411. Editorial Note

Exchanges between the North Vietnamese and the Romanian Governments comprised the channel later termed Packers by the Johnson administration. In telegram 604 from Bucharest, October 25, 1967, Ambassador to Romania Richard Davis reported on Romanian Premier Ion Gheorghe Maurer’s visit to Hanoi in early October. Maurer’s two-point package presented to Ho Chi Minh consisted of an insistence that the United States “must stop immediately, unconditionally, and once and for all” the bombardment of the DRV and that the North Vietnamese “must declare its agreement to start negotiations with US on elimination of conflict.” Maurer stated that U.S. flexibility strengthened moderates in Hanoi. Most important, he was convinced that the DRV would allow the South Vietnamese people to decide their own fate and would not insist upon reunification or an end to a U.S. presence in South Vietnam. [Page 1062] (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET)

As a result of instructions received in telegram 63057 to Bucharest, November 1, the next day Davis submitted to Maurer a number of questions about his conversations in Hanoi. (Ibid.) As reported in telegram 718 from Bucharest, November 15, Maurer further clarified his sense that the North Vietnamese would continue fighting concurrently with negotiations. In addition, he believed that they had not differentiated among talks, discussions, and negotiations, that they would accept the Geneva Accords as a basis for a settlement, and that they would request an unspecified time interval between the talks and the cessation of fighting. (Ibid.)

“Judging from his own account, Maurer appears to have done useful service in presenting to Hanoi an authoritative and forceful exposition of U.S. policy in South Viet-Nam, particularly with respect to the principle of full liberty for the South Vietnamese people to decide their own destiny,” Ambassador at Large Harriman wrote in a November 20 assessment of Maurer’s conversations in Hanoi, sent to Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bundy. (Ibid., S-AH Files: Lot 71 D 461, Maurer)

The following day Harriman began a trip to Near Eastern and East European countries as the next step in the Packers negotiating channel. On November 24 Harriman met with the Shah of Iran to discuss his proposal for a six-nation group to guarantee the peace process in Vietnam. Harriman also discouraged an effort by the Shah to contact Mai Van Bo to sound out the possibility of dispatching an Iranian intermediary to Hanoi. (Telegram 2008/Govto 7 from Rawalpindi, November 24; ibid., Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET)

Harriman’s next stop was Pakistan, where he represented the U.S. Government at the dedication of the Mangla Dam. In telegram 807 from Karachi, November 1, Ambassador to Pakistan Benjamin Oehlert had reported that Prime Minister Ayub Khan informed him of remarks made to Khan by Maurer that Ho Chi Minh accepted that “the withdrawal of USG and Allied forces would have to be accompanied by both Vietnamese withdrawal and also by the creation of an international presence in South Vietnam to supervise a referendum and to keep the peace.” (Ibid.) On November 25 Ayub Khan, pointing to flexibility in the position that the North Vietnamese put forth in recent discussions with the Romanian Government, underscored the importance of this channel and advised following through with it. (Telegram 2016/Govto 9 from Rawalpindi, November 25; ibid., S-AH Files: Lot 84 D 161, Governor Harriman’s Trip, November, 1967) After a brief stop in Afghanistan, Harriman went to Yugoslavia, where he met with President Josep Broz Tito to discuss the Middle East and Vietnam. Unlike [Page 1063] Ayub Khan, Tito did not foresee any promising results from the Romanian channel because of the unlikelihood that the Romanians could bring both the Soviets and the Chinese together on Vietnam. (Telegram 789/Govto 26 from Bucharest, November 28; ibid., EA/ACA Files: Lot 69 D 277, Vietnam File-North Vietnam)

The most important meeting Harriman had was with Prime Minister Maurer upon his arrival in Romania. As reported in telegram 803/Govto 33 from Bucharest, November 29, Maurer elaborated on discussions he held in Hanoi with North Vietnamese leaders during early October in which Premier Pham Van Dong had stated that discussions would follow (rather than could follow) the permanent cessation of bombardment. Harriman requested that Maurer undertake additional steps to bring about negotiations, adding that Maurer could inform the North Vietnamese that they could continue to re-supply forces in the South as long as such commitment did not increase above present levels. (Ibid., S-AH Files: Lot 71 D 461, Maurer; see also memorandum of conversation between Maurer and Harriman, November 28, in Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Packers II)

As a result, First Deputy Foreign Minister Gheorghe Macovescu and First Secretary of the Romanian Embassy in Washington Marin Iliescu visited Hanoi December 14–18. They met twice with Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh and once with Dong, on each occasion presenting the points made by Harriman in his November 28 conversation with Maurer. The Romanians saw signs of moderation of the previously intransigent North Vietnamese position on initiating negotiations. On December 26 Romania’s Ambassador in Washington, Corneliu Bogdan, contacted Harriman and requested permission to send an envoy to the United States in order to inform the U.S. Government of the discussions in Hanoi. (Memorandum of telephone conversation, December 26; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Chronological File, December, 1967) Harriman did not meet with Macovescu, Iliescu, and Bogdan until January 5, 1968. For additional information on Harriman’s mission, see Rudy Abramson, Spanning the Century: The Life of W. Averell Harriman, 1891–1986 (New York: William Morrow, 1992).