109. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

157069. Guam Talking Paper—Negotiations and Peaceful Settlement.2

I. The Issue

We will have a restricted session at dinner the first day to discuss this topic and will wish to open discussions ourselves. Since the Manila Conference, Hanoi has opened an intensive propaganda and diplomatic campaign centering on the terms for initiating talks, and this has important implications for our own and the GVN’s handling of this issue, both publicly and in private. Although the GVN feels it is in a stronger bargaining position than a year ago, it is still apprehensive that it might appear to be outdistanced by the US in the peace offensive and is uneasy that the prospect of any premature or ill-considered negotiations might deflect military pressure from Hanoi, create new political complications at home, or otherwise work to the enemy’s advantage. Our own position on negotiations and settlement is considerably more developed than that of the GVN and our vulnerabilities less acute. Hence the need for reassurance and a frank exchange of views. (A separate talking paper will deal with the U Thant proposal; its preparation will be delayed to take account of last minute developments.)3

II. Proposed US Position

We are intent upon maintaining the closest possible degree of consultation during the coming period when the prospect for initiating negotiations appears to be rising, even though it is far from imminent.
We have noted with satisfaction that the GVN feels it is now in a better position to tackle this question and that it has made forthcoming statements of willingness to talk with Hanoi without conditions (e.g. Ky’s January 6 statement).4 The purpose of our sustained [Page 252] military measures and economic support is to provide a sound basis for a political statement.
We agree with the GVN judgment that the Communists respect force and probably will be compelled to negotiate only when they are convinced they cannot win their objectives on the battlefield.
Without prejudice to continued military and pacification operations, we believe contingency planning on negotiations should be vigorously carried forward in order to have the best possible preparation should the other side make a serious move toward talks. There are many complicated and delicate issues involved and it is not too soon to bring our best joint thinking to bear.
Political and economic progress in South Viet-Nam is directly related to strengthening our hand on negotiations. It is vital that the forthcoming presidential elections be conducted in such a way as to support this objective. For the same reason we should move strongly ahead with National Reconciliation.
It is important for the GVN to play a conspicuous part in the search for peace. We would hope that more attention could be given to publicizing the six essential elements of peace put forward by the GVN at Manila, including (a) cessation of aggression, (b) preservation of the territorial integrity of South Viet-Nam, (c) reunification of Viet-Nam, (d) resolution of internal problems, (e) removal of allied military forces, and (f) effective guarantees.

III. Background

Elements within the GVN, notably Foreign Minister Do, are troubled by the Government’s lack of a coherent policy on the substance of negotiations and settlement. Others, particularly among the military, have reacted against the so-called “false peace” proposals by others which, they fear, might lead to an indefensible neutrality or NLF domination of a coalition. Thieu has reiterated GVN refusal to talk with the NLF. Some GVN leaders suspect that the pressure of 1968 elections will cause the US to soften its position prematurely. They have remained skittish about National Reconciliation although useful preparatory work has been done (see separate paper). For all these reasons it would be useful to present our own assessments, review our position including our pledge to consult them fully and urge the GVN to begin more systematic contingency planning in close consultation with us.5

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 GUAM. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted and approved by Unger and cleared by R.L. Bruce (S/S) and Isham.
  2. The proposed agenda and the briefing papers for the conference are in a notebook prepared for Rostow on March 21. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXVIII, Memos)
  3. Not found.
  4. The Prime Minister stated that he would be willing to talk with a representative of North Vietnam in a third country. (The New York Times, January 8, 1967)
  5. In telegram 20623 from Saigon, March 17, Lodge reported the concurrence of the Mission in the views of the paper. The Ambassador did urge the inclusion of the GVN in planning for the contingency of negotiations, but warned that the Saigon leaders would consider any effort to incorporate the NLF into a new government as “mortal danger.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 GUAM)