322. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State 1

18977/Delto 550. From Harriman and Vance.

Yesterday afternoon we met with Amb Zorin for about one and one-half hours. Also present were Oberemko, Bogomolov and Perry.2
We said that we wished to review with Ambassador Zorin where we were in the negotiations and where we were going from here. We thought it fair to say that a very definite difference had come into the talks with the North Vietnamese—perhaps due to reality or perhaps due to misunderstanding. The Hanoi representatives were making a great deal of two events, the Honolulu meeting and Secretary Rusk’s July 30 press conference.3 He asked us if there had been a change in US policy and we had said no. We said the North Vietnamese think they can say anything bellicose they want to and we will ignore it. In the Honolulu communique and in the Rusk statement we said we wanted peace, but if they wanted to fight, then we would fight. We said that we had not brought with us a list of bellicose statements by Hanoi representatives, but they were legion, including statements at the time of signing in Moscow of supply agreement with Deputy Prime Minister of [Page 934] DRV, by Ho Chi Minh, Giap, and others. We said that we had accepted them as nothing unusual in time of war.
We said that we wanted Amb Zorin to know that there was no change in the President’s policies set forth in the March 31 speech. We said that the point of Secretary Rusk’s statement was that we were ready for moves towards peace, but we had to have some indication of what Hanoi’s attitude would be after a bombing cessation. We said we had to deal with realities. We said it was true that there had been a lull in the shelling of Saigon since June 21 and in military attacks generally, but at the same time there was a great increase in the forces coming from the North—last year the influx was something like 8,000 per month, but it was now about 30,000—there were more North Vietnamese units in Saigon area than ever before—the proportion of North Vietnamese soldiers in Viet Cong units was up from 25 percent to 70 percent. Therefore, while there was a certain lull, there were also continuing signals (captured documents, prisoners—including some of high rank—and defectors) that new attacks were planned against Saigon and other major cities. We said that Secretary Rusk had said that we must get some clear indication from Hanoi as to what their intentions were. We said that both the President and Secy Rusk had said that we must know what would happen if we stopped the bombing, and we must know this either directly from Hanoi or indirectly thru third parties, such as the Soviet Union.
We said that we hoped Zorin would convey two things to his govt. First, we need some indication directly or by third parties that Hanoi would show restraint if we stopped the bombing—in other words, is restraint or escalation their aim? Second, it would be most serious for the Paris talks if the Viet Cong carried out their third wave offensive which was being planned. We said that our talks were at a critical stage. We had hoped we could move forward with the Phase 1-Phase 2 proposals and continue along that path, but we needed evidence or direct word from Hanoi or the Soviets or someone that Hanoi was willing to show restraint.
We said that when we discussed our Phase 1-Phase 2 proposal with Ha Van Lau over tea at our last meeting,4 our impression was that the North Vietnamese were not interested in continuing the exploration of our proposal. We said that we were at a critical point in our discussions and that we had come to Zorin as the representative of a vote we believed wanted the talks to succeed in the hope that they could do something constructive.
Zorin said he had listened attentively but the picture we had drawn was very one-sided. Zorin said of course factual situation on the ground and the Paris talks were connected. But he recalled Secy Rusk saying on June 21 that the ending of shelling in Saigon and the lessening of military activities in adjacent areas would be a sufficient sign for the su to stop them bombing.5 We said that was incorrect. We said that was the interpretation some newspapers had placed on Secy Rusk’s statement but that was not what Secy Rusk said. We pointed out that Governor Harriman had said publicly that the stopping of the shelling of Saigon was “ending an escalation” which had started after March 31, and therefore, could not be considered as a restraint.
Zorin said he did not know exactly what words Secretary Rusk had used, but that everyone had interpreted the statement as he (Zorin) had put it. Zorin said after Secretary Rusk’s statement the shelling stopped and had been stopped for about six weeks. He said that he had previously asked him whether the military lull was significant. Zorin said the real fact was that for a long time there had been no shelling; this was clear to the whole world and this was a lessening of the military activity about which the US had protested. Zorin said if the US wanted to proceed further on the road to de-escalation, it had now an excellent basis for so doing. Zorin said that the US had not lessened its military activity, but instead stepped up its bombing. He said, furthermore, that the US had had the meeting in Honolulu which seemed to everyone not a peaceful meeting, but one that showed a hardening of the US position. Zorin said the July 30 statement of Secretary Rusk further hardened the US position.
Zorin said that the US insisted that the initiative come from Hanoi and they must give assurances that they would be “good children,” and then the US would think about cessation of bombing. In other words, the US now demanded new assurances at a time when North Vietnamese military activity had lessened and US activity had increased. These were the facts and one must see the talks against this background.
Zorin said the US had formulated practical proposals and had submitted them to the North Vietnamese. These were discussed and the Vietnamese asked for clarification. This clarification was given. He said he knew of his own knowledge that the North Vietnamese were further studying the proposal and wished to get additional clarification about other points, but at this very moment came the Honolulu meeting and the statement of Secretary Rusk. Zorin said that there could be no question to any objective observer that if a man negotiating a proposal is [Page 936] faced with new facts, he has to take those facts into consideration. Zorin said that he knew from personal conversations with the North Vietnamese that they had received the impression from these two new facts that the US had made the proposals as a diplomatic gambit, while at the same time the US was preparing new blows against North Vietnam. Zorin said that the North Vietnamese had therefore suspended consideration of the US proposals. He said, “So, instead of asking any questions as they would have done, they put off any further meeting with the US representatives.” Zorin said that he could assure us that the putting off of further meetings was purposeful.
Zorin then referred to a US newspaper article reprinted in the August 3 “Le Monde” which said that there were less North Vietnamese troops in the South than in the first quarter 1968, but more US troops. He said that the article also stated that Hanoi had given an indication of its intentions by stopping the shelling of Saigon, and that these things together satisfied the San Antonio formula. We said that the statements in the article were incorrect and that the infiltration of North Vietnamese troops into South Vietnam was higher in June and July than in any other month, and that our estimates indicated that it would be approximately the same level in the month of August. Zorin replied that he agreed with the conclusion of the article; that now was the best time to stop the bombing. He said, in his opinion, if the US waited it would be worse; the favorable situation might cease to exist. He said an opponent was an opponent, war was war, and that any action evoked a counter-action. He said if the US increased pressure, Hanoi would do the same. He stated that now was the time to make a real effort to reverse the trend.
We thanked Zorin for informing us about his talks with the North Vietnamese and said that he could pass our conversation with him on to the North Vietnamese. We said that Zorin had said our statement was one-sided, but we found Zorin’s analysis even more one-sided. We then went over the points made by the President in his press conference leading to the conclusion that Hanoi’s intentions were to increase military activity. We said these facts annulled any signals of restraint to which Zorin referred. We said we had asked the North Vietnamese twice at the tea breaks if what they were doing represented restraint, and they refused to say so. We said that this was a critical moment and that we hoped the Soviet Government would pass the word to Hanoi that they must give some indication of their intentions. We said that if there were new attacks on Saigon and other cities in August, the situation would be even worse. We asked Zorin to pass this on and to get something done that would enable the President to carry out what he hoped to do—namely, to stop the bombing when the other side showed real restraint.
We said we wished to assure Zorin that our Phase 1-Phase 2 proposals were not a diplomatic gambit. We made them in all seriousness in an attempt to find a way to overcome the obstacles which confronted the two sides. We stated that the proposals still stood and that we had the authority of our government to discuss them further. We said that taking an objective view, one side said actions were louder than words, and the other side maintained some actions were louder than other actions but there had been no words. We said an interested third party that really wanted peace should try its best to bring the two together.
Zorin said the US did not provide the conditions for the USSR to do something, even if it wanted to. The US has worsened the situation, depriving the other side of any chance to discuss its proposals, because it threatened and demanded more and more. Zorin replied that the President had stated that “any sign” of restraint from the other side would be sufficient. We said that when the US talked of restraint, we meant real things, such as the rate of infiltration, pulling back from the DMZ, and cessation of attacks on the cities, and not simply a momentary cessation of shelling while troops were being built up for a new attack. Zorin answered that the “sign” was a cessation of shelling and reduction of other military action for six weeks. Now the US had said this was not enough; it was raising the price. We said this was an unfair statement, that Governor Harriman had made it clear on radio and television that the cessation of shelling would not be sufficient. Zorin in-sisted that the US had raised its demands—that originally it said it needed a sign and now it said it wanted a guarantee from the Soviet Union. We replied that if there were some indications of restraint, these had been belied by other indications on the ground. We said the point was that the signals were in conflict.
We said we wanted to again express appreciation for what Zorin had done and hoped he would pass on our statements to Moscow. We repeated that further attacks would be most serious. Zorin replied that he would transmit what we had said. He asked us to take into account what he had said and remarked that the situation as it now stands was not favorable to negotiations. It was not Hanoi that was placing obstacles in the road, but the US.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-August 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; HARVAN; Plus. Received at 9:57 a.m.
  2. Rusk’s comments on this meeting were transmitted in telegram 214858 to Paris, August 3. (Ibid.) The message was repeated as telegram CAP 81796 from Smith to the President, August 3. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Harvan Paris Todel—Paris Delto, X, 8/1–10/68) It was further discussed in a memorandum from Smith to the President, August 3. (Ibid., Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 90)
  3. See Document 303 and footnote 2, Document 315.
  4. See Document 317.
  5. See footnote 5, Document 278.