316. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Bundy) to the Under Secretary of State (Ball)1


  • Possible Messages to Hanoi via the Seaborn Channel

The Canadians told us Monday that Seaborn would be going on a normal visit to Hanoi on May 31 (Sunday evening our time) and would be staying about a week. This will be his first visit since early March,2 when he conveyed on our behalf a message (Tab A attached)3 simply restating what we had told the Chinese Communists at Warsaw. He saw only the liaison officer to the ICC—who is however quite politically sophisticated—and the same was true in his December visit,4 when we instructed him only to ask what Hanoi’s reactions were to the longer messages we had conveyed in June and August.5

We might in any event be considering a general message for Seaborn to have in the event he has any substantive conversations. However, there is the further possibility that we should use this channel for either or both of the following purposes: (a) to reiterate the substance of our pause message (Tab B attached),6 or (b) to indicate our awareness of the Bo message to the French that Pham Van Dong’s four points are not to be considered preconditions but rather “working principles” (Tab C attached).7

The first possibility, reiterating our pause message, would entail no difficulty and seems desirable in any event, particularly the last paragraph suggesting the possibility of further pauses in the future. We have little doubt that Hanoi actually got this message, but the reiteration of the last paragraph after our resumption would have some weight and might become useful in the Acheson 8 or any other context in the future.

The second possibility raises somewhat greater difficulties. Bo’s message to the French does state that the four points are not “prior conditions” [Page 690] but equally it appears to call for recognition of these “principles” as the essential bases for discussion. We certainly do not wish to get into the position of accepting the four points as a basis, but there would be some merit in language to the following effect:

“At the time of the resumption of bombing attacks on North Vietnamese territory, the USG noted indications received through third parties that certain conditions previously stated by Hanoi as the basis for negotiations were not to be considered prior conditions. The USG had previously been unable to determine this point and would be interested in whether Hanoi is now prepared for discussions without any conditions whatever, as has been proposed by President Johnson.”

In other words, we could pitch the inquiry on the basis of “unconditional discussions” in the full sense and not on the question of discussions on the basis of the four points. This would not be a change in our basic position, although we should have to weigh whether the inquiry alone would tend to indicate to Hanoi that we were looking for a bilateral forum and a way out. Needless to say, any actual bilateral discussions would have to be weighed very carefully by us, and we would have to consider particularly whether the GVN would accept them or react unfavorably if they came to light. Although we have acted on the Bo message to the extent of exploring what the possible venue of bilateral discussions might be (Paris, through clandestine channels, Rangoon, and Vientiane are possibilities), we had been inclined against any initiative toward such discussions at the present moment (largely because we think an action/reaction sequence is more likely to be fruitful).

On the other hand, to remain silent in the face of the Bo message could be misconstrued. It is notable that Hanoi, in the Bo message, did use a wholly secret channel. It was probably trying to establish a credible position with the French and it may also have been saying indirectly to us that, if they ever did decide to talk, they would wish to use the French channel and not the Soviets or the British (through whom we had sent the pause message).

On balance, I am inclined to think that we should include in Seaborn’s kit a paragraph along the lines quoted above.

The full text of a possible message to Seaborn incorporating these points is attached at Tab D9 for your consideration.

  1. Source: Department of State, EA/ACA Files: Lot 69 D 412, Vietnam Negotiations, Seaborn. Top Secret.
  2. See footnote 7, Document 199.
  3. Telegram 942 to Ottawa, February 27, was attached at Tab A. (Department of State, Central Files,POL 27 VIET S)
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Document 436.
  5. See ibid., Documents 222 and 304.
  6. Printed as Document 293.
  7. Printed as Document 308.
  8. Regarding the Acheson-Cutler Plan, see Document 287. For text of the plan as circulated on May 13, see Document 300.
  9. Not printed.