151. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1
263699. 1. You should see Thieu at the earliest possible time Wednesday morning to convey the following as an oral message from the President. If Thieu attempts to make himself unavailable, you should insist that the message is of the utmost gravity and that our President could not understand any reluctance on the part of Thieu to see you at once. Message is:
- The President is convinced that we have obtained from the other side the essential elements in our requirements at this stage of the war and on negotiations. At every step of the way the President has consulted closely with President Thieu and has proceeded on the basis of the agreement between the two.
- On the basis of commitments made by Thieu and Ky, the constitutional leaders of the GVN, President Johnson has gone forward in making engagements to others all of which are known to Thieu. He cannot now withdraw from those engagements.
- The American people have joined in a great battle in Southeast Asia, for more than 5 years, in which we have accepted great sacrifices [Page 442] in men and material. The purpose of this effort was to obtain a chance to talk about peace on a reasonable basis. Now that we have reached that point, we must not let it get away from us.
- The President is deeply concerned that President Thieu does not sufficiently understand the American people and their government. If President Thieu makes himself responsible for preventing the very peace talks which have cost so much to obtain, the people of this country would never forget the man responsible. No American leader could rescue the position of such a person with the American people. If President Thieu keeps us from moving at this moment of opportunity, God help South Vietnam, because no President could maintain the support of the American people.
- President Thieu should also understand that the Government of the United States includes the United States Congress and that the leaders of the U.S. Congress and most of its membership will be the same in January as in the past few years. The President and the Secretary of State must be, under our Constitution, completely candid with our Congressional leaders as to how this situation developed and who was responsible for frustrating it. The President wants President Thieu to know that the Congress would take charge of this situation and would completely undermine and would withdraw the support of the United States from the effort in Vietnam.
- The President also wants President Thieu to understand that the attitude of the American military leadership is of crucial importance to his own country. Our top military men are unanimous that the understandings reached in Paris provide a substantial military benefit to U.S. and allied forces in the field. These men, who have been responsible for the conduct of the battle, will respond with disgust to a rejection of this present opportunity for petty and trivial reasons. Obviously, the elections will have no effect upon our military leadership since they are professional and non-political in character under our Constitution.
- President Thieu should understand that President Johnson is faced with the gravest possible problems. The first is a judgment as to whether there can exist a relationship of confidence between the Presidents of the United States and of South Vietnam. The second is a judgment which the President must make as to his obligations to the United States, to the American people, and the American national interests. This raises the serious possibility of proceeding alone. We cannot force South Vietnam to do something which it does not wish to do; South Vietnam cannot force us to do something which we consider contrary to our interests. No one can levy upon us a necessity to give the lives of our men and our planes for the bombing of North [Page 443] Vietnam or for the defense of South Vietnam unless the U.S. considers it in our national interest to make that sacrifice. Does President Thieu want President Johnson to go alone? If so, can President Thieu himself go alone?
- Surely President Thieu understands full well that President Johnson will be President of the United States, with all the responsibilities of that office, until January 20, 1969. The President will make the decisions for the United States while he holds that office; the decisions which are required in the next three months could be vital to the future of South Vietnam.
- The President can understand if there might be individuals in the South Vietnamese government who may be speculating about the internal politics of the United States. He wishes President Thieu to understand that decisions based upon such speculation carry the gravest danger because the American people would react in fury if they should discover that lives were being lost because people of other countries were trying to intrude their own judgments into the judgments of the American people about our future leadership. The President removed himself from the internal politics of the United States on March 31st in order to deal with questions of war and peace on their merits; it would be intolerable if those with whom he is working should fail to adopt the same attitude.
2. The President has considered carefully the points raised by Foreign Minister Thanh with Ambassador Bunker.2 He observes that the constitutional point has been raised only at this last moment, following weeks of closest consultation and agreement between our two governments. He cannot accept responsibility for Ambassador Lam’s reporting supposed conversations with Ambassador Harriman because he knows that the position of the United States Government has been stated clearly by Ambassador Bunker to President Thieu himself on these matters. Questions of procedure are potentially troublesome but the informal precedents which have already been followed in Paris would meet most of South Vietnam’s concern; in any event, it would be for the delegations in Paris to work out these tertiary points.
The President has taken into account the desire of President Thieu and Vice President Ky to have somewhat more time. He observes that their problems are not related to the cessation of the bombing but are related to the timing of a following meeting and the problems of producing an effective South Vietnamese delegation. The [Page 444] President believes, therefore, that it should meet President Thieu’s problem if the date of the cessation of bombing were moved forward for 24 hours and the first meeting should be scheduled in Paris on Monday, November 3. We cannot guarantee that other side will accept this, but we will be ready to find out.
3. Finally, the President is completely unable to understand why, after all the consultation which has occurred between the United States, the GVN, and the TCC’s, considerations of secondary importance should be raised at the last minute as an obstacle to a previously agreed procedure. The United States has engaged aspects of its own good faith in pressing these matters upon the other side. And we must maintain our traditional reputation of good faith. But the good faith of the Government of South Vietnam is also at stake. For that to be surrendered for reasons such as those which have been thus far advanced would be profligate in the extreme and would leave the Government of South Vietnam with little credence or credit before the world in the conduct of its own affairs and in its attempt to establish its independence and national survival.
4. Please, therefore, underline with every personal resource you can, the utter gravity of this moment in the relations between the Government of the United States and Republic of Vietnam.
5. If you and General Goodpaster think it desirable, you should authorize him to use any elements of this message for a very frank, direct talk with General Vien, Chief of the Joint General Staff.3
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis/HARVAN Double Plus. Drafted from text as received from the White House. Repeated to Paris as Todel 1408.↩
- See footnote 5, Document 149.↩
- The telegram is unsigned.↩