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

24703/Delto 1005. From Harriman and Vance.

Zorin gave lunch at Soviet Embassy on November 29 for us, Habib and Perry. Also present on the Soviet side were Bogomolov, Counselor Utkin and Second Secretary Goritsky, specialist on Viet-Nam. Zorin said the latter two dealt with Viet-Nam matters.
Zorin opened the conversation by asking about the status of the negotiations. We replied that we did not yet have a specific date on which the South Vietnamese delegation would arrive but had been informed that it would be some time within the next week or so. We said in the meantime, however, we had proposed a meeting with Ambassador Lau to discuss the procedures for the first wider procedural meeting. We said we hoped the meeting with Ambassador Lau would take place on Monday, December 2. We also said that we hoped that the procedures for the wider conference would be worked out expeditiously as had been the case at the opening of the official conversations.
Zorin plunged into the question of “two sides” versus “four delegations,” asserting that we had gone back on our commitment. He said that we had agreed that there would be a four-delegation meeting and referred to a document which he had seen describing it as four delegations. The document to which he referred turned out to be the draft of agreed minute. We said that his recollection of the draft was incorrect and gave him the exact wording of that paragraph of the draft.
We then said that our position had been consistently that the meeting would be one of two sides—our side/your side—with each side organizing itself as it chose. We reminded Zorin of the history of the development of the “our side/your side” formula and pointed out that we had said to him and to the North Vietnamese many months ago that our side would consist of ourselves and the GVN, and that the North Vietnamese could have on their side anyone whom they chose. We said they had informed us that they chose to have representatives of the NLF on their side. Accordingly, there would be a two-sided meeting which would include representatives of the US, the RVN, the DRV and the NLF.
We said that the “our side/your side” formula was purposely ambiguous so as to permit the principal belligerents to sit down together and discuss the means of reaching a peaceful settlement without becoming enmeshed in the problems of status, recognition, etc.
We said the really important problems at the moment were, first, the shooting at our reconnaissance planes and, second, violations of the DMZ. With respect to the former, we pointed out to Zorin that we had refused to accept the DRV language “other acts of war”—which the DRV had defined to include reconnaissance—and had substituted our own language, “acts involving the use of force.” We said the reason we made this substitution was that we intended to continue reconnaissance and that reconnaissance was not an act involving the use of force. We said we had good reason to believe that the North Vietnamese knew exactly what we were doing when they accepted our substitute words for their words, and that they accordingly knew that we were going to continue reconnaissance.
Zorin replied by saying that we had conceded that reconnaissance flights were acts of war. We said that was not the case; that, as he well knew, under international law only acts involving the use of force or the threat of the use of force are “acts of war.” Zorin receded from his prior position and took the tack that our reconnaissance constituted a violation of DRV sovereignty. We acknowledged the fact that it did violate DRV sovereignty but pointed out that, although we had stopped all the bombardments and all other acts involving the use of force against North Viet-Nam, a war was still going on in the South. Accordingly, it is necessary to continue reconnaissance over the north for the protection of US and other allied forces. We said that the conducting of reconnaissance which initially had been unarmed, did not in any way constitute a threat to the security of the DRV. All the DRV had to do was to stop firing on our planes.
We said we hoped that Zorin and the Soviet Union would use their influence to get the North Vietnamese to stop all firing on our [Page 715] reconnaissance aircraft. Zorin replied that they could not do this and would not become involved in this situation.
Zorin then raised the issue of the DMZ and charged us with repeated violations of the status of the DMZ. We responded by saying we were happy to have the opportunity to set the record straight and give him the true facts on the DMZ. We reviewed at length the facts relating to the DMZ and DRV violations thereof since the cessation of all bombardments as we had done with Lau. We emphasized the point that we had fully respected the DMZ after the cessation of bombardments and it was the DRV who violated it by the presence of their soldiers and the firing of rockets, etc., against allied installations south of the DMZ.
We gave Zorin details on our patrols into the DMZ during the last few days and the evidence we had accumulated, including the capturing of NVA prisoners. We concluded by saying that it was the United States’ policy to respect the DMZ; that we were prepared to do so; and that we expected the DRV to do the same.
Zorin replied that he and his associates had talked to both Ha Van Lau and Le Duc Tho, who both denied any DRV activities within the DMZ since the cessation of bombardments. We replied that they were either misinformed or uninformed, and that we would be happy to give Zorin any further proof that he wanted, including the delivery at his Embassy of one of the North Vietnamese prisoners recently captured in the DMZ. Zorin recoiled at this suggestion and said this was a matter for the US and the North Vietnamese, and that he didn’t want to get involved in it.
We reminded Zorin that the US had stopped all acts involving the use of force against North Viet-Nam and were abiding by our agreement, while the DRV was shooting at our reconnaissance planes and was violating the status of the DMZ.
After an interlude in which Zorin questioned us about the warming of Franco/American relations, Zorin gave his advice about the forthcoming negotiations. He urged that the US push forward as rapidly as possible toward agreement that would allow full withdrawal of US troops from Viet-Nam and the acceptance of a coalition government. We replied that the word “coalition” did not exist in the US diplomatic vocabulary, and that we expected to leave internal matters in South Viet-Nam to the South Vietnamese. We said we were, of course, prepared to discuss withdrawal, but it must be a mutual withdrawal of North Vietnamese and allied forces. We urged that Zorin and the Soviet Union use their influence in advising the North Vietnamese in the forthcoming negotiations to act realistically and flexibly so that it might be possible to achieve a peaceful settlement.
Over coffee there was some discussion of the future makeup of the negotiating delegations, including the function of General Ky. We said we understood Ky would be here in a supervisory capacity and would probably not take part in the negotiating sessions. Zorin said this was similar to Le Duc Tho’s position. We replied that in some ways it is similar but that we hoped very much that Le Duc Tho would continue to take part in our negotiating sessions—particularly the informal discussions. We said that we felt that his presence had been helpful to date. Zorin asked if we would be leaving after January 20, and we replied affirmatively. He said all should push forward as rapidly as possible before that date.
We concluded by saying that we wished to emphasize the three points that were of urgent importance: First, the cessation of all attacks against US reconnaissance aircraft; second, respect for the DMZ; and, third, the reaching of agreement on the mutual withdrawal of US and DRV forces. We said we too hoped there would be rapid progress in the talks and that the Soviets would play a helpful role and would explain our position clearly to the North Vietnamese.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-November 1968. Secret; Priority; Nodis/HARVAN Plus. Repeated to Saigon. Bromley Smith sent the text of this telegram to the President at his Texas Ranch in telegram CAP 82851, November 30, and informed the President: “Herewith Ambassadors Harriman and Vance report on their conversation with Soviet Ambassador Zorin about the Paris talks. Zorin was selling full withdrawal of U.S. troops and acceptance of a coalition government. Zorin asked if Harriman and Vance would be leaving after January 20 and they replied affirmatively. Thereupon Zorin said all should push forward as rapidly as possible before that date.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Double Plus, Vol. III) Prior to the meeting with Zorin, the Department sent Harriman and Vance as background an account of the subjects discussed during a November 25 meeting between Rusk and Dobrynin. (Telegram 278474/Todel 1681 to Paris, November 27; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-November 1968) For a detailed memorandum of the Rusk-Dobrynin conversation, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIV, Document 325.