133. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

22997/Delto 886. Eyes only—Personal for the Secretary from Harriman and Vance.

The debate over “conditions” for the cessation of bombing has been going on with the North Vietnamese since the first secret talks. You will recall that we developed Phase 1-Phase 2 proposal early in these talks as a means of getting around this problem. The idea then was that because the actions on their part would be taken in Phase 2, even though we had an understanding on them, they would not be looked upon as reciprocity.
As these discussions evolved away from Phase 1-Phase 2 and toward the concept of prior understandings, this same theological problem kept arising. The North Vietnamese kept insisting on the unconditional cessation and we kept insisting that our proposals were not conditions. At various times we described them as definitions of serious [Page 378] talks, actions which would give us “reason to believe,” and as descriptions of a situation which would permit serious negotiations and thus the cessation of bombing to continue.
At our October 24 meeting2 we said for example, “We will make no reference to conditions. We do not look on these as conditions but as description of the situation which would permit serious negotiations and thus the cessation of bombing to continue. There should be prompt discussion and actions should be taken as we have mentioned when we were discussing Phase 2.” In the same meeting we told Thuy: “We have said many times that we do not consider any of the matters we had discussed conditions, but we have discussed in many different ways the circumstances which would be necessary to permit serious talks to continue.” Shortly after this statement, we said: “On this matter and others we have indicated that we will say what we believe is appropriate, and the DRV side will say what it considers appropriate.”
We have stuck to the position that what we have been demanding in terms of the DMZ, the cities, prompt meetings and GVN participation is not a demand for reciprocity but circumstances which would permit prompt, serious talks and continuation of cessation of bombing. We have not accepted their definition of reciprocity. We believe that this had been done with the understanding and authority of Washington. In addition we believe that it has always been the understanding that each side would define its actions as it wishes and would be free to make its announcements and statements as it sees fit.
For example, the Department’s 2592613 rejecting the idea of a joint communiqué, said: “Further I do not see how we can very well expect to negotiate what the various parties will say about it. Each has its own problems and points of view and requirements in managing his own situation. Such agreements would, in any event, break down promptly because there would be no control over what is said”. In State 260480,4 the Department said in the context of the question of “conditions”: “As the events take place either side will be free to make announcements or statements as it sees fit. If these should be at variance with what has, in fact, been agreed, they can be refuted both by words and by facts as they unfold in compliance with the real understandings. The only assurance we will give is that no United States official statement will use word ‘conditional.’”
It has been our understanding that we had no intention of talking about conditions. We have believed that was consistent with your conversations with Dobrynin.
We and the Department have always recognized that Hanoi would call the cessation “unconditional.” In the Department’s instruction on press handling (State 259838)5 the Department said: “We must recognize that Hanoi will almost certainly announce that the cessation has been unconditional.”
We have always distinguished between what Hanoi calls conditions and what we call conditions. The fact that we have refused to add the words “without conditions” to an agreed minute has made clear to Hanoi that there is a relationship between the actions expected of them and the cessation of bombing, although we were not going to say so. We recognized this in our verbal assurances to them that we would not use the word “conditional” in our official statement.
It appears to us that Ambassador Bunker was operating on the same general assumption. For example, in Saigon’s 40532,6 in a discussion of the joint US-GVN communiqué, he told Thieu: “The draft he (Thieu) had given us has too many things in it that look like demands or conditions. This is not the place to bring up the question of recognition… nor the way to tip off Hanoi’s hand with respect to the things they will not do. We have indeed good reason to know what they will not do, but if we insist there is reciprocity, it would torpedo the whole exercise before we even get started.”
When Thieu said that the public must have some indication of what it can expect if the bombing stops, Bunker replied: “The whole idea is that Hanoi can say anything it likes but the GVN will be there and can reply.” In sum, we believe that our concept for getting around the problem of reciprocity has always been to avoid it by defining actions in our own way and letting Hanoi define them in its way.
This strategy had been successful. We have managed to get conditions accepted by not calling them conditions but letting the other side call them what it wishes.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis/HARVAN Double Plus. Received at 6:49 a.m.
  2. See Document 116.
  3. Document 98.
  4. Document 113.
  5. Dated October 22. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II)
  6. Dated October 17. (Ibid., HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. II)