2. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State 1

20314/Delto 682. From Harriman and Vance.

We saw Zorin at Soviet Embassy morning September 3 for meeting of slightly over an hour.2 (Bogomolov being on leave, Oberemko and Perry interpreted and Soviet press attaché Baskakov took notes on Soviet side.)
It was noticeable that Zorin's attitude was more forthcoming and unargumentative than in any of our previous talks. He seemed at pains to stress positive aspects of situation regarding Vietnam talks, and to pass up opportunities to start usual polemics about US position. Zorin commented at outset that he had been occupied elsewhere than with Vietnam, and Harriman replied that call on him was made in hopes of getting his attention back to the Vietnamese problem. Otherwise East European situation did not come up except that Harriman mentioned that these events would harden US opinion.
We led off by saying that our visit was to take stock of the situation, and pointed out failure of talks with DRV on his Phase One-Phase Two proposal. We pointed to the increased attacks in the last two weeks and to the resumption of the use of Soviet-made rockets in indiscriminate shelling of Saigon and Danang. We gave him the details of the [Page 7]heavy civilian casualties resulting from the indiscriminate attacks. We also pointed out the heavy and senseless losses being incurred by NVA in last two weeks.
We then referred to the Soviet Government's message to Ho Chi Minh (cited Moscow 5351)3 which in spite of the militant language of the message indicated that the Soviet Union was still interested in a political settlement of the Vietnam conflict. We stated that Hanoi's continual refusal to give any indication of what would happen after the bombing stopped was an unreasonable position, and suggested that it was time for the Soviet Govt to use its influence or its ingenuity to find a way to permit a halt in the bombing and thus the commencement of substantive discussions. We asked that this be called to the attention of his government. We pointed out that the President as late as August 19 had indicated that we could not take the next stop until we had reason to believe that Hanoi was prepared seriously to move with us in deescalating the war and in seeking peace.4
After promising to report this to Moscow, Zorin gave his impression of recent talks with North Vietnamese in Paris, saying their position had not changed and that they would not move until US stopped bombing. Zorin recounted his conversation with Le Duc Tho at yesterday's North Vietnamese reception, in which Tho pointed out to Zorin Pham Van Dong's anniversary statement, which Zorin told us contained a sentence in the same vein as Moscow's message which we had referred to, namely, Dong had stated that stopping the bombing would play a positive role in reaching a political settlement. He said that Le Duc Tho had stressed that this statement by Pham Van Dong “correctly set forth” Hanoi's position. Zorin said when he told Le Duc Tho he was seeing the Americans next day, Le Duc Tho referred to Pham Van Dong's statement and added that “this was the message” he would like delivered to the Americans. When we asked Zorin if he believed a political settlement was really possible, Zorin said he could not give yes or no answer, but thought “the possibility existed for moving ahead.” Zorin added that Hanoi representatives in Paris did not feel themselves able to make any step towards us that would be taken as concession, given present mood in Hanoi. We asked if he meant mood within Politbureau, and Zorin said Le Duc Tho told him Politbureau was unanimous on this point.
Zorin added that his belief now was that North Vietnamese no longer considered they could achieve their objectives by military [Page 8]means, and thought it necessary to move towards a settlement by political means. He stressed that this was not their original position, and gave impression that USSR had influenced Hanoi in this direction. He said his current impression was that Hanoi was ready to talk seriously about a political settlement and that “they had their positions ready.”
We brought up question of necessity for GVN inclusion at substantive talks. We explained that Hanoi had said it was ready to enter into serious talks after bombing halted, but at same time said it would not agree to include GVN. We questioned how serious Hanoi was since there could not be serious talks without inclusion of GVN representatives. We indicated that there was no obstacle to NLF or alliance being represented, but it was essential that GVN be represented on our side. Returning to this question later, Zorin asked if we believed Hanoi would sit at same table with GVN representatives. We replied this was essential. After some discussion, Zorin stated that while the representation question posed difficulties, he did not believe it constituted an unsurmountable obstacle. He added that if US followed wise policy, he thought this obstacle could be overcome.
In course of discussion Zorin brought up Democratic Convention and said he thought if Democrats hoped to win they would have to change position on stopping bombing. We attempted to correct some of Zorin's misconceptions about US opinion, ending up by emphasizing that in our view best time to make progress towards a settlement was right now. We said that US had seized on Zorin's Phase One-Phase Two proposal, hoping this would be a possible bridge; but this had not been working out, and we urged USSR to use its influence promptly to find another bridge.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-September 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Harvan/Plus. Received at 2:53 p.m.
  2. The meeting between Harriman and Zorin took place at 11 a.m. In a memorandum of this conversation drafted the same day, Perry noted that it was the first meeting since the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Trips and Missions, Paris Peace Talks, Chronological Files, September-November 1968)
  3. Dated September 2. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Soviet Union, Vol. XXI)
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 332.