89. Memorandum of Conversation Between the Vietnamese Ambassador (Bui Diem) and the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1

Bui Diem came in today at 4:30, at his request. He said he had two messages from President Thieu.

The first states that disastrous consequences would flow to the morale of the ARVN and South Vietnamese population if the NLF participates in the conference—especially if this participation is in the form of the NLF being a distinct entity from the DRV. Bui Diem went on to explain that such eventuality could have very dangerous repercussions on political stability given the view in the Assembly and in Vietnamese public opinion.

If “the worst” should come and the NLF is included in the North Vietnamese delegation, it will be essential to prevent the enemy from taking advantage of that position and posturing as a distinct entity.

The second message informed Bui Diem that President Thieu is opposing categorically the presence of the NLF at the Paris conference, especially with qualification as a “distinct entity.” It is his feeling that it would be very difficult for the GVN to participate in the conference under those circumstances.

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I began by saying that I understood the problem posed by Saigon, but it distressed me greatly for a simple reason: the Government in Saigon appeared to be approaching the possibilities of such a conference in a spirit of anxiety rather than a spirit of confidence. I said that, of course, the other side would try to blow up the NLF. We would stick firmly to your side-our side in the spirit of what President Johnson and President Thieu had agreed at Honolulu.2 This was not a time to express anxiety and concern. It was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work to see how we handle the conference to our advantage.

It was a time to organize and be prepared to mount against the VC in the South a psychological warfare campaign that would break their morale in the face of the GVN appearance in Paris and the closing of the DMZ.

It was a time to begin to draft a message from President Thieu to the ARVN to tell them what they had already accomplished at the conference table by their performance on the field of battle, and to tell them to stay with it until an honorable peace was won. I said we had been in the foxholes of Vietnam together; that it would be a great stroke of good fortune if we were to be able to work together in the foxholes in Paris, and we should work in diplomacy in the same spirit that we are fighting.

I reminded him that if Hanoi accepts our position, it will be a position that we took from the first day in Paris, and which President Johnson had assured President Thieu he would take. There was every reason in the world for total trust of President Johnson by President Thieu.

I summarized at the end by saying that the problem they posed—of how the NLF was handled by the other side—was a real problem. We should all think about the modalities we would negotiate with the other side before the conference. We should be prepared to handle their inevitable efforts to blow up the NLF. We should be preparing to make the most psychologically and politically out of a break-over in Paris against the VC, and to strengthen the confidence of the people and armed forces of Vietnam. If Hanoi says yes, the whole world will know that Washington and Saigon have won a great victory. The people of Vietnam and their political leaders should act on this assumption in confidence.

When I finished, Bui Diem said, I know and agree with everything you have said. The problem is that President Thieu has not listened to the advice I gave him when I was in Saigon before Honolulu. I begged [Page 245] him then to prepare our political leaders and our people for peace talks. He has made little preparation. And so now they are worried and in some confusion in Saigon with heavy pressures, especially from the Assembly, on Thieu.

He said he would report what I had told him fully as the words of a great and good friend of South Vietnam.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [2 of 3]. Secret; HARVAN Double Plus. The memorandum was sent to Bunker and the Paris delegation in telegram 258305/Todel 1327 to Saigon and Paris, October 18. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968) Bui Diem repeated the same messages in a conversation he had with Bundy that same day. (Telegram 257720 to Saigon and Paris, October 18; ibid.)
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. VI, Document 303.