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

22579/Delto 840. 1. In accordance with authorization contained in State 256063,2 we met with Xuan Thuy and Ha Van Lau for 1-1/4 hours, including tea, morning Oct. 17. National Assembly Deputy Nguyen Minh Vy, two notetakers and an interpreter were also present on their side; Negroponte on ours.

2. We said that since we had last met we had further confirmed that there had been a real misunderstanding as the timing of the next meeting after the cessation of bombing. Our government had assumed that the DRV side’s suggestion to meet one day after the cessation of bombing would apply to any meeting, including a meeting at which representatives of the GVN and the NLF would be present. We said that our government had been reassured by the DRV side’s expression of willingness to meet the day after a bombing cessation. And we had further assumed that the DRV had already communicated with the NLF and received its agreement to meet at an early date, in fact the day after the cessation of bombing.

3. We said it therefore came as a real surprise to us when Thuy had not been able to say when we would meet. Having explained the misunderstanding, we said that the question of meeting the day after the cessation of bombing was not as rigid as we had originally indicated [Page 234] it would be. But our government must have a fixed date for a meeting after the cessation and, if the DRV side gives us a fixed day for the meeting, we could assure them that the bombing would stop two or three days before that date. We said we were going into this detail so that there won’t be a misunderstanding in Hanoi. It would be a tragedy if further misunderstandings should occur in respect to this matter.

4. We said we hoped that Thuy would communicate what we had said to his government in extenso.

5. Thuy said that at the time of our October 15 meeting3 the DRV had not known whether the US would stop the bombing if the DRV agreed to GVN participation and they had not arranged with the NLF a definite schedule for a meeting. We said that this fact contributed to the misunderstanding.

6. Thuy said that previously we had told the DRV side that the bombing would stop 24 hours before a fixed date for a meeting between the four parties. Now we say that it would be two or three days. Therefore, Thuy said, there is not much difference between the two proposals. We disputed this. We said what our government wants to know is that there will be a meeting and that it will be held promptly—two or three days after the bombing is stopped. There does not seem to us to be any reason for delay.

7. Thuy said that on October 16 he had communicated to Hanoi in extenso the memorandum we had handed to him at the tea break.4 Thuy said that after receiving our memorandum he was afraid that Hanoi’s views might change. What would be the nature of this change? As Thuy had said yesterday at the tea break, whenever the NLF steps up its attack against US positions in South Vietnam, the US clamors that the NLF is launching attacks while talks are going on in Paris; and when there is a “relative lull” the US says the NLF is weak and cannot attack. At these conversations, Thuy continued, the United States says that the DRV side has no good will, but when the DRV shows good will, then the United States raises another demand. This, Thuy said, was what he thought might be Hanoi’s attitude. That is, the US will raise more and more conditions. However this morning we had given further explanation and Thuy said he would report it.

8. We asked if we had made ourselves plain. We had always assumed that there would be a prompt meeting, whereas the impression was created that we might have to wait a week for a meeting. This [Page 235] would create an intolerable situation. A prompt meeting is important as a symbol of progress and good faith on all sides.

9. Lau said he had a few questions. At the tea break yesterday, after receiving our memorandum, Xuan Thuy had expressed some views and, Lau said, he felt that those views have great importance because they deal with the substance of the question. The United States request that the DRV fix a date for a meeting before the cessation of bombing is a conditional one which runs counter to the United States affirmation that it accepts the unconditional cessation of bombing. Xuan Thuy had said on October 16 that he would report our views to Hanoi, including our memorandum.

10. Secondly, Lau continued, this morning we had had some additional word about the date of a meeting. We had also confirmed the existence of misunderstanding. Lau said that the DRV side will report this to Hanoi but personally he would like to say that the question of substance is the question of reciprocity. This matter had not been changed much by what we had said today. It is only a difference of a few days, and there is always reciprocity involved in the cessation of bombing. Lau asked to have our views on what Thuy had said yesterday, because, if there is a misunderstanding, it has still not been cleared up.

11. We replied we wanted to make clear that the misunderstanding is in Hanoi’s mind and not in Washington’s. We had both always accepted the fact that prompt and serious talks would follow the cessation of bombing. Our government had thought the definition of “prompt” to be one day because the DRV side had said that serious talks could take place one day after the cessation of bombing. Then we had had long discussions about the meaning of serious talks, and we had made clear that such talks must include representatives of the GVN. We had come to an agreement on the definition of “serious,” but now there was a misunderstanding on the meaning of “prompt.” We said it is very important for all to see evidence of good will and progress in these talks. We said we wished to repeat that we do not consider the question of holding a meeting promptly as a condition or reciprocity, but rather an indication of good faith on the part of the parties in moving to serious talks.

12. Thuy said that he would report our additional views to Hanoi immediately. He then said he had some additional questions for clarification. First, if the United States stops the bombing, how will the question of arranging for four-sided talks be dealt with? There are a number of questions in this regard which the US and DRV sides must discuss first. For example, the US had said that after the four-party negotiations had begun, there would still be matters of a purely bilateral interest [Page 236] between United States and the DRV. There is also the question of the rank of representation. At the moment Mr. Harriman and Mr. Vance are the personal appointed representatives of the President. Xuan Thuy is the representative of his government and holds the rank of a Minister. Will the US representation remain the same, or will its representation be at the Ministerial level? As for the NLF and the Saigon government, Thuy said, we Don’t know what their level of representation will be either. Will they be the same as that of the US and DRV, or will they simply be called representatives?

13. We replied that we were the personal representatives of the President and we would remain as such when serious talks began. There would be no change. We said we were already holding talks with Thuy holding the rank of Minister, and we were acting as personal representatives of the President. We said we didn’t think this was an important matter. We added, of course, that if we did not conclude a settlement before January 20, we could not speak for the new President.

14. Thuy said then the DRV can take it that Harriman and Vance will represent the U.S. at the four-party conference. We replied affirmatively. We said we accepted that there will be matters of purely bilateral interest, and we have indicated in the past that we would be willing to continue private discussions with the DRV side on such questions. The plenary sessions, however, would include the four parties. The DRV side should recall that during the Laos conference Harriman had met privately with Pushkin almost every other day and Sullivan used to meet with Lau. Those kinds of meetings should be held as frequently as needed.

15. We then adjourned for a cup of tea during which they showed considerable interest in miracle rice and other Western technical developments.

  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. Received at 1:06 p.m. In a covering note transmitting a copy of this telegram to the President, October 17, 2:15 p.m., Rostow wrote: “Herewith Harriman’s and Vance’s report on their meeting to get a date set for the quadripartite talks. It is not until para. 11 that they get our basic propositions stated straight.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [2 of 3]) In a memorandum to the President, October 17, 9:15 a.m., Rostow discussed a telephone report from Vance on this meeting, describing it in the following manner: “Pursuant to authority granted them, Cy met this morning with Thuy. He made the point that the concept of meeting ‘the next day’ was Thuy’s—not ours. What was essential from our point of view was that a date certain be set. If, for example, a date for the meeting was set on Monday, we were prepared to stop the bombing two or three days before. Vance found the subsequent conversation interesting. Thuy virtually admitted there was a split in Hanoi. There were some, he said, who argued that this was ‘reciprocity.’ Thuy indicated that he was arguing in the other sense. Lau joined the conversation and indicated to Vance how the hardliners make their arguments. It is now Harriman’s and Vance’s view that the earliest we can get a response is Saturday, and we will probably not get a response until Monday. Their case is based on day’s rest for Tho, upon his return to Hanoi, plus some debating in the politburo in Hanoi.” (Ibid.)
  2. Document 82.
  3. See Document 74.
  4. See Document 76.