25. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson in Texas1

CAP 82446. Following are four cables on the Oslo channel.

  • Cable 1. The Norwegians debrief the men we sent to Oslo on their first discussions with the North Vietnamese.2
  • Cable 2. Our brief instruction, sent during the night, to Davidson in Oslo.3
  • Cable 3. Harriman’s comment and, quite helpful, elaboration of our instruction.4
  • Cable 4. North Vietnamese plans for today, Saturday.5

WWR Comment:

The heart of the North Vietnamese message (cable 1) is in para. 7 and, perhaps, in para. 10. Para. 7 states: “Concerning the North Vietnamese forces which were shelling South Vietnam, if the U.S. stops all bombing of North Vietnam and stops shelling across the DMZ, the North Vietnamese will not shoot at U.S. airplanes (because they will not be above NVN) and will not shell U.S. positions in South Vietnam across the DMZ. Warships outside North Vietnamese territorial waters would not be fired upon. Chan summed up by saying that the cessation of U.S. bombing and shelling of NVN would bring an end to all acts of war by North Vietnam against the U.S. However, when the U.S. hits at North Vietnam, North Vietnam must give them several blows back.”

Para. 10 states that the North Vietnamese told the Norwegians that “they did not want Nixon.”

[Page 60]

It sounds a little as if Hanoi had taken rather literally two minimal statements made by Secretary Rusk and the President:

  • —Secretary Rusk’s often repeated statement that “no one has ever been able to tell us what would happen if the bombing stopped.”
  • —The President’s press conference statement that “almost anything” from the other side would be helpful in stopping the bombing.

In any case, if the Norwegians are accurate reporters—and they have a reputation for being accurate, professional, and hard-headed—this is the first time that anyone from Hanoi has said that even the shelling across the DMZ would stop if our bombing stopped.

We must, of course, probe further.

It is interesting that the Soviets have contacted the North Vietnamese in Oslo. It is also interesting that the Soviets had to take the initiative.

Text of cables follows.

  • Cable 1. From Oslo to Washington.
    • “1. This afternoon Algard and Vraalsen met Davidson and Ridgway in Davidson’s hotel room and supplied following information about their conversations with the North Vietnamese through afternoon Sept. 20. (In an attempt to create an informal atmosphere Vraalsen had jotted down points rather than taking full notes and the North Vietnamese did the same. When Vraalsen transcribes his notes a copy will be made available to us.)
    • 2. Algard and Vraalsen met and dined North Vietnamese delegation Thursday evening. Conversation was completely nonsubstantive. Chan, Sung and interpreter Giai, Algard, Boye and Vraalsen met 9:30 a.m. Friday Sept. 20 for first substantive meeting. After exchange of formalities Chan said the situation had changed considerably both militarily and diplomatically since Algard’s visit to Hanoi in Feb-Mar and asked if he could give a short statement setting forth the current situation. Speaking generally without notes Chan referred to the great victories won by the South [North] Vietnamese in their three great offensives, Jan-Feb, May and August. He used the highly exaggerated military statistics contained in recent NLF communiqué and mentioned the great damage the war was doing to U.S. dignity and honor. Chan stated that North Vietnam wished to live in peace but that it was entitled to sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity as agreed in the 1954 Geneva Accords. He said the North Vietnamese wanted to see an early end to the war and that every country could contribute to this, based on its special potentialities. To solve the problem its root—U.S. aggression—had to be removed. The war was the result of U.S. miscalculation and the U.S. would meet with defeat. What is needed is the unconditional cessation of bombing and also other acts of war so that [Page 61]the parties could go on to talk on other matters of interest to both sides. The fighting in South Vietnam must be stopped. (WWR Comment: I reported to you some time ago that in the preliminaries leading up to Oslo the North Vietnamese in Peking had said, in February 1968, ‘Hanoi presupposed that military operations be stopped while negotiations are conducted.’)6 Questions concerning South Vietnam must be discussed with the NLF. U.S. forces must be withdrawn so that South Vietnamese people can decide their own destiny. Chan concluded his thirty-minute presentation with the usual remarks about the U.S. responsibility for the impasse in Paris. He then said to Algard ‘You’ve heard all this before.’
    • 3. Boye opened discussion by saying that the Norwegian Govt’s only interest is to help in bringing the Vietnamese war to an end, that it was disappointed by the lack of progress in Paris and willing to do anything it could to help. However, the GON could itself act as a channel and nothing more.
    • 4. Algard said he was also concerned about Paris becoming a blind alley. The Norwegian Govt. stood behind its public statements favoring a unilateral cessation of bombing but fully understood why the U.S. President needed assurances of the safety of his troops before he could stop the bombing. Algard told Vietnamese he had the impression that the U.S. would be satisfied with an indirect message that North Vietnam would not endanger the safety of U.S. troops and that the U.S. was not requiring assurances in any attempt to trick the North Vietnamese into dropping their principal position. He said that the GON was sure that the U.S. wants to find a peaceful solution and would like to stop the bombing providing it receives assurances about the safety of its troops, particularly those in the area of the demilitarized zone. At this point Chan interrupted to ask whether the U.S. had said so and Algard replied yes.
    • 5. Chan replied that the NLF could not stop defending itself against aggression, that U.S. forces massacring the people would meet natural resistance from the people and that what the U.S. was actually asking for was reciprocity.
    • 6. Algard said he disagreed. The U.S. was not trying to get North Vietnam to change its position but must have assurances that security of its own forces would not be jeopardized if it stopped the bombing.
    • 7. Chan then said the U.S. had to talk to the NLF about NLF military actions. Concerning the North Vietnamese forces which were shelling South Vietnam, if the U.S. stops all bombing of North Vietnam and stops shelling across the DMZ, the North Vietnamese will not shoot at U.S. airplanes (because they will not be above NVN) and will not [Page 62]shell U.S. positions in South Vietnam across the DMZ. Warships outside North Vietnamese territorial waters would not be fired upon. Chan summed up by saying that the cessation of U.S. bombing and shelling of NVN would bring an end to all acts of war by North Vietnam against the U.S. However, when the U.S. hits at North Vietnam, North Vietnam must give them several blows back.
    • 8. Chan then stated North Vietnamese believed it was very important to get the Paris talks going. The U.S. must stop all bombing. The North Vietnamese are seriously fighting and are serious concerning peace. They are honest and serious, concerning other questions, Chan continued, tell the Americans that ‘This will also be good.’ ‘This’ was apparently the stopping of bombing. (WWR Comment: I believe the reference is to “honest and serious talks"—not to stopping the bombing.)
    • 9. Algard told the North Vietnamese that neither GON nor U.S. would misuse any statements made to GON.
    • 10. At the conclusion of this morning’s talks Algard explained again to the Vietnamese the reasons that the U.S. could not stop the bombing without adequate assurance of the safety of its troops. He pointed to the recent Harris poll which showed 61 percent of the U.S. people were against unconditional cessation, mentioned the political problems that unconditional cessation would cause in the U.S. (noting that both party platforms had rejected it) and remarked that the course of the Paris talks and of the war in Vietnam could not help affecting the U.S. elections. Chan replied that the North Vietnamese had a definite opinion as to which candidate they preferred and indicated that they did not want Nixon.
    • 11. Algard told Davidson that his impression was that the North Vietnamese were trying to convince the Norwegians that they should tell the U.S. that we could stop bombing without risk to our troops. Algard found it very hard to pin this impression down to any direct statements they made but cited the North Vietnamese flat statement that they would cease artillery fire across the DMZ if the U.S. stopped artillery fire across the DMZ and all bombing of North Vietnam and the North Vietnamese who twice repeated that if Americans only stopped the bombing everything after that would be easy. Algard did not indicate to Davidson that he accepted Vietnamese line about lack of risk to U.S. troops.
    • 12. Algard found the North Vietnamese decidedly less aggressive and more informed than any North Vietnamese had previously been with him.
    • 13. Algard will be seeing the North Vietnamese Saturday Sept 21 at 10:30 a.m. He intends to devote most of the session to trying to elicit more satisfactory response to question of what will happen on [Page 63]the ground if U.S. stops the bombing. He will point out serious consequences that would arise if U.S. stopped bombing and events showed that this endangered the security of U.S. troops. He will state that the road ahead after cessation of bombing will not be easy and may indeed be impossible if North Vietnam does not respond favorably.
    • 14. We were unable to completely debrief Algard and Vraalsen. Vraalsen had to return to take the North Vietnamese sightseeing and Algard received call to report back to FonOff.
    • 15. Comment: Most interesting aspect of conversation was definite North Vietnamese statement that they would stop their artillery fire across DMZ if U.S. stopped all bombing of North Vietnam and its artillery fire across DMZ. Hanoi has thus indicated its readiness to pay a specific military price (although not a very high one) for the stopping of bombing.
    • 16. We would appreciate receiving any comments that Washington or USDel wish passed on to Algard.”
  • Cable 2. From State to Oslo.

    “Proposed position outlined paragraph 13 for tomorrow’s talks is sound and we have no further comments at this stage of Oslo talks.”

  • Cable 3. From Harriman to Oslo.
    • “1. We agree with Department that proposed position para 13 reftel is sound.
    • 2. As an additional refinement you should point out to Norwegians, that as they seek to explore what will happen on ground, it would be helpful if they would keep in mind U.S. expectation that DRV will cease military activity in, through and across the DMZ and cease massing troops north of DMZ. In other words they should solicit DRV views on all their military intention in DMZ area in event U.S. stops all bombardment of DRV.”
  • Cable 4. From Oslo to Washington.
    • “1. Algard telephoned Davidson 8 a.m. this morning (Saturday, Sept 21) and asked if he could come up to Davidson’s hotel room. When he arrived he informed Davidson that yesterday afternoon the Soviet Embassy had called leading Oslo hotels to ask whether ‘the North Vietnamese delegation’ was registered there. Soviets finally contacted North Vietnamese and met with them later in the day. Soviet Embassy is giving a dinner for North Vietnamese Monday night. GON hopes that no Norwegians will be invited.
    • 2. Algard mentioned the North Vietnamese had told him they would report his comments to Hanoi. Algard speculated that North Vietnamese might be using Soviet communications facilities.
    • 3. Algard said in a relieved tone that nothing about North Vietnamese visit appeared in this morning’s Oslo newspapers.”
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President/Walt Rostow, Vol. 95. Top Secret; Sensitive; Literally Eyes Only for the President. Received at the LBJ Ranch at 12:36 p.m.
  2. Telegram 6685 from Oslo, September 20. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET/OHIO) In telegram 38466 from Saigon, September 23, Bunker commented on the Ohio contacts, in particular expressing the hope that “the Department has in mind making sure that our Norwegian friends leave the North Vietnamese in no doubt that a bombing halt and serious negotiations depend not only on an understanding with respect to the DMZ but also about GVN participation in the negotiations.” (Ibid.)
  3. These instructions were noted in telegram CAP 82444 from Rostow to the President, September 21. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Chronological, Vol. XXII)
  4. Telegram 21180/Delto 752 from Paris, September 21. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET/OHIO)
  5. Telegram 6687 from Oslo, September 21. (Ibid.)
  6. See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 66.