311. Memorandum From the Deputy Regional Planning Adviser of the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs (Mendenhall) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman)1


  • U.S. Policy on Vietnam

An editorial in the New York Times on November 102 and a column by James Reston a few days earlier3 suggested strongly that the U.S. should undertake international negotiations for settlement of the Vietnam problem.

We believe that these suggestions by highly reputable journalists may cause suspicions and questions to arise on the part of the new GVN about U.S. policy and intentions. GVN Foreign Minister Lam has told the Embassy that a rumor is already circulating in Saigon that the U.S. supported the change in regime in Vietnam to obtain a new group more amenable to a neutral situation.4

Part of the Vietnamese suspicions, especially with respect to the neutralization of South Vietnam, should be allayed by the Secretary’s November 8 press conference.5 However, the Times November 10 editorial still leaves the picture blurred by suggesting that U.S. policy be carried further by calling for an international conference on Vietnam.

To insure that U.S. policy is correctly understood by the GVN, the Vietnamese people, the American public and the world at large, we propose the following actions:

A telegram to Embassy Saigon (Tab A)6 proposing that the GVN be reassured on our policy. Request that you initial this cable, obtain White House clearance and forward to the Secretary for signature.
A statement by the President at his Thursday press conference7 in response to a planted question. We suggest that the President reiterate our policy on Vietnam, including our view that there is nothing to be negotiated at an international conference.
A background conversation by you with Reston and the appropriate Times editor8 to try to set them straight on the situation in Vietnam and on U.S. policy regarding Vietnam.

Mr. Koren concurs in the above, but Mr. Manell has further views with respect to the second and third suggestions.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Confidential. Attached to the source text was a handwritten note from Forrestal to McGeorge Bundy which reads as follows: “Mac: I think the President should do this in light of N.Y. Times campaign which must be causing worries in Saigon. Mike”.
  2. The editorial, entitled “A Policy for Vietnam,” also called for American consideration of the neutralization of Vietnam.
  3. See Document 305.
  4. See Document 308.
  5. For the transcript of Rusk’s press conference of November 8, in which there were questions and answers on Vietnam, see Department of State Bulletin, November 11, 1963, pp. 810-817.
  6. The draft cable (Tab A) was not attached, but for the cable as sent, see Document 315.
  7. Although the President answered a number of questions about Vietnam in his press conference of Thursday, November 14, he did not address the question of an international conference on Vietnam. For the transcript, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, pp. 845-853.
  8. See Document 313.