234. Memorandum From Daniel I. Davidson and Richard C. Holbrooke of the U.S. Delegation to the Vietnam Peace Talks to Ambassador Harriman and Ambassador Vance 1


  • Is Hanoi Signaling a Possible DMZ for Bombing Trade?

Among the most interesting aspect’s of Thuy’s May 15 statement was his treatment of the DMZ.2 His description of American military action in the DMZ was clear and surprisingly accurate. He did not accuse us of basing artillery in the DMZ but of basing long-range artillery below the DMZ and firing into the DMZ and the area above it. He did not accuse us of basing infantry in the DMZ, or of sending U.S. forces into the northern portion, but he accused us of conducting clearing operations in the southern portion of the DMZ.

Thuy then stated that the U.S. must cease its arrogant sabotage of the DMZ and the firing of its artillery units into the DMZ and across into the territory of the DRV and it must also pull out all its own and its satellite forces from the southern portion of the DMZ. This demand was apparently emphasized by the North Vietnamese spokesman at his press conference yesterday.

It is possible that this is Hanoi’s way of beginning a discussion of the DMZ, a subject they know is of prime importance to us. There are other indications suggesting that the North Vietnamese may be trying to signal their interest in a detailed discussion of the DMZ. Manac’h told Anderson3 (who passed it on to Vance) that he thought the DRV was interested in the possibilities of a deal involving the DMZ. Bui Diem said that French journalists had told him that if the U.S. had first stopped the bombing, North Vietnam might be willing to make a deal concerning the DMZ.

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In our previous internal discussions, many of us had regarded an attempt to obtain a truly demilitarized DMZ as hopeless, since standing by itself, the result of that achievement would so strongly favor us. What Hanoi might be trying to do with its accusations of U.S. violations of the DMZ is to create a situation where it looks as if demilitarization is a concession (or move towards the Geneva Accords) by both sides. Actually, as Hanoi knows, the trade would be the DMZ for a bombing cessation. The difference between the apparent trade and actual trade would allow Hanoi to contend it had never negotiated over bombing and that the U.S. had stopped unconditionally. In this sense it would be like our old Phase A-Phase B formula. The resemblance increases if Phase A is to be the stopping of bombing and Phase B demilitarization of the DMZ.

Hanoi knows full well the importance we attach to the DMZ. It must have realized that we will not cease military operations in the DMZ unless it does. It is possible that in their discussion yesterday they have defined the actions in the DMZ which they wish us to take in return for similar actions on their part.4

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S-AH Files: Lot 71 D 461, Chron.-1968—Mr. Davidson. Secret.
  2. In his statement, Thuy insisted that the United States unconditionally end all acts of war such as the bombing and naval attacks in the southern part of North Vietnam, reconnaissance missions, psychological warfare operations, commando raids, and “artillery bombardment from south of the DMZ.” (Telegram 14098 from Paris, May 15; ibid., IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345 Peace Conference, Delto Chron.) A summary of the May 15 session was transmitted in telegram 14057 from Paris, May 15. (Ibid.) In a note transmitting a copy of this telegram to the President, May 15, Rostow labeled the session “the hair pulling contest in Paris.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. I)
  3. Robert Anderson, Political Counselor at the Embassy in France.
  4. Telegram [document number not declassified] from Paris, May 16, reported that Harriman and Vance suggested waiting until after the meeting on May 18 with the DRV delegation before resuming bombing in order to give the North Vietnamese a chance to respond with a proposition on the DMZ. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. I) Rostow sent the telegram to the President at 1 p.m. on May 16.