1. Editorial Note

On January 1, 1968, Radio Hanoi broadcast an official North Vietnamese statement made by Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh during a reception for a visiting delegation from Mongolia on December 29, 1967, in Hanoi. Trinh’s remarks seemed to refine earlier official remarks and categorically affirmed the single condition under which his government would enter into discussions on peace in Vietnam. The key part of Trinh’s statement reads:

“If the American government really wants conversations, as clearly stated in our declaration of January 28, 1967, it must first unconditionally cease bombing and all other acts of war against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. After the cessation of bombing and all other acts of war against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the DRV will start conversations with the United States on relevant problems.”

For the full text of the statement, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, pages 1055–1057. The operative term used in Trinh’s statement was that talks “will” follow a halt rather than “could,” as mentioned in previous proclamations. On January 3 Mai Van Bo, the North Vietnamese representative in Paris, told French Foreign Minister Etienne Manac’h that the statement was the “direct answer to President Johnson.” In addition, he elaborated that “we will guarantee that the conversations will be explicit (claires) and serious.” (Telegram 8741 from Paris, January 7; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/RAMS)

The statement was perceived by the United States, however, as neither innovative nor radically different from past intransigence on Hanoi’s part. In a news conference on January 4, Secretary of State Dean Rusk stated that the “use of the word ‘will’ instead of ‘could’ or ‘would’ seems to be a new formulation of that particular point, but that leaves a [Page 2] great many questions still open.” He suspected the sincerity of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in light of the fact that the North Vietnamese ordered an offensive for the winter season and already violated the holiday truces. For Rusk’s remarks, see Department of State Bulletin, January 22, 1968, pages 116–124.

South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu stated that he “saw no real change” in the North Vietnamese Foreign Minister’s formulation for peace. (Telegram 14927 from Saigon, January 3; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL US–VIET S) The Consulate in Hong Kong, the primary U.S. post for “China-watching,” described the Trinh statement as “a flat contradiction” of China’s position on Vietnam and thus a reflection of the policy differences between the North Vietnamese and the Chinese. (Telegram 3774 from Hong Kong, January 3; ibid., POL 27 VIET S) According to an Intelligence Note from Thomas Hughes, Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, to Secretary of State Rusk, January 12, Hanoi responded harshly to the tepid U.S. response; the North Vietnamese accused the United States of distorting Trinh’s statement, putting forward “arrogant” and “insolent” conditions for a halt, and continuing the escalation of the war. (Ibid.)