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

2000. Saigon’s 2888.2 Having in mind considerations raised your reftel and recommendations of Gen Johnson following his return, longer range program of action against North Viet Nam has been given priority consideration here and program for first week, Rolling Thunder 7, has been decided, for execution this week. Details this program which includes one US and one VNAF strike together with one US and two VNAF route armed recce is subject of instructions being sent through [Page 450]military channels. You will note these instructions leave to military commands in field decisions as to specific timing within period covered. Execution of first action under Rolling Thunder 7 may take place anytime from daylight March 19 Saigon time. Although program contains full measure VNAF participation, requirement that US and VNAF operations proceed simultaneously is dropped.

You are requested to see PriMinASAP in order to outline to him this further program we have in mind and to solicit GVN participation as specified therein. You should convey to PriMin that proposed program, on which you will be providing him with further information in successive weeks, is designed to maintain pressure on Hanoi and persuade North Vietnamese regime that costs of continuing their aggression becoming unacceptably high. At same time Quat should understand we continue to seek no enlargement of struggle and have carefully selected targets with view to avoiding undesirable provocation. Further objective is to continue reassure Government and people South Viet Nam we are and will continue fight by their side and we expect they will also be making maximum efforts in South Viet Nam where a real setback to Viet Cong would do more than perhaps anything else to persuade Hanoi stop its aggression.

With initiation Rolling Thunder 7 we believe publicity given US and VNAF strikes should be progressively reduced, although in its place there should be picture of GVN and US pursuing with regularity and determination program against the North to enable South restore its independence and integrity and defend itself from aggression from North. Larger strikes (Rolling Thunder 7A and 7B) should be announced as before but suggest in future that such announcements not contain references to Viet Cong atrocities, etc. Instead these matters, which should get full attention, might be subject of separate and perhaps regular press briefings by GVN with full US support.

As regards route recce, we question whether we should take initiative to announce these missions since this could contribute to impression of substantial increase in activity. At same time we presume reporters will get wind of these missions, Hanoi will report them and VNAF may not wish maintain silence. Therefore seems difficult avoid replying to inevitable press questions. Request PIO meeting opening tomorrow Honolulu3 to look into this one and give us and Saigon its recommendations; possibility it should consider is passing off all route recce missions in low key replies to queries as “routine recce”.

Rusk
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Unger, cleared by Sieverts, William Bundy, Cooper, and McNaughton (in substance), and approved by Rusk. Repeated to CINCPAC and Bangkok.
  2. See footnote 6, Document 187.
  3. A conference on information policy in Vietnam was held in Honolulu March 18–19. A copy of the report on the conference was attached to a March 19 memorandum from Greenfield to Rusk. (Department of State, Central Files,POL 27 VIET S)