217. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

42582. Ref: A. Saigon 42560; B. Saigon 42563.2

In view of the uncertainty on the GVN side whether they had received a formal reply to their proposal of November 8, and since the [Page 629] President’s message (State 269234)3 had to be communicated orally to Thieu who does not always pass our oral positions on in detail to his colleagues, I think it very desirable that we give a written reply to the GVN memorandum of November 13,4 setting forth our position in some detail. Following are some suggestions for such a reply, keyed to the paragraphs of reftel A.
Re para 4, we might say that we are pleased that the GVN considers that we have come “very close” to their concept of the two-side formula and believe that in line with what President Thieu has said about finding a “middle ground,” the GVN should now find it possible to move to negotiations in Paris. We continue to believe that the GVN proposals should be followed up in Paris and that it is now for the GVN to try to reach agreement with the DRV on the modalities of the talks. Accordingly, we urge the GVN to send a delegation to Paris as soon as possible.
As far as our conception of the our side/your side formula is concerned we feel that our side cannot dictate to the other side how they will constitute themselves for the talks. We can and will however say to them how we view and consider their side, and notably that we do not accept that the NLF is an independent entity. The other side may say whatever they please, but this will be propaganda and should be treated as such. It will be for our side to refute it at the negotiations and to set forth our position with dignity and emphasis to enlighten world opinion on the realities of the situation in Viet Nam.
Re paras 6 and 7, we might say that whatever the other side may claim for themselves, the US has never accepted that the forthcoming talks in Paris are to be called a four party or four-sided conference. What we have said, in line with our long-standing public position, is that the DRV may bring along to the talks any persons they desire. If any of those persons call themselves representatives of the NLF, we will point out at the talks that they are members of a single side, that of Hanoi, and for practical purposes part of Hanoi’s delegation. (Note: We still feel, in line with para 2 Saigon 417645 and para 2A Saigon 42288,6 that a US statement refuting the contention that there has been agreement [Page 630] on a “four-sided” conference would be desirable. The remarks by McCloskey at State Department briefing Nov 8, of which the core was on background, do not fully meet the requirements.)
Re para 8, we might say that even if the US were able to accept that the GVN should be the head of a single delegation, we do not see how this would prevent the other side from making propaganda claims to the effect that the NLF was a “delegation” and that they were therefore two delegations. We have said to the GVN from the beginning of our consultations that we fully expect such propaganda claims to be made and that we must be prepared to refute them at the talks. We are, in fact, prepared to refute them at the beginning of the talks and as often as necessary thereafter, so that Vietnamese and world opinion will be in no doubt whatever about our position.
Re para 9, even if we could accept the position that each side must be headed by someone, we do not see how we can oblige the other side to accept that view. As far as the position of the GVN on our side is concerned, we are prepared to consider them as “primus inter pares”, i.e. as the principal spokesman on all matters which are of immediate and direct concern to South Vietnam. Our draft statement of November 117 which represents a formulation very favorable to the GVN, should give it full satisfaction on this point. We are also prepared to defer to the GVN representatives in such matters as seating, entry into and departure from the meeting chamber, etc.
Re para 10, we have never been concerned that placing us under GVN leadership in the negotiations would detract from our prestige. Our inability to accede to the wishes of the GVN in this respect comes not from considerations of prestige, but from constitutional considerations. Moreover, as indicated above we do not believe that even if our side were constituted as a single delegation, this would force the other side to constitute the DRV as the head of their side; they might very well constitute the NLF as the head of their side. That is why, in line with our discussions during recent months, we take the position that the our side/your side formula, which leaves it to each side to constitute itself as it wishes, is the only way in which we can move to the serious and direct talks on whose desirability the GVN and US are in agreement.
Re paras 14 and 15, we trust the Department will come up with appropriate comment.
Re para 18, while the GVN’s participation on the basis of the our side/your side formula is a matter for sovereign decisions by the GVN in accordance with its national interests, we find it necessary to recall [Page 631] that the US acted in complete good faith in reaching agreement on this matter with the DRV, believing it to be fully consistent with our mutual consultations over a period of several months.
Finally, re para 19, we might say that we urge the GVN to participate in the procedural talks in Paris as soon as possible, whether such talks be in secret or in public. The US, however, cannot guarantee that the other side will be constituted as the GVN wishes it to be constituted.8
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. VI. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/HARVAN Double Plus. Received at 7:45 a.m. Repeated to Paris for Harriman and Vance.
  2. Telegram 42560 is Document 216. In telegram 42563 from Saigon, November 13, the Embassy reported on a discussion between Herz and Thanh regarding the GVN memorandum. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. VI)
  3. Document 206.
  4. See Document 216.
  5. This paragraph of telegram 41764 from Saigon, November 2, contained the text of a proposed U.S. statement refuting the idea of a four-power conference. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. II)
  6. This paragraph of telegram 42288 from Saigon, November 8, reiterated the need for issuing such a disavowal, not only in Paris and Saigon but in Washington as well. (Ibid., Vol. VI)
  7. See footnote 8, Document 208.
  8. The President indicated his approval of a statement addressing five issues raised by Thanh: “(A) Reconnaissance flights, (B) the shelling of the cities, (C) the claim of the NLF to have been ‘invited,’ (D) the DRV claim that we have agreed to a four-sided conference, (E) violations of the DMZ.” (Memorandum from Rostow to the President, November 13, 11:30 a.m.; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. VI) For text of the statement, see Department of State Bulletin, December 2, 1968, pp. 563-564.