116. Memorandum From the Representative to the United Nations (Goldberg) to President Johnson1

PAUSE IN U.S. BOMBING OF NORTH VIETNAM

The question of another, more extended suspension of US aerial attacks against North Vietnam deserves urgent consideration. The drawbacks are obvious but the advantages have perhaps not been fully explored.

If, contrary to present indications, Hanoi should, in response to some of the mediation efforts now getting under way, indicate a general interest in beginning negotiations in the near future, another temporary suspension of US bombing might greatly facilitate the effort to get negotiations started by arming one of the many possible mediators at hand with convincing proof that the US desire for negotiations is sincere.

The best course would probably be a decision by the United States, in conjunction with a meaningful mediation effort, along the following lines:

To pause in further air attacks against targets in North Vietnam for the reasonable limited period of time required to support a reasonable mediation effort to determine whether the North Vietnamese authorities are prepared to enter into unconditional negotiations for a peaceful settlement. If there were no appreciable progress within a limited time, we would resume bombing. We would, of course, exclude an open-ended commitment to halt bombing indefinitely, as long as negotiations continued; we must avoid repeating our experience in Korea in this regard.

1.

Action in Response to an Appeal. We could make a declaration of this character in response to an appeal by one of the world leaders now considering Viet Nam initiatives (e.g., the Secretary General, Tito, Shastri or, less desirably, Nasser or Nkrumah). The action taken would be separate and distinct from a possible briefer pause in bombing during a four-day visit to Hanoi by Nkrumah; Quaison-Sackey mentioned the four-day period to me on Saturday morning.2

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If we are to share the credit with anyone (i.e., by responding to an appeal), the best choice would be the Secretary General. He has urged on us previously an appeal for a cessation of hostilities; by responding to an appeal from him, we would thereby reaffirm our support of the UN and tend to keep it in the picture. It would be a logical follow up to your letter of July 28 asking the SYG to play a role.3 It would arm him with the means to probe the other side. This would facilitate a subsequent move on our part to involve the UN in the role of supervising or policing a negotiated settlement. Rejection by Hanoi of an appeal from the Secretary General would do more damage to the Communists' international position than would their rejection of a unilateral US declaration.

2.
Private Message. An alternative to responding to an outside appeal would be a private message to Hanoi indicating that we would stop bombing for a reasonable period if it is prepared to enter into unconditional negotiations for a peaceful settlement. While a private message would deprive us at the outset of public credit for an important peace initiative, our initiative would ultimately become public knowledge, whether or not it had succeeded. Hanoi might find it easier to respond affirmatively to such a private message than to an appeal from, say, the Secretary General. It would not require Hanoi to respond publicly—and any public response would entail Hanoi's eating a certain amount of crow in the eyes of its domestic and foreign audiences; rather, it could respond through private, concrete actions which would demonstrate its desire to move toward negotiations.

Whether it is decided to implement a limited pause in air strikes through a third-party intermediary or a direct private message to Hanoi, it will be necessary to emphasize the following points:

That the pause is a genuine effort to facilitate negotiations and reduce the dangers of escalation;

That a response must come from Hanoi within a reasonable time;

That we are ready to discuss a general cease-fire involving mutual concessions as a first item in the negotiations;

But that we are serious in our intention to resume the aerial attacks if there is no forthcoming response from Hanoi.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXXIII, Cables. Secret. Goldberg sent this memorandum to the President on August 9, under cover of a letter in which he represented it as describing “how I believe a pause in the bombing of North Vietnam might be utilized in support of a mediation effort to determine whether we can get Hanoi to start unconditional discussions.” He noted that he had also sent copies of the memorandum to Rusk and McNamara, and he offered to discuss it with the President at his convenience. (Ibid.)
  2. August 7.
  3. See footnote 8, Document 99.