3. Editorial Note

Harrison Salisbury, a senior reporter for The New York Times, visited Hanoi December 23, 196–January 7, 1967. As a result of his trip, he wrote nearly two dozen articles for the newspaper alleging that U.S. aerial bombardment had caused extensive damage to civilians and non-military targets. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume IV, Document 352. Although Salisbury’s critique concerned the administration, U.S. officials did little to dispute the dispatches publicly. However, in private some argued that Salisbury’s reports “contain exaggerations and that where they were not clearly based on Salisbury’s own observations, they appear to lean heavily on North Vietnamese propaganda.” (Telegram 111162 to Saigon, December 31, 1966; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 27 VIET S)

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Salisbury’s most important contact in Hanoi was on January 2 with Democratic Republic of Vietnam Premier Pham Van Dong. During this long discussion, Dong insisted that the National Liberation Front’s official terms for ending the war, known as the Four Points, were not “preconditions” for settlement talks, but rather a simple framework for any eventual settlement. Salisbury later wrote that Dong had implied that if Washington made the first move by unconditionally ending the bombing of the North, “we would know what to do,” a statement that Salisbury believed was a rejection of overt reciprocity but not of secret, direct discussions. (Harrison Salisbury, Behind the Lines—Hanoi, New York: Harper & Row, 1967, pages 192–205)

The First Secretary of the French Embassy in Washington Roger Duzer informed Richard Smyser of the Vietnam Working Group that Hungarian officials told the French that Hanoi no longer insisted upon U.S. acceptance of the Four Points in advance of negotiations and observed that Mai Van Bo had recently remarked that Hanoi would “examine and study” possible negotiations if bombing ceased permanently and unconditionally. Duzer thought this was a “new position.” (Memorandum of conversation, January 5, 5:30 p.m.; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, EA/VN Files: Lot 75 D 167, TS-POLMIL–DRV/PRG-Negotiations and Settlement, 1965–67) The Four Points included an end to U.S. involvement and warfare in Vietnam, the implementation of the military provisions of the 1954 Geneva Accords, a political settlement “in accordance with the programme of the South Vietnam National Liberation Front,” and the peaceful reunification of Vietnam without foreign interference. For text of the Four Points, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume II, Document 245.

On January 13 in Washington, Salisbury met with Secretary of State Rusk and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs William P. Bundy to brief them on his visit to North Vietnam, and especially Dong’s statement on the relation between the Four Points and a bombing cessation. Salisbury argued that the Prime Minister’s remarks (which Hanoi did not want to be made public) represented a moderation in North Vietnam’s negotiating stance. He presented the notes of his meeting, which differed in significant ways from the final version edited by North Vietnamese officials. Most important was the exclusion of Dong’s statement that if the United States “stops doing harm to the North we know what we should do,” a remark that was deleted by the DRV censors. Salisbury maintained that this act indicated that it was a statement meant to remain confidential and thus was of great importance. In addition, Salisbury drew the conclusion that Dong, although remaining elusive on reciprocal restraints, did not reject the convening of private talks with U.S. officials. The “atmospherics” of his visit demonstrated in his mind that Hanoi was prepared for “secret explorations.” Memorandum of conversation, January 13; National [Page 10]Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–69, POL 27–14 VIET S) Another debriefing of Salisbury conducted by Department of Defense officials was summarized in a January 20 memorandum from the Director of the Office of Research and Analysis for East Asia and the Pacific of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Frederick Greene, to Bundy. (Ibid., EA Files: Lot 74 D 246, Miscellaneous-Salisbury)