149. Information Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

At Tab A is the Bunker report you already know.

At Tab B is Vance’s telephonic report of his conversation with Lau.

We do owe it to Hanoi to tell them by 6 p.m. that we are not stopping the bombing tonight because, I would guess, they have already issued orders to their forces to obey at the DMZ and the cities—and, perhaps, not to fire on our recce aircraft.

We shall be considering this as a first item at 4:30 and probably be in touch with you from Sect. Rusk’s office.


P.S. At Tab C2 is the passage between Harriman and Lam, which I sent to you some time ago, which, I believe, is the basis for the second of Thanh’s four points.

W. W. R. 3
[Page 434]

Tab A

Situation Report by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read)4

Ambassador Bunker called secure from Saigon at 2:00 p.m. EST (3:00 a.m. Saigon time, 10/30)5

Bunker had just returned from the Palace where he had been asked to go to see Foreign Minister Thanh after the NSC meeting had concluded.
Thanh raised four points with Bunker on behalf of the GVN Leadership:
Under the SVN constitution the President is required to consult with Leaders of the Assembly and the Leaders would have to be convened and possibly a plenary session of the Assembly in order to approve going ahead with negotiations.6
President Thieu had been disturbed by a report from Ambassador Lam in Paris in which Lam claimed that Harriman had stated that the US was not opposed to a separate NLF delegation and the US could not force the DRV to negotiate with the GVN directly.7 Bunker pointed out our whole position was based on the “our side/your side” formula and that we had made it clear to the GVN that we could not tell Hanoi how to organize its side; just as Hanoi could not tell us how to organize our side.
Questions of procedure must be settled before the GVN would go to the first meeting because it did not want that first meeting to be disrupted. Bunker made it clear we could not settle procedures in advance but would present a united front with the GVN on procedures at that time.
Thieu and Ky need more time for preparation. The GVN delegation is not ready and cannot get ready by November 2.
Thieu had gone to bed but would be sending a personal message to President Johnson later Wednesday morning.8
Bunker stated in summary that it is clear the GVN is not ready to proceed. Bunker told Thanh that he would have to report to Washington that the GVN was not willing to go ahead for the four reasons given by the Foreign Minister. Thanh said that President Thieu intends to instruct Lam to return to Saigon. Bunker told Thanh that Bui Diem should come in and discuss these problems with us in Washington.9
Bunker suggests that we consider giving the GVN 24 more hours before cessation and perhaps two days more (until November 4) for the first meeting, but he does not know whether such a proposal would be accepted.

Tab B

Situation Report by the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Read)10

Ambassador Vance called at 3:00 p.m. on the secure phone (9:00 p.m. Paris time)

Vance opened his meeting with Lau in accordance with instructions from the Secretary with a statement that he had not yet received instructions.11 Vance stated that there were a number of complexities in the picture on our side because of the allied elements, the need for consultations here and in other capitals and the time zone differences. [Page 436] He said we had worked intensively on the problem and as soon as he received instructions he would let Lau know.
Lau asked Vance to explain what our problems were. He asked if the shift of time (from 1600 GMT to 0001 GMT) was what had caused us difficulties. If so, Lau said, let him know and the DRV would take it into consideration. If the U.S. could not accept the secret minute we should also let him know that fact. Lau said he understood that we had complexities but again asked us to let him know what our problems were.
At the end of the brief meeting Lau said if the U.S. was not going to stop the bombing tonight at the time the DRV had proposed, we should let him know before midnight (Paris time)—“that is only fair”.


Vance thinks that if we do not intend to order cessation tonight we should let Lau know by midnight Paris time. Vance believes that the DRV may be prepared to drop its demand for a secret minute if we insist, particularly if we are able to indicate to them that we are prepared to stop the bombing at 1600 GMT Wednesday, as we originally proposed.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [2 of 2]. Secret; HARVAN Double Plus.
  2. Not attached.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears these typed initials.
  4. Secret; Nodis; HARVAN; Double Plus.
  5. A full report on this meeting was transmitted in telegram 41450 from Saigon, October 29. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)
  6. In telegram 263695 to Saigon, October 30, the Department interpreted this issue in the following manner: “Whatever the constitutional role of the Assembly in relation to peace talks, it should be possible for Thieu to meet this through full consultation and any debate after repeat after the GVN representative has taken his seat.” (Ibid.)
  7. The discussion between Harriman and Lam was reported in telegram 23126 from Paris, October 29. (Ibid.)
  8. Telegram 41543, October 30. (Ibid.)
  9. See Document 154.
  10. Secret; Nodis; HARVAN; Double Plus.
  11. Although still subject to modification up to the point of execution, the Department sent Vance the following instructions: “1. Orders have been issued to stop all air, naval, and artillery bombardment and all other acts involving the use of force against the territory of the DRV as of 0001 GMT Wednesday. We cannot guarantee that all units will receive these orders in time to put them into effect at the designated hour, but if not, they will be doing so as soon as they receive their orders shortly thereafter. 2. Tell the DRV our announcement will be at the time of cessation. 3. Agree with the DRV to announce tomorrow morning Paris time that the regular Wednesday meeting is canceled.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. III [2 of 2]) In an attached covering note transmitting a copy of these instructions to the President, October 29, 12:30 p.m., Rostow commented: “Quite a cliff-hanger.”