20. Letter From the Head of the Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks on Vietnam (Lodge) to President Nixon 1

Dear Mr. President:

This is in reply to Henry Kissinger’s instruction to me yesterday raising certain questions in connection with your visit to the US Delegation to the Paris Talks on Sunday, March 2.

I suggest that we meet in the plexiglass “tank” here which is believed to be completely secure, and that those present be: The President, the Secretary of State, Henry, myself, Ambassador Walsh, Ambassador Green, and Mr. Habib.2

I suggest that Mr. Habib present the current situation here as regards the talks; that I then list the points of special interest to you, notably the decisions confronting you; and that then Ambassador Walsh and Ambassador Green be called on for comments. Undoubtedly you, the Secretary, and Henry will wish to ask questions. As you leave the “tank” I would like to present the other members of the Delegation, beginning with General Weyand, who has just arrived.

The decisions confronting you are, as I see them, as follows:


That I be authorized to request private talks with the other side. Private talks are the only way to move ahead. The public talks which we have had so far are used by the other side entirely for propaganda for the world press. Incidentally, I think your guidance here has been good and that we have done quite well in public. But I see no possibility that the other side will engage in substantive negotiations in public.

If the private talks are to achieve their purpose and lead to substantive negotiations, we must improve our negotiating posture.

I therefore further recommend:


That the President instruct General Wheeler and General Abrams to find ways drastically to reduce US military deaths in Viet-Nam as an essential measure to get the US into a strong negotiating position. We must assume that if, by about next August, US military deaths in Viet-Nam are still at the present figure of about 200 per week, public opinion may well become quite wild and erratic. At the least, there will be a strong demand to hurry. Undoubtedly the North Vietnamese think this too and are prepared to wait us out. To be in a [Page 66] hurry when your opponent is not puts one in a very weak negotiating position.

Clearly this recommendation may, militarily speaking, entail a slowing of the pace and a lessening of the goals.

Drastic reduction in the number of US deaths is thus the first of two recommendations aimed at getting the US into a good negotiating position.


My other recommendation to improve our negotiating posture is that, in the negotiations, we follow a policy of great activity and be ready to make fresh proposals and contribute new ideas, initially in private meetings. Otherwise, the initiative will tend to pass to the other side here and, eventually, to the domestic critics at home. If the other side negotiates with us in good faith, so much the better. But if they turn everything down and make it clear that they have come here to win a victory rather than to negotiate, we will have strengthened our negotiating position and, by what we say in public, will have recreated justification for our presence in Viet-Nam.

Your tactics in the first three meetings in Paris have been a good beginning. We have been concrete and terse, and they have been abusive and verbose. The newspapermen think that we are ahead as far as the psychological battle is concerned. But this cannot last.

I think the North Vietnamese have twin hopes: That about next August our will will crumble because of American deaths and because the American public will see no justification for our being in Viet-Nam. They hope that the collapse of our will will bring about a corresponding collapse in the willpower of the South Vietnamese. Then we will be in really big trouble.

If you bring about a sweeping reduction in the American military deaths and provide evidence by your tactics here that we have the constructive ideas and that they are merely trying to use the talks to achieve victory, the entire situation here would change and would start moving in our favor.

The President will have to make a decision on withdrawal of troops, the Manila formula,3 unilateral and mutual withdrawals, etc.

As we hold secret talks, we will face the problems of withdrawal of troops on the one hand and a political arrangement in Saigon on the other. The two would be linked, and there is no harm in linking them if the conditions are right.

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The President may thus eventually become involved in the question of how far our side will have to go in order to bring the Viet Cong into the political life of South Viet-Nam. You have already wisely stated that we would not try to impose a so-called “coalition government” on South Viet-Nam and that idea seems to be quite dead. There is a wide range of other ideas, some involving the eligibility of erstwhile members of the Viet Cong to vote and hold office, others involving arrangements whereby the present government would continue with some changes. Some proposals are all right; some are very dangerous.

The President should also authorize us to conduct negotiations with Hanoi on the exchange of prisoners of war.

This ends the list of decisions facing the President.

Other matters which could emerge during the negotiations in March and April would be:

  • —Discussion of an inspection and verification force. Having such a force coming entirely from Asia has interesting possibilities which I plan to discuss when you are here.
  • —An attractive possibility, to be used much later on in the negotiations, would be a treaty between North Viet-Nam and South Viet-Nam whereby the North Vietnamese would receive an assured amount of the rice produced in the Mekong Delta. Henry has a paper from me on this.4 There are, of course, other interesting economic ideas.
  • —The apparent Soviet trend to be more openly in harmony with us in East Asia is worth following carefully.

I told Henry that I thought you should receive Vice President Ky if he is here and, if he is not here, that you should briefly receive Ambassador Lam, the head of the South Vietnamese Delegation.

I also advised that you should assume that your living quarters here will contain microphones and would not be a suitable place for your conversations. The offices which we have here are, I believe, secure and you will be well advised to have your conversations concerning Viet-Nam here.

With high and warm regards,

Respectfully yours,

Cabot L.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 182, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks, Vol. II, 2/3–69, Memos and Miscellaneous. Top Secret.
  2. See Document 27.
  3. Announced at the end of the Manila Conference on Vietnam, October 25, 1966, was the so-called “Manila Formula” whereby the United States and allied troops pledged to leave Vietnam 6 months after North Vietnamese troops withdrew, infiltration ceased, and the level of violence in South Vietnam subsided. (Text in Public Papers: Johnson, 1966, pp. 1262–1263.)
  4. Not found.