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


Our Side/Your Side Formula.

Saigon 406272 reporting Thanh’s remarks on this subject has been followed, predictably, by approaches from Bui Diem here (septel)3 and Lam in Paris (Paris 22652).4 Needless to say, we share the grave concern expressed by Paris in its 22632 and 22624,5 and agree that we cannot open up the fundamentals of the formula at this stage or, above all, be in position of not having the GVN ready to come to the table if we get a definite date for meeting from the DRV.
Equally obviously, we cannot hope to straighten this out by further conversations with GVN representatives in Paris and here. We are unable to figure out whether putting Bui Diem and Lam into orbit has [Page 246] been Thanh’s personal private idea (compare his calling in the TCC representatives) or reflects serious concerns held by Thieu himself. In any case, we believe the only way this matter can be straightened out is through direct and frank talk between Ambassador Bunker and Thieu, if necessary with Thanh present.
Key points to be made at this talk, with supporting argument as you see fit, should be:
The arrangement proposed in Paris and apparently accepted in principle by the North Vietnamese does not in any way provide that the NLF is being recognized as “a separate entity.” We believe that, just as the organization of our side is up to us, so we have to leave it to the other side to determine its own composition.
To attempt to define the status of the GVN or the NLF—and especially any attempt to get Hanoi to agree to a higher status for the GVN than for the NLF—is plainly doomed to failure.
This is why we have all along made clear that we did not expect to define the status but simply to agree on the fact of participation. (Indeed, from a legal standpoint we are not “recognizing” even the DRV by sitting down and talking with it.) As Ky summed up consensus of his colleagues at 6th consultative meeting, “as practical men we must accept” our side/your side formula. The fact of participation, with no recognition implied in either direction, has been made abundantly clear to the Hanoi representatives in the Paris talks.
On this record, there can be no question of the GVN failing to appear at substantive talks when and if a date is set. For them to take this position would be most harmful to US/GVN relations and to the standing of the GVN in the US and elsewhere. It would only dramatize the NLF and play right into Hanoi’s hands. There can be no doubt whatsoever that GVN participation under “your side/our side” formula is bitter pill for DRV to swallow linked as it is to bombing cessation.
This is of course the central point to get across, together with getting the issue back into Thieu’s personal hands. At the same time, we would suppose that Thieu’s (or Thanh’s) concern rests on political reactions that may have been received since they started talking about the possible arrangement both among themselves and with Assembly leaders. To allay these concerns as much as we can without losing the essence of the presently possible arrangement, we believe Bunker could go forward at this session to express our willingness to discuss the actual physical arrangements at any time. In our judgment, this had best be done in Paris where the physical layout is familiar. But Bunker could tell Thieu that we were prepared to pursue this question of detail in either Paris or Saigon, provided of course that it was clearly understood the discussion would have to be tentative and could not affect the fundamental attendance of the GVN.
Another possibility is that we might be prepared to consult now about subjects on which we would expect the GVN to take a leading role. We of course continue to reject the idea that there would be any single designated spokesman, but we do envisage that we would consult extremely closely with the GVN on what each of us would say on any given topic, and that as a practical matter there might well be a division of labor with one or the other taking the lead on specified topics.
We recognize, at the same time, that for us to get into either physical arrangements or the question of topics may have just the opposite effect to the one we are seeking. Moreover, we could get painted into a corner, particularly on the topics. We leave it to Bunker after checking with Paris whether to open up either one, or both, of these “safety valves.” If there were to be a discussion on who would lead on particular topics, we have many thoughts available here and shared in staff paper being cabled separately to Saigon, but we would need to be very careful indeed, and it might be much better to wait until they have a first-class delegation in Paris, and can go over the whole thing there.
  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 Rostow and Read, and approved by Rusk. Repeated to Paris as Todel 1324 for Harriman and Vance.
  2. Document 87.
  3. See footnote 1, Document 89.
  4. In telegram 22652/Delto 850 from Paris, October 18, the delegation reported that Lam had stated that “he did not believe that his Foreign Minister understood the our side-your side formulation” and that Lam apparently was “exercised” about both not being kept informed by and not having received instructions from his government. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-Outgoing)-October 1968)
  5. Both dated October 18. (Ibid.)