85. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

256998. Ref: Saigon 40515 (being repeated Paris); and Saigon 40516 (on which Paris was addressee).2

Referring to points raised in Saigon 40515, highest levels author-ized—and Paris delegation today conveyed—slight modification of our position to effect that, while we still insisted on fixed date for meeting with GVN present before order to cease bombing, cessation could go into effect 2 or 3 days prior to fixed date for meeting. As indicated in draft Presidential remarks, we expect shortly after time of joint announcement of cessation, to make clear that the meeting would in fact take place on the fixed date and with GVN representatives present.
North Vietnamese reaction to modification today in Paris, and tea break conversation yesterday being forwarded to Saigon septels.
We leave it entirely to Bunker’s discretion whether this modification should be clarified expressly to Thieu at this stage. We believe that the really serious point is to establish publicly from the outset that there will be a prompt and definitely fixed meeting at which the GVN will be present.
Related question is of course what we would say in joint announcement. Saigon and Paris comments have been requested and forwarded.
Concerning Thanh’s worries on procedural arrangements, we would appreciate Paris comments to us and Saigon. Our own tentative thinking is that participants should sit on opposite sides of the present table, with GVN and US equidistant from the center on our side and without name plates or flags (to avoid NLF having them). We would suppose it much better if GVN had a single authorized spokesman at each session. But these are preliminary comments to the major points. We tend to share Saigon’s apparent feeling that Thanh is worrying the problem a bit harder than it deserves. But we should try to clarify things in his mind a little, and would therefore welcome Paris comments.
The modalities of the meeting should, in the Secretary’s judgment be informal in character rather than highly rigid from a point of view of protocol. The meeting should be looked upon as an extension of the present talks rather than as the convening of a formal conference. The more formality the more difficulty the United States would have because we have been there and would be sitting with people whose very existence we do not recognize. It might be worth pointing out to Thieu that the greater the formality the greater the status of the NLF. The United States and the GVN derive their own status from their general international position and not from the way in which we have been sitting with the DRV in Paris. The Secretary believes that Thanh should be relaxed but that Harriman should be careful about these arrangements; the result might [must] be something we could all live with.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Secret; Priority; Nodis; HARVAN/Double Plus. Drafted by Bundy, cleared by Read, and approved by Rusk. Repeated to Paris as Todel 1301.
  2. In these telegrams, both dated October 17, the Embassy in Saigon described the procedural discussions in which it was engaged with the GVN. (Ibid.)