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

1693. We are working urgently to refine your recommendations and Bundy’s, which are very similar, into a systematic course of action constituting in effect a modified Phase II program. The principal differences appear to be that we will justify our actions as responses VC action and that tempo may hopefully be somewhat slower than some versions of Phase II had envisaged.

In our analysis to date, latter point assumes great importance. Ideally, we would like to lengthen the time before we reach a fork in the road at which negotiating pressures become extreme, or dangers of sharp Communist response become substantial, or both, while at the same time maintaining necessary pattern of response and pressure both to strengthen SVN situation and eventually to affect Hanoi attitudes.

Timing and criteria for specific actions thus crucial. Hanoi may force our hand, as it did by Qui Nhon and other actions, so that there is really no choice but to respond at once. However, we remain anxious to keep our response actions controllable and optional to maximum degree possible, and particularly to relate timing to any special factor outside SVN. For example, Kosygin’s continued presence in Far East gave us concern yesterday although we concluded immediate action essential.

Thus, we will need to stay in closest touch assessing VC actions against threshold of further response actions. Procedurally, we want to [Page 244] keep maximum discretion here and try to make our own minds up before we become in any degree committed to GVN to specific actions. There may be cases where provocations so extreme that failure to consult immediately with GVN could be construed as hesitancy and have adverse effect on them; night of February 10 was probably such a case, and we accept your judgment. However, we should have general practice of consultation with Washington prior to any GVN approaches which inevitably tend to commit us and could tilt the scales wrongly on timing decisions.

An underlying basic point—and another factor pointing to controlled tempo—is that GVN and South Vietnamese generally should not slide into believing we have taken over the war and they can resume bickering and not go all out in the field. Would appreciate your judgment how far such danger exists as we go along. Your present estimate would also be helpful in next few days.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by William Bundy and approved by Ball.
  2. See Document 112.