25. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1
1745. 1. Although we have prodded Sov Embassy here on possible significance Shastri report that Kosygin suggested to him you make direct contact with DRV Ambassador Moscow, we have had no response.2 In meantime, there are some indications Hanoi may try make propaganda capital by claiming no direct substantive contact was made by US with DRV during current diplomatic activity and pause. On balance, we have therefore concluded that you should seek to make such direct contact and to carry out instructions below.
2. You should send message to DRV Ambassador that you wish direct conversations.3 You should suggest meeting in some inconspicuous location that would not come to notice of press, since you assume that they would not wish contact to become publicly known. (We virtually assume Sovs will learn of it.) We leave to your judgment place of meeting and would not want possibility of meeting to break down on this issue, so that you are authorized to meet at place DRV representative may suggest if he accepts. Please inform us immediately his reaction.
3. In event meeting is arranged, you should conduct substance of conversation along following lines:
- USG suspended bombing of DRV on December 24 and as DRV knows, notified DRV officially of this in Rangoon on Dec. 29. As was made clear in that message, suspension might continue for limited period in absence of major provocation, and further extension would depend on response and action from DRV. Since suspension X days have elapsed and we have had no indication of Hanoi response.
- DRV rep may take line that suspension amounts to ultimatum or propaganda prelude to increased US actions. You should counter by saying that it should be considered rather as opportunity and responsive to repeated suggestions by Hanoi itself and others that suspension of bombing might create conditions in which moves could be made toward [Page 71] peaceful solution. This is basic and serious purpose of US in taking suspension action. It is in no sense ultimatum. If pressed as to actions US will take in absence of response, you should say that, in face of continued DRV military actions such as introduction of regular forces, US will of course have to take necessary military actions to continue assisting SVN toward objectives thoroughly defined in our statements of position. This is simple statement of fact, not ultimatum, and does not change basic USG view that suspension constitutes opportunity for responsive action by Hanoi.
You should then go on to say that there seemed to you to be two possible purposes to be served by direct conversation between USG and DRV. One would be to explore possibility of reciprocal reductions of hostilities (not cease-fire). As we have repeatedly said, we could continue suspension if there were significant reciprocal actions by DRV. At same time, we have recognized difficulty DRV might see in admitting that it had ceased these actions or that it was responsible for action in South to degree to which we believe it to be the case. Direct contact could provide opportunity for private and confidential indication by DRV of actions it was taking, so that these would be fully understood by USG and appropriate action taken on US and GVN side. Does DRV rep wish to use contact for this purpose?
In making this point, you should initially not indicate what types of actions we have in mind. You should however indicate that since bombing was suspended we have had evidence that supply activity through Laos is continuing at substantial rate and that there has been high incident rate in South but low level of large-scale attacks. In the absence of contrary indication, we must conclude that DRV is continuing infiltration on substantial scale, and that level of activity in South is normal fluctuation. If DRV rep pursues subject, you could indicate that “significant reciprocal actions” could relate to sending of men and equipment from DRV to South, level of military activity and terrorism in South, and withdrawal of regular DRV military units in South in particular. However, we do not wish to get too specific except to leave clearly in record our present reading of military actions, and invite their comment.
- Unless answer indicates desire to pursue this topic, you should go on to say that second possible purpose in direct contact might be to explore conditions under which more formal negotiation might take place. This would be appropriate point, if you have not already done so, to hand over copies of Viet-Nam portion of State of Union address,4 fourteen points5 and Goldberg letter of Jan. 4 to U Thant,6 which you might [Page 72] run over briefly touching on point relating to economic aid which might include DRV in conditions of peace. You would then go on that, as to conditions for negotiation, USG has repeatedly made clear it would be prepared for negotiations either without conditions or on basis Geneva Accords of 1954. However, USG has interpreted Hanoi position, both public and private, as insisting on prior acceptance by USG of Hanoi four points7 as basis for negotiation, and perhaps also even withdrawal of US forces prior to any negotiation. USG has also understood Hanoi to be insisting that NLF be recognized as sole representative of SVN or at least as independent party. USG has interpreted these Hanoi positions as amounting in effect to prior conditions before negotiation. Is this understanding of past Hanoi position correct, and if so, what would DRV rep now suggest to remove obstacles?
4. Second point would probably lead to general discussion of Hanoi and US positions, in which you should deal with possible points that might arise as follows:
- Four points. USG has no serious difficulty with first two points as basis for negotiation, provided it clearly understood that all elements introduced by DRV will be considered as foreign forces in SVN, and subject to withdrawal. As to fourth point concerning reunification, USG has no difficulty in envisaging reunification by peaceful means but would prefer formulation that specifically called for free popular determination (elections) in both North and South under international supervision to be agreed upon by the governments of North and South, as basis for eventual resolution of question of reunification. This we believe to be true meaning of Geneva Accords, as well as consistent with best answer to this and similar problems as in Germany and Korea. In sum, US regards differences as not serious on first, second, and fourth points. Real US problem is and has always been Hanoiʼs third point, which we interpret to mean insistence on immediate NLF major and probably dominant role in coalition government that would replace present government in Saigon, prior to any election process. This would be imposed and arbitrary solution which we cannot accept in principle as basis of negotiations and for which we see no warrant in Geneva Accords. Of course Hanoi would be free in any negotiations to put forward this, rest of four points, or any proposal it wished, and USG would of course discuss such points if raised, along with its own points. If Hanoi insists that its four points, especially the third, are authentic interpretations of Geneva Accords, then solution might be to base discussions or negotiations on Geneva Accords and argue in negotiations about valid interpretations.
- NLF representation. USG does not regard NLF as independent entity, but as created and in last analysis controlled by DRV. This point aside, USG cannot regard NLF, even in SVN terms, as representing more than one interest group within SVN. Most basically, whole USG concern in SVN arises from DRV role, and this can only be discussed and negotiated with DRV itself. At same time, USG in President Johnsonʼs State of Union message and statement of July 288 (repeated in point 13) suggested that ways might be found for NLF to be represented and to pre-sent its views. We would be interested in any suggestions DRV might have along these lines.
- Negotiating forum. USG would accept Geneva Conference of those nations represented in 1954, or any appropriate grouping of governments having major concerns with issue.
- US withdrawal. As indicated in discussion of Hanoiʼs first point, we are prepared envisage US withdrawal as soon as DRV role itself eliminated. However, any insistence on prior US withdrawal is obviously unrealistic, and we have understood some private Hanoi messages to mean that DRV does not thus insist. Could DRV confirm this or clarify its governmentʼs position?
5. If discussion becomes deeply involved in nature and meaning of four points, you could say that there was third possible basis of negotiations in addition to our suggestions of unconditional negotiations or negotiations on basis of Geneva Accords. This would be to frame four-point declaration following subject matter of Hanoiʼs four points but stating third and fourth points somewhat differently to meet our objections. Acceptance of such formula would be minimum change from apparent present DRV position, and might create acceptable common basis. If DRV rep were interested, we have possible text such formulation which could be subject further discussion.
6. Other than as elaborated above, you should stick closely to State of Union message, fourteen points, Goldberg letter, and related previous US statements. As indicated, you should in any event indicate that you will report Hanoi views promptly to USG and will await further instructions with view to further early contact, if desired.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Pinta. Drafted by William Bundy, cleared by Thompson, and approved by Ball. Repeated to the White House.↩
- In telegram 1781 to Moscow, January 20, the Department relayed the Soviet Embassyʼs response: Kosygin had told Shastri on January 4 that if the United States was sincerely interested in peace it could seek direct contact with DRV representatives, but Kosygin did not recommend any specific place. (Ibid.)↩
- In telegram 2228 from Moscow, January 18, Kohler reported that the DRV Ambassador was not in Moscow and he proposed meeting with the DRV Charge instead. The Department concurred in telegram 1756 to Moscow, January 18. (Both ibid.)↩
- See footnote 3, Document 19.↩
- See footnote 8, Document 2.↩
- For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, pp. 744–746.↩
- For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. II, pp. 544–545.↩
- For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, Book II, p. 803.↩