82. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France1

256063/Todel 1287. For Ambassador Harriman from the Secretary.

We have been proceeding here on the basis that a cessation of the bombing would be followed immediately by talks in which the GVN would participate. This is not only a fundamental point of policy but it is the only immediate and visible sign that Hanoi has moved at any point. This is a fundamental requirement because otherwise we would be in the position of a unilateral cessation of bombing with nothing in exchange. You have insisted that we not make public points of the DMZ and attacks on the cities because that would offend Hanoi’s attitude toward “conditions.” We have accepted, even though with some misgiving, your view that silence on the part of Hanoi on these two points was an adequate basis on which to proceed, with the clear understanding that we would resume the bombing immediately if we were disappointed.

We must have a day certain for the beginning of the talks in which the GVN is present before we can deliver our part of the arrangement, namely, the cessation of the bombing. A bombing cessation followed by a week or a month’s delay in getting off to serious talks would create an utterly impossible situation both internationally and domestically. Bunker and Thieu simply could not manage the situation in Saigon under such circumstances.

The North Vietnamese Delegation has, according to your reports, said the talks could “begin the next day.” We do not believe that we can abandon this idea on the grounds that this phrase was used at an earlier stage, before Hanoi indicated they would agree to the presence of the GVN and that the talks on the next day would be about the question of representation.

The visibility of the presence of the GVN, again, is the only thing we could point to in connection with the major move by the United States in stopping the bombing. Since the presence of the GVN is utterly fundamental we cannot take our step with ambiguity or delays on this most fundamental point of all. We simply cannot take any risk of being in the position of having to resume the bombing after a few days because we are wrangling about the question of representation.

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You need not adhere rigidly to “the next day” if you can get a date certain within two or three days but we must be able to point to that date at the time of stopping the bombing if we need to.

I went over with Dobrynin last night your talk yesterday and found he completely understood the importance of this point to the President and said he would immediately report it to his government.2 There may be some Russian help behind the scenes on this one.

It seems to me that the simple fact is that we have accepted Hanoi’s proposition, we are prepared to stop the bombing today and we want to know when they will deliver what they have promised to deliver. The object of the Paris talks is not to get the United States to stop the bombing but to move toward peace. The date is now up to Hanoi; we are ready. If Hanoi cannot deliver an NLF Delegation, then we go back to the drawing boards. When Hanoi can deliver an NLF Delegation, we can move.

You and Cy have handled these talks with great skill and we are all anxious, as you are, to move the matter forward. I hope you can overcome this remaining obstacle promptly. Perhaps you should let the Hanoi Delegation know that you are ready for another private meeting just as soon as they have heard from their government.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Incoming)-October 1968. Secret; Flash; Nodis; HARVAN/Double Plus. Drafted and approved by Rusk, and cleared by Bundy and Read.
  2. The record of this discussion is in a memorandum of conversation between Rusk and Dobrynin, October 15. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol I [2 of 3])