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Digital Archive International History Declassified

June 07, 1966

EMIL BODNARAS, FIRST VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL OF MINISTERS OF THE SOCIALIST REPUBLIC OF ROMANIA, RECEIVED RICHARD H. DAVIS, AMBASSADOR OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IN BUCHAREST

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    This document notes the exchange between Emil Bodnaras and US Ambassador to Bucharest, Richard H. Davis, regarding the situation in Vietnam and the condition of the conflict there.
    "Emil Bodnaras, First Vice-President of the Council of Ministers of the Socialist Republic of Romania, Received Richard H. Davis, Ambassador of the United States of America in Bucharest," June 07, 1966, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, ANR, Fond CC al PCR, Secţia Relaţii Externe, Dosar 181/1966, f. 83-95. Translated by Larry L. Watts https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/122574
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    https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/122574

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On May 27, 1966, Emil Bodnaras, First Vice-President of the Council of Ministers of the Socialist Republic of Romania, received in presentation audience Richard H. Davis, Ambassador of the United States of America in Bucharest. S. Celac, Third Secretary in the MFA, was present.[1]

The conversation lasted 2 hours and 50 minutes. [pp. 83-95]

Richard H. Davis expressed recognition for the audience, knowing the very busy program of the persons in the state leadership of Romania, especially in the current period.

To the question of the first vice-president of the Council of Ministers as to how the American ambassador was accommodating himself in his new diplomatic mission and how he feels in Romania, R. H. Davis remarked that his naming as ambassador to Bucharest is an occasion of profound personal satisfaction that is not limited only to the possibility of knowing a beautiful country and a hard-working and hospitable people, the bearers of ancient and interesting traditions. More than that, he understood from the beginning the great responsibility that this diplomatic post implies, and in the course of his activities he has had numerous occasions to convince himself of the special importance of the place and growing role of Romania in international affairs.

Ambassador Davis explained, in continuation, that he considers it his duty to know in detail the political, economic and social realities in the country of residence. In the period of the 5 months since he has been on post, although he recognizes that he still has much to learn, he has striven to inform himself as completely as possible of the ensemble of issues that characterize the internal and internal situation of Romania today. In this sense, R. H. Davis considers that the recent trip that he undertook through the country, visiting the cities of Cluj, Targu Mures and Brasov were especially useful, strengthening his decision to effect similar visits in other regions of the country as well, as soon as he has the opportunity. The trip gave him the occasion to note that in all of the localities he visited, as well as along the entire course of his travels, the development and construction effort was evident. The aspect of the cities, the manner in which people are dressed, the provisioning of the stores, and the amplitude of home construction shows a constant preoccupation and equally distributed attention for raising the economic and social standard of all of the regions of the country. The American ambassador observed that this for him was especially significant because during the three missions he fulfilled in the USSR in the years 1953-1959 one could not speak, at least for that period, of a similar preoccupation on the part of the Soviet government.

There followed a general discussion regarding the posts that ambassador Davis held previously. Mentioning the fact that he had the opportunity to work for some years in China, before the Second World War, and that during that period, R. H. Davis also expressed appreciation for the remarkable qualities of the Chinese people.

In this context, referring to the recent visit to Hanoi, Beijing and Moscow, led by first vice president of the Council of Ministers Emil Bodnaras, the American ambassador asked him to share, to the degree he considered possible and appropriate, the conclusions and impressions of a general character that he took away from this journey. The special interest of the American government in connection with the evolution of events in Southeast Asia and especially in Vietnam is well known.  For this reason, the U.S. government would salute and profoundly appreciate any element of a nature to contribute to a more complete and, possibly, more precise evaluation of the situation.

Emil Bodnaras recalled the activity of R. H. Davis when he was assistant undersecretary of state for European issues, underscoring his personal contribution to the normalization and development of Romanian-American relations. The fact that Richard H. Davis was among those who saw reality clearly and directly supported the favorable evolution of relations between Romania and the United States drew the respect and consideration of the Romanian side. The first vice president of the Council of Ministers explained that he considered it necessary to evoke these elements because, responding to the question that was addressed to him, the consideration that he has for the American ambassador can only be expressed in one form – full sincerity.

The dominant impression with which the Romanian delegation that visited the Democratic Republic of Vietnam returned was that of the firm and unbending decisiveness of the Vietnamese people, both in the north and in the south, to fight to the very end, up to the final victory. The calm and security with which both the current situation and the perspective of future evolution are viewed in Vietnam is worth emphasis. This spirit is present and is openly manifest at every level of Vietnamese society, from the senior leadership of the party and the state to the simple citizen one meets on the street.

The general calm and security that presently characterizes the entire Vietnamese people can have only one source – the absolute certainty that they are defending a just cause, a complete faith in their leadership and in the combat plans they elaborate.

Truly, it is hard to imagine a more mobilizing cause, whose full justice is defined through its very content – the struggle for the independence and sovereignty of the fatherland, against foreign aggression, for the liberty and integrity of the territory of the country, for removing artificial divisions of a unitary people, for the affirmation of its legitimate right to decide its own destiny, conforming to its will and aspirations. The Vietnamese people are an ancient people, whose cultural traditions and unitary civilization date over four millennia. The consciousness of the values created and perpetuated through the centuries, the memory of heated battles fought over the entire course of the history of Vietnam for their defense, for the preservation of the national identity are important elements that cannot be overlooked in appreciating the fighting capacity of the Vietnamese people. The historical retrospective shows that, time after time, the Vietnamese fought against foreign invasions and occupations and were the ones who emerged victorious. In the last twenty-some years, they have had to confront French colonialists, then the Japanese and again the French, supported that time by American dollars, and everyone knows how these confrontations concluded. At present, the Vietnamese fight against the Americans while penetrated by the same consciousness of the justice of their cause and of the conviction in their victory. From the moment when the U.S.A. brought an expeditionary corps to South Vietnam, when the American troops entered into direct combat, when it was no longer a situation of a war of the Vietnamese against the Vietnamese but of the Americans against the Vietnamese, from that moment the character of the conflict suffered a fundamental modification, the war gained a qualitatively new content, transforming it into a popular war of the entire Vietnamese people against foreign invaders.

One can affirm with certitude that never in the entire course of its history, have the Vietnamese people be so closely united in the struggle for achieving the national ideal concretely manifested in the political program elaborated by the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and by the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. Never in the past have the Vietnamese people followed its leadership with such faith.

It must be underscored that today’s leadership of the D. R. Vietnam is made up of men whose entire life and activity are intertwined with the most noble and patriotic aspirations of the Vietnamese people.  These are people whose authority was constructed and confirmed during the years of harsh struggle against the Japanese and French invaders, and later in the process of economic and social construction of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh, for instance, is and will remain a national hero of Vietnam. The leaders of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam are from the same category of people, and their prestige grows unconstrained.

There is no comparison, no could there be, between the leadership of the D. R. Vietnam and of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, on the one hand, and the straw figures of the regime in Saigon, on the other. To General De Gaulle belongs a most accomplished witticism: “Qui est Ky?” Truly, who is [General Nguyen Cao] Ky? The head of the Saigon government is nothing other than a docile puppet whose existence and maintenance in power is due exclusively to the support of American dollars and bayonets. He is hated and rejected by his own people and he cannot escape, not he nor his acolytes, the judgment of the people he betrayed. The recent events in Da Nang, Hue and other cities of South Vietnam show that other political forces are always rising against Ky and the leadership group in Saigon – Buddhists, Catholics, the intellectuals, the students – practically the entire population of South Vietnam is engaged in one form or another in the struggle against the puppet regime and the American occupation. The weakness and the lack of realism of the political formula supported by the U.S.A. in South Vietnam is evident and there are numerous indications that the process political disaggregation, once began, will quickly accentuate and accelerate.

In contrast with the inconsistency and confusion of the regime in Saigon, the fact must be underscored that the leaders in Hanoi are political figures with great experience, very realistic and very competent. The measures they adopt are weighed with very great care and understanding, they are based on sound evaluation and analysis of the concrete elements of reality and thus are both achievable and mobilizing. The long experience of struggle and their own sacrifices have taught the Vietnamese value stingily every man of which they dispose and every penny that they use, which assures an increased efficiency in the actions they undertake. The same care is taken in the use of the assistance accorded Vietnam by the socialist states. The Vietnamese have even requested not to send them more assistance than they request, because only they are capable of appreciating what and how much is necessary.

In the past, North Vietnam was a region haunted by famine that depended entirely on the provision of foodstuffs from the south. After the formation of the D. R. Vietnam, due to the efforts of the entire North Vietnamese population and especially due to the manner in which these efforts were mobilized and directed, the north now produces 6.5 million tons of rice, a quantity that satisfactorily covers the internal consumption needs of the country.

It would be an error to consider that the policy of the D. R. Vietnam and those who formulate it are tributaries of an external influence. In this sense, it is sufficient to remember the fact that the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was created in 1945, during a period when a civil war was raging in China, whose perspectives were then still hard to evaluate. The creation of the socialist regime in the north, and the successes obtained in the economic and socio-cultural construction of the country, are victories that the Vietnamese people won through their own struggle and toil and which they will never renounce. Given that, the population of the north faithfully rallies around its leadership, which has also demonstrated through its actions, over the long years, its competence and capacity to direct the affairs of the country, and its fidelity towards the most profound national aspirations.

The actions undertaken and the measures elaborated by the D. R. Vietnam leadership in the current situation as well as in the perspective of different variants of subsequent evolution are completely realistic and appropriate from every point of view. The Vietnamese view with calm and are prepared to take on the problems that will arise in the eventuality of passage to new phases of “escalation” – the bombing of the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong, or the land invasion of the north. Nor would the eventual expansion of the war by the Americans over the countries neighboring Vietnam present a surprise, even though – and this fact must be stressed – the Vietnamese leadership does not desire to internationalize the conflict and strives to maintain the war to its current limits. In the same order of ideas, the leadership of the D. R. Vietnam does not intend to appeal for the sending of volunteers from the friendly countries, because it has in fact sufficient volunteers in the country – the entire Vietnamese people.

Almost identical appreciations can be made in reference to the National Front of Liberation Front in the south. During its stay in Hanoi, the Romanian delegation received a messaged signed by the president of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam in which it sends greetings from the continually growing patriotic South Vietnamese forces. This underscoring of the fact that the NLF forces are increasing without limit is not accidental and it does reflect the real situation. The delegation had long conversations with the principal leaders of D. R. Vietnam.

From the discussions carried out it emerged as clearly as possible that there is no concept of any other basis for regulating the problem of Vietnam except the position in the 4 points of the government of D. R. Vietnam and the 5 point program of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam. It must be understood very clearly that in the concept of the Vietnamese leaders those three objectives of the program – the defense of the North, the liberation of the South and the peaceful reunification of Vietnam – are seen as stages in a long-term process. The impression that the liberation of southern Vietnam would presuppose the immediate and automatic extension of the existing social-political regime in D. R. Vietnam is erroneous. After the withdrawal of the American troops, in conditions in which the Vietnamese in the south could exercise their free will, a government will probably be formed that will accommodate the principal political forces of South Vietnam, with the result that the political formula for the reunification of Vietnam will be established through direct contacts between the representatives of those two sides. It is evident that the National Liberation Front, through the adherence of the masses that it enjoys, through the effective control that it exercises over the majority of the territory and population of South Vietnam now represents the political and military factor with the greatest weight in this part of the country. In any case, whatever will be the formula to which they will arrive, the Vietnamese people is the one that will say the last word in the future political regulation of Vietnam.

The fact is known that all of the socialist countries have until now accorded and will accord in the future to an increased degree moral support and concrete material assistance to Vietnam. In this sense, to bet on the existing divergences in the Communist movement and in the relations between the socialist countries would be a gratuitous and dangerous illusion. There are differences of opinion among the socialist countries, however, in the problem of Vietnam and of assistance for Vietnam, there is only one way of seeing things because that which happens at present in Vietnam could happen tomorrow in Albania or in Central Europe. The position of all socialist countries in this regard is absent any equivocation, and to count upon the disintegration of the socialist camp in such circumstances would be an error of calculation with tragic repercussions for the aggressor.

The rationale for the feeling of solidarity of the Romanian government and people for Vietnam is not constituted of a simple compassion of a sentimental order for the struggle of a unique and poor people against the invasion of its country by a great economic and military world power. In the case of Romania, the solidarity with Vietnam is a natural and necessary consequence of its consequent adherence to a code of principles of international conduct.

The maintenance and promotion in international relations by Romania of the principles of the independence and sovereignty of states, of their equality of rights, the non-interference in their domestic affairs and mutual advantage does not represent a circumstantial expedient. The formulation of these principles was imposed at the same time as the recognition that the old code of manners that governed international relations is stale and inapplicable and that a new code of manners is necessary that corresponds to the real conditions of the contemporary world. Romania considers that in today’s world the imposition through force of the will of great powers to the detriment of smaller and weaker powers cannot be tolerated, that the full affirmation of equality in sovereignty of all states is the essential premise of healthy international relations. The new code of international conduct does not represent an abstract desiderata – its achievement is possible and necessary now, in our days. The factors that comprise the tableaux of the international situation have changed fundamentally. That which was possible during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt no longer is possible during the time of President Johnson. That which could be done with two gunboats can no longer be realized today by an army of a quarter of a million men having in its rear the entire economic and military potential of the greatest industrial power in the world.

It is certain that, in the final analysis, the United States must withdraw from Vietnam. The Vietnamese leadership does not foresee the imposition of humiliating conditions for the U.S.A. Of course, the most honorable situation would have been that the United States had not engaged in a military intervention in Vietnam. In the current conditions, however, another path of settling the conflict does not exist. The withdrawal of American troops from South Vietnam certainly does not mean the elimination of the presence and interests of the U.S.A. in Southeast Asia. No one in the countries of this region, including Vietnam, will stand against some economic, commercial, cultural and technical-scientific relations with the U.S.A. under conditions of equality and mutual advantage, of non-interference in domestic affairs.

In Vietnam the only masters must be the Vietnamese. No one must place in doubt the right of the Vietnamese to live free and independent, of deciding for themselves the destiny of their fatherland, just as no one must nor can modify their decision to fight for the achievement of this right.

Emil Bodnaras explained, in continuation, that the impressions and conclusions with which the delegation returned crystallized some opinions on the Romanian side with regard to the manner in which it would be reasonable to proceed in view of approaching a resolution of the Vietnamese problem.

In the first place, in our opinion, it is necessary to stop definitively and unconditionally the bombing of North Vietnam as an indispensible measure for the creation of elementary conditions for the beginning of calm discussions. It is inconceivable that the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam should accept even the idea of negotiations under the pressure of terror bombing. The bombing must cease without linking it to any other sort of condition.

In the second place, it is necessary to establish direct contacts with the leadership of the National Liberation Front, the principal political and military force that opposes the Americans in South Vietnam. A net distinction can be made between the problems that will be discussed with the government of D. R. Vietnam and those that regard the NLF of South Vietnam. It is necessary for the fact to be very well understood that, in regard to the problems of South Vietnam, the Front is the only factor with the necessary responsibility and competence to carry out discussions. The National Liberation Front does not represent an extension in the south of the authority of the North Vietnamese, it constitutes the central forum of a large coalition political forces and groups in South Vietnam, which conducts the armed struggle against the American military occupation, for the liberation and independence of their country. Within this coalition with a broad mass patriotic character it is known that the communists represent only a small part, which makes the reticence of the American government to enter into direct contact with the NLF leadership even less explicable.

Emil Bodnaras underscored the fact that the problems he raised represent the result of an exchange of views. They were not discussed during the visit of the Romanian delegation in Vietnam, knowing the sensitivity of the Vietnamese leadership towards any sort of suggestion that they conduct negotiations under the pressure of terror. The opinion of the Romanian side is that, when these conditions will begin to materialize, the necessary framework will be created for conducting useful discussions.

Richard H. Davis said that the problems presented are clear and he requested permission to put two questions:

  1. Whether the cessation of bombing in the North under the conditions mentioned create guarantees in the sense of the acceptance by the North Vietnamese government of the idea of resolving the conflict through the path of negotiations; and
  2. Whether limiting the American military engagement in South Vietnam will of itself draw the assurance of the end of troop infiltrations and of military material support from the north to the guerrilla forces in South Vietnam.

Emil Bodnaras explained that, if it really desires to realize some steps forward in the direction of resolving the conflict, the government of the United States must not condition in any way the fact of cessation of bombing. This action, without generating any obligation on the side of North Vietnam, is, however, of a nature to create calmer conditions, lacking elements of pressure through terror, in view of the eventual beginning of discussions.

In regard to the so-called problem of “infiltrations,” around which a great case has been made in the taking of official positions as well as in the American press, it is necessary that things be viewed with lucidity and realism. Vietnam represents a single country and the Vietnamese people are one in the same, both in the north and in the south. Many of the leaders of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (for example, Pham Van Dong or Le Duan) come from the south, just as there are without doubt numerous leaders and fighters of the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam who are originally from the north. It thus appears natural that the Vietnamese in the north should support their fellow citizens in the south in the struggle against foreign occupation. It must be remarked that the assistance from the north, is not all that great in quantity, it is not and it could not be the cause and elementary motor of the vast popular war underway in South Vietnam, whose motives must be sought elsewhere. At the same time, it is worth remembering that now, in conditions of the accentuation of the perspective of the escalation of the war towards the north, the leadership of the D. R. Vietnam will not make the mistake of wasting the forces of which it disposes.

Richard H. Davis thanked him for the frankness and the clarity with which the first vice-president of the Council of Ministers presented the problems in the course of the discussion. As is known, the government of the United States has a different position regarding some of the issues broached, including on the issue of the aggression of North Vietnam against the South.

At the conclusion of the conversation, the American ambassador gave assurances that he would transmit the clear presentation given by First Vice-President Emil Bodnaras to Washington without delay and in the most accurate and complete manner.

June 7, 1966 G. Macovescu

[1] The U.S. Ambassador reported on the Bodnaras briefing to the Secretary of State the same day as Bucharest’s Telegram 1095, May 27, 1966, Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S.

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