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

254715/Todel 1262. Literally eyes only for Ambassadors Harriman and Vance.

We would like your views on an urgent basis on the following proposed guidelines for your next private meeting.

Following further word from us, we would request you seek private meeting soonest with Thuy to deliver verbatim following oral message:

Begin Message

Repeatedly in these conversations we have stated our view that the unconditional cessation of bombing could take place and be maintained only if serious talks take place and if circumstances are maintained consistent with serious talks.
At the last meeting you asked a question.2 Our response is: We are prepared, depending on your response to this representation as a whole, to order the cessation of bombing and all other acts involving the use of force against the territory of the DRV if you agree to begin serious talks the next day in which representatives of the Government of the Republic of Vietnam will participate on our side.
As we said on October 11, it is also absolutely essential that there be no misunderstanding on the following two points, which describe the situation following a cessation of all bombardment in which the President’s ability to maintain that situation would be affected by certain facts of life.
The simple fact is that military activities in and certain military activities near the DMZ would not be consistent with serious talks, such as firing of artillery, rockets and mortars from, across and within the DMZ; movements of armed forces from, across and within the DMZ; and the massing or movement of forces near the DMZ in a manner threatening to the other side. These restraints would, of course, be observed by both sides.
The other simple fact is that indiscriminate armed attacks against major cities in South Vietnam would not be consistent with such talks. End Message.

We have used the phrase that would permit reconnaissance, which they may question. We believe it important that they have a clear understanding that we will in fact continue a limited program of unarmed reconnaissance after the bombing stops. Our own research into the record here indicates that we have repeatedly used the general terms “bombing” or “bombardment,” and that starting with the Vance/Lau conversation of July (Paris 18012, paragraph 4)3 we spelled out repeatedly the longer and more exact term “bombing and all other acts involving the use of force”. In an earlier conversation, Lau had asked about “other acts of war” and Vance had said that we would have to discuss what this involved at a later point. So far as we can tell, the issue has not come up in any of the private talks since September 7. Thus, as we see it, we could be faced with the possibility of misunderstanding or purported misunderstanding with the North Vietnamese. Thus, if we were to get into a script of a formal session at which the inclusion of the GVN was agreed, while reconnaissance continued then or thereafter, Hanoi might claim a breach of faith. Therefore, we think that you should emphasize the longer formula in the message “and other acts involving the use of force.” Beyond this point, there are several alternatives:

You could volunteer a listing of examples of such “other acts.” This would include naval, air, and artillery bombardment and also such acts as commando raids, which have been included in past Hanoi listings. It would omit, but without initially calling attention to it, unarmed reconnaissance. If the North Vietnamese then specifically raise the question of unarmed reconnaissance, you would state that both sides would be expected to take necessary measures to verify the state of affairs, and that in practice we could not possibly be satisfied that we knew the facts unless we conducted limited and discreet unarmed reconnaissance. (FYI. SecDef and JCS will require some low level flights End FYI) Such reconnaissance clearly does not involve the use of force, and in the circumstances it could not possibly be regarded as an act of war. Hence, we would expect that it would continue.
Without volunteering a list of examples, you would be prepared to respond to any North Vietnamese probing of the phrase along the same lines as in a. above. In the absence of a probe, we would rely on repetition of the phrase as establishing the point.
As a supplement to b., we might go concurrently to the Soviets in order both to list the acts we expected to stop, and expressly to indicate that we would not stop unarmed reconnaissance.

We would appreciate your judgment among these possibilities.

We would also appreciate your views on the time schedule that we envisage. The GVN is now on board and we may be going out today to the TCCs whenever we have your comments on these draft instructions. Hopefully they will be on board by early this week. If it turns out that we can nail down our agreements and understandings with the DRV in one private session, the cessation of bombing could follow soon thereafter. We would appreciate your judgment as to the possible need for more than one meeting to wrap up the arrangements. The maintenance of total security, to mention but one factor, argues for moving as rapidly as possible, and we see no need to aim at one day of the week rather than another, since we could always hold a special plenary session the day after the cessation in order to formalize and make public the inclusion of the GVN.
Obviously requirements of secrecy would preclude special GVN delegation from Saigon at first plenary meeting following cessation but there could be token representation drawn from Vietnamese observer delegation. This seems to us desirable since it publicly nails down GVN presence.4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis/HARVAN/Double Plus. Drafted by Katzenbach and Bundy, cleared by Rostow and Read, and approved by Rusk.
  2. See Document 58.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 299.
  4. In telegram 22390 from Paris, October 14, the delegation approved the instructions with only semantic modifications. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968)