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


  • qoute any time, any place unquote

I promised a memo outlining the way we are handling this problem.

Line Nick Katzenbach took in small backgrounder yesterday was:


When we, in the past, stated our readiness to meet at any place, we assumed Hanoi preferred quiet, private contacts. Now, Hanoi has, by its own choice, made discussion of a site a public issue. Hanoi is trying to take propaganda advantage of the U.S. statements by pressuring us into a disadvantageous meeting place.

In addition, we have noted:

It now is clear that the site of first contacts may well become the setting for more formal talks. Thus, the site must meet certain minimal requirements. These are:
  • —place where U.S. and NVN have diplomatic representation;
  • —where GVN and other allies and interested parties would have ready access;
  • —where the host government is not involved with either side in the Vietnam war;
  • —where we can expect even-handed treatment for the press of both sides;
  • —where official communications are adequate to the needs of both sides.
We note that President’s statement of March 31 (to which Hanoi responded) said we were ready to meet quote at Geneva or any other suitable repeat suitable place unquote. In our formal note to Hanoi we repeated the suggestion of Geneva but said would try to meet quote any reasonable alternative suggestions unquote.2
A message received from Hanoi said the place of contact will be Phnom Penh quote or another place to be mutually agreed upon unquote.3
We had indications Hanoi would prefer a site in Asia. Cambodia is the only country in Asia—except for North Vietnam and Communist China—with which we do not maintain diplomatic relations. We suggested four capitals of Asian neutral states—all of which would be acceptable and where NVN is represented.4
Warsaw is capital of a communist country—one that sides openly and actively with North Vietnam. Most of our allies are not represented there and might not even have access. Tight local controls could limit access to friendly powers and to the noncommunist press. Harassment and intimidation of our delegation would not be unlikely.5
We recall the experience in Korea at Kaesong (in communist territory) where our delegation had to travel to and from under a white flag and where we were totally at the mercy of the other side in arrangements and facilities. We got even-handed treatment only when we moved to Panmunjon in the demilitarized zone.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Crocodile, General, Chronological Summary, Vol. I [2 of 2]. Confidential. Sent as telegram CAP 80812, April 13, to the LBJ Ranch where the President had traveled the previous day.
  2. See Documents 169 and 175.
  3. See footnote 7, Document 189.
  4. See footnote 7, Document 189.
  5. In INR Intelligence Note No. 270 to Rusk, April 12, Hughes noted that North Vietnam proposed Phnom Penh “to place us in the most difficult possible position,” but believed that Warsaw would be an acceptable “fall-back position” for the United States and was surprised at its rejection. Hughes speculated that a period of deadlock would follow. He suggested that proposing a site either unofficially or through a third party would break the impasse. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S)