Reluctant Negotiators

President Johnson's decision Monday to resume the bombing of North Vietnam indicates that the United States is not as serious about a negotiated peace in Vietnam as Arthur Goldberg would have had his Harvard audience believe.

In his statements here early this week Ambassador Goldberg emphasized that negotiations will provide the only road to a peace America desperately wants. Both Hanoi and Moscow have made it increasingly clear in past weeks that if the United States were to halt its air raids north of the 17th parallel some sort of peace talks could be initiated.

Unfortunately, President Johnson may believe that if the bombing were halted permanently, America's military position would deteriorate to a point where our negotiating position would be ruined. Our present strength, however, is based on the ability of American forces to prevent the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese from controlling most of the South's population and from seizing Saigon. This situation would not be altered appreciably if the bombing-which seems to have had a negligible effect on North Vietnam's logistical capacity -were immediately discontinued.

On the other hand, President Johnson may believe that continued piecemeal devastation of the North could, in the indefinite future, bring the enemy to his knees-and ruin Ho Chi Minh's bargaining position. But if this is true, then the President is disingenuous when he predicts meaningful concessions from both sides. North Vietnam could only interpret this attitude as a valid U.S. desire for total victory.

The American insistence on bombing the North will likely strengthen Ho's resolve to persist for at least several more years. His experiences at Geneva in 1954 and with the French at the end of World War II make him understandably leery of talks with the West. And Johnson's apparent attempt to weaken the North Vietnamese bargaining hand will only reinforce his reluctance to deal with the United States.

In the past few days the capitals of Europe have radiated an aura of optimism over the prospects for peace, despite the resumption of the bombing. There is little doubt, of course, that the leaders of those countries, notably Prime Minister Wilson of Great Britain, know more about Johnson's strategic designs and diplomatic maneuvers than the public.

Nonetheless, any number of secret messages from Washington to Hanoi while the bombing continues cannot dispel the disturbing notion that the President and his hawkish advisers may still be hoping for a military non-solution.