103. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
20060. 1. Ambassador and Bundy met alone with Thieu today. Following were highlights.
2. Bundy said GVN should have no doubt that President adhered to basic position he had stated at Manila,2 that pressure must continue to be applied before Hanoi could be expected to change its attitude, while at the same time we stayed completely alert for any implication of change in Hanoi’s position. It was now clear from December and January events that Hanoi was negative for the time being, so that we were proceeding with continued and somewhat increased pressures including additional measures against the North.
3. Thieu expressed gratitude for these assurances and said he completely agreed with this analysis. He thought that if we were able to maintain military successes, go forward with pacification, and complete Constitution and elections, Hanoi might conceivably change its attitude during 1967. At same time, he repeated theme stated to Goldberg, that if we did not maintain pressures Hanoi would simply continue propaganda and stress guerrilla and terrorist operations during 1967 lying low in order to resume more significant military action to arouse US and other public opinion during 1968.
4. Thieu specifically asked that President be informed he definitely intended to proceed with reconciliation proclamation at time Constitution was promulgated. He said that advance work was proceeding well, and that this timing now appeared clearly right.
5. Thieu then dwelt at length on role of ARVN in pacification. He said that army officers now accepted vital importance of pacification and that this was real area where war would be won. Substantial battalions had already been committed, and retraining for all battalions to be devoted to pacification would be completed by July. He said regimental commanders in particular felt strongly that they should have wider responsibility than mere security, and that they were therefore working on a command system that would place regimental commanders in overall charge of given areas with RD cadre and other organizations under them. He appeared to be saying that province chiefs would be under regimental commanders in areas where ARVN forces [Page 238]were on regimental scale, but that province chiefs would have control where only single battalions were committed. In any case, he said vital thing was to have single man in charge in each area. He indicated this concept differed from proposals put forward by General Thang, but said that he had recently visited areas in First and Fourth Corps areas and had thereafter persuaded Thang these changes were necessary (apparently from Thang’s idea that had placed province chiefs in more control position throughout).
Thieu went over this ground at some length, and Bundy expressed understanding of this explanation. (Ambassador will comment separately on these issues including their possible relation to pending decree on command structure for pacification and to sudden Thang selection to head GVN mission to Brazil inauguration.)3
6. Thieu’s second major topic concerned behavior of ARVN and importance of new unit messing arrangements. He noted that previous system had given military men piaster allowance, which they had then passed on to their wives leaving themselves inadequate ration capacity which in turn led to local thievery of food and other bad behavior. He said this new arrangement, for which he took personal credit, will produce great improvement in ARVN relations with local populations, particularly as they stayed for long period in order to accomplish true pacification. Bundy noted that he had discussed issue with MACV, which of course wholly endorsed concept. He also noted that we understood DOD had pending proposal to assist in furnishing adequate rations.
7. Ambassador noted that even with military successes VC terrorism continued and assassinations of village chiefs were actually rising. Thieu agreed that this was so, and noted recent VC emphasis on attacks on RD cadres. He thought this was part of VC attempt to clog progress of pacification, which was of course fundamental to success.
8. Conversation did not touch on political situation. Thieu appeared in general very self-assured and relaxed.