323. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in France1

36928. For Kissinger.

As you meet tomorrow with M and possibly with A as well, you may use following information to meet any charges that by hitting in the center of Haiphong we are in any way significantly escalating or acting so that Hanoi is entitled to feel we are hurting the chances of communication.
Attacks on 11 September in Haiphong area were conducted, and we believe accurately, against Haiphong bridge and railroad yard two miles north-northwest of the city itself, on railroad and highway bridge one mile west of the center of town, and a major warehouse 1.5 miles north of the town and across the river. All of these targets are away from the major port area and any built-up area that can properly be called the center of town. The closest target to the center, the railroad and highway bridge, is virtually in the same location as the major power plant and adjacent cement plant that have been hit in the past, power plant having been hit a total of three times, most recently on June 26.
Other targets equally close to anything that can be called the center of town have been hit in May and earlier in September on one occasion. All of these targets are so located that in our best judgment the attacks could be conducted accurately and with minimum risk of any significant civilian casualties. All are, in terms of type, the same kind of communication facilities and major supply installations (the warehouse) that we have hit on other occasions and in other areas.
Thus, the Haiphong attacks conducted on September 11 were not in our judgment a significant escalation either in terms of location or type of target. We have every reason to believe that the attacks were conducted accurately. Whether there were civilian casualties in Haiphong is a matter we do not now know, but we do know that an unrelated incident near Haiphong took place about September 8 or 9. This was that a North Vietnamese SAM site located in the eastern quarter of Haiphong city itself fired two SAM missiles in the direction of American aircraft orbiting off the coast several miles away. One of these SAM missiles apparently misfired and landed and exploded near an Italian ship that was lying off-shore waiting to unload. A second apparently [Page 797]exploded in the air over a similar ship. However, this was not in connection with any attacks by us in the Haiphong area on these days, although the result may well have been to build up the picture of attack on Haiphong.
If M and A should raise the question of attacks on the Cam Pha port, to the northeast of Haiphong, it is true that this port was attacked this week, as it had been on June 2, 1967. However, as has been announced here (but doubtless not by Paris press) the attacks were very carefully directed against supply installations and care was taken that there were no ships in harbor. (This is of course less a North Vietnam problem than the problem of foreign shipping.) In any case, the attack on Cam Pha was not a new act.
Since dictating the above, we have your 3288 in which Bo’s complaint seems to be that we hit “within one kilometer” of the center of Haiphong.2 This doubtless relates to the railroad and highway bridge, which as noted above is about one mile west of the center of town. However, the point here is that it is adjacent to the power plant and also the Haiphong cement plant, both of which have been hit in the past. All three are clearly marked and separated from the center of town by the small stream which the railroad and highway bridge crosses. With the accuracy that we now believe is achieved by our pilots, attacks on these are not attacks on populated areas, and we believe the risk of significant civilian casualties has been minimal. FYI: To the best of our knowledge Hanoi has made no specific charge that we hit populated areas in the September 11 attacks. However, you should not bring this up lest it suggest to them that they should make such a charge. End FYI.
In light of Bo’s stress on closeness to the center of town, you may wish to confine your rebuttal to the railroad and highway bridge and its proximity to other targets hit in the past, simply noting that any other targets in the Haiphong area that were hit on the 11th were at substantially greater distances and more clearly away from populated areas.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET/PENNSYLVANIA. Top Secret; Immediate; Nodis/Pennsylvania. Drafted and approved by Bundy and cleared by Read.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 324.