94. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassies in Vietnam and France1

258607/Todel 1346. Paris for Harriman and Vance.

Saigon 407102 seems to us a masterful argument, and we await the results of your follow-up meeting on Monday.3 Neither we nor Paris have heard from Bui Diem or Lam today, which may suggest that Thanh has been cooled off on use of other channels.4
If Thieu should remain unwilling to commit himself to GVN attendance in the event of an affirmative reply from Hanoi, we would have to consider other forms of appeal, and would want Saigon recommendations on next steps.
We are not quite clear on one point from Saigon reports, and that is whether Thieu has been told of the 2-3 day possibility having been presented to Hanoi. Time interval does seem to be his main problem, and it occurs to us that the interval could be presented as a useful time for him to get his delegation in place and for us to go over the procedural problems with his first team on the ground. (Indeed, we are inclined to view it in this light ourselves.) In any case, Thieu’s public remarks about not knowing all that we do seem to require extra care (as well as possible mild rebuke).
On the procedural points raised in Saigon 40761,5 we would like Paris comments soonest. Our own thoughts on a few points are:
Seating arrangements should certainly keep only two sides to the table. Indeed, one thought would be two separate rectangular tables [Page 267] facing each other, or a single table consisting of two parts put together on a lengthwise axis.
On positions at the table, the most convenient would surely be each of us equidistant from the center on our side, with staff on either side of each principal. But perhaps it would be better to start with the principals side by side in the center, minimizing any physical appearance of the GVN “opposite” to the NLF.
Name: can we not stick to “Paris Talks” through thick and thin?
The question of responses to questions on the status of the NLF is indeed a serious one. We would welcome Paris comments for further work here tomorrow.
One point we do pick up from Thieu’s press conference6—that if anyone “on the NVN delegation” purported to speak “as a representative of the NLF”, he would be invited to leave. This is, of course, quite unrealistic and would need to be shot down at some point. We leave it to Bunker whether to raise it at this stage in Saigon. Obviously, the NLF man will claim to represent the NLF and will probably say a lot about what a fine, upstanding group they are; the point is that we need not reply or indeed address ourselves to him.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Secret; Immediate; Nodis/HARVAN Double Plus. Drafted by Bundy and approved by Read.
  2. Telegram 40710 from Saigon, October 20, transmitted Bunker’s report of his meeting with Thieu. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, HARVAN/DOUBLE PLUS, Vol. II)
  3. October 21.
  4. In telegram 258566 to Wellington, October 19, repeated to Canberra and Saigon, the Department expressed concern over Thanh’s comments to Australian and New Zealand representatives in which he expressed strong GVN objections to the inclusion of the NLF in the expanded meetings. The telegram noted that Bunker would “be making the strongest possible representations against such recourse to third nations on a matter already worked out fully between GVN and USG.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968)
  5. In telegram 40761 from Saigon, October 20, the Embassy transmitted recommendations for dealing with procedural difficulties. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I)
  6. In a televised speech on October 19, Thieu stated that the DRV had made no concessions that would lead to a bombing halt and noted his opposition to the presence of the NLF at the peace table. See The New York Times, October 19, 1968. In telegram 40649 from Saigon, October 19, Bunker noted: “While we were annoyed by our first reports of his press conference, and would have preferred there be no conference at all, our irritation was largely due to the interpretative paragraphs of the wire services rather than to Thieu’s own remarks. They were designed mainly for local consumption, and were not due to any fundamental differences of principle between us. Obviously what is irritating is that whole of the subject should be aired at a time when we are trying to keep it very quiet.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Memos to the President/Bombing Halt Decision, Vol. I [1 of 3]) In notes taken during an October 21 meeting with Carver, Nitze recorded: “Why did Thieu over-react? Running up warning flag showing how quickly he cld. move. Signal to Bunker that he as far forward as tolerable. Thieu lost face. Unfortunate in timing. Caused Ky to dig in his heels. Might generate threat which didn’t previously exist.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Nitze Papers, Defense Department, Deputy Secretary of Defense, Notes 1968, 6 of 6) A CIA memorandum to Rostow and Rusk forwarded by the CIA’s Deputy Director of Plans, Thomas Karamessines, October 21, cited an intelligence source who suggested that despite the “unfortunate propaganda” of Thieu’s statement, “both Ky and Thieu are willing to settle for an NLF presence at Paris so long as the GVN does not appear to be placed on an equal footing with the Front.” (Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79-207A, Deputy Director of Operations, Folder 1)