210. Letter From the Ambassador at Large (Harriman) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Wheeler)1

Dear Bus:

In connection with our brief conversations regarding deescalation in South Vietnam, I want to put on paper the following thoughts of possible negotiated mutual deescalation.

I start with the premise, which I know you share, that a cease-fire is not practical at this time. We must therefore prepare for a fight-and-negotiate situation. In negotiations for any mutual deescalation, we should have first in mind the improvement of conditions to permit the GVN to expand its political influence and military control.

Fundamentally, I believe that in considering deescalation, we should emphasize the kinds of actions on the part of the NVN/VC which would be easily verifiable. My judgment is naturally affected by the fact that North Vietnam did not live up to its signature on the Laos Agreement for one day.

The kinds of deescalation by NVN/VC which would be of immediate value to us include: [Page 603]

The reestablishment of the DMZ.
The withdrawal of two divisions from the DMZ/I Corps area back into North Vietnam.
The reduction of the flow of reinforcement of men and materiel to the south. (This would create some difficulty in policing.)
Ending VC interference with traffic on the main highways.
Ending mortar and rocket attacks on our installations and the cities.
Ending of terrorist actions within the cities, and perhaps as a second step, in the villages.

I suggest that a study be made of what we could afford to do in return for some of the above restraints on the part of the NVN/VC. I would not suggest attempting to match each action by a parallel one by us, but rather to list in the same way various steps which we might be willing to consider taking, providing meaningful action were taken by the NVN/VC. We would have to await the development of the negotiations to make a decision on exactly how we play each card.

I am afraid that negotiations may well be protracted, and, as I have said, we will have to continue a fight-and-talk policy, but I would hope under conditions in which the GVN would be able to expand its moral influence and physical control in the country.

The rallying of the people of South Vietnam is a vital factor in the political and military developments. The continued support of the American people is another consideration that must be borne in mind. In the postwar period, we have found the American people have supported action abroad for a longer time than was first estimated, providing they were able to see light at the end of the tunnel.


  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Vietnam, General, April–Dec. 1968. Top Secret; Nodis; Personal. In a telephone conversation 2 days later, the President and Wheeler discussed the impact of the bombing halt on the military situation in Vietnam. (Johnson Library, Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Wheeler, April 28, 1968, 11:10 a.m., Tape F6804.03, PNO 3)
  2. Printed from a copy that indicates Harriman signed the original.