Memorandum to McGeorge Bundy from William P. Bundy, "Additional Military and Diplomatic Possibilities," 10 February 1965

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 3, pp. 691-692

February 10, 1965


SUBJECT: Additional Military and Diplomatic Possibilities

Ambassador Thompson and I discussed the status of planning last night, and he came up with two thoughts that should be very much in our minds.

1. In light of the very mild official Soviet reaction to date, but their obvious concern at any immediate repetition of our action, he believes that we should take serious account of the March 1 date of the Communist Party meeting. He thinks that the Soviets would be put even more sharply on the spot by any US action taken prior to March 1.

Comment: I realize that this would defer our next action well beyond the 4-10 days discussed in your group last night. However, we need to see whether that gap might not be filled in by a predominantly GVN action related directly to some action against the South Vietnamese--e.g., railroad atrocity. I think we would all agree--and you may be interested to know that this was stressed to me by several senators yesterday, as well as by the Chinese Ambassador on Sunday--that we have a terrific problem to avoid appearing to be reacting just when the US is hit and turning this into a US/DRV situation exclusively.

2. On the diplomatic track, Ambassador Thompson noted that the Soviets would be much more ready to play some kind of moderately constructive role in relation to Laos. He therefore wondered if we could somehow get Laos negotiations going and make this a test of DRV willingness to negotiate, in effect arguing that if they were not ready to see the 1962 Accords observed, how could we possibly expect anything from them in Vietnam negotiations.

Comment: I have hitherto thought Laos negotiations were so fraught with internal problems in Vietnam that that alone argued strongly against making this our negotiating initiative--although it could well play in its own way. The dust has not settled from the latest troubles in Vientiane, and we probably should check with Sullivan to see what he now thinks Souvanna's position would be. More basically, however, I would have grave doubt about whether Laos negotiations could in fact be pressed to the point of doing anything effective about the corridor, which as a practical matter Souvanna regards more as our issue than his. Finally, any Lao negotiations would be likely to get tied into knots in which a lot of our own activities would be pilloried as just about as bad as anything the Communists have done.

In short, I am very skeptical that we can really make use of this gambit either for profit in itself or as a plausible way of holding off Vietnamese negotiations. However, I think it needs further study, and I am asking my staff to look at it hard today, with of course crucial advice from Len.

William P. Bundy

Copies to: Ambassador Thompson
Mr. McNaughton
Mr. Green
Mr. Unger
Mr. Cooper
Mr. Trueheart

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