13. Memorandum From Robert N. Ginsburgh of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1

I was struck by two aspects of yesterday’s meeting between Tho and Harriman:2

  • Tho’s warning about the futility of our intensifying the war. This may have been simply a probe to try to ascertain whether we were giving any thought to the idea. It may well be that the North Vietnamese fear this possibility in view of the lack of progress in Paris. This fear could be the main motive behind their agreement on the expanded schedule of private talks. It remains to be seen whether or not more frequent talks are designed simply to forestall our intensification of the war or whether they are now ready for substantive talks because of their deteriorating position in the South combined with a fear that we might intensify the war.

    If they are worried about an intensification of the war, a 7-10 day bombing campaign between 19 and 20 degrees might encourage them to talk faster.

  • Tho’s emphasis on US troop withdrawal and the unacceptability of the Manila formula. This could result from the fact that phase 1-phase 2 is a dead issue and they need something new to talk about in order to maintain our interest. It may also be that they wish to probe in hopes of weakening the US position on the Manila Declaration3 and in the process creating troubles for our relations with the GVN and our other allies. On the other hand, it is at least remotely possible that they are ready to enter into serious discussions about troop withdrawals as one way of proceeding with substantive discussions. From their point of view it would be unwise to proceed very far down the line of step-by-step [Page 36]mutual de-escalation until they had a better idea of the end of the line in terms of a political settlement in SVN and foreign troops in SVN.

With these thoughts in mind, our position ought to be to:

  • —Probe NVN intentions by trying to start a serious dialogue on troop withdrawals.
  • —Emphasize that a serious discussion of troop withdrawals is impossible as long as they maintain that there are no North Vietnamese troops in SVN.
  • —Reaffirm the flexibility of the Manila Declaration without further weakening of the position.
  • —Avoid for the time being any hint of token withdrawals.
  • —Note that an ultimate agreement on troop withdrawal requires agreement—or at least understanding—about the political future of SVN.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Misc. & Memos, Vol. VI, 8/68-9/68. Secret; Nodis; HARVAN/Plus.
  2. Harriman and Vance met with Tho and Thuy for a second private meeting on September 12. Their report on the meeting was transmitted in telegram 20779/Delto 724 from Paris, September 12, and telegram 20789/Delto 725 from Paris, September 13. (Both ibid., HARVAN Chronological File, Vol. XXI) This meeting had been set during the tea break at the 21st formal session on September 11. (Telegrams 20657/Delto 714 and 20662/Delto 715 from Paris, both September 11; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-September 1968) Jorden’s notes of this formal session are in Johnson Library, William Jorden Papers, William J. Jorden Notes, 21st Meeting.
  3. See footnote 3, Document 12.