259. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom1

7147. Literally Eyes Only for the Ambassador. Ref: Ur 5705.2 In response reftel following message sent from PM to President May 24:

Begin text: I shall be sending you tomorrow a full account of my discussions with Erhard,3 which went extremely well. We are in complete agreement on the whole NATO situation. With reference to your message of last Saturday, nuclear sharing was not mentioned by either of us though it was raised in the discussion between the Foreign Secretaries.

My immediate purpose, however, in sending this message relates to the visit I had from David Bruce yesterday, that is to say Monday. He told me of your present intentions in connection with oil installations at Hanoi and Hi Phong, while explaining that no final decision had been taken.

As I am sure you know, we have always made clear that any bombing of either of these cities would create a situation where we would have to dissociate ourselves from the action taken. This was, you will remember, fully explained at our meeting in December4 and, as I think your Embassy has reported to you, I have said this more than once when under pressure in the House of Commons. You will therefore understand that I shall have to make a statement of this kind if this action takes place, though you will realise equally that this will not affect my general support of American policy in Vietnam, except in this particular aspect of its execution.

Knowing as I well do the tremendous problems with which you are faced and recognising the tremendous pressures in which you are situated, I would nevertheless ask you to reconsider whether this action, whatever its results in terms of immediate military advantage, is worth the candle. The decision will be yours, and I know you understand our difficulties and the nature of the statement we would have to make. It will make no difference to our basic position, but I would [Page 534] not want there to be any possible danger that you would take this action in possible ignorance of what our reaction would have to be. End text.

Following message sent from President to PM dated May 27:

Begin text: It was really good and strengthening to know that your meeting with Erhard went well.

I understand the political strains on your side in making this relationship solid, as well as the financial issues which you as well as we have to face with the Germans. On the other hand, as you clearly perceive and express, right now—and far into the future—the three of us must lean in and stay together.

Our next test—and it is clearly critical—is Brussels. But we have every reason to go into it in reasonably good heart.

On some of the longer range issues raised in your letter, I am awaiting the completion of staff work before putting to you some constructive possibilities. I am determined that, if at all possible, we shall accompany the difficult defensive moves we have to make with evidence that the Fourteen, at least, can move forward on many fronts.

Let me say that I was very pleased to hear that you and Erhard had a good talk about your EEC situation.

At my instruction Bob McNamara will be sending over an officer to brief you fully about the two oil targets near Hanoi and Haiphong.5

I am coming to believe it is essential that we reduce their oil supply in the light of the radical increase in the flow of men and matériel by truck to South Vietnam.

For me the calculus is, simply, whether they shall have less oil or I shall have more casualties.

But I am determined that their civilian casualties be low and minimal.6

As you may have noticed, I spoke yesterday about Africa.7 I sense in my bones that a powerful tide of moderation is running through [Page 535] Africa, despite Rhodesia and all the rest. I feel we all have a responsibility to help these people prove to themselves that they can make progress, otherwise out of frustration we may face extremism down the road. I hope your experts will be collecting their best ideas about sensible next steps in African economic development and exchanging views with mine. I greatly respect Britain’s experience and good sense in that continent. End Text.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL UK-US. Secret; Nodis. The text was received from the White House and the telegram was approved by Read.
  2. Telegram 5705 from London, May 28, reported that Wilson would see Colonel Bernard Rogers on June 1 and requested a copy of the Prime Minister’s reply to the President’s May 21 message. (Ibid.) For the May 21 message, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIII, Document 168.
  3. On May 26 Wilson sent the President a 3-page summary of his talks with Erhard. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Presidential Correspondence: Lot 67 D 262)
  4. See Document 252.
  5. Telegram 7103 to London, May 27, commented: “From the Prime Minister’s strong reply to the President, we fear that you may not have sufficient information in presenting the question of POL installations in Hanoi and Haiphong areas to permit him fully to understand what we are considering. There is no intent to bomb either city.” It offered to send Colonel Rogers to brief the Ambassador and Prime Minister in detail. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 27 VIET S)
  6. Telegram 7266 from London, June 3, transmitted a message from the Prime Minister thanking the President for the briefing and restating his concerns regarding bombing attacks near populated areas. (Ibid.) In telegram 5767 from London, June 2, Bruce reported that Wilson was anxious for a personal meeting with Johnson but that such talks should take place considerably prior to any bombing raids. (Ibid., POL 7 UK)
  7. For text of President Johnson’s statement on Africa, May 26, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966, Book I, pp. 556-560.