436. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

13288. For the President from Bunker. Herewith my thirty-first weekly message:

A. General

The past week has been marked by an intensification of military activity throughout the country; by progress of both houses of the Assembly in organization, the Senate having completed approval of its rules; by apprehension and sensitivity on the part of the public, press and officials concerning the US attitude and intentions toward the NLF; and by continued progress in the GVN priority programs.
RVNAF and free world forces have given a good account of themselves and the Communists have suffered a series of heavy military setbacks in the past week. Performance of RVNAF has been a further encouraging demonstration of the improvement in the quality of these forces. They have more than held up their end.
The Senate having completed approval of its rules and regulations is expected to elect officers this week, to proceed with the formation of committees and should soon get down to serious work. The house has lagged behind but is making steady though slower progress.
Sensitivity about US relations with the NLF was heightened by the report of the arrest of an NLF emissary, by the false newspaper accounts that high officials of the Embassy had been in contact with NLF representatives in Saigon, and by reports on the possibility of NLF representatives coming to New York. In my talk with President Thieu on December 62 I called his attention to these unfounded and false statements in the press, to widespread editorial comment based on false assumptions and my very definite feeling that some GVN officials were in part responsible for the rumors. I added that I knew it was not necessary to assure him that no consultations would be undertaken with the NLF without full consultation with his government. I said that I thought that a statement by the GVN to allay these false reports, which could only be damaging to our relations, would be in order. Forthright [Page 1111] statements by Prime Minister Loc and Foreign Minister Do on the next day, December 7, and the helpful statement made by the spokesman of the Department of State on December 8th have helped to abate these suspicions. I held a press reception for Vietnamese editors on December 7, at which I made the same point, with beneficial effects in the Vietnamese language press the next day. The statement by the Department spokesman on our view of the situation at the UN and a future political structure in the South also helped to clear the air. The Vietnamese continue however to be highly sensitive about the NLF and our attitude toward it.
The situation of course is not helped by such things as the article in the forthcoming issue of Newsweek alleging that there have been increasing numbers of contacts between American and VC representatives. The substance of the story has already appeared in the Saigon newspapers. I told Thieu there was no truth in these reports and I had no idea of the sources of the allegations.
We have virtually completed coordination of the Christmas stand down question with the GVN, with agreement reached on a 24 hour ceasefire at Christmas and in principle on 24 and 48 hour ceasefires respectively at New Year’s and Tet holidays, provided the Christmas stand down is carried out satisfactorily.3 I expect that this will be fully resolved in a few days. Foreign Minister Tran Van Do expects that the announcement can be made this week, when coordination with our other allies is completed.
General Westmoreland told me on December 11 that during a meeting between him and Minister of Defense Vy on December 9 the latter had said that President Thieu and General Cao Van Vien had agreed that GVN forces, in “hot pursuit” of enemy forces near the Cambodian border, should be permitted to pursue them across the border. GVN forces would not remain in Cambodia but would withdraw as soon as contact was broken or the enemy forces defeated. I discussed the matter with President Thieu on December 12, pointing out the difficult problems that the proposed GVN policy would raise for us. I recommended [Page 1112] to him that he hold in abeyance any final decisions on this policy and make no further public statements on the subject until our positions have been clarified, saying that we hoped that we might have some influence on Sihanouk and that we wanted at least to make an effort with him. Thieu said he understood our concern and agreed with what I proposed.
I took Senator Percy4 to call on President Thieu December 12. The Senator said he wished to make clear to Thieu that no responsible people in either the Democratic or the Republican Party favored U.S. withdrawal from Viet-Nam. He asked Thieu what he thought the prospects were for negotiations. Thieu replied that he felt he knew the political thinking of Hanoi pretty well and that he saw no chance of meaningful negotiations before the U.S. elections. He thought the enemy would keep up military pressures against us and try to achieve some victories which would have an impact on American opinion. Senator Percy discussed foreign support for the GVN and commented that there is a feeling in the U.S. that if other Asian nations also thought Viet-Nam was important, we would like to see a greater degree of support from them. Thieu mentioned the planned increase in Thai, Australian and New Zealand forces. Senator Percy suggested that nations such as Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Japan might do more. Thieu reviewed Japan’s contribution on the non-military side and commented that the GVN would welcome any additional Asian aid that might be offered.
The afternoon of December 12 Senator and Mrs. Percy and their party at the Senator’s insistence flew up to Dak Son in Phuoc Long Province near the Cambodian border, the unfortunate village which the Communists attacked Dec 5, killing a large number of civilians with grenades and flame throwers. While visiting there, the VC fired several mortar rounds at the town. The Percy party was unhurt, though the Senator was scratched when he dove for cover. Even though the Senator insisted on visiting Dak Son I think we should not have permitted him to go and we are tightening up our procedures. I’m sure he doesn’t have to be told that those Communists out there are not “peaceful agrarian reformers,” as some of our critics would have us believe.

[Here follows discussion of priority programs for 1968, including mobilization measures, military and civilian administrative reorganization, pacification, economic stabilization, the peace effort, and land reform, as well as a general discussion of other political, economic, and military matters.]

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received at 9:45 a.m. Rostow sent a copy of this telegram to the President under cover of a note of December 14. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8B(2)) 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. 259–268.
  2. See Document 429.
  3. As reported in telegram 13232 from Saigon, December 12, Bunker and Westmoreland requested that the GVN accept an 1800 December 24–1800 December 25 cease-fire period instead of a 1200–1200 one due to military considerations; in addition they deleted any reference in the cease-fire announcement (to be issued by the GVN) to “substantial logistical resupply or major troop repositioning by Free World military forces.” Do saw no difficulty in the GVN’s acceptance of the changes. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET S) The JCS restricted military operations for 24 hours at Christmas and New Year’s and for 48 hours during Tet except in response to enemy-initiated actions. (Telegram JCS 5343 to CINCPAC and CINCSAC, December 16; Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 6F 1967–1968 Holiday Cease Fires)
  4. Senator Charles Percy (R-Illinois).