319. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

3941. Embtel 3874.2 On Wednesday3 Johnson, Manfull and I had five-hour exploratory discussion with Quat, Do and Bui Diem on political settlement problems. We used as basis for discussion the questions contained in Embtel 36784 which I had previously given to Quat. On the whole, it was a useful exchange. It was evident that they had not done much fundamental thinking on these problems. On the other hand they appeared quite realistic in their assessment of the situation and on prospects for achieving objectives for an eventual settlement. We were successful in introducing the major elements of our thinking and in eliciting a favorable or open-minded response on their part. We will have to see where we come out when we get down to specifics. I have the impression that certain of Quat’s expressions of concern over sensitivity of Vietnamese political situation and public opinion stem in part from current constitutional battle with Suu. (Which was obviously on his mind throughout the discussion.)

I will bring copies of record of discussion5 but in meantime following are points, which I believe may be of interest.

At outset they stated broad GVN political objectives were restoration of peace with liberty, full sovereignty and independence of SVN. They noted reunification impossible at present and necessary accept division at 17th parallel until international situation permits further consideration reunification. They were firm that National Liberation Front (NLF) merely creature of Hanoi and SVN cannot accept NLF as element in GVN administration; that is, as a bloc or political force or organization. However, they acknowledged provision would have to be made for integration returnees into national life as individuals. Agreed that major steps need be taken to revitalize and expand Chieu Hoi program and to promote defections.

We responded with statement general political objectives as set forth in answer to question 1, Embtel 3678, noting these interrelated and [Page 696] that “security guarantee” is theme running through all objectives and raises basic questions as to whether GVN/US should seek restoration status quo ante or seek new international framework. This promoted lengthy discussion of: (A) suitability of Geneva Accords as basis for eventual settlement; and (B) importance and nature of security guarantees. Regarding (A) initial GVN reaction strongly negative with their citing problem of elections, ineffectiveness of ICC, prohibition of alliances, and their desire interpret Accords as armistice between French and VC but not as political document governing future SVN. They saw advantage of Accords in designation of 17th parallel as boundary and possibly with respect to eventual regroupment and repatriation of VC. However, in the ensuing discussion they came around considerably and agreed that elections really presented little difficulty, that ICC problem secondary one, and problem of prohibition of alliances presented greatest difficulty but not impossible of solution. Question was raised whether a security guarantee by US need be considered an alliance. Quat himself suggested further consideration of formula using Geneva Accords as acceptable basis for settlement providing certain provisions of Accords are modified or reinterpreted to bring them in line with current realities. We will return to this in later discussions.

With respect to security guarantees they drew parallel between “guaranteed or armed peace” under NATO after World War II and situation in SEA where no muscle provided to guarantee peace postulated under Geneva Accords. They felt SEATO ineffective to date and felt something strong essential. While they dwelt on multilateral guarantees, it was clear that they were primarily interested in obtaining bilateral security guarantee from the United States. They indicated this might take form of bilateral arrangements under which US would intervene at request of GVN in the event SVN security were threatened. We pointed out that problem of SEATO unanimity was dealt with in Rusk-Thanat communiqué of 1962.6 Without commitment, we undertook to examine with Washington whether that interpretation of the SEATO treaty could be made applicable to SVN as a protocol state.

Under question 2 we had meeting of minds on estimate of situation and necessity of pushing on all fronts to convince Hanoi that everything of value in DRV will be destroyed and trend of military and political events in South is running against them thus leading Hanoi to conclusion negotiations are necessary. GVN representatives emphasized sensitivity of the political climate in SVN to such developments as recent moratorium on air attacks, Rusk-Gromyko talks, proposed Cambodian conference—all of which are exploited by Vietnamese press and opposition [Page 697] groups as indications that basic decisions concerning SVN being made without GVN being a party. Extreme sensitivity also displayed over when and how US troops might be withdrawn.

Extended discussion involved modalities reaching eventual settlement either through tacit arrangement or through more formal discussions or negotiations of an official character. They saw distinct advantages in tacit arrangement but acknowledged difficulties in predicting how confrontation of viewpoints with DRV could be arranged, as indicated Embtel 3914,7 they felt it was in many ways desirable for US initiate contacts with DRV. Here again they expressed concern because of sensitivity of Vietnamese political situation and public opinion. With respect to more open official contacts the following were discussed briefly: (A) Direct negotiations between GVN and DRV; (B) direct negotiations between GVN and DRV with GVN accompanied by US and DRV by USSR or Communist China; and (C) a larger formal conference of Geneva type. While recognizing that ultimate choice of means would depend on situation as it evolves, GVN would prefer the order as listed above. The larger conference was considered least desirable since question NLF representation would prove most difficult to handle under this formula. However, GVN representatives indicated they could live with NLF representatives as an integral part of DRV delegation.

Considerable discussion revolved around question 3 A on what we should trade for cessation of US/GVN bombing and eventual reduction US forces. While it agreed that GVN/US basically desired cessation of infiltration and VC activities in SVN and destruction VC infrastructure, problem was how and what we offered on our side in exchange in view of difficulties in verifying DRV performance. Agreed we should not trade GVN/US air attacks against DRV for mere statement from DRV that it would behave. Discussion inconclusive and marked again by sensitivity that US would at some stage expect to withdraw troops.

Discussion of question 3 B confirmed judgment that in general it desirable to probe DRV attitudes and intentions and perhaps easier for us to do this. Agreed that such contacts should proceed from solid, agreed US/GVN position. Radhakhrishnan proposals discussed under this heading which reported separately (Embtel 3903).8

Regarding question 3 C GVN reps expressed general preference for matching specific offers to DRV to evidence of good DRV behavior, although GVN could say publicly that it is prepared to study at proper time general types of exchanges (commercial, cultural, individuals, etc.) with DRV. They noted difficulty speaking out on this subject at early stage since Quat’s opponents likely to label speakers as “neutralists”. [Page 698] GVN confirmed it could accept principle of reunification but stated that reunification would have to await more favorable international political climate. GVN can accept co-existence with DRV but not co-habitation.

Questions 3 D, 3 E, and 3 F were explored during above discussions but no specific conclusions were reached.

Under question 3 G importance of Afro-Asian conference stressed. Agreed that additional measures which GVN could take would be to dramatically increase its diplomatic and public information efforts abroad. In general believed that continued display our determination and firm adherence to our course of action against DRV and within SVN would have greater impact on DRV than public statements.

Questions 3 H, 3 I, and 3 J having been explored generally were held over for subsequent amplification.

In discussion question 3 K, it was agreed that not necessary for US and GVN say precisely the same things but that we should consult closely and in particular coordinate positions on any new departures.

In concluding, agreed that fundamental point regarding further discussion was following: Assuming desire on part of DRV to reach agreement up to what point can GVN/US justify continued bombing of DRV as means of forcing dissolution of VC structure in SVN.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Priority; Exdis. Passed to the White House, the CIA, and the Department of Defense.
  2. In telegram 3874 from Saigon, May 25, the Embassy reported that Quat had indicated that he was prepared for an exploratory discussion of the list of questions put to his government by the Embassy earlier in the month. (Ibid.)
  3. May 26.
  4. Dated May 7. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  5. A memorandum of this conversation, which took place at the Presidential Palace in Saigon, was prepared by Manfull. (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T 159–69)
  6. For text of this communiqué, issued on March 6, 1962, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1962, pp. 1091–1093.
  7. Dated May 27. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  8. Not found.