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

1509. For Ambassador from Secretary. Saigon’s 2186.2

Since it remains our view that dependents should be withdrawn we have studied carefully points raised your reftel and are providing following answers and comments to enable you discuss this matter with PriMin Huong. It is recognized that withdrawal of dependents will precipitate speculation and could alarm both South Vietnamese Government and people and third country nationals. We believe, however, that as long as Presidential statement explains evacuation on basis need to concentrate all US efforts on assisting Viet Nam to resist Communist subversion, evacuation would be understood in constructive context. It will remain true of course that it will be our actions more than our words which will help maintain morale but if evacuation of dependents is seen as an action in support of efforts to assist Viet Nam, it may even have salutary effect. Questions you have posed concerning other Governments and non-official Americans are troublesome but we believe not insuperable.
In discussion with Huong (in which you may include Vien) please use only substance of proposed statement (see below); also make clear we are seeking his reaction and that decision to evacuate not yet taken here.
Text of proposed statement set out your reftel appears acceptable in substance, subject to comments which follow, but we believe that it must be made initially in Washington rather than in Saigon as your text appears to suggest. As for text itself, last two sentences Para 2 B appear unnecessary. With regard to first of those two sentences we are also concerned lest initial release might invite communists to press terrorist actions. We also feel that final sentence Para 2A suggests too passive an approach on our part; for this reason would prefer final phrase to read “desire of U.S. to maintain a posture of maximum readiness to take whatever action may be required in support of those efforts.”
With respect to points raised Para 4 your message the following guidance is provided:
We agree that notification other friendly governments should take place here first and it would be in essentially same terms we have proposed to discuss question with Huong. Although evacuation our dependents will bring in its train closing down of facilities and termination arrangements which may raise difficulties for dependents of other governments, each is obviously free to make its own decision on this matter. We recall that when we evacuated our dependents from Laos in 1960, dependents of most other friendly governments remained and never were withdrawn.
With regard to dependents of private Americans and tourist travel we would envisage issuance general notices objectively describing situation and leaving it for individuals to make their own decisions, taking responsibility on themselves for risks if they visit as tourists or if, as private Americans, they keep their dependents on hand. We would of course still have residual responsibility to help them with emergency evacuation if there were real and immediate threat to their safety.
We agree that there is distinct possibility Pan Am may drop its commercial passenger service to Saigon although we would expect that both here and through U.S. Mission Saigon efforts will be made to keep them coming. For most part dangers which make necessary withdrawal dependents do not seriously interfere with airline operations.
We can also foresee possible added difficulties to securing additional free world personnel, particularly non-military, for service outside Saigon. We have some reason to hope that there will be cases where this will not be problem.
Taking as much as one month to execute evacuation appears acceptable, even though a longer period than we would have thought would be necessary, provided the very announcement of evacuation does not increase risks to dependent population and there is no evidence of stepping up terrorist activities. If need for reprisal should arise we would wish to see simultaneous with reprisal a very much stepped up evacuation of remaining dependents.
With foregoing in hand assume you will now open discussions with Huong and Vien.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis;LOR. Drafted by Unger; cleared by Cooper, McNamara, and Rusk; and approved by William Bundy.
  2. Document 28.