117. Memorandum of Conversation1




  • Vietnam


  • US
    • Secretary Rusk
    • Mr. Emmett B. Ford, Jr.
  • Italy
    • Foreign Minister Fanfani
    • Italian Ambassador to the US Fenoaltea
    • Italian Ambassador to the United Nations Vinci
[Page 243]

The Secretary remarked that we have been in frequent contact with the other side about Vietnam but there had been no indication of interest in negotiations. We believe that, while Moscow would like to see the matter come to the conference table, Peiping is 1,000 percent opposed. Hanoi is somewhere in between, but unwilling to act independently.

Fanfani advised the Secretary that the Italians had recently received reports that Hanoi was somewhat more disposed to negotiate, possibly without the expressed approval of Peiping. The Italians had gathered that Hanoi was troubled by the degree of their subordination to Peiping. As an example, a new Foreign Minister, believed to be a close friend of the Chinese Communists, has been appointed in Hanoi. Although this move might be a concession to Peiping, it might work also out the other way around. It is just possible that Ho Chi Minh might be trying to put this man in a difficult position and thereby achieve somewhat more autonomy for North Vietnam. Certainly some observers have commented that the North Vietnamese might now be much less adamant on negotiations than before.

The Secretary remarked in this connection, that he would be interested to know if Gromyko would even be willing to discuss such negotiations in the UN. Gromyko would not even discuss the subject with him in Vienna.

Fanfani explained that the information to which he had referred was from Hanoi rather than from Moscow. Before leaving Rome he had requested that the information and sources be checked out. He said that he mentioned it only as one slight indication of the desire of Hanoi for more autonomy.

The Secretary said that the North Vietnamese should be very careful on this point. If the fighting goes on, regardless of what transpires between China and the United States, North Vietnam will be destroyed.

Fanfani wondered whether the present slowing down of military operations in Vietnam might be the only way open to the North Vietnamese to indicate their desire for conciliation without the approval of Peiping.

The Secretary said that this may come, but that we have not ourselves noticed any such indication. The Secretary expressed interest in any information which the Italians might develop along this line.

Fanfani admitted that the Italians have no direct contact with the North Vietnamese. He said they are keeping their eyes and ears open and that they would pass along to the United States any information which they could obtain.

The Secretary told Fanfani that President Johnson had recently issued two very important instructions: 1) Secretary McNamara was to take all steps necessary to insure that the other side would experience no military success in South Vietnam between now and January, 2) Secretary Rusk was to take any political steps necessary to reach a peaceful settlement between now and January.

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The Secretary said he interprets this to mean the following: When Congress convenes in January, we shall be at the end of a small war. Either we shall have peace or we shall have to do a great deal more than we are doing now.

Fanfani remarked that the period from now until December is considered decisive even by Hanoi. This may be because of the events in Hanoi which have already been mentioned.

Fanfani said that he would like to inquire, with the utmost tact and with no intention of compromising the United States, or Italy, whether he could pursue further any reports of an inclination on the part of Hanoi to negotiate.

The Secretary said that he would give Fanfani the text of a recent statement which he had made on television.2 A statement which was aimed at Hanoi. In this statement he had attempted to deal with the issues raised by Hanoi under the Four Points.3 The Secretary pointed out that there had been numerous contacts with Hanoi but that it is impossible to know through which channel they will ultimately respond. The Secretary felt that this statement would give Fanfani a clear indication of our attitude on negotiations.

Fanfani assured the Secretary that until the present the Italians have hesitated to take any step which might weaken the position of the United States. The worst mistake which could be made, in his opinion, would be to give the impression of negotiating from an appearance of weakness. He believed this was especially true during the monsoon season.

The Secretary said that this was not so important now. With all our troops and firepower in the field, we are not so worried.

Fanfani replied that since we could now negotiate from a position of strength it affords us a better opportunity to see what can be done through diplomacy. He wished to make clear, however, that: 1) the Italians don’t wish to compromise the United States or themselves in any way; 2) they will pursue their inquiries on a discreet basis and only in an exploratory way; and 3) they don’t wish to participate in negotiations, but only to act as a friend and an ally.4

The Secretary said that the big question is whether Hanoi is prepared to come to the conference table without the consent of Peiping. Will Hanoi have the courage to come to the conference table with [Page 245] Chinese troops on the ground? If they have, the Secretary stated that he would be willing to leave for Geneva tomorrow to meet with them.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Italy, Vol. 3. Secret; Exdis. The memorandum bears no indication of the drafting officer; it was approved in S on October 15. It is Part I of IV; Parts II-IV are ibid. The meeting was held at the Waldorf Towers.
  2. For text of Rusk’s September 7 interview with Belgian television, see Department of State Bulletin, September 27, 1965, pp. 512-514.
  3. Reference is to the North Vietnamese Four-Point formula presented April 8.
  4. [text not declassified] (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Italy, Vol. 3)