58. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

22253/Delto 817. Distribution only as directed by the Secretary. From Harriman and Vance.

Subj: Oct 11 private meeting with Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy.

We met with Le Duc Tho and Xuan Thuy for one hour and three-quarters morning Oct 11 at location provided [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] in suburb of Sceaux. Tho and Thuy were accompanied by an interpreter and two notetakers. Lau was not present. Davidson and Negroponte accompanied us. Formal discussion lasted one hour.
Thuy opened meeting by asking Vance to repeat again what he had said at Wednesday’s tea break on GVN representation.2 We did so using same language as at tea break. Tho then said he wanted to raise two questions. First, whether we would stop the bombing when we had a clear answer to the question of GVN participation as a party in the negotiations that would follow a cessation. Second, whether after a clear answer to this question has been given we will consider the answer to be a condition or reciprocity for stopping of bombing.
We answered the second question first, saying it was not a demand for reciprocity or a condition but, as we had said many times, [Page 156] was our definition of serious talks. We said that as we had stated, we do not believe there could be serious negotiations without inclusion of representatives of GVN on our side.
Turning to the first question, we said that we could not answer the question and that it would have to be answered in Washington. We then made the following statement: “In responding to your question, it is very important that there be no misunderstanding between us. It is important to understand that we are not talking about reciprocity or conditions but the simple fact that after a cessation of all bombardment the President’s ability to maintain that situation would be affected by certain elemental considerations.
“We do not look on them as a condition for stopping the bombing but as a description of the situation which would permit serious negotiations and thus the cessation to continue. You will understand, therefore, that the circumstances we have discussed in our various private meetings about military activity in and around the DMZ are essential to the maintenance of that situation. And, of course, you know from our various discussions that indiscriminate attacks launched against major cities would create a situation which would not permit serious talks and thus the maintenance of a cessation.” We said that we had said this before, and that it was specifically confirmed when Vance was in Washington.
Le Duc Tho asked whether we had finished. He then said that they took note of our statement that cessation of bombing and all other acts of war would be unconditional. Tho continued, but suppose that the DRV agrees to participation of GVN at negotiations after the bombing ceases. You cannot yet assert that bombing will be stopped. You have to report to Washington. We confirmed that this decision could only be made by the President and asked him why he could not indicate his own answer now.
Tho said suppose the DRV agrees to participation of the Saigon government. The DRV does not know that the US will stop bombing so how could the DRV agree to GVN participation. Tho said he agreed that there would be no reciprocity for cessation of bombing and also agreed that the US wanted to have reason to believe, but what, he asked, is the condition raised by the US? Is it agreement on the representation of the Saigon government? If so, Tho was prepared to discuss the issue, but first they had to know if US would stop the bombing if the DRV responded affirmatively.3
We asked whether if we gave an affirmative answer they would agree to GVN participation. Tho turned the question around, saying that he wondered whether if they agreed we would stop the bombing. We replied we were not authorized to answer that question. Thuy said he agreed with what Le Duc Tho had said and wanted to add the following thought: If the DRV gives us their answer first and we reported that to Washington, the US might merely note that response, raise other factors and make propaganda of the North Vietnamese acceptance. We said we would not make propaganda if they answered. We asked Tho and Thuy whether we would be mistaken if we reported to our government that on the basis of our discussions we believed the North Vietnamese answer would be favorable. Tho replied that he suggested we report as follows: If North Vietnam accepted the participation of the Saigon government, would the President immediately stop the bombing?
We said we would prefer them to tell us now that they would accept participation of the Saigon government if we stopped the bombing. Le Duc Tho replied, “It is the same thing.” (As what he had said.) We asked what his statement meant and Tho replied, “The substance is the same.”
Tho said he would like to repeat once again that regarding a peaceful settlement, North Viet-Nam had a serious intent and that he hoped we also had a serious intent. He said North Viet-Nam knows how to look at the problem realistically and so would we. And only in this way could the matter be settled peacefully. He said, suppose we formally answer what you are now requiring and you Don’t stop the bombing—then you would have no goodwill and would not have looked realistically at the matter.
Tho said he was convinced that if we both had serious intent and goodwill, a peaceful settlement can be reached. We said that nothing would be worse than to have the talks start and then break down and that that was the reason why we have been completely frank with them.
Tho said when you give us an answer we will express our view. He said “We should be positive and you should be positive. If we are positive and you are not, or vice-versa, then no progress will be made.”4
We said we would communicate with Washington the substance of today’s conversation and would meet with them on Monday if we had an answer. If we had no answer, we would let them know.
This concluded our formal talk. Over tea, Le Duc Tho and Thuy both said that they believed that rapid progress could be made if we were really determined to move toward peace.5
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis/HARVAN/Plus. Received at noon. In a covering note transmitting this telegram to the President, October 11, 1:20 p.m., Rostow noted: “Herewith Harriman and Vance’s report of their conversation. The marked para. 12 is, perhaps, the critical statement.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [2 of 3]) An 11-page memorandum of conversation containing literal notes of the meeting drafted by Davidson is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG59, S/AH Files: Lot 71 D 461, Sept. 11-Meeting XXI)
  2. See Document 54.
  3. In telegram 22279/Delto 819 from Paris, October 11, the delegation commented on Tho’s response: “We believe it is consistent with Tho’s question as to whether we would call agreement on GVN participation a condition [or] reciprocity. In that case we said it was not reciprocity, but our definition of serious discussions.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)
  4. In a memorandum summarizing a secure telephone call from the Paris delegation, October 11, 9:20 a.m., Read noted that Vance had reported this part of the meeting as follows: “Tho then said if the U.S. gave a positive response, the DRV would give a positive response.” (Ibid., Top Secret Miscellaneous Documents—1968)
  5. In a separate memorandum discussing the delegation’s telephone call, October 11, Read noted the following comments that would not be included in the telegram reporting on the meeting: “Vance: The fewer people who know about this in Washington the better. Secrecy is essential. Vance is satisfied that the DRV knows what to do regarding the DMZ and cities. We should give an early affirmative reply to their first question. Harriman got on the line. He said he endorsed Vance’s comments and recommendation fully. There is no doubt that the DRV understands our views. ‘There is nothing to do but to give an affirmative response to the first question. The sooner the better.’” (Ibid.)