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214. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rusk 1

SUBJECT

  • Thoughts on Getting a Site for Contacts
1.
The Current Exchanges in Vientiane. It seems to me that Hanoi is finding it annoying that we are able to depict the Vientiane discussions as a continuing serious effort; both yesterday and today, they have attacked my remarks, limited as they were. This suggests to me the strong possibility that they may hold up some time on any reply to our [Page 610]last message and even seek to give the impression that things have broken down.
2.
Utility of Direct Contacts Elsewhere. Even if Hanoi should propose some place for direct discussions on a site for contacts, it is very hard to know just how we would instruct our representative. He could try to draw Hanoi out on its reasons for not accepting any of our sites, but the odds seem heavy that he would simply reiterate Warsaw. Any chance for progress would appear to depend on a third party to whom we could refer in any suggestion we put on the table. Otherwise, I suspect we would be up against a basic unwillingness on Hanoi's part to accept anything that comes directly from us.
3.
The Basic Situation. I continue to feel strongly that time is not at all on our side. Whether it is right or wrong, fair or unfair, the impression is dominant in Europe that we are responsible for the delay, and the same impression is widespread here. Moreover, any new offensive action on the other side could at any time present us with a most serious dilemma. If we break off or delay progress on that ground—and still more if we take retaliatory bombing action—we are again likely to emerge very sharply minus in the propaganda arena. It is very hard for us to get away from the fact that we have engaged, since April 1, in a highly publicized “major offensive” called “Complete Victory,” and that more recently we have engaged in publicized offensive operations in the A Shau Valley and elsewhere. Obviously, these were right actions on our part, but the fact is they put us in a very difficult position to contend that any offensive actions on the other side are a reason for changing our approach or engaging in retaliatory military action.
4.
Third-Country Possibilities. In my judgment, this means that we should be focused very hard on getting an acceptable third country invitation to both sides as rapidly as possible.
a.
On Bucharest we are well advanced and could hear at any time from the Romanians that they are prepared to behave in the necessary way. Nonetheless, I question seriously whether Bucharest—while it would be accepted with a grimace in South Viet-Nam and by our allies—would be the best place. To the American public, it would not be easy to distinguish from Warsaw. Its acceptance would cause many to argue that we had been captious about Warsaw. Moreover, rejection of Warsaw and ultimate acceptance of Bucharest might well be depicted in South Viet-Nam and among our allies as indicating a pattern of our fighting for a time and then yielding to accept what really amounts to much the same thing. This seems to me to be a poor pattern to set at the outset of this negotiating process.
b.
Tehran has now been suggested for a possible third-country initiative. While this would be of some mild use in keeping the ball in the [Page 611]air, the fact is that the Shah has taken a strong public position in support of our Viet-Nam policy. The odds are overwhelming that Hanoi would reject Tehran, and would have wide support in doing so—since the press would immediately dig up the things the Shah has said, plus the fact that there has been an Iranian medical mission in South Viet-Nam.
c.
Paris has obvious difficulties, well outlined by Wallner last week. Nonetheless, as Chip Bohlen has pointed out, these difficulties relate much more to Paris as a site for talks than as a site for contacts. It is abundantly clear that the South Vietnamese would strongly prefer Paris to Bucharest, and it has the overriding advantage that all of our allies, as well as the South Vietnamese, have resident representation. All in all, Paris seems to me by all odds the least worst site—of those likely to be accepted by Hanoi. Moreover, a third-party offer of Paris—if rejected by Hanoi—would put us in a very much stronger position on the propaganda front.
d.
Vienna seems to be a long-shot possibility, if we can rely on reports that the North Vietnamese are not really hostile to it. Nonetheless, it suffers from the fact that it is our suggestion, and an offer directly from the Austrian Government seems unlikely to be accepted by Hanoi, or to gain for us in the propaganda sense if Hanoi failed to act or turned it down.
5.
Conclusion. My own conclusion is that we should consider an immediate step to get Paris proposed by a third party, on a quiet and official basis. The obvious party—and I think without difficulty for this purpose—would be U Thant. We can send Ambassador Goldberg to him with a simple message that if Paris were to be quietly proposed, without fanfare, we would be prepared to accept it—although we most definitely do not believe it wise to take a public position. U Thant would almost certainly pass the message to Hanoi. Either Hanoi would accept and we could get started, or we would have a much stronger case if they delayed or turned it down.
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  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/CROCODILE. Secret; Nodis; Crocodile.