206. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam 1
Washington, November 8, 1968, 2144Z.
269234. For Ambassador from Secretary.
- You should continue to seek appointment with Thieu. We leave it to you how hard to press, or whether a touch of aloofness might be more effective. Obviously, we need to get forward as rapidly as we can.
- For the meeting, you should convey the following points as an oral
message from the President:
- We note with surprise that President Thieu announced a position on the negotiations involving the United States without any consultation with us. Even though we were not able to reach agreement at the last moment on all matters involved in the cessation of the bombing, there can be no question but that we consulted intimately and at length with President Thieu before our action was taken and public statement made. Please ascertain from President Thieu his answer as to whether this procedure of his is to be followed in the future. If so, we will have to adjust our own attitudes accordingly.
- As far as President Thieu’s proposals are concerned, they should be followed up by a GVN delegation in Paris. It is for the GVN to try to reach agreement with the DRV on the modalities of talks. We cannot undertake to represent Thieu in seeking agreement from Hanoi along the lines of his public announcement. This does not mean that we ourselves reject them as far as the United States is concerned. But we have just come from a recent experience in which we have engaged the good faith of the United States on the basis of what we had every right to believe was a common position of the United States and the GVN, only to have President Thieu repudiate our understanding at the last moment. We cannot again undertake to involve our good faith and make it subject to the whims of Saigon. The emphasis in President Thieu’s proposal is GVN primary responsibility. They should therefore exercise it and get a delegation to Paris at once to probe the possibilities in whatever way is open to them.
- On the substance of President Thieu’s proposal, he should understand that, whatever the form that is eventually agreed, the United States will speak for itself and will not delegate this responsibility to someone else. No other attitude is possible under our Constitution.
- President Thieu wishes a negotiating format in which the United States and the NLF are in the same relative position. Even if we could live with it, we wonder if President Thieu could in the light of what it would do to dignify the NLF.
- Finally, it should be emphasized very strongly that the problems President Thieu has in mind are problems with which his delegation should wrestle in Paris in the procedural phase of the new meeting. Unless a GVN delegation is in Paris in the course of next week, the United States will feel free to discuss its own interests with any delegation available to it. The American people, under whatever President, will simply not support the war effort if the GVN attempts to sabotage serious talks about peace, or if there is significant delay on issues they regard as secondary. We have never asked the GVN to be a satellite of the United States; we are not prepared to permit the United States to be a satellite of the GVN.
- The President bases his judgment of American public opinion not only on unanimous expressions in all media that seating arrangement is only practical solution, but on views expressed by leading Senators and Congressmen of both parties that GVN must take its place, or US should go ahead without them.
- Having delivered this stiff message, you might perhaps await Thieu’s reaction. In the light of it, you should be prepared to go ahead and state that we are perfectly willing to issue a statement covering the exact agreement reached in Paris, the role of the GVN, how we propose to treat the NLF, our continued rejection of any “coalition,” and similar matters. Some of the points, such as the exact agreement reached in Paris, must necessarily come from the USG, but we could try to work out some form of joint statement, or agreed separate statements, if these would help Thieu’s domestic political problem. The gist of your whole presentation should be that we are not unsympathetic, but that action is imperative.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. V. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/HARVAN Double Plus. Drafted by Bundy; cleared by Rostow, Katzenbach, and Read; approved by Rusk. Repeated to Paris as Todel 1509 for Harriman and Vance. On a memorandum from Rostow, November 8, 4:50 p.m., the President indicated his approval of “a draft statement which Bunker could use with Thieu, along with our threat to proceed on our own in Paris, summarizing our positive understandings as a basis for Thieu’s getting off the hook.” (Ibid.)↩