383. Telegram From the Ambassador to Vietnam (Bunker) to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow), Secretary of State Rusk, Secretary of Defense McNamara, and Director of Central Intelligence Helms 1

CAS 456. In my meeting with President Thieu this morning, I described the developments of the Buttercup case since 18 August when General Loan advised us of Sau Ha’s arrest and provided a CAS officer with a copy of Sau Ha’s letter. The President was told of the arrangements worked out for the release of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] and for his return to the VC zone to meet with Buttercup/1 in order to transmit a reply which had been approved in Saigon and Washington and had been reviewed by General Loan, and which expressed American willingness to cooperate in a prisoner exchange. In showing the President a copy in the original Vietnamese of the response just received via [less than 1 line of source text not declassified],2 I summarized its contents and apparent significance.

I explained that our principal concern at this time is to develop through this channel a reciprocal release of American and Vietnamese prisoners, that we wish to consider with President Thieu or his designee the release of NLF prisoners as requested by Buttercup/1, and that careful consideration should be given to our action regarding the NLF prisoners for whom Buttercup/1 requested better treatment. I noted further that the letter from Buttercup/1 was not limited to the treatment of the prisoner matter alone but expanded on political matters. While we do not conclude that there is immediate potential in this channel for influencing NLF positions, we regard it as a definite advantage both to ourselves and the GVN to give the sponsors of the message the impression that their move is welcome and that they will find us receptive to discreet communications they may send in the future. We may therefore wish to consider in our reply to Buttercup/1 a restrained forthright statement of U.S. objectives and aims.

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I emphasized that we wished to proceed in fullest consultation with the GVN and that in order to accomplish this, a CAS officer known to President Thieu will contact him shortly to provide additional background and information, and to ascertain from the President how he wishes to proceed with the arrangements which will be necessary in order to make a positive response to Buttercup/1.

Comment: The President listened attentively to my exposition, read the original letter from Sau Ha and scanned the lengthy letter which we have just received from Buttercup/1. He was in agreement with my proposal that the matter be further developed through CAS channels and this will be undertaken immediately.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET S/BUTTERCUP. Secret; Nodis; Buttercup; Via CAS Channels; Exclusive. As reported in telegram CAS 421, November 2, Bunker initially informed Thieu only “that there had been some very interesting developments as a result of these efforts” during a brief meeting that day. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 369.