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

7630. Ref: A. Saigon 7243;2 B. State 23182;3 C. State 52726;4 D. State 52727.5

I met Thieu, Ky and Tran Van Do Oct 3 in long and frank session which revealed much of South Vietnamese thinking on peaceful settlement and national reconciliation issues.
After agreement on the agenda to be followed, and using an outline similar to that in Saigon 7243, we went down the list point by point on the objectives, guarantees, and components of satisfactory outcome [Page 693] to the war, the methods of reaching a settlement, and finally the approach to a national reconciliation program. I pointed out that these were ideas for discussion and for illustrative purposes and were not to be considered official positions.


In response to my question on their views regarding the three basic objectives (sovereignty of GVN to be intact, territorial limits of SVN to be intact, and system of guarantees), Tran Van Do and Ky emphasized that they were concerned with guarantees, specifically whether the US intended to keep its troops in SVN as one of the principal guarantees. They wished to know what kind of guarantees are envisaged and how control can be exercised in practice during critical period of withdrawal of NVA and VC as well as by US troops. Thieu asked what kind of procedures would be followed and how would timing be determined with respect to a so-called “cease-fire.” He asked would we accept a “cease-fire” when we all start to talk with the VC? Their concern was with defining the system of control, the machinery to be used prior to any agreement to withdraw.
I replied that I was authorized to state that the US will not withdraw our troops before security is assured or GVN is able to cope with terrorism or while the VC infrastructure remains intact; SVN would not be left without protection. In addition, there are other forms of possible guarantees such as multilateral commitments, expanded ICC, and bilateral pledges. The question of a “cease-fire” depends on definition; a “cease-fire” means something different to Hanoi than to US and we can say at present only that it would be part of a general package or settlement—a point for negotiation, not an end in itself to be agreed to separately at the outset. We were aware that terrorists often did not use firearms and that a conventional “cease-fire” might have very little relevance for the main source of aggression, i.e., terrorism.
Tran Van Do inquired if it would be useful and possible to obtain a multilateral commitment from the impending seven nation conference. Although all the participants have given evidence of support, what does the US think of a general pact to provide a specific international guarantee? The basis of the US commitment is also not entirely clear. Do said a formal guarantee of mutual security would broaden support so that in the future the US would not have to initiate aid alone and then persuade others to join in. Thieu said they wished a broader international commitment than that provided by SEATO, which, Do noted, is an obligation for separate bilateral commitments. They wish an international obligation which commits an entire group of nations to the security of each member. This would not, Do said, be aimed just at SVN, but would be for the benefit of all SEA nations, any one of which may be threatened at some future [Page 694] date. It would do what it had been intended for SEATO to do. Could this be raised at the seven nation conference? Do asked.

I replied that I would report their views to Washington; the question of a multilateral committee [commitment?] is significant. I noted that there had been discussion [garble].

On the US commitment, I pointed out that in addition to the SEATO protocol authority, the US Congress had, after the Tonkin Bay incident, authorized the President to undertake broad military assistance to SVN; this was a legal commitment as far as the US alone was concerned. As for discussion of a mutual security arrangement at the seven nation meeting, it is obviously something which could be discussed.

Components of a Satisfactory Outcome

When we reached this item, I simply read the title and then paused, saying that I would very much like to hear their views on what they considered the specifics of a satisfactory outcome—or to put it in French terms, an acceptable result. They looked at each other and then said that they would like to hear what I thought the elements were. I then, making it clear that I was not making an official proposal on behalf of the US Government, but was merely proposing personal ideas for illustrative purposes, went through the following points:
Cessation of aggression—by ending “military” hostilities. GVN comment: This met with no objection.
Cessation of aggression—by “criminal” (terroristic) hostilities. This meant an end to the terrorist organization, to what is sometimes called the infrastructure. GVN comment: At this point Ky said the terrorist organization would have to be “dissolved.” It would be understood, I said, that after the satisfactory outcome had been reached, any new case of assassination, torture, or kidnapping, or of recruiting or impressment, or of sabotage for subversive reasons would be justification for immediate retaliation.
Departure of hardcore Viet Cong officer personnel. GVN comment: Ky said, yes, but they would have to leave within a certain time limit.
Reintegration of rank and file Viet Cong.
GVN comment: Ky pointed out that this depended on the Chieu Hoi program.
Thieu stated that departure of the North Vietnamese Army by a time limit is not difficult, but for the village Viet Cong infrastructure, it is another problem. If local members of the Viet Cong organization do not choose to go North or join the GVN after a specific time, the GVN would consider them rebels and take action to eliminate them.
I agreed that an intensified Chieu Hoi effort was most desirable and that a time limit would have to be imposed. The destruction of the [Page 695] Viet Cong infrastructure was clearly a matter for police-type action. No government can be denied police powers, and I was glad to see that in that connection steps are being taken to train some ARVN troops in constabulary work. Thieu agreed.
Tran Van Do asked how in practice infiltration could be really halted. Supposing Hanoi should agree to withdraw and take out many troops, they can still leave many thousands behind and resume infiltration at a later date. The Americans, however, would have stopped their strikes and ground operations. How then could we be able to control the ground and prevent infiltration across the border?
Thieu said they had been thinking of constructing a surveillance system all along the border. Ky said that he wished to discuss this problem further with us. He was examining it carefully and was having a study made on a system of border outposts, of the question of troop roles and missions for all forces in South Viet-Nam on border control, counter-terror efforts, security, etc. I said that I had not realized that control of infiltration across these frightful jungles was a possible thing to do, physically. They assured me that it was and that it was entirely a question of whether one wanted to do it. They indicated a desire to bring this up with Secretary McNamara during his forthcoming visit.
Departure of North Vietnamese Army. (Comment on this just covered above.)
Stopping infiltration of men and supplies. (Covered above.)
All roads to be open to the ARVN; new roadblocks or blown bridges or re-establishment of underground redoubts would justify retaliation. (They all agreed.)
Viet Cong to disarm, give up explosives and weapons. (They agreed.)
North Viet-Nam to stop direction of Viet Cong. (Agreed.)
Staged withdrawal of free world forces. (Covered above.)
Supervision and guarantee of the actions listed. (Covered above.)
Peace talks not to be dragged on for a long period unless tangible results have been and are being achieved. (They agreed.) The methods to achieve objectives.
I went over each of the eight alternative methods, from tacit cessation of hostilities through a full multilateral conference, any of which might singly or in combination lead to a settlement, pointing out that we favored no particular one but that they should all be reviewed for planning purposes.
Thieu asked for our frank views on whether or not the US would agree to a new Geneva conference with the original participants. Tran Van Do asserted that “we do not know precisely what we want, but we [Page 696] know we do not want another Geneva conference.” Ky said that for their part the best place for a new conference would be Tokyo. “We will have nothing to do with Geneva. Nor will we ever sit down with France.” A cease-fire agreement now is 180 degrees different than it was in 1954, he stated, and the participants are now different, so why go back to Geneva or accept the same participants? Ky referred to Vice President Humphreyʼs statements that this war is an Asian problem and should be solved by Asian nations. Those involved number just about every nation in the area except Japan, and Japan, he pointed out, will not be attending the seven nation conference. The main point, Thieu said, is that SVN must not be committed beforehand to going back to Geneva. Thieu asked what nations might attend a Geneva conference?
We explained that the US has publicly stated it is prepared to go back to Geneva, that although we might prefer an Asian setting, we are always prepared to negotiate at any place, and that SVN has also agreed to this. Participation can be discussed and changed to comprise those countries with a legitimate interest in the war. We have not said that readiness to use a Geneva conference meant that we must reach agreement “in accordance with” the 1954 agreements, but rather “on the basis of.” The important point is that we must both be always prepared to negotiate. As for an Asian conference, our acceptance of the Thanat proposal was evidence of our approval of the idea. Although we are in favor of such a conference, we cannot also refuse a Geneva conference. I told them I took note, however, of their strong opposition to any full scale multilateral negotiations using the Geneva conference format and their opposition to the inclusion of France.
Ky agreed that many combinations of nations, excluding of course, France, could be acceptable. He said in this regard that the GVN thought too much attention was focused on Hanoi and Washington and that Peking, Moscow and Saigon were often not mentioned. Reports should equate Saigon to Hanoi, and Washington to Peking and Moscow so that the roles of the latter are not forgotten. Ky then took up the point of including the VC in negotiations. “We cannot accept any conference with the VC, we cannot sit down with the VC,” he said. He reiterated several times that the GVN must not go to a table where the presence of the VC is required; that any equating of Saigon with the VC is unacceptable.
It was explained that the issue is not one of sitting down at a conference, but of communicating with the VC to arrange a cease-fire. The VC would in no case be granted status as a sovereign equal, but as an internal Vietnamese problem. In the matter of reaching a settlement the enemy should be dealt with in alternative ways: externally, with Hanoi, as one channel, and internally with the VC as the other. It might be possible to handle the VC in one way and Hanoi in another.
Ky then switched to the possibility of a drawn-out tacit cessation of GVN-VC hostilities with a staged reduction of GVN-US military operations. He said he did not see how we Americans would have time to accept a “fade-away” solution, although he personally favored such a solution and he thought Hanoi would, too. It would mean fewer casualties, but he believed we were in too much of a hurry to make this acceptable to us. He feared that prolonged war of this nature would find US public opinion unprepared for the continued employment of US troops in what would be a purely guerrilla-type, terroristic war even though casualties would be light. He thought it possible that the VC might accept this option, but the US might have considerable difficulties. The fade-away of the Communists in Malaya, in this regard, is not comparable, Ky pointed out. Malaya did not have an active sanctuary behind the rebels. The point, according to Ky, is that SVN could accept a “fade-away” cessation only if it has a system of border guarantees. Even if NVN withdraws its troops from SVN, Ky strongly emphasized, a system of concrete guarantees will still be imperative.
We noted that the VC may very well opt for a tacit cessation, and this might be better for the US and GVN, but a system of guarantees was, of course, still required.
Ky said he preferred two systems of guarantees: first, an international commitment as discussed earlier for external threats, and second, a strong system of border protection against support of subversion. If it is decided after thorough study that we can establish a line of border outposts which will provide protection, then, Ky said, he believed the best option would be for all concerned to reach a secret agreement with the VC. We could afford it then, he said, but must exclude NVN. Tran Van Do supported the same doubts [re?] guarantee approach: an internal sealing off of the border by police efforts plus a broad international military commitment. Ky said that the actual number of geographical routes for infiltration in the air and on the ground into SVN are not numerous. It is possible to seal them off physically.
Concerning US–NVN negotiations, Ky said he did not believe that Hanoi would ever sit down with the US. To do so would contradict all its propaganda and destroy the peopleʼs belief in what the government has said. This is a Vietnamese reaction, and Hanoi cannot afford to accept it, which poses a real problem if it does want to consider negotiations. NVN has also never admitted its military presence in the South; to deal with the US would be an acknowledgement of this. Ky said he frankly believes that when Hanoi finally reaches the conclusion that it cannot win the war, they will simply withdraw their troops and cease active military operations for a period of years, leaving the GVN to cope with a revived VC at some later date. The VC, Ky said, if they decide to negotiate with the US, must, therefore, do it secretly. What they are really [Page 698] interested in, Thieu said, will be “la monnaie de change”—the chips to use in the poker game. In this case our best chips in NVN are our bombing, and our best chips in SVN will have to be our threat to the guerrilla infrastructure—when we have it.

National Reconciliation

I read through an outline drawn from State telegrams 23182, 52726, and 52727, noting the possibility of an amnesty proclamation on Nov 1.
Ky replied that the timing appeared to him to be premature. This is important since poor timing of an appeal could adversely affect the morale of the South Vietnamese troops who would see their enemies being accepted back before they were defeated. This could pretty well eliminate their fighting capacity.
Thieu, however, said he was planning a speech for November 1 which would be the kind of plea which we desire. I left with them a memorandum covering the proposal and they agreed to consider its applicability for the November 1 speech.
Ky said the govt can help itself by effectively helping the victims of the present floods in the Delta. A program is being launched by Social Welfare Commissioner Tran Ngoc Lieng to provide materials and assistance to build new houses upon stilts in flood areas. These would be permanent alterations since the floods recur annually, and houses on stilts would eliminate need for evacuations. The people are enthusiastic about the program, but it will take more time.
A further consideration to hold off on a proclamation is to allow successful dry-season operations to have full effect. We are agreed in principle, Tran Van Do said, on the idea of appeal, but it should be delayed until after the flood problem is resolved and the government has been able to demonstrate its authority and responsiveness to the people.
The flood alleviation concept is sound, I agreed, and said I would get USAID to provide what it could to help the program in addition to the food distribution program now underway. This is an area where the VC cannot be of any help to the people, thereby offering the government a useful opportunity. I asked their views on the Chieu Hoi program, saying I had been disappointed that the highly successful elections had had no effect on it.
Thieu replied that over the years Chieu Hoi has not had a powerful appeal. The enemy tends to wait things out, to sit back and see how actual conditions develop rather than respond to governmental appeals. What is needed is a dramatic gesture to get momentum started, backed by better organization. All agreed on the importance of improving the Chieu Hoi effort.
The meeting ended with mutual agreement that it had been extremely useful and that we would meet again in about six days.
Comments: One aspect of the positions taken by Thieu, Ky and Do deserves special mention. Those positions reflect a continuing fragility in the political structure in Viet-Nam, despite the substantial success of recent months. This lies behind some of the caution with which they approach the problem of negotiations, as well as the caution with which they approach other problems. We are still greatly concerned, as we have been for some time, with the importance of maintaining governmental stability in Saigon. The unity of military leadership is always precarious, given the rivalries that exist. Even self-assured people like Thieu and Ky recognize limits on how far and how fast they can move on any question—whether negotiations or the fight against corruption. I believe they responded well to our presentation, particularly to the dealing with amnesty and a reconciliation proclamation of November 1. On other items they were more cautious. They recognize something which I have mentioned before—namely, that there is a pace at which things can be made to move here. If we or they exceed that pace too greatly, then there is a danger of reaction and instability despite the best of intentions. This needs to be taken in particular account when dealing with a subject so replete with potential pitfalls as negotiations and contacts with the Viet Cong.
Please let us have your views on Tran Van Doʼs proposal that the seven nation conference make some sort of a multilateral mutual security commitment.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis. The source text does not indicate the time of transmission; the telegram was received at 9:08 a.m.
  2. In telegram 7243, September 29, Lodge transmitted a proposed outline for the discussion summarized in this telegram. (Ibid.)
  3. Document 203.
  4. Telegram 52726, September 22, discussed national reconciliation, contacts between the GVN and the Viet Cong, and the encouragement of Viet Cong defections. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  5. Telegram 52727, September 22, transmitted a draft speech on national reconciliation for Ky. (Ibid.)