287. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

31393. Dept pass to Paris for Vietnam Mission. Ref: A. State 191958; B. State 193995.2

I have been considering the questions raised in reftel A which pose extremely difficult and delicate problems for Thieu. He is now publicly committed to an official visit to the United States in the near future and hardly a day passes without some reference to it. For example, during his public meeting with the representatives of the “Front of Fronts” June 29 several of the questions raised with him were centered on this fact. I believe that major considerations of “face” are involved and that our handling of this issue must reflect this fact. Thieu has recently been increasingly subjected to private criticism as being too much in the Americans’ [Page 830] pocket, in contrast to some of the more nationalistic and particularly northern leaders. In our handling of the visit we must be sure that we do not make it appear as if Thieu were a puppet and subject to American whims.
I do not know how strongly Thieu will feel about letting the visit slip and I would hope that I could be given considerable flexibility in handling it with him. If Thieu amenable to Honolulu talks I think we should suggest to him that simultaneous announcement make clear that proposal to meet in Honolulu was originated by Thieu; that he made this proposal in lieu of State visit because he decided in view threats of new Communist offensive attacks he could not be away from Viet-Nam for length of time customary for a State visit; that both sides felt need for summit consultations at this time to review military situation and Paris talks; and, finally, that State visit not abandoned but deferred.
It would seem most useful to me to have a Honolulu meeting immediately after the Clifford visit here, as some of the preparatory discussions could in fact take place during that visit. I would therefore urge that if this change in plans is ultimately considered necessary, the Honolulu meeting be scheduled for about July 19 or 20.
With reference to para three of reftel B, I agree that we must in the last analysis leave the decision as to who would accompany him up to Thieu. I think it would be most useful to have Ky along, since this conforms to past practice and would also involve Ky in whatever decisions and public statements emerge from the meeting. While we can see advantage in having Huong present, a case can be made that it would be more appropriate as well as necessary for the head of government to remain in Saigon in the absence of the President. Moreover, there would be some language difficulties since Huong speaks no English, although interpreting arrangements could undoubtedly be worked out.
In sum, I hope that we can hold off on the final decision on Thieu’s official visit until after I discuss the matter with him. If he should feel that it is politically essential to him despite all the factors outlined in reftels, I would like to report his views and my recommendations before a final decision is made. Request urgent instructions so that I can take this matter up with Thieu when I next see him.3 I have an appointment with him Monday4 afternoon.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received at 3:19 a.m. In telegram 193328 to Saigon, June 28, Katzenbach had discussed his ideas on the inter-relationship between the Paris talks and the political situation in Saigon. (Ibid., A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-June 1968)
  2. In telegram 191958 to Saigon, June 27, the Department notified Bunker of its decision to postpone a visit by Thieu to the U.S. mainland primarily due to “the specific chance of hostile demonstrations” likely to arise and instead suggested either “high-level visits from here or Paris” or a trip by Thieu to Honolulu in mid-July, preceded or followed by a visit by Clifford and Wheeler to South Vietnam. In telegram 193995 to Saigon, June 29, the Department made the following request: “Highest levels would now like your urgent judgment on the advisability of proposing to Thieu a meeting with the President in Honolulu in the general time period July 10–13—with the Clifford visit to follow—or conceivably at the other end of the Clifford visit, with Clifford returning to Honolulu at the same time the President came.” (Both ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 VIET S)
  3. In telegram 194062 to Saigon, June 30, the Department provided additional reasons for Thieu’s concurrence in a meeting in Honolulu instead of the U.S. mainland. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Paris Todel—Paris Delto VI—6/16–30/68)
  4. July 1.