It is now over a week since North Vietnam's Foreign Minister Nguyen Duy Drinh first said that North Vietnam would definitely hold peace talks if the United States stops the bombing. American officials concede that his statement represents a change in Hanoi's position. On January 28 of last year, Drinh said only that talks could begin if the U.S. stopped the bombing.
This is not merely an exercise in semantics. Both the North Vietnamese and the National Liberation Front are holding out the closest thing yet to an olive branch. But the U.S. has made no indication whatsoever that it is willing to accept it.
There is, of course, only one way to test Hanoi's offer, and that is to stop the bombing. The raids over the North have long since outlived whatever usefulness they might have had in bolstering the morale of the Saigon regime. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara has testified of their dubious military value. The Administration should have halted the air attacks long ago; in the wake of Hanoi's apparently firm offer of a quid pro quo, it is unconscionable that they continue.
The real question is whether the United States and the Communists are willing to compromise with each other. Johnson has said that before he will order a bombing halt he must have some proof that talks will be "productive." But with one fleeting exception, any American definition of that term leaves no ground for negotiation.
The exception came when the National Liberation Front stated that it would be willing to participate in a coalition government. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg then told the United Nations that this country would have no objections. That was the first -- and last -- indication that the United States was ready to face up to the give and take of peacemaking. But after Gen. Ky and his cronies squawked loudly to Washington, Goldberg was made to swallow his words.
The Saigon government, relatively new to the throne, shows little interest in sharing power with anyone. If there is to be peace in the for seeable future, the United States will have to overcome Ky's obstinance and proceed in the real interest of both this country and Vietnam. The Administration must show itself ready to find a political solution, including a political compromise, to the war.