349. Editorial Note

The next round in the indirect probe of the North Vietnamese Government known as Pennsylvania consisted of a response to statements made by Hanoi’s representative in Paris, Mai Van Bo. According to telegram 49772 to Paris, October 6, 1967, Henry Kissinger planned to telephone from Boston his intermediary in France, Herbert Marcovich, and alert him to receive the message for Bo at the house of a U.S. diplomat in Paris. The text of the note, which was transmitted in the telegram, read:

“The United States Government understands the position of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to be as follows: That upon the cessation by the United States of all forms of bombardment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, without expression of condition, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam would enter promptly into productive discussions with the United States. The purpose of these discussions would be to resolve the issues between the United States and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Assuming the correctness of this understanding [Page 871]of the position of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the United States Government is prepared, in accordance with its proposal of August 25, to transmit in advance to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam the precise date upon which bombardment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam would cease and to suggest a date and a place for the commencement of discussions.”

In addition, Marcovich was to add four points orally: this understanding was “consistent” with prior statements by both sides, Kissinger would have authority to discuss the times of the cessation and the venue for discussions, the administration requested a comment from the North Vietnamese Government with respect to secrecy in any resultant discussions, and since the U.S. Government had noted the reduction of Communist military activities around the demilitarized zone, it was suggested that the North Vietnamese Government note that bombing had not occurred around Hanoi for several weeks. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PENNSYLVANIA)

In a telephone conversation with Benjamin Read at 9:30 a.m. on October 8, Kissinger reported on the meeting of Marcovich and his compatriot Raymond Aubrac with Bo on October 8 at 9 a.m. in Paris. After receiving Kissinger’s message, Bo promised to utilize the Pennsylvania channel if any reply was necessary. However, he characterized the message as conditional, especially the use of the words “prompt” and “productive” as well as the phrase “in accordance with the proposal of August 25,” and labeled it as the “usual American double game.” (Memorandum of telephone conversation; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Pennsylvania) A notation on an October 9 covering memorandum from Rostow transmitting this memorandum to the President indicates that he saw the record of the conversations. (Ibid.)

After hearing from Kissinger, Read discussed Bo’s response to the message with Secretary Rusk, Under Secretary Katzenbach, Walt Rostow, and Secretary McNamara. An unattributed and undated note written after this discussion indicates that the senior advisers were not surprised by Bo’s reaction. “He is making all the obvious points he knows his government would make and holding open all options,” Read reported he had told Kissinger. Kissinger was directed to inform Marcovich that the message “represents an entirely reasonable suggestion for ending the bombing and moving forward to discussions resolving US/DRV differences”; the North Vietnamese Government had up to this point failed to adequately respond; and Kissinger might return to Paris by the end of the week depending on what type of response Marcovich received from Bo. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PENNSYLVANIA)

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The next day, October 9, Marcovich again saw Bo. At that meeting, described in a telephone conversation between Kissinger and Read on October 9, Marcovich tried to impress upon a recalcitrant Bo the fact that for the first time the U.S. Government had offered to set a specific date for a cessation. Any response from the U.S. Government would be determined by the nature of the reaction from Bo and his government. Bo noted that he was available to meet with Kissinger if he came to Paris during the ensuing weekend. In addition, Bo seemingly confirmed Pham Van Dong’s statement of July 26 intimating a brief interval between the end of bombing and the beginning of peace talks by responding: “He who does not say ’no’, agrees.” (Undated summary of a telephone conversation between Kissinger and Read of October 9, noon; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Pennsylvania) A covering memorandum from Rostow transmitting a copy of the record of the telephone conversation to the President on October 9 at 1:55 p.m., which bears a notation indicating that the President saw the record, reads: “Our intermediaries M and A are like a couple of Mexican jumping beans. I wish they would sit still for a bit.” (Ibid.)

In subsequent telephone conversations with Read over the next 2 days, Kissinger acknowledged that he had refused Marcovich’s prodding to come to Paris “in order to maximize pressures on Bo to get something back through the channel.” Kissinger would only return to Paris when the North Vietnamese had clearly failed to respond; until that time, he had advised Marcovich that the U.S. Government “has nothing further to say.” (Undated summary of telephone conversations between Kissinger and Read of October 10 and October 11; ibid.) The summaries of these telephone conversations are printed in part in Herring, The Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam War, pages 761–766.