98. Editorial Note

On March 2, 1967, UN Secretary-General U Thant met with Colonel Ha Van Lau, head of the North Vietnamese delegation to the International Control Commission, at the house of Le Tung Son, North Vietnamese Consul in Burma. Thant suggested to Lau that “one avenue to settlement might be a stand down by all concerned of all military activities” and a “mutual grounding of arms,” to which the North Vietnamese responded with some interest and expressed the desire to make the proceedings public. (Telegram 150826 to USUN, March 8; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, [Page 228] POL 27–14 VIET) According to a March 15 [text not declassified] report, in the meeting with Lau, Thant had also advised the North Vietnamese that the domestic peace movement would not change the attitude of the U.S. Government toward the conduct of the war. (Ibid., EA/ACA Files: Lot 69 D 277, Vietnam File—U.N.)

On March 6 Thant discussed that meeting with U.S. Representative Arthur Goldberg in New York. The previous day, Thant had given a press conference in which he called for the unconditional end of U.S. bombing, after which, he believed, talks would surely follow. See American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pages 872–873. North Vietnam later criticized Thant for making his proposal public before its leadership had a chance to reply and for the truce formula itself which “equated the aggressor and the victim of aggression.” (Memorandum from David Popper of the Bureau of International Organization Affairs to Rusk, March 29; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET)

Thant’s call for a truce generated a debate within the administration over the implementation of a cease-fire. In a March 7 memorandum to Walt Rostow, Robert Ginsburgh of the NSC Staff argued the likelihood that the North Vietnamese might use the Secretary-General’s proposal in order to consolidate gains in the field and strengthen their position at the bargaining table. The only cease-fire acceptable to the United States and South Vietnam would be one in which the Communists ceased entirely all military actions and infiltration in the South. (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S) A March 11 appraisal by Chester Cooper, Ambassador W. Averell Harriman’s assistant, suggested a new approach to de-escalation if a mutual stand-down came into effect. A verified withdrawal would occur before the cessation of bombing over North Vietnam, although infiltration routes in Laos would continue as active targeting areas. Bilateral discussions would follow this halt. (Ibid., POL 27–14 VIET/SUNFLOWER)

The Department of State was encouraged by the fact that the North Vietnamese had contacted Thant on their own initiative and had not rejected his offer. It instructed Goldberg to pursue the matter more extensively. (Telegram 152887 to USUN, March 10; ibid., POL 27–14 VIET) However, there was strong opposition in the State Department to Goldberg’s further request to take the issue of Vietnam to the UN Security Council for deliberation. (Memorandum from Sisco to Rusk, March 15; ibid., EA Files: Lot 74 D 246, United Nations—General) Any initiative along these lines awaited a favorable North Vietnamese response to Thant’s proposal.