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

I had a brief talk with Bob Kleiman of the New York Times editorial board this morning. I told him that I thought the Halberstam article in this morning’s edition was irresponsible and mostly reflected a personal animus against General Harkins instead of accurate news reporting.2 Kleiman admitted that this might be so, but pointed out that there must have been some differences of opinion between the Embassy and MACV, since Halberstam quoted inconsistent Embassy sources and MACV public statements.

[Page 595]

Kleiman suggested rather strongly that we move as soon as possible toward a reconvening of the Geneva Conference and a negotiated settlement of the differences between North and South Vietnam. He argued that the political strength of the South will never be as strong again as it will be during the next few months, and that we should seize this opportunity for negotiations before the situation deteriorated and we found ourselves back in a 10-year, Malayan-type effort. In connection with such negotiations he raised the possibility of effecting a mass population transfer in an effort to get all of the Viet Cong moved from the South back up to the North.

I told him that I had great difficulty with this suggestion and thought that it would be folly to pursue this line at the present time. South Vietnam was still not strong enough to approach the bargaining table with any hope of coming away whole. Furthermore, there was no indication that responsible Vietnamese in Vietnam would view the prospects of a new Geneva Conference as anything less than a complete sellout by the U.S. I emphasized that we definitely looked toward the time when South Vietnam would be strong enough to deal with the North on at least a basis of equality. I referred to the President’s statement of last year and the NSC statement of last month,3 indicating that the U.S. was prepared to withdraw its presence from South Vietnam as soon as Hanoi ceased its interference in the South or as soon as the South was able to handle the problem on its own. We had not yet reached that point, however. I also questioned whether a population transfer would be feasible in view of the difficulty of identifying the bulk of the Viet Cong, to say nothing of the political problems involved in a forced emigration.

Kleiman will no doubt continue to peddle his Geneva Conference idea, and we should be preparing ourselves to counter it.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, Memos and Miscellaneous. Confidential.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 312.
  3. Document 170.