405. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (Bundy) to Secretary of State Rusk1


  • Next Moves on the Buttercup Matter

You have seen the cables that Thieu and Loan are both resisting the release of the original courier (Sau Ha) and the small fry captured around him. They are taking the position that we should send the messenger back saying that we would release them only if the NLF actually released two Americans. They also wish to state that any prisoners released by the GVN should be free to determine whether they go back to the NLF.

We believe Thieu can hardly be budged short of a Presidential message, and that this now requires serious consideration. We attach a draft which sticks wholly to the prisoner issue, with only an added oral assurance that we do not propose to pursue the broader political aspects until we see much more about the channel.2 As the messages read, the GVN leaders are arguing that a hard reply need only involve two weeks of delay. This suggests that they might be willing to yield in the end. But equally it would be our judgment that a hard reply runs a very substantial chance of breaking off the whole channel, and all that might flow from it.

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The alternative to a letter might be to have Ambassador Bunker handle the matter when he gets back. This would mean a delay of roughly a week, but has the advantage that it could be done in lower key, with a less total commitment of US prestige than a Presidential letter would involve, and with the Ambassador’s capacity for gentle persuasion. The substance of the arguments would be the same in either case.

WP Bundy
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET S/BUTTERCUP. Top Secret; Buttercup. In an attached note to Rusk, November 20, Bundy wrote: “We have reviewed the attached memorandum with Ambassador Bunker, who feels that it would be much better for him to take the next move on his return. Mr. Habib and I agree with this judgment. Nick concurs. The Ambassador generally concurs with the line of argument shown in the attached Presidential letter, so that it may still be useful for you to discuss this line of argument briefly with the President in any event. If the President approves having Ambassador Bunker handle this, the immediate action would be a short message for Locke to convey to Thieu that the Ambassador will wish to discuss this on his return and after having discussed it with the President.”
  2. The draft letter from Johnson to Thieu, not printed, was to be used by Locke if approved. It cautioned Thieu that “failure on our part to release the man Sau Ha and those arrested with him would very likely mean a breaking off of a channel that could have major importance in the exchange of prisoners.” The President also expressed concern about the NLF making the contact public and about the fact that others in the NLF would be “less disposed” to make similar moves in the future. Locke was to add orally that although the President recognized that Thieu would deal with the broader political aspects of the contact, there remained a necessity to move on the immediate prisoner exchange. A shorter draft letter echoing the same line was also attached to the memorandum.