INT: In 1968, you were representing.... let me start again. In 1968, Nixon was running for office and Johnson was trying to negotiate the end of the war and what was your role in that?
BD: Well, I was concurrently ambassador the US, my post in Washington, and in the same time, an observer of the Vietnamese government, overlooking the Paris talks going on in Paris between on one side (unintelligible) Vand on the other side the Communists.
INT: And what were your impressions?
BD: Well, it led to nowhere, because every week it kind of talking in the wall, you see, nobody listened to your side as well. We talk the way we want it and they talk the way they want it. The American has always tried to have contacts, contacts with your side, but well, during the first period of time of the Paris talks, there was no possibility of contact at all.
INT: You were representing the President of South Vietnam I take it.
BD: Yes, I was representing the government of South Vietnam in Paris, but I had to fly between Washington and Paris every week, three days in Washington, then four days in Paris, you see, it is a kind of shuttle between Paris and Washington every week.
INT: And why do you think the talks didn't work?
BD: Well, the talks didn't work, because the other side had a very different idea of what they wanted and what they wanted was something that the Americans couldn't accept it by then, so they went on with what they called their strategy, talk and fight, fight and talk.
INT: Now, President Johnson was very hopeful that the talks would lead to peace by the time his tenure ended and publicly President Nixon was supporting Johnson. What do you know otherwise? Nixon was supposedly trying to convince President Chu that he would get a better deal under Nixon.
BD: Well, it's a kind of very, very complicated story. [Coughs]
INTERVIEWER: So tell me about this complicated story.
BUI DIEM: Well, I think it is a very long and complicated story, we can spend hours talking about it, but briefly speaking it's like negotiations and the kind of opening from your side, the communist side, came at a very, very critical period of time before the elections of 1968, the presidential election I mean. And so the Democrats accused Mr. Nixon of playing the game in the sense that he tried to influence Mr. Chu not to send a delegation to Paris and so that well the other side, I mean Vice President Humphrey, vice, and the other presidential candidate couldn't take advantage of the peace atmosphere from the negotiation. And I was the man in the middle, because I send regularly cable every day to Saigon informing Mr. Chu about my contacts with the Western political circle in Washington, whether Democrats or Republican, I was in touch with Mr. Nixon before in July 1968 and I informed Mr. Bundy, my friend about my visit to Nixon and I told him that, well, I know that my position is a kind of very delicate position and so I promise him that in my conversation with Nixon I would have abstained from talking about the negotiations and I would strictly talk about the general positions of the Vietnamese in the war. And I kept that exactly this kind of position with my conversation with Mr. Nixon. But later on... we came very close to the elections and every day I sent cable, secret cable, coded cable and the cable mentioned that I was in touch with the Republicans, with the entourage of Mr. Nixon and that the Republican urge us to stand firm. And somehow my coded cable were intercepted by the US administration, whilst through their own means, I knew it later, but not then, and I knew it later too that my telephone was tapped and but by then I knew nothing and the Democrats interpret it as a kind of deal between Mr. Nixon and Mr. Chu for trying to sabotage the negotiations in Paris for well giving more impetus to Mr. Nixon candidacy during the last days of the election, but nobody knows exactly what went on by then, you see. I know what I put down in writings, in my cable, I have still my cables here. My cable did indicated that I was in contact with the Republican, yes, my cable indicated that I was in touch with the entourage of Mr. Nixon, yes, but I never put in my cable, in writing, that we had a deal with Mr. Nixon to such and such an effect.
INT: But so, , but would you say the Democrats had a reason to be suspicious of you then?
BD: Oh yes. There are many reasons. I would put it this way that the circumstantial evidence as well against me at that time, because a close friend of my mine, other channel, was serving as in the entourage of Mr. Nixon himself, you see, and so they came to the conclusion that through other channel Mr. Nixon conveyed to the Vietnamese government his idea about standing firm in the negotiations, you see.
INT: But what in fact you were doing was tantamount to encouraging the Chu government to wait for a Nixon presidency to get a better deal.
BD: I never put it along these terms. I simply put it that well we have to stand firm for our principles, but I never imagined in any language or any vocabulary that well, for helping Mr. Nixon we have to stand firm.
INT: After the Tet Offensive did you, as a representative of the South Vietnamese government, feel more confident?
BD: Well, as I have said many times in my lectures around country, my impression at that time was very clear. When I came back to Vietnam after the Tet offensive, I found out a very, very good atmosphere. Even some kind of enthusiasms, because the population discovered that the enemy was not ten feet tall, it was always the troops who came to Saigon or some other cities who are not really, really a top notch unit from the other side, perhaps in the popular forces or something like that. So, the feeling of the population was very much against them and they didn't fear them the way they did before. And so it was a kind of feeling of optimism in South Vietnam, while in Washington it was quite the contrary. It was too over there, because it well, to a certain degree a few months before the Tet attack the US administration promoted the feeling of optimism. _____________ was back and General Westmoreland was back and the mass interviews around the country, they said that everything was under control and so forth. And suddenly the Tet attack came out and so it provoked a kind of shock in the US and the US administration was very, very disappointed about it.
INT: But at the same time the Tet Offensive cost the NLF a huge, huge casualties and presumably you knew that and the Americans knew that.
BD: It took them... well many years to reconstruct their units afterwards, you remember that it was in January '68 and it was only a few years later in '71 and '72 that the Communists took the offensive again.
INT: Yes, so presumably because the NLF was badly damaged by the Tet Offensive that meant that the people thought the position of the South was better.
BD: Yes. And we hope very much that by then that your side would accept some kind of real negotiation in Paris at the time. But somehow they have their own problem. They couldn't come to a very, very clear-cut decision by then and so they went on with the war.
INT: How much, just as a general thing, how much do you think that South Vietnam was ever a viable country without very large American support?
BD: Well, I have a very, very definite ideas about it. In spite of the fact that they have many weaknesses in South Vietnam, the regime of ___________ did create a kind of framework, a kind of government with all the structures for governing the country. Of course, his policy provoked in a lot of discontent among the intellectuals and intellectual came to the other side and there was a lot of discontent in the Communist side too. But from my very person point of view, without the interventions of regular forces from North Vietnam, the NLF, was not really in a position to do harm to the South Vietnamese government by then. And even by then, we have indications that North Vietnamese regular troops infiltrated into South Vietnam already.
INT: But really until the, if the North Vietnamese regular troops hadn't intervened in 1964 there would have been no need for American intervention.
BD: Yeah, perhaps, yes, but again it is a kind of iffy question, you know that at least hundreds of iffy questions about it.