242. Editorial Note

In telegram 43777 from Saigon, November 30, 1968, Ambassador Bunker reported on how the Paris negotiations affected the South Vietnamese Government and impacted upon the situation inside South Vietnam:

  • “12. The major events of recent weeks have revolved about the reluctance of the GVN to send a delegation to Paris unless it received certain assurances from us. Working out these essentially face-saving assurances has taken up much of our energies and those of theirs, but spelling them out in precise and clear terms as we have, will, I believe, have certain advantages for the future. I am pleased that this difficult period is now over.
  • “13. Unfortunate as the government position toward the talks in Paris has been during this last month, it has had some side effects which in the long run may be constructive. The government today has wider support than it has ever enjoyed. Thieu's position as a national leader and Vietnamese confidence in his ability to defend Vietnamese interests has [Page 717]been strengthened. In the eyes of the people the image of the GVN as a sovereign government has been enhanced and Hanoi's propaganda that it is a puppet of the US countered.
  • “14. The crisis atmosphere of the early days of November in US-South Vietnamese relations had largely subsided by mid-month. The rather truculent and emotional statement of Minister of Information Thien on November 12 really marked the final spasm. When I saw Thieu on the morning of November 15, he agreed with me that it was time that we put an end to public utterances and later in the day put out a carefully drafted statement designed to calm tempers and restore perspective. He said, ‘I think this is a moment to avoid pouring more oil on the fire. Differences can arise between any allies, but we do not allow them to be exploited by our common enemies, the Communists … Everything can be solved with calmness and patience, frankness and understanding.’
  • “15. Vietnamese leaders in general had been deeply concerned by the public split with the US and anxious to find a way to repair their relationship with us, although some still have reservations and concerns about our course of action, the public assurances that we have worked out during the past three weeks have been generally welcomed. As a result of these patient negotiations and assurances, the GVN delegation now goes to Paris to face the Hanoi delegation with more national unity, which in turn should make it easier for them to win acceptance of whatever agreements eventually come out of the Paris talks. As another result of Thieu's strengthened position, I think the GVN can be expected to exhibit somewhat more flexibility in negotiating. Another good effect of our recent difficulties is that the Thieu/Ky relationship has been improved, at least temporarily. They seem to be working together effectively, and Thieu has just announced that Ky will exercise overall supervision of the negotiation effort.
  • “16. I believe the period between Thieu's November 2 speech and the November 27 announcement of the GVN intention to go to Paris was also useful in preparing Vietnamese opinion for negotiations. While both Thieu and Huong have made consistent efforts for many months to prepare public opinion, events have shown that these traumatic last weeks were necessary to persuade the people that their interest would be vigorously protected. This particularly true as regards top government cadre and legislative leaders.
  • “17. On the other hand, our public differences with the GVN had some important negative effects here, as I know they had in the United States. Few Vietnamese believed our version of what happened, and most still believe that the bombing halt was an election maneuver. They also believe that, for all practical purposes, we got little from North Vietnam in return for stopping the bombing. The result is that apprehensions about [Page 718]our ultimate intentions deepened, and Vietnamese hopes for peace in honor and independence temporarily clouded.
  • “18. I think, therefore, that our decision against opening talks November 6 without the GVN was critically important in terms of Vietnamese morale. I believe that going ahead without the GVN would have set in motion a very serious decline in governmental and military effectiveness. Once such a decline became evident, the process would have been likely to snowball.
  • “19. The dangers that would flow from unilateral US negotiations with Hanoi and the NLF were and are apparent to thoughtful Vietnamese both in and out of the government. They also understood that from the point of view of world opinion—and to a lesser extent, Vietnamese opinion as well—the GVN could not long be in the position of seeming to reject peace talks.
  • “20. At the same time, I should add that the majority of the Vietnamese are profoundly skeptical about Hanoi's willingness to negotiate seriously. There is widespread feeling that Hanoi will try to use the talks to further decrease our military pressures on the Communist forces, to discourage American public opinion, to create further division among the allies, and to gain time in which to prepare for new military attacks. Fear of a coalition still remains strong in the minds of most Vietnamese.
  • “21. Nevertheless at the seminar in Vung Tau, Thieu took a moderate and realistic approach to these problems. He said that the GVN is, and always has been, ready to sit down with Hanoi provided that reasonable conditions are met, that it must be recognized that Hanoi is in fact the ‘Government of North Vietnam’ and that, therefore, ‘we must negotiate with them.’ He said that ‘the present situation forces us to strive for a limited objective. Our limited objectives are that the North Vietnamese cease their aggression. We want a peace to last, with effective international control against re-aggression … We must remember that our enemy includes our own brothers so we must aim at eliminating hatred within our own family.’ In this context he mentioned the national reconciliation program as one of the most important weapons in the arsenal of the nationalists.
  • “22. I think the main thing now is to let bygones be bygones, to let the late unpleasantness sink into the past, to get the GVN to Paris, and to start talking substance. If we consciously try to create confidence between us, I believe we can work together effectively. We shall need to do this for I have a feeling that the negotiations will prove to be arduous, complex, difficult and long. As you have said, we must expect hard bargaining and hard fighting in the days ahead.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27 VIET S)

The full text of the telegram is printed in Pike, ed., The Bunker Papers, Volume II, pages 622-628.