266. Letter From Ambassador Vance to Henry A. Kissinger 1

Dear Henry:

This letter contains my suggestions on the main points on which the new negotiators will need immediate guidance.

There is, of course, the possibility that we will be still bogged down on procedural matters. If so, the first thing will be to try to break through the impasse. This will require sufficient flexibility on the part of the GVN to allow us to resolve the issues. We have already made our proposals to the Department in this regard, and the matter is under discussion in Saigon with the GVN. If it is resolved before the 20th, then the new administration need be concerned only with the questions of substance. If not, then the new administration will have to pick up the argument over procedures with the GVN.

If, despite all efforts of persuasion, the GVN continues to insist on a position which postpones negotiation on matters of substance, we will have to consider alternatives. One alternative which should be high on the list is to seek to open bilateral negotiations with the DRV on such matters as the DMZ, withdrawals, prisoners of war, Laos, postwar relations between the US and the DRV, etc. We would remain ready to engage in full plenaries with all parties concerned but would try to make progress bilaterally on matters of substance which directly affect the United States. We would not propose to discuss an internal political settlement in this context, but rather leave that to the Vietnamese.2

If it is possible to overcome the procedural impasse and to get into plenary sessions on matters of substance, then the initial negotiating instructions should contain clear guidance on the following questions:

Will we follow one or two tracks? As you know, I strongly favor two tracks.
What is our policy concerning troop withdrawals? Must they be mutual, and over what time period should they be phased? What is the maximum number of troops which we should seek to take out before the end of 1969?
If the GVN dig in their heels, what items of leverage should we use, e.g., troop withdrawals, cease-fire, etc.? How far can we go bilaterally, or perhaps trilaterally (include the NLF), under such circumstances?
What is our position on reducing the level of hostilities? Are we going to follow a policy of all out pressure on the ground? If so, what part will US forces play? If we do not follow a policy of maximum pressure, what kinds of de-escalation should we propose?
What is our position on a cease-fire?

With all these questions in mind, I suggest that the negotiating instructions define specifically the basic objective along, such lines as the following:

“To negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Viet-Nam problem under conditions which provide the people of South Viet-Nam the opportunity to determine their own future free from external aggression.”

In terms of specific objectives, the initial negotiating instructions should speak to the following:

Restoration of the DMZ.
Withdrawal of external forces from South Viet-Nam.
Reduction of the level of hostilities—including the question of a cease-fire and phased de-escalation.
The creation of a situation in which the contending Vietnamese forces within South Viet-Nam can work out a political settlement.
Prisoners of war.

There are in existence policy papers on these issues, but they should be reviewed, reaffirmed, or modified.

There are, of course, a number of other important items on which guidance will be required, but they can await further thought and study.

Finally, I would like to stress that the negotiating instructions should be stated in over-all objective terms and the maximum flexibility should be left to the negotiators to operate within such broad guidelines. We should seek to avoid a situation in which every move the negotiators wish to take must be approved in Washington and Saigon. The general rule should be maximum flexibility on tactics consistent with the over-all policy objectives.3

Warm regards,

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, HAK Office Files, HAK—Administrative & Staff Files—Transition, Vietnam. Secret; Nodis. A review of the status of current issues in the Paris talks was prepared for the next administration and placed into a briefing book. (Ibid., RG 59, S/S-S Files: Lot 69 D 217, General Briefing Book for the Secretary-designate, Volume V: Vietnam, December 1968)
  2. Kissinger’s ideas on a dual-track negotiating strategy appeared in his article actually published in mid-December, “The Viet Nam Negotiations,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 47 (January 1969), pp. 211-234.
  3. Before assuming his position as the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs on January 20, 1969, Kissinger began secret contacts with the North Vietnamese in December 1968. The primary conduits were Jean Sainteny, a retired French official with long experience in Vietnam, and Mai Van Bo, the DRV’s official representative in France. For documentation, see Foreign Relations, 1969-1976, Vietnam, 1969-1970.