38. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1


  • Hanoi “Proposal” Through Senator Kennedy 2

I have not seen the full text of the Newsweek report on this matter.3 However, news stories, for example the Washington Post piece on page one today, indicate that Newsweek went well beyond the true facts.

We have a copy of the Kennedy interview with a French Foreign Ministry official which is clearly the basis of this story. The text of the conversation is attached.4

The French official in question is M. Manac’h who is Asian Director of the Quai. The meeting occurred on January 31. Manac’h was accompanied by Mr. Brethes of the Quai. The Senator was accompanied by Mr. Van Den Heuvel. Foreign Service Officer John Dean of the American Embassy interpreted.

At no point did Manac’h profess to be speaking for the North Vietnamese. He underlined that what he was giving the Senator was his own “personal interpretation” and he also said that the formula of “three slices” was his “own invention.” The heart of the Manac’h theory was: [Page 89]

If the United States stopped bombing the North, Hanoi would be willing to talk with the United States, and this could produce a “system of balanced de-escalation.”
The next “slice” would be a discussion of the situation in South Viet-Nam.
The third “slice” would involve an “overall settlement.”

Senator Kennedy apparently feels he was misled in estimating the importance of the French theory by the comment of the Foreign Service Officer, Mr. Dean. At one point, Manac’h said he thought Hanoi was telling us: “If the Americans really want to get in touch with the Democratic Republic of North Viet-Nam, it will suffice if they definitively and unconditionally stopped bombing North Viet-Nam. Then talks would be possible between the United States and North Viet-nam.”

Mr. Dean commented at that point: “That seems very new and very interesting to me, and I am taking the liberty of calling Senator Kennedy’s attention to it.” He then asked if the North Vietnamese had told the French specifically of their intention to “divide the problems into slices.”

Manac’h replied it was “obviously my personal interpretation.”

Mr. Dean’s interjection may have misled Senator Kennedy, but Manac’h’s stress on this being his “own invention” would have seemed to have brought the thing back into perspective. Apparently, it didn’t.

The three point formula, it is clear, was not a message from the North Vietnamese but rather the French interpretation of the situation as they see it. We do not know how the story was leaked to Newsweek. As you know, both the French Foreign Ministry and the North Vietnamese representative in Paris have denied that they passed any message from Hanoi to Senator Kennedy.

State believes the stories emanated from a member of the Senator’s staff.

Under Secretary Katzenbach will be seeing Senator Kennedy this afternoon.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Negotiations. Secret. A handwritten “L” on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. The President, Katzenbach, and Rostow met with Senator Robert Kennedy that day from 4:34 p.m. through 5:52 p.m. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) A half hour before the meeting, Rusk advised the President to have “a witness” present in the meeting with Kennedy. (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, February 6, 1967, 4:04 p.m., Tape F67.06, Side A, PNO 2) The President told Rusk that Kennedy sought only to use such a meeting as a “platform” for a new peace proposal that the Senator would make. Johnson was also concerned about Kennedy “leaking” information. (Ibid., Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rusk, February 6, 1967, 3:30 p.m., Tape F67.06, Side A, PNO 1) The meeting was off-the-record, but an account of it appears in Arthur Schlesinger’s Robert Kennedy and His Times (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1978), pp. 768–769.
  3. The February 5 issue of Newsweek reported that Kennedy had received a message from Mai Van Bo through the French Government suggesting that peace talks would begin once the bombing of the DRV ceased.
  4. The attached text of the conversation is in telegram 11650 from Paris, February 2. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S) Full reports on Kennedy’s discussions with Manac’h and Sainteny are in memoranda of conversation, January 30 and 31, prepared by First Secretary of the Embassy in Paris John Dean, in the Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXV.