190. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

Herewith the short and the longer cable from Sullivan.2

It is clear that Hanoi’s objectives are:

  • —to take our temperature;
  • —to see if we’re capable of being pushed by the U.S. doves into a location we obviously do not want;
  • —to use the question of place as propaganda around the world, as Sullivan notes in his final paragraph of comment.

I informed Bill Bundy of your view, and he said that he would draft in the sense you directed, but he believes we should walk around the question and look at all its implications before making a final decision. I told him to prepare a draft for submission to you, and that you would decide if you wanted a meeting on this matter.3

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If we decide to turn down Warsaw, I believe we should enter the propaganda fight openly by explaining precisely why we need a place where the South Vietnamese and our other allies, including their press, can operate comfortably—which neither Phnom Penh nor Warsaw permit. If we are silent, we shall be pilloried. If we fight for a good neutral place, I think we can carry opinion with us.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 71. Secret.
  2. Attached but not printed are two telegrams. Telegram 5777 from Vientiane, April 11, reported the receipt of the DRV letter. Telegram 5784 from Vientiane, April 11, transmitted the text of the DRV letter, which acknowledged receipt of the April 10 U.S. letter and reaffirmed the DRV view that “a preliminary contact between the representatives with rank of Ambassador of both parties has as its goal that of permitting the American side to determine the unconditional cessation of bombing and all other acts of war against the DRV and (of permitting) the two parties to agree on the date, the place, and the level of official conversations. It is a preliminary contact that is necessary to engage in rapidly with a view toward beginning the official conversations between the two parties with the least delay.” Expressing surprise that the United States was “now refusing the choice of Phnom Penh for preliminary contact between the representatives,” the DRV proposed Warsaw as an alternative. The letter next designated Nguyen Thuong, DRV Ambassador to Cambodia, as the DRV representative if the preliminary contact took place at Phnom Penh, but named Ha Van Lau as representative if the contact took place at Warsaw. Finally, the DRV agreed that the contact would begin April 15 at Phnom Penh, or April 18 at Warsaw. At the end of the telegram, Sullivan commented that he thought the choice of Warsaw indicated that the DRV did not want “a particularly quiet set of contacts.” (Ibid.)
  3. The reply, transmitted in telegram 145154 to Vientiane, April 11, outlined “certain minimum standards of fairness and equity” for the location of the contacts, such as the requirement for a neutral country where both sides had adequate representation and communications. In addition, the preliminary contacts should take place in an Asian capital. The previous offer of the four acceptable locations was reiterated. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/CROCODILE) The reply was delivered at 1340Z on April 12. (Telegram 5806 from Vientiane, April 12; ibid.) In an April 12 note to the President, Jones noted: “Walt talked to Goldberg who has talked to U Thant. U Thant will send a message to Hanoi saying he believes Rangoon will be the best place for talks. Goldberg asked that U Thant’s message be kept secret. U Thant thinks Hanoi chose Warsaw because of a great deal of pressure from China.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Crocodile, General, Chronological Summary, Vol. I [2 of 2])