9. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Vietnam Peace Talks


  • United States
    • The Secretary
    • W. Averell Harriman, Ambassador at Large
    • Daniel I. Davidson, Special Assistant to Gov. Harriman
  • Romania
    • First Deputy Foreign Minister George Macovescu
    • Corneliu Bogdan, Ambassador
    • Marin Iliescu, First Secretary of Embassy
    • Sergiu Celac, Third Secretary of Embassy

Rusk: I talked to the President. He regretted that it is not feasible for you to come to the ranch. He had hoped to come to Washington but there have been problems of scheduling discussions and of other types.

[Page 22]

He did ask me to thank you for your visits to Hanoi and Peking.

He asked me to give you a communication. It is in two parts—one oral and one written, and we ask you to convey the written to Hanoi.

Maybe you want to read it over with your colleagues to see if there is any inaccuracy in our understanding of what you told us.

Our President will be writing to your President to thank him and to give our views. The President told me this morning that he would be in immediate touch with your President on this matter.

(The Secretary distributed the written message.)2

This, of course, is a highly confidential communication.

Macovescu: Oh yes.

Rusk: We might go over it paragraph by paragraph to check the accuracy of our understanding of what was said. Paragraph one is from the public statement, so we assume there is no problem.

Harriman: No, it is not the public statement, but the statement conveyed through the Romanians.

Rusk: I understand.

(About five minutes passed while the group reads the document.)

I don’t want to press you. I will be leaving in a few minutes for California. You might discuss further with Ambassador Harriman the accuracy. The policy matters are between us and Hanoi, but you may wish to talk with the Governor about detail and accuracy.

Harriman: I would like to bring in Assistant Secretary Bundy.

Rusk: There are also certain oral points I am to make but perhaps the simplest thing is to give them to you in writing with the understanding that it is to be considered oral.

Macovescu: Understood.

Harriman: You’ll note that the first paragraph is our thanks to you.

Rusk: Yes, perhaps I should read that paragraph aloud.

You notice we are telling you that we won’t bomb you if you return to Hanoi.

Harriman: Perhaps they won’t feel that we were welcoming them as we did last time.

Rusk: In terms of talks, we are making suggestions. If there are other suggestions, they can be considered.

There are two problems. First is the contacts to make arrangements which we refer to as “contacts”. Then there are the more serious discussions. It is difficult to conduct them in secrecy. The bombing will [Page 23] have stopped and the world will have noted it. If the discussions are in public there are a good many governments and parties who will suggest that they are entitled to participate. We could lose months, so we proposed—let’s see how we put it. In paragraph four, the second sentence, we say, “one such means”. In other words, this suggests that the two Co-chairmen and the three ICC members send representatives to the location. Anyone else could be in the city available to discuss this with the two or the five or with each other.

Rusk (cont.): I do not know Peking’ s attitude. They may not want to come to a conference but might want to have a man present at the location. On our side some will want to be present. This is one suggestion that could avoid the problem of a formal conference. We are willing to hear your suggestions or Hanoi’s. It’s a problem of modalities—to avoid a formal conference, but to make all views available. I don’t anticipate a big meeting with eight or twelve or fifteen present, but the two Co-chairmen or the three ICC members might be a communications center talking to the parties and putting their two or five heads together on the possibilities of agreement.

Macovescu: I have a first question Mr. Secretary. Suppose that after the first contacts the two parties desired to meet according to certain formulae—one of which you have just presented. This is just for me to see what is the issue and not a final suggestion on my part. Would you accept to have further negotiations with the Vietnamese alone, without the presence of any other party there? I repeat, this is not a formal suggestion, but to make me clear in my mind, and if you don’t wish me to discuss this aspect with the Vietnamese, I will not.

Rusk: If the fact of talks becomes public, and I think it will, both sides will have serious problems. In our reply to Secretary General U Thant in March, we made it clear that other parties must be associated with talks.3 This does not mean that there cannot still be bilaterals, but we cannot have a situation where everyone else is excluded. The Government of Saigon and others present problems. I wouldn’t make that suggestion to Hanoi. If they come back with it, we will look at it but it will be difficult.

Macovescu: It is not my suggestion and I won’t raise it. I just meant to bring more clarity so that we might better know your position. If the Vietnamese side raises this problem we shall communicate with you on it.

Rusk: You have a mission in Hanoi?

Macovescu: We just sent a new Ambassador.

Rusk: You have private communications.

Macovescu: Yes.

[Page 24]

Rusk: While you are in Hanoi, you may have problems you wish to discuss with us. Ambassador Davis 4 is a good friend and very discreet. You may wish to communicate through him.

The President did tell me that he probably will be in Washington and that he wishes to see you if you come back.

I was in Texas and could land but not take off. I had to travel over miles of icy roads. The President’s schedule has been completely disrupted.

Harriman: And the security problem is impossible.

Rusk: And we didn’t want to delay.

Harriman: I’d like to ask a frank question. I have told the Secretary that the President should address his letter to Ceausescu and not to Maurer, which is his natural instinct since he met him.

Macovescu: Ceausescu.

Rusk: I’ll be leaving for California in a few moments. But Mr. Harriman, our youngest elder statesman, will be available this afternoon.

Harriman: Any time.

Macovescu: I thank you. Of course I will be needing certain clarifications but as you told me that I may have these through Governor Harriman—for that reason I won’t detain you. I know you are very busy.

I hope that I am not going home empty handed and that we shall be in a position to continue this dialogue between Hanoi and Washington.

Rusk: Mr. Minister, Governor Harriman and I have been involved in many crises. Don’t be discouraged too soon with your difficulties. We are interested in peace, not in something less. The two sides are still divided by very difficult and complex problems. The question is peace but on what basis so a certain amount of persistence on your side is required.

Macovescu: We understand the situation as well as you do. We also understand that it is not only complex but also complicated. We can assure you that we do not discourage easily.

Harriman: They have negotiated with the Russians.

Rusk: If you succeed, you will get the Nobel and Lenin Peace Prizes. If you fail, you will have the satisfaction of having tried.

Bogdan: Perhaps a Pulitzer Prize for writing a book?

Harriman: We can’t give you a Lenin Prize, or recommend you for it, but we can recommend you for a Nobel Prize.

Macovescu: We don’t desire a prize, but peace, which will satisfy us sufficiently.

[Page 25]

Harriman: I’ll see you anytime you wish.5

Rusk: I am going off to make a speech in California tonight. After the speech I will be asked questions. Do not pay too much attention to what I say. The document that I have given you is the important thing.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PACKERS. Secret; Nodis; Packers. Drafted by Davidson and initialed by Harriman. The meeting was held in Rusk’s office.
  2. See Document 8.
  3. On March 15, 1967, the United States delivered a reply of support for U Thant’s March 14 call for a standstill cease-fire in Vietnam. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. V, Documents 107 and 108.
  4. Richard H. Davis, Ambassador to Romania.
  5. Harriman, Bundy, and Davidson met with the Romanian delegation later that evening to clarify the message for the North Vietnamese. Harriman underscored that the primary concern was to have clarified fully the U.S. position and to obtain the North Vietnamese reaction to it. “The maximum you can get is that they will meet us in two days or in five days for serious talks after cessation in Rangoon or Vientiane or elsewhere—the more you can get of this the better but we are not asking for those precise answers,” he told Macovescu. (Memorandum of conversation, January 11, 5:15 p.m.; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PACKERS)