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

17226/Delto 361. 1. I called at Soviet Emb today and talked with Amb Zorin for hour and half. Bogomolov interpreted. Zorin was quite cordial, and proceeded in businesslike manner with minimum propaganda and few wasted words.

2. I began by telling Zorin we wanted to keep him fully informed about progress of talks, and said that after his talk with Amb Shriver I had spoken with Xuan Thuy during Wednesday’s tea break and put suggestion to him in exact form discussed between Zorin and Shriver. I then recounted arrangements for my meeting with Ha Van Lau, told Zorin meeting lasted two hours, and described in general terms course of meeting.2 I summarized by saying I believed Ha Van Lau understood our suggestion and its implications clearly, that Lau’s response was negative but that he said he would think about it. I told Zorin I assumed North Vietnamese would discuss this matter with him and I hoped he would see it got the serious attention it deserved, since I felt it provided a realistic way to overcome obstacle to progress in talks.

3. Zorin said this proposal had been presented to various persons in various languages, and he wanted to ask exactly how I put it to Ha Van Lau. I said: “The US would agree to stop all bombing and bombardments of the DRV on a day certain to be communicated to you (DRV). Before that day an understanding would be reached on the circumstances which would be carried out following upon the cessation.” I added that in response to questions I told Ha Van Lau that an understanding concerning the “circumstances” had to be reached before bombing stopped, but this would be private understanding; and that if we could not agree on “circumstances,” then bombing would not be stopped.

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4. Zorin replied that I had put proposition in form hard for Hanoi to accept, for I was still posing conditions and demanding reciprocity, which he wished to emphasize DRV could not accept. Here he thumped table to emphasize his statement that DRV would never accept demand for reciprocity, “no matter how it was dressed up.” Zorin then said he had envisaged a two phase proposal with a time interval between the two phases. The first phase would involve a cessation of bombing and the second phase would involve carrying out reciprocal actions on both sides. He asked whether our suggestion involved two phases with a time interval between. I said we envisaged, as far as public was concerned, two phases, with time interval between, which must be as short as possible, but between US and DRV, in private, we had to have a clear understanding of what would happen in the second phase before we ceased bombing. I said we could not jeopardize the safety of our troops and other allied forces and therefore we must know with absolute clarity what would happen in the second phase. I mentioned the reestablishment of the DMZ, and said it would appear to world US and DRV actions in DMZ were reciprocal steps and not connected with bombing cessation. I said I had mentioned other specific “circumstances” to Ha Van Lau which would also have to be thrashed out between us. Key point, I repeated, was that we had to know what would happen if we stopped bombing, and no one had told us this yet.

5. After proposing toast Zorin had more to say. He stated that we had fewer troops in Viet-Nam before we started to bomb than we did now so why was it necessary to bomb when we had 500,000 troops there. I pointed out his non sequitur and stressed the fact that DRV had escalated the fighting and infiltration and thus the danger to our troops since March 31st. I said we could only assume unless we got some assurance to the contrary that they would take further advantage if we stopped all the bombing. Zorin then said what difference does it make when the measures of restraint are taken by them. He said if there were a time interval the measures could be agreed to then. I repeated that was unacceptable, and that we had to know in advance what measures of restraint they would take if the bombing were to be stopped. I repeated again that we could not jeopardize our forces and those of our allies.

6. Zorin now began to warm to his subject, and referred to a conversation between a member US delegation and DRV delegation about possible steps in reducing troops, retiring certain divisions, etc. He said this was already second phase talk. Zorin then tried to explain very specifically what he meant by the two phases. When he encountered difficulty in making himself as clear as he wished, he went over to his desk, got paper and pencil, and spent some five minutes writing out diagram on single sheet of paper. At top was Phase I, cessation of bombing, with heavy black line separating it from Phase II. Phase II was composed [Page 827] of parallel columns with several points in each column. One column was US and the other DRV.

7. Zorin said with elaborate emphasis that he was not proposing anything, but merely giving his “personal” thoughts—as a result of listening to both sides—as to what might give best results for the negotiations. (He repeated this caution at end of meeting.) He then explained his diagram with great earnestness, getting ahead of interpretation in his eagerness to get his ideas across. First phase was bombing cessation, with no reciprocity “formally,” emphasis on “formally.” Second phase, US and DRV would undertake two or three measures each. (1) US would suggest pull-back of certain troops or divisions or closing of certain bases (he cited closing of Khe Sanh as example) by US, at same time suggesting certain parallel measures to be taken by DRV. (2) Second point, to suggest certain measures that would help guarantee security of US and allied troops (“since this was purpose of our asking reciprocal measures for bombing cessation”). E.g., he said reducing military activity in various areas, and when I asked if he had in mind DMZ as a possibility he replied it was good possibility. (3) Third point (he stressed this and it was obvious he attached considerable importance to it), discuss some political step that could be taken simultaneously, so that US proposals would include both military and political steps. His description of possible political steps was vague. (Later I questioned him specifically on this and asked whether he was suggesting that a topic for discussion be listed or did he mean that action to be taken should be listed. He smiled and said he recognized US problem, that we had Saigon standing at our backs, but he had in mind something vague, some suggested step “on principle” that would not touch directly on interests of Saigon or FLN.) Finally, Zorin said this list of steps to be taken would be open-ended, that is we would make it clear to DRV that further concrete steps would also be negotiated. He did not make it clear whether he was suggesting a fourth point on each side of his list saying just that.

8. Picking up his sheet of paper, Zorin said we should draw up “this list,” including specific steps for each side. He said he was unable to advise us on concrete steps we might wish include. US should “propose this now.” US would agree to stop bombings on certain date, and both sides would “agree to discuss” specific points listed, which would constitute beginning of second phase—to start say two or three weeks after bombing cessation. Thus US would avoid asking direct reciprocity (pointing to diagram to show that reciprocity came only in Phase II) but would achieve what US wanted, namely measures to protect US and allied troops. Then he stressed that if US wanted it made clear what would happen in Phase II, then it must propose concrete measures for both sides; otherwise Hanoi would not provide clear picture of what it would do. Zorin said he could not guarantee DRV would accept concrete [Page 828] steps US proposed, but he had reason to believe they would agree to talk on this basis, if it was presented as reasonable minimum measure, and if DRV saw us willing to reduce level of military activity and simultaneously include something from political sphere.

9. I asked several questions to clarify his position, including what would happen during interval between Phase I and Phase II—that is how did we know DRV would not take advantage. Zorin replied his idea was that “now, at this stage,” we would already agree on one or two of points in Phase II. I asked if he thought points in Phase II would be carried out by DRV. Zorin said if DRV agreed, they would abide by agreement, they were as responsible as US. I asked why his diagram did not constitute “reciprocity” in DRV eyes. He pointed to heavy line between Phase I and II and said reciprocity was below line but not above it. I again tried to get a clear answer by asking whether DRV would agree to this plan before bombing ceased. Zorin replied he thought there were grounds for concrete conversations and this plan would not be rejected.

10. At this stage we had to close hurriedly since Zorin said he was overdue for appointment. I promised to study what he had said.

11. Comment—I had the impression from two remarks of Zorin that Zorin or a member of his staff had talked to the North Vietnamese since our meeting of last night. Zorin had obviously thought about the proposal he advanced and when he had trouble finding the right word, sketched out his plan on paper without undue hesitation. Unfortunately, I could not get a clear statement from him on whether the proposed reciprocal actions in Phase II of his proposal would be agreed to before the bombing was stopped. His emphasis on the word “formally” in paragraph 7 above suggests he was saying that. However, in paragraph 5 he implied the measures would be agreed upon in the interval following the bombing cessation. At the end of our talk when I tried to get a clear answer (paragraph 9), he fuzzed the issue.3

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12. I will be considering this conversation in light of our talk with Lau and will submit my suggestions for follow up.4

  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 2:17 p.m. In the covering note transmitting a copy of this telegram to the President, June 28, 6 p.m., Rostow wrote: “You will wish to have this account of Cy Vance’s meeting with Zorin, for the 6:15 p.m. meeting with Sec. Rusk. Zorin, essentially, proposes this: 1. We stop bombing. 2. They take de-escalatory steps in the next phase; but we also take further steps. The key issues are: Firmly to negotiate phase 2 before the bombing stops; Whether what they do in phase 2 compensates us for the bombing cessation plus the additional actions that Zorin suggests.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 84) According to his diary, the President met that evening with both Rusk and Rostow “to discuss the Middle East paper and Paris talks.” (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) Notes of the meeting have not been found.
  2. See Document 285.
  3. Taylor analyzed Zorin’s proposals in a June 29 memorandum to the President, highlighting Zorin’s call for “concrete proposals covering actions to be taken in Phase II” and his definition of the DRV’s insistence against reciprocity as implying no public connection between the halt and de-escalatory acts. The separation would be reinforced by a “lapse” of several weeks. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8 I, 1/67–12/68, Taylor Memos—General) In a June 29 memorandum concerning Zorin’s proposals, Bundy suggested actions to be taken either solely by each side or jointly that the U.S. delegation could propose at Paris. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET) In a July 1 memorandum to Clifford, Warnke noted: “The Zorin formula seems to involve a requirement that we agree unconditionally to stop the bombing while, at the same time but not semantically related, both sides would agree on a list of certain restrictions on military activity to be discussed sometime after the bombing cessation. The key factor is that the reduction in military activity to be discussed would be reciprocal, with each side agreeing on certain de-escalatory measures. The reciprocity would occur after, not before, the bombing halt.” He recommended working out a formula for cessation within the framework of the Zorin proposal. (Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OSD Files: FRC 330 73 A 1304, VIET 092.2)
  4. In telegram 17248/Delto 362 from Paris, June 29, Vance recommended that he and Habib not “seek further clarification” with Zorin at the present time. Instead, they would ask the North Vietnamese whether or not they wanted to continue with the private exchanges. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-June 1968) In telegram 4443 from Moscow, June 29, Thompson noted: “I informed Dobrynin last night of our action on Zorin suggestion. In reply my question he said he did not think there would be further communication from Kosygin at this time.” (Ibid.)