24. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

21178/Delto 751. From Harriman and Vance.

We met again with Tho and Thuy for 3-1/2 hours on September 20. The same people were present on both sides.2
We opened by presenting our position precisely in accordance with instructions.3 Our main emphasis centered on necessity of GVN representation in “serious discussions following the cessation of bombing.”
We cannot report progress from our discussion today. It was clear that they did not have sufficient instructions to enable a positive response to the proposals we were making on GVN representation. At our suggestion, they agreed to communicate with their government and seek instructions. Apparently because of the time required for them to have a turn-around with Hanoi, they did not agree to meeting again on Monday.4 They suggested we discuss the question of another meeting on Wednesday at the tea break with the proviso that if either side has anything to say as a result of communication with its government, an earlier [Page 58]meeting could be held.5 Tho indicated that although he was prepared to meet again on our regular schedule, he thought it would be a mistake to meet until further instructions were received from our governments.
The gist of the discussion following on our proposal with respect to GVN participation concerned their claim that this was a prior condition which did not meet their demand for an unconditional cessation of bombing. We responded time and again that this was not a condition of cessation of bombing, but it was a question of a definition of serious negotiations. Without this understanding, we questioned the seriousness of their intent.
Further argument centered around two questions put by Tho: first, he wanted to know whether this was the only “condition” on which he had to come to an understanding before we would stop all bombing; second, whether we would decide to stop the bombing only when we have come to agreement on this question. We answered the second question first by saying that the bombing would not be stopped unless we could reach an understanding on this question. We answered the first question by saying that we could not say this was the only question, but we could inform him that agreement on this matter could be a major factor in facilitating a decision on the cessation of bombing.
Both Tho and Thuy repeatedly remarked that our unwillingness to state that the question of GVN representation was the only condition on which we should come to an understanding before the cessation of bombing, plus use of the words “could, repeat could, be a major factor,” was an indication that we would have many more factors to raise. They said this would be an attempt to lead them into endless discussion of other factors before the cessation of bombing—which they had repeatedly made clear they had no intention of doing.6
We went over the ground with them a number of times but they continued to insist that we were asking for prior agreement on matters which they were not prepared to discuss before the unconditional cessation of bombing. They repeated again their willingness to meet immediately following a cessation of bombing for discussion of any subject the other side wished to raise.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-September 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis; HARVAN/Plus. Received at 4:53 p.m.
  2. The full report of this meeting was transmitted in telegram 21191/Delto 753 from Paris, September 21. (Ibid.) In telegram CAP 82431 to the President, September 20, Rostow relayed Vance’s immediate telephonic report on the meeting. Vance noted that “there was no progress and no statement of ‘understanding’” and contended that the North Vietnamese “had no authority from Hanoi to respond in the face of our rather precise statements.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Misc. & Memos, Vol. VI, 8/68-9/68) The President vacationed at his Texas Ranch September 19-24. (Ibid., President’s Daily Diary)
  3. See Document 23.
  4. September 23.
  5. See Document 32.
  6. In telegram 38599 from Saigon, September 24, Bunker argued: “It seems to me, therefore, that in stating our assumptions, we should not just say that the GVN must take part in serious discussions, but that we will bring them into the negotiations from the start. In effect, if we are unable to get Hanoi’s agreement in advance to GVN participation, then we should unilaterally establish the ‘our side, your side’ procedure for the ‘serious negotiations’ by means of assumption.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Chron., XXII)