422. Memorandum From the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson1

Mr. President:

As the attached2 indicate, Buttercup is in bad trouble.

The Vietnamese security services, combined with Loan’s reaction to the release of prisoners, led the whole matter to surface.

How the next moves are made may be quite important; and I am sure you will wish to have your senior advisers focus hard on the matter today. The issues appear to be these:

  • —What we in Washington, our people in Saigon, and especially the South Vietnamese government, say about AP 27 and the stories which will follow;
  • —Whether we insist that the South Vietnamese regard the three U.S. prisoners released as sufficiently face-saving for our side for them to release Sau Ha and a few others to continue a contact;
  • —How Thieu should move to unite his government on this policy and deal with Loan. (Here the critical man to get to is Ky, to whom Loan appears to have a deep personal loyalty. This may be a good time for Loan to get some training at the Leavenworth Command and General Staff School.)3

Behind all this is a truly great unresolved issue: What should be the GVN’s attitude towards the future political role of the NLF; and [Page 1088] how can a South Vietnamese governmental consensus be achieved without splitting the non-Communists.

As you know, my own view has been that we should work to persuade them to take the view that those now fighting with the VC have the right to engage in organized politics under two conditions:

  • —they stop the fighting;
  • —they recognize the legitimacy of the Constitution.

The underlying problem for the South Vietnamese is that they have not yet achieved enough organized political unity—and a big national political party—to face the Communists in an election. (This came out quite clearly in the Clifford-Taylor discussions with the Foreign Minister, Do.)4

It is most unlikely that Hanoi, via the NLF agents, is now prepared to accept a southern solution on the basis of the two principles set out above. As the talk of the NLF program, coalition government, etc., develops, it is essential that we and the South Vietnamese develop soon a clear, firm and common position on which to stand before the world (and the U.S. public) as well as in such private contacts as may generate.

Again, let me underline, I do not believe that the Buttercup contact reflected a firm determination in Hanoi and the NLF to negotiate a solution in the South now, which would be acceptable to us and the South Vietnamese. One of their probable objectives, in fact, was to produce the kind of division among the South Vietnamese and between us and them which appears to be surfacing. But that fact does not relieve us from formulating a position that is lucid; and using all our skill to persuade Thieu and the political leadership in the Vietnamese executive and legislative branches to line up with us. We shall only be able to do this if we make it clear that by backing the constitutional process firmly, we are backing them; and we are not looking for some face-saving way to turn political power in the South over to the Communists.

W.W. Rostow5
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Buttercup, Vol. 1(B). Secret; Sensitive.
  2. CAS telegram 005 from Saigon, December 1, not printed. It discussed the Associated Press story by Barry Kramer (AP 27; also attached) which suggested that the arrest of Sau Ha was a power play by Loan. CAS 005 also reported that Loan “resigned” as the director general of the National Police because he was pressured to release an NLF emissary by the Americans. (Ibid.) The story was also carried in The New York Times, December 2, 1967. CAS telegram 5393, December 5, reported that the Saigon Daily News had printed the name of the intermediary (Sau Ha), which it had received from “police sources.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–7 VIET S/BUTTERCUP) News accounts from Saigon on the episode were confused; the U.S. Embassy only confirmed that the thwarted effort as well as other meetings between Embassy officials and NLF representatives had occurred within the last few months. See The New York Times, December 2, 1967, and American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1967, p. 1040. For the original sequence of events, see footnote 4, Document 341.
  3. In a December 4 memorandum to Vice President Humphrey, Helms listed several reasons for Loan’s resignation, among them his resentment at the appointment as Secretary General in the Office of the Presidency of Nguyen Van Huong, a man regarded by Loan as “soft on Communism,” Loan’s recurrent health problems stemming from a stomach ulcer, and Loan’s dissatisfaction with the Buttercup operation. Loan’s resignation was not accepted. (Central Intelligence Agency, Executive Registry Subject Files, Job 80–R01580R, Peace Talks)
  4. Regarding the Clifford-Taylor mission, see Document 253.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.