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

1477. For the Ambassador from the Secretary.

Your 21162 provides us with a further helpful analysis of your situation as it relates to the various proposals for action we have had under review between us over recent weeks.
As a result of our study of your message here and after further discussion with the President I can provide you with the following guidance with respect to the five recommendations (A through E) at the close of your telegram.

Your arguments concerning the relation between reprisal action, the withdrawal of dependents and public handling of these questions have been thoroughly weighed. We continue to be of the view that it would be far preferable if dependents could be withdrawn in the near future and prior to initiation of possible reprisals. The continued presence of dependents entails serious risks for their safety which we should avoid if at all possible and their presence also can interfere with the carrying out of the military job at hand and imposes a burden on the US and Vietnamese authorities.

At the same time we agree that any action on dependents must be taken in such a way as to avoid serious risk of creating panic in South Viet-Nam, creating misunderstanding of our motives in the US and elsewhere in the world, or reducing the effectiveness of the US mission. Therefore, unless you see serious objection we would ask you to explore with Prime Minister Huong on a strictly personal and confidential basis the entire question of evacuation of US dependents and report his reaction and your recommendations for further action on this matter in the light of his views. After explaining why, from the US point of view, we consider it wise to take such action soon, you may tell Huong that simultaneous with evacuation the President would make a public statement which would remove any possibility of the evacuation being misinterpreted as a reduction or withdrawal of US support or commitment in any sense. We envisage a statement by the President along the following lines:

[Here follows text of the statement, with minor editorial changes, as contained in Document 26.]

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With respect to reprisals we propose the following steps:

Immediately following the occurrence of a spectacular enemy action you would propose to us what reprisal action you considered desirable.
Following the President’s decision and simultaneously with reprisal action he would carefully inform the American people and world of our actions and the underlying reasons.
We continue to believe that reprisal must be undertaken as fast as possible following provocation and that this should not exceed 24 hours except when absolutely unavoidable.

It is not possible now for us to make any commitment on Phase II actions going beyond our guidance of December 3.3 The criteria which you have set out are highly pertinent and relevant to the President’s eventual decision but are not the only factors which must be considered.
We agree that when it is possible to authorize the initiation of Phase II operations, this will call for the agreement of the President and of the GVN Chief Executive, as will each specific strike thereunder.
You are authorized to seek agreement of the GVN as necessary for those actions in Subparagraph 4.A of your message 2116, in the light of the foregoing discussion of evacuation of dependents and reprisals. You are also authorized to seek agreement of the GVN as necessary on a contingency basis for Phase II actions on the basis specified in our previous message, paragraph 5(5).4
You are authorized to communicate to the appropriate GVN officials the pertinent information on Laos. However, before acting on this matter we would like to see a summary of the information you have in mind communicating and would like this summary also to be repeated to Vientiane; the message on this subject should not be in this highly restricted channel.5
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis; LOR. Drafted by Unger and cleared by William Bundy, in substance by McGeorge Bundy and McNamara, and in draft by Rusk, and approved by Unger.
  2. Document 22.
  3. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Document 435.
  4. See Document 19.
  5. In telegram 2159 from Saigon, January 15, Taylor indicated that on the basis of a previous instruction from the Department of State he had already briefed Huong, Khanh, and Vien on recent Barrell Roll operations. The briefing was described in telegram 2158 from Saigon, January 15. The previous instruction was telegram 1471 to Saigon, January 14, which was in response to Taylor’s request in telegram 2146, January 14, for authorization to brief senior South Vietnamese officials on air operations in Laos. (All in Department of State, Central Files,POL 27 VIET S)