300. Memorandum of Meeting1


  • W. Averell Harriman
  • Eugene Rostow
  • William P. Bundy
  • Joseph J. Sisco
  • John Roche
  • Thomas Hughes
  • Leonard Unger
  • Benjamin H. Read
  • Richard Steadman
  • Chester L. Cooper
  • Monteagle Stearns
  • Frank Sieverts
  • Daniel Davidson

1. Manila Conference

Governor Harriman opened the meeting by summing up reactions to the Manila Conference in the countries he had visited.2 He believed that the reaction to the Manila Communique had been favorable. The emphasis placed at Manila on our limited objectives, agreement to withdraw troops promptly after aggression had ceased and on finding a peaceful settlement had provided convincing evidence of our desire to negotiate. The sections of the Communique dealing with elections and with national reconciliation were also important. We had to recognize that Ky was regarded as an American stooge in most of the non-aligned Asian countries and in Europe. The Governor believed that we must persevere in our efforts to encourage the development of a government in Saigon with legitimate roots. We should follow constitutional developments closely and not permit the GVN to draft a constitution which would bely the promises of national reconciliation contained in the Communique.

The Governor observed that the government leaders with whom he had talked on his trip had been virtually unanimous in wanting us to stop the bombing of North Vietnam. The Governor had made plain that this could not be done without reciprocal action by Hanoi. Many non-aligned Asians and Europeans believed, however, that the United States could afford to take the first step toward de-escalation. They wanted to [Page 821] see talks get underway, believed that this would not happen as long as the bombing continued but gave no evidence for this conclusion.

Mr. Rostow asked the Governor about his talk with Couve. The Governor said that he had told Couve that DeGaulleʼs speech in Phnom Penh3 had simply made Hanoi more intransigent. Couve had not denied this and the Governor said that he seemed to gloat over the fact that DeGaulle was making life uncomfortable for us. The Governor said that he would review the memorandum of conversation with Couve4 to see whether any elaboration was desirable.

2. George Brown and DʼOrlandi

The Governor said that the group should consider what guidance could be provided to George Brown before his trip to Moscow. We should also see what could be given to Italian Ambassador DʼOrlandi when he returned to Saigon. It might be useful, for example, to spell out with greater clarity what we mean by reciprocal action by Hanoi.

Mr. Cooper said that he and the Governor had met Ambassador DʼOrlandi at the Fanfani luncheon in Rome.5 He was returning to Saigon almost immediately and would be seeing his contact soon after he arrived. DʼOrlandi had told Mr. Cooper that his contact expected to leave soon for Hanoi. Mr. Cooper suggested that DʼOrlandi persuade him to postpone his trip a few days. This would give us time to pass to DʼOrlandi through Ambassador Lodge any information that we wished him to convey to his contact. Governor Harriman noted that he had been impressed by DʼOrlandiʼs evident sincerity. His health was bad and he had explained to the Governor that he would not be returning to Saigon if he did not believe that he could contribute to the task of getting negotiations started. While DʼOrlandi might not be the most direct or authoritative channel to Hanoi available to us the Governor throught that we should not shut it off.

Mr. Bundy observed that George Brown was somewhat nearer the heart of things than DʼOrlandi and his contact. Consequently, he thought that we should concentrate on what we could give to Brown. Mr. Unger recalled that we had made a specific proposal for de-escalation in the DMZ to DʼOrlandiʼs contact not long ago. Nothing had come of this. In [Page 822] fact, we had no firm evidence that DʼOrlandiʼs contact was operating under instructions from his government. Mr. Cooper said that he had asked DʼOrlandi about this and the Ambassador had stated that he was convinced that his contact had specific instructions not only from his own government but from Moscow. Mr. Cooper agreed with Mr. Bundy, however, that George Brownʼs talks in Moscow offered better immediate possibilities than the DʼOrlandi channel.

Governor Harriman said that he had promised to give Brown an analysis of last Tuesdayʼs election results in relation to the Vietnamese problem. Brown would then be in a position to disabuse the Soviets of any ideas they might have that the elections had been a repudiation of the Presidentʼs Vietnam policy. He asked what we could tell Brown to clarify what we meant by a “signal” from Hanoi that could lead to a new bombing pause.

Mr. Bundy said that he intended to review the Secretaryʼs talk with Sir Patrick Dean. The criteria were well stated in that memorandum.6 He doubted that we could go much further with George Brown. He had asked Mr. Davidson to work with Mr. Cooper to prepare a draft telegram covering the points that Brown wanted to raise with the Soviet leaders. This paper ought to be ready by Monday.7

Mr. Bundy thought that the question was not only to define what we meant by reciprocal action but also to decide what next steps would have to be taken if Hanoi agreed to some form of de-escalation in exchange for a bombing pause. Mr. Bundy could foresee that if Hanoi took significant reciprocal action and we then suspended the bombing, pressures would quickly build up for us to stop troop re-inforcements as well. Mr. Cooper commented that we should keep in mind that George Brown in his Brighton Speech8 had publicly advocated a formula calling for a bombing pause plus no re-inforcements in exchange for an end to infiltration. Mr. Bundy agreed that ending U.S. troop re-inforcements seemed to figure prominently in Brownʼs thinking and came high on his timetable. Mr. Bundy observed that we had to be careful about how far we went with Brown. We would not want to make substantial concessions before Hanoi was even at the negotiating table. Nevertheless he recognized that we had to give Brown something to contribute to the value of his talks. [Page 823] Though he was not a discreet man he was well intentioned and capable and was a good friend of the U.S.

Governor Harriman thought that further discussion on this point could be deferred until the group could read the paper being drafted by Mr. Davidson and Mr. Cooper. The main thing to keep in mind was that the Soviets continued to be our best hope for getting negotiations underway. They were seriously embarrassed by our bombing of North Vietnam and he thought that they would go to considerable lengths to get the bombing stopped. Furthermore, they were deeply concerned by Chinese Communistsʼ policies and would probably like to see a non-aligned buffer state or states develop in Southeast Asia against Peking. The Soviets wanted to get off the hook in Vietnam and for this reason had a stake in seeing the war ended and negotiations begun.

Mr. Bundy said that he doubted that the Soviets had anything new to say to George Brown about Vietnam. If there were new elements in the Soviet position he thought they would prefer to talk to us about them directly. Mr. Read observed that the Soviets might also be skeptical about Brown as an intermediary in the light of public statements he had made after talking to Gromyko in New York. Governor Harriman said that despite these cautionary factors we should try to make the most of Brownʼs trip to Moscow. The Soviets might be interested in trying out some ideas in their talks with Brown. We should not conclude in advance that nothing constructive would emerge. Furthermore, our relations with the British would suffer a damaging blow if the British government were to conclude that we were not serious about reaching a negotiated settlement in Vietnam. The Governor agreed with Mr. Bundy that we should give Brown enough to work with to satisfy him but obviously should not give away our whole position. We might be able to refer to the concepts that the Secretary had mentioned to Pat Dean and then give Brown some examples of de-escalatory actions that Hanoi could take.

The Governor thought that it would also be useful for Brown to point out to the Soviet leaders that the Manila Communiqueʼs reference to withdrawal of allied forces from South Vietnam within 6 months of the time that North Vietnam had withdrawn its forces was directly responsive to Gromykoʼs request for public clarification of our intention not to remain permanently in Vietnam. Mr. Bundy observed that this point had already been made by Ambassador Thompson to Ambassador Dobrynin but he agreed that it would also be useful for Brown to cover this ground.

Mr. Davidson noted that Brown had requested any information that we could provide on the role we envisaged for the NLF/VC in negotiations. Mr. Bundy thought that the Soviets were less interested in this point than in stopping the bombing. In his conversation with Soviet Counselor Zinchuk before the Manila Conference this was one aspect of [Page 824] the Vietnamese problem that Zinchuk did not explore. Mr. Bundy doubted that it was either practical or necessary to give Brown much in the way of clarification of this point.

Mr. Rostow noted that the Secretary had mentioned to him a recent telegram9 in which the Soviets were reported to be telling Hanoi that the principal points at issue in Vietnam were the bombing of North Vietnam on the one hand and the presence of North Vietnamese troops in the South on the other. If this was an accurate report it implied that the Soviets were trying to narrow the areas of disagreement. Governor Harriman said that other reports indicated that the Soviets wanted assurances about what the future of the NLF/VC would be if the conflict ended in Vietnam. He believed personally, however, that the principal Soviet objective was to stop the bombing.

Mr. Unger said that it was possible that the Soviets would raise with Brown the question of the Geneva Accords and the fact that the Manila Communique did not specifically re-affirm their validity as a basis for settlement. He thought it might be useful to touch on this point when we communicated with Brown.

Mr. Rostow wondered whether it would be worthwhile for Brown to discuss with the Soviet leaders the idea of stationing neutral troops in the DMZ. Mr. Cooper doubted that the time was right for this proposal. Mr. Unger commented that this was an idea that we had proposed originally but had never pressed because it presented a number of practical problems of implementation. In the first place it was hard to imagine the ICC as now constituted giving its approval to the proposal. It was also difficult to think of any neutral powers which would be willing to contribute troops. Finally, the proposal raised some tough military problems. Despite these considerations Mr. Unger could see no harm in Brown discussing the proposal with the Soviets. In fact, the subject could logically follow from whatever discussion Brown planned to have on the general subject of the ICC. It was decided that Mr. Cooper and Mr. Davidson would consider whether it was feasible to include some mention of the proposal in the package being prepared for Brown.

In closing the discussion of George Brownʼs trip the Governor said that after we had prepared the material for Brown we should see what morsels could be given to DʼOrlandi. He repeated that he had been personally impressed by DʼOrlandi and believed that we should give him some encouragement.

3. National Reconciliation and Constitution

Governor Harriman said that he was disturbed by indications that the new Vietnamese constitution would have a clause excluding “communists [Page 825] and neutralists”. We must assure that the constitution was not inconsistent with the principle of national reconciliation. Mr. Bundy thought that our first objective should be to obtain from Ky and Thieu a strong statement on national reconciliation. The reporting from Saigon10 indicated that the GVN was now pointing to December to kick off their amnesty and reconciliation program. The wording of the constitution might present problems, as the wording of the electoral law had presented problems. But in Mr. Bundyʼs mind the first order of business should be to get the GVN firmly and publicly committed to the principle of national reconciliation.

Mr. Roche recalled that we had been caught short on the electoral law. He thought it might be risky to delay putting pressure on the GVN for the kind of constitution we could support. Mr. Unger agreed that it would be useful to flag the issue now so that the Embassy would have no doubts about our attitude.

Governor Harriman said that he tended to agree with Mr. Bundy that we should concentrate on the national reconciliation program as a first priority. He recalled that he had told the Indians and others that the GVN would announce a program of national reconciliation on November 1. This had been done. We had to hold the GVN to its new schedule so that an effective program would be announced and would get under way in December. Mr. Roche commented that it was easy to get the Vietnamese to agree to anything in principle. The real problem would be in getting them to follow through with an effective program. The Governor asked Mr. Davidson who would follow up with the GVN in Saigon. Mr. Davidson said that Henry Kissingerʼs recommendations to improve the Embassy organization as it related to national reconciliation, pacification etc. were not being followed. It was not clear to him who would be responsible for making sure that the GVN carried through a program of national reconciliation. Mr. Roche observed that Ambassador Lodge was the only American in Saigon with the access to and influence on Ky to do the job. He noted that Lodge expected to go on leave some time in December. Mr. Rostow said that this meant we should get to Lodge right away. Mr. Cooper remarked that Lodge would be able to provide the initial push but that we needed to keep after the GVN to see that a strong speech on national reconciliation was actually delivered. He assumed that by next week someone in the GVN would start drafting. The Embassy should be in a position to get our ideas across at an early stage. Mr. Unger said that he would undertake to see that a message to Saigon was drafted promptly to this effect.

[Page 826]

Before the meeting closed Mr. Davidson pointed out that even if we managed to get the GVN leaders to commit themselves publicly to a program of national reconciliation, we could still have trouble dissuading them from introducing a clause into the new constitution excluding “communists and neutralists”. We should realize that when Ky and Thieu spoke of national reconciliation they were thinking in terms of defections from the NLF/VC not of the NLF/VC itself playing a political role in South Vietnam. In short, a constitutional clause excluding members of the NLF/VC from Vietnamese political life would not necessarily seem to Ky and Thieu inconsistent with the principle of national reconciliation as they interpreted it.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Stearns.
  2. See Document 281 for information on Harrimanʼs trip.
  3. For text of De Gaulleʼs speech in Phnom Penh, September 1, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, pp. 646–648.
  4. Not found.
  5. According to the memorandum of their conversation on November 2, DʼOrlandi told Harriman and Cooper that “it was time now to be more specific. In particular, he said that Washington should come to grips with the problem and find out from Hanoi just what kind of regime they would settle for, what kind of guarantees they expected, and what kind of guarantees they would comply with. In short, dʼOrlandi felt that we should face up to the kind of ultimate solution we wanted and then worry about moving toward it.” (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  6. Document 275.
  7. November 14. The resulting 12-page telegram for Brown, 86196 to London, November 16, spelled out U.S. views on a number of key issues, including the role of the NLF in negotiations, the withdrawal provisions in the Manila Communique, and especially the “conditions for a possible cessation of the bombing”; the latter discussion included the same language for the Phase A-Phase B formula in paragraph 3d of telegram 83786, Document 305. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 VIET)7
  8. Not further identified.
  9. Not further identified.
  10. Telegrams 9690, October 29, and 10005, November 3, both from Saigon. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S and POL 15 VIET S, respectively)