98. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Mai Van Bo Conversation with Urah Arkas-Duntov


  • Mr. Urah Arkas-Duntov, Dreyfus Fund, New York
  • Under Secretary of State Ball
  • Mr. William P. Bundy, Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Mr. David Dean, Deputy Director for Asian Communist Affairs
  • Mr. Allen Whiting, Director, INR/RFE


Mr. Duntov was interested in ascertaining the North Vietnamese attitudes and position because of the effect the Vietnamese situation has on Dreyfus’ investments, and through M. Parisot, Foreign Editor of “France Soir,” arranged to see Nguyen Van Chi in Paris in early May. Dissatisfied with the lack of substance in this contact, however, he asked M. Parisot to get him an interview with Mai Van Bo. This interview was arranged with little less than a week’s notice.

Mr. Duntov stated that he had had a two-hour conversation with Mai Van Bo in Paris on the evening of July 16, 1965. Also present were M. Parisot and Elli Maissi, the UPI diplomatic correspondent in Paris. Mai Van Bo explicitly asked that the conversation be regarded as confidential, but he assented when Mr. Duntov asked if he might pass the substance of the conversation to friends in Washington.

Duntov gave Mai Van Bo an explanation of the Dreyfus Fund and of the necessity for keeping abreast of political and economic developments.

Conversation almost immediately focused on the Viet-Nam situation. The following points were raised and discussed:

Hanoi’s Attitude toward Negotiations. Duntov asked why Hanoi would not negotiate. Bo responded that Hanoi did want to negotiate, [Page 275] and that there were ample contacts in which negotiations might take place. However, there must first be a basis for negotiations. Bo first said that the proper basis would be the Geneva Accords of 1954. He then added that these accords are often misinterpreted and misquoted, and that the true interpretation is found in the Four Points laid out by Pham Van Dong. Thus these formed the proper basis for negotiations.

Unification of Viet-Nam. Bo stressed very strongly that Viet-Nam is one country and cannot be divided. When asked whether the US had not made clear its willingness to negotiate unconditionally, Bo replied that the President’s Baltimore speech of April 7 was a trap, and that the President was really laying down conditions by his insistence on the necessity of an independent South Viet-Nam and guarantees for such a South Viet-Nam.

One of the participants asked Bo whether his position was not in conflict with statements by the National Liberation Front to the effect that the Front favored an independent South Viet-Nam. Bo seemed somewhat taken aback by this question, but recovered and said that this would be all right, since an “independent” government in South Viet-Nam would in fact decide to join the north.

Internal Solution in South Viet-Nam. Bo insisted, somewhat emotionally, that there was one basic premise, self-determination by the South Vietnamese people, and that if this was accepted, a solution was possible. He referred at different times to the phrase, “self-determination,” and to the Liberation Front program for the South (insistence on which, of course, is the third of Pham Van Dong’s Four Points). In referring to “self-determination,” Bo explained that, if this principle was recognized, an independent government could be formed. However, he went on to say that no “traitor” could be included, apparently meaning by this that at least the present South Vietnamese military leaders would be excluded.
Withdrawal of US Forces. Bo was asked what time schedule would be required—in the event of an agreement for an independent South Viet-Nam—on the withdrawal of US forces. Bo replied that this was no problem and that it was a technical detail that could be worked out as it had been with the French in 1954. The withdrawal could be discussed and could take place over a two-or three-year period. Bo related US withdrawal clearly, however, to acceptance of the principles he had laid down for “independence” and “self-determination” in South Viet-Nam.
Cease-fire or Cessation in Bombings. Bo mentioned the bombings of the North only in passing and with mild reproof. He gave no indication that a cessation of bombing was required before there could be discussions.

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The position taken by Bo in this conversation appears to be consistent with the latest statements from Hanoi, notably an article on July 16.2 Bo appeared to be quite firm that there must be an agreed basis for discussions, and that this must be the Four Points. Although he persisted in using the phrase “self-determination” to describe the solution within South Viet-Nam, his parallel references to the Liberation Front program seemed to state that Hanoi would still insist that we accept in advance the principle that the Liberation Front be admitted to a coalition government (the core of the Front “program”). His reference to the exclusion of “traitors” also seems to point to a government that would be weighted in favor of the Liberation Front.
In clearly not insisting on prior withdrawal of US forces before any discussions, and in avoiding mention of a cessation of bombings as a pre-condition, Bo was also consistent with the Hanoi July 16 statement.
Bo’s great stress on the necessity for a unified Viet-Nam, and his failure to note the US reference to this subject in Secretary Rusk’s speech of June 23,3 suggest that as of the date of the conversation Hanoi was not yet clear what the US position was on reunification. The President’s July 28 statement,4 referring specifically to the possibility of “free elections … throughout Viet-Nam under international supervision,” should make clear to Hanoi what our position is on this point. However, it is clear that Hanoi, in the wording of the Four Points and in Bo’s stress on Viet-Nam being one nation, wishes an agreement that would effectively assume early reunification, and presumably without any holding of elections in the two Viet-Nams to see if the people wanted it. In other words, there remains a difference of substance between us on this point, but it seems doubtful that the US position could now be misunderstood in Hanoi.5
The American source, Duntov, impressed us all as giving an honest and factual account of the conversation. He said that throughout the conversation he asked only clarifying questions and tried to make it clear [Page 277] that he had no message and no standing with the US Government. We were inclined to believe that Bo accepted this although Duntov’s closing request to convey the substance to “friends in Washington” must mean that Bo will know that his views got through to us.
If we were to consider using Duntov for future contacts with Bo, we would be wise to have a security investigation, and we would also have to take account, despite Duntov’s apparent personal discretion, of the fact that he apparently has wide newspaper and other associations who might learn of his approach, even if he did not tell them the substance of his conversation.
  1. Source: Department of State, EA/ACA Files: Lot 69 D 412, Mai Van Bo 1965. Top Secret; Eyes Only. Drafted by Dean and Bundy. Copies were sent to the Department of Defense for McNaughton and to CIA for Colby.
  2. Reference is apparently to the “White Paper” on “US Aggression and Intervention in Vietnam” released by North Vietnam in English on July 16. For text, see United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967, Book 12, Part VI, B, 2, pp. 146-151.
  3. In an address to the American Foreign Service Association, Rusk called for a “free decision by the peoples of North and South Vietnam on the matter of reunification.” For text, see Department of State Bulletin, July 12, 1965, pp. 52-55.
  4. See Document 97.
  5. In a July 30 memorandum to William Bundy, Dean noted that Mai Van Bo appeared to be confused about the U.S. position on the Geneva Accords, unification, and self-determination. He suggested that “we clarify these points to Mai, and in turn give him a list of specific questions about Hanoi’s position.” Dean added that he felt that such a direct approach was necessary to get a firm reading of Hanoi’s position. He felt that the danger of public disclosure of such an approach by a U.S. businessman was slight, in that Mai Van Bo had been discreet in the past. (Department of State, EA/ACA Files: Lot 69 D 412, Mai Van Bo 1965)