299. Telegram From the Embassy in Franceto the Department of State 1

18012/Delto 458. From Vance.

I had my second meeting with Lau evening July 15. We met for two and one half hours at same location as first meeting.2 The same persons participated on both sides.
We began by saying we were glad to meet again; it is through this type of private discussion we can explore our respective views and perhaps overcome the obstacles presently facing us, and thus make progress towards a peaceful settlement. We asked Lau for any observations he might wish to make. Lau replied that he had reexamined what we had told him at our first private meeting and had tried to find matters to which the DRV could give further consideration, but thus far he had found nothing new. Lau then recalled that at our tea session last Wednesday3 we had said we wanted to meet again, and had something to tell them. Thus, perhaps, we should be the first to speak.
We then said we had some new thoughts or variations of our prior proposal. We said it was important that there be no misunderstanding between us and it was essential that we both have clearly in mind the concept that we are now suggesting. We then outlined the concept: the US is prepared to stop the bombing of NVN on a specified date, without demanding reciprocal actions, if we can reach an understanding on the mutually-related actions which each of us would take after the cessation of bombing. In effect this means that we envisage two separate and distinct phases; the time interval between the two phases should be as short as possible. Before we actually cease the bombing we would need to have a clear understanding of what would happen in the second phase. The second phase actions would include appropriate measures by both sides.
We then described this suggestion graphically, drawing a sketch with two phases, a line between them, and two parallel columns—one headed US and the other DRV—for the actions to be taken by both sides in Phase 2. We wrote in four numbers under each column but did not put in any headings. We wrote in under Phase 1 of the outline that on a specified date the US would cease all air, naval and artillery bombardment and all other activities that involve the use of force on or within the territory of the DRV.
At this point we paused and asked him if he understood the proposal and if he found the formula acceptable in principle. He replied that he understood the proposal but wished to know what kind of actions we had in mind in Phase 2. We said that under Phase 2 there were the following headings: (A) Restore the DMZ; (B) No increase in US or DRV force levels in SVN after the cessation of bombing; (At this point Lau interjected asking what the word “level” means. We replied that it meant strength. Vy then gave an example which reflected clear understanding of the proposal.); (C) Substantive discussions to commence as soon as the bombing stops, with either side free to raise any topic relevant to a peaceful settlement; (D) In the discussions described in point (C) above, our side would include representatives of the GVN and the DRV side could include whomever they wished; (E) No indiscriminate attacks on population centers such as Saigon, Danang and Hue; (F) We would be willing to consider other actions of a similar nature which were relevant and which the DRV might want to raise.
We asked Lau’s views with respect to our suggestion. Lau asked when the items listed in Phase 2 would be discussed. We replied right now. Lau then said that means before the cessation of bombing. Lau then asked if the items in Phase 2 were to be implemented after the completion of Phase 1. We replied yes and in the shortest time possible after the cessation of bombing, although the time interval might vary with the particular item under discussion. Lau then asked what we meant by the shortest possible time. We said this was a matter we would have to discuss. Some of the actions involved are possible to implement promptly. Others might take more time, but timing would be a matter for further discussion.
Vy asked for the specifics of what we had in mind with respect to restoration of the DMZ. We said it would involve (A) The restoration of the DMZ in the full sense of the Geneva Accords; i.e., no military personnel or equipment of any sort would be located in or moved through the DMZ; (B) Both sides would invite the ICC to reestablish an enlarged presence in the DMZ to inspect and verify compliance with its restoration; (C) Both sides would refrain from artillery or other fire from or across the [Page 864] DMZ and from any massing of forces on either side of the DMZ in such a way as to constitute a direct threat to the other. We said that this proposal would be a measure of mutual de-escalation without prejudice to any political settlement. We added that we are not proposing that the 17th parallel be made a permanent border excluding reunification.
Lau then said he had some preliminary remarks. At the previous meeting we had said that the US would fix the date for the cessation of bombing and prior to that both sides would discuss the circumstances leading to such cessation. Lau had asked what were the circumstances, and we had replied in a way similar to today. At our last private meeting Lau had also asked whether the US would cease the bombing in the event that no agreement could be reached on the circumstances, and we had said no. Lau had characterized this as tantamount to reciprocity, a concept which has been rejected on numerous occasions by the DRV. Today, Lau said, our proposal is more systematic and orderly, but presents nothing new in comparison with the last time. Today we mentioned Phases 1 and 2, and the shortest possible interval between the two phases, but it seemed to Lau that Phase 1 continues to depend on the discussion of what will happen in Phase 2. Lau then repeated his questions, asking what would happen if we do not agree on the circumstance leading to the cessation of bombing. We replied that reciprocity is not involved in Phase 1 actions, but an understanding must be reached first on Phase 2, and we would like to hear Lau’s views on this subject.
Vy then said if the US ceases the bombing, we could then proceed to related matters, each side raising whatever subjects it wishes. DRV can’t go into specifics of Phase 2 now. We then asked what their general comments were on Phase 2. Lau replied that DRV has had occasion to express views on them in both official sessions and in private talks. We replied that a number of these items had not been raised before, or were raised in a different context. Before they were raised in a context of a reciprocal act, directly connected to the cessation of bombing. Now they would follow from an understanding of what was to happen after we would cease the bombing. Lau’s answer, on the other hand, was not new at all and in fact identical to that which has been given on numerous occasions in plenary sessions. Lau responded that he had not misunderstood our proposal, but the context is not really new. We then pointed out that the items listed in Phase 2 were reciprocal to each other, and not to the cessation of the bombing.
We then went over the same point several times, including a discussion of the meaning of the word “understanding.” Lau came back to his question of what would happen if we could not reach agreement on the circumstances. We replied that the best approach would be to discuss [Page 865] these circumstances, explore them, and see if we could reach agreement. Vy interjected that in the meanwhile the bombing would continue. Lau added that what the DRV wants is the cessation of the bombing and other acts of war first. Then each side can raise whatever matters it wants to for discussion. We asked what the problem was in discussing the circumstances first. Lau replied “because we can’t foresee agreement on all of the items.”
We suggested that we might actually agree on the items in Phase 2, and even if we don’t, what would be lost? Lau said that we wouldn’t lose anything, but these proposals would not meet the DRV demand “for unconditional cessation of bombing and all other activities that involve the use of force on or within the territory of the DRV.” For example, we raise questions such as the DMZ, and attacks against cities. These are items concerning the South and hence the NLF.
We pointed out that the restoration of the DMZ does not involve the NLF; it does involve the US and the DRV. What is involved is a series of mutual actions which are within both our capacities to carry out.
Lau then continued with his preliminary observations. He said there were a number of matters on which our views differ. For instance, with respect to the restoration of the DMZ, DRV has explained many times that it is the US and its “puppets” which have sabotaged the status of the DMZ. During the past few years, DMZ has been sabotaged by land, air and sea. Thus if we now speak of restoring the DMZ, it is the US which must do so unilaterally. If the US respects the DMZ, then automatically its status will be restored. Instead, the US wants to turn the DMZ into a no-man’s-land, and not a genuine demilitarized zone as called by for by the Geneva agreements. US has placed artillery in Con Thien and Gio Linh, firing in and across the DMZ. Tens of thousands of men have been sent in the DMZ to burn the vegetation, destroy the villages, and dislocate the population. Toxic chemicals have been spread throughout the DMZ, affecting many local inhabitants. As for American air activities, they also constitute a violation of the DMZ. Planes from Danang use the DMZ air space when the conduct bombing raids in the DMZ, leaving virtually no communities in that area. Similarly, naval vessels and patrol boats have violated the territorial waters of the DMZ, and fishermen of these waters can no longer earn a living. Foregoing, said Lau, were his ideas on the DMZ. Who, then, is responsible for restoring its status? To suggest that responsibility for its restoration is reciprocal is to justify our actions, and that is why Xuan Thuy has spoken on this subject so extensively.
Vy then interjected that the question should be posed in a different manner, the question is one of the hundreds of thousands of [Page 866] troops that the US had sent to Viet-Nam in violation of the entire Geneva Accords. The DRV looks at things from this angle, and the fact that we are viewing the situation from different angles complicates these talks.
We said that while we hold different views on who first violated the DMZ, we are trying to find a solution to the problem facing us now. We are proposing the restoration of the DMZ to the status provided in the Geneva Accords. If such status is restored, then the acts described by Lau would stop. Would the DRV take equivalent steps? We said that the DMZ would not become a no-man’s-land, but rather a truly demilitarized zone with effective international supervision. Vy then remarked that we were only speaking of one item—the DMZ. If discussions proceed at this rate, we will be going on for a long time.
Lau then said that we could be sure that the cessation of bombing is a condition which will lead to the settlement of other important questions. He emphasized “important questions.” He said each side could raise whatever subjects it wanted to. Agreement would be reached on what questions would be discussed first, which ones to implement first, and in so doing “we shall abide by the aim of the Paris talks.” Lau said that he had not commented on the substance of the items contained in our Phase 2 because they are the prerogative of the NLF, but he did not feel that our presentation of these conditions differed in any way from previous proposals, in that they are contrary to the DRV demand for an unconditional cessation of the bombing. He believed therefore that we should not prolong the bombing of NVN because it will not solve the problem either on the battlefield or at the conference table. It will, in fact, create additional obstacles. Moreover, world public opinion demands an immediate cessation of bombing so that these talks can progress.
We said that DRV misreads public opinion. We have taken certain steps and are prepared to stop the bombing but if we did so without an understanding of what would happen afterwards it is only reasonable to assume that the danger to US and allied troops would increase. Lau replied that our professed concern for the safety of allied troops was simply an argument to justify prolonged bombing. We have after all already evacuated Khe Sanh, which in effect cancels the validity of that argument. We said that it does not.
We then asked Lau whether DRV would stop firing artillery across the DMZ if we did. Lau replied that we should go ahead and stop the firing and the DRV will know what to do. We asked how we could do this without knowing what the DRV would do, and then asked whether DRV would not put its troops into the DMZ were we to agree to refrain from putting our troops into the DMZ.
Lau replied that we charged that we had brought our troops to SVN in response to aggression from NVN. We say we will withdraw our troops if NVN withdraws. That is the general question. As for the DMZ, the US asks if it stops artillery fire and withdraws its troops from the DMZ, will the DRV do the same? If we put the question this way, it means we do not seriously want to stop firing across the DMZ nor do we seriously want to withdraw our troops. The US insists that the DRV was the first to violate the DMZ and that the DRV is responsible. The DRV position is that the US has caused these violations and that it should stop them. It has first artillery into the DMZ. It should stop it. It should withdraw its troops from the DMZ. For its part, it is the consistent policy of the DRV to respect the Geneva Accords.
We said that our proposals were serious and that we meant what we said. We then asked what their response would be if we referred only to the future and not to what has happened in the past. We asked whether they would agree that in the future each side would refrain from the activities we had specified concerning the DMZ, without any reference to previous actions. This would be fully consistent with the original status of the DMZ, and also consistent with the DRV not wanting to admit what its present activities are in that zone.
Lau asked why we just didn’t carry out these steps unilaterally and simply inform the DRV on what day the bombing would stop and what day the artillery would stop firing across the DMZ, and “you will see what will happen because our government has consistently respected the DMZ. Reality will give you the reply.” These actions, Lau said, would create the favorable conditions for a settlement.
We advanced a hypothetical question—if we were to take the actions outlined regarding the DMZ without requesting any related action by DRV, and then certain actions would follow in the DMZ on the part of the DRV, would the DRV agree to the return of the ICC to verify the DMZ status as provided in the Geneva Accords? Lau avoided answering and said that the ICC had left the DMZ because of our military activity. We said that regardless of who first violated the DMZ, the ICC could nonetheless return and perform its function. Lau then observed that we had discussed this specific question in some detail, but his impression remained that our real intention in restoring the DMZ was to return to the situation prevailing in 1954 as part of our effort to seize SVN. We replied emphatically that this was not our purpose. Lau then said that his impression was strengthened by recent statements of high US administration officials, such as Clifford and Rusk, preparatory to the Honolulu conference. DRV feels that the US has not yet given up its claim to SVN, that it still wants to keep troops there, and that it still wants to maintain the Thieu/Ky administration in [Page 868] power. DRV considers the Thieu/Ky clique merely an instrument for the implementation of US neo-colonialist policy. If the US continues to support this clique, how can the DRV believe in US sincerity?
We replied that we stand by our commitment regarding troop withdrawals as formulated in the Manila Communique. We meant what we said in Manila, and we will carry out that commitment. As for the future of SVN, we want it to be free to determine its own future without coercion or outside interference. We assume the DRV agrees. Is that a correct assumption?
Lau said that the US concept of withdrawal of troops as stated by Secretary Clifford depends on the degree of modernization and reinforcement of the South Vietnamese Army. We replied that there is nothing in Secretary Clifford’s statement which abrogates the Manila declaration.
We then pointed out that we have taken the DRV statement that the cessation of bombing must take place first seriously. We have proposed a formula for reaching that stage, and there will be many things to resolve afterwards, but this is a first step to which we can turn our very precise attention. Lau agreed, and said that not only was he giving the matter attention, but that he had asked for clarification of our overall objectives. Lau then repeated his point that our insistence on restoration of the DMZ suggests a desire to return to the situation prevailing in 1954 at the time of Diem, who violated the DMZ from the very beginning. It was the same Diem who said that the 17th parallel was a frontier of the United States. Thus the DMZ is among the specific items to be discussed between us, but there must also be a statement of general US policy.
We took strong exception to Lau’s remarks about the GVN, and emphasized that it is the duly elected government. We said we had suggested a formula which could lead to the cessation of bombing, a pulling apart of forces, thus starting a de-escalation which could lead to peace. Our proposal was serious and constructive, and we hoped that DRV would give it serious thought.
Lau said that his remarks tonight were only preliminary in nature, and that he would consider our proposals. Lau concluded by assuring us that our “concrete” proposals would be considered carefully and DRV would try to see if there was anything new compared with our last meeting.
Comment: The meeting produced a more sober examination of our proposal than the prior meeting. Lau did not reject it. He said they would study it carefully to see whether it presented anything new. They sought details and explored in some depth the DMZ proposal in which they were quite interested. At one point it appeared that they were [Page 869] interested in finding out whether we were asking for all the items in Phase 2, but we refused to be drawn into such a discussion, leaving the implication that we were asking for all items. It is clear they understand the Phase 1/Phase 2 concept and its implications. The ball is now in their court and we will consider what steps to take next.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-July 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Harvan; Plus. Received at 12:13 a.m.
  2. See Document 285.
  3. July 10. See footnote 7, Document 293.