28. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

3027/Delto 1412. Following is an uncleared memorandum of conversation subject to review by the President and the Secretary. When cleared, we suggest it be repeated to AmEmbassy Saigon.

Meeting in Lodge’s office with the following present: The President, Vice President Ky, Ambassador Lam, the Secretary of State, Ambassador Lodge, Ambassador Walsh and Dr. Kissinger.
The conversation was cordial. The President drew out Vice President Ky as to the relationships between the Government of Viet-Nam and the United States in connection with the Viet-Nam negotiations, and also requested his evaluation as to the training and supplying of the South Vietnamese armed forces by the US, South Vietnamese morale, North Vietnamese morale, and the impact of the recent Tet offensive as it compared with the 1968 Tet offensive.
Vice President Ky responded that the GVN had confidence in the US approach to the Vietnamese negotiations. He also thought there was a greater comprehension by each government of the aims and plans of the other.
He also felt that the people of South Viet-Nam, as a result of the improved relationships, had a greater confidence not only in the United States but in the Government of Viet-Nam as well. The calm response to the Tet offensive increased this confidence.

With respect to the training and equipping of the ARVN so that it would ultimately take over full responsibility for the protection of South Viet-Nam, he felt that the United States had been slow in providing this training and equipment.

For example, it was only last year that the ARVN was given M–16 rifles. He felt there was still a great deal to be accomplished in this regard. As an illustration, he said that the GVN had authorized an increase in its air force from 11,000 to 40,000, but that it would be many months and even years before it could raise the money and train the necessary personnel.

As to North Vietnamese morale, he felt that although Ho Chi Minh claimed that they would be able to fight for 20 years, that he felt [Page 85] they really were being hurt badly and that they could not absorb this degree of punishment indefinitely. He said that they were not only out-matched as to fire power, but that the GVN could now out-match them as regards mobility.
In comparing the Tet offensive of 1969 to that of 1968, he felt that both sides were better prepared this year. Because of the enemy’s better preparation, his casualties were considerably less than in 1968, but that, on the other hand, due to the better preparation of the GVN and its allies, the actual ground attacks on the cities did not occur. He felt that in the case of both Tet offensives, it was the GVN and allies who scored clear military victories, but that the enemy did score a psychological victory in 1968 because it so surprised the GVN and the friendly forces, and he indicated it may have even scored another psychological victory this year outside of South Viet-Nam.
After [garble] minutes, Kissinger made the move to go so that the President and Ky could talk alone, with Lodge taking the notes. The conversation was as follows:
The President said that the negotiations would be long and hard, and that there must be mutual trust between the Americans and the South Vietnamese. He asked Ky to tell Thieu that Thieu could trust the President. The Vietnamese should realize that American public opinion is very difficult and that many did not understand the war. The President said, however, that he was one who knew why we had gone to war in Viet-Nam, that he admired the great sacrifices which had been made and that he understood why there could not be a so-called “coalition.”
“The Ambassador and I think alike,” the President said. He added that he hoped Ky could convince his colleagues that we can be trusted. “We are not,” he said, “going to double-cross you.”
The President then said he wished to bring up another subject: He said he thought it would be “very clever” if Ky could make an offer to talk to the Viet Cong. “We Americans,” he said, “must never talk with them except in the presence of the South Vietnamese. But if you make the offer and they say no, we score a point.” And, he added, “if they were to say yes,” Ky would know how to talk and what to say. The President asked Lodge for his opinion and Lodge said this would be the most positive single step which our side can take at this time. The President said it would be really a “smart move.”
In reply, Ky said, “I have twice said that I am ready. I have sent private people as recently as during last week, but in view of the President’s expression of interest, I will try again.”
The President said there must be no doubt that Ky had made the move. Ky estimated that the Viet Cong would refuse to talk to the GVN.
In reply to a query from the President, Lodge and Ky explained that the Viet Cong constantly talk to the French, believing that they can reach the Americans by talking to the French and then have the French talk to the Americans. This was one reason. Undoubtedly there were others. As long as they think such things, they will not feel like talking with the South Vietnamese. Finally, the President urged Vice President Ky to make his move “in a clear-cut way.”
The President then asked Ky for his views on military strategy. Ky said that our side must continue our military pressure, and that the Americans can reduce the number of troops without there being a big change. He said we could pull out some United States troops and replace them by Vietnamese and all would be the same. It was, he thought, important to continue the present military pressure.
The President asked why Ky thought about the argument2 that we must convince them that we want to de-escalate. Ky thought this was not necessary.
When the time came to go, the President spoke of his “deep affection” for the Vietnamese people. He added, “we honestly are your friends.” He added that we must bring this war to an end, and that he didn’t want the United States, as regards Viet-Nam, to go the way of the French.
Ky stressed the need for a “lasting settlement”—not a cease-fire in which “the killing will continue.” “The enemy,” he said, “are convinced they cannot win. They are ready to negotiate, but a delay of five to six to eight months is possible.”
While the President met Vice President Ky alone (see above), Ambassador Lam asked Secretary Rogers whether General de Gaulle has passed on any private message for the US from the other side. The Secretary said that he knew of no such message but that if one came to us this way, we would certainly inform the GVN. The Secretary added that the French believed that the US and the NLF should have bilateral meetings. The Secretary assured Ambassador Lam that the USG would never meet with the NLF without the GVN being present. Ambassador Lam said that the Secretary’s responses satisfied and reassured him.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, EAP/ACA Files: Lot 70 D 47. Secret; Immediate; Nodis; Paris Meetings; Plus. A stamped notation reads: “Mr. Bundy has seen”; a handwritten note reads: “3/4 W[illiam]PB[undy] had repeated to Saigon with revision in septel.”
  2. At this point in the sentence, the following handwritten addition was added: “made by some that negotiations would move along faster if we”. The revised sentence as sent to Saigon reads: “The President asked what Ky thought about the argument made by some that negotiations would move along faster if we convince them that we want to de-escalate.”