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223. Memorandum From the President's Special Consultant (Taylor) to President Johnson 1

Mr. President:

Knowing that you are giving much thought to the problems of the coming negotiations and the positions to be taken by your representatives, I am venturing to summarize some of the points which seem to me most important for discussion with our emissaries before their departure.

Our Objective: “The independence of South Viet-Nam and its freedom from attack … The people of South Viet-Nam to be allowed to guide their own country in their own way.” It is against this objective that we should measure all our actions at the conference table. We will have succeeded if we attain it—otherwise, we have lost.

Cessation of Bombing: It is clear that the first objective of our opponents will be to end the bombing of North Viet-Nam and then settle back to an unhurried talk-fight kind of negotiation during which they will be under little pressure to show progress. They may feel that we are trapped in the San Antonio formula and must negotiate from within its confines but, fortunately, they have given us an “out” if we want to use it and I certainly [Page 637]think we should. The formula was predicated on the assumption that North Viet-Nam would take no advantage of a complete cessation of our bombing, an assumption which is obviously invalid in view of the advantage being taken of even the presently restricted bombing, evidenced by the high level of infiltration in April and the recently renewed attacks on the cities. This is not the restraint we had hoped for—it is taking advantage of our conciliatory gesture and augurs ill for restraint if we took the further step of a complete bombing pause.

Under these new circumstances, I think we should feel completely free to use the bombing issue flexibly as benefits our interest in the negotiation. At a minimum, we should not agree to a complete cessation without first verifying that the subsequent talks will be “prompt and productive”, to salvage the most useful part of the San Antonio formula. “Prompt” could be left to subjective determination based on the expedition shown in tackling the items on the agenda but “productive” is a term which requires careful attention. A judgment as to whether negotiations will be “productive” can not be made without some understanding of the likely course of subsequent events, to include a knowledge of who will attend the conferences and what will be the content and order of the agenda for the discussions. Since, in our past experience with Communist negotiators, they have usually tried and often succeeded in wrangling interminably over such matters, it appears to me of the utmost importance that we not stop the bombing until these matters are settled. We can not possibly have ground to believe that subsequent negotiations will be “productive” until these points are agreed.


The Preferred Agenda: If we are to press for an agreed agenda before stopping the bombing, we need to have agreement among ourselves as to the desired order of events. At the risk of repeating views previously advanced, I will give my own preferred order of agenda items and some of the reasons for the preference:

  • Item 1: Understandings with regard to a cessation of the bombing to include the points made in paragraph b above. Efforts to determine the restraints which enemy will observe if we give up bombing. Establishment of the point that we will continue air reconnaissance of North Viet-Nam even if we stop bombing (if we are convinced of the essentiality of the reconnaissance).
  • Item 2: The conditions for the withdrawal of foreign forces (North Vietnamese, US/FWF) and the disposition of military bases in South Viet-Nam. Methods of verification by both sides.

    [Since this matter is a major negotiation objective of the enemy, if we can establish our sincerity on this point early in the game, the rest of the negotiation should be made easier.]2

  • Item 3: The cessation of external reinforcement by NVN and US/FWF. The problem of rotation on our side. Methods of verification by both sides.

    [If the conditions for withdrawal of foreign forces have been previously agreed, this point should not be too difficult.]

  • Item 4: Measures affecting the Viet Cong. Their future political rights and economic privileges. Their freedom of choice of homeland. (North or South Viet-Nam.) Any “carrots” which the U.S. might contribute to make the deal more attractive to Hanoi.

    [This group of subjects is likely to prove the most formidable stumbling block in the path of our negotiators. In establishing our position, it will require close coordination with the GVN—indeed, a case can be made for making this matter a subject for direct discussion between the GVN and the NLF in a “side” negotiation to which we would be observers. Alternatively, it could be combined with the cease-fire discussion which is the next point on this suggested agenda. In any case, we need private discussions with our allies to reach agreement on a formula for Viet Cong political participation which is not a sell-out coalition solution. Your formula of “one man, one vote” seems to me to provide the basis for a satisfactory US/GVN position.]

  • Item 5: A cease-fire in South Viet-Nam.

    [I have retained this item for last because it is as complex as all the preceding ones in combination and is likely to consume an inordinate amount of time unless both sides know by this point how they will come out on the preceding topics. With this knowledge, they may be more amenable to reason in working out the details of a cease-fire. Ideally, a cease-fire should be so timed as to set in motion the execution of the foregoing agreements in an atmosphere of cooperation in carrying out a program agreed to by both sides in their respective self-interest.

    Since there will be great pressure at the outset of the negotiations to stop the fighting as the first order of business, we might consider initiating immediate cease-fire negotiations by the opposing military commanders on the pattern of the French Army-Viet Minh parleys in 1954. This device would allow them to run concurrently with the Paris discussions and, not being at governmental level, would allow VC/NLF participation without serious objections from the GVN. It might be an advantageous forum for Vietnamese-to-Vietnamese discussions of the future of the Viet Cong mentioned above, even though much of this problem is non-military.]

  • Item 6: Timing of implementing actions; international supervision of implementations; international guarantees of the settlement.

It seems important that your negotiators receive your guidance before leaving on such matters as have been briefly discussed above. [Page 639]The order of events is important as is the development of the U.S. position or positions on each of the items on the agenda. I am sure that, over the past three years, much work has been done on these points by many officials and many agencies of government but now is the time to sort out the parts of past studies which have value in establishing a coherent position in the actual situation which we are facing.

I am attaching a list of questions suggested by the points raised in this paper which may be worth discussion at your Monday meeting on this subject.3

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 74. Secret.
  2. All brackets in the source text.
  3. This attachment for the next day's meeting listed six questions relating to the impending negotiations on the following topics: the status of the San Antonio formula, the nature of evidence demonstrating that the talks would be “prompt” and “productive,” the value of aerial reconnaissance, the respective roles of the GVN and NLF, the fate of the current constitutional framework of the GVN, and inducements the United States could offer to bring the DRV to a settlement. For the discussion at the meeting Monday, May 6, see Document 225.