10. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

1351. Embassy telegrams 1348 and 1349.2 Following are my initial comments on broad program of reforms announced by President Diem at full dress press conference February 6.

Importance Diem attached to matter shown by facts appeared for first time before both foreign and Vietnamese press, made [Page 30] statement, answered questions on variety subjects. Answers to questions straight-forward and helpful. After conference Diem did good public relations job, joking with correspondents in relaxed manner.

Not surprisingly, reforms announced have number of positive and negative aspects, but tone as whole is encouraging. With enough time to work them out in detail, and if Diem grants more authority to Department heads as he said he would, result should be improved functioning of GVN.

Reforms clearly go considerably beyond more modest and hesitant list of changes reported in G-309.3 Most encouraging aspects include following: (1) General tone is forward-looking, and reforms clearly product of prolonged reflection and discussion on part of President and most progressive elements in GVN; (2) Emphasis is wisely placed on improved administration of functioning programs through better coordination of existing agencies, thus making use of momentum already gained and avoiding personnel problems that more radical change would have entailed; (3) Movement into some new fields such as elected youth member of village councils (for youth and information matters) and establishment of councils at national level to promote economic, social, and cultural activity; (4) Some decentralization of power from provincial down to municipal and village levels.

Notably lacking were political changes of an impact nature or any immediate concessions of democratic freedoms except election youth representative. Diem’s answers this connection might have shown more finesse, particularly on village council elections, but he did admit frankly that because of security situation it not possible permit general village elections this time.

GVN had already begun moving to implement several points in President’s program prior to press conference…. told me evening February 6 special session of Assembly will begin consideration laws on National Economic Council, National Cultural-Social Council and Superior Council of Judiciary February 7. (Assembly Commission had met February 5 to consider draft law on National Economic Council.)

Program Diem announced February 6 is substantial, forward-looking and, if properly implemented, should provide solid base to build on. While he has been slow in acting, the steps he has taken are in the direction we have been urging.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/2-861. Confidential. Repeated to Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Singapore, Vientiane, CINCPAC for PolAd, London, and Paris.
  2. On February 6, Diem held a press conference to announce a series of reforms aimed at decentralizing governmental powers, improving democratic institutions and village administration, and encouraging private citizens and groups to contribute to governmental activities. Telegram 1348, February 7, transmitted a summary of the reforms and the text of a statement made by Thuan at the press conference. (Ibid., 851K.00/2-761) Telegram 1349, of the same date, transmitted the texts of questions asked of and answered by Diem following Thuan’s statement. (Ibid., 751K.00/2-761)
  3. Not printed. (Ibid., 751K.00/1-3061)