320. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Warnke) to the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Nitze)1


  • Non-Group meeting of August 1

Mr. Katzenbach opened the meeting by raising the question of what initiatives might be possible in Paris. He asked whether the Non-Group thought there would be any point in our trying to discuss with the North Vietnamese the idea of mutual withdrawal in somewhat greater detail. He suggested this might be done on the ground that if they go North rather than South there will be no reason for us to bomb.

He explained that his dread is that when the bombing stops and we get to discussing the political future of the South this puts us in the worst possible public position. We don’t really know what kind of political settlement to urge and we would then be forced into the public position of balking at anything other than flat public support for the Thieu Government.

Mr. Helms voiced the view that our thinking about Paris is handicapped by the fact that we have never really thought out, as a government, what it is that we want. Mr. Katzenbach said that, for his part, he would regard the following as a satisfactory minimum settlement:

The North Vietnamese would get out of the South, with a minimum of cheating.
The North Vietnamese would get out of Laos with somewhat more cheating.
Cambodia would be left to struggle along by itself and probably could do so.

As for what we would give up in order to get the North Vietnamese to go along with this kind of a settlement, Mr. Katzenbach said we would be willing to take out our troops and give up our bases. He assumed, however, that we would continue to give aid to South Vietnam of both an economic and military nature.

Mr. Helms indicated his assent and said that this assumed we would let the ARVN cope with the Viet Cong. Mr. Katzenbach said they could either cope with them or make a deal with them.

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Mr. Nitze said that this would be highly satisfactory from our standpoint, but that it leaves North Vietnam with nothing to show for casualties which must run about 200,000 killed-in-action, equivalent to a couple of million Americans on a proportionate basis. He asked how this could be regarded as anything but a complete victory for us. Mr. Katzenbach said that if the mutual withdrawal could be phased out slowly so as to bring us closer to 1971, when elections are to be held, the North Vietnamese might be more willing to accept some such solution.

Mr. Helms expressed the opinion that any such settlement would require creation of some sort of a supervisory commission, since otherwise there would be no way of telling whether or not, in a guerrilla war, North Vietnam was complying. Mr. Katzenbach expressed some doubt on this point, noting that a phased withdrawal would leave us with some capability to detect violations and that we would have access to such sources as prisoner interrogation.

Mr. Nitze stated that the key issue is that of how large an insurgent base the GVN can handle. The ethnic composition of this insurgent base makes relatively little difference. This fact might make the policing effort somewhat simpler.

The general consensus was that we have not spelled out to the North Vietnamese what we mean by mutual withdrawal. It was agreed that it would be useful to make it clear that we want them out, that we are prepared to get out ourselves, and that we will be able to stop the bombing if we can agree in principle on this.

There was also agreement that some continued North Vietnamese presence in Laos could be tolerated, provided it is confined to the northern part and that the Ho Chi Minh Trail is blocked.

Some difference of opinion was revealed on the question whether North Vietnam would require something more than assurance that the US is willing to give up its bases and withdraw its troops. Mr. Helms expressed some surprise, though not disagreement, at the general acceptance of the proposition that we would be willing to abandon Cam Ranh Bay and similar bases. Mr. Nitze noted that they would not be inactivated but rather turned over to the South Vietnamese. Mr. Moorsteen thought that it was quite possible that the North Vietnamese did not really believe the Americans would be willing to pull out and that they might regard this as a sufficient basis for settlement. Mr. Leonhart noted that the Manila Communique is consistent with the interpretation that US forces will withdraw only after the Viet Cong stopped fighting.

There was some discussion of the problems involved in our participation in a political settlement for the South. If the mutual withdrawal [Page 929] formula is inadequate, the question arises as to what we might have to agree with North Vietnam to bring pressure on the GVN to do.

The over-all conclusion that emerged was that we should seek to move the emphasis in Paris from what Mr. Nitze referred to as the “procedural point of linkage” (between our bombing and restraint by Hanoi) to the question of our mutual withdrawal, trying to be precise as to the Manila formula. Mr. Nitze remarked the possible disadvantage of “enlarging the carrot” that we dangle in Paris within days after the very tough statements in the press conferences of the President and Secretary Rusk. Everyone was in accord with the fact that little could be done, in any event, until after the Republican Convention. Mr. Bundy suggested that it was not unusual in negotiations to have public bluster and private flexibility.

There was also considerable speculation about the so-called “third offensive.” Some thought this would not occur during the Convention at Miami but that it might take place later in the month in an effort to influence the result in Chicago. Others conjectured that it would not take place until September, if at all.

The procedure generally agreed upon was to try to utilize the Russians by going back to Premier Kosygin. Mr. Bundy said that the unfortunate element of our previous reply to Kosygin was a call for a “precise” explanation as to what Hanoi’s response would be if we were to stop the bombing.2

Mr. Bundy was asked to develop papers in which we would comment to Kosygin that we had noted the reduction in North Vietnamese activity and were interested in knowing what the purpose and meaning of this phenomenon might be. The letter could continue that the presence or absence of further attacks would be regarded by us as quite meaningful. If, for example, the present lull continues through September 1st, we would regard this as a basis for further steps on our part.

There was also comment about the difficulty North Vietnam might feel in bringing the conflict to an end, even if its leaders have given up hope of victory. In this connection, Mr. Leonhart reported a conversation he had had with a Japanese official, who observed that the Japanese had known after Saipan that they could not win. The official had remarked upon the “struggle to end the war.”

Paul C. Warnke
  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Nitze Papers, Vietnam War, Courses of Action—Post Paris Talks 1968. Top Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only. The time of the meeting and a list of participants have not been found.
  2. See Document 269.