93. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam 1

258564. Ref: Saigon 40702 and 40703.2

This supplements septel from Secretary3 and was written before receipt of reftels.

We assume Bunker expects to see Thieu soonest to explain 2-3-day time interval possibility, and to nail down GVN attendance under “your side/our side” formula as previously agreed. On the latter point, we agree with Paris 226734 that exact procedures and how topics will be discussed will be best handled through consultation in Paris. Nonetheless, Bunker should have discretion on making clear our willingness to go into these matters in timely and appropriate fashion.
On joint announcement, Bunker is authorized in accordance with para 4 of Saigon 406775 to proceed on the basis of the text contained in Deptel 258161 dropping clause in para. 2 relating to Honolulu statement for coverage in backgrounder if this doesn’t cause major problems.6 [Page 265] While we recognize the arguments made by Paris, we agree with Saigon 40677 that remaining differences should hardly present serious difficulty to Hanoi. (We must of course all recognize possibility that at some point Hanoi will insist on knowing exactly what we propose to say, but this is implicit in the whole situation and should not affect our clearing the present text with Thieu.)
All of the above are serious and difficult issues requiring earliest possible clarification with Thieu. In addition, we share Paris’s deep concern over the scheduling of a National Assembly debate for Monday in Saigon. Such a debate obviously presents grave dangers, first in respect to what GVN official reps may say as to present situation, and second as to resolutions or expressions from the Assembly that may tie GVN hands or be taken by Hanoi to vitiate positions we have taken in Paris. Our first choice would of course be postponement of debate on the grounds that the situation cannot be properly presented at this stage, and Bunker should make maximum effort to achieve this unless, in his judgment, such action by Thieu would be seriously damaging to over-all position in Saigon.
Failing this, Bunker should seek to go over with Thieu, with great precision, exactly what GVN reps will be saying. It appears that GVN representations to TCC, and possibly Thieu’s representations to his own Cabinet and to others, have depicted the situation in respect to military restraints as one of “hard” agreement by Hanoi—which of course it is not. This could have grave dangers of Hanoi re-opening the status of the record on these matters. Equally, (and from the GVN’s own standpoint) the more they say that there cannot be a cessation without military “guarantees”, the more it will look as if GVN has made a major concession if a cessation is announced without any mention of such “guarantees.” In short, it is a tremendous problem from any standpoint, and we believe must be played by ear to try to get most restrained GVN posture possible.
We agree fully with line Ambassador Bunker proposes to take with Thieu as set forth in reftel which was received after this cable and Secretary’s septel were drafted.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. II. Secret; Priority; Nodis/HARVAN Double Plus. Drafted by Bundy, cleared in substance by Rusk, and approved by Bundy and Read. Repeated to Paris as Todel 1337.
  2. In telegram 40702 from Saigon, October 19, the Embassy reported on a conversation between Berger and Ky regarding the Paris talks. In telegram 40703 from Saigon, October 19, Bunker noted concerns about Thieu’s public discussion of differences with the United States. (Both ibid.)
  3. Document 92. A comment at this point in Rostow’s handwriting reads: “and was written before recpt. reftels.”
  4. In telegram 22673/Delto 851 from Paris, October 19, Harriman and Vance suggested: “We believe it is not desirable to pursue questions of details on procedures in Saigon. Procedures are a subject for negotiation and not to be laid down as conditions for NVN acceptance beforehand, as we fear GVN desires.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. II)
  5. Dated October 19. (Ibid.)
  6. In telegram 258161/Todel 1325 to Saigon and Paris, October 18, the Department transmitted the following text of a proposed joint U.S.-GVN statement: “President Nguyen Van Thieu of the Republic of Viet-Nam and President Lyndon B. Johnson of the United States of America announce that all air, naval, and artillery bombardment on or within the territory of (North Viet-Nam) (the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam) will cease as of (time and place). President Thieu and President Johnson have reached this common decision because they have good reason to believe that North Viet-Nam intends seriously to join them in de-escalating the war and in entering into serious talks on the substance of a peaceful settlement. They therefore have concluded that this step would contribute to progress toward an honorable and secure peace (consistent with the principles expressed in the joint statement of the two Presidents at Honolulu in July 1968). The two Presidents have issued the order to cease bombardment after consultation with the Governments of Australia, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, the Republic of the Philippines, and Thailand.” (Ibid.)