165. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam 1
Washington, March 29, 1968, 0120Z.
138438. No Distribution Outside Department. Literally Eyes Only for Ambassador from Secretary. Ref: State 131732: Saigon 22548.2
- We are now thinking in terms of early policy announcement that
would have following major elements:
- Major stress on importance of GVN and ARVN increased effectiveness, with our equipment and other support as first priority in our own actions.
- 13,500 support forces to be called up at once in order to round out the 10,500 combat units sent in February. (Westmoreland has details.)
- Replenishment of strategic reserve by calling up some 48,500 additional reserves, stating that these would be designed for strategic reserve.
- Related tax increases and budget cuts already largely needed for non-Vietnam reasons.
- In order to obtain necessary Congressional and public support for this program, it is now the judgment of highest levels that we must include at this time an announcement of an initiative along the lines of [Page 487] the lesser proposal described in State 131732. This would consist basically of announcing that bombing would be restricted to targets most directly engaged in the battlefield area and that this meant that there would be no bombing roughly north of Vinh. Announcement would leave open how Hanoi might respond, and would be open-ended as to time. However, it would indicate that Hanoi’s response could be helpful in determining whether we were justified in assumption that Hanoi would not take advantage if we stopping bombing altogether. Thus, it would to this extent foreshadow possibility of full bombing stoppage at a later point.
- We recognize necessity of full consultation with Thieu and (in accordance with your recommendation) Ky as well before we announce such action. Time factors are such that we would like to move not later than Sunday night. Hence, you should now act urgently to obtain their concurrence.
- In so doing, you may make following points:
- You should call attention to force increases that would be announced at the same time and would make clear our continued resolve. Also our top priority to re-equipping ARVN forces.
- You should make clear that Hanoi is most likely to denounce the project and thus free our hand after a short period. Nonetheless, we might wish to continue the limitation even after a formal denunciation, in order to reinforce its sincerity and put the monkey firmly on Hanoi’s back for whatever follows.
- With or without denunciation, Hanoi might well feel limited in conducting any major offensives at least in the northern areas. If they did so, this could ease the pressure where it is most potentially serious. If they did not, then this would give us a clear field for whatever actions were then required.
- In view of weather limitations, bombing north of the 20th parallel will in any event be limited at least for the next four weeks or so—which we tentatively envisage as a maximum testing period in any event. Hence, we are not giving up anything really serious in this time frame. Of course, a major change in the military situation might require full scale resumption at any time.
- Insofar as our announcement foreshadows any possibility of a complete bombing stoppage, in the event Hanoi really exercises reciprocal restraints, we regard this as unlikely. But in any case, the period of demonstrated restraint would probably have to continue for a period of several weeks, and we would have time to appraise the situation and to consult carefully with them before we undertook any such action.
- In making these points, you may as you see fit use our judgment of the public situation here as another indication of the vital necessity of early and demonstrated GVN improvements such as you have been urging. You may convey our gratification at the actions Thieu has taken and announced, particularly his speech of last week (which we expect to refer to extensively), but make equally clear that a great deal must be [Page 488] done and seen to be done if we are to get through the present difficult period as we must. The joint Thieu-Ky press conference now suggested could be most useful as one move.