133. Memorandum of Meeting1

PARTICIPANTS

  • Governor Harriman
  • Mr. Bundy
  • Mr. McNaughton
  • Mr. Unger
  • Mr. Read
  • Mr. Cooper
  • Mr. Colby (for part of the meeting)

The group briefly reviewed the status of two outstanding initiatives:

a.
Gromyko indicated to Ambassador Thompson that the Russians would be reluctant in assisting us in establishing direct contact with the DRV personalities at this time, and, in general, Gromyko took a very negative position. For the present, therefore, attempts to establish contacts with the DRV through the Soviets will be in suspense.
b.
The Secretary approved forwarding our DMZ proposal to Ambassador Lodge for passing to General Ky.2 There was some discussion as to whether we should hold up forwarding it until Foreign Minister Do arrived in Washington on Monday, April 17. It was decided, however, that we should go ahead immediately in sending the telegram to Saigon.3

Mr. Colby reviewed the Agency’s approaches to the NLF. In essence, CAS is proceeding with various efforts to approach several key NLF figures. They are now running 12 cases, all “long shots”. Most of these contacts are being made without the knowledge of the GVN.4

[Page 317]

Mr. Bundy reported briefly on his views with respect to Sino-Soviet relations as they affect shipments of matériel to North Vietnam. Circumstantial evidence indicated that whatever frictions may have existed between Moscow and Peking have been pretty much resolved as of late February.

The Governor discussed his views of Amb. Thompson’s 6 April telegram.5 Governor Harriman agreed emphatically with Amb. Thompson that the Russians were humiliated at their inability to protect North Vietnam from air attacks and he felt that Moscow would respond to our escalation by providing the North Vietnamese with additional, and possibly new, weapons.6 He also agreed with Amb. Thompson that the Russians might increase tensions elsewhere in an effort to divert us from Vietnam. The Governor felt strongly that it would be worth an effort to meet with the Russians to see whether they could be induced to move ahead with a settlement on Vietnam. The Committee should give serious thought as to whether we should press the Soviets at this time and, if so, the best way of doing this. There is no point in just sending another letter to Kosygin; we must be prepared to discuss some substantive proposition of interest to Moscow. The Governor acknowledged that it was a serious question whether the Soviets could deliver Hanoi, but he felt that we had not really made a serious attempt to do this.

Mr. Bundy felt that the Kosygin talks in London had strained Soviet influence in Hanoi. The Russians had probably already completed a new aid deal with Hanoi and, until the additional assistance had been absorbed, Hanoi and Moscow would be unlikely to respond to offers of negotiation. There was considerable discussion as to whether we should wait at least a month before approaching the Russians; Gov. Harriman felt strongly that an early approach, if carefully implemented, would be worthwhile. Mr. Read felt that the increased Soviet aid might present opportunities as well as challenges, since Soviet influence [Page 318]had probably increased in Hanoi as a consequence of the new aid agreement.7

Following the meeting, the Governor forwarded a memorandum to the President and the Secretary commenting on Amb. Thompson’s telegram and suggesting that the Negotiations Committee be charged with the task of developing an approach to Moscow for the purpose of getting a negotiation going.8

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Subject Files, Vietnam, General—Jan.–March 1967. Top Secret; Nodis. The meeting was held in Harriman’s office.
  2. Following up on U Thant’s earlier call for a cease-fire as well as one for truce talks on April 10 by the Government of Ceylon, Paul Martin, Canadian Minister for External Affairs, submitted a peace proposal on April 11 outlining a restoration of the DMZ, a standstill truce, and a return to the provisions of the Geneva agreement. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pp. 911–914.
  3. With U.S. encouragement, on April 18 the GVN announced its support for the Canadian proposal and established a National Reconciliation program. (Meeting among Harriman, Do, and Diem, April 20; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, EA/VN Files: Lot 71 D 88, POL 1—Memcons/Departmental 1967) The U.S. Government had already endorsed another GVN peace move on April 8, namely the proposal for a 24-hour truce on Buddha’s birthday, May 23. See American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, p. 911. On April 28 the NLF proclaimed its own cease-fire for the period May 22–24; see ibid., pp. 924–925.
  4. Chester Cooper described the efforts to engage the NLF in a separate peace process as “very thin.” Direct GVN-NLF contacts would be difficult, although contacts with individual members were more promising. Concerning unilateral U.S. overtures to the NLF, he warned that “anything that would suggest to Saigon that the United States was making a deal behind the back of the GVN might poison the working relationship between Washington and Saigon.” In addition, Hanoi would not permit any arrangement not in congruence with its own interests. In a covering memorandum, Cooper concluded that there was little prospect for movement by the NLF without “substantial political concessions” while there could be virtually no compromise by the GVN in the foreseeable future. (Memorandum by Cooper, April 6, attached to a memorandum from Cooper to Katzenbach, April 7; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, CSM 6 VIET S) In telegram 22406 from Saigon, April 7, Lodge argued that it was not only “premature” to open such a channel but that both the GVN and the DRV would regard the effort as “over-eagerness on our part” that would make the United States appear “weak” and would “confirm certain fears in GVN circles that our objective is a ’shotgun’ marriage.” (Ibid., POL 14 VIET S)
  5. Document 128.
  6. In an April 10 letter to Thompson, Kohler took issue with this point, asserting that it and the threat of Soviet intervention in reaction might be “just a ploy” by Soviet Premier Kosygin. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET)
  7. In an April 14 memorandum to Hughes, Bundy requested a “careful assessment of what the Soviets may intend and may do in relation to Vietnam.” Bundy considered a reported transit agreement for the shipment of SoVIET Supplies through China to North Vietnam to represent what appeared to be a new level of commitment by the Soviet Union to its ally. (Ibid., Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Top Secret WPB Chron, Jan.–Apr. 1967) In INR Research Memorandum RSB–31 entitled “Soviet Interests and the Vietnam War,” April 21, Hughes explored the complex nature of Soviet interests in Indochina. Moscow had a “strong (and even an increasing) interest” in the continuation of the war, but if the war turned against Soviet interest, which it could if there were a tactical military defeat or an extension of Chinese influence, Moscow would keep as many options open as possible to initiate negotiations. (Ibid., EA/ACA Files: Lot 69 D 277, Vietnam File, USSR 1967) But strong warnings from the Soviet Government meant to counter U.S. intensification of the war also provided evidence of greater SoVIET Support of Hanoi. These Soviet admonitions were offered as a means of impressing upon the United States the determination of the Soviet Union to support the DRV. The Soviet response could include increased Soviet military involvement or a halt to progress on bilateral issues, INR argued in Research Notes 340 and 349, May 2 and May 4. (Ibid.) Special National Intelligence Estimate (SNIE) 11–11–67, May 4, suggested that statements of increasing SoVIET Support for North Vietnam acted as a mechanism to forestall a frustrated Johnson administration from escalating the conflict. However, the available responses by Moscow were limited. “We do not think the Soviets are prepared to resort to strong and direct threats of general war as a means to protect North Vietnam or to preserve Soviet face,” the estimate concluded. (Ibid.)
  8. In an April 13 memorandum to Rusk and the President, Harriman underscored his concern that the Soviets were prepared to prevent the collapse of the DRV and would defend it with strong measures, such as instigating actions in other troubled areas of the world. He did note the opportunity and necessity to still involve the Soviets in bringing about a settlement. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Subject Files, Johnson, Lyndon 1967)