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

14540. Ref: State 90178.2

1.
I discussed reftel with General Abrams, who is acting in General Westmoreland’s absence, and he said that he saw no serious military problems that would be raised by an extension of 12 hours on the New Year’s truce, i.e., until 0600 hours January 2 Saigon time. Both General Abrams and I believe it would not be desirable, either militarily or politically, to seek an extension beyond this hour as suggested in para 4 reftel.3
2.
Subsequent to my talk with Abrams, I took the matter up urgently with President Thieu. He saw no major problems with the proposal and said that he would instruct the Acting Foreign Minister to check with the other troop-contributing countries. Since there is a Cabinet meeting today chaired by President Thieu which will run into the evening hours here, it is doubtful that Acting Foreign Minister Lam can initiate this check before December 29.
3.
As to the manner of handling such an extension, the language of the GVN announcement issued before the Christmas truce (Saigon 13232 and 12975)4 would make it difficult for the GVN to wait until [Page 1127]the truce comes into effect before announcing the extension. As Department will recall, announcement provided that any extension of the truce would be a matter for agreement between GVN and NVN representatives. GVN will therefore wish to make any announcement of an extended truce prior to the time it comes into effect. Thieu thought there were two possible ways of handling it. The easier way would be if the Pope could request the GVN directly to extend the truce for this period, which would allow the GVN to act without any difficulty. If this were not feasible, a second way to handle it would be simply to say that the extension was decided on in order to give the forces a further respite. Thieu commented that this would be customary, noting that at Tet, for instance, any truce shorter than 48 hours would be meaningless.
4.
Department will be able to judge whether it is feasible to have the Pope send such a message urgently to President Thieu. If not, I suggest that we use the general line recommended by Thieu and refuse to elaborate on it further. We are already receiving queries about when the announcement of the New Year’s truce will be made. We will for the present merely say that we have no information, noting that the eventual announcement will be made by the GVN.
Bunker
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received at 5:52 a.m.
  2. In telegram 90178 to Saigon, December 28, the Department advised the Embassy of the Pope’s request for a New Year’s truce extension. The GVN accepted the extension. The truce then would run from 6 p.m. on December 31 to 6 a.m. on January 2, 1968 (Saigon time). In order to prevent the enemy from “taking advantage” of the cease-fire, the extension would not be announced until after it had commenced. (Ibid.)
  3. This paragraph reads: “Would your problems be materially increased if the truce period were extended by an additional 6 to 12 hours beyond 0600 January 2 Saigon time to permit expiration of January 1 day of prayer throughout the U.S. prior to resumption of hostilities.”
  4. For telegram 13232 from Saigon, December 13, see footnote 3, Document 436. Telegram 12975, December 8, is in the National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27–14 VIET.