnamese spokesmen had simply ignored the subject. This change probably is primarily a reflection of North Vietnamese concern that their intransigence harmed their political position abroad, particularly after President Johnson offered “unconditional discussions.” However, we cannot rule out that the North Vietnamese desired to test Washington’s response in order to establish if there is any basis for negotiations in light of the President’s speech. In commenting on that speech, Hanoi has not attacked negotiations per se or in fact directly turned down the offer for “unconditional discussion,” suggesting anew that while the North Vietnamese are not anxious for talks they do not want to preclude possible talks in the future.
Recent Statements. On April 12 and 13 the Vietnamese News Agency (VNA) released the text of an address reportedly made on April 8 by Premier Pham Van Dong to the National Assembly. The final portions of this text contained an analysis of President Johnson’s April 7 address and a formulation of North Vietnamese conditions which Dong said must be “recognized” before a Geneva-type conference could be considered.2 (There is evidence to suggest that these portions were added later, perhaps on April 10, providing more time for study of the President’s address.) Later on April 13, VNA released the text of a resolution of the Assembly formally approving Dong’s formulation. Earlier, on April 9, VNA had released and the Hanoi press had front-paged the text of an April 5 interview given by Ho Chi Minh to the Japanese Communist Party organ, Akahata, in which Ho appeared to lay down more rigid preconditions for negotiations than did Dong three days later. And on April 12 Hanoi released the text of Ho’s address on April 10 to the Assembly; it [Page 559] contained no mention of negotiations but rather basic conditions for a “solution,” which though briefer were like Dong’s points. This flurry of activity is confusing and contradictory but the more careful and authoritative formulations seem to us to be those of Dong and the Assembly, rather than that of Ho. The net effect seems to us to be to put Hanoi’s stance on negotiations more clearly on record than ever before.
Terms for Settlement. Dong laid down his terms under four headings. The first heading includes both US withdrawal and cessation of the air attacks “in strict conformity with the Geneva Agreements” and calls for recognizing the unity of Vietnam; the second asks respect for the “military provisions” of the Geneva Agreements (which are defined only as no military alliances, foreign bases, troops, nor personnel); the third demands settlement of the affairs of South Vietnam “by the South Vietnamese people themselves in accordance with the program of the Front”; and the fourth requires “peaceful reunification without foreign intervention.” All of these terms for settlement have been set forth by Hanoi in recent years.
Terms for Negotiations. The new element in Dong’s proposals is the acknowledgement that negotiations might be held once these principles were “recognized” as the basis for a settlement. There is no indication of what is meant by “recognized,” of who must “recognize” them or of how rigidly Hanoi might insist on recognition in the form laid down. Though admitting that the two “zones” may remain separate for some time, Hanoi adamantly opposes any suggestion that the Geneva Agreement provided for an independent South Vietnam. It is unclear whether adherence to the military provisions of the 1954 accord is meant to be limited to the provisions mentioned. The military agreement also provided for a cease-fire and regroupment of forces (undoubtedly subsumed by Hanoi under “internal” South Vietnamese affairs) and for international supervision. On the latter point there may be more flexibility, and a few North Vietnamese spokesmen in the past have hinted strongly that a stronger control group might be considered.
Hanoi must be aware that at least one condition, acceptance of the program of the Front entailing establishment of a Front-approved coalition regime, would be quite impossible for any US or GVN negotiator. The North Vietnamese may feel, however, that in some other form, e.g. Front presence at the negotiating table or the acknowledgement of the possibility of a coalition government, it might eventually be acceptable to Washington and Saigon. The remaining three conditions, while couched in offensive language, are not so different from some US objectives in the area, and Hanoi probably does not feel that it is making it impossible for Washington to come to the conference table.
Objective: A More “Reasonable” Stance. We believe that Hanoi has been moved by the current flurry of diplomatic activity and particularly [Page 560] the President’s speech and its favorable international reception. North Vietnam’s leaders apparently felt compelled to appear more forthcoming toward negotiations.
Previously North Vietnamese spokesmen publicly had either ignored or had indicated opposition to talk about negotiations; privately, particularly after the sustained air strikes began, they showed sensitivity to the possibility that interest might be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Hanoi permitted and even encouraged the erroneous impression that it insisted that no negotiations could begin before US withdrawal had been completed. In fact, in an interview released just after the President’s address, Ho Chi Minh came very close to making withdrawal a precondition for talks. He laid down terms which if “carried out” would create conditions for a conference, but he did not state that negotiations were possible “only” if these terms were met.
Dong’s speech and the National Assembly resolution represent a shift from Ho’s stance and strongly suggest that Hanoi now feels that the 17-nation proposal,3 President Johnson’s speech, and the world reaction have placed them on the defensive. They realize that if world and US domestic opinion is to exert any serious pressure on the US Government to halt the bombings, they must be more forthcoming on negotiations. Whether they will rely entirely on such pressure or would be willing to supplement it by private indications of greater flexibility cannot be determined from these public moves.
Hanoi Reaction to Other Proposals. Hanoi has not publicized nor apparently replied formally to other proposals which have been communicated to its officials. In most cases, such as with the 17-nation proposal, the North Vietnamese gave the bearers the standard lecture on US perfidy and then promised to study the plan and reply later. However, in one case, which fits in with the shift in Hanoi’s public posture, the Foreign Ministry called in the British Consul-General on April 12 to soften the April 6 refusal to see the former British Foreign Secretary, making sure that the British understood that the door was open for future consultations.
Peiping Reaction. Peiping, in a People’s Daily article, has picked up Hanoi’s “terms for a settlement” aspect without mentioning negotiations, an interesting indication of possible uneasiness about Hanoi’s firmness. Peiping did give extensive play to Ho’s “harder” statement and to his Assembly speech, though it also printed the text of the Assembly resolution with its phrases about “political settlement” and convening an international conference.