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

71813. 1. Following consultations with Ambassador Bunker, we have agreed upon the following proposed text of message from Thieu to Ho Chi Minh.2 The Ambassador will take this up with Thieu upon his return.

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2. As to the means of delivery, two principal alternatives are via Japanese, and via one of the ICC representatives. Each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages.

The Japanese would be a secure and willing channel and would know how to handle an outright NVN refusal to accept the message. On the other hand, Sato’s3 recent visits to South Viet-Nam and the US have added to Hanoi’s irritation over general Japanese support for US objectives in SEA, and no Japanese overture at this juncture is apt to go down well in Hanoi.4
As to ICC powers, each would have means of direct access to Hanoi and would probably be willing to undertake this task. Hanoi might be marginally more receptive to a GVN message delivered through this channel. The Poles are still charging us with bad faith over the abortive December initiative and their interest in sabotaging GVN initiative would probably be greater than any other ICC member. The Canadians, although no doubt willing enough, have been coldly received in Hanoi since the Martin proposal of last April. The Indians, despite their general anti-GVN bias, have had fairly regular contacts in Hanoi, and would probably act with reasonable discretion.

3. Begin Text. Your Excellency: Our people, from Lang Son to Ca Mau, have now undergone much suffering over a long period of time. Differences among Vietnamese on the basic questions affecting the future of our people cannot be resolved by force alone. Can those of us with differences that now appear irreconcilable discuss them in quiet, preliminary and wholly secret discussions? I think discussions could even begin without awaiting the outcome of military operations. We believe that the conditions for useful contacts among Vietnamese themselves are ripening so as to permit, in the near future, a preliminary exploration of views without prejudice to the interests of either side.

4. We stand ready to undertake this type of discussion at any time and in any place which you consider appropriate. We would designate our most trusted advisors to meet with such representatives as you may propose.

5. We would be prepared to receive any counter-suggestions from the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam and to give them most serious consideration. End Text.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Isham; cleared by Miller, Habib, Bundy, and Harriman; and approved by Rusk.
  2. In a November 16 memorandum to Rusk, Bundy confirmed the consensus view that the letter should be “general rather than over-specific” and “not too eager.” Bundy stated that delivery of the message through the Japanese Government would be the best route, although Japanese support of the U.S. position in Vietnam had caused “irritation” among the leadership in Hanoi. (Ibid., POL 15–1 VIET S)
  3. Eisaku Sato, Japanese Prime Minister.
  4. On November 18 Thieu asked the Japanese Ambassador to Vietnam to take the request to Sato, despite the Japanese Ambassador’s concerns that the letter would be rejected by the North Vietnamese. By this time, press reports came out in Saigon purporting Japanese acceptance of an intermediary role. (Telegram 73250 to Rawalpindi/Togov 2, which repeated telegram 11668 from Saigon, November 22; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S-AH Files: Lot 84 D 161, Govto Messages, Governor Harriman’s Trip, November 1967)