356. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

8854. 1. During my call on Thieu with Habib and Jorden, President-elect discussed plans for an approach to Hanoi.2 He is frankly skeptical a move now will produce a favorable response from Ho. Nonetheless he feels obligated to follow up on his campaign promise.

2. His present intention is to cover the peace theme in a general way in his inaugural address. He will stress that his government wants to “open the door to peace—and keep it open.” Desire for peace will be balanced by expression of South Vietnamese determination to continue to fight against aggression from the North and for Southern independence.

3. Thieu plans to follow inaugural with a direct message to Ho Chi Minh. He sees two possible approaches:

An expression of desire for peaceful settlement and for direct discussions to achieve that end. If this produced a favorable response, Thieu would ask us to halt bombing. We would assume that reciprocal action would be forthcoming from the other side.
A halt in bombing to be followed immediately by a message to Ho proposing immediate talks.

4. Thieu is aware of the desirability of avoiding the kind of message that would be read in Hanoi and elsewhere as an ultimatum. He seems anxious to avoid the appearance of adopting a propaganda gimmick. Even so, he fully expects Ho to reject any initiative from Saigon at this time. “But at some time he may respond—in two months, or six months, or a year.”

5. I told Thieu I would report his views immediately and would come back to him with our reactions. We agreed that close and full consultation between us on this matter was necessary.

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6. Comment: The first of Thieu’s proposed alternatives seems to me clearly preferable. A simple, straightforward message from Thieu to Ho expressing a desire for peace and a willingness to talk would, when surfaced, put the new Saigon regime in a favorable light internationally and at home. If rejected, as we must assume it would be, the offer would highlight the contrast between Hanoi’s intransigence and Saigon’s reasonableness. This approach would, of course, leave room for the critics to charge that an offer to talk without an end to bombing was meaningless. Saigon’s answer to that would be: we are interested in ending the war, not half of it, and attacks from the North and infiltration had not ended.

7. Thieu’s second course, a bombing halt followed by a message to Ho, would require far more elaborate preparation and coordination. In undertaking a bombing stoppage, we would want to maximize chances for a favorable response and it is questionable that a proposal from Saigon would achieve that end.

8. Would appreciate soonest Department’s reaction to above.3 If we come down on side of first alternative, it may be desirable to go back to Thieu with suggested language for at least the key portion of any message to Ho.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Exdis.
  2. Habib and Jorden visited Vietnam October 15–21. This discussion was also reported in Bunker’s 25th weekly telegram to the President, telegram 8875 from Saigon, October 18. (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S; also in Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vietnam 8B(1), 4/67–11/67, Bunker’s Weekly Report to the President [2 of 2]; and printed in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 205–214) Telegram 8578 from Saigon, October 14, reported on a published story in a Saigon newspaper that Thieu had met with a group of Japanese correspondents on October 13 and told them about his desire to send a letter to Ho Chi Minh proposing direct talks between their governments. He invited Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato to become involved in the search for peace. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  3. See Document 361.