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

8138. Delto 1800.

The May 31 private meeting with Le Duc Tho was the most significant meeting we have had with the DRV since my arrival here in January.2 It provided the first serious indication from them of what issues particularly interest them and of how they want to proceed.
Herewith we submit our views on the highlights of Tho’s statement at the May 31 meeting and the alternative courses of action open to us.

Part 1—The May 31 Meeting

During the May 31 meeting we made clear to the DRV that our side was ready to negotiate in the “dual track” format, in a quadrilateral format or in some combination of the two approaches, but that the GVN had to participate in the discussions involving the internal affairs of South Vietnam. Tho countered by rejecting secret negotiations involving the GVN at least at this time, in either dual track or quadliteral formats. He appeared very firm.
Tho changed the DRV’s earlier position that the US had to deal directly with the NLF. Now he was saying: the DRV will talk about [Page 233] any issue at any time with the USG. Tho made no bones about the fact that the DRV would negotiate on behalf of the NLF on all matters, including matters relating to the South.
Tho emphasized that he wanted not only to discuss military matters but all matters covered by the 10 points. He agreed that in such discussions either party could raise any matter it desired. The DRV thus wants to discuss with us all aspects of a settlement including the political future of South Viet-Nam. By this Tho does not necessarily mean that he wants to resolve all substantive issues with us but that he wants us to agree that certain matters, such as withdrawals of North Vietnamese forces and political settlement, should be resolved by the Vietnamese parties as envisioned in the NLF’s ten points.
Tho also referred to the fact that the settlement of some questions involved two parties, some involved three parties, and others involved four parties. By this he recognizes that there are matters that concern the GVN and that some time later the GVN will have to be brought in to the discussions. But Tho said he means a reconstituted GVN and not the individuals presently holding high office in Saigon, whom he wishes us to remove.
During the meeting Tho in general restated the DRV’s standard substantive positions in the framework of the 10 points. But he spoke of a cease-fire in what to me was a new way, saying that an agreement on a cease-fire would be signed after a paper had been signed on the matters covered in the 10 points.
Evidently the DRV strategy aims to isolate the present GVN and destroy it. For this reason, Hanoi and the NLF are refusing at this time to meet with the GVN in any form other than the existing meetings at the Majestic. They hope to force us into an unpalatable choice—either negotiating with the DRV and then imposing the resulting settlement on the GVN; or trying to change the nature and composition of the GVN in a manner satisfactory to them so that it becomes a “peace government”. In any case, the DRV strategy seems designed to create U.S./GVN frictions and to increase Thieu’s internal political problems. It also appears to be designed to appeal to U.S. public opinion and to bring growing domestic pressure on the USG.
Tho asked us a number of questions during the meeting, some of them rhetorical. They indicate clearly the direction of DRV will be taking in the future. He asked these questions: (a) Who would organize the elections? (he asked this several times); (b) Does the U.S. agree to the sequence that Tho had outlined, in which in reality the U.S. and the DRV work out a settlement of all problems mentioned in the 10 point program, an agreement is signed, and then an agreement is made for a cease-fire? (Comment: we do not think we should respond to Tho’s suggestion regarding the form of eventual agreements until we have a [Page 234] better idea of what the substance is likely to be); (c) Does the U.S. agree to get rid of the present GVN?

Part 2—Alternative Courses of Action

Herewith are some alternative courses of action:
First, we could reject the proposal made by the DRV in the May 31 meeting and delay any further initiative for private meetings for an indefinite period in an effort to induce them to change their position. We and the GVN could use the plenary meetings to begin laying out the details of our positions and to attempt to draw out the other side on its positions.
Comment: I oppose this alternative. I believe that productive negotiations with the other side can only occur in private sessions. I see nothing on the horizon which would make the DRV change its position for at least several months. We would, accordingly, simply be postponing coming to grips with the issues, thus making progress more difficult.
Second, we could continue private U.S./DRV bilaterals with the sole objective of trying to persuade the DRV to accept GVN participation in private talks. The private meetings would thus be solely procedural. We would sit tight and wait for the other side to change its position.
Comment: I see no advantage in this. I would rather discuss both matters of substance and matters of procedure. I believe we would thus have a better chance of bringing about a changed attitude towards the GVN.
Third, we could tell the DRV at the outset that we are willing to discuss privately with it all subjects of mutual concern but that we cannot discuss political matters in the absence of the GVN since these are questions for the South Vietnamese to decide. On that basis we could then start discussing with the DRV matters we consider to be of mutual interest: Principally mutual withdrawals, but also such matters as the DMZ, POW’s international supervision, etc. The DRV, in turn, could be expected to continue to seek to engage us in a discussion of political questions and to persuade us to accept their manner of proceeding in the private U.S./DRV bilaterals.
Comment: By following this course of action, we will continue to be faced with the same problem that confronts us now. In our judgment, the DRV would not at this time engage in meaningful substantive discussions of military matters with us if we tried to restrict the scope of bilateral discussions at the outset. We would consequently delay productive negotiations for a considerable time.
This brings us to the fourth alternative. We could, without accepting Tho’s proposal, simply continue to hold bilateral U.S./DRV discussions. We would not seek to impose any prior conditions on the subjects to be discussed. Either side could raise anything it wishes. [Page 235] They will want to discuss their 10 points, and we will want to discuss President Nixon’s proposals. In the private talks themselves, we would take no initiative to raise political matters. When the DRV raises such matters, we would respond initially at least with our position that the political settlement is for the South Vietnamese to work out.

Comment: This course of action would not close out the possibility of GVN participation in private talks later.

We would, of course, have to maintain the closest consultation with the GVN both before and after each U.S./DRV meeting: and the positions we take in each meeting would have to be coordinated beforehand with the GVN. We would report to the GVN what the DRV said about political settlement in any particular meeting, and the U.S. and GVN together could then decide on a case by case basis what response, if any, other than the standard one, would be desirable. By consulting with the GVN on our responses to the DRV, we would always have the choice of giving the DRV a joint response at the next private meeting or not replying to Hanoi at all on a given point. If Hanoi pushes us on a political point, we could, if Thieu agrees, always fall back on the statement, “We have informed the GVN”. This is the course of action which we believe opens up the most possibilities at this time for early substantive discussions. Admittedly this proposes a change in procedure which could change the handling of the “political solution.”

Fifth, we could accept Tho’s proposal and engage in bilateral discussion of all substantive questions involved in a settlement, including political matters.
Comment: This course of action seems to us unjustifiable both in terms of sound negotiating tactics and in terms of our relations with the GVN.

Part 3—Analysis

The position which the other side has now taken, and the proposal the DRV put to us in the May 31 meeting, will undoubtedly create difficulties for the GVN. The GVN will see, as we have suggested above, that the DRV tactic is designed to isolate the GVN and to destroy it. And the GVN will be very sensitive to the suggestion that the U.S. should negotiate on its behalf, particularly on matters involving internal political settlement which we have agreed are primarily for the GVN to negotiate. In this connection, we recall Ambassador Lam’s statement to us of his understanding of the GVN position, namely, that there were no matters which did not concern the GVN and that the U.S. should not negotiate any matters without GVN presence. (Paris 8012)3
At the same time, we also have the problem of how to move ahead with negotiations and with smoking out the other side’s positions on the substantive questions. We believe this objective of getting on with early productive talks can be achieved in a way that protects the basic position of the GVN. We think that the fourth course of action outlined above offers the best opportunity for doing this.
Under the fourth alternative, our approach to the negotiations would be to place the principal emphasis on the question of mutual withdrawals. We would seek serious indications that the DRV was willing to move ahead on the question of withdrawal of all non-South Vietnamese troops.
In following the fourth course of action, we would continue in the plenaries and in public statements to criticize the communist refusal to accept Thieu’s March 25 offer to talk bilaterally with the NLF. We would continue our warm support of Thieu’s offer, both publicly and privately, hoping thereby to bring pressure on the other side eventually to accept it. Once the GVN is talking bilaterally, trilaterally or quadrilaterally with the other side, Saigon would, of course, play the principal role in these discussions of internal South Vietnamese matters.
Finally, we should not refuse in advance to hear what the DRV has to say. Not only is it in our interests to hear them, but our refusal to do so would surely become known and we would be in an incomprehensible position.

Part 4—Conclusion

The next step should be concentrated consultations with the GVN. Before GVN/U.S. discussions take place, however, the U.S. Government should determine which course of action we prefer to follow. Our preference should then be explained to the GVN. Meanwhile, we do not believe we should request another private meeting with the DRV until after Midway. Our response to the DRV’s May 31 proposals depends on what we and the GVN decide to do. We would, of course, agree to attend a private meeting if the DRV asks for one.
Since he will have already been briefed on what happened at the May 31 meeting, the question of where we go from here on negotiations will probably be on Thieu’s mind when he comes to Midway.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 177, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Meetings, May–June 1969, State Nodis Cables/Habib Calls. Secret; Priority; Nodis; Paris Meetings; Plus. Repeated to Saigon.
  2. The full report of the private meeting of May 31 is in telegram 8112 from Paris/Delto 1793, May 31. (Ibid.)
  3. Dated May 30. (Ibid.)