366. Telegram From the Central Intelligence Agency to the White House1

Fm Ambassador Bunker 264. To Walt Rostow Priority.

Although I welcome the prospect of a personal meeting with the President to take a look at where we are and where we should be going, I have some reservations about the suggestion for a weekend meeting at Honolulu beginning November 3.
The entire top echelon of the Mission is largely tied up in preparations for the visit of the Vice President and the U.S. delegation to the inauguration and will be completely occupied from the time of the Vice President’s arrival on Sunday, October 29, through the afternoon of Wednesday, November 1, when the Vice President departs from Danang. This leaves inadequate time for preparation for meeting such as proposed. In spite of the fact that we try to keep Washington fully informed of developments here and of our recommended plans, programs, and procedures, to achieve adequate and compensatory returns from such a meeting we would want to pull together much data and material.
I have reported in my last several weekly messages and in other messages the increasing sensitivity here at all levels to appearances of U.S. pressure on the Vietnamese Government. I do not question the need to apply pressure or leverage as the case may be. The question is how it is done. It is important to form a judgment in each case as to what method will be most effective in achieving results, e.g., persuasion, urging, prodding, leverage, or pressure, and the form in which the method should be applied. In view of the characteristic pride (not exclusive to the Vietnamese but existing generally in most underdeveloped countries) and increasing susceptibility to public evidence of U.S. pressure, it is my feeling that we obtain results most effectively and rapidly by exerting the above methods as quietly and privately as possible. They are most effective when they have been applied in such a way that the ideas, programs, and projects appear to be coming as [Page 930]ideas proposed by the Vietnamese themselves. I believe that we have been increasingly able to do this and I am convinced that we should continue to work in this way with the new government when the spotlight, with the Assembly in existence and functioning, will be more concentrated on what we do and how we do it.
As you know, we have had to press the GVN leadership rather hard recently on a number of important and urgent questions. This fact will become evident as certain of these actions are taken. In view of the sensitivity I have mentioned, which has been evident during the recent election campaigns and from the full and frank criticism in the uncensored Vietnamese press, a high-level meeting at Honolulu immediately after the inauguration of the new government is likely to be interpreted here and outside as new efforts to apply strong pressure on the new Vietnamese Government. This could strengthen criticism and give credence to those who have already labeled the GVN as a U.S. puppet. It might well cause embarrassment to the new government and their friends just as it is getting under way. Its reaction might well be that it had not been freely given the chance to get organized and moving.
In such a session we would of course be discussing precisely that, namely, how to get the new government organized and moving, and this is why I believe it would be far preferable to do this in a way which would not appear publicly to be what it is. I recognize that your needs at home are different from the requirements of our situation in Saigon, but I hope you will appreciate the importance of keeping the atmosphere here as undisturbed as possible during this critical new period.
An alternative, and it seems to be preferable, would be to hold a meeting such as proposed in Washington rather than in Honolulu a week or two weeks later, say November 10th or 17th. This would give time for adequate preparation, and the fact of our presence in Washington could be handled as more or less a normal, routine consultation after the new team has been here six months. In fact, I wrote yesterday, before receiving your message, to Dean Rusk suggesting that I return in November about that time for consultation to take up with President, you, Dean, and Bob McNamara a number of things relating to policy and programs here both regarding our own efforts and the programs of the new government.
I pass these thoughts on to you as my best judgment as to what would be the most productive and useful procedure as seen from this end.
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, I E(1), Post Inaugural Political Activity. Top Secret; Literally Eyes Only; Via CAS Channels. Received in the White House at 12:25 p.m. In his attached covering note transmitting the telegram to the President, Rostow wrote: “Herewith Amb. Bunker’s back channel response to my message to him, also attached. I am making it available, on an eyes only basis, to Sec. Rusk and to Sec. McNamara.” The notation “L” on the note indicates that the President saw the telegram. Rostow’s message to Bunker has not been found, but presumably it asked Bunker to consider a meeting with the President.