What they were like? We had the plenary sessions, which were formal. And they were only between the North Vietnamese representative, Xuan Thuy was his name and myself. I or he would start off with a statement, and each one of us would accuse the other of being the aggressor and of doing uh very uh cruel and unnecessary and uh damaging actions and then uh the other side would answer.
Uh, we would always have a little...after one had made a speech the other side would criticize briefly what the first man had said and then the second man would make his speech and then the first man would criticize the other man. The South Vietnamese, oddly enough, used to criticize my criticism of his speech so it turned out he always had the last word. I didn't undignify myself to a point of doing that.
So I used to say "I'll always give you the last word." These amounted to nothing...they didn't get anywhere, they were...they tried to make a little variety in them by getting news stories or stories of what some prominent man had said or some...they tried to get some senator's statement or something else from the United States and I'd try to get some statement from other international sources.
But then we began to have tea breaks between the two speech...coffee breaks rather...and those coffee breaks Xuan Thuy and...uh...Ha Van Lau used to sit down with us and...Mr. Vance and myself and I think Phil Habib and we'd talk and then the military would get together and our staffs would get together. There would be three or four different groups, would get together and drink coffee and we'd talk for about half an hour.
And that began to loosen our personal relationships. We'd... we'd...talk about things of special interest. And the first real change came when Cy Vance arranged with Ha Van Lau to have private talks. And they went to a privately arranged house, sometimes it was theirs, sometimes it was ours, and began to talk about things in a private way.
But I want to say, that from the standpoint of Washington, we had a great deal of difficulty in...I think it was the 8th of June, 1968... there was a telegram that came from Chairman Kosygin, to President Roosevelt... President Johnson, and he said, this was from the phrases he used, I and my colleagues believe, and have reason to believe that if you stop all the bombing, that productive talks will, will follow.
Now, we came, Cy and I came back from Bobby Kennedy's funeral which was, I think it was June 10th
, or thereabouts, so we were in Washington
when this telegram was being considered.
We had sent word from Paris
that we would like to discuss it. And we talked it over with Rusk and with Clark Clifford who was then Secretary of Defense, and we strongly urged that it be accepted. We thought it was a very good idea that the Russians should be involved.
And I had found in other dealings, in earlier dealings, Russians were anxious to see the war stop. But there was a meeting with the President. And uh...the...Dean Rusk took the point of view that we didn't know, and I think after talking to the President, what we didn't know enough of what was involved. And...and Clark Clifford indicated that he thought we should accept it. Vance and I indicated we ought to accept it.
But the President decided we ought to have more information and Abe Fortas who was then a...Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, I think, and he was there at the meeting. He and Dean Rusk drafted a telegram which you couldn't talk exception to because it asked sensible questions.
Although we were very much opposed to it there was nothing we could do. So these, this telegram was sent and Kosygin obviously took it as an insult that he didn't accept their word and that opportunity was lost. And I think that there was a loss of a very, very great opportunity. I think if we had stopped all the bombing at that time, we would have gotten down to talks and I think the relationship which we were beginning to establish at that time, we might have made some very real progress...in uh...as was shown by our later talks. Then um...