Development of plant vascular tissues involves tissue identity specification, growth, pattern formation and cell-type differentiation. Although later developmental steps are understood in some detail, it is still largely unknown how the tissue is initially specified. We used the early Arabidopsis embryo as a simple model to study this process. Using a large collection of marker genes, we found that vascular identity was specified in the 16-cell embryo. After a transient precursor state, however, there was no persistent uniform tissue identity. Auxin is intimately connected to vascular tissue development. We found that, although an AUXIN RESPONSE FACTOR5/MONOPTEROS (ARF5/MP)-dependent auxin response was required, it was not sufficient for tissue specification. We therefore used a large-scale enhanced yeast one-hybrid assay to identify potential regulators of vascular identity. Network and functional analysis of candidate regulators suggest that vascular identity is under robust, complex control. We found that one candidate regulator, the G-class bZIP transcription factor GBF2, can modulate vascular gene expression by tuning MP output through direct interaction. Our work uncovers components of a gene regulatory network that controls the initial specification of vascular tissue identity.