154. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassies in Vietnam and France1

263808/Todel 1411. For Harriman and Vance.

Bui Diem, acting on Thieu’s instructions, called on Bundy October 30 to review Bunker’s October 29 presentation to Thieu, and Thanh’s statements to Bunker following Thieu’s meeting with NSC and Upper and Lower House presidents.2 According to Bui Diem, Thanh emphasized four points:
Lam’s cable from Paris reporting what Harriman had allegedly told him (US would not oppose NLF as distinct entity, US could not force DRV to give advance assurances that it would talk directly with GVN, what guarantee could US obtain that Hanoi would keep promises on implementing de-escalation) had thrown into doubt agreement that had been reached on joint announcement as well as assurances given in US October 25 memorandum.
GVN proposed that procedures and physical arrangements be settled before first meeting in order to avoid any risk of “shock” and difficulties.
Upper and Lower House presidents had raised many constitutional problems, including government’s obligation under Article 39 to consult Assembly before engaging in negotiations.
GVN needed more time to settle these internal and constitutional problems; moreover, in view of Lam’s cable, Thieu had asked Lam to return to Saigon immediately.
According to Bui Diem’s account, Bunker replied that Lam had misunderstood what had been told him in Paris; North Viet-Nam had refused to talks procedures in advance; the constitutional problem was a new one of which he had not yet been informed; and he would clarify with Harriman what had been said to Lam. Bunker had emphasized the tension between their two governments that would arise if this matter were not satisfactorily resolved and had asked for GVN cooperation. Thanh said GVN considered it indispensable that Hanoi authorities accept without any question the conditions for de-escalation and the [Page 453] holding of direct talks with the GVN. To go into a conference with no promises by Hanoi, Thanh said, would be disastrous and would be considered surrender by our people.
Bui Diem said he had been instructed to ask us to bring this message to the President and Secretary and said Thieu intended to send a letter to the President today.
In response Bundy made three points:
Ambassador Bunker speaks directly with the authority of the President and further GVN messages to other capitals are not helpful. Lam had completely misquoted the conversation with Harriman; the verbatim account of this conversation had in the meantime been conveyed to Thanh. It was vital to deal in one place only and this was very poor professional procedure on Lam’s part. The October 25 memorandum and the agreed joint communiqué remained absolutely valid.
On the other points mentioned by Bui Diem, Bundy said, Bunker had already been authorized to cover these with Thieu and we did not wish to make any additional comment whatsoever.
The GVN had understood for weeks and months the exact nature of the participation formula that had been agreed upon, and we had gone ahead on that basis. In the meantime there had been no changes in the circumstances to warrant a change in the GVN attitude. We had every reason to believe that the other side understood completely what was involved with respect to observing the understanding reached on both participation and military matters.
Bundy then gave Bui Diem for his information the essence of the President’s oral message to Thieu,3 emphasizing the utterly non-partisan nature of the Administration’s decision and the extremely grave consequences if the GVN were not to associate itself with this decision.
Bui Diem, who took careful notes, appeared to be sobered by this presentation, and promised he would immediately report to Saigon, emphasizing that Thieu should convey views to Bunker as the President’s representative, the GVN should avoid dealing with the same problem in different capitals, and that substantive points raised in Thieu’s instructions had in the meantime been fully dealt with by Ambassador Bunker.
In conclusion Bundy emphasized the very serious situation we would quickly face if everyone did not hold their tongues. Bui Diem seemed to get this point also.4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Secret; Priority; Nodis/HARVAN Double Plus. Drafted and approved by Bundy and cleared by Read.
  2. See Document 149. Bui Diem recalled the October 30 meeting in his memoir, In the Jaws of History, pp. 240-242.
  3. See Document 151.
  4. [text not declassified]