246. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France1

170294/Todel 220. Ref: Paris 14616.2 UK Embassy passed this morning to Secretary identical text contained reftel, which we have repeated separately to Ambassador Thompson and Bruce.

In addition, following message from Stewart was conveyed to Secretary:3

“I was very glad to have the message David Bruce passed me on Monday.4 It was also most valuable to have the opportunity of discussing the course the talks have taken in Paris with Sullivan and [Page 710] Davidson.5 Both of these ‘briefs’ were helpful when we were preparing for my present visit to Moscow.

Pat Dean will be giving your people a detailed account of my talks with Gromyko here today. He was perfectly friendly and relaxed but it was clear to me that he had no insight into how the North Vietnamese in Paris intend to play their hand. His presentation to me of the North Vietnamese position was entirely orthodox and uncompromising. Under pressure he fell back on the basic thesis that the United States was the aggressor and therefore it fell to the U.S. to make all moves towards the next stage in the talks in Paris.

I made it clear that I thought it perfectly reasonable for the United States to insist on some measure of restraint by the North Vietnamese before the United States could proceed to an unconditional cessation of the bombing of the North. I said that I thought this indication could best come by an act of de-escalation in the DMZ. The Americans were not seeking a more favorable position but they could not accept a less favorable one. If Hanoi would act in this way it would remove the first block to progress in Paris and we could then go forward to deal with the many other difficult questions which remained. As regards an eventual political settlement I said that the U.S. wanted to ensure that the people of South Vietnam had a free choice. I warned Gromyko that he could not count on a static political situation in the United States. If there were no visible response from Hanoi to the pull-back in the bombing and U.S. soldiers were to be in danger, there would be a serious risk of a movement of U.S. opinion which could make the situation much worse.

This could be a most important turning point for better or for worse. If Hanoi were to ignore this factor and let this opportunity slip they would bear a very heavy responsibility.

Gromyko listened very carefully to all this. His response was unsympathetic and routine. He drew a distinction between official and public opinion in the United States and professed to doubt whether opinion in America would allow the Government to take a tough line again.

I have no reason to doubt that he will pass on a full account of these exchanges to the North Vietnamese.

As a parting shot Gromyko made it absolutely clear that the convening of the Geneva Conference or any other similar conferences was totally ‘unrealistic in present circumstances.’ I did not take him to mean [Page 711] however that he was not content to keep the co-chairmanship on ice and he did not dissent when I reminded him of the communique issued after the Prime Minister’s visit to Moscow when we agreed to do all we could ‘jointly or singly.’

We brought home no bacon today. At the same time I am sure it is right to keep pegging away at the Russians both in order to keep them, as they would wish to be, in the picture and because I am sure that they cannot afford not to pass on all that I said to Hanoi and Xuan Thuy in Paris.”6

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-May 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan. Drafted and approved by John Walsh of S/S. Repeated to Moscow and London.
  2. In telegram 14616 from Paris, May 24, Harriman and Vance reported that they had received a report on the visit to Moscow of British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart from Sir Patrick Reilly, British Ambassador to France. (Ibid.) With U.S. encouragement Stewart visited Moscow May 22–24 to discuss the issue of Vietnam with the Soviet leadership.
  3. This preliminary report on Stewart’s trip, May 23, was transmitted directly to Rusk. Rusk sent it to the President, noting that Stewart came away with “some reasons for optimism about DRV intentions.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 81)
  4. In telegram 166803 to London, May 18, the Department instructed Bruce to urge Stewart to “strongly take the line that, if we are to stop the bombing totally, the Soviets should play their part in moving toward de-escalation by cutting back not only their military supplies to the North but their supplies and related equipment that go to the South and are related to movement toward the South.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S–AH Files: Lot 71 D 46 1, Stewart Visit) Bruce apparently passed the message on Monday, May 20.
  5. In telegram 14309/Delto 94 from Paris, May 19, Harriman informed the Department that he would send Sullivan and Davidson to brief Stewart on the Paris negotiations. (Ibid., IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference on Vietnam, 1968–1969, Delto Chron.) Telegram 9133 from London, May 20, reported on their May 20 meeting with Stewart. (Ibid., HARVAN-(Incoming)-May 1968)
  6. Additional documentation on the Stewart trip is in Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Documents on British Policy Overseas, Series III, Vol. I, Britain and the Soviet Union, 1968–1972 (London: The Stationery Office, 1997), pp. 35–40.