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

Mr. President:

You ask: where do I think we should go from here?


At tea-break, during the next talk, Harriman or Vance should pick up Tho’s statement: “there can never be a settlement of military [Page 798] matters without prior agreement on a political solution.” He should ask:

  • —Is Tho suggesting we proceed promptly in Paris to discussion of a political solution? If so, we should have to introduce the GVN into the talks.
  • —If Paris is inappropriate, perhaps informal contacts might be undertaken by their side with the GVN elsewhere.

If we get no rise from Tho at tea-time, we should try again at the next informal dinner meeting.

We should discuss Tho’s statement and its implications with Thieu promptly and promptly inform him of the ambiguous NLF probe in Saigon of which I informed you yesterday. (Code name: Antwerp)2 We should urge Thieu to take the initiative in seeking contact with the Communists to explore a one-man-one-vote constitutional solution.
Jointly with Thieu we should pursue the Antwerp contact.3
I doubt that Hanoi will accept Paris talks on this matter, with the GVN, so long as bombing continues. Therefore, private informal contacts in Viet Nam or elsewhere between the GVN and the NLF seem the [Page 799] logical route to progress. If such talks are undertaken, Paris could devote itself quietly to certain legitimately bilateral U.S.-Hanoi issues:
  • —contingent plans and schedule for withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces from the South; U.S. forces to base areas, before departure on the Manila formula;
  • —plans to re-establish the DMZ;
  • —plans to re-establish the Laos Accords of 1962.
Behind all this, Mr. President, is a hunch, rather than a judgment, that Hanoi is having the same kind of problem with its generals we have with the JCS. For example, when the North Vietnamese are told we wish to re-establish the DMZ in return for a total cessation of bombing, they tell their diplomats: “Don’t you realize that with the bad weather in Laos that means virtually cutting off our forces in the South? Impossible.” In all conscience, well-balanced mutual de-escalation is very tough to negotiate in a war of this kind, without a fixed front. They may, therefore, be moving to the conclusion that a fight-and-talk strategy will have to persist on about present terms until a southern political solution is negotiated. Then the war could be rolled up briskly.
Of course, I could be wrong on one of two counts:
  • Kosygin may come back with an acceptable mutual de-escalation formula;
  • —Hanoi may not be interested in coming to grips with serious negotiating problems until the next Administration is installed.

W. W. Rostow 4
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 83. Secret; Sensitive.
  2. In a memorandum to the President, June 19, 6 p.m., Rostow first transmitted to him news of the Antwerp contact. (Ibid., National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, ANTWERP) Attached to this memorandum were memoranda from Lansdale to Bunker, June 10 and June 13, laying out the details of the episode. On June 10 and again on June 12, Ho Quang Phuoc, an associate of Lansdale’s, had informed him of a message passed to him which had come indirectly from Southern Vietnamese within the NLF leadership. Due to dissatisfaction with the dominance of Northerners within the organization, these leaders were willing to disband openly the NLF if the United States would replace the current GVN regime with a “provisional government.” The Southern leaders were even willing to allow Thieu to remain as President provided an acceptable Prime Minister with full powers to negotiate could be put in place. Lansdale believed that “we have probably heard fairly and accurately from the NLF leadership through this channel.” (Ibid.) Lansdale’s memorandum was originally attached to a June 13 memorandum from Bunker to Bundy. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET S/BUTTERCUP)
  3. In a June 21 memorandum to the President, 12 p.m., Rostow argued that the Antwerp contact “could be serious” if, in light of the heavy casualties suffered, the Southerners in the NLF were “seeing a rapid erosion of their own strength and an increased dominance of their activities by Northerners.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Antwerp) Calhoun attended an additional meeting with the intermediaries on June 20. (Telegram 30600 from Saigon, June 21; ibid.) Further information on the Antwerp contacts is in an undated memorandum attached to a June 22 memorandum from Carver to Helms. (Ibid.) A critical assessment of the individuals reported to have been involved with Antwerp is in a memorandum to Bundy from Helms and telegram CAS 348 from Saigon, both dated June 20. (Ibid., Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 83) On June 26 Bunker and Berger briefed Thieu on Antwerp; Thieu noted that any approach originating from the NLF “must be given serious consideration.” (Ibid.) In telegram 193726 to Saigon, June 29, the Department authorized the Embassy to proceed with the contacts. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/ANTWERP)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.