407. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

1034. For Ambassador from Secretary. Our working group is intensively preparing alternatives for action. The present high-level tendency, not yet discussed at highest levels, is to adopt an immediate program, extending for 4–6 weeks, of a clearly tougher public and private stance accompanied by somewhat expanded actions within present policy, including reprisals against any repetition of spectacular VC action in the south along the lines of the Bien Hoa attack. Concurrently, we would propose to decide very soon that, if such an immediate program does not produce a change in Hanoi behavior, we would initiate in January a program of slowly graduated military actions against the North in conjunction with negotiating moves in which we would seek throughout to keep alive a clear threat of additional action if the Communist side does not modify its position.2 Such a course of action would be less drastic than the programs sometimes suggested in the past of full and relentless attacks on the ninety-four targets and inflexible insistence that we would negotiate only on a basis of full acceptance of our maximum objectives.

The above is for your personal information. We would particularly welcome your own planning thoughts for possible use.

As to timing, we hope to have useful papers to send to you urgently about the middle of this week. Thereafter, we are tentatively thinking in terms of you and Admiral Sharp returning here about November 19 for consultation, during which we expect to arrive at a government decision firmly laying out the immediate program and deciding on our long-range course of action.

A key element in either the immediate program or the long-range course of action will be the nature of our discussions with the GVN. Sullivan has impressed on us the seriousness of SVN doubts as to US intentions, and this may suggest your taking up whole question with Huong, Khanh, or others even before you return and we reach final decisions. More basically, we believe no course of action can succeed unless we are able to stiffen the GVN to set its house in order and take [Page 896] every possible measure for political stability and to push forward the pacification program. This point too might be made in the immediate future by you, to be followed by even more specific and firm discussions after the decision is taken. We would particularly appreciate your comments on these two points.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Bundy and Forrestal and cleared in substance with Rusk.
  2. The Working Group met at 11 a.m. on November 7 to consider among other things a McNaughton paper, “Action for South Vietnam,” 3d draft (ibid., Bundy Files, Working Papers, Nov 1964, Vol. I; printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. III, pp. 601–604) and a William Bundy paper, “Immediate Actions Over the Next Few Weeks,” both dated November 7. The position elaborated here is a summary of Bundy’s paper. No record of the Working Group’s meeting has been found, but it is referred to in a covering note to the McNaughton draft and in Rusk’s Appointment Book.