30. Memorandum From Chester L. Cooper and James C. Thomson of the National Security Council Staff to the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1

Recognizing that there are already several cooks preparing the soup, but confident that the chef is tolerant, we offer the following.

Notes on a Vietnam Political Track

In this proposal we suggest a three-fold initiative to be undertaken in the next two weeks. It is an initiative designed to probe the intentions of the other side more fully than has previously been attempted, to do so in such a way as to demonstrate our peaceful intent, but yet without undermining our military and political position in Vietnam.

Despite the present unpromising outlook for political discussions, certain factors make the current context more favorable than future conditions might permit. The NLF remains internationally weaker than it will be once it is formally constituted as a government; the US and the USSR have not yet collided militarily in Vietnam—but by design or accident, such a collision will become increasingly likely—and dispassionate Soviet-American discussions less possible—as the conflict escalates; our room for diplomatic maneuver will become narrower as each Viet Cong outrage increases the pressure from the domestic right to retaliate against Hanoi/Haiphong and even Red China.

At worst, the three-fold initiative suggested below will simply further prove the unwillingness of the other side to consider peace terms while their hopes for monsoon victories remain high. As a more favorable result, we may obtain useful new information about the views and [Page 74]calculations of Moscow, Hanoi, and Peking. At best, we might begin the slow process of moving the conflict to a conference table.

The Proposal

We suggest that three separate actions be taken, in a neutral capital (perhaps Algiers or Cairo), in Moscow, and in Washington, within the next fourteen days. The three actions are related, but need not be simultaneous; their timing should be dictated by certain other variables.

1. Neutral Capital Initiative.

Prior to a rescheduled Algiers Conference, the U.S. should make an approach, at the highest level, to three friendly African governments of good international standing (e.g., Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Guinea). We should ask these nations to join together in conveying, on our behalf, a private message to both the DRV and NLF representatives in Algiers or elsewhere.

This message should include:

a statement of U.S. acceptance of Pham Van Dong's four points as one basis for further discussions;
a statement of U.S. acceptance of Tran Van Do's peace proposals as another basis for further discussions;
an offer to send U.S. officials to meet with DRV representatives secretly at any place of their choosing for informal discussions of both sets of proposals as possible bases for more formal negotiations;
a proposal for a de facto cease-fire to be observed by both sides once these discussions are underway;
a proposal that if these discussions show any promise, they should be enlarged to include representatives from the GVN and the NLF;
a hope that agreement might be reached that would permit the convening of a Geneva-type conference.

2. Moscow Initiative.

A high-level U.S. official—ideally Averell Harriman—should be sent to Moscow, either without publicity or on some other pretext, in order to talk directly with Kosygin and others about Vietnam.2 (Although the Gromyko channel has not proved promising, our efforts should not stop with him.)

Our emissary should clearly state (a) our determination to do whatever is necessary, regardless of the consequences, to keep South Vietnam from going Communist; (b) our view that our national prestige is inextricably tied to a non-Communist outcome in the South; (c) our concern that the actions of the VC, the DRV, and Peking may permanently damage our relations with the USSR and seriously threaten world peace; (d) our awareness of the considerable stakes that all parties, including the [Page 75]USSR, have in the conflict; (e) our willingness to consider face-saving compromises for a peaceful solution as long as the compromises left South Vietnam intact as a non-Communist state; (f) our interest in seeing the USSR play a peace-maker role—and get the credit—if necessary.

The emissary should tell the Soviets of our initiative with the neutral states. He should ask for Kosygin's personal views on an urgent basis, to be transmitted back to the President.

3. Washington Initiative.

On the basis of the outcome of the Moscow conversation, or perhaps in conjunction with both the Moscow and Neutral initiative, the President should authorize a 7-10 day pause in our air strikes against North Vietnam.

The fact of this pause should be communicated to both the Soviets and the Neutrals. Public announcement by the White House should probably be avoided, however, so that we can retaliate if necessary against unusual spectaculars—and reinstitute the air strikes routinely if the initiatives produce no results.

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  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXXV. Secret.
  2. We recognize that this is already under consideration. [Footnote in the source text.]