275. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 81355. Herewith preliminary report of Bill Jorden’s dinner. From this text and my conversation with Jorden I would agree with evaluation at the end; namely a serious exploratory probe. We should look for an early renewal.2

Paris 16457/Delto 290.

High points of Jorden-Thanh Le meeting were as follows:
Absence of any give on mutual restraint at present stage.
Their interest in our definition of “appropriate time and circumstance,” timing of withdrawal of U.S. forces and circumstances of same, and questions by Le concerning movement on their part which might justify end of bombing.
Total absence of any denial that North Vietnamese forces were in fact present in South Viet-Nam.
North Vietnamese acknowledgment of willingness to discuss withdrawal of their forces from the South “at an appropriate time.”
Implication that this and “other matters of mutual interest” could be discussed after all bombing “and other acts of war” on territory of DRV ended.
Effort to probe our attitude toward Liberation Front and its program.
Meeting lasted three hours. Atmosphere was cordial throughout. But argumentation was serious and intense on both sides. Jorden stressed desirability of keeping fact and content of talk confidential. Thanh Le agreed.
Present in addition to above were: Kaplan, Nguyen Van Sao, and interpreter Trong.
Jorden’s and Kaplan’s feeling that this was a serious exploratory session by North Vietnamese.
Full report follows in septel.3 Harriman
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Misc. & Memos, Vol. IV, 6/16–30/68. Secret; Sensitive. Received at 9:35 a.m. at the LBJ Ranch, where the President stayed June 13–18.
  2. In a memorandum to the President, June 19, 8:15 a.m., Rostow wrote: “As you know, the North Vietnamese probed Bill Jorden at dinner on our view of the NLF and a political settlement in the South. There have been other indications that they want to know ‘what the Americans really want’ by way of a settlement. Some of us have long felt that mutual de-escalation in a war of this complex kind, without a fixed front, was very difficult to manage, unless a political settlement had been first achieved. Therefore, I have been considering the possibility of having Jorden (or whomever Harriman designates) lay informally before the North Vietnamese at the next informal session a scenario of how we could get from here to there; that is, all the way to a peace settlement.” (Ibid.) Attached was a June 18 memorandum by Ginsburgh to Rostow, setting out a sequential approach at Paris for a phased mutual de-escalation. At the tea break during the June 19 session, Tho stated that a political settlement had to precede a military settlement. (Telegrams 16567/Delto 301 and 16587/Delto 304 from Paris, June 19; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference on Vietnam, 1968–1969, Delto Chron.) In a memorandum to the President, June 19, 1 p.m., Rostow suggested that discussions over political issues needed to be encouraged in order for the talks to progress. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 82)
  3. Telegram 16458/Delto 291 from Paris, June 17. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference on Vietnam, 1968–1969, Delto Chron.)