227. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rusk1
- Possible Developments in Hanoi, and Their Implications for the Negotiating Situation
Two related strands of evidence have suddenly converged in the last three days, in a way that leads me to believe that Hanoi may be taking really serious stock of its negotiating situation.
The first is the recall of key North Vietnamese representatives overseas.2 We learned last week from Pell that Mai Van Bo was going back on the 23rd for a month.3 On the 28th, we got word from Djakarta that the Ambassador there was being recalled, and that he had told the key Indonesians that this had to do with his recent conversations with them on negotiations.4 And today we learned, through the Norwegians, that the Ambassador in Peking went back in mid-June; he is both an Alternate Member of the Central Committee and the man who initiated a serious conversation with the Norwegian Ambassador on June 1.5 All three of these had thus engaged in serious discussions on negotiations just prior to their return.[Page 571]
We have put out an inquiry to other key posts to learn if other North Vietnamese Ambassadors have left their posts. Moscow could be a real indicator, as the Ambassador there is another Alternate Member of the Central Committee.
Joined together with these signs is the recent uncertainty about Ho’s whereabouts and health. Our last report of anyone seeing him personally is April 13th, and there has been one report that he was out of Hanoi and another that he was sick. The evidence on this is tenuous at best, since he often takes a summer vacation. But it does add parsley to the more solid evidence of the recall of the Ambassadors, that some real gathering may be taking place.
Secondly, the “nibble board” has been lighting up in the past month in several ways that are quite at variance with the totally negative readings of February through April, and that I would not have expected on a reading of the over-all situation in the South. Specifically,
- Mai Van Bo has been seeing Americans much more frequently and seriously since late May. He has said nothing really new, but he went to great lengths to see Pell. Moreover, following the Baggs/Ashmore6 and Pell conversations, his press officer (in the past a notably accurate harbinger) has spoken to an American journalist to the effect that Bo clearly sees that the US is offering the possibility of “preliminary conversations” if there is to be an ultimate stopping of the bombing and serious “talks”. This last is as of June 26. Going back to the Pell conversation, I have done a long memorandum this morning, which I attach.7 None of it is strictly new, but the tone and the absence of the stock line in some respects seems to me not without significance.
- The Hanoi Ambassador in Indonesia at least made worried noises, although he refused any contact with an American.
- The Hanoi Ambassador in Peking made his remarks to the Norwegian. Again nothing strictly new, but decidedly more flexible in tone.
Along with these have been the veiled but striking attack on Mao in a major Hanoi article, a relatively moderate Trinh interview of May 29 with the Japanese,8 and a report from Kissinger that the Czechs were claiming Hanoi did not necessarily reject reciprocity for the bombing stopping.9[Page 572]
None of this gives any clear handle, and three North Vietnamese have again specifically refused official contact with us—Bo through Pell, the man in Indonesia, and the Chargé in Vientiane approached on our instructions by Sullivan. Nonetheless, my over-all feel is that something is at work. It may be just an attempt to make the bombing/talks gambit seem more appealing. It may be just tactics. But it just might be an indication of some serious re-thinking.
What to do
All this suggests that the present might be an excellent time for us to push some button or to have a third nation push it. Yet we ourselves apparently cannot make direct contact, and our best current indirect channels, notably the Norwegians in Peking, are out of action.
This brings me back to Paul Martin’s proposal, as amended by your suggestion to him.10 In essence, that we could stop the bombing at least for a substantial period (through the wet season) if the Canadians could join with the other ICC members to put an effective force into the DMZ, and if Hanoi accepted this.
The present status is that this proposal has been submitted to the JCS for their over-all judgment and specifically for their view on the kind of force required to be “effective” in controlling the DMZ. JCS action was expected the end of this week, and I have checked without getting a clear picture. John McNaughton feels that the Chiefs may be strongly opposed, on the grounds that this is trading cessation of the bombing for at most a partial impairment of the infiltration routes. It is his further judgment that pressing the whole project to the point of Presidential decision would cause a major controversy.
This presents a fairly acute dilemma. The whole proposal has the virtue that it is a Canadian idea and could be put forward in its new form by the Canadians without requiring more from us than a general indication of approval.
But to get the Canadians to put it forward, in its new form, would almost certainly require not only (for our own protection) realistic discussion with them of the forces required—in the light of the JCS view—but at least an indication of receptivity. Paul Martin might well be unwilling to move without the latter, and indeed we ourselves would gain little in the eyes of the world or toward—the key question—putting Hanoi up to a significant policy choice, if we were not able to indicate general receptivity when the Canadians came up with it.[Page 573]
In short, it is hard even to talk to the Canadians unless we have a top-level decision that we could tolerate their launching it and would be prepared to make a favorable noise. All of us think that Hanoi is unlikely to accept. But this new and reasonably dramatic proposal, plus our favorable reaction to it, could gain us a lot at the present time, and if there should be real ferment in Hanoi this could be an excellent way to probe it. Finally, the proposal may realistically be as good a trade for ending the bombing as we could ever see.
I see no really useful channel through which to poke Hanoi privately at the present moment. The Soviets surely would not be willing to play, probably even as a transmission belt for any new suggestion, and we have no good third-country channel with the Indonesian and Norwegian channels temporarily dead.
One possible channel might still be the Canadian ICC man, if the timing fits. He was received at high levels in April and might go back again. Perhaps Paul Martin would be willing to have him try the bombing/DMZ proposal on Hanoi in private without our committing ourselves to it, for this has less risks than the degree of commitment we would have to make to get Martin to say it publicly, while the objective of injecting something plausible into the North Vietnamese cogitations might thus be achieved.
Finally, there is the possibility of some public statement of our position on the bombing/talks problem that might appear more forthcoming. The requirement of reciprocal military action could be put in its most general and persuasive form along the lines that we required assurances that the other side would not take military advantage of any stopping of the bombing. And we could note that if we are to stop bombing and have discussions, the situation would be much eased if we had any conception of what Hanoi envisaged as an ultimate settlement. I think a probing speech could be written that would tease Hanoi in this direction without actually changing our substantive position.
I come to no ringing conclusion, as you can see, but it would help us to have your feeling on the DMZ/bombing gambit and any thoughts that may hit you on other approaches. I do think this is a rare occasion where we might hit the other side at a time when it could really have an effect.
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Bundy Files: Lot 85 D 240, Top Secret WPB Chron., Jun/Aug 1967. Secret; Exdis.↩
- DRV Ambassadors and Chiefs of Mission to major countries, including those in the PRC, France, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Indonesia, and Burma (but excluding those in the Soviet Union, Algeria, and Egypt) were recalled at the end of June for a “conclave” in Hanoi in order to review diplomatic tactics and their government’s negotiating position. The result appeared to be a less vitriolic and more flexible line, as witnessed by statements by DRV representatives in the conference’s aftermath. (Memoranda from Hughes to Rusk, July 7, and from Holdridge to Bundy, July 20; both ibid., Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET)↩
- See footnote 2, Document 214.↩
- A June 29 INR briefing note sent to Hughes reported that DRV Ambassador Pham Binh was recalled to Hanoi for “consultations” that were “in connection” to an ongoing diplomatic overture in Indonesia. (Department of State, EA/ACA Files: Lot 69 D 277, Vietnam File—DRV) Indonesian intelligence officials previously met with Binh during unsuccessful exchanges in 1966 that were designed to mediate the war. On May 25, 1967, a new round of secret negotiations began. From the nature of Binh’s statements and his responsiveness to Indonesia’s role in attempting to arrange direct talks with the United States, Colonel Ali Murtopo, Director of External Intelligence, concluded that recent military pressure against the DRV was apparently effective. Further documentation on this initiative is in National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET.↩
- See Document 201.↩
- See footnote 2, Document 214.↩
- Bundy attached two memoranda of conversation with Pell, June 29. Neither is printed, but see footnote 2, Document 214.↩
- In this interview, Trinh suggested that stopping the bombing and “other acts of war” on an unconditional basis could lead to a settlement. See The New York Times, June 3, 1967.↩
- Telegram 1965 from Prague, May 16, contained Kissinger’s report that Antonin Snejdarek, a Czech social scientist closely associated with the top echelons of his government, claimed that “Hanoi would be ready for arrangement whereby cessation of bombing could be linked with initiation of talks which could lead to a standstill ceasefire” that would include a halt to infiltration from the DRV. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)↩
- See footnote 2, Document 133.↩