264. Telegram From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to Ambassador Bunker and Ambassador at Large Harriman1

CAP 82919. I am sending this back channel because it is the afternoon of December 24 and this is a convenient way to make a memorandum of conversation which I believe you should have promptly available.

Bui Diem and Khoi came in this morning with Bill Jorden.

On the question of modalities, I took the line in State 291645:2 Namely that we ought to have an early agreement before Congress got back and we had more of the kind of pressure represented by Senator McGovern. I explained that it was hard in the context of American traditions to be against a round table. They asked about flags and name plates. I took the position of paragraph 8 of the referenced cable. They asked about speaking order. I said I was not an expert but I believed some formulae were open for discussion.
Their main point—underlined by Khoi—was this: if we came to an agreement on modalities, would it stick? If the other side refused our next position, would we again come back at Saigon for still another compromise? Vital issues were involved for the GVN in the matter of modalities. I said that clarity about our sticking position was an understandable question for them to present. I hoped that Amb. Bunker and [Page 785] President Thieu would come to grips with an agreed position while Vice President Ky was in Saigon—in the days ahead.
I then underlined how helpful Vice President Ky’s television broadcast had been and talked about the favorable surprise of Mary McGrory, Chalmers Roberts,3 etc., who had telephoned me. I said the optimum position for our side was to have the burden put on the shoulders of Hanoi and the NLF for not talking to the GVN. I recalled to both of them that I had often said to Bui Diem that it was important for the GVN to take the lead in peacemaking and to do so from a position of confidence as an elected constitutional government.
Bui Diem then said that since the anxiety in Saigon was whether we were putting GVN on to a slippery slope in Paris, where they did not know what next concession would be asked of them, would it not be useful to agree at an early time what our basic negotiating strategy might be. Political figures in Saigon would then know what lay behind an agreement on modalities and where we would next proceed.
The following four headings emerged as their notion of the basis for an agreement with us on the substance of a negotiating strategy:
  • —Nail down the DMZ. This would be done in Paris on a your-side our-side basis.
  • —Negotiate the framework of troop withdrawals, including troop withdrawals from Cambodia and Laos, plus international monitoring against the return of North Vietnamese forces across their frontiers. This also would be done on your-side our-side basis in Paris.
  • —Following upon Ky’s TV statement, Honolulu, etc. reassert the willingness of the GVN to talk with the NLF “as a reality” about a political settlement in the South. This would be done bilaterally in Paris or elsewhere.
  • —Saigon-Hanoi discussions of normalization of relations between North and South Vietnam. This would be a bilateral in Paris or elsewhere.
Making it quite clear that I was speaking personally, and not for the U.S. Government, I said that I thought there might be wisdom in our coming to grips with (and letting Saigon announce) some such simple framework for the substantive negotiations at the same time that we came to a private agreement on the unresolved questions of modalities.
Bui Diem and Khoi said they would report our conversation to Saigon as a personal conversation.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Misc. & Memos, Vol. VIII. Secret. [text not declassified] Repeated to Saigon.
  2. In telegram 291645 to Saigon, December 24, the Department urged Bunker to impress upon Thieu the need for some degree of leeway on procedural issues. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks/Nodis/Paris Meeting Plus, Vol. I)
  3. Mary McGrory was a syndicated columnist with the Washington Evening Star, and Chalmers Roberts was a reporter for the The Washington Post.