66. Editorial Note

The North Vietnamese continued to signal an interest in negotiations with the United States through numerous channels, including one code-named Ohio. Ohio had originated in 1967 and involved contacts in Peking between the North Vietnamese Ambassador, Ngo Minh Loan, and the Norwegian Ambassador, Ole Algard. In telegram 1406 from Oslo, February 10, 1968, Ambassador to Norway Margaret Joy Tibbetts reported that Loan had told Algard the previous day that the North Vietnamese Government “presupposed” that military operations would not take place while any potential negotiations with the United States were in progress. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/OHIO) This statement appeared to represent an answer to a long-standing requirement of the Johnson administration that the North Vietnamese engage in military restraint if and when peace talks began. Loan had also invited further exchange with the Norwegian Government. In a February 10 covering memorandum transmitting this telegram to President Johnson, Walt Rostow, in commenting on this latest expression of policy from Hanoi, observed: “They may well think that, having failed to knock off the government and the ARVN, the best thing they could do would be have a cease-fire on a what-we-have-we-hold basis.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, Walt Rostow, Vol. 61)

In response, the Department of State authorized Tibbetts to give to the Norwegian Government a statement to use in its discussions with the North Vietnamese. It laid out the San Antonio formula of “prompt discussions” and not taking military advantage of negotiations, as well as the corollary put forward by Secretary of Defense-designate Clark Clifford accepting “normal” levels of southward infiltration. The conclusion of the statement read: “The U.S. evaluation of Hanoi’s current position takes into account Hanoi’s actions as well as its words. The unprecedented offensive against most of South Viet-Nam’s urban centers, which Hanoi treacherously launched in the midst of the traditional Tet holidays, causing widespread civilian casualties and suffering, was made notwithstanding the fact that we were still exploring with Hanoi its position through diplomatic channels, and that we had exercised restraint in bombing targets in the immediate vicinity of Hanoi and Haiphong. In this context, we cannot but weigh Hanoi’s words with great skepticism and caution. These actions carry a harsh political message. The U.S. favors every effort to obtain clarification of Hanoi’s position. We shall continue to evaluate all information and to pursue every possible avenue which promises to bring us closer to the resolution [Page 174] of this conflict through serious negotiations.” (Telegram 118092 to Oslo, February 20; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/OHIO)

Algard visited Hanoi March 3–10 at the invitation of the North Vietnamese Government. He found “little new” outside of references to the formula put forth by Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Trinh the previous December. Trinh also told him that “it was now up to the Americans to take the next step” although it appeared that the United States “was not interested in negotiations.” The Foreign Minister also said that the San Antonio formula could not be accepted, even in the “somewhat diluted form” rendered by Clifford. Algard concluded: “It was very difficult on the basis of these conversations to get any impression of how much Hanoi wanted a peaceful solution of the conflict and on which points they would think of concessions to make possible such a solution. They are clearly realistic enough to understand that a peace excluding Hanoi’s conditions cannot come under discussion and that also from the Vietnamese side a will to compromise must be shown. At the same time I had the impression that the military advances in the south had created a certain hardening in these positions. It was clear that Hanoi because of the military advances in the south now felt that politically their position had been strengthened.” (Telegram 4120 from Oslo, April 5; ibid.)

Another part of North Vietnam’s “diplomatic offensive” was the resumption of the channel through Sweden known as Aspen. In response to a scheduled visit to Stockholm by the North Vietnamese Ambassador to Moscow, Nguyen Tho Chan, the United States transmitted to Sweden the same statement given to the Norwegians for use in the ensuing discussions. Prior to the arrival of Chan’s mission, both First Secretary of Sweden’s Foreign Ministry J.C.S. Oberg and Ambassador Lennart Petri, Swedish representative in Peking, planned to visit Hanoi. The visit, however, was postponed at U.S. request. (Telegrams 877 from Stockholm, February 16; 883 from Stockholm, February 20; 896 from Stockholm, February 23; 901 from Stockholm, February 214; and 117383 to Stockholm, February 17; all ibid., POL 27–14 VIET/ASPEN) Additional documentation on Aspen is ibid., S-AH Files: Lot 71 D 461, Aspen.