305. Memorandum From Michael V. Forrestal of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1

Scotty Reston’s piece in yesterday’s Times 2 raised the old shibboleth of negotiations with the North Vietnamese looking toward unification and neutralization. He linked this with criticism of the “let’s get back to the war” spirit.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the USG to reiterate the statements which the President made more than a year ago defining the reason why we are present in South Vietnam giving assistance and advice.3 The President made the point, as I remember, that our only interest was to help South Vietnam defend itself against subversive aggression from the north. He then said that if Hanoi would cease its aggressive interference in South Vietnam the need for our advisory presence would disappear and we would withdraw.4

More recently we have added a gloss to this formula and implied (in the NSC statement of last month)5 that we would also withdraw the bulk of our personnel as soon as the South Vietnamese were able to cope for themselves. Secretary McNamara and General Taylor estimated that this might occur in 1965.

It seems to me that these two thoughts might be reiterated by Lodge in Saigon in connection with an announcement about our resumption of aid. Alternatively the President could say something like this at his next press conference,6 if the subject comes up or we could [Page 582] have a Department spokesman do it at some appropriate time next week.

I have asked Roger for his opinion; he says he will think about it.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Bundy wrote the following response on the source text: “MVF/ I’m for this as background stuff right now and as a quote in [illegible—any?] speech-and to be worked into [illegible—any?] press conference. McGB.”

    The typewritten words “Draft-November 7, 1963,” were crossed out on the source text.

  2. Entitled “Why a Truce in Korea and Not in Vietnam?”, The New York Times, November 6, 1963.
  3. Statements made at news conferences of February 7 and 14, 1962; see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1962, pp. 121-122 and 136-137.
  4. Apparent reference to a statement at a news conference of September 12, 1963; see ibid., 1963, p. 673.
  5. Document 170.
  6. At his press conference of November 14, the President stated, in response to a question, that the U.S. objective in South Vietnam was “to bring Americans home, permit the Vietnamese to maintain themselves as a free and independent country, and permit democratic forces within the country to operate-which they can, of course, much more freely when the assault from the inside, which is manipulated from the north, is ended.” For the transcript of the press conference, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, pp. 845-853.