92. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassies in France and Vietnam1

258563/Todel 1336. From the Secretary.

Ambassador Dobrynin called on me today at his request to transmit informally and orally certain views of his Government on Viet-Nam. He said that his Government had attached “due importance and seriousness” to the information which they have had in the last few days from the USG. He stated that the Government of the USSR is “actively assisting” in the present discussions. He said that it was important not to allow “additional obstacles” to intervene at the pres-ent stage. He made reference to a “concrete day” for the convening of a meeting and seemed to accept our view that the specification of a concrete [Page 262] day was related to the day on which we could stop the bombing.

He then turned to the October fifteen discussion in Paris in which he said Ambassador Harriman had seemed to make a special point of the idea of a two-sided discussion rather than a four-sided discussion.2 He said this assumed importance because of the way in which Ambassador Harriman had emphasized the point. He asked for my views.

I told him that it would be most unfortunate if theoretical questions should be allowed to stand as an obstacle to serious talks for the purpose of making peace. We had said that they can have on their side of the table anyone they wish. We have said that we would expect to have on our side of the table the GVN. It is entirely possible that each of those at the table would have a different view as to their status and the underlying theory. We ourselves have been talking with the DRV since April even though we do not recognize their existence. The DRV looks upon the GVN as “puppets” of the United States. The NLF pretends to be the spokesman of the South Vietnamese. I said that these theoretical questions could serve as a prolonged obstacle to the serious business of talking about peace. Such matters could consume as much time as the Palais Rose talks about an agenda. If the talks are carried out as we have suggested, anyone present could make any statements he wished to make, ask any questions he wished to ask and submit any proposals he might wish to submit. We should not let theoretical problems stand in the way of this process. Each would have his own view on such matters.

I asked Dobrynin whether this point had been raised in Moscow or whether it had been raised by Hanoi. He said he did not know. My own assumption is that Hanoi has raised it and that Hanoi may be having some of the same problems with the NLF as we are having with Saigon.

I see no solution to these theological issues other than to let each participant have his own theory.

The President fully concurs in the line which I took with Dobrynin and is deeply concerned about our apparent inability to conduct delicate business among ourselves and with our allies without the types of leaks, speculation and public statements which get in the way of either fighting the war or making peace.

For Paris: The Dobrynin visit may be the channel through which Hanoi raises this issue at this point. If the Hanoi delegation raises it in Paris, the above should give you your guidance for trying to deal with it.

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For Saigon: Obviously, we have as much of a problem with Saigon on theology as we have with Hanoi. It is very important that Saigon not jump the tracks at this late date and move away from the our side-your side formula. Perhaps they gave their earlier consent partly because they did not really expect the eventuality to occur. Nevertheless, the United States cannot let such questions determine our ability to grapple with the serious issues of substance although we know that questions of substance will be difficult to resolve.

We are deeply concerned about the rapid build-up of resistance in Saigon to the course of action we are following in Paris, which we thought we were taking with the agreement of the GVN. The unfortunate delay resulting from Hanoi’s refusal to set a date for “serious talks” plus President Thieu’s most unfortunate recklessness in consulting political leaders far beyond what has been done in the United States, have permitted the South Vietnamese to stimulate themselves over these theoretical issues without having in front of them the advantages of practical steps of de-escalation. Bunker should do everything possible to slow down or reverse the momentum of this build-up of South Vietnamese attitudes including an effort to postpone the legislative debate now scheduled for Monday. Given the present attitude of Hanoi, there is no point in our having a quarrel among ourselves for nothing. Our experience in recent days in consulting allies has been a most unhappy one and will obviously have to be taken into account in future consultations. Hopefully Bunker can get Thieu to cut back on public statements, press conferences, parliamentary debates, at least until we know whether there is anything from Hanoi which even poses a problem. Bundy will be sending Bunker further suggestions along these lines.3

  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 and approved by Rusk and cleared by Read. In a covering note transmitting a copy of the telegram to the President, October 21, 8:30 a.m., Rostow wrote: “You may wish to see exactly how Sec. Rusk reported his conversation with Dobrynin. He suggested that you have this text available.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [1 of 3]) The notation “ps” on the covering note indicates that the President saw the telegram.
  2. See Document 73 and footnote 2 thereto.
  3. Document 93.