362. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

Herewith Kissinger’s account of the end of the Paris channel.

The hardening in their position is made absolutely clear by the reference to the Trinh interview of January 28: that language is talks “could” take place not “can,” as in the private message of a few days ago.

The latest Burchett interview also goes directly back to the earlier interview and uses “could.”2

The two major possibilities are:

  • —They regard U.S. politics and world diplomacy as too attractive to begin talks now.
  • —Their talks with Communist China involve a new deal for support or, even, Chinese military action.

[Page 912]

I am putting CIA to work on the latter hypothesis urgently.3



Text of Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State4

Paris 5545, from Kissinger

I saw M and A for an hour and a half at 1900 at M’s house to review our position prior to their calling Bo. I told them that Hanoi’s message had been reviewed at the highest level and most carefully. In its present form it was simply too vague to be acceptable. M said that a French judge had told him that “pourront” implied a moral commitment. I replied that one of our highest judges held a different view. A then wrote down the following phrases and asked me about my reaction: “The bombardment and other acts of war against the territory of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) are the sole obstacle to meaningful negotiations. As soon as the bombing ceases, negotiations can begin.” A said that he was prepared to put his personal position with Ho behind these phrases. I replied that while I could not speak for the U.S. Government, these phrases would be a big step forward. The DMZ problem would still have to be dealt with. (I had not seen the Burchett interview reported in your 574985 then.)

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I left M’s house at 2030 and returned to my hotel to await word about the appointment with Bo. At 2130 A called in great distress that Bo had refused to see them. We agreed to meet at 2230. The following is their report of the conversation. A did the talking and M listened on the extension and took notes.

A: We would like to see you urgently.

Bo: There is nothing new to say. The situation is worsening. There is no reason to talk again.

A: There is something new and very important.

Bo: Repeated word for word the same phrase as before.

A: There is something very important—perhaps the most important juncture of our exchanges.

Bo: Repeated word for word the same phrase but then added: What is the important matter.

A: It has to do with the meaning of the last sentence of your last message and the sequence with which steps have to be taken.

Bo: Our position is perfectly clear. We stand on the Trinh interview with Burchett of January 28. Bo then repeated word for word the original phrase.

M and A were distraught. M was close to tears and A, too, was extremely depressed. In these circumstances I confined myself to thanking them for their dedication and meticulousness. The channel failed, not for lack of goodwill or imagination, but because Hanoi either could not or would not talk. M said that at least we had learned what Hanoi meant by unconditional. I replied that no serious person could believe in an absolute unconditional relationship. Our concerns had really been minimal: To make sure that Hanoi would talk promptly, that the talks would be serious and that Hanoi would not take advantage of the situation. A and M agreed. They half-heartedly urged a unilateral bombing pause but I said that this channel gave little encouragement for such a course. I told them again how much Washington appreciated their efforts. I told them that I would maintain strict secrecy. They promised that they would not comment no matter what might be said in other quarters. We agreed to meet tomorrow at 0930 to review the history of this channel.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Pennsylvania. Top Secret; Pennsylvania. The notation “L” on the memorandum indicates that the President saw both it and the attached telegram. A copy of the attached telegram 5545 from Saigon, which was received at 9:27 p.m. on October 20, is also in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PENNSYLVANIA.
  2. An Associated Press dispatch from journalist Wilfred Burchett in Hanoi detailed new interviews with North Vietnamese officials such as Premier Pham Van Dong and Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh. Burchett reported that the North Vietnamese were “in no mood for concessions and bargaining and there is an absolute refusal to offer anything—except talks—for a cessation of the bombardment.” Trinh simply reiterated that his statement of January 28 (that talks could follow a halt) “still held good.” See The New York Times, October 21, 1967. INR analysts believed that Burchett’s article represented a toughening of North Vietnam’s negotiating stance and that the North Vietnamese leadership had confirmed Bo’s statement that talks of a preliminary nature, necessary to define objectives, had to precede negotiations. “Our estimate is that Hanoi probably wants to get all it can before the Christmas and/or Tet period when it will be in a better position to evaluate the situation in South Vietnam and the trends of US politics.” (Memorandum from Hughes to Rusk, October 23; Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, East Asia Region, Vietnam) Another correspondent, David Schoenbrun, discussed his meeting with Pham Van Dong in an October 4 conversation with Cooper, Isham, Smyser, and other government representatives. Schoenbrun reported that Dong had purposely omitted the previous demand of the DRV for a “permanent” bombing halt. (Memorandum of conversation, October 4; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)
  3. Responding to Rostow’s request in an October 23 memorandum, Helms concluded that throughout the Paris contacts North Vietnam had not revealed a position “significantly different from or has ever been appreciably more forthcoming than the Hanoi position enunciated through other means, including public statements.” The leaders in Hanoi were not interested in meaningful negotiations, would reject any insistence that talks be “fruitful,” and would not be “forthcoming” given their belief that the administration’s political position was “eroding.” The North Vietnamese did not regard the Paris channel “very seriously”; thus not even demands by the Chinese would have influenced the outcome of Pennsylvania. (Central Intelligence Agency, DCI (Helms) Files, Job 80–B01285A, DCI (Helms) Chrono, Aug-Dec 1967)
  4. Top Secret; Nodis; Pennsylvania.
  5. In telegram 57498 to Paris, October 20, the Department informed Kissinger of Ambassador Sullivan’s report that before the release of Burchett’s interview, the DRV Charge in Vientiane cautioned Sullivan on the necessity to ensure that the U.S. Government would not “misunderstand” statements in the upcoming interview as it had with the January 28 interview. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PENNSYLVANIA) Sullivan’s report was transmitted in telegram 2081 from Vientiane, October 13. (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S)