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

2553. To Ambassador Taylor from the President. I have learned from Bob McNamara that nearly all Rolling Thunder operations for this week can be completed by Wednesday noon, Washington time.2 This fact and the days of Buddha’s birthday seem to me to provide an excellent opportunity for a pause in air attacks which might go into next week and which I could use to good effect with world opinion.

My plan is not to announce this brief pause but simply to call it privately to the attention of Moscow and Hanoi as soon as possible, and tell them that we shall be watching closely to see whether they respond in any way. My current plan is to report publicly after the pause ends on what we have done.

Could you see Quat right away on Tuesday and see if you can persuade him to concur in this plan. I would like to associate him with me in this decision if possible, but I would accept a simple concurrence or even a willingness not to oppose my decision. In general, I think it important that he and I should act together in such matters, but I have no desire to embarrass him if it is politically difficult for him to join actively in a pause over Buddha’s birthday.

We have noted your 36993 and 37064 but do not yet have your appreciation of the political effect in Saigon of acting around Buddha’s [Page 630] birthday. From my point of view it is a great advantage to use Buddha’s birthday to mask the first days of the pause here, if it is at all possible in political terms for Quat. I assume we could undertake to enlist the Archbishop and the Nuncio in calming the Catholics.

You should understand that my purpose in this plan is to begin to clear a path either toward restoration of peace or toward increased military action, depending upon the reaction of the Communists. We have amply demonstrated our determination and our commitment in the last two months, and I now wish to gain some flexibility.

I know that this is a hard assignment on short notice, but there is no one who can bring it off better.

I have kept this plan in the tightest possible circle here and wish you to inform no one but Alexis Johnson. After I have your report of Quat’s reaction I will make a final decision and it will be communicated promptly to senior officers concerned.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Flash; Nodis. The text was received from the White House and cleared by William Bundy and by the Secretary in substance.
  2. May 12.
  3. Telegram 3699, May 8, reported that Thich Tinh Khiet’s Buddha birthday message carried no appeal for a cease-fire. Taylor added that on May 1 he had asked Prime Minister Quat whether he saw any merit in the suggestion that there be a pause in air attacks during the celebration of Buddha’s birthday. Quat responded that Buddha’s birthday was not a national holiday akin to Tet, and he did not see any merit in such a suggestion. (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 12 VIET S)
  4. In telegram 3706, May 10, the Embassy reported that it had received from Tri Quang a copy of an appeal being made by Khiet calling for a cessation of hostilities on Buddha’s birthday. Tri Quang said that the birthday message reported in telegram 3699 had not been Khiet’s authorized holiday appeal. He added that should the United States heed such an appeal, its stock would go up significantly with the Vietnamese people. (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S)