221. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

Here is the full text of the Hanoi message, plus Sullivan’s comment.2

I read this as indicating that your handling of this matter over the past month has convinced them:

  • —That you were in no hurry and were firm;3
  • —Meanwhile, our men in the field, the GVN, and the ARVN convinced them that time was not their friend.

I don’t think they are going to be easy to deal with; but I do believe that we enter this from a position of strength and a sense on their side that the clock is ticking against them:

  • —It was they who rejected the option of waiting until after the election;
  • —It was they who rejected a stage of negotiation devoted merely to discussing time and place;
  • —It was they who added the phrase “to have subsequent conversations on the problems of interest to the two sides”—their version of “productive negotiations” from the San Antonio formula.

Paragraph 5 of Sullivan’s cable is a just tribute to his Chief.4

[Page 632]

But our reply will have to deal with: “to determine with the American side the unconditional cessation of bombing and all other American acts of war against the DRV.”

My first reaction is that our reply should quote the following passage from your speech of March 31 to lay a basis for our position: “Even this very limited bombing of the North could come to an early end—if our restraint is matched by restraint in Hanoi.” But you will, of course, wish to consider this matter this morning in the light of the views of Sec. Rusk and Sec. Clifford.

W.W. Rostow 5

Attachment

Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State6

6243. 1. Following is an unofficial translation of the unofficial French version which accompanied the note handed to Ambassador Sullivan by NVN Charge today.

  • “(1) The Government of the DRV has declared itself ready to name its representative with the rank of Ambassador to contact the representative of the U.S. at Phnom Penh or Warsaw in order to prepare for official conversations. World public opinion has warmly welcomed this correct attitude and demanded that the U.S. answer promptly the proposal of the DRV Government.

    “But the American side, although it has repeatedly declared itself ‘ready to go anywhere’ for conversations, has made condition after condition for the choice of a site. It has, besides, suggested places incompatible with its own conditions.

    “On April 23, 1968, the American side has raised a new question, suggesting that the two sides engage in private discussions about the places and the date of contact and consequently should choose in addition a site for these private conversations.

    “As a sign of good will the Government of the DRV gave instructions to its Ambassador at Warsaw to be prepared to enter into discussions [Page 633] with the American Ambassador regarding the place and the date of conversations, but the American side refused.

  • “(2) Since the declaration of April 3, 1968 of the Government of the DRV, preliminary contacts should have been undertaken leading to official conversations between the two parties but the U.S. Government has deliberately engaged in dilatory maneuvers.7 In the face of the situation the Government of the DRV believes that official conversations between Hanoi and Washington should take place immediately. The Government of the DRV has decided to name Minister Xuan Thuy as its representative to engage in official conversations with the representative of the USG to determine with the American side the unconditional cessation of bombing and all other American acts of war against the DRV, and to have subsequently conversations on the problems of interest to the two sides. The Government of the DRV favorably receives the attitude of the French Government which is disposed to offer Paris as a place for conversations between the DRV and the U.S., as the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Monsieur Couve de Murville, declared on April 18, 1968. The Government of the DRV considers that Paris, as well as Phnom Penh and Warsaw, is a suitable place for the official conversations between both sides. These official conversations will begin on May 10, 1968, or several days thereafter.

May 3, 1968”8

Sullivan
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 74. Secret; Sensitive; Crocodile.
  2. The attached telegram was received at 1:49 a.m. in the Department of State, but the “comment” by Sullivan in telegram 6241 from Vientiane, May 3, was received at 12:24 a.m. In a telephone call at 1 a.m., Rostow informed the President that word had been received from the North Vietnamese that they had agreed to open discussions at Paris in a week’s time. The President replied: “Well, I’d rather go to almost any place than Paris.” While Rostow saw little opportunity of substituting another site, he noted that at least the South Vietnamese would be much more comfortable with Paris than Warsaw. Rostow urged caution in any reply to the North Vietnamese, however, given their intention was solely to discuss the full cessation of bombing and other military actions. In addition, Rostow reassured Johnson that the bombing could be restarted if the conditions laid down in the San Antonio formula were violated. The President added that he did not want word of Hanoi’s offer to leak out before a response was discussed. (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Rostow, May 3, 1968, 1 a.m., Tape F68.06, PNO 1; transcript prepared specifically for this volume in the Office of the Historian)
  3. In a May 2 memorandum to Rostow, Jorden discussed the reasons for the administration’s firmness in insisting upon “a site where both sides can be sure of equal and fair and disinterested treatment.” (Ibid., National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 74)
  4. This paragraph in telegram 6241 reads: “Congratulations to those in Washington whose eyeballs are made of such stern stuff. Among our Asian friends, these two successive retreats by Hanoi from firmly held positions will be taken as a sign that the North Vietnamese are badly hurting and need negotiations in a very real way.”
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  6. Secret; Nodis; Crocodile.
  7. The United States had deemed acceptable the Indonesian offer of a peace ship in the Tonkin Gulf, but the DRV rejected it the following day. (Telegrams 156173 to Djakarta, May 1, and telegram 6429 from Djakarta, May 2; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/CROCODILE) In a memorandum to the President, May 1, 12:50 p.m., Rostow noted that the Indonesians were “selling the idea in Hanoi in part on the grounds that our Allies could be excluded.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 6 G(6), Talks with Hanoi)
  8. Telegram 157530 to Seoul, Manila, Bangkok, Canberra, and Wellington, May 3, notified the Embassies of the DRV message. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/CROCODILE) Telegram 157542 to Vientiane, May 3, instructed Sullivan to deliver the following message “at once” to the DRV Embassy: “The USG accepts the time and place proposed by the Government of the DRV in its note of May 3.” (Ibid.) The DRV acknowledged this acceptance in a hand-delivered note to the Embassy in Vientiane. (Ibid.) In telegram JCS 4785 to Sharp and Westmoreland, May 3, Wheeler informed them of the DRV message and cautioned about a possible military offensive by the enemy prior to the start of negotiations, noting that “a bloody repulse of some spectacular initiative by NVA/VC forces” would serve to strengthen the U.S. negotiating position. (Ibid., RG 407, Litigation Collection, Westmoreland v. CBS, MACV Backchannel Messages to Westmoreland, 1–31 May 1968)