216. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

42560. 1. Following is text of memorandum handed us by FonMin Thanh this morning (underlinings are those in the original).2 Account of the interview and comments on the memorandum, including suggestions for reply, follow in septels.3

2. “This memorandum is designed to provide explanations on the RVN proposal of Nov 8,4 which, in the view of the GVN, deserves serious attention from the USG.

3. The basic formula envisaged by the USG and the RVN is a ‘two-side meeting.’ What remains is how to define the two-side formula.

4. The US Embassy note of Nov 11, 19685 indicated that, as far as the other side is concerned, the US made clear to Hanoi that it might bring on its side of the table any persons it wished, but that the US would regard and treat all the representatives on the other side of the table as members of ‘single side, that of Hanoi, and for practical purposes as a single delegation.’

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5. This principle is very close to the RVN concept of the two-side formula, in which each side should consist of only one delegation, and Hanoi is the head of the delegation of the other side. The GVN, however, believes that this principle should be unequivocal in its applications to avoid the tendentious interpretations of the Communists who pretend that the so-called NLF is a separate entity and constitutes a separate delegation.

6. The Communists have stated publicly that the meeting is to be a four party conference, and that the US has accepted that formula.

7. The GVN believes that a public rectification by the US Government of these statements is necessary and will be helpful.

8. On our side, the GVN deems that the positions and the public images of both the US and the RVN will be greatly enhanced if, parallel with the other side, our side is also to consist of one delegation and the RVN is to head the delegation.

9. In the two-side formula, it is difficult to conceive that each side is not headed by someone.

10. In the delegation on our side, if the criteria of power and experience in world affairs are to apply, the US indisputably is the most qualified to head the delegation. But the GVN has serious misgivings on the political implications of such an arrangement, which the Communists will not fail to exploit to our great disadvantage, vis-à-vis Vietnamese public opinion as well as international public opinion.

11. As is well known, the Communist aggressors pretend to be the standard bearers of Vietnamese national independence, and their propaganda theme is that the GVN is not an independent government.

12. Besides, on the ground of principles, the RVN is the principal party in this war. The allies who have nobly responded to the appeal of the RVN in the defense of freedom in Vietnam play a role which in principle is only a supporting role, even though it is an instrumental and determining role.

13. The strength or weakness of ‘our political position’ depends on how effectively we safeguard even the appearances of these principles. In the view of the GVN, the political and psychological considerations of this nature cannot be underestimated in the present ideological war.

14. In fact, the Communists are very keenly aware of these considerations, and are most careful in respecting them. We have an example and a precedent in the arrangements of the peace talks at Kaesong and at Panmunjom during the Korean war.

15. These talks were also based on the two-side formula. On the free world side, the problem was simplified by the existence of the UN Command. On the other side, the Communists pointedly had the North [Page 628]Korean representative as the head of their delegation, while the Red Chinese representative was outwardly assigned only a supporting role.

16. This arrangement did not create any illusions of the respective power positions of these two Communist countries, but it did help them to keep certain appearances in conformity with the respective roles they claimed to play in the conflict.

17. We deem that the arrangements for one delegation for each side is more in harmony with the two-side formula, than the arrangements for three or four delegations with various interpretations.

18. The agreement reached in Paris between the North Vietnamese and US negotiators can be regarded as tentative until the concurrence of the other parties concerned, and until then still subject to negotiations.

19. To that end, in the view of the GVN, representatives of the RVN should participate, along with representatives of the US in Paris, in the unofficial and secret contacts with the representatives of NVN for discussions on the arrangements and procedures of a two-side meeting.

Saigon, Nov 13, 1968”

Of note: Quotations used in lieu of underlining.6

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. VI. Secret; Flash; Immediate; Nodis/HARVAN Double Plus. Received at 11:18 p.m. on November 12. Repeated to Paris for Harriman and Vance.
  2. See footnote 6 below.
  3. See Document 217.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 208.
  5. See footnote 8, Document 208.
  6. Set here in single quotes.