315. Report Prepared by the Ambassador at Large (Harriman)1


In my talks with Heads of State and Ministers, I found, everywhere, that the Manila Conference and the Presidentʼs Asian trip had made a most favorable impression. It was evident that several points in the communique and declarations were viewed as being of particular significance, and I stressed these in my presentation:

The fact that the President sat at a round table with six Asian leaders as equals;
The favorable military developments in South Vietnam;
Agreement that objectives were limited to giving South Vietnamese people the opportunity to decide their own future;
The desire to reduce hostilities as soon as possible and undertake negotiations for a peaceful settlement;
Agreement that when aggression from the North had ceased, Allied troops would be withdrawn within six months;
The fact that the only discussion of escalation dealt with increased effort on pacification;
The commitment by the Government of South Vietnam to complete the Constitution, hold national elections next year, and village and hamlet elections in January. (In this connection, the September elections had made a favorable impression, and the commitment to take these further steps increased the prestige of the Saigon Government);
The further commitment of the GVN to undertake a program of national reconciliation giving hope that discussions would eventually take place between all political factions within South Vietnam;
The pledge for regional cooperation in social and economic development in which the US would participate;
Although a number of these points had been previously stated by the Government of the United States or South Vietnam, the fact that they were agreed to at this meeting of seven nations gave them greater weight and credence.

I found uniform acceptance of the Presidentʼs sincerity in seeking a peaceful solution. In response to my request all government leaders stated their willingness to do everything they could to bring about private or public negotiations. Particularly in Italy and in London, the Ministers were interested in discussing this subject in detail. In other countries, good will was expressed but no specific suggestions emerged.

[Page 861]

There was also considerable opinion that it would probably be more practical to get negotiations started through private conversations between the United States and North Vietnam rather than through a Geneva-type conference. Some thought that the North Vietnamese would want to know where they and the NLF would come out in a settlement before agreeing to engage in public negotiations. In addition, some suggested that since Red China would continue to oppose negotiations, Hanoi might wish to face Peking with a fait accompli rather than an argument as to whether or not to negotiate.

In almost every conversation the subject of a suspension of the bombing was raised, particularly now that the military situation had improved. Almost all expressed the belief that talks could be gotten under way if we would stop the bombing, but no one could give any positive assurances. In most cases the opinions expressed were based on contacts with Eastern European countries, although in India there had been direct discussions by Indian representatives in Hanoi.2

I expressed as my personal opinion that calls for unilateral action on the part of the United States, as proposed by President De Gaulle in Phnom Penh,3 did not further the cause of peace but, in fact, increased Hanoiʼs intransigence. I suggested that if anyone had proposals to make, a call be made to both sides to reduce hostilities.

I explained that the President had expressed his willingness to stop the bombing, but only if reciprocal action were taken by Hanoi. I pointed out that the same people who were now asking for a cessation in bombing had done so last year, and were again holding out the hope for a favorable reaction from Hanoi. The suggestions last year had been for a pause of at most two to three weeks, whereas, in fact, the President had continued the pause for over five weeks. The only reaction from Hanoi was to take military advantage of the pause by substantially increasing shipments to the South, rebuilding bridges, constructing detours and repairing roads. I furthermore explained that the bombing was a military necessity and had to be continued unless there was parallel deescalation of hostilities on the part of North Vietnam.

Although these discussions helped clarify the situation with the governments, they brought out the fact that bombing was extremely unpopular among the people everywhere. The bombing is thought of in terms of experiences of World War II with the heavy civilian casualties and suffering. In addition, the idea of a great power such as the United [Page 862] States hitting a small country was repugnant. Fear was also expressed that bombing would expand the war to a confrontation with China or the Soviet Union.

I emphasized both in talks with the governments and with the press the restricted nature of the targets and the care exercised to avoid as far as practicable, civilian casualties. I pointed out that although the President was determined to achieve his minimum objectives, he had stated that he had no intention of enlarging the conflict. Nevertheless, in every country I visited I found the strongest hope that some way could be found to stop the bombing in the North, and particularly that there would be no further escalation. I gained the impression that the favorable reaction from the Manila Conference would be dissipated if there was an evident escalation of the bombing. George Brown, who has done much to keep the Labor Party in line on Vietnam, stated flatly that any further escalation “might well lose you the support of all your friends in Europe like me who are trying to help.”

I took advantage of the opportunity to state to the press, and on television and radio where available, on my arrival and departure at the airports and at special press conferences the salient points I made to the governments. I had a remarkably good press, even in Pakistan where the press usually distorts anything an American visitor says. I believe this good reaction was primarily because of the good will the President had generated by the Manila Conference and his Asian visits.

[Here follow specific reports on each of the ten countries visited by Harriman.]

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—Walt W. Rostow, vol. 15. Secret. Harriman forwarded the report to the President and Rusk on November 28, and Rostow forwarded it to the President under cover of a November 29 memorandum stating that “Governor Harriman obviously did a first-class job.” (Ibid.) See Document 281 for information on Harrimanʼs trip.
  2. A memorandum of Harrimanʼs conversation on October 31 with L.K. Jha, Secretary to the Indian Prime Minister, and T.N. Kaul, Secretary of the Indian Ministry of Exernal Affairs, is in Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S.
  3. For more information on De Gaulleʼs speech of September 1, see footnote 4, Document 229.