355. Telegram From the Presidentʼs Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson, in Texas1

CAP 661394. Literally eyes only for the President. Herewith Hanoiʼs negative response via Warsaw.

We are at the end of a phase if not at the end of the line with Marigold.

We shall now have to pause and consider next steps.

Warsaw 1596

Rapacki opened by saying Poles have taken further action on my statement of Dec 24,2 but unfortunately this step could not make up for damage done by previous actions, particularly Air Force, during first part of December.
Rapacki added that “we have to consider our role at this stage as terminated.” He continued “We regret very much that matter took such a turn,” adding that Poles think they did everything they could have toward objective of peaceful settlement.
Rapacki expressed appreciation for my personal efforts which unfortunately have not been able to make up for what happened before. He said “It has been said that work done in a good cause sooner or later will yield results. I donʼt know if this is always the case, but we hope.” He added that this becomes possible only when proper conclusions are drawn for the reasons why this action did not succeed.
“As for the Poles,” Rapacki continued, “what has happened only strengthens us in belief that only unconditional stopping of bombing DRVN might create atmosphere for peaceful solution.”
Rapacki then thanked me for my cooperation, expressing regret that my holiday was ruined, particularly in that the results “we had hoped for” were not achieved.

I replied that it is not the holiday that matters, but I am keenly disappointed because after my Washington visit—during which the USG made substantial movement in the right direction—I had high hopes. I said I know there is a point where one gives up but I do not like to. What most concerns me is where we go from here. Having lost what I felt was a very good opportunity, and having personally full confidence in our keen interest in getting negotiations started, this development leaves me feeling that maybe we have been kidded from the very beginning.

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I added that it seems to me we went a great distance to meet a critical problem. I know I am speaking from deep disappointment, but I hate to go to the end of the road without knowing where we go from here. However, if that is the case, I can only report it. I am sure there will be the same deep disappointment in Washington.

Rapacki said, “I understand your personal feelings, but I donʼt think that those authoritative people were kidding from the beginning. I donʼt make such an accusation against Lodge or anyone else. But how the bombing could start at just that moment is something which evades me. No, I make no accusations; I only repeat my personal view that if that step you brought from Washington (on 24 December) had occurred on December 4—admittedly after the first bombing of Hanoi—then I feel personally we would have had the first contact with the DRV behind us. Moreover, I think I have sufficient reasons for my personal feeling. Even between Dec 4 and Dec 13, the matter was again actively being reconsidered. There had been no negative reaction as yet. We know, because we had contact with the proper quarter. The decision regarding breaking off the talks was made after Dec 13. The bombing again took place on Dec 14. But this is history known to all of us and it is hardly worth returning to it. What next is the real question. On some occasion we may talk about it in a different capacity and not in the framework of our present efforts. We share common misgivings and concerns; but our views on a solution differ.”

I said I know I may be repeating out of frustration. But despite what happened before, we made a very major step on the 24th of Dec—stopping bombing without requiring reciprocal action. What concerns me is that after taking this step we obtained a negative response anyway; this will influence many people to think Hanoi just does not want to negotiate.

I said I am reluctant to give up this opportunity; slowly but surely the conditions for negotiations were being created. To recapture this, we would have to go way back to recreate the conditions we now have. This is a tragic development.

Rapacki said that, “You must have sensed on Dec 24 that my first reaction, while mixed, was not negative. But it was very difficult to separate that step from what had already happened beforehand. Therefore I expressed the regret that this action was 20 days late. It seems to me that what you called an inclination towards talks was demonstrated quite clearly by the DRVN. You are right that arguments to the contrary could be made. This is the aspect of the situation that concerns us. There are many reasons on the NVN side to believe that your proposals were not sincere. It does not seem very good when events take a turn which create new difficulties to move ahead. But the key to the situation is in your [Page 985] hands. You are a great power. You can use this key to turn the situation back.”
I replied that I thought we provided that key on December 24. But now there is no sense, as the saying goes, to cry over spilt milk. Particularly in light of these considerations, I hope you are giving serious consideration to the possibility of ICC talks in New Delhi where it might be possible to pick up a few of the pieces.
To Rapackiʼs query as to what could be expected from such talks, I replied that I did not know. However, I added there are three interested governments involved, each playing an important role and each with independent thoughts. I said it is very important to maintain contact. Whatever you think of the ICC, it is an existing agency, it may be weak but it is an agency involved in the Vietnam situation.
Rapacki replied that Poles cooperate with India and Canada in this organization, adding, “I cannot say that during the years of this cooperation that there have been any brilliant achievements: we are always ready to exchange ideas, primarily on the work of the Commission, as well as on other situations. The question is whether it is worthwhile at this moment holding another meeting on Vietnam, while there is still bombing. And if it takes place without a result—without a solution—its impact could really be negative.” He added that second objection just occurred to him: “We (Poland and the U.S.) have had a common experience over the past six weeks. The two remaining members of the Commission are not aware of these events. In the conversations within the Commission the countries involved might be divorced from the realities of the situation.”
I replied that I think that without divulging the last six weeks, the Polish Govt might present some insights and could make contributions. On another subject, I continued, we have maintained absolute silence regarding these talks. We have assumed that, except for Fanfani and presumably the USSR, which has a direct interest in the problem, your govt has not divulged the talks to any government or party.3 Rapacki replied “What you say is in accordance with the fact, but probably the Pope is also informed.” I said, “The Pope is informed? By whom?” Rapacki answered, “Possibly Fanfani, but I donʼt know, I am not saying it was Fanfani, I donʼt know, but the Pope probably is informed.” I said I presume that unless we inform each other to the contrary, the rule of secrecy will prevail even though the talks are broken off. Rapacki replied affirmatively.
Comment: In this moment of frustration it would be easy to conclude that Poles have led us down the primrose path. But I think this would be an unfortunate misinterpretation of events. If the Poles had been playing this kind of game they would have come in today asking us to sweeten the pot. Instead, they threw up their hands and bowed out.
The posture of both Rapacki and Michalowski today was one of regret. I am convinced that Poles have had at least limited authority from Hanoi to investigate negotiation and Warsaw meeting terms, that they felt that our Dec 24 position was a satisfactory one, and that since Dec 24 they did what they could to induce Hanoi to enter negotiations. Failing this, they recognized Hanoiʼs intransigence and bowed out.
I recommend that we immediately request Soviets to take over and that cessation of bombing around Hanoi be continued at least until proposed Soviet effort fails or USSR responds negatively to our request. I believe we now have the initiative and should exploit it with the Soviets, the Pope and U Thant with the alternative objectives of either moving along the path toward negotiations or, if this fails, leaving us in a strong public relations position. Hasty withdrawal of our Dec 24 position would, I believe, seriously compromise either objective. (In retrospect, I am not sure I should have suggested that secrecy be maintained, but my intention was to curb possible inclination for public propaganda by Poles. At any rate, it is clear that we can talk to Pope and Soviets, and possibly U Thant, without violating spirit of my suggestion.)
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, box 147, Marigold—Incomplete. Top Secret; Eyes Only; Marigold. The source text is marked with an indication that the President saw the telegram.
  2. See Document 351.
  3. In telegram 13640 from Saigon, December 17, Lodge reported that Lewandowski had leaked information on the negotiations and was “obviously loose-tongued.” In telegram 14206 from Saigon, December 24, Porter reported that the Polish Ambassador in Rome had revealed “all details” of the negotiations to Pope Paul. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 VIET/MARIGOLD)