35. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

Herewith Amb. Goldberg suggests that:

  • —for the time being we not undertake “new or additional” targeting in North Viet Nam;
  • —following the Tet ceasefire we further reduce bombing in the North; inform Hanoi; and express our expectation that North Viet Nam undertake “some corresponding de-escalatory action.”

Comment: Although I remain sceptical that mutual de-escalation is the likely route to peace, we ought to develop better thought on:

  • —what action by them would be escalatory;
  • —and, especially, how we should monitor and measure it.

W.W. Rostow2

Attachment

USUN 3848—NODIS—Sunflower, February 2, 19673

For the President and Secretary of State from Goldberg

In connection with Hanoi’s recent approaches, both direct and indirect,4 I have already indicated my agreement with the appraisal in the last telegram to Moscow in Sunflower series that approaches could represent either:

A.
A sign of serious interest on Hanoi’s part in beginning process toward reaching settlement or toward mutual abatement of the conflict; or
B.
Part of an intensified propaganda effort to increase pressure of world and domestic opinion on U.S. to end bombing.

[Page 82]

I consider it essential that, in reacting to these approaches, we follow course which does not exclude either of these possibilities and which takes into account slightly greater weight given in assessment to the first possibility. Our reaction, in short, must serve dual purpose: It must demonstrate convincingly to Hanoi that we are prepared to accept Hanoi’s direct approach as serious move and to respond affirmatively; at same time, our reaction must be such that it will protect our public position in event Hanoi’s direct approach turns out to be propaganda effort.

With these purposes in mind, I wish to urge two additional steps to policy which has been approved for responding to Hanoi’s direct approach:

  • First, while this approach is being explored, and until it is ascertained beyond reasonable doubt that it is not serious move on Hanoi’s part, we should undertake no new or additional targeting for our bombing sorties in North Vietnam.
  • Second, following the Tet ceasefire, we should reduce the bombing of North Vietnam by a small but significant amount, namely: suspend those bombing sorties which are directed against targets not related to the North’s infiltration of men and supplies into South. As I understand from Secretary McNamara’s statement to Cabinet on February 1, this would involve suspension of approximately 5% of present sorties in North.

This second step would be taken without any announcement and with every possible effort made to ensure its complete secrecy. We should notify Hanoi directly of this action. Perhaps at outset of the Tet ceasefire, stating that: It represents a substantial earnest of our desire to de-escalate conflict; we would expect North Vietnam, within reasonably prompt period, to inform U.S. of and actually carry out some corresponding de-escalatory action on its part; and, finally, we are prepared to include further steps toward mutual de-escalation as one of subjects to be explored in private talks.

The principal advantages I see to these additional steps on our part are as follows: They offer something of substance to Hanoi immediately and the prospect of something more in future; there is, moreover, reasonable prospect of keeping secret our action, as well as any action Hanoi might choose to take in response. These in themselves could be significant factor in persuading Hanoi to continue direct contact with us. At same time, I believe the steps I have proposed would serve to protect our public position: on the other hand, we would be relatively free from charge that we had not responded affirmatively to Hanoi’s approaches. Our public record on this score will need bolstering, for it appears the record is being rather badly clouded by Polish version of how our mid-December bombings interfered with what they [Page 83]conceive to be a very promising chance of talks with Hanoi. On other hand, since reduction of bombing would be relatively small and would not involve suspension of sorties directed against targets related to North Vietnamese infiltration, our action would not open us to charge of having placed in jeopardy status and security of our forces in South.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Sunflower, Vol. I. Top Secret; Nodis.
  2. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.
  3. The text is a typed copy of the telegram.
  4. INR concluded in an Intelligence Note, February 3, that Hanoi had split the various demands of its negotiating position into several parts in order to create a more attractive environment for talks. Bilateral discussions were now specifically contingent upon a bombing halt, a political settlement revolved around U.S. recognition of the NLF, and the Four Points no longer had to be accepted before negotiations began. As a result, the DRV had “made its position more flexible” in order to “make the US less reluctant to yield” to its immediate demands. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, EA/ACA Files: Lot 69 D 277, Vietnam File—DRV)