108. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassies in Vietnam, Korea, Australia, the Philippines, New Zealand, and Thailand and the Mission to the United Nations1

155940. On March 14 Secretary General U Thant handed Ambassador Goldberg Aide-Mémoire containing new Vietnam proposal, repeated to you septel.2

In view of significance of subject contained in Aide-Mémoire, Ambassador Goldberg is informing SYG on March 16 as set forth at end of this cable, that USG appreciates constructive efforts on his part to bring about a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam conflict, and we are consulting GVN and troop contributor allies.

We have studied SYG’s proposal carefully and agree that in light of fact it already in hands of ICC powers and Geneva Co-Chairmen, that Hanoi is expected to have it within 24 hours and will probably react [Page 248] soon, we should make prompt and constructive full reply to SYG in writing. Our draft reply is also contained herein. Request you to bring this matter promptly to attention action addressee governments.

Allies urged to hold this matter very tightly since leaks could jeopardize whatever chances of success proposals may have.

We recognize SYG has backed away from his three-point proposal which centered on US initiation cessation of bombing3 and has substituted new three-point proposal with reciprocal action to bring about a standstill truce.

We estimate it unlikely Hanoi would be able to accept SYG proposition. But even in unlikely event it were, we would still have gained advantage of Hanoi agreement to move towards a cessation of all hostilities and not just half the war.

There are, of course, practical difficulties in SYG’s proposal. In view of the general nature of the SYG’s Aide-Mémoire, we do not know clearly and precisely what he means by a standstill truce and how its various elements can be put into effect. For example, does his proposal include cessation of large unit activities and guerrilla activities alike? Does it include terrorist acts as well as cessation of the bombing? Does it include a cessation of infiltration? Will movement of large and small units within South Vietnam be precluded? What method is proposed for supervision of those aspects of a standstill which are not clearly observable, e.g., clandestine reinforcement or movement? Would it be possible to establish some type of international supervision of demilitarized zones and on the borders of South Vietnam to prevent violation of the agreement? These are obviously unanswered questions which can only be clarified by detailed discussions. Moreover, we would wish to make sure that any standstill did not interfere with the South Vietnamese Government’s authority to pursue normal governmental activities without interference throughout South Vietnam.

Nevertheless, we are ready as the President has said to go more than half way. We have drafted what we believe to be a forthcoming and constructive reply which we wish to make available to SYG promptly after consultations with GVN and Allies. You should bring draft letter to their attention, solicit their ideas, but make every effort to avoid any implication they will have veto of final text. Make clear we consider it necessary make early reply and therefore need their [Page 249] views promptly. Allies should understand draft has been developed on assumption this reply may have to be surfaced at an appropriate stage.

Suggested draft US reply:

“The United States appreciates the efforts of the SYG to help bring about a peaceful settlement and end the conflict in Vietnam. We have carefully studied the Aide-Mémoire transmitted to Ambassador Goldberg by the Secretary General on March 14, 1967, and we want to express our appreciation for the constructive proposals he has made.

“The United States agrees it would be desirable to establish as quickly as possible ‘a general standstill truce’ which on the basis of the Aide-Mémoire of March 14 we understand to mean ‘a halt to all military activities by all parties’. As the Secretary General appreciates, for such a truce to be effective, it is important that both sides understand precisely what its principal elements are and the steps to be taken by both sides to assure an end to all violence and effective supervision. The US believes, therefore, that it would be helpful if the full details were discussed with representatives of North Viet Nam, the Geneva Conference Co-Chairmen, other interested governments or the SYG, and the US is prepared to enter into such discussions promptly and constructively.

“The United States would also be prepared, as suggested by the Secretary General, to enter into preliminary talks.

“All four of the forms of preliminary talks described in the Secretary General’s Aide-Mémoire or other possibilities would be acceptable to the United States.

“You can be assured, Mr. Secretary General, as President Johnson has frequently said, that the United States will go more than half-way to achieve peace in Vietnam.” End Text.

Addressees should also note SYG’s proposal contemplates preliminary talks only for purpose of reconvening Geneva Conference. We believe preliminary talks would be even more useful if they addressed themselves to difficult problem of SYG’s first proposal—a standdown. For this reason, we do not feel it necessary at this time to raise difficult problem re NLF representation at Geneva Conference in formal written reply.

Our suggestion for handling this is to have Goldberg in the course of his conversation with SYG state orally that if we reach the stage of a Geneva conference, the question of hearing the views of the NLF should not be insurmountable problem, as President Johnson has said frequently.

We note also SYG refers only to 1954 accord and we request Ambassador Goldberg to point this out today to SYG at time he provides him with interim reply given below.4 He should note that Co-Chairmen [Page 250] at their recent London meeting included in communiqué reference to restoration of conditions contemplated in both accords of 1954 and 1962. We would see considerable difficulty in any settlement which would permit Communists to concentrate efforts against Laos.

In the meantime, we request Goldberg to present to SYG today following interim US reply in writing.

Begin Text. The US welcomes the proposal of the Secretary General which contains constructive and positive elements toward bringing about a peaceful settlement of the Vietnam conflict. The US is in the process of consulting the government of South Vietnam and its allies. We expect to provide the Secretary General with a full and prompt reply. End Text.5

For Saigon.

SYG has now given Aide-Mémoire to GVN observer in New York for transmission to his Government. You should say to GVN, in presenting foregoing, that we will also want to discuss with them their reply.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Sisco; cleared by Eugene Rostow, Walt Rostow, Harriman, Unger, Read, and McNamara; and approved by Rusk. Repeated to Moscow, New Delhi, Warsaw, Ottawa, and London.
  2. Document 107.
  3. U Thant presented his original three-point proposal on June 20, 1966. In this earlier formulation, the first and most important step was the cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam; the second was the scaling down of all military activities by all sides; and the third was the likelihood of discussions between all belligerent parties to the conflict. See American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, p. 819.
  4. Goldberg delivered the U.S. aide-mémoire at 5:45 p.m. on March 16. He reiterated to Thant the necessity to refer to both Geneva accords so that a peaceful solution could be achieved for all of Indochina. (Telegram 4417 from USUN, March 16; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  5. The interim reply is printed in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, p. 885. On March 18 Goldberg transmitted a statement to Thant which reads in part: “As the Secretary-General knows, the United States and other Governments have, over many months, approached Hanoi, both publicly and privately, with proposals to end the conflict in Vietnam. To date, all such efforts have been rebuffed. The Government of North Vietnam has refused to agree to discussions without preconditions or to take reciprocal actions leading toward a cessation of hostilities. For this reason, the Government of the United States would be most interested in learning whether Hanoi is willing to enter into such discussions or to take reciprocal actions leading to peace in Vietnam. The United States has been, and remains willing to enter into discussions without preconditions with Hanoi at any time. To this end, the United States accepts the three-step proposal in the Aide-Mémoire of the Secretary-General of 14 March 1967.” The full text of this statement is printed ibid., pp. 886–887. Both U.S. replies were released by the Department on March 28.