342. Telegram From the Embassy in Poland to the Department of State1

1471. For the President from Ambassador Gronouski.

I met with Rapacki (Michalowski and Janczewski present) at Polesʼ request at 1800 Dec 14. (In contrast to previous meetings, Rapacki entered the room unsmiling, and during entire meeting maintained a calm, serious and matter-of-fact attitude.)
Rapacki said that first he would like to bring some precision with respect to our conversation of yesterday (Warsaw 1458).2 He said that this conversation took place before Poles were aware of last bombing of Hanoi. He said, “If I had had this news then, our conversation of course would have had different character than it did.”
Rapacki continued, “Today I must state the following facts. First, that the U.S. had to be conscious of and realize the importance of establishing direct contact with Hanoi.” He added, “You had stressed the unique possibility of a peaceful settlement that the Warsaw talks with Hanoi presented.” He continued, “We thought so too, ever since we obtained the signal for which the USG had asked for for so long in so many official statements.” He added, “In this instance we received more than a signal; we received a direct, positive response from Hanoi about the possibility of talks in Warsaw.”
Rapacki said that immediately after this direct response was transmitted to the USG the US reserved the possibility of modifying their attitude and, of far greater importance, entered a new stage of escalation.
Rapacki continued that the USG was bound to be conscious of the reaction which its conduct would evoke and of the consequences of such action. He added that the Poles have done everything in their power to dispel any illusions, noting that on six occasions in Warsaw and Saigon “we have warned the USG side in all seriousness and with the greatest emphasis of the consequences of their actions.”
“Yesterday,” Rapacki continued, “the US Air Force engaged in a new and particularly brutal raid on the residential area in Hanoi precisely at the moment when the USG knew that the matter of a Warsaw contact [Page 937] with Hanoi was actively being considered. This,” he added, “was the last drop that spilled over the cup. From that moment, in Hanoi and Warsaw, all doubts as to the real intentions of the USG disappeared, including doubts not only in the present case but with respect to all other instances in the past when the US has advanced positions which it has described as peaceful initiatives.”
Rapacki then said, “We understand therefore and fully share the wish of the Democratic Republic of North Vietnam, which was transmitted to us today, that we terminate all conversations begun months ago in Saigon. The Polish Govt states that the whole responsibility for losing this chance of a peaceful solution to the Vietnam war rests on the USG.” He added, “I would like to express more than regrets because of the utilization by the USG of our good will. Once again it becomes clear how difficult it is to believe in your words.” He added “In future only facts can be taken into consideration.”
I said that I would have no comment except to say that I regretted this turn of events and would immediately convey these observations to Washington.
Comment: If Moscow dateline account of latest Hanoi bombing published in Dec 14 Paris edition of New York Times and Herald Tribune, and recounted to me tonight by Rapacki, is true then we are in an incredibly difficult position. I am convinced that if this represents the breakdown of the current peace initiative—and it surely does unless we take decisive and immediate action—then the Soviets, the Poles and the North Vietnamese will have no trouble convincing the leadership in every capital of the world that our stated desire for peace negotiations is insincere. If we treat this turn of events as anything less than a crisis in our world leadership role then I believe we are making a tragic mistake.
I am convinced that up till now the Poles, accepting the genuineness of our interests in negotiation, have used whatever influence they have in Hanoi (in all likelihood with Soviet backing) in an effort to initiate US–NVN peace talks. I also am convinced that Rapacki was expressing genuine concern when he warned that the increase in bombing was destroying what appeared to him a good chance that NVN would overcome Chinese influence and engage in Warsaw talks.
We have no choice but to take immediate action to try to get discussions back on track. For any chance of success this would require, in my judgment, conveying to Poles that we are willing to accept Rapackiʼs Dec 13 reasoning (Warsaw 1458) and are prepared now to assure the Poles that we will take care not to create impression of bombing intensification in NVN during the period of delicate negotiations over the holding of Warsaw USG-NVN peace talks. We would also assure the Poles that we do not intend to bomb in the immediate vicinity of Hanoi and [Page 938] Haiphong during this period. We would again express our deep desire for the initiation of talks and ask the Poles to continue their efforts.
I do not know whether this presentation will achieve its purpose, but I am deeply convinced it is imperative that we try. The alternative is not only to lose an opportunity for initiating negotiations, but also to do serious damage to the credibility of the USGʼs stated objectives.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 VIET/MARIGOLD. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Marigold. The source text does not indicate the time of transmission; the telegram was received at 12:30 a.m. Printed in part in Herring, Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War, pp. 302–304. Rostow forwarded the telegram to the President at 9:50 a.m. on December 15. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—Walt W. Rostow, vol. 17) Gronouski amplified his comments in telegram 1475 from Warsaw, December 15. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 VIET/MARIGOLD)
  2. Document 341.