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

1783. Embtel 2685.2 We concur that next operation should be just as soon as possible, but believe that Feb 22 may be too soon until Saigon situation not only more stable but clearly seen to be so. We particularly concerned ARC press conference indicating Khanh’s status may still not be resolved. Question his successor, if any, also not clear.

Second factor here is that developments reported Deptel 17443 have taken different turn in last two days. British approached Sovs today with suggestion both governments as co-chairmen join in soliciting expression of views from members 1954 conference, plus ICC members, as to situation generally and also as to views on what conditions for peaceful answer might be. We do not yet have Sovs response and would not wish throw Sovs off this track by drastic action before they make decision, although we believe dramatic boat incident tends minimize possibility such reaction. Moscow had felt immediate further operation might jeopardize Sov reaction, and we have now asked for their judgment as to operation directed in part against naval base and in response VC actions putting boat incident in forefront although also including VC activity since Feb. 11.4

You should not reveal possibility this UK/USSR gambit to GVN for time being. We naturally wish have it appear entirely as their initiative, so that our reply would not be any kind of initiative on our part and would, in its content, make clear how stiff our views are. We of course have no thought holding back on basic program, but do wish for clear assessment at all stages.

In light above factors, we now inclined hold off operation until Feb. 23, so that you would not approach GVN for political clearance until Feb. [Page 343] 22. We expect make decision tomorrow, and fullest continuing flow findings from boat incident will remain most helpful here in accordance your 2690.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by William Bundy and approved by Rusk.
  2. In telegram 2685, February 20, Taylor recommended, with Westmoreland’s concurrence, that the first Rolling Thunder bombing strike be carried out on February 22 since the internal situation in South Vietnam seemed to be stabilizing. In telegram 2665 from Saigon, February 19, Taylor had recommended that Rolling Thunder I, scheduled for February 20, be postponed in view of the attempted coup in Saigon. The Department of State indicated its acceptance of Taylor’s recommendation in telegram 1757 to Saigon, February 19. All three telegrams are ibid.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 135.
  4. This request was transmitted in telegram 2268, February 20. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  5. Not found.