419. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

12129. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my twenty-ninth weekly telegram:

A. General

1.
I had a long talk with President Thieu yesterday. My purpose was to provide him with my impressions of the mood in Washington and elsewhere in the United States as it related to the situation here; a summary of the main subjects I had discussed with you during my consultations; and the need for definite signs of progress during the next few months.
2.
I said that one of the principal themes evident in almost all of my meetings, public and private, was the degree of commitment by the government and people of Viet-Nam to the war effort, whether the Vietnamese were carrying their full share of the load and were making the necessary sacrifices. This overall query then broke down into more specific questions as:
A)
Were the Vietnamese armed forces doing their share of the fighting and what was the quality of their performance;
B)
Was the government committed to a serious attack on corruption and was anything being done about it;
C)
Concern over the creation of refugees through our joint military actions and concern regarding their care and rehabilitation;
D)
Land reform, how much had been done and what did the government propose to do;
E)
Economic stabilization and the related problem of taxes;
F)
Progress in pacification and what was being done to root out the infrastructure;
G)
Attitude of the GVN toward negotiations and especially toward approaches to the NLF.
3.
I said that General Westmoreland, Bob Komer and I had endeavored to give a balanced and objective report of the situation here and had tried to counter what we felt had been much subjective and erroneous reporting of developments by the press. Recognizing that much remained to be done and that there were many problems still to be solved we had reported there had been nevertheless steady progress, [Page 1079]militarily, politically, and in pacification and nation building. We also reported that we believed that the progress made in all these areas had established a base from which together we could now accelerate the forward movement.
4.
I then said that I knew that he shared our view of the importance of some early moves on the priority programs that he and I had discussed and on which there was general agreement among ourselves and the GVN. He had made this clear in his inaugural address as had Prime Minister Loc in his statement of government policy. I recognized the fact that there would probably be exaggerated expectations of progress here on various fronts and that the new government had to have time to get itself organized and functioning. On the other hand I thought it important that some early and constructive moves be made. Two had already been taken, namely the mobilization decree. Lowering or extending the draft age, extending the service of those within the draft brackets and recalling certain personnel to service; and secondly, the decree transferring the collection and administration of all land taxes to local governments. It seemed to me that a logical sequel to the land tax decree would be the promulgation of an ordinance transferring the administration of land reform to the village councils. I recalled that I had already provided him and Vice President Ky with a memorandum on this subject as well as his public remarks on the need for “massive” land reform. Thieu replied that he had this in mind and that the Minister of Agriculture was presently studying the problem.
5.

I remarked that I understood that plans were also underway to restructure the provincial administration and for the training and appointment of new province chiefs. Thieu confirmed the fact that this was already in process and said that at the Cabinet meeting to be held Thursday this week, the restructuring of the provincial administration would be taken up, the relations between the province chiefs and the Ministry representatives in the provinces defined, and the responsibility of the province chief to the central government established. This would result in a reduction in the authority of the corps commanders over administrative matters and in restricting their authority to the military field. Thieu felt that this would also have a further beneficial effect in limiting opportunities for corruption. As a further move in the GVN austerity program the Cabinet will also take up the matter of closing our nightclubs and bars in Saigon.

[Here follows discussion of rice distribution and tax collection.]

9.
I took up question of the holiday cease fires and referred to Ambassador Locke’s talk with him on November 222 in which ideas were exchanged as to the exact span of times the stand-downs would be observed [Page 1080]on the allied side, as well as procedures to be followed in arriving at an agreed US/GVN position and in coordination with the other members of the seven nations. I said that we continue to believe that 24–24–48 hour stand-downs are the best interest of all the allied forces in Viet-Nam and would hope that we could agree on this position; that fulfillment of the stand-downs after Christmas should be based upon examination of NVN/VC performance during previous stand-downs, in light of all the circumstances at the time; and that we believe the GVN should keep open the possibility of offering to meet with the other side to discuss a longer pause, in much the same terms as was done during the 1967 Tet period.
10.
Thieu replied that he had no objection to this proposed formula, what he had intended to suggest was that for Christmas and New Year’s the maximum stand-down should be 36 hours and that for Tet 72 hours might be agreed to “in principle” if the performance of the NVA/VC during earlier stand-downs had been satisfactory. What he had in mind also was that the Tet stand-down could be extended if it could lead to a “fruitful result” but obviously representatives of both sides would have to meet and confer on the matter. He added that the opposing forces are too close at three points—the DMZ, the Dak To-Kontum front and in Phuoc Long and Binh Long Provinces in III Corps—to run the risk of a long stand-down which might give the enemy an opportunity for a surprise attack. He suggested that General Westmoreland confer with General Vien and agree on the terms of the stand-downs, to be followed promptly by a meeting of the seven nations’ Ambassadors. Do not believe that we shall have difficulty in having our view prevail.

President Thieu has referred publicly on several recent occasions to his plans to send a letter to Ho Chi Minh regarding peace negotiations, despite the hostile comment on the idea broadcast over the Viet Cong and Hanoi radios. Thieu told the press Nov 25 that he was asking several nations, including Japan, to transmit the letter. The departure Nov 25 of Japanese Ambassador Nakayama for reassignment was the occasion for further press speculation that Nakayama would carry Thieu’s letter to Ho Chi Minh. However, Nakayama told Political Counselor at the airport that no final decision or commitment to transmit Thieu’s letter to Ho had been made. He pointed out the difficulties which face the Japanese Government in dealing with this question and emphasized the likelihood that the letter would be rejected by Hanoi. He made clear that he had informed Thieu of this in his final call on Nov 24 but also said that this was not a final answer by the Japanese Government.

Thieu confirmed in general Nakayama’s statement but added that Nakayama had said that the Japanese “in principle” would be glad to [Page 1081]act as intermediary. Nakayama added that Sato did not believe that he could establish contact soon with Hanoi in view of his recent visits to the United States and to Australia; that he would wish to have some favorable indication in advance that Hanoi would be willing to receive the letter; and that while up to now Japan has had no contact with Hanoi he would endeavor to make contact.3

Thieu then ruminated on the possibility of having the letter delivered through the Pope noting that the Vatican has various ways of getting in touch with NVN authorities or through the United Nations, perhaps through the Soviet Ambassador there. I suggested to him the possibility of using the Indian Chairman of the ICC since he has direct access to the government in Hanoi. Thieu replied that he has the feeling that the Indian believes that a first step should be a bombing pause which should precede delivery of the letter and is therefore somewhat reluctant to approach him but agreed that the possibility was worth looking into. I expect to see Ambassador Lukose within the next few days and will try to feel him out.

Knowing of Thieu’s concern as well as the general concern expressed publicly here over Ambassador Goldberg’s testimony with reference to the NLF, I informed Thieu that I had an opportunity to talk with Ambassador Goldberg and clarified once again the fact that this move was tactical and did not represent a change in the US position. I added that we continued to believe that prospects of accomplishing inscription as a result of the GVN initiative would be very poor whereas some additional Security Council members might support a US initiative. In these circumstances I thought the best approach would be for the GVN to react positively to any US initiative to convene the Council, perhaps sending a letter to the President of the Security Council requesting a GVN participation and suggesting principles similar to those in the US draft resolution. I assured Thieu that Ambassador Goldberg would wish to consult closely with the GVN Representative in New York and would be in touch with him prior to any Security Council move. I added that I thought it was very much in the GVN interest to be represented at the UN by an able and competent individual who [Page 1082]could present their views convincingly and forcefully. This is not the case with the present incumbent.4

[Here follows discussion of additional political, military, and economic matters.]

Bunker
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received at 8:33 a.m. According to a November 30 covering note attached to a copy of the telegram, Rostow sent it to the President that day. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8B(1)[B]) The notation “ps” on the covering note indicates that the President saw the telegram. This telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 242–250.
  2. See Document 412.
  3. According to an unnumbered CIA intelligence information report, November 27, political considerations in Japan might convince Prime Minister Sato to reject the initiative. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, EA/ACA Files: Lot 69 D 277, Vietnam File-Japan)
  4. Bunker reported on this conversation in greater detail in telegram 12115 from Saigon, November 29. (Ibid., S-AH Files: Lot 71 D 461, Saigon Cables-Incoming, Outgoing) In a December 6 meeting with Bunker, Thieu said that the Japanese Government had informed him that while they would continue their contact with the DRV and would deliver the letter “if their probes establish that it can be delivered,” it would not object to Thieu’s seeking other channels through which to accomplish this task. Bunker and Thieu discussed using other possible intermediaries such as U Thant, the Pope, or the Indian Chairman of the ICC. Thieu also stated that while his proposed letter to Ho Chi Minh had yet to be drafted, in its final form it would resemble the formulation suggested by Bunker on November 28. (Ibid.)