204. Message From the Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks to the Department of State1

13617. Subject: Analysis of 150th Plenary.

Xuan Thuy’s presentation at 150th Plenary2 of a general, partly ambiguous, yet uncharacteristically measured formulation on the differing negotiating approaches and the distinction between US and Vietnamese responsibilities in contributing to a political settlement represents, in our judgment, a tactical shift with important substantive implications.
The content of the formulation broke no new ground: it is consistent with DRV contention that the war cannot be ended and democratic freedoms achieved in SVN if the US persists in maintaining the Thieu regime (a point which Thuy made in the form of a rhetorical question during his first additional remark).
Yet there was enough in the formulation, and in the tone Xuan Thuy adopted in presenting it, to make a distinct contrast between previous DRV negotiating ploys, such as the seven points, which played to the US anti-war opinion more than to the administration.3
For the first time in our experience of the plenaries, Xuan Thuy addressed himself to the central substantive issue, the relationship of military to the political questions, in terms which, while they compromised no DRV position and misrepresented the US position with respect to a comprehensive solution, seemed directed less to make polemical points than to suggest that a different basis susceptible to negotiation might be found.
Gone was the familiar moralizing tone, the patronizing manner, the effort to imply that virtue resided exclusively in their position and that the entire burden of policy change rested with the US. In fact, his phrase that “you and we” should reflect further on what he had said today introduced a distinctly new note of modesty and mutuality of obligation in seeking a formula to resolve the differences he defined.
This new posture, the implicit downgrading of the PRG, and the direct way Xuan Thuy addressed his words at Amb. Porter, evidently did not sit well with Madame Binh. In her final remarks she struck a discordant note by condemning the US policy of “aggression and crude intervention” and again proposing the US Delegate study the seven point proposal seriously. To play along with an ostensibly more flexible attitude, however limited, will try Madame Binh sorely.
There were other suggestive features of the DRV presentation, including Nguyen Thanh Le’s carefully uncategoric response to the question whether the Americans still had to accept the principle of tripartite government: “This is an extremely logical and reasonable solution which is approved by all men of goodwill throughout the world.”
All of this is no doubt an adroit, and overdue, tactical adjustment taking into account such factors as Soviet representations, the Chinese aspect, and the need to set a constructive tone for resumed private exchanges. It would be designed to keep DRV options open while awaiting the turn of events in Saigon and on the battlefield and assessing further how US political developments could be exploited.
Nevertheless, such a tactial shift could have substantive implications for settlement, and it is that which will require the most careful exploration.
The accentuation of US/GVN divisions, of course, is a major aim of this changed posture, and we will have to consult with the GVN most closely in handling this tactic. Phong today expressed worry that implicit differences over NVN withdrawal, cease-fire, and eight points vs. May 8 proposals4 would come to the surface as fighting continued.
In sum, Xuan Thuy’s new instructions, tactical and limited as they may be, seem to foreshadow a different, more complicated and crucial phase of both the semi-public and the private talks. Whatever the balance of eventual advantage to the adversaries, Xuan Thuy’s performance at the 150th Plenary seemed designed to get the message across that the time for serious talk was at hand.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 192, Paris Talks/Meetings, Paris Talks [3 of 3]. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Repeated to Saigon.
  2. On Thursday, July 13.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 26.
  4. See Documents 8 and 136, respectively.