412. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

11714. Ref: State 72671.2

I saw President Thieu afternoon November 22 to discuss holiday ceasefire. I outlined our position as contained para 1 and 2 of reftel, pointing out that we agreed with the times proposed by the GVN, namely 24 hours for Christmas, 24 hours for New Year, and 48 hours for Tet.
Thieu said that in his public comment he had been mistaken about the number of hours proposed for each holiday ceasefire and had stated they should be same number of times used last year, incorrectly stating this was 24–24–48 hours. These periods were respectively 48–48–96 hours. Thieu said he had just been discussing this matter with Generals Cao Van Vien and DefMin Vy who wished to shorten these hours. They had therefore agreed on the following possible schedule: from 7 am December 24 to 7 pm December 25 (36 hours); from 7 am December 31 to 7 pm January 1 (36 hours); from 7 am January 29 to 7 am February 1 (72 hours). In addition they had agreed that New Year and Tet standdown would be contingent on NVN/VC “perform-ance” in complying with Christmas standdown. He mentioned the large number of NVN/VC violations of past standdowns.
I pointed out that General Westmoreland’s preference had been for 24–24–48 hours. Thieu appeared to have no personal objection to our view, commenting that it was primarily a military matter, and that 24 hours was a bare minimum and 36–36–72 a maximum position.
In connection with the possibility of the GVN offering to meet with the other side to discuss a longer pause, I suggested to Thieu that he should follow the same procedure as was followed last year with respect to a GVN announcement about meeting with the NVN. Thieu said he was agreeable that an announcement be made of GVN willingness to meet with the NVN to discuss anything that might be useful.
Thieu was also agreeable to the idea of calling a meeting of the Ambassadors of the seven nations in Saigon to discuss these matters once the US-GVN position was settled. He did not seem to feel that this meeting was a matter of urgency, however.
Comment: I think that Thieu’s suggestion that implementation of the New Year and Tet ceasefires should be dependent on NVA/VC good faith is a very useful one. I will discuss with General Abrams tomorrow whether the slightly longer hours suggested by Thieu are acceptable from a military viewpoint and you may wish to do the same simultaneously with General Westmoreland. If General Abrams thinks so, and if Ambassador Bunker and General Westmoreland agree, I recommend that we accept the GVN proposal of 36–36–72 hours and include in the announcement the condition for the subsequent ceasefires. This would appear to be responsive to GVN initiative and the announcement could be supplemented by any language you desire on NVN/VC not “taking advantage” of standdown to accelerate supply movements. If 24–24–48 appears clearly preferable to us, General Abrams can talk to General Vien, and I feel reasonably sure they will accept our position on this point.
Once we are agreed on our joint position we will follow up with the GVN regarding the actual calling of the Ambassadors’ meeting and the exact terms of the subsequent announcements, including the GVN announcement about being willing to meet with the other side to discuss a longer pause, along the lines used during the 1967 Tet period.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Repeated to Seoul, Manila, Bangkok, Canberra, Wellington, and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. In telegram 72671 to Saigon, November 21, the Department approved cease-fires for Christmas, New Year’s, and Tet of 24, 24, and 48 hours, respectively, recognizing the need for flexibility in order to respond to additional cease-fire offers by the NLF but expressing concern that “any more protracted cease-fire periods would cause unacceptable risks to our forces.” (Ibid.)