229. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rusk to President Johnson 1

It seems to me that we should try to avoid, within the next few days, additional public controversy with South Viet-Nam while proceeding quietly to assert and take care of our own interest in further contacts with the North Vietnamese Delegation in Paris.

I would make no public announcement about what we are doing because we would (1) create even more severe problems of face for President Thieu, and (2) expose ourselves to a rebuff from Hanoi which could make us look ridiculous.

As a first step I would ask for the comments of Bunker, Harriman and Vance on the attached telegram.2 This telegram is based upon the idea that we would proceed to take up certain questions with Hanoi in Paris unless there were a public agreement by Saigon to participate in the Paris talks. These contacts with Hanoi should be private and not public and we should attempt to have them as a continuation of the bilateral contacts we have long been having with Hanoi rather than on the framework of “expanded talks” which would include the NLF. This means we would not, at least at the beginning, talk with both Hanoi and the NLF; if this proves impossible because of Hanoi’s [Page 679] refusal, we would then have to reconsider that point. The central idea is that we follow up specifically with Hanoi on formal and firm arrangements about the DMZ and the principal cities. These subjects we have already discussed with Hanoi at great length on a bilateral basis. They were crucially involved in the decision to stop the bombing. They are just as crucially involved in our ability to maintain a cessation of the bombing.

If we succeed in engaging Hanoi in discussion of these matters, we should let President Thieu know that we are engaged in such discussions. In a formal sense this would be a continuation of our policy of informing him about our private contacts in Paris; in a political sense, it would serve as pressure on him to get his delegation to Paris because he would know that we are proceeding to discuss important matters with Hanoi whether he is there or not.

I would prefer to let Ambassador Bunker have a little more time to try to work out an agreement with Thieu before we make the situation even more difficult by further public announcements or threats.

My suggestion would be that, as the next step, we send out the attached telegram to get a quick reaction from Saigon and Paris. Over the weekend, we can then decide whether Harriman should proceed to contact Hanoi and could make this decision in the light of the current estimate as to the prospect of Thieu’s agreeing to join the talks.3

Dean Rusk 4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-EX Files: Lot 72 D 192, Dean Rusk’s Files, White House Correspondence. Secret.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. In notes of a meeting of Secretary of Defense Clifford with his staff, November 22, Elsey noted the following statement by Clifford: “We’ve conceded every point in controversy to S. VNam in order to get them to Paris.” (Johnson Library, George M. Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts) In notes of a meeting of the same group the next day, Elsey recorded Clifford as remarking: “Dean Rusk was good on Wednesday—but as soon as he got back into hands of Bundy et. al., he yielded & gave up. State was unwilling to pressure Saigon at all. So nothing really is going on other than Saigon continuing to kid & bamboozle Bunker into thinking ‘just a few more days.’” (Ibid.)
  4. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.