As regards the particularly difficult problem of Vietnam, the United States spokesmen had made it clear that the measures which they had recently taken to attack targets in the northern half of the country were directed solely to arresting the progressive infiltration of South Vietnam by the VietCong forces and that the statement by General Maxwell-Taylor, the United States representative in Saigon, that there was no limit to the potential increase of the war, should not be interpreted as inconsistent with this policy.
They regarded themselves as having no alternative to this course of action. They could not contemplate the evacuation of Vietnam, except at the unacceptable price of allowing Communist influence to extend progressively throughout South-East Asia.
They regarded it as equally impracticable that they should remain in South Vietnam but refrain from any counter-action to arrest the infiltration of the VietCong forces. In these circumstances the only course open to them was to strike at those forces in the area from which they came. They appeared fully to appreciate the risks inherent in this course, particularly the length of time which might elapse before the Government of North Vietnam were finally deterred from further aggression and the danger that, in this interval, the Government of South Vietnam might itself collapse.
They regarded these risks, however, as outweighed by the imperative need to check the North Vietnamese advance. Nevertheless, they did not intend to attack North Vietnam with ground forces; and they had undertaken to inform us in advance if they contemplated any extension of their present policy of air attack.
So far there was no indication that the mounting United States pressure was causing the Government of North Vietnam to be more ready to contemplate negotiation as a means of ending the conflict. The United States Government were equally unwilling to contemplate negotiation unless infiltration by Viet Cong forces ceased and satisfactory evidence to this effect could be produced.
As regards the recent occasion on which United States troops had used gas against
the Viet Cong forces, he had left the United States Administration in no doubt
of the strength of public feeling on this point in the United Kingdom and the
extent to which, in our view, the episode had damaged the international reputation
of the United States. In fact, however, the United States Government themselves
had not been consulted by the local Commander before the weapons in question
were brought into use; and the gas in question had been only the non-lethal
type, which had been used by many countries, including ourselves, for the control
of civil disturbances.