119. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

2602. Ref. A. Deptel 1718.2 B. Deptel 1724.3 This cable reports my meeting with Acting Prime Minister Oanh, General Khanh and General Thieu for the purpose of obtaining GVN agreement to the US program outlined in paragraphs 1 to 3 inclusive of reftel A. I was accompanied by General Westmoreland and Mr. Manfull.

At the outset, I indicated that I was approaching the GVN on instructions to obtain concurrence for a joint GVN/US program in extension and replacement of the one which we had previously discussed on December 74 and January 25.5 To facilitate the discussion, I distributed the following top secret unsigned memorandum:

“The USG proposes the adoption of the following program for immediate future actions:

  • “A. Intensification by all available means of the program of pacification within SVN.
  • “B. Execution of a joint GVN/US program of measured and limited air action against selected military targets in the southern part of DRV. Air strikes under this program will be jointly planned and agreed.
  • “C. Announcement of this policy of measured action in general terms and presentation to the United Nations Security Council of the [Page 271] case against the DRV as the aggressor, accompanied by an indication of readiness to discuss ways of bringing the DRV aggression to an end.”

Following the guidance contained in reftels, I then proceeded to comment on each one of the foregoing three points. With regard to the intensification of pacification, I noted the danger both in SVN and in the US that this air program would be regarded as a cheap and easy way out of the pacification problems in SVN and that it behooves both parties to allay this misapprehension by intensified attention to pacification and by strong statements to the people and the armed forces of SVN that the in-country program must be carried forward with increasing vigor.

Khanh agreed with this evaluation but cited the unspectacular nature of pacification operations and the requirement to keep a strong central reserve of military units to cope with possible major attacks by VC on provincial centers. He asked my opinion about the need for a partial mobilization, to which I replied that now was the time to be sure that all national resources were brought into play as we appeared to be moving toward some kind of climax.

With regard to the second point, I stressed that on our side we would like to impart a vigorous rhythm to the operations against the North but that much would depend upon the ability of the Vietnamese Government to maintain its end. There would be much more in the program than the military aspects; in particular, there would be a need for a prompt strengthening of the foreign office, the UN delegation and information activities. Overall, there was the pressing need for a strong, permanent government.

Khanh then asked what we meant by the phrase “selected military targets in the southern part of the DRV”? I explained that it meant the area in which we had conducted our recent strikes and would extend over, at least, as much of south DRV as could be reached with safety by VNAF. I then made the point that, not covered by this proposed agreement, were the US air operations in Laos, the 34–A program which should continue to be conducted as at present, and any CINCPAC operations of the nature of the Tonkin Gulf affair. I explained that the initial limitation of strikes to this southern part of the DRV would not necessarily be permanent as, in the course, we would probably want to edge north to give signals to Hanoi of increasing danger.

On the subject of point three, the approach to the UN, I explained the need for preemptive action and for taking the initiative from those countries who might wish to call us before the UN bar as the guilty party. It was most important to present the strongest possible case against Hanoi and we must work closely together [to] this end. I emphasized that we expected to continue air strikes throughout the duration of the discussions which might last several months. I closed with a summary of our objectives which are to oblige Hanoi to cease infiltration and all forms of [Page 272] support of VC and to collaborate in obtaining cessation of VC insurgency.

Khanh and Oanh consulted briefly and Khanh indicated that they were completely in accord with the three-point program. I indicated that I would report GVN concurrence to Washington.

Before we broke up, Khanh expressed concern over the statements appearing in the world press which suggested that our recent air strikes had been in retaliation solely for US losses on US bases and indicated that this kind of talk caused him trouble in SVN. I told him that we appreciated his difficulty and would also like to stress the mutuality of our defensive actions. I reiterated, as I had in my meeting with Prime Minister Huong on January 23, that retaliation should take place whether the victims were Vietnamese, US nationals or both. Khanh’s comment is a reminder to us that in all government statements we should recognize the GVN partnership and the mutual responsibility to protect the nationals of both countries.

Later when I queried Khanh privately as to whether he has considered bringing Quat into the meeting per our suggestion, Khanh replied that it would have been improper to include Quat since he was not officially installed as Prime Minister. However, Khanh said he would bring Quat up to date immediately following Quat’s investiture. Earlier we had informed Quat without mentioning subject of meeting that we would suggest to Oanh and Khanh that he participate but of course decision rested with them.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received in the Department of State at 9:22 a.m.
  2. Document 115.
  3. Document 117.
  4. Regarding this discussion, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Document 439.
  5. Apparently an inaccurate reference. Taylor was presumably referring to his discussion of the reprisal program with Huong on January 23, which is described in Document 33.