300. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet Ambassador Zorin
  • Sergei Bogomolov, First Secretary, Soviet Embassy
  • Governor Harriman
  • Jack Perry, Second Secretary, American Embassy

After thanking Ambassador Zorin for the message about a visit to Moscow2 (which was discussed later in the conversation), Governor Harriman said he wished to report that Ambassador Vance met Ha Van Lau July 15th during the evening and had a long talk.3 He did not know if Zorin knew about this. Zorin said he did not, and the Governor said Zorin’s “two phases” idea was brought out very clearly, and Vance and Ha Van Lau spent some two and a half hours discussing it in depth. Ha asked a number of questions, and expressed the usual skepticism saying “nothing new”—which, said the Governor, one would expect from an experienced negotiator, as Zorin would understand since he was one of the best. (Zorin laughed heartily at this reference to professional skepticism among negotiators.) Ha did not admit the proposal was new, but he did say these were “concrete proposals” and the North [Page 870] Vietnamese would examine them. The Governor added that Vance had gone to the US, or he would have asked him to come along to answer questions. Both Vance and Mr. Habib, who accompanied him, said last night’s meeting was a serious discussion. We offered to meet with them again to hear propositions from the Vietnamese side regarding Phase II measures. The Governor said that since Zorin had discussed this matter with Ambassador Vance, he wished him to have a full report. The Governor hoped that if Zorin met with the North Vietnamese, he would tell them this was a serious offer and would encourage them to move forward.

Zorin replied with a smile that he would not be able to discuss our proposition very well with the Vietnamese because he did not know what we had proposed. The Governor said that Phase I was cessation of bombing, and Zorin said he knew that, but he would like to know what we said about Phase II.

The Governor said our first point in Phase II was to re-establish the DMZ on both sides. This was discussed in considerable detail. The second point was to hold to present force levels—that is, no further increases in number of troops by the North Vietnamese or by the US, and GVN Allies. Replacements would be allowed, but no increment in the number of troops. As for verification, this had not been discussed. Zorin asked specifically whether there would be some agreed verification body or this would be done by each side for itself, but the Governor replied that verification had not yet been examined. The third point, the Governor went on, was that substantive discussions would begin as soon as the bombing stopped. These would be “your side-our side” discussions (a phrase Zorin evidently had not heard and which had to be explained), namely that each side bring anyone it wished on its side of the table; the US would certainly have the GVN on its side, while the North Vietnamese would decide their side. Zorin showed considerable interest in this point, and asked if this would include the FLN. When the Governor replied that it had not been discussed, Zorin in asked if “in principle” the US would be agreeable. The Governor replied affirmatively, and said if the North Vietnamese had asked, we would have said yes. The Governor continued that a further point on the Phase II list was that there would be no further indiscriminate shelling of Saigon and other cities (and he noted in passing that they seem to have abandoned this anyway as there had been no such shelling for three weeks). Zorin asked if the US had promised no indiscriminate shelling in return, or what. The Governor said we merely proposed to consider any action that they would put on the list.

The Governor went on that the only question explored in depth was that of the DMZ; the others were really only headings. The most [Page 871] optimistic word he could report was that Ha had said, “You have made concrete proposals, we can examine them.” But he did not admit they were new. The Governor remarked that this was a favorite phrase from the days of the impossible Korean negotiations, “What you say is not new.” He commented in passing that he was not comparing the Vietnamese with the North Koreans, for he had much more respect for the North Vietnamese; the North Koreans were truly “tough” whereas the North Vietnamese—who were also tough—nevertheless were educated in France and had a certain French veneer or French manners.

The Governor concluded that Ambassador Vance had gone to Washington to report to the President prior to the President’s trip to Honolulu to meet with the GVN leaders. He did not think Vance would be going to Honolulu, so he should be back before the end of the week.

The Governor noted he had hoped Vance and Habib would get a chance to ask if the shelling of Saigon had stopped for good, but the North Vietnamese were so interested in Zorin’s proposal that they did not get a chance. The Governor said he was very grateful to Zorin for receiving him on such short notice. He would be meeting with Xuan Thuy tomorrow, and would wish to discuss the shelling question. He would like to ask about the proposals made last night, but did not want to press too hard since he imagined the delegation would want to report to Hanoi.4 The Governor said his impression was that Hanoi did not want to offend Peking right now, and anything smacking of “reciprocity” they feel would offend Peking. Ha Van Lau had told Vance that if [Page 872] the US stopped the bombing, they would agree to discuss the Phase II measures; but Vance had replied that there must be an understanding first, before the bombing was stopped. Vance’s impression was that they were serious in making this statement, and were not merely trying to evade the issue. Vance did not get any impression of a favorable reaction, but he did believe they would seriously study the proposals. During the conversation Ha would say, for example, “If you observe the DMZ, we will know what to do (in return).” Ambassador Vance thought we were not so far apart now on substance as on form; he may be wrong, but that was his impression now.

Zorin merely said, “We will see,” and said he had no comment now. Turning to the Governor’s trip to the USSR, he said that August would probably not be very good, because the responsible people would not be in Moscow. (The Governor had said at the beginning of the conversation that August would be all right with him, although he would have to talk to the President before doing anything.) The Governor said he would not want to go if Kosygin were not there. Zorin said he would not be there, but would be vacationing in the South. The Governor said he could not go now, since Vance was going away, and would prefer to go later, considering the stage at which the negotiations now were fixed; if progress were made, and the bombing could be stopped, it might be useful to go later. Zorin said of course that would be excellent. The Governor said obviously he could not go twice, and perhaps he would wait and see later when it would be best to go. Zorin said this was the Governor’s initiative, so it depended on him. The Governor said he was grateful for the invitation; he hoped it would be more than a pleasure trip, and that something meaningful would come from it. Zorin said for that, the US must stop the bombings first.

The Governor said he wanted to be sure he did not give a wrong impression about what Vance had said to Ha. The US had to have an agreement on Phase II before the bombing stopped. But since Ha did not appear shocked at this two-phased proposal, we think the problem now is more form than substance.

Zorin said in his personal opinion, if the US made the bombing cessation conditional on other things, then everything would fall through, for this would look like “reciprocity,” which the Vietnamese would not accept. He thought they could agree on these other steps; but the US could not make bombing cessation conditional on agreement on all of the Phase II steps. The Governor had used the phrase “mutual understanding” at one stage, and Zorin thought the North Vietnamese might consider this, but insistence on a firm agreement would be “reciprocity.” The Governor said Zorin had stated the issue clearly. The President was firm, and Hanoi was firm. Nevertheless he thought Zorin’s device [Page 873] of two phases was a possible way to end the impasse. The Governor said he knew Hanoi had said many times it would not agree to “reciprocity,” but now the US was offering not “reciprocity” but rather “mutual steps” in Phase II. If there was good will on Hanoi’s part, the Governor said he thought perhaps they could find this acceptable.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Trips and Missions, Paris Peace Talks, Calendar, May 9–July 1968. Secret. The meeting was held at the Soviet Embassy. The conversation was also reported in telegram 18036/Delto 462 from Paris, July 16. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-July 1968)
  2. Oberemko delivered this message during a meeting with Harriman on July 13. (Telegram 17962/Delto 451 from Paris, July 15; ibid.)
  3. See Document 299.
  4. During the formal session at the Majestic on July 17 from which Thuy was absent, Lau described U.S. violations of the Geneva Accords. During the tea break, Lau provided the names of three U.S. pilots whom the DRV planned to release. Harriman did not broach the proposals made during the Vance-Lau meeting. (Telegrams from Paris 17730/Delto 418 and 17748/Delto 425, July 17; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference, 1968–1969, Delto Chron.) The pilots were scheduled for release on July 19 but were held in Hanoi until August 2. Details of their release are in telegrams 203485 to Vientiane, July 16; 205574 to Moscow, July 19; 18442/Delto 498 from Paris, July 24; and 208587 to Paris, July 25. (Ibid., Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET) A reciprocal release of 14 North Vietnamese seamen captured in 1966 was planned subsequent to the release of the 3 American pilots. (Telegrams 206921 to Vientiane, Paris, and Saigon, July 22; 212693 to Vientiane, Paris, and Saigon, July 31; 18979 from Paris, August 3; and 19134 from Paris, August 7; ibid.) On October 21, at the request of their government, the 14 North Vietnamese seamen boarded a fishing boat and sailed northward. (Telegram 39093 from Saigon, October 22; ibid.) Reports of the discussion between the delegations relating to this reciprocal release, which occurred at the tea breaks during the formal sessions at the Majestic, are in telegrams 18096/Delto 465 and 18124/Delto 472 from Paris, both July 18; telegrams 18435/Delto 496 and 18457/Delto 499 from Paris, July 24; telegrams 19131/Delto 566, 19134/Delto 567, and 19137/Delto 568 from Paris, all August 7; and telegrams 19455/Delto 599 and 19460/Delto 601 from Paris, August 14. (Ibid., IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference, 1968–1969, Delto Chron.) A scenario for the release of the seamen and talking points for the August 7 meeting are in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnso, Trips and Missions, 1968–69 Paris Peace Talks, POW’s: Release of North Vietnamese Seamen.