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

3501. From Kissinger. I lunched with A and M within minutes of their interview with Bo which lasted for over an hour. The following report is their account based on extensive notes taken by A. I read my own notes back to them to check their accuracy. A did most of the talking at lunch and also at the interview with Bo. Quotations reflect the best recollection of A and M based on notes made during the interview.

Bo greeted A and M very affably and offered them whiskey. A, who is suffering from a sciatic condition which delayed his arrival from Rome, declined on doctor’s orders. Bo said that he did not like whiskey but, looking at M, that whiskey did help to reduce anxieties. He then offered tea and pastry. He said that he had been especially charged by President Ho to inquire into the health of A’s family, especially his daughter.

A then handed him the U.S. message in a sealed envelope. Bo asked whether he knew its content. A replied that all he knew was that I had described it as “conciliatory.” (He used the English word and Bo made him write it down.) Bo did not open the envelope in A & M’s presence.

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A next showed Bo the stories in Le Monde of yesterday and of Le Figaro this morning and inquired about their significance. Bo, who had obviously been expecting the question replied that the three to four week interval between the end of bombing and the beginning of negotiations was an invention of journalists. Pham Van Dong’s statement had given no ground for the time period mentioned in the newspapers.2

A then turned the conversation to the continued validity of the A–M channel. He said he did not mind acting as a mailman but there was no sense in continuing if it led nowhere or embarrassed either party. “We are, in my judgment, at the end of our tether (au bout de notre rouleau). We have established contact and we should withdraw.” Bo replied: “My dear friends, you are not in my judgment at the end of your tether. You have been received as friends. We trust you and you trust Kissinger. What you have been doing is useful. If we think what you are doing is not useful, we shall tell you. When you asked for a visa concurrent with the bombardment of Hanoi, we refused. To let you come would have discredited us and ultimately you. But you see you have produced results. There was a message to us from the United States Government which we accepted. We replied, to be sure, negatively. This week we have had two brief communications and today a formal message. So you are being useful.”

M then said that he thought the time had come for Bo to see me. Bo asked many questions about my plans for next week. (Note: For Washington’s information, I have cancelled my visit to Bonn but am committed to a speech in Hanover on Saturday.3 I shall stay here until about noon Sept 22.) M said that one way of arranging a meeting would be to have coffee together in somebody’s house. Bo replied: “Let me think about how best to arrange a meeting and I will let you know. I will call you as I called you last week.”

M then returned to his theme of reporting to the Elysée if the present effort failed but offering to check with Bo first. Turning to A Bo said: “Our friend M is very impatient. First he wanted to report to Pugwash, now to the Elysée. I can tell you now that I shall never tell you not to report to the Elysée but also I shall never tell you to report there. Your channel is not at the end of its usefulness. I see no need to bring anyone else in. Complicated matters take some time to mature and become [Page 808]more complicated if too many people intervene.” (Note: A commented that Hanoi and Washington obviously saw procedural matters in the same light.)

M returned to the interview of A and M with Pham Van Dong. He asked whether Dzu (the runner-up in the Presidential campaign in SVN) would be acceptable to the NLF in the more broadly based government Pham Van Dong had mentioned in July. Bo said that he had gone to university in Paris with Dzu and knew him. Dzu was a heel (salaud), who all his life had been involved in currency manipulations. He could not be counted on. There were, however, many reasonable people in the South, including high-ranking military officers. When A asked about Thieu Bo replied: “I do not understand a man who gets himself elected on the basis of inviting foreigners to bomb his compatriots.” A was struck by the relative mildness of his comment.

In conclusion Bo asked A and M whether I had said anything about the political situation in the U.S. Because of Paris 33414 I had thought that this issue might come up. Following my recommendations, A and M said that the main lines of American foreign policy would not change no matter who won in 1968—unless it was Reagan5 in which case there would be a greater possibility of escalation than of peace overtures.

Bo seemed surprised at this news.

A did not raise the nuance he mentioned about the text of Hanoi message of Sept 11 (see Paris 3492)6 because he was afraid it might involve an implication that the Vietnamese lacked adequate French.

At the end of the meeting Bo returned M’s handwritten notes of Thursday (see Paris 3383).7 M apologized for the inadequate French and poor handwriting. Bo said that the notes had been very useful. M offered to type them up. Bo, following the rules of the “game” said that this was not necessary. He had studied them sufficiently.

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Conclusions: (1) A who on the way from the airport had been very pessimistic about the continued usefulness of the A–M channel has changed his view. Where this morning he thought that the basic problem was that Hanoi either could not or would not talk he now believes that it is tortuously groping its way to a dialogue with the U.S.

(2) A believes that Bo already has authority to see me but wants to wait until closer to my departure. He wants, in A’s judgment, to avoid an impression of overeagerness. He did not once mention the need of referring the request to Hanoi.

(3) A & M consider it significant that the bombing of Hanoi or Haiphong was not mentioned by Bo (except peripherally to explain the refusal of a visa) even though the last U.S. communication referred to them (see Paris 3383 & 3415).8

(4) A was eager to return to Rome. I asked him to stay over the week end. However, he plans to leave Monday morning9 and return Wednesday.

(5) My recommendation is that we sit tight. If we have not heard from Bo by Wednesday afternoon, A can call and request an appointment for himself and M for Thursday. This meeting could discuss how to use the A–M channel after I leave Paris. I would be grateful for guidance on this point as on any additional points to discuss with Bo if the meeting takes place.

Bohlen
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PENNSYLVANIA. Top Secret; Flash; Nodis/Pennsylvania. Received at 3:27 p.m.
  2. These reports quoted North Vietnamese sources who stated that talks would begin within 4 weeks after the cessation of bombing by the United States. These sources also interpreted Dong’s statement of August 30, in which the Premier called for a halt as a prerequisite for negotiations, not as imposing conditions for a cease-fire. See The New York Times, September 15.
  3. September 23.
  4. Dated September 14. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PENNSYLVANIA)
  5. Governor Ronald Reagan was a leading figure in the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
  6. For the message of September 11 from Bo, see footnote 2, Document 315. In telegram 3492 from Paris, September 16, Kissinger noted that Aubrac believed an ambiguity existed in the message’s use of the French phrase translated into English as “cannot impose conditions.” Aubrac suggested that “Hanoi may wish to leave room for certain conditions.” Kissinger concurred in Aubrac’s desire to explore the meaning of the phrase with Bo. Kissinger also reported that he met with Aubrac and Marcovich the morning of September 16. He advised them not to tie the continuation of the channel to Kissinger’s presence in Paris and to maintain the fullest secrecy. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PENNSYLVANIA)
  7. See footnote 2, Document 326.
  8. Telegram 3415 from Paris, September 15, transmitted the French text of Bo’s message of September 14 to the Department. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PENNSYLVANIA)
  9. September 18.