281. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

16928. Summary:

Soviet Ambassador Zorin today recommended to me that U.S. delegation should utilize “coffee break this Wednesday” to propose to Xuan Thuy directly Phase A-Phase B plan. He stated his belief that U.S. agreement in principle to stop bombing on a date certain would be followed by willingness NVN to enter into unofficial, by which he meant non-public, talks looking toward deciding on circumstances which would follow in Phase B. Upon deciding Phase B circumstances Phase A would be executed. Thereafter at an interval Phase B actions would be carried out. Though Zorin emphasized he could not guarantee results he unequivocally reiterated three times his belief that North Vietnamese would respond. And he said we should not be put off from pursuing this approach even if NVN’s first response was “nyet.” (End Summary)

Having scheduled routine protocol visit with wife to Soviet Embassy I was advised that Zorin preferred to see me alone on business. He opened discussion by requesting my views on U.S. political situation to which I responded fully. I outlined candidly my views on possibilities Humphrey, Nixon, McCarthy, Rockefeller. I emphasized President Johnson much freer, more knowledgeable on details and thus in better position than any successor to reach understandings with Soviet Union on subject V–N. I recalled Glassboro speech, new consular treaty ceremony and President’s remarks at White House. Although Zorin started our conversation professing little knowledge of domestic U.S. political picture, he responded to my analysis by saying he agreed with me completely, that precious time should not be wasted, and that U.S. should take first big step by stopping the bombing. After I repeated our well-known position, he repeated their litany.

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Having unloaded himself of their regular incantations, he proceeded to add his opinion that if we would set a specific date for stopping the bombing the North Vietnamese would respond immediately by entering into unofficial talks to achieve complete peace. I said talk was cheap, that President could not stop bombing for an agreement to talk, that even if President wanted to do so he would lose support of the country and lose any chance of obtaining Congressional approval of his actions, that such an action might well elect Nixon and thus make peace negotiations even more difficult for North Vietnamese.

He appeared to accept these arguments and responded by introducing Phase A-Phase B plan. (He did not use this phrase name for plan but was obviously referring to Phase A–B concept.) I pointed out my belief this plan had been brought to attention North Vietnamese with no results. He asked if plan had actually been discussed with North Vietnamese, directly. When I could neither affirm or deny exact details, he recommended that plan be brought up directly by Vance with Xuan Thuy.2 To assure myself Zorin’s exact intention I repeated to him my understanding his recommendation as set forth in Summary above. He responded yes “Vance should say that” and he thereupon lifted a heretofore untouched glass of wine and said “a votre sante.”

Zorin’s manner today totally different than on occasion of embassy lunch with Harriman, Perry and me. Zorin was full of smiles, laughed out loud 2 or 3 times, and upon my departure said he hoped Mrs. Shriver would soon call upon Mrs. Zorin. Zorin mentioned Vance’s talk with Oberemko and was apparently aware that Vance had gotten nowhere with Phase A-Phase B idea on that occasion.3 Zorin also completely frank and expansive on French elections which is subject of separate message.4

Ambassador Vance has read this cable.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-June 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. In a memorandum transmitting a copy of this telegram to the President, June 24, Rostow wrote: “Herewith Zorin—hitherto silent and frozen—suggests the A–B–C formula for private exploration by Vance on Wednesday to Shriver, in the course of a courtesy call. This is probably Kosygin’s reply to you. I have arranged that Shriver’s cable be flashed for comment to Secretary Rusk and Ambassador Bunker. The sequence is clearly: A. We name to Hanoi a ‘date certain’ for cessation of bombing, i.e., a date to come into effect when B is agreed. B. We negotiate what they would do when bombing has stopped. C. We stop; and they stop doing what we negotiate after a pre-negotiated interval. This could be the turning point, notably if shipments are not coming through China.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, M–Q, Vol. II, Paris Talks—Messages from Other Posts)
  2. In telegram 189086/Todel 521 to Paris, June 24, Harriman sent the following message to Vance: “Dobrynin told Secretary and myself that Hanoi representatives in Paris had informed the Soviet Government they would talk to us in private but had not specified how soon. You may find opportunity at tea break Wednesday to raise this subject again without, of course, involving the Soviets.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference on Vietnam, 1968–1969, Todel Chron.)
  3. See footnote 5, Document 280.
  4. Telegram 16929 from Paris, June 24. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference on Vietnam, 1968–1969, Todel Chron.)