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

20522/Delto 699. From Harriman and Vance.

We met for three hours this morning September 7 with Le Duc Tho, Xuan Thuy and Ha Van Lau, with their interpreter and note taker. Habib and Negroponte accompanied us. At their request, meeting took place in same North Vietnamese house as Vance/Lau talks.
Most of the time was taken up by an endless harangue by Le Duc Tho, explaining in great inaccurate detail that we had lost the war and failed in political field. Tho concluded by saying that he had not yet finished his statement, the balance of which he would like to make at our next meeting. He was not prepared, he said, to say anything further [Page 19]today. He said although he would listen to our comments today, we would prefer to complete his full statement before we did. We decided it was better to hear him out before responding.
Our next meeting is set for Thursday September 12 at 3 o’clock, with an outside possibility of meeting Tuesday September 10. They agreed to establish at our next meeting a calendar of longer and frequent private meetings. We also agreed at their initiative to keep everything said at these private meetings secret. If we were queried about them, we would simply state “we never comment on any allegations or rumors about private discussions.”
At the beginning of the meeting, we stated it seemed to us that it was the responsibility of the negotiators in Paris to find a way to remove the roadblocks that were preventing progress. Perhaps this could be done by seeking areas of agreement. We stated there were two principal points we wanted to make. Both sides agreed on the objective of stopping the bombing, and proceeding to serious talks to reach a peaceful settlement. However, we differed on the question of the circumstances under which the bombing could be stopped, and what we mean by moving to serious talks. On the first point, they were familiar with the President’s emphasis on his concern in what will happen in the area of the DMZ. This matter had been discussed between Ambassadors Vance and Lau, and we thought that we might not be so far apart since Lau had indicated that if we on our side ended military activity in the DMZ, they “would know what to do.” On the second point, we stated that we had continually made it definite that we could not have serious talks about the political future of South Viet-Nam without the inclusion of representatives of the GVN. This is a must. We were prepared to have them include the NLF or others on their side. However, we could have bilateral talks on bilateral subjects such as future relations between our two countries which they had previously raised.
We also mentioned the President’s statement of August 19, “This administration does not intend to move further until it has reason to believe that the other side intends seriously to join with us in de-escalating the war and moving seriously towards peace,” and Pham Van Dong’s statement of September 2, “Moreover, in Paris we are raising a very just and well-founded demand which will have a positive effect on the seeking step by step of a political settlement for the Vietnam problem.”2 We suggested discussing their significance.
Le Duc Tho’s monologue then followed. Detailed account reported septel,3 but we think that INR could probably write it without our report.
Comment: Le Duc Tho at the close of meeting stated that he agreed in principle to meet privately “many hours a day and many days a week.” We will know more about the significance of this statement when we see the calendar at next Thursday’s meeting. Our impression is that Tho is under instructions to make sure that we understand Hanoi’s contentions and to avoid giving any impression they are negotiating from weakness. Tho’s offer to hold frequent private meetings, coupled with his underscoring of the importance of secrecy of these meetings may indicate they are preparing for meaningful discussions.4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-September 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis; HARVAN; Plus. Received at 12:26 p.m.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, vol. VI, Document 332, and The New York Times, September 3, 1968.
  3. Telegram 20523/Delto 700 from Paris, September 7. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-September 1968) In a September 8 covering note transmitting a copy of this telegram to the President, Rostow wrote: “Nothing new except the full text of Tho’s diatribe.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN Paris Todel-Paris Delto XII, 9/1-13/68)
  4. In a September 10 memorandum to Rusk, in which he summarized the individual assessments of delegation members, Holbrooke noted that “the Delegation believes that Tho is leading up to something new.” (Ibid., HARVAN Misc. & Memos, Vol. VI, 8/68-9/68)