389. 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 Helms1

CAS 526. Refs: A. CAS Washington 49639;2 B. CAS Saigon 499 (meeting with President Thieu);3 C. CAS Saigon 509 (meeting with General Loan).4

For Secretary from Ambassador Bunker.

1.
In light of your comments in Ref A and now that the returns are in from our conversations with President Thieu and Loan (refs B and C), we concur with your suggested reply in para 5 with certain additions, for reasons I will describe below.
2.
From our conversations with Thieu and Loan it is obvious that they both feel we should give no more to Buttercup/1 than he requested, that they distrust Buttercup/1 but, as Thieu puts it, we must “test” the NLFSVN sincerity although he doubts they are serious. Loan goes even further in suggesting we should force the NLVSVN to show its good faith by releasing two prisoners we name because the GVN has already released Buttercup/2 and would be releasing Sau Ha to comply with Buttercup/1’s minimum requirements. (I know you agree that we must respect the opinions and suggestions of the GVN now and in the future developments in this matter. They are, in every respect, co-equals in this negotiation.) I, therefore, suggest that we be prepared in para 5 ref A ingoing message to request Buttercup/1 to release [Page 996]two American POWs (to be named at your discretion) to show his (their) good faith. If Buttercup/1 responds favorably, we will have telescoped the time element I foresee between now and the initial release of POWs.5
3.
Both in the ingoing message and in the oral briefing we plan to give to Buttercup/2 we will stress the need for safe and rapid means of future communications and urge Buttercup/1 to open the radio link. I am not sanguine, however, that Buttercup/1 et al will use the radio communications channel at all, and if they do, then only at a much later date. We are, therefore, faced with the probability that even if we can arrange to have Buttercup/1 airlifted to a point closer than Tay Ninh City, subsequent dialogue and arrangements will at best be cumbersome, tedious and time consuming. In short, quick reaction by our side and the other will not be possible in this context.
4.
Re subject of responding to broader political questions raised by Buttercup/1: as you know President Thieu reserves to himself a key role in deciding on what will be said in our joint response. His position in this matter promises to be one of great restraining, distrust, and cynicism; therefore, I plan on getting his concurrence in a response to Buttercup/1 that will be brief, avoid giving the other side too much opportunity for their famous affinity towards polemics while reiterating our objectives and aims in Vietnam and encouraging the possibility of further exchanges of viewpoints either in the established [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] channel or in personal meetings at a locale agreeable to all concerned. I will separately forward a suggested response, on these political aspects, that may be acceptable to President Thieu and subject to your prior concurrence.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET S/BUTTERCUP. Secret; Immediate; Nodis, Buttercup; Via CAS Channels; Exclusive. Received at 8:27 a.m.
  2. Not found.
  3. In telegram CAS 499, November 6, Bunker reported that a [text not declassified] met with Thieu on November 5 to discuss the details of the Buttercup episode. Thieu emphasized the need for maximum secrecy and designated Loan as his action officer on the matter of prisoner exchanges (although reserving for himself the political aspects of the contact). (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET S/BUTTERCUP) In telegram CAS 47716 to Bunker, October 28, Rusk underscored that it was “vitally important” for Bunker to inform Thieu of the NLF overture. (Ibid.)
  4. In telegram CAS 509, November 7, Bunker reported a briefing [text not declassified] of Loan the previous day. Loan remarked that he “does not give a damn” about the release of Sau Ha but did not object to the release of other VC cadre arrested in conjunction with Sau Ha’s capture because the NLF was “asking for too much at this point.” He thought it more likely that Sau Ha would refuse to return to COSVN as a result of the damage he had caused with his admissions to the GVN. The NLF needed to demonstrate a better “show of faith” other than simply returning an envoy that the GVN had already released. (Ibid.)
  5. Locke later proposed that the message should request a reciprocal number of prisoner releases from the NLF. (Telegram CAS 576, November 10; ibid.)