272. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam 1

1411. For Ambassador from Secretary.

We have reviewed the report in Paris 0038, the recommendations in Paris 0042, and the progress report and comments in Saigon 154.2 News stories here reflect excellent backgrounding in Paris and some expectation of progress. We believe this has improved our position somewhat for the moment. Nonetheless, we continue to believe—and to surmise that Hanoi believes—that their proposal for an unmarked and continuous round table appears plausible and reasonable to American and significant third-country opinion.
Hence, we continue to believe that we must make every effort to resolve this matter without further delay on some reasonable basis, and we accept the thrust of Paris 0042 that Thieu’s concurrence in our accepting in the last analysis the unmarked continuous round table is crucial. Like Paris, we reject totally any thought of changing the present agreed format (Paris 110),3 and likewise believe that there is no effective way to cushion the effects of delay by any form of useful bilateral in Paris that would not become rapidly disruptive in Saigon.
On the table shape, our reading is that further progress is most unlikely if we stay where we are. Although we can understand that the GVN may well read Hanoi’s dropping of flags and nameplates as proof that standing firm gets results, we note from Paris 0038 that the dropping of flags and nameplates remains conditional on our acceptance of a continuous round table and was only put forward after we had shown motion in our position on tables. We come back to the basic judgment that Hanoi thinks it has a good thing going, in terms of American public opinion, in resisting any physical demarcation of a round table.
At the same time, we believe that accepting the unmarked continuous round table would put us in a very strong position to get strong two-sided flavor on the order of speaking. While our maximum objective [Page 797] in Saigon should be Thieu’s concurrence in the full range of possibilities contained in paras 9-12 of State 291645,4 we are concerned that these complexities may delay our next move in Paris. Moreover, we feel that—just as it is almost impossible to explain our resistance to a round table—a position that calls for two lots and for each side completing its presentation before the other side speaks (AABB) is an extremely persuasive one for public opinion here and elsewhere. It is simple common sense, conforms to the normal practice in any multi-party litigation, and fits the basic fact that there are two sides both in the fighting and in our concept of the arrangements for the meeting.
In sum, I believe that you must seek to see Thieu as soon as possible, hopefully Monday at latest, to go over the situation with the following maximum and fall-back objectives:
As a maximum objective, to get his concurrence in the full sweep of authority covered by Paris 0042.
If in your judgment he simply will not agree to this—or will not do so without significant further delay—to get his concurrence to a further meeting in Paris at which Vance would accept the continuous and unbroken round table, contingent upon the dropping of flags and nameplates and also upon Hanoi’s acceptance of a two-lot draw and an AABB order of speaking. You could further suggest that Vance might open by offering to let the other side speak first under a two-lot draw and an AABB order, provided that Hanoi accepted the baize strips.
In seeking to get the maximum possible freedom, you should of course reiterate all the arguments concerning the state of opinion here. Moreover, you may make clear that we would certainly join with the GVN in stressing the fact that, even with the unbroken and continuous round table, space would be allocated on a 50-50 basis—i.e., by sides—and the definitely two-sided flavor that any of our proposed order of speaking arrangements—but particularly two lots and AABB—would have. As we see it, the total deal would be taken not only as more two-sided than anything else, but as representing a serious and sober arrangement in which Hanoi backed down heavily, first on the flags and nameplates and finally on its unrealistic and now public position on order of speaking.
If you should move to the position described in para 5-b above, you should of course make clear that we cannot be sure this will produce agreement, and that it would be necessary to consult further if it did not. In other words, we must not get into a flat and final position at least at this stage.
This instruction reflects discussions at highest levels today. As I am sure you realize, we all feel a very great sense of urgency in getting these procedural matters resolved.5
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference, 1968-1969, Todel Chron., January 1969. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/HARVAN. Drafted by Bundy, cleared by Smith and Lowell Kilday of S/S, and approved by Rusk. Repeated to Paris as Todel 1917.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 268, Document 269, and Document 270, respectively.
  3. Telegram 110/Delto 1124 from Paris, January 4. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, IS/OIS Files: Lot 90 D 345, Paris Peace Conference, 1968-1969, Delto Chron., January 1969)
  4. See footnote 2, Document 264.
  5. In a January 4 meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, the President, Rusk, Clifford, Bundy, Christian, and Tom Johnson discussed the Vietnam peace negotiations. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) Although notes of this off-the-record meeting have not been found, Clifford discussed it during a meeting with his staff 2 days later. He noted: “We wallowed around. Pres didn’t show any particular impatience, so I surmise Walt & Dean had gotten to him. I only stated that I thought we ought to act promptly on Harriman request for decision. I said I thought LBJ shld approve the Harriman plan/convention. The record shld show decisions & so tell Saigon & order Bunker to get Pres Thieu’s concurrence. Finally Pres told Rusk to get out a cable to Bunker (it did not get out [until] 10:00 p.m. Sat nite).” Clifford added: “Bunker’s answer is ‘miserable’. He’s not pressing hard; it’s too bad. No movement. I had hoped we could get movement for Pres. J’s record & so the new administration would have something moving. ‘They’ want Lodge & Nixon & so they’ll not move at all before the 20th.” (Ibid., George M. Elsey Papers, Van De Mark Transcripts [1 of 2])