407. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1
6778. 1. After complete silence of several months, Ray2 telephoned EmbOff (Dean) Nov 18 at home and asked to see him indicating through code words which were used in 1966 that purpose of meeting was to discuss his contact with NLF. At Nov 19 meeting, Ray said that on basis impressions gathered recently in Vietnamese circles Paris which have access to North Vietnamese and NLF authorities, he thinks Hanoi and NLF may possibly be more interested now in negotiated settlement than they were 4 or 5 months ago despite intransigent public position. However, before testing this sentiment, Ray would like to have reply to following question which he read from prepared paper: “Within framework of private and secret diplomacy whose goal is to bring peace to Vietnam, is USG ready to: (1) Take a peace initiative by confirming through an intermediary of Ray its willingness to send a qualified representative to meet (A) a qualified rep of GDRV and (B) a qualified rep of NLF? (2) If these meetings give rise to ’a hope,’ would US accompany this desire for peace by concrete acts which would be well received by Vietnamese people such as, for example, extending holiday truce at end of year or extending Tet truce?”
2. In off-the-cuff reply, EmbOff emphasized Secretary Rusk’s complete sincerity when he mentions publicly again and again his willingness to meet with DRV reps anywhere and anytime but that it has been latter which has constantly refused to accept offer to talk with USG—in secret or publicly. Therefore EmbOff said he thought US remained willing send qualified rep to meet with GDRV. As for meeting with NLF rep, EmbOff said this would not raise insurmountable problem if NLF really wants to talk with official US reps. EmbOff said he could not comment on second half of Ray’s question and even answer to first half of question represented EmbOff’s personal views and not necessarily those of USG. Furthermore, EmbOff added he did not know whether USG wanted to use this channel of communication with adversary. EmbOff promised transmit question to Dept and agreed inform Ray when reply received.[Page 1048]
3. Ray said that if Dept’s reply is affirmative to first point—i.e., USG ready to meet with GDRV and NLF reps—and is agreeable in principle to second point—i.e., prolonging truce if previous discussions turn out to be useful—Ray would in second meeting with EmbOff give some details of how he plans to get word to GDRV and NLF through trusted intermediary. He thinks he could have authoritative reply within 2 to 3 weeks after obtaining green light from us whether on these terms Hanoi and NLF would be interested entering into secret discussions with USG. He wanted however not to be overly optimistic because even if US agreed to his taking soundings on Hanoi’s or NLF’s receptivity to talking secretly with USG rep, “nothing at this time guarantees success of his undertaking.” When asked what makes Ray think that there may be some slight chance that he might be successful where others have failed, he replied that perhaps a well-connected South Vietnamese living outside own country may be in better position to be heard in Hanoi or by Front than a foreigner or Vietnamese official associated with GVN in Saigon. He also said that a possible willingness by Hanoi or NLF to talk secretly with USG should not be interpreted as a sign of their weakness or imminent collapse but rather as testing sincerity of US public statements.
4. In conclusion Ray suggested that in replying to his question, Dept may also wish to solicit views of Ambassador Alexis Johnson3 who knows him well and was associated with DRV’s efforts to enter into contact with NLF during 1966.
5. Ray and EmbOff agreed that regardless of Dept’s reply, complete secrecy would be preserved in this operation as had been the case in our dealings with him in the past.4
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Elmtree. Top Secret; Elmtree; Nodis. Received at 7:18 a.m. The Elmtree contact of 1966 involved efforts to secure contact with the NLF through former South Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Khanh. Khanh alleged that he could get the NLF to release some American prisoners of war in order to validate his status. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. IV, Document 179.↩
- Khanh used the code-name “Ray” during the Elmtree contacts.↩
- U. Alexis Johnson, Ambassador to Japan and former Deputy Ambassador to Vietnam.↩
- In light of DRV and NLF intransigence and NVA/VC attacks near Dak To, Dean was instructed not to give any specific advance assurances as Khanh wanted. (Telegram 73700 to Paris, November 23; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Elmtree) As reported in telegram 7072 from Paris, November 27, Dean told Khanh that he could undertake an exploration of views with the NLF “strictly on his own account and in no way on behalf of anybody else, including USG.”Khanh agreed to report back in 2 weeks the results of his overture. (Ibid.) Khanh never followed up on his promise to inform Dean of the results of his “soundings.” (Telegram 23868 from Paris, February 14, 1969; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET)↩