293. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Lyndon Johnson 1

Mr. President:

As you know, there has been an extensive exchange of views between Washington-Paris-Saigon on our terms for a total bombing cessation. (“Washington”, for these purposes, includes Nick Katzenbach, Bundy, Clifford, but not Rusk, and no definitive JCS position. Rusk has encouraged the exchange, but kept his freedom of action.)

Paris is pressing for us to respond to Soviet advice and table a proposal at the earliest private session. (Brom indicated this morning it could come this Friday.)2 And, in any case, the Delegation wishes to be equipped with definitive instructions on this key matter.

(You should know Secretary Rusk is more reserved. He believes Hanoi is now considering where it goes from here; the other side has not yet accepted in principle the Zorin proposal as a framework for negotiation. Therefore, we should not hurry to lay out a detailed proposition.)

The purpose of this memo is to summarize the elements in the proposal that has been examined in these exchanges; and the areas of agreement and of debate. (I ordered all the exchanges typed up in a book for you, so that when you get to Washington the material will be available.) Secretary Rusk, General Taylor, and I may have views which differ even on some points otherwise agreed. I don’t know the precise [Page 843] nature of Secretary Rusk’s reservations; but I shall indicate General Taylor’s views and mine, point-by-point.

I. Phase I

  • —U.S. agrees to cease bombing North Vietnam and “other activities” that involve the “use of force;” that is, excluding reconnaissance. (Agreed.)
  • —Prior to execution of above a clear mutual understanding will be reached on substance of Phase II. (Agreed.)
  • —A time interval would be accepted by U.S. between bombing execution of Phase II. (Washington proposed 3–4 days; Paris a week; when queried, Paris said Phase II actions might vary in time with respect to bombing cessation, within a week; Saigon not yet heard from on this point. Walt Rostow thinks 48 hours is sufficient to save Hanoi’s face and the deal will be difficult to hold for longer than two days after total bombing cessation.)
  • —After some exchange, it now appears agreed that it will be difficult to deliver on a promise of “secrecy” on the deal. Therefore, while formally respecting the separation of the two stages in public statements, we should not make excessive promises to Hanoi on this point.

II. Phase II

  • —Restoration of the DMZ. No personnel or equipment in or moved through DMZ. (Agreed)
  • —Military Action near DMZ. No fire across DMZ or “massing of forces” on either side. (Agreed); but Abrams being asked what is operational meaning for our forces of “no massing”.
  • —Military Restraints in the South. Washington proposes no “rocket, mortar, or sabotage” attacks on Saigon. Bunker wants no attacks of any kind on Saigon, Hue, Danang, arguing most dangerous psychological effects on GVN and ARVN of such attacks, with no bombing of the North. Taylor strongly agrees. Paris wants restraint on Saigon treated as “an assumption” and does not want to go beyond Saigon.3

    Washington also initially raised issue of whether, for purpose of symmetry (and to meet Zorin’s proposal) we should undertake some [Page 844] symbolic restraint in the South to give the appearance of paying something (other than bombing cessation in North) for enemy’s laying off Saigon. I believe consensus is now that each action, on each side, need not be matched: We are trying to negotiate a package as a whole.

  • —Infiltration Rate and Force Levels. Washington initially proposed that the U.S. and DRV keep forces at present levels and agree “not to increase military personnel in SVN” above level at time of bombing cessation. Also proposed: an initial “token withdrawal” on both sides, equal in size (about 5000 men); plus subsequent weekly withdrawals. Paris agreed, but said weekly withdrawals could be held for a later stage. Saigon said no withdrawals whatsoever in early stage of Phase II negotiations.

(As you see, we have shifted from infiltration rate to force levels. I’m sceptical that this is to our advantage because:

  • —Our force levels obvious; enemy’s not. Enemy could cheat.
  • —Our infiltration intelligence has been recently better than order of battle.
  • —Infiltration rate determines the intensity with which enemy can sustain fighting; if we leave order of battle fixed, and no limit on infiltration, he could run an intense fight-and-talk strategy. If infiltration limited, his fighting capacity limited. But this is a military matter and you will wish to know JCS and Abrams’ views.
  • —Laos. After initially considering an interim proposal to freeze Laos activities on both sides at present levels, consensus appears emerging that we should insist strongly that a Laos settlement, on basis Geneva Accords of 1962, is essential to a final agreement but we do not overload Phase II negotiations, at early stage, with Laos issue; that is, infiltration and bombing of Laos would continue.
  • —Prisoners of War. After some thought it is pretty generally agreed we should not introduce the question of U.S. prisoners of war into the actions that accompany bombing cessation and opening of Phase II.
  • —Agreements in Principle on Elements in an Ultimate Settlement. There is an interesting difference between Paris and Washington on Zorin’s rather fuzzy suggestion that we should negotiate something about subsequent talks before the bombing stops.

Washington thought he referred to the items that should comprise the substance of a settlement.
Paris thought he referred to the structure of talks and how Saigon and the NLF could be introduced into the talks.

There is no great problem about A, although Saigon has sought to assure that post-war supervision of agreements and post-war rehabilitation be included.

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B, in my judgment, may turn out to be the critical issue; that is, whether and when Hanoi agrees to GVN participation in the talks—on a your-side-our-side basis or some other basis, for example, secret bilaterals. We’re in a precarious position up to that point, especially if bombing of the North has totally stopped. Once Hanoi recognizes the GVN as a legitimate interlocutor, things could move fast.

In any case, it is agreed the key elements in a final settlement, which we could lay on the table before bombing stops, look something like this:

  • —Mutual withdrawal of NVN and Allied forces (Manila);
  • —Internal political structure of South Vietnam decided by South Vietnamese in free choice;
  • —Full compliance 1962 Laos Accords;
  • —Both sides respect neutrality of Cambodia;
  • —Effective international supervision of agreements;
  • —Post-war rehabilitation.

III. The Paris-Saigon Compromise

After one round of detailed exchanges, Paris and Saigon came in with hard-core proposals that were pretty close.

Paris said it should try to negotiate for Phase II.

  • DMZ;
  • —No attacks on Saigon;
  • —Fix force levels;
  • —Your-side-our-side for negotiations in Phase II.

Saigon wanted:

  • DMZ;
  • —No attacks on Hue, Danang, and Saigon;
  • —Reduced level of infiltration.

Saigon has not yet indicated the priority it places on negotiating your-side-our-side before the bombing ceases; but wishes us to “probe” Hanoi on this point.

Right now the issues appear to be:

  • —Saigon OR Saigon, Hue, and Danang.
  • —The priority we attach to prior agreement on GVN role in Phase II talks, before bombing stops.

IV. The Taylor Warning

General Taylor feels strongly that there should be a general statement made to the Hanoi negotiators in working out Phase I and Phase II that our no-bombing position is generally contingent on their not improving their military position. He says: “They must [Page 846] never think that we will never again resort to the sanction of bombing.”

(I would add an observation to Hanoi and the Soviets along the lines of my comment to Kopytin, the TASS-KGB man who came in for a chat;4 namely, that once bombing totally stops, it is extremely important that there be prompt forward movement on substantive issues. An intense talk-and-fight strategy, with no substantive progress, and no bombing of the North could create very serious problems for Saigon and for us in the United States. The San Antonio phrase “productive” still matters.)

V. A General Observation

Thus far Hanoi has conducted itself:

  • —with no commitment to the Zorin framework for negotiation;
  • —no willingness to recognize the GVN as a legitimate interlocutor;
  • —no commitment to honor the Geneva Accords of 1954 and 1962.

In trying to negotiate a measure of mutual military de-escalation, we are, therefore, flying blind.

We have no real knowledge of Hanoi’s basic intention:

  • —To seek military and political advantage, by embarrassing our relations with Saigon;
  • —Or to save face on the bombing of the North and try to negotiate an early peace.

Until we have a better sense of Hanoi’s intentions, we should proceed cautiously, paying great attention to Bunker’s anxieties about Thieu’s position. That is why I regard Hanoi’s acceptance of the GVN into the negotiation as so critical.

VI. Schedule

As I understand a double-talked conversation with Brom Smith this morning the schedule is as follows:

Tuesday: A meeting chaired by Secretary Rusk to prepare for the President a statement of the consensus plus a statement of key differences, if any, and issues for the President’s decision.5

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Wednesday: Meeting with the President and dispatch of instructions to Paris.6

Friday: An informal Paris meeting, I think.7

Walt Rostow
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Files of Walt Rostow, Vietnam—W.W. Rostow. Top Secret; Sensitive; Literally Eyes Only for the President. The notation “ps” on the memorandum indicates that the President saw it.
  2. July 12. Reference is to Bromley Smith.
  3. According to notes of a July 8 telephone conversation with Vance, Katzenbach noted the following position of the Paris delegation: “They felt it was possible to try to get a commitment against indiscriminate acts against Saigon (not including major forces) although they thought it doubtful they could succeed. They did not think it feasible to raise the question of attacks against Hue and Danang.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S–I Files: Lot 74 D 271, NK Chron 1968)
  4. Aleksandr Kopytin.
  5. The meeting chaired by Rusk was held in the Secretary’s Conference Room from 4:32 to 6:18 p.m. the next day. Those in attendance were Rusk, Rostow, Helms, Clifford, Nitze, Warnke, Wheeler, Taylor, Ball, Katzenbach, Bundy, and Read. (Johnson Library, Dean Rusk Appointment Books, 1968–1969) Notes of this meeting have not been found, but it is summarized in a memorandum to the President from Rostow, July 9, 7 p.m. In this memorandum, Rostow noted that Rusk and the assembled group had decided to instruct Harriman and Vance to determine whether the North Vietnamese would set a date for the next private session at which examples inherent to the two-phase proposal would be presented. (Ibid., National Security File, Memos to the President, Vol. 87)
  6. From 1:32 to 3 p.m., the President met with Rostow, Rusk, Clifford, Wheeler, Taylor, Helms, Christian, and Tom Johnson. The agenda items were “NATO, Vietnam and Paris Talks.” (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary) Notes of the meeting have not been found. Prior to this meeting, the President met from 12:10 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. with the full Cabinet and several staff assistants in order to review a number of issues, including a “report on military situation in Vietnam.” (Ibid.) In his briefing, Clifford noted that the NVA had pulled back to regroup north of I Corps and rendered the following assessment: “We believe that the reason that they are not engaging in combat now is that conditions do not suit them and they are preparing for a summer offensive.” The full transcript of this meeting is ibid., Transcripts of Meetings in the Cabinet Room.
  7. Vance and Lau did not meet privately on July 12. During the tea break at the formal session on July 10, the primary topics of conversation were the U.S. elections and the intensified bombing ongoing since July 1. Reports of the formal session are in telegrams 17730/Delto 418 and 17748/Delto 425 from Paris, both July 10. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference on Vietnam, 1968–1969, Delto Chron.)