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Digital Archive International History Declassified

January 13, 1967

TRANSCRIPT OF RECEPTION BY COMRADE ION GHEORGHE MAURER OF THE FOREIGN MINISTER OF HOLLAND, JOSEPH LUNS

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    This document is a transcript of the meeting between Ion Gheorghe Maurer and Joseph Luns, the Foreign Minister of Holland, during which they discuss the situation in Germany and the Vietnam War, and their effects on foreign relations with the Soviet Union and the United States.
    "Transcript of Reception by Comrade Ion Gheorghe Maurer of the Foreign Minister of Holland, Joseph Luns ," January 13, 1967, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, ANR, Fond CC al PCR, Secţia Relaţii Externe, dosar 2/1967, f. 1-13. Translated by Larry L. Watts https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/document/122591
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[…]

Mr. Joseph Luns: For us the big problems consist, in the first place, of the German problem. We are also preoccupied, like the entire world, with the problem of the war in Vietnam.

In the German problem, I have the impression that the current German government, which I think is a government of short duration, given the relations between the Socialists and Christian-Democrats, will make efforts for establishing better relations with the countries of Eastern Europe and will not place in the forefront, to the same degree, the problem of German unification. We believe that the unification will come at the end of a long road. Mr. Kiesinger, whom I saw in Bonn, repeated to me that he hopes to establish relations with the eastern countries. The German problem must also been seen through the prism of the relations with France and I have the impression that the discussions that will take place in Bonn in several days between French and German political figures will not be too easy. What France desires to obtain is that the links between the United States and the F. R. G. should be much less close and if France will insist that Germany follows French policy in all of its aspects, I do not know if the rapprochement that we salute and hope for will take place in the near future.

Regarding our relations with Russia, they could not develop to the degree of their possibilities so long as there is war in Vietnam.

I have the impression that the Vietnamese problem could be resolved, if the Americans would have the guarantee that after a sort of disengagement in Vietnam, the same history will not occur also in Thailand, for example, because they fear that once the war in Vietnam is terminated they will be obligated to fight in other places as well, for example in Thailand. The Americans maintain that the neutral countries of Asia, which publicly rise against the American aggressions in Vietnam, privately beg the Americans not to cede. I am thinking, for instance, of Burma. And then when the Americans ask them “why don’t you say that out loud,” they say: “We cannot, because we would suffer unpleasantness.”

Cde. Ion Gheorghe Maurer: Mr. Minister, from this succinct presentation of your ideas it is clear that there are many common points between your manner of considering things and our own way of thinking.

Broaching the Vietnam problem, we must recognize from the start that it is a very complex issue. Nevertheless, any problem must be analyzed in the framework of objective conditions. It is true that the Americans can find themselves in a similar situation in other countries of Asia as well and if this happens in the same objective conditions as in the case of Vietnam, I believe that the Americans could do nothing in order to avoid it. Regarding South Vietnam, in my opinion it is evident that both the regime in Saigon that the Americans support as well as the presence of American troops are the only things that all of the inhabitants of South Vietnam wish to see terminated.

Mr. Joseph Luns: There is, in truth, a great saturation.

Cde. Ion Gheorghe Maurer: More than saturation, a great hatred against the Americans in South Vietnam (I am speaking of the majority of the population) and, likewise, a personal hatred against the regime of General Ky. I cannot tell you whether South Vietnam desires communism or something else. I have spoken with many persons who know well the situation there. They consider that the sympathy of the South Vietnamese population for the unification of the country under the current regime in North Vietnam is very powerful. One thing about which I am certain and which I believe cannot be contested is, however, that not even 5% of the population of South Vietnam desires the American presence and the presence of General Ky at the head of government. Under these circumstances, there is only one intelligent thing to be done by the Americans in order to put an end to this unfortunate state of affairs, and that is to leave Vietnam, to let the population decide for itself its destiny.

If things happen in the same manner in other countries of Asia, I believe that the same solution will be imposed, because in the final analysis, no one has the possibility through treaty or through other means, or through the simple will of some to impede a people to do what it desires or what it believes is the best for its destiny. The fear of the United States to see a repetition of things in Thailand or in other places may be real; it is possible that the political regime that currently rules in Thailand might not benefit from the support of its people. It is very possible that the support the Americans accord this regime would not be sufficient in order to counterbalance the efforts that the people make to overthrow it. It is a contest that in terms of peaceful struggle, of influence, could be accepted, but which is inconceivable when it is transformed into armed conflict.

In the final analysis, peaceful coexistence means that I, as a communist, could say that your regime is not the best, just as the same peaceful coexistence implies that you, who are not a communist, could say to your fellow citizens that the greatest misfortune is the coming to power of the communists. This sort of thing cannot be stopped and it will not stop. However, to transform this struggle, which in the final analysis opposes ideas, influences, and possibilities to influence public opinion – and I assure you that the Americans do not spare themselves the means for influencing public opinion to support a certain regime – into an attempt to support a certain state of affairs through the force of arms, in the final analysis is not at all intelligent, because it is not possible.

A long time ago I reached the conviction that it is impossible to export Bolshevism at the tip of a bayonet. This Lenin said. There are people who have not understood this, however we have had the possibility to verify through experience that communism is a not an export good, especially when the means of its transportation are cannons and weapons.

The same thing is true regarding the maintenance of any other regime. The struggle, the sacrifices, and the efforts that the Americans make in the current moment in Vietnam are absolutely futile. This will not lead to any result other than the acceleration of the process of rallying all of South Vietnam to North Vietnam and of accelerating this process in Asia. What the Americans want to block through this war they do nothing other than accelerate. This is the result of the policies that they conduct. In any case, we will see.

For that reason, for the relations between the two camps, to use that formula, the war in Vietnam represents something that to a certain degree impedes things. And in Europe we must nonetheless try to remedy this situation.

It is an old idea of mine that the small countries have a large role to play from this point of view. A very large role. I will speak plainly. When you are powerful, you can permit yourself the luxury of sometimes being occasionally lacking in intelligence. When you are small and weak, however, you do not have the possibility to do this. You must be intelligent, because if you are not intelligent and prudent then you will pay, and you will pay dearly. Because of this, to a very great degree, the future of humanity will be dictated and decided by the intelligence and the spirit of decisiveness that the small countries will show, because they will be the ones who find the most supple and most reasonable modalities, since they have not the force to impose them, while the others can take recourse to force. From this perspective, their actions of coming together, independent of political systems, is in the interest of each and every people and each and every country, including the large ones. It is therefore in the benefit of everyone to close ranks, to see each other more frequently, to discuss, and to tray to find together what commonalities exist, what is possible to do in the world, in order to clarify a little the atmosphere that is sometimes unbreathable. This will be the result. I cannot tell you if I, who am somewhat older, or you, will see this, but in any case someone will see it.

Mr. Joseph Luns: Mr. President, in what you say about Vietnam there is much truth. It is true that the presence of the Americans is unpopular in South Vietnam. In my opinion, the Americans have committed a mistake. They believed that the fact that South Vietnam became independent and that America concluded a treaty of mutual assistance with it would weaken in the eyes of the local population the unpleasant impression of the presence of foreign troops. I am, of course, on good terms with the Americans, however, I believe that the French troops were less unpopular than the Americans, because the French used more Asians.

I had an interview with President Johnson that was programmed for 20 minutes, but which lasted an hour and some, in which he spoke for an hour about the Vietnamese problem. This obsesses him, because please believe me, this president of the United States is one of the least interested of all the American presidents in foreign policy issues. He repeated this to me. America is ready to recognize a free election and the regime that the Vietnamese people want to have. Only what America desires is that any agreement regarding Vietnam to be elaborated around a round table and should give the guarantee of free elections for the Vietnamese people.

The bombing that the Americans carry out in the North have provoked everywhere, including in The Netherlands, numerous protests. On the other hand, however, the Americans have given me a list of functionaries and particularly South Vietnamese who have been assassinated by terrorists. The figure is 11,000 persons, which is impressive when compared to those approximately 800 dead among the civilian population because of the bombing in the north. I believe that both one side and the other exaggerate when presenting the respective case. In my opinion North Vietnam would do better not to reject the negotiation proposals made by the neutral countries and I think that it would be good to give indications that it wants to discuss, because at the moment that North Vietnam shows that it wants to discuss, public opinion will be much more favorable to it. The first sign of good will would be received everywhere with very great satisfaction. This is also another argument that plays in the favor of the Americans.

Mr. D. Rusk said in the last NATO reunion: “Do you believe that if the Americans did not honor their obligation towards South Vietnam, towards Thailand and the other [Asian] countries, that it could honor its obligations towards the European countries? We cannot be prostitutes in Asia and proper ladies in Europe.” In any case the problem is truly complex, just as you have shown and I gave the example of Burma, which is a neutral country. Likewise, what Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and even Cambodgia say in public is not what they think. The mentality of the Asians is not the mentality of the Romanians or of the Dutch. We have had this experience for more than three centuries and we know the mentality of the Asians. That does not stop me from agreeing with you that an end must be put to this war. I will tell you frankly, I believe the Americans would be ready to withdraw from Vietnam if they had some indications that they would not have to repeat the same military experience in the other countries, because Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia constitute the key to the Extreme Orient and it is a fact that before the war there was a French presence, Dutch presence and English presence there, which all have since disappeared. In 1963, under powerful American pressure, we abandoned New Guinea and we accorded the right of self-determination to this people. Later, President Kennedy made appealed to Dutch support in Vietnam. He told me: you are a rich country, you have a certain experience, you have the means, why not help us who, in fact, conduct your war. Our answer was that it was inconceivable that after we renounced the use of force in the Extreme Orient we should send a battalion to intervene in the Vietnamese war.

I assure you, Mr. President, that we also follow this problem, which worries us just as it does you. It is discussed in the United Nations and in NATO and, nonetheless, I share the hope that at the given moment an acceptable formula must and will be found. Two years ago, America was no disposed to accept the Liberation Front. Now they say “we are ready to accept it as an interlocutor together, however, with the other political forces.” From what I know, North Vietnam is ready to discuss about peace in South Vietnam the moment that South Vietnam will be represented by the National Liberation Front. This means that they are speaking with themselves. It is as if Mr. Luns would speak with Mr. Luns. What is certain is that North Vietnam is so sure of obtaining a final victory that it is not ready to discuss about peace. I believe this because I spoke about the bombing with U Thant, who has adamantly opposed the bombing. Not even U Thant can give any indication that North Vietnam would be disposed to sit at the negotiation table once this bombing ceased.

You spoke about large countries and about small countries. You are right that we must be by the nature of things much more wise than large countries. However, I believe that the Americans cannot allow themselves to abandon South Vietnam saying: “You’re on your own.” Given that a formula must be found that would allow the Americans to withdraw in an honorable way, without being humiliated, and that is the greatest difficulty. Dean Rusk, whom I know very well, McNamara, who is one of the “hawks,” are basically very unhappy with this war. The Americans use incredible material means. They spend much, much more than even during the Korean War.

Cde. Ion Gheorghe Maurer: Permit me to put a question. Why do you believe that the Americans are reasonable when they say that the Vietnamese problem must be resolved in conditions of assuring the destiny of Cambodgia, Laos, etc.

Mr. Joseph Luns: Because they fear that if the Vietnamese problem will be resolved in circumstances in which American prestige is lost, no one could believe in the treaties that they have concluded with the Americans and that one day or another a new liberation front would appear. This, I believe, is the difference. Wars of national liberation are considered an admissible means, when in fact there are some conflicts in which third countries also play a role. No one could deny that both China and Russian assist North Vietnam. Some consider that at the moment in which it affirmed that it is a war of national liberation, no one can continue to object to it and I think that this means can be used on a larger scale. In the case of Thailand, the people are happy enough with the current regime. Our ambassador was on post in Thailand and can confirm that if they will be left in peace, this country will be quiet enough. Once it will be seen that the system that succeeded in Vietnam could be used in other countries as well, no one will have faith in the treaties with the Americans. It will be very difficult for the Americans after they withdraw.

Cde. Ion Gheorghe Maurer: Permit me to raise another question. Do you believe that Johnson is sincere when he says that he is ready to leave South Vietnam with the condition that there is the assurance that South Vietnam would be capable of choosing in complete liberty the regime it desires? How then can the fact be explained that the Americans are also the ones who affirm that not only the fate of Vietnam is at stake in South Vietnam, but the fate of all Asia? If that is the case, it means that Johnson does not sincerely desire to leave South Vietnam.

You are a friend of the Americans. I am a friend of the South Vietnamese. At the same time I seek the friendship of the Americans and I try to do everything possible to gain it, because I am convinced that it is useful for all of mankind. However, if the Americans consider that in South Vietnam or in other places, that they can decide the political regime of those countries or of the respective peoples, then the Americans are mistaken.

Mr. Joseph Luns: I think that if you put the problem that way, you are perfectly right. I can also put it that way.

Cde. Ion Gheorghe Maurer: It must be seen whether what we desire conforms to the objective development of social forces and I would like to insist up on this because, in the final analysis, I would like to give a practical aspect to these conversations. I have discussed much with the Vietnamese. I know them and you can imagine that these discussions have had an echo. I am convinced that if the Vietnamese would be certain that the people of South Vietnam could freely decide their destiny and that the Americans would not try to forcefully obstruct this freedom to manifest the will of the people of South Vietnam, I believe that in this situation the Vietnamese would be open to discussions.

Mr. Joseph Luns: That is good news, Mr. President, if it proves accurate.

Cde. Ion Gheorghe Maurer: I told you that it is what I believe personally. But I have reached the conclusion that everything depends upon the Americans. Of course, if the Americans think that by playing the South Vietnam card they are in fact playing a hand for all of Asia then in that case there is nothing to be done.

Mr. Joseph Luns: I think that the evolution of American thinking and of the will of the Americans to conduct negotiations is a favorable indication. Only 2-3 years ago the situation was totally different. Now there are 400,000 Americans in Vietnam. That is a great effort. It will increase taxes, the cost of living and unleash inflation and American suffers as a result of this war, as, on the other hand, do the Vietnamese people. What I think would be a necessary condition is a beginning of mutual trust.

Cde. Ion Gheorghe Maurer: That is something hard to realize. I believe – and this is a completely personal point of view – that the Vietnamese are convinced they can win militarily. In my opinion there is a mistake in this manner of thinking. I do not believe that they are capable of winning a conclusive military victory against the Americans. However, giving the way in which this war is conducted, it promises to make still many more victims, over many more years and the Americans will be obliged to spend much more money than they have up until now, and they will lose many more men than at present, without being able to terminate this war through military means.

Mr. Joseph Luns: In this regard you are right. Because of this the Americans are also divided. There is a group of [American] military leaders who are completely of your opinion, who draw worrying conclusions that the government does not seem to share and another point of view supported by Johnson.

Cde. Ion Gheorghe Maurer: I will tell you something. If this war is extended, then the military chances of the Americans will not increase, they will drop. If there is a possibility of ending the war through military means, the war must be limited to South Vietnam. However, this possibility does not exist in any reasonable way.

Mr. Joseph Luns: I asked the Americans why they do not construct a 17th Parallel in order to cut North Vietnam from South Vietnam and they told me they could not do it.

Cde. Ion Gheorghe Maurer: The means do not exist. I know the situation and it is impossible for the Americans to cut the country in two. If the escalations will continue and if war is launched in North Vietnam, in China, then it will become a swamp in which they will be completely mired because, although the offensive power of China, meaning the force capable of attacking beyond its frontiers, is in my opinion null, inside of the country its power is immense and all [internal divisions] will disappear when facing the invaders.

Mr. Joseph Luns: We are reminded of Napoleon’s attack or that of the Germans in Russia.

Mr. President, I have listened with great interest to the ideas you have expressed and with your indulgence, permit me to present your point of view both to my colleagues in government as well as to other political figures.

Cde. Ion Gheorghe Maurer: Do so because I believe that you and we are serving the cause of peace.

Mr. Joseph Luns: The Vietnamese problem occupies all of American thinking. At the last reunion of the Council of Ministers of NATO, D. Rusk did not speak about the French position or the German position towards NATO and European problems, he spoke of nothing else but Vietnam.

American statesmen are extremely sensitive regarding this problem. I will give you an example. In the Dutch parliament a motion of the socialists was presented that requested the Americans to cease bombing North Vietnam. The Americans proved very worried about the eventuality that this resolution, edited in very harsh terms towards them, would be adopted. In order to block this motion, we gave an extremely powerful declaration. We explained that the Dutch government is very preoccupied, just like the deputies that proposed the motion, about the bombing of North Vietnam and we promised to do everything possible in order to explain to the American government what the Dutch government thinks about this situation. However, the voting of the socialist motion would have gone further than the intention of those who proposed it because, basically, the Dutch people are not anti-American. The Catholic Party, as well as the Liberals and the parties of the right voted against the motion and the house adopted a more moderate resolution that requested the government to do everything possible in order to contribute to the resolution of the situation.

I give you this example in order that you can see that in our country there also is a great preoccupation with the Vietnamese problem. I have very grateful for your goodwill in presenting your point of view.

Cde. Ion Gheorghe Maurer: I hope that we will have further occasion to meet and discuss issues of common interest.

VM 2 ex.

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