98. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France1

259261/Todel 1359. For Harriman and Bunker from the Secretary.

I have just seen Dobrynin to bring him up-to-date on the October 21 meeting in Paris.2 I reviewed the discussion with regard to a joint written communiqué, the problem as between a “Four Party Conference” and a “your side-our side meeting,” the question of timing for an initial meeting and the Hanoi suggestion that preparatory meetings should discuss procedural matters and the agenda.

To my surprise, I discovered that Dobrynin had reported inaccurately my earlier conversation with him about the possibility of stopping the bombing two or three days before an established date for a meeting. I had said to him that, for example, if a meeting is set for a Monday we might be able to stop the bombing on the preceding Friday or Saturday. He said that he had reported to Moscow that if the bombing were stopped on Monday there could be a meeting on Friday or Saturday. This may be partly responsible for the retreat by Thuy to “a week.” Dobrynin said he would immediately straighten out that misunderstanding.

I pointed out to Dobrynin that everyone in this situation has many formal or procedural preoccupations on such questions as status, recognition, for whom individual representatives might speak, etc. I said that, although we ourselves have a good many formal problems, our approach has been to brush all those aside in order to come to grips with the substance of making peace. I pointed out that we could spend weeks or months discussing such questions without touching substance. We have made a good beginning by having actual discussions go on between the USG and the DRV in which technical questions have been subordinated. We meet regularly without place names or flags and alternate the privilege of speaking first. These talks have been serious and we see no reason why enlarged serious talks could not proceed on the same basis. As for an agenda, we hope to avoid months of debate about the adoption of a formal agenda. Each side has said that any question which anyone wishes to raise can be discussed. When it is our [Page 274] time to speak first, we can raise any questions on our minds. When the other side speaks first, they can do the same. There is no need to go through time consuming debates of the types that are all too familiar in diplomatic history. What is important is that those most directly concerned sit down under informal circumstances and talk about peace, even though each representative present might have radically different views about the formal and procedural questions.

I strongly underlined the timing factor and told Dobrynin that Thuy began by saying that the NLF had indicated that “as soon as possible” could mean a few weeks. I repeated Harriman’s comment that one week was too long. I repeated the suggestion that the first meetings might be with temporary representatives who could be replaced by more permanent representatives at a later stage.

For Harriman:

If I may say so, you handled the meeting on October 21 very well indeed. My own reaction is that it would be a mistake for us to become embroiled in negotiating such matters as a joint communiqué, the procedures of a “Four Party Conference” and an agreed complete agenda. The opportunities for delay are unlimited. We are in a much stronger position to say that we should brush all such questions aside and get down to “serious talks” on the substance of peace on the basis of forms and procedures already established in the Paris talks.

Further, I don’t see how we can very well expect to negotiate what the various parties will say about it. Each has his own problems and points of view and requirements in managing his own situation. Such agreements would, in any event, break down promptly because there would be no control over what is said and we would already have taken the major public step of stopping the bombing. Another cable takes up some of these questions.3

We shall be discussing these matters further at the Tuesday lunch-eon4 and we expect to have further comments at that time.

Hopefully, Thuy was merely trying to see whether he could get a few more drops out of the turnip and is in position to go further than he indicated in your Monday meeting. Obviously, his effort to establish a formally acknowledged status for the NLF runs head on into the central question which we have not only with Saigon but with other allies, quite apart from our own similar views on the matter.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, A/IM Files: Lot 93 D 82, HARVAN-(Outgoing)-October 1968. Secret; Nodis/HARVAN Double Plus. Drafted and approved by Rusk and cleared by Read. Repeated to Saigon.
  2. See Document 95.
  3. See Document 107.
  4. See Document 103.