258. Memorandum From William J. Jorden of the Paris Delegation to Ambassador at Large Harriman and Ambassador Vance 1


  • Conversation with Vice President Ky

Summary: Vice President Ky wishes to cut through the procedural wrangle and get into substantive talks quickly. He is tired of having himself and his government attacked as the principal obstacles to movement. What he is considering is a proposal for immediate talks as follows:

  • —A “first-phase” discussion that would focus on reestablishing the integrity of the 17th Parallel (note: he used the 17th consistently rather than the DMZ) and arranging for the withdrawal of both North Vietnamese and American and allied forces from South Viet-Nam;
  • —a “second phase” that would involve two steps, direct discussions between Saigon and Hanoi concerning arrangements for the movement of persons, commerce, and eventual reunification, and direct discussions between the Saigon government and all other political groups in the South, including the NLF, regarding the political future of the country.

If the other side would agree to enter into serious talks on this basis, Ky said, we could forget about the size and shape of the tables and who speaks first and “all these other procedural matters.”

Ky said he has asked Ambassador Bui Diem to discuss the above approach with Secretary Rusk (possibly today).2 He has promised to give me an English text of the draft statement he is considering making.

He will not move in this direction, he said, until he gets a report from Ambassador Diem on the Secretary’s reaction. He also indicated a willingness to hold off further should Ambassador Vance wish to discuss this with the President on his return to Washington.

Ky stressed the importance of secrecy in this matter. He also said it was absolutely crucial that if this approach is to be adopted that it come from the Vietnamese themselves.

He anticipates great trouble with some elements in Saigon, particularly from the ultra-nationalists in the Assembly, but he said he was prepared to [Page 766] face that and take the heat himself. He proposes to return to Saigon as soon as he has made his statement here so that he can win the backing of the military, the politicians and others for this approach to a peaceful settlement.


Vice President Ky saw me at the Vietnamese reception last night and invited me into a separate room for a chat. He knew me from several previous meetings in Saigon. With a number of reporters looking on through the door and ambassadors paying their respects, we decided the setting was too obvious. He asked me to come to his residence later in the evening. We agreed on 10 p.m.

I was shown into a sitting room in the Blvd. Maillot house. When the Vice President came in, members of the staff departed and we were alone for the remainder of the talk—which lasted an hour and a half.

Ky asked me how I saw the present situation. I said I thought we had been winning the propaganda war beginning with the limited cessation of bombing in March. We had suffered a setback when Saigon failed to send a delegation to Paris in early November. That had been largely offset by the arrival of the Vice President and his delegation. But we were now slipping badly because of the procedural wrangle. People in the U.S., elsewhere in the world, and I thought even in Viet-Nam itself, could not be expected to understand our arguing over table shapes and who would speak in what order while the fighting and dying continued. The sooner we could get over procedural hurdles and into discussion of bringing the war to an end, the better our position would be. I said I thought we would have no great difficulty in making our case on such things as the DMZ and withdrawal of North Vietnamese forces. But I didn’t think we could make a nickel by arguing procedural fine points.3

[Page 767]

Ky said he could not agree more. He was fed up with talk about this kind of table or that. He noted he had stuck his neck out by going along with us on the “dividend doughnut” and on drawing lots by sides to determine speaking order. But he would stand by these agreements. The important thing, he said, is to move the discussion from this kind of trivia into real substance.

He had given this a great deal of thought. He was prepared to make an offer that would, he hoped, break the logjam. What he had in mind was a two-phased proposal for serious talks. If the “other side” would agree to his approach, he couldn’t care less about who spoke first or what kind of tables we sat at.

His proposal was as follows:

In the first phase of the new talks, the subject matter would be re-establishment of the 17th parallel (he repeated this several times and avoided use of the term “DMZ”), and arrangements for the phased withdrawal of North Vietnamese and American and other allied forces from South Viet-Nam. He mentioned the need for effective policing machinery for the 17th Parallel.

Once these two matters had been settled (he did not specify whether he meant agreement on them or completion of the actions contemplated), there would be a “second phase” of talks. This phase would involve two separate steps:

  • —First, direct talks between the Saigon and Hanoi governments regarding their relations, movement of persons, and eventual reunification of the country by peaceful means. Reunification would have to be by the freely expressed will of the people, North and South. In connection with the movement of persons, Ky said there should be some arrangement whereby anyone now in the South who wished to go to North Viet-Nam would be permitted to do so and, by the same token, those in the North who wished to move South should have that chance.
  • —Second, direct talks between the GVN and “all other political groups in the South, including the Liberation Front.” Ky thought these talks could take place in Paris or “anywhere else.”

Ky thought this was a reasonable package.4 It would get us into the heart of the central issues and get us away from haggling over minor matters. If the other side agreed to this approach, he didn’t care what kind of tables we had or who spoke first.

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Ky said he had asked Ambassador Bui Diem to discuss this approach with Secretary Rusk in Washington (probably today). He claimed that he had President Thieu’s approval as well as that of the National Security Council in taking this initiative.5

Nonetheless, he anticipated some serious problems in Saigon. He thought that some of the ultra-nationalists would balk, especially at the idea of direct contacts with the Front. But Ky felt he could handle the situation. In any case, he was prepared to take the heat. He thought it would be vital for him to return to Saigon as soon as he made this approach, presumably in a public statement. He would have to talk things over with friends in the military, with members of the National Assembly, and with other groups. He felt confident he could bring them around.

He underlined the importance of this being a totally Vietnamese initiative. It would be a grave mistake if the above came from the American side.

Ky promised to supply me with an English text of his draft statement. He agreed that President Johnson should be aware of this proposal before it was made, and he assumed that Secretary Rusk would be discussing it with the President after Ambassador Diem raised it. Informed of Ambassador Vance’s plan to return to the U.S. this weekend, Ky said he presumed the Ambassador might wish to discuss this with the President as well. But I had the clear impression Ky was thinking in terms of getting his initiative into the public domain early next week at the latest, and that he would then go to Saigon in time for Christmas.6

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Special Files, Public Service, Kennedy-Johnson, Trips & Missions, Paris Peace Talks, 1968-69, Memoranda of Conversations. Secret; Nodis/HARVAN Plus.
  2. Rusk, Bundy, and John Burke of EA/VN met with Bui Diem from 10:38 to 11:18 a.m. at the State Department. (Johnson Library, Dean Rusk Appointment Books, 1968-1969) Notes of this meeting have not been found.
  3. During a televised interview on December 15, Clifford noted that both the GVN and the DRV had caused the delay and that the United States had no objections regarding procedural details and was ready to begin expanded negotiations. See The New York Times, January 16, 1968. In response, Ky charged that Clifford had “shown a gift for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time” and insisted that there was no divergence between the GVN and U.S. positions. See ibid., December 17, 1968. Thieu’s reaction was “one of shock and anger.” (CIA informational memorandum, December 21; Johnson Library, Clark Clifford Papers, Face the Nation—December 15, 1968) In a December 17 memorandum to Rusk, Bundy assessed the impact of this dispute on the peace talks: “I must say frankly that if I were in Hanoi’s shoes I would let us stew for several days more in the juice of the Clifford/Ky public disagreement; as a rule of thumb, I think we can say that public criticism in either direction delays our chances of progress by several days.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, S/S-S Files: Lot 74 D 164, Secretary-President Luncheon (2)) A December 24 CIA memorandum reported the statement of Lieutenant Colonel Pham Van Minh, Ky’s Executive Director, that the differences between the U.S. and GVN delegations at Paris “stem from a lack of understanding and communication between Ky and Ambassador Harriman.” (Ibid., Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET)
  4. Smith summarized Ky’s plan in a memorandum to the President, December 19, 8 p.m. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Misc. & Memos, Vol. VIII) In a telephone conversation with the President on December 23, Clifford praised Ky’s two-part plan. (Ibid., Recordings and Transcripts, Recording of Telephone Conversation Between Johnson and Clifford, December 23, 1968, 9:30 a.m., Tape F6812.02, PNO 13)
  5. According to a CIA memorandum of a December 26 conversation with Bui Diem, Ky did in fact have this approval. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 27-14 VIET) According to a December 30 CIA memorandum, Dang Duc Khoi, Ky’s aide, confirmed that “Thieu and Ky are in general agreement on this approach.” (Central Intelligence Agency, Job 80-R01580R, Executive Registry Subject Files, Peace Talks)
  6. Following an appearance on an American TV network’s interview program in which he detailed the plan and stated publicly that the GVN would be willing to negotiate with the NLF directly, Ky left for Saigon on December 22 and did not return to Paris until January 24, 1969. See Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, September 6-13, 1969, p. 23551. In a December 22 memorandum to Clifford, Warnke commented: “General Ky’s statements on ‘Face the Nation’ put him in agreement with much of what has been proposed by you in your press conference of 12 November and your TV appearance on the 15th.” (Washington National Records Center, Department of Defense, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330 73 A 1250, VIET 093.2, (December) 1968)