216. Memorandum From the Secretary of State’s Special Assistant for Vietnam (Sullivan) to the Secretary of State1


  • Reassurance in South Viet Nam

In the course of the meeting June 152 on this subject, I was asked to put forward suggestions for the sort of action which the United States might take in order to reassure South Viet Nam concerning the degree of our commitment there. The following proposal, which is fashioned to meet the most prevalent suggestions both from the Vietnamese and from our own U.S. representation in Saigon, represents the sort of step which might meet the problem.

As a first step, we should send somewhat inconspicuous representatives (I would nominate Forrestal and myself) to talk privately with General Khanh about the problem. We should pick him up on his discussions with Ambassador Lodge about “prolonging the agony” and on his discussions with you and Secretary McNamara about taking action against North Viet Nam. We should tell him that the United States is prepared to consider shortening the “agony” by reaching a political agreement which would result in the termination of guerrilla insurgency in South Viet Nam.
We should make clear to him our realization that negotiations toward such an agreement would essentially involve only four representatives-Communist China, the United States, North Viet Nam and South Viet Nam. However, we should indicate our willingness, if Khanh agrees, to slide into such negotiations through the diplomatic [Page 519] machinery which is being rigged around the Laos question, and should particularly indicate that this might involve participation in a Fourteen Nation Conference.
In discussing such negotiations, we should emphasize that we consider our current bargaining position totally inadequate. We could therefore seriously contemplate such discussions only if we had better bargaining counters which would serve as some measure of a match for the position now enjoyed by the communists. Specifically, this would require that North Viet Nam be undergoing some punitive action which could be posed as an equivalent to the “agony” being suffered by the South Vietnamese in the hands of the Viet Cong.
Given the relative circumstances [of] South and North, such a punitive equivalent would appear available only in the form of limited air strikes against North Viet Nam. This is the sort of action which General Khanh has on several occasions proposed and we should indicate that we are now ready to discuss with him the form which such action would take. Ideally, we believe that the action should be initiated by South Vietnamese aircraft with South Vietnamese crews. The U.S. would be willing to assist in the development of these strikes by the provision of pre-strike reconnaissance, target planning, and post-strike observation of results. More importantly still, we would be willing to provide air defense for South Viet Nam and political support as insurance against North Vietnamese ground retaliation.
It would be our suggestion that such air action against North Viet Nam be openly announced and acknowledged by General Khanh, that the United States would openly condone and support such actions, and that we would immediately enter into diplomatic negotiations at about the same time the air action began. The essential understanding would be that the air action would continue during the diplomatic negotiations just so long as the guerrilla action continues in South Viet Nam. A “cease fire” would involve cessation of both the air action and the guerrilla action simultaneously.
If General Khanh accepts this sort of arrangement, we should insist on having further understandings with him. A central point on which we should reach agreement would concern the South Vietnamese attitude toward eventual unification of Viet Nam and consequently the nature of the “carrot” which we would eventually be willing to offer an independent North Viet Nam. Similarly, we need understanding from him concerning his immediate acquiescence in the rapid infusion of American assistance in his pacification program and in the general acceleration of South Vietnamese activities in their own provincial programs. We need it clearly understood that the improvement of Vietnamese governmental processes and bureaucracy are essential to making it possible for the United States to consider a political [Page 520] agreement which would leave South Viet Nam independently able to manage the improvement of its people’s welfare once the insurgency is brought under control.
Finally, it should be understood that, especially as a counter to the points outlined in the preceding paragraphs, Khanh may insist upon more active U.S. association with the air action. In that instance, we should be prepared if necessary to concede the inclusion of Farmgate strikes and perhaps, as an outside limit, the deployment of B–57 aircraft into South Viet Nam to be manned by U.S. “volunteers.”

The foregoing package of proposals would certainly give Khanh the sort of reassurance that he personally has sought over the past few weeks. It also would lay out for him a program of preparations that would consume at least eight weeks before negotiations and actions could be brought into train. The uncontrolled factor which could impel more rapid acceleration of this schedule is, of course, the situation in Laos. Either military actions by the communists, or more likely diplomatic actions by the several busybodies which are now concerning themselves with this problem, could move the time schedule for decision on these matters into the latter days of next month.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. XII, Memos. Top Secret.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 214