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

24385/Delto 987. From Vance. Subject: Report of meeting, November 24.

1.
In accordance with instructions in State 276999,2 I met with Lau at our place in Sceaux afternoon November 24. Vy, an interpreter and a notetaker were present on their side. Engel3 and Holbrooke were present on our side.
2.
I began the meeting with the following statement: Begin statement. “At our last two meetings we discussed at length the conducting of reconnaissance flights by US aircraft over the DRV. At those meetings I told you that we continue those flights as required.
3.
I further said that the conducting of reconnaissance flights was totally consistent with our understanding at the time of the cessation of all bombardments and was necessary for the safety of allied forces. I pointed out that it in no way constituted a threat to the security of the DRV.
4.
I protested the firing by the DRV on our reconnaissance aircraft, and asked that it be stopped. I warned that if the attacks on our reconnaissance aircraft continued, we would take all steps necessary to defend our aircraft and to protect our pilots, and this could lead to a serious and dangerous situation.
5.
What I spoke of has now happened. Yesterday, as you well know, one of our reconnaissance aircraft was shot down in the vicinity of Dong Hoi. That action on the part of your government is wholly unacceptable to the United States.
6.
I previously said to you that I assumed that both of us did not wish to see anything happen which would seriously endanger movement towards a peaceful solution of the Viet Nam problem. As I understood your remarks at our last meeting, you agreed with that assumption. Yet your gunners have continued to attack our reconnaissance aircraft which are in no way endangering the security of the DRV.
7.
As I told you before, until we move closer toward peace, it will be necessary for us to continue reconnaissance as required for the protection of our forces. You have your own forces in South Viet Nam, therefore, your own means of informing yourself about movements of our own and allied forces in the South. We do not have any forces in the North. We have stopped all bombardments and all other acts involving the use of force against the territory of the DRV. We are therefore, except for aerial reconnaissance, blind as to what is going on in those parts of North Viet Nam which could threaten our forces in the South.
8.
Our preference in the interest of talks leading to a peaceful solution would be for North Viet Nam to comply with your clear understanding of our point of view and to leave our reconnaissance aircraft alone.
9.
I wish to make it crystal clear that we will continue reconnaissance and, if fired upon, will defend our aircraft and protect our pilots by whatever means are required.
10.
I ask that you convey this message to your government promptly. End statement.
11.
Lau said that he would like to comment on what had just been said. In connection with the activities of US reconnaissance flights over the territory of the DRV, and in connection with the military activity of the US in and around the DMZ, Lau said that, at the last private meeting on November 14,4 he had emphasized the serious situation created by continued US reconnaissance flights over the territory of the DRV. He said that he had also emphasized the absurdity of the US point of view that it has the right to violate the sovereignty and security of the DRV, and, at the same time, deny the DRV’s legitimate right of self defense against these illegal US acts.
12.
Lau said that he also rejected the slanderous US accusations against the DRV, such as saying that the Peoples Army of Viet Nam (NVA) had opened artillery and rocket fire against US positions south of the DMZ.
13.
At this point I interrupted and asked Lau to repeat his statement. He did so. Comment: We note that Lau pulled back from DRV public charge that US had positions in southern half of DMZ.
14.
Lau said they felt that since the last meeting the US has not paid attention to the serious situation it has created, but rather had committed further illegal acts not only in the DMZ but also on the rest of the territory of the DRV.
15.
Lau then handed me a piece of paper containing excerpts of the November 21 DRV Foreign Ministry statement protesting, he said, the repeated US artillery shellings from south of the DMZ and shellings by US Navy ships in the vicinity of south of the Cua Viet River against the northern part of the DMZ on November 16, 17, 20 and 21.5
16.
Lau said that the US was also continuing to send manned and unmanned reconnaissance flights over the territory of the DRV in increasing numbers. Lau said he wanted to convey the statistics on US violations of the air space of the northern part of the DMZ. He then handed me a paper in French, the informal translation of which is as follows: Repeated violations by American airplanes against the air space of the DRV: November 14, 1968—15 times of which two times north and 13 times south of the 19th parallel. November 18, 1968—18 times, twice north and 11 times south of the 19th parallel. November 20, 1968—12 times, including on L-19 above the northern half of the DMZ. November 21, 1968—15 times, including four times north of the 19th parallel and on L-19 above the northern half of the DMZ. November 22, 1968—14 times, including 3 times north and 11 times south of the 19th parallel, and on L-19 above the northern half of the DMZ. End translation. Lau asked us to note that they were making a distinction between violations north of the 19th parallel and south of the 19th parallel.6
17.
Lau then said that it was not mere coincidence, immediately after the cessation of bombing of North Viet Nam, that, according to [Page 691] UPI November 4, Harold Brown the Secretary of the Air Force had warned that actions might be taken and that according to The New York Times on November 1, President Johnson gave General Abrams the right to resume bombing in the DMZ and even just north of the DMZ.
18.
In answer to my question as to what exactly Harold Brown had allegedly said, Lau said that Brown had said that we would continue to order reconnaissance flights, and that if North Vietnamese forces returned to the DMZ, then the US would take action. He said that Brown had made these remarks in Washington on November 4.
19.
Lau continued: In the November 14 private meeting, the DRV had demanded that the US stop reconnaissance flights immediately. After conveying this warning about the violations committed by the US against the status of the DMZ, Lau said that he was now instructed to reject completely the position of the USG in regard to reconnaissance flights over the territory of the DRV. He said he was also instructed to ask me to convey to my government the energetic protest of the government of the DRV against these actions against the sovereignty of the DRV and the infringements upon the status of the DRV.
20.
Lau said that he was also authorized to state that if the US side did not put an end to these violations it would have to bear full responsibility for the consequences which might arise from this situation. The allegations of the US side concerning the DMZ are aimed only at justifying its ambitions and schemes in South Viet-Nam, and in covering up its increasingly serious violation of the status of the DMZ and its encroachments of territory of the DRV by reconnaissance flights. Lau said that the US was also making these allegations in order to evade the responsibility for hindering the holding of the four-party conference to find a peaceful settlement of the Viet-Nam problem as had been agreed upon. Comment: Lau was obviously prepared for a discussion of reconnaissance flights and the DMZ, and spoke from prepared notes.
21.
I said I would express my views on his comments. First, I said that the information which has been provided to me concerning the DMZ indicated that there have been numerous sightings of military personnel in uniform in both the northern and the southern halves of the DMZ since the cessation of bombing. During all this time there have been no US or allied forces in the DMZ; therefore, the persons in uniform in both the northern and the southern halves of the DMZ are members of either the North Vietnamese Army or of the Viet Cong. I reminded Lau that he had told me previously that there are and have been no military personnel in the DMZ and I asked Lau again if that was correct.
22.
In response to attacks by rockets and mortar against allied forces south of the DMZ, I said that I had spoken of this matter before and I would not go into it again tonight.
23.
I then said that between November 10 and 23, on nine days there had been firing upon air observers, all of whom have been flying in observer aircraft over the southern half of the DMZ. These air observers have been fired upon 35 times; nine times with 30 or 50 caliber machine guns, and 26 times with small arms. Twenty-one times the firing has come from the southern half of the DMZ, and 14 times US air observers have been fired at from the northern half of the DMZ. The artillery fire from south of the DMZ has been primarily for the protection of the forces which have been fired upon, including the air observers. With respect to firing into the northern half of the DMZ, this has taken place only on two occasions: first, on November 21 when a 50 caliber machine gun opened fire on an air observer flying over the southern half of the DMZ. In this case artillery fire was directed against the guns in order to protect the pilot of the aircraft. The second occasion in which fire was directed into the northern half of the DMZ was on November 22. As in the previous case, a 50 caliber machine gun fired approximately 75 rounds at an air observer. In order to protect the observer, artillery fire was directed from south of the DMZ against the machine gun which had opened fire on the US air observer, who was flying over the southern half of the DMZ.
24.
With respect to troops in uniform seen in the DMZ, I said that they have been seen in varying numbers up to two sightings of platoon-sized groups. I told Lau that I rejected the allegations that the US had violated the DMZ. The US had kept its troops and other allied troops out of the DMZ. No firings or attacks were made into the DMZ until rocket and mortar attacks were directed against allied positions south of the DMZ on November 10.
25.
I said, further, since that time there have been continuing violations of the DMZ on their side both by the presence of troops and the firing of weapons out of both halves of the DMZ against US and other allied forces. I said that it is the policy of the US to respect the DMZ and we expect that that will be the policy of the Government of the DRV.
26.
I said the information available to me did not accord with the allegations made in the Foreign Ministry spokesman’s declaration which he had handed me earlier. I said that I would review the material he had given me on reconnaissance flights and I reserved the right to comment further at a later date. I wished to repeat again, however, what I had said at the opening of the meeting, namely, that we would continue reconnaissance flights and if fired upon would defend our aircraft and protect our pilots by whatever means necessary. I said I hoped he would reconsider the untenable position he had expressed concerning the flying of reconnaissance aircraft over North Viet-Nam.
27.
Concerning the alleged statement of Harold Brown, it was not clear what he was alleged to have said, and I reserved the right to comment further at a later date.
28.
Finally, concerning the baseless charge that the US has taken certain alleged actions to cover up the fact that a wider meeting has not yet taken place, I said that I rejected those allegations.
29.
Concerning matters under the control of the US, as Lau well knew and as I had previously pointed out, the US has taken the actions which it said it would take. Concerning other matters not under US control, as he well knew and as I had previously pointed out many times, complexities had arisen. So far as a wider meeting was concerned, I might have further information to give him on this subject—namely, a wider meeting in which there would be present on our side representatives of the RVN, and on the DRV side representatives of the NLF—in the not too distant future.
30.
Lau said he would like to speak about the aerial observers over the DMZ. The US had said that aerial observation was carried out in the southern part of the DMZ, but his information was that violations had been made over the northern part of the DMZ not the southern part. (I interjected that our information was different.) Since the violations were made on the territory of the DRV, Lau continued, the DRV had the right to defend itself. He wanted to reiterate that the US position, denying the DRV the right to defend itself, was unacceptable. As he had said previously today, if the denial by the US Government of the DRV’s legitimate right to self-defense leads to a more serious situation, the US Government must bear full responsibility for this situation. He had stated this at our last private meeting on November 14, and he wanted to reaffirm it now. He wanted to express his point of view strongly and firmly. The DRV feels that if the US side deliberately creates this serious situation, that is, by continuing reconnaissance flights over the territory of the DRV and threatening to use the necessary means to protect its aircraft and pilots, that was evidence of the US scheme not to abandon its scheme of aggression, and it proves once again that US words of good will and peace were not sincere.
31.
Secondly, Lau continued, concerning the DMZ, not long after the US cessation of bombing against North Viet-Nam, the US again violated the DMZ by firing artillery from south of the DMZ against the DMZ and by naval bombardment against the DMZ. Therefore, the DRV demands that the US Government stop these violations of the status of the DMZ. He wanted to repeat again that allegations of the presence of North Vietnamese Army personnel in the DMZ were only aimed at justifying the violations of the DMZ by the US. The DRV had said many times and said again today that DRV policy has consistently been to respect the Geneva Agreements, and as part of the Geneva Agreements, the DMZ.
32.
As far as a four-party conference was concerned, Lau said the DRV felt that the fact that the US Government had raised the matter of [Page 694]complexities or difficulties does not allow the US to be free of its responsibilities in carrying out the agreement we had reached, no matter what the situation was. If this conference could not be held, and he wanted to point out that almost three weeks had elapsed since November 6, the responsibility will be that of the US Government. He reiterated that if we could not meet with four delegations, we should hold a conference with three. The NLF representatives are already here, having come to Paris on November 4.
33.
I said I wished to comment. First, on Lau’s statement that the US must bear responsibility if the continuation of reconnaissance flights led to a more serious situation, I rejected it and wished to state that it is the DRV which must bear full responsibility.
34.
Secondly, on his charges of aggression and the matter of who is the aggressor, we had spoken of that many times in the last six months, we know each other’s positions, and nothing further need be said tonight on this subject.
35.
Concerning the DMZ, I said that it was important that I clearly understand what the factual situation is. Had I correctly understood him to say that there are and have been no North Vietnamese Army forces in the DMZ since the cessation of bombing, and by that I meant both the northern and southern halves of the DMZ? I also wanted to ask him whether he was denying the fact that there are at this time persons in military uniform in both the northern and southern halves of the DMZ. I reiterated that, as I had said many times, it has been US policy to respect the DMZ.
36.
Finally, on the issue of a wider conference, as I have said many times, the US does not consider it a four-party conference, but a conference of two sides, including representatives of the DRV and the NLF on one side and the US and the Republic of Viet-Nam on the other side. With respect to such a wider conference, I had said I might have further information to give him on this matter in the not too distant future.
37.
Lau said he wanted to make a few comments before closing this session. He requested that I convey to the US Government the DRV protest against the continuing US reconnaissance over the territory of the DRV and that I convey clearly to the US Government the DRV position that the US Government must bear full responsibility for the serious situation which might arise due to these reconnaissance flights. Those actions were actions which violate the sovereignty and security of the DRV, and the DRV has the right to act against these violations.
38.
Secondly, as far as the DMZ is concerned, as he had said previously and had repeated many times today, the information according [Page 695]to which there were DRV troops in the DMZ was only a fabrication to justify violations of the DMZ by the US. He said he again demanded that the US stop firing artillery from south of the DMZ into the DMZ, both northern and southern halves, and stop its naval bombardment in the DMZ. I had said the US policy was to respect the DMZ. In fact, the US has repeatedly violated the DMZ. In the documents which he had given us today, these violations were clearly mentioned: the date, place, and means of violation, whether by guns, warships, etc.
39.
Finally, on the matter of a four-party conference, Lau said he took note of our statements that we might have information to convey to them in the not distant future but he wanted to maintain his position that if the four-party conference could not be held, it was the responsibility of the US. It was their position that it was four party, not two sides. He had never agreed it would be a two-sided conference.
40.
I said I wanted to make three brief comments. First, I would report fully to my government on this meeting, including their protest, and I asked and assumed that he would report fully to his government on the meeting, including our protests on the DRV actions. Secondly, since the cessation of bombing, the US has taken no actions concerning the DMZ except in retaliation to violations by others. Third, I still had not gotten an answer to my question as to whether he was denying the fact that there were soldiers in uniform in both halves of the DMZ.
41.
Lau replied that he had already answered. He said that allegations about the presence of the DRV troops in the DMZ were mere fabrications.
42.
I asked him whether he was denying that there were NLF forces in the southern and northern halves of the DMZ.
43.
Lau said that for that matter there was a representative of the NLF here, and we should talk to Madame Binh about this. He could reply for the North Vietnamese Army only. But Mrs. Binh was prepared to come and talk to us. She had been here since November 4.
44.
We then adjourned.
Harriman
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/HARVAN Double Plus. Repeated to Saigon.
  2. In telegram 276999/Todel 1639 to Paris, November 23, the Department transmitted the following instructions: “Vance should see Lau as soon as possible and make the strongest possible case that the shooting down of U.S. reconnaissance planes in the southern part of North Viet-Nam is wholly unacceptable to the United States. Vance should call upon all the background of the previous talks about reconnaissance and use any additional arguments he thinks will be effective, such as North Viet-Nam has its own forces in South Viet-Nam and, therefore, has its own means for informing itself about movements of our own and allied forces in the South and that we cannot, therefore, be blind to what is going on in those parts of North Viet-Nam which could directly threaten our forces in the South. Make clear that it will be necessary for us to insist upon reconnaissance and to protect our reconnaissance planes by whatever means are required. Our preference, in the interest of talks leading to a peaceful solution, would be for the North Vietnamese to comply with their clear understanding of our point of view and leave our unarmed reconnaissance planes alone.” (Ibid., A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-November 1968)
  3. Foreign Service officer David Engel.
  4. See footnote 6, Document 221.
  5. For text of this statement, see The New York Times, November 22, 1968.
  6. Harriman and Vance later commented in telegram 24479/Delto 988 from Paris, November 26: “It would appear from the foregoing that the DRV is especially sensitive to flights north of the 19th parallel and particularly in the Hanoi-Haiphong area.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968) In telegram 278383/Todel 1672 to Paris, November 27, the Department replied that “Lau’s distinction between reconnaissance north of the 19th parallel as opposed to the south of the 19th parallel aroused our curiosity too” and requested that Harriman “probe” Lau on this point. (Ibid., HARVAN-(Outgoing)-November 1968) In a meeting with Lau that day, Harriman brought up the subject, and reported in telegram 24610/Delto 990 from Paris, November 27: “As for my question regarding the distinction between reconnaissance flights above and below the 19th parallel, Lau said the distinction he had made had no particular significance. It was just to make a geographical demarcation.” (Ibid., HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968)