201. Telegram From the Embassy in Norway to the Department of State1

4531. For the Secretary. Subject: Norwegian conversation with North Vietnamese.

FonMin Lyng called me in June 14 to report conversation which took place June 1 between Ambassador Ole Algard, Norwegian Ambassador Peking, and North Vietnamese Ambassador to Peking Ngo.2Lyng gave me Norwegian text report of meeting which he asked that I transmit to Secretary and his immediate advisors, stressing his desire subject be held closely with no publicity of any kind concerning this conversation. Lyng said GON not in position to evaluate conversation’s significance if any, but Secretary had once asked him to pass on any interesting conversations Norwegians might have in Peking. If US Govt wished Ambassador Algard to pursue this or any related subjects with North Vietnamese in Peking, GON stood at our disposal. Algard said North Vietnamese Ambassador intended broach matter along similar lines to his Danish and Swedish colleagues in Peking. Ngo had prefaced conversation by saying it was his impression Nordic countries, although very good friends of US, did not entirely share US view of Vietnam situation.
Following is my informal rendition Algard’s report, transposed from first to third person:
“Ambassador Ngo underlined strongly North Vietnamese Govt disposed toward negotiations. At same time they were deeply mistrustful of Americans’ intentions in Vietnam. Steady escalation and sending of new troops indicated Americans had intention of staying permanently in Vietnam.
Ngo underlined North Vietnamese Govt imposed only one condition for negotiations, namely that bombing of North Vietnam be stopped. Clearly having in mind the Chinese, he went to lengths to underline that speeches from other quarters which imposed other conditions including full American withdrawal from South Vietnam did not reflect North Vietnam Govt’s thought. On North Vietnamese side one gave decisive weight to stop in bombing because this was viewed as respect for North Vietnamese sovereignty and such a respect was an absolute condition for coming to conference table, but was also the only [Page 510] condition. When they had come to conference table, North Vietnam position would be very flexible. ‘We are,’ said Ambassador Ngo, ‘ready for very far reaching compromises to get an end to the war.’ Ambassador Algard noted that recently one had impression that North Vietnamese side was cooler toward negotiations. Ambassador Ngo denied this strongly. He said that formerly when North Vietnam showed an interest in negotiations Americans had taken such interest as a sign of weakness and with results of stronger escalation. This was background against which one must judge some recent speeches on North Vietnamese side. Provided there would be a stop in bombing, North Vietnam was ready at any time for negotiations and far reaching compromises.
“In this connection there was discussion of U Thant’s role. Amb Algard said Norway strongly supported U Thant’s efforts to get negotiations underway and Norway had absolute confidence in U Thant in this connection. Therefore Norwegians had been disturbed by statements of Chinese which appeared to have intention to undermine U Thant and to look with distrust upon his capacities as mediator. Amb Ngo made it very clear that North Vietnamese did not share Chinese estimate of U Thant. To be sure U Thant’s last proposition was unacceptable to North Vietnam, but North Vietnam valued U Thant’s peace efforts and judged him Asiatic statesman with full understanding of what the war in Vietnam involved.
“Amb Ngo said he hoped developments would not take such form that North Vietnam must ask for foreign, and in first instance Chinese, help. That was one thing that they would do their utmost to avoid. To question under what conditions would North Vietnamese Govt feel forced to ask for help, he said that beforehand one could not determine fixed criteria. He said however that an American invasion of North Vietnam in itself would not necessitate foreign help. North Vietnam had an army of 400 thousand men which would be capable of mastering such a situation. Amb Algard had impression that only danger of direct occupation of all North Vietnam would force North Vietnamese Govt to ask foreign help. It was plain Amb Ngo considered it very important to clarify North Vietnamese position on question of foreign help.
“At end of conversation Amb Algard brought up question of American prisoners in North Vietnam and said it had caused concern, including concern in Norway, that North Vietnamese had so strongly underlined these men were not war prisoners but war criminals. Amb Ngo underlined that this was point of principle. Fact North Vietnam is formally not at war with US and following international conventions on handling of war prisoners does not therefore apply. If on North Vietnamese side they said they would handle war prisoners in accordance [Page 511] with such conventions they would thereby legalize American participation in war. He said American prisoners were treated on ‘man to man’ basis, but he would not be more precise. Algard said even if North Vietnamese Govt on grounds of principle would not apply relevant international conventions, he believed it would be of great importance for North Vietnamese prestige if people were convinced the prisoners were well treated. Even if they would not permit inspection by the Red Cross, it should be possible to find other means of inspecting prison camps, for example, through UN or other international organizations, in such a manner that did not prejudice North Vietnam’s point of principle in this matter. Amb Ngo said he understood this was a question which preoccupied a great many men and which could be damaging to North Vietnam and he would not exclude that the North Vietnamese side would take a new look at this question.”3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL NOR VIET N. Secret; Priority; Exdis.
  2. Reference is to DRV Ambassador to the PRCNgo Minh Loan, usually referred to in the cable series as Loan.
  3. This potential negotiation channel was code-named Ohio. In telegram 213389 to Oslo, June 20, the Department noted that Loan took the initiative for the discussion and that his message was being conveyed through “Nordic representatives,” which made it appear even more earnest. The most interesting aspects of the contact, the Department believed, were Loan’s statements that the DRV was prepared for compromise and would be flexible. The Department requested that Algard continue the conversations with Loan. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL NOR VIET N) On June 23 Tibbetts passed this request to Lyng, who declined to report to Loan that his government had informed Washington of the June 1 meeting so as to “not muddy waters.” Lyng would allow messages to be exchanged by pouch and not by coded cable as the U.S. Government wished. Despite Lyng’s “cold feet,” Tibbetts believed that Algard would be given enough leeway to act as a useful intermediary. (Telegram 4679 from Oslo, June 23; ibid.) The Department maintained “complete confidence” in the ability of Lyng and Algard to conduct the exchange in an appropriate manner. (Telegram 215936 to Oslo, June 24; ibid.) However, on June 29 Algard reported that Loan, like various other DRV representatives abroad, had been recalled to Hanoi for consultations. (Telegram 4755 from Oslo, June 20, and telegram 219355 to Oslo, June 29; both ibid.)