315. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

3143. From Kissinger. As requested I am submitting my comments on the text handed by Bo to M this morning:2

Substance of the message: The first paragraph of the message is ambiguous about American “conditions.” It could refer to the proposal of negotiations or the threat of resuming attacks on Hanoi.

The last paragraph represents an advance over those previous exchanges with which I am familiar in three respects: (1) For the first time Hanoi has answered an American proposal and not closed the door on further negotiations. (2) Hanoi demands the recognition of the NLF but seems to have dropped the previous insistence that the NLF be accepted as the “most authentic representative” (I do not have the full text available). (3) It states that negotiations would follow a bombing cessation. (Note: These views probably reflect incomplete knowledge of all exchanges.)

Future course: We have two choices: (A) To take the message at face value and end the A–M channel; (B) To treat the message as a first [Page 776]step in complicated bargaining process. The advantage of the first course is that it could bring home to Hanoi that there is a penalty for failure to negotiate. Its disadvantage is that it will close off the A–M channel and severely limit the negotiating option for several months at least. Also, it leaves the public record more ambiguous than one would like, especially with respect to the bombing of Hanoi.

The advantage of the second course is that it permits a fuller exploration of Hanoi’s mood and intentions. Also, it will give us an opportunity to improve the public record. The danger is that unless carefully handled it may convey a sense of excessive nervousness to Hanoi.

Nevertheless, on balance I would favor going along a little further with the A–M channel, especially in view of Bo’s comments on Saturday and his repeated reference to an answer this morning. Even if Hanoi has decided to negotiate, it would begin with a rather intransigent tone for its public record. An answer could have the following elements: It could refer to the last sentence of Hanoi’s message and point out that the American proposal envisages an end of bombing to be followed by the opening of negotiations. If Hanoi read the American message as involving conditions this might reflect a misunderstanding. K is in Paris and available for the clarification of both messages. With respect to the bombing of Hanoi we could say that this problem was dealt with by our offer to end the bombing altogether. We might then draw a distinction between those actions which precede the opening of negotiations such as the first sentence of the last paragraph and items which are the subject of negotiations themselves such as the list in the second sentence of the last paragraph (withdrawal of troops, etc.). It would certainly be appropriate for Hanoi to place the latter issues on the agenda of any discussions together with other items which we might wish to introduce. There could be another reference to any availability for clarifications.

On another matter, I discussed with M what he would do if this approach failed. I told him that any public disclosure would wreck not only this initiative but also threaten comparable efforts which might be undertaken in the future. I also told him that I would dissociate myself from him and A if he ever used the information about this effort publicly. M gave me his word that he would make no public statement “even if you drop an H-bomb on Hanoi.” However, if the bombing of Hanoi is resumed he plans to make a full report to the Elysée. He offered to show me the text before he submitted it and to give me an opportunity to correct it.

Bohlen
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PENNSYLVANIA. Top Secret; Nodis; Pennsylvania.
  2. Telegram 3097 from Paris, September 11, described the meeting that day between Bo and Marcovich at 9:30 a.m. and transmitted the Embassy’s translation of Bo’s message, which was in French. (Ibid.) The English translation reads: “The essence of the American propositions is the stopping of the bombing under conditions. The American bombing of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam is illegal. The United States should put an end to the bombing and cannot pose any conditions. The American message has been communicated after an escalation of the attacks against Hanoi and under the threat (menace) of the continuation of the attacks against Hanoi. It is clear that this constitutes an ultimatum to the Vietnamese people. The Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam energetically rejects the American propositions. The position of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam is that the United States should cease definitely and without conditions the bombing and all other acts of war against the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam. It should withdraw American troops and satellites from South Viet-Nam, recognize the National Liberation Front of South Viet-Nam and let the Vietnamese people themselves regulate their internal affairs. It is only after the unconditional stopping by the United States of the bombing and all other acts of war against the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam, that it would be possible to engage in conversations.” In a covering memorandum transmitting telegram 3097 to the President, September 11, Rostow wrote: “Here is the latest from Kissinger. Today Bo responded to M with the same rigid formulation with which we are so familiar. The only possible point of interest is that he asked for a reply. Secretaries Rusk and McNamara are working on a reply, which should come over mid-afternoon. This sounds to me a little as though they plan to make the contact in Paris public. But it is barely conceivable that it is the opening move in having a Bo-Kissinger conversation.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, PENNSYLVANIA) The English translation is printed in Herring, The Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War, pp. 737–738.