304. Memorandum From William J. Jorden of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • Priorities in Viet-Nam Under a New Government

Thieu and Ky are in. What should they now do? What should we push?

  • The first order of business should be formation of a new government.

    It should be broadly based. Strenuous efforts should be made to pull in some leading candidates or those close to them. Huong should [Page 749] be pressed. Also Dr. Dan (Suu’s VP candidate). Also Dr. Vien, present Deputy PM and close to Huong.2

  • Second priority—establishing close and good relations with the new Assembly. In the long run, this can only be done if the Government begins organizing a political party and enlisting significant legislators.
  • Third—a matter of internal importance and significant impact here and abroad—an approach to the VC and the Front: Lay down your arms and stop the killing; join the nation; personal and political rights will be assured. A national reconciliation commission should be set up.
  • Fourth—an approach to Hanoi. This will have to follow up on Thieu’s campaign promise. But it should be—or appear to be—more than a propaganda gimmick. They should be urged not to rush in without planning. My preference would be for a quiet diplomatic approach. Emphasis should be on talk “among us Vietnamese.” An open offer of a one-week pause would be rejected out of hand by Hanoi. This is no time to play games. If Hanoi is willing to talk with the GVN, a bombing pause could enter into the talks. If it breaks this way (talks in Paris, Phnom Penh, or wherever), we should go to the Russians and urge them to put up or shut up, get Hanoi to consider a real response; we would agree to halt bombing first if Hanoi’s need is for face-saving. The gut question: are they in a mood to cut down their involvement in the South?

There are distinct advantages in letting the new GVN take the lead in moving down a diplomatic track. And my judgment is that they are now in a mood as never before.

We should, meantime, be going forward with our own efforts—of which I judge the Oslo channel is the most promising. The worst approach right now:

Go to the GVN with a huge shopping list of things to do, programs to push. This has been the pattern over the years; it doesn’t work.

Let’s hit them with a few high priority items first. We should also sort out new things they can do (appeal to the Front; approach to Hanoi; political party organization) and the old things we want to see move ahead (improvement of ARVN, anti-corruption campaign, RD, land reform, etc.).

On the approach to Hanoi, it may be that Thieu will feel obliged to do it soon and to do it publicly.

If so, we should urge him to wait long enough for some preplanning and preparations. Before any statement by Saigon, we should have a chance to hit U Thant, the Russians, the Indians, Poles, Indonesians, [Page 750] etc. We should tell them that a serious gesture is coming up; it will involve a halt in bombing; now is the time for Hanoi to respond—with deeds as well as words.

Again, the message should be: put up or shut up.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Misc. Memos, Vol. 3B. Secret.
  2. Tran Van Huong, Phan Quang Dan, and Nguyen Luu Vien.