380. Memorandum From the Ambassador at Large (Harriman) to President Johnson and Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Negotiations

There were several statements made by members of the Senior Group during the discussions of Wednesday evening and Thursday,2 regarding which I should like to comment:

A number of participants expressed the opinion that proposals for negotiation for peace by the United States Government only encourage Hanoi to hold out. There is no evidence whatever supporting this contention. On the other hand, it seems clear that the President’s position has been materially strengthened both at home and abroad by the statements and efforts he has made or authorized to bring about talks. I strongly recommend that this policy be continued.
Some participants indicated their belief that there was no chance of the other side’s agreeing to talks until after our election and that, therefore, it was useless for us to attempt to bring about talks before then. I agree that serious talks are unlikely until after our election (or at least until after the Republican Convention) but I believe there is a significant chance that should not be overlooked that talks may be possible before then. The clearest evidence of this is “Buttercup” in which the NLF approach appears to be a bona fide attempt to begin talks.3 Furthermore we have indications of differences of opinion within the Hanoi leadership on the issue of negotiations. Prime Minister Maurer of Rumania, who recently visited Hanoi, has told us of this.4 I think it important that we not exclude the possibility that talks with either Hanoi or the NLF may be held before our elections and that our actions could increase the likelihood of talks.
Certain participants expressed the belief that there will never be talks but that at some point the enemy forces will merely fade away. I agree with what Walt Rostow stated, namely, that when Hanoi decides to consider abandoning its attack on the South, it will in all likelihood wish negotiations to attempt to reach agreement on certain important issues, either directly or through the NLF, though probably not on the Geneva model. It is also possible that some matters can be settled between the GVN and the NLF.

Therefore, unless otherwise instructed, I plan to continue my activities without regard to these particular comments made at the recent meetings.

I also recommend that Ambassador Bunker continue to urge the new GVN not only to pursue vigorously their National Reconciliation Program, but also to develop any leads for talks with the NLF or with its members.

W. Averell Harriman 5
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Chronological File, November 1967. Secret; Nodis.
  2. Reference is to the Wise Men’s meetings on November 1 and 2; see Documents 376 and 377.
  3. See Document 369.
  4. See footnote 5, Document 357.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature. Below the signature is the following typed postscript: “Otherwise, I felt the meetings were extremely interesting & constructive.”