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

17153/Delto 355. From Vance.

1.
I met with Ha Van Lau from 10:30 to 12:40 night of June 27/28 at house in Vitry sur Seine not far from DRV delegation headquarters. The location was proposed by the DRV and apparently once served as a communications center for them. Also attending the meeting were Habib and Negroponte on our side, and on DRV side, Nguyen Minh Vy, interpreter Nguyen Dinh Phuong and Tran Quang Co, who took notes.
2.
I opened by asking Lau if he had had chance to think over the suggestion I had put to him and Xuan Thuy at Wednesday’s coffee break. Lau said that it had been put in rather simple terms and thus he as yet had no basis on which to form a judgment.
3.

We repeated the proposal saying that the US would agree to cease all bombardment of North Vietnam on a day to be communicated to the DRV. Before that day, an understanding would be reached on the circumstances to be carried out following upon the cessation.

I repeated the proposal to be sure that it was understood. I commented that this seemed to me a way to make progress and overcome the obstacles to our discussions. I said it would meet the suggestions made by the DRV and not jeopardize our forces in Vietnam. I then emphasized the value of discussing these matters privately and stressed the importance we attached to maintaining the utmost secrecy.

4.
Lau then said he had some questions. He reminded us that the DRV demands the unconditional cessation of bombing and all other acts of war against all of its territory and that this has been formulated in a 3-point proposal by Xuan Thuy. Lau wondered whether other acts of war were included in our proposal or not. I replied that one of the questions we would have to discuss was what constituted other acts of war.
5.
Lau asked for examples of the circumstances we had in mind. I said that we had spoken often of the importance of the reestablishment [Page 818]of the DMZ, and added that we had indicated our concern regarding such matters as: artillery fire from and across the DMZ; the launching of attacks across or in the area of the DMZ; increased infiltration of troops into the South; and continuing attacks on the civilian population in the cities in the South. I said these would be the kinds of things we should talk about in discussing the circumstances which would follow the cessation of bombing.
6.
Lau asked if the discussion of circumstances would come before or after the cessation of bombing. I replied before. I then reiterated that this proposal would meet the DRV demands, yet at the same time provide the protection for our forces and those of our allies—a matter which concerns us greatly.
7.
Lau then said that he would think it over but commented by way of preliminary observation, that he saw nothing new in what we were saying when compared with what we had said in previous meetings between the full delegations or in the meeting between Jorden and Le.
8.
I pointed out that our proposal contained something very new. Lau remarked that there was indeed something new, the date of cessation of bombing would be fixed beforehand. Habib then added that there was something else, the implementation of conditions follow rather than precede the cessation, thus they are not conditions in the true sense of the word. In fact, the proposal allows the DRV to meet their request of no prior conditions and at the same time allows us to meet our requirements for what will follow. Moreover what follows will not be linked with the cessation of bombing as far as the public is concerned.
9.
Lau replied that these ideas were only slightly different from ones we had advanced previously—different in terms of sequence but as far as the substance of the matter was concerned he said there was nothing new, and what we were asking is still tantamount to reciprocity. Lau said suppose the discussion of circumstances to follow the cessation of bombing does not achieve any results—then what will happen? He said our proposal still involved the element of reciprocity, and he was sure we recalled that Xuan Thuy had already rejected this on numerous occasions.
10.
I said I was aware of this and that I had read and reread Xuan Thuy’s statements many times. I said that I had tried to find a way to overcome the obstacle to progress in these discussions—a way in which we could meet the DRV demands and at the same time provide the necessary protection of our forces. I said that by talking of time sequence the question of time develops into one of substance. At this point I emphasized that I did not want to mislead Lau. I said that before the bombing was stopped, we would have to reach an understanding on [Page 819]the circumstances that would follow the cessation of bombing. I said I did not want any misunderstanding on this point.
11.
Habib then commented that the question of prior conditions is not apparent in our proposal because we are taking a step first and what the DRV does will follow upon the cessation of bombing. I then pointed out that some of the circumstances which would follow upon the cessation of bombing would be acts of mutual restraint such as the reestablishment of the DMZ and as such would appear related to each other and not the cessation of bombing which had taken place before.
12.
Lau responded by saying that in substance there is still a demand for reciprocity. He then reiterated the DRV position that we must cease all bombing and other acts of war unconditionally, and whether the conditions are imposed before, at the same time, or after the cessation of bombing, it was tantamount to reciprocity. Lau said that if the DRV discusses these proposals before the cessation of bombing or simultaneously it would be contradicting its previous position. Lau said he wanted to think that the U.S. is interested in seeking a solution but he regretted that our suggestions offered nothing new and suggested we speak of substance rather than appearances.
13.
Lau then said we had not answered his question. What would happen if we disagree on circumstances which should follow the cessation of bombing? I replied that unless we agree to the circumstances the bombing will not stop. I also said that our proposal would meet the basic need of the DRV since the bombing would be stopped, the circumstances would be reasonable, and they would lead to a lessening of the conflict permitting us to go on to the discussion of other matters leading to peace. I said that I believed that our objective as well as that of the DRV was to find an honorable solution which would permit peace to return to Viet-Nam and permit it to develop along lines of its own choosing.
14.
Lau then plunged into a long and somewhat emotional monologue. He said that his people would progress, it was just a question of time and as long as the people were determined to go forward no one could hinder this progress. The North Vietnamese people are attached to peace, which in their view must be in independence and in freedom. The DRV is an independent and sovereign country and yet the U.S. sends planes to bomb it. The U.S. repeatedly changes its reasons for bombing North Vietnam and has also repeatedly admitted that such bombings have not been effective and perhaps even had the results opposite to those intended. The longer the U.S. prolongs these bombardments the greater the resistance from the people of Vietnam. The DRV demands that the U.S. unconditionally cease the bombing of its territory. This is a very legitimate demand and if it cannot be met then [Page 820]our talks will not progress. The DRV believes its demand is motivated by the principle of sovereignty and independence of its country. As for the U.S. reasons for bombing, one day they are this, one day they are that, and none of the reasons stand up to scrutiny. The U.S. has no reason to bomb Vietnam and no right to destroy it.
15.
The U.S., Lau continued, has raised the question of restraint and the circumstances which we have raised are actually demands for reciprocity—demands which the DRV has repeatedly rejected. The DRV cannot accept the principle of restraint and if the U.S. wants to find a solution it must manifest this desire by some act of good will—that is the cessation of bombing. After that we can discuss other matters. The Vietnamese do not want to destroy the prestige of other people—they want friendship on the basis of mutual respect but they cannot accept an infringement on their independence and sovereignty. We have said the conflict should end in order to stop the suffering of our two peoples. How? To end the conflict we must go back to the origin of the situation which in substance is aggression by a country which has come from far across the sea. The U.S. argument that North Vietnam is aggressing against South Vietnam is wrong and Lau said he was sure that even in the U.S. many people did not believe this to be the case
16.
I replied that I did not think we could make progress by talking about who is the aggressor. I then emphasized that bombing of North Vietnam is purely for military reasons and that as a military man Lau should understand this. I said the bombing is absolutely necessary to protect our troops and those of our allies. I said, moreover, we have already taken certain actions unilaterally; we have stopped bombing over a great part of the DRV and since early April have up to now—not bombed beyond the 19th parallel although this has not been publicly announced; and that since early April there have been no allied troops operating in the DMZ, while at the same time North Vietnamese troops have used the DMZ as a base to move troops into South Vietnam and to conduct attacks against allied forces in South Vietnam.
17.
I said as far as Vietnamese independence was concerned we respect it and have said we have no intention of overthrowing or harming the Government of North Vietnam. I stated what we want to assure is the right of the South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese to decide their own future without force or outside interference. I reminded Lau that we were prepared to withdraw our troops from South Vietnam as stated in the Manila Communique if North Vietnam removed theirs.
18.
At this point Vy interjected that if we kept restating our position it would compel Lau to further restate his. Habib replied that each side knew the other’s general position but we were addressing ourselves to a very specific question and the best thing that Lau could do is to think [Page 821]about our proposal with great care. I again said I thought our suggestion met the requirements of both sides and without loss of face for either side.
19.
Lau said that was a matter of opinion. He repeated his view that we were just talking about appearances and not substance. He again asked what will happen if we could not agree on the circumstance to follow the bombing cessation, stating that if agreement could not be reached then there would be no cessation, bringing us back full circle to the old question of reciprocity.
20.
We then went over the same points several more times. I emphasized again the need for protecting the security of our forces in I Corps. Lau referred me to Thuy’s comments on this subject; Vy then said complete cessation of bombing is the most logical first step, and then there would be discussion of other matters.
21.
Lau then referred to Thuy’s arguments at the 9th session to the effect that rather than showing restraint we had intensified the war in North and South since March 31.2 Lau said we had not answered this charge: I replied that we had. He then said that, frankly speaking, he could not stomach our claim that we had ceased bombing over DRV territory containing 90 percent of population. This not true, he said, maintaining that there are 4–1/2 million in area we are bombing.
22.
As for the bombing, it has intensified at very same time U.S. speaks of restraint. What DRV demands is that all bombing stop. As for South Vietnam, Lau continued, he had just read in newspapers that all areas around Saigon had been declared free bomb zones; but these are densely populated areas with countless hamlets and villages. What right does U.S. have to declare these areas free bomb zones? Never have B–52s bombed so heavily, so indiscriminately. The indignation of the Vietnamese people is aroused.
23.
While the US talks of safety of its troops, Lau continued, it is massacring Vietnamese people daily, not to mention the activities of puppet troops, now US intends to raise their number to one million; US plans to bring troops from Thailand; and it has just added billions to its war budget. Lau said he was citing these figures not for propaganda purposes but because they were the facts. US must match its words with its deeds, if not, words are meaningless.
24.
I replied that as far as the DRV population living south of 20th parallel is concerned, the figures we had used were based on the best information available to us and there has been no intent to falsify or deceive. As for the bombing, I said that compared to first three months [Page 822]of year it had in fact increased but this was in large measure due to weather and the increase in military movement by the DRV southwards since March. I said that as he well knew, the infiltration rate in May was the highest ever and it was continuing at an abnormally high rate in June.
25.
As for our actions in South Vietnam, there have been indiscriminate rocket attacks by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army troops against Saigon. We have responded to them. We will defend Saigon. Regarding the number of our troops in South Vietnam, we don’t keep it secret. As for number of GVN troops, that’s for the GVN to decide. The DRV refers to them as puppets. Here we have difference of view. We believe South Vietnamese people have right to determine their future. If they weren’t being attacked they would not need to increase their troop strength or seek allied help. No one has right to impose another’s future by force. These aren’t words, this is something we believe deeply.
26.
Habib then asked if we stopped bombing what military action will the DRV take? Vy replied that DRV would then talk about related matters.
27.
Lau then remarked that he agreed with my statement that South Vietnam people should have right to defend themselves against use of force, but this did not apply to US puppets who do not represent the people. US puppet and satellite troops number more than 1 million; they are equipped with best of weapons; and yet what have they been able to achieve? The truth is that the South Vietnamese have the right to self-determination by uniting behind the NLD.
28.
Again displaying some emotion, Lau asked, “Remember Ben Suc? You razed it. Remember Cu Chi district? You razed it.” These were only examples he said. Vietnamese people in the South would rather die than live in slavery. As long as US aggression continues, the Vietnamese people will struggle until fundamental national objectives are attained. These words are not propaganda, Lau said; they are spoken from the heart.
29.
As for US continuation of bombing to protect its troops, Lau went on, it is absurd and not new. The US has advanced these ideas at previous meetings. The US proposes fixing a date for bombing cessation beforehand but only after an exchange of views. This is nothing new.
30.
I said that I rejected his statement that continuation of bombing to protect our troops was absurd. I said it was necessary for their protection. As for self determination, I said we had different points of view. I then said that while we may have covered much of same old ground this evening, I did not agree that there had been nothing new in our suggestion and asked him to reflect seriously on it.
31.
Habib then said we differ on what great majority want in South Vietnam. We are prepared to leave South Vietnam. Is DRV? They spoke of weapons we had brought to Vietnam but what of weapons DRV had brought there? Nationalists in Saigon are not puppets. They wished to determine their own future. They want North Vietnamese out. They want our forces out eventually. We agree complete cessation of bombing in DRV is a possible first step in these negotiations. What will DRV do if we the stop bombing? Neither they nor anyone else has been able to tell us what military actions they would take following a cessation.
32.
Lau replied that the people in Saigon we call nationalists are more American than we are. In the U.S. there are people who call for a complete cessation of bombing while the nationalists in Saigon want to resume the bombing of North Vietnam and bomb Hanoi. “We know them very well,” Lau said, “and if you continue to rely on them you will never find your way out of Vietnam.”
33.
As for our proposal, Lau said he would think about it. He said he did not want to deal in recriminations but a Vietnamese solution must be based on an assessment of the past and present. If we don’t agree on at least essential points of the past, it will be difficult to find a solution for the future. This was the first talk between us. Lau said he had paid serious attention to my remarks and hoped that I would reflect further on his.
34.
I said I thought that through frank discussion we might solve our problems and suggested that we might meet again.
35.
Lau concluded by saying that DRV was convinced its point of view is correct and true. We may be convinced of our position. That is our privilege, but there’s only one truth. DRV cannot accept anything contrary to truth or aspirations of the people.
36.
I asked Lau whether we should fix a date for another meeting or whether we should leave it open. Lau replied that they would need some time to think things over. I said perhaps we could have further discussion at the formal Wednesday meeting. Lau nodded.

Comment:

37.
I gave my preliminary comments on this meeting in the telecon with Walsh of S/S.3
38.
The meeting did not produce any progress. The North Vietnamese did, however, get a precise exposition of our proposal. They understand its content and they are fully aware of its implication. They only agreed to study it. They said they found nothing new in it. We pointed out there was something new and emphasized the constructive [Page 824]nature of the proposal which could open the way to progress in these negotiations. Lau said they would sleep on it to see if there was anything new.
39.
Notwithstanding the foregoing the meeting was useful. It was a necessary first step in this dialogue and it proceeded about as we could expect. They are deliberate and persistent and there was more of the standard party line than we anticipated. We limited our response in this regard to the minimum possible, and we sought to keep their attention on the specific proposal. In the next episode we will hopefully find it possible to keep their attention concentrated on the specific problem, now that we have worked our way through a good deal of the polemics they seem to require.4
40.
I will be seeing Zorin the morning of June 28 to inform him of what we have done subsequent to his suggestion. We will wish to consider what should be done in the Russian channel to follow on.5

Vance
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-June 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/HARVAN/Plus. Received at 11:42 a.m. The “Plus” slug was added to limit further the distribution of telegrams relating to these private talks. (Telegram 191904 to Paris, Saigon, and Moscow, June 27; ibid.) Tho left for Hanoi the next day, stopping off in Moscow for consultations with the Soviets. In telegram 17256 from Paris, June 30, Vance suggested that Tho’s departure was related to the recent talks with Lau and Zorin. (Ibid.)
  2. See footnote 2, Document 275.
  3. Not found.
  4. In a June 29 memorandum to the President, Taylor noted: “The report of this meeting is very interesting and, although inconclusive, is moderately encouraging in offering the possibilities of further substantive talks in private.” He believed that the North Vietnamese would relent on the issue of reciprocity, and thus the “circumstances” for cessation and the scenario for future negotiations needed to be more fully developed before further exploration in this channel. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8 I, 1/67–12/68, Taylor Memos—General)
  5. See Document 286.