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

25633/Delto 1084. From Harriman to Vance.

This afternoon we met with Vice President Ky for private talk at our request for about one hour and a quarter at his house. Only the three of us were present.2
We opened the meeting by saying that Vance was going home tomorrow for consultations and we wished to get the benefit of Ky’s latest thinking before Vance’s return. We asked how Ky viewed the situation and how he felt we would proceed from here.
Ky said that he was very concerned about the continuing impasse on procedures. He said that the longer the issue dragged on, the worse it became; it had become a matter of great importance to both North Vietnam and South Vietnam. He said he had been searching for a way to leap over the procedural problem and had come up with the idea of releasing a three-phased peace plan. (See Paris 25590, Delto 1082.)3
Ky said the first phase would be concerned with discussions of military matters leading up to the withdrawal of all external forces from South Vietnam. In this phase, the 17th parallel would be re-established as the dividing line between North and South Vietnam, and all North Vietnamese forces would be withdrawn north of the 17th parallel. Presumably, allied forces would also be withdrawn according to the Manila formula.
He said the second phase would be concerned with the internal political problems of South Vietnam. It would deal with the question of the future of the NLF and would involve discussions with them.
The third phase would be concerned with bilateral discussions between North and South Vietnam concerning the question of peaceful reunification, trade and similar matters affecting the two countries.
Ky asked our views with respect to the proposal. We said that we first wished to ask a few questions for clarification. In response to questions, Ky said that the first phase would involve discussion between the DRV, the RVN and the US. The NLF would be excluded and, thus, there would be, three-cornered talks. He said that the problem of withdrawal of external forces had nothing to do with the NLF. We asked what he had in mind with respect to the withdrawal of NVA fillers from NLF units, and he replied he really hadn’t given much thought to the problem because he was concerned with the withdrawal of North Vietnamese divisions and regiments.
Ky said that the second phase, i.e., discussions of a political solution, would not begin until all North Vietnamese forces had been withdrawn from South Vietnam. Ky added that perhaps he might be willing to start discussions with the NLF at an earlier date, but that he did not believe that Thieu and other members of his government would agree to such a position.
Ky also said he contemplated that either he or Thieu would put forward this peace plan as a way of overcoming the procedural questions and did not contemplate holding it until the Paris talks got under way. He expressed belief that his plan would receive favorable reaction in world opinion.
In response to Ky’s question, we said that we foresaw serious problems with the proposal if the plan were to be made public prior to the first plenary session. We said we believed that the plan would be turned down flatly by the other side because it excluded NLF participation in the discussion of military matters. Further, it would repudiate the “our side-your side” formula which was the basis on which the GVN had agreed to come to Paris. And it would still leave us with the same old procedural problems. We said, on the other hand, if he was talking about making a peace proposal in the substantive discussions in the new meetings, that would be an entirely different case and serious consideration might be given to it in that form.
We said that we were sure that Ky understood that the American people simply did not understand why we could not resolve the question of procedures, and would certainly not understand any action which could break up the proposed peace talks. We said this was a reality which had to be dealt with. Ky replied that he understood this very well and that that was the reason that he had come up with the idea of trying to jump the procedural question. He said that, as we knew, he had already exceeded his instructions in trying to solve the procedural problem and that he could go no further unless he got further authorization from his government. He said that it was because of this that he planned to return to Saigon tomorrow to consult with President Thieu and others.
We said that Ky would recall that it has been said many times in the US that we will discuss any proposals and consider the views of any group. In this connection, we referred to the President’s 1966 State of the Union message in which he said, “We will meet at any conference table, we will discuss any proposals—four points or forty—and we will consider the views of any group.”4
We reviewed with Ky the facts leading up to the GVN delegation’s coming to Paris and said that we understood when the GVN came to Paris they were prepared to enter into discussions with the other side, and that they knew the other side included the NLF. Ky acknowledged this fact but said that they had never thought that they were going to be a separate delegation. We reminded Ky that it had always been understood that either side would organize itself as it wished and that, although we did not view the other side as one of two delegations, that the other side would claim that it was composed of two delegations.
Ky referred to the November 26 statement of the US that we would treat the other side as a single delegation.5 We pointed out to Ky that what was said in the US statement was that we would regard and treat all the persons on the other side of the table—whatever they might claim for themselves—as members of a single side, that of Hanoi, and, for practical purposes, a single delegation. We underscored the fact that the words “whatever the other side might claim” were recognition of the fact that they would claim they were two delegations. Ky acknowledged this fact but said it didn’t lessen the problem he had at home.
We repeated again that we thought it would be a mistake to put forward his proposed peace plan prior to the first plenary session for the reasons which we had given, but that, without commenting on the specifics of the proposal, it would be entirely different if the substance of his proposal were to be put forward by the GVN at the first substantive session.
Ky said that he was going home either tomorrow or the next day, depending on when he could get a plane, to consult with his government and hoped to be back within a few days.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-December 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/HARVAN Plus. Received at 3:21 p.m. Repeated to Saigon.
  2. In Washington, Bui Diem also presented Ky’s views on resolving the procedural impasse in a meeting with Rusk and Bundy, as reported in telegram 290751 to Saigon and repeated to Paris, December 20. (Ibid., HARVAN-(Outgoing)-December 1968)
  3. Dated December 20. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Paris Todel-Paris Delto, Vol. XVII(a))
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. IV, Document 19.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 236.