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

24711. 1. I saw Thieu and Ky separately this afternoon to report on my trip to go over ground of where we stand on negotiations and Harriman’s instructions. They created no difficulties.

2. I told Thieu the President had suggested Honolulu meeting in order personally assure him of our support of him and South Viet-Nam as we move into new phase. I said President and others in Washington were encouraged by what I had to report on VN Govt’s post-Tet efforts, offensive spoiling operations, growing confidence here, etc.

3. Turning to our estimate of Hanoi’s next moves I said they clearly want talks and only question now is where and when. We expect Hanoi will concentrate at exploratory talks on getting total cessation of bombing. Our agreement to that will depend on Hanoi’s agreement to hold substantive talks within a few days of cessation, and talks must be serious and embrace all relevant topics. I outlined our position on “no military advantage” and gave examples of bad faith. Finally I said we intend continue reconnaissance.

4. I did not make specific reference to GVN participation in substantive discussions with Hanoi. Instead suggested Thieu, Ky and FonMin constitute small group to meet as necessary on policy with Berger, Calhoun and me; that Calhoun and FonMin would keep in daily touch; that VN liaison group negotiations would be reporting, not policy deciding group, and that we would be happy supply them with secure communication channels.

5. Thieu agreed to all this and asked a few questions on what “no military advantage” meant and how we could assure this. Gave him a few examples, such as noticeable increase in troops moving south or across DMZ, and he did not press this hard. He was more concerned as to whether we would regard escalation of fighting in South as a breach of faith after total cessation. I avoided direct answer saying we intend to maintain offensive pressure on enemy in South during negotiations. His second concern was what he called “the danger” that Hanoi will ask for complete cease-fire in South, soon after they get cessation of bombing in North. I said we very conscious of this danger, and so far as we are concerned a de-escalation and cease-fire in South would be subjects for later not early discussions.

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6. Thieu said in addition to Bui Diem, their liaison team would have a military man, possibly their Ambassador to Canberra or London,2 and probably the Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tran Chanh Thanh.

7. Thieu said we had his agreement to go along on basis I had outlined.

8. Talk with Ky: I went over above ground with Ky, with much the same points raised and with same result. He is strongly of view that Hanoi is hurting, wants negotiations, and will move swiftly to get total cessation of bombing and total cease fire. Latter, he said, would be “disastrous” now. Enemy has taken severe punishment during and since Tet and at Khe Sanh, and we must keep hitting them. We must not agree to cease fire. Spirit of South Vietnamese forces is now high, and there is growing confidence. He has just returned from Fourth Corps area (he made trip by road), RD cadres are now back in most places, Gen. Thang is encouraged, and he came away with feeling things are moving there.

9. I told Ky of procedural proposals I had discussed with Thieu for joint consultation here. I said separate meetings with Thieu and Ky were time-consuming. There was need for speed in consultations once negotiations started, and we should all meet together. He agreed.

10. At end Ky said he also approved way we were approaching preliminary talks and instructions to Harriman. In this connection, he said great danger would arise from Hanoi’s efforts divide US and South Viet-Nam. We must not allow that to take place.3

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/CROCODILE. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Crocodile. Received at 8:04 a.m.
  2. Tran Kim Phuong and Le Ngoc Chan.
  3. In INR Intelligence Note No. 283 to Rusk, April 17, Hughes described South Vietnamese reactions to the prospect of negotiations and the impact of that prospect upon the South Vietnamese. There was a prevailing mood of “quiet bitterness” over concern that the United States would acquiesce to the DRV demands for linking a full halt to a peace settlement and forcing a coalition government on the GVN. On a positive note, however, Hughes observed that internal divisions among the top leadership of the GVN had “apparently defused.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET S) Additional reporting on South Vietnamese attitudes toward the peace negotiations is in telegram 25197 from Saigon, April 19. (Ibid.)