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

421. In course long discussion with Admiral Felt and party, General McGarr, and me yesterday evening, President Diem pointed the question. He asked for a bilateral defense treaty with the US. This rather large and unexpected request seemed to have been dragged in by the heels at the end of a far-ranging discussion, but we discovered upon questioning that it was seriously intended and was put forward as result of Diem’s deep fear of outcome of Laotian situation, SVN’s vulnerability to increased infiltration, and his feelings that US action under SEATO Treaty vis-a-vis SVN would be inhibited by attitudes of other SEATO allies, especially UK and France, as in case Laos.

I told President Diem that question he had raised had a number of important angles, including effect upon SEATO, and I thought we needed to sit down together and discuss all aspects very frankly and thoroughly, to which he agreed. In later conversation with Thuan, I repeated this, and he understands, I think better than Diem, some of the thorny points involved.

Fuller report of our discussion with President Diem will follow.2 Purpose this message is to get quick preliminary reaction from Washington on Diem’s request (which he described as a “bilateral treaty like the one with Taiwan”3. I will see him again at Hue on [Page 317]Tuesday4 and he may raise subject again. In any event, it would be better to pick up question promptly, I think.

Our own preliminary reaction is that this request should be seriously and carefully treated to prevent any feeling on GVN’s part that US not serious in its intention to support SVN; but we see major issues involved, including overriding Article 19 Geneva Accords, possible ratification problems, as well as effect on SEATO.5

Diem’s frame of mind which led to this request derives evidently from his feeling that policy we are pursuing in Laos will expose his flank to Communist infiltration to such an extent that large-scale hostilities in SVN are predictable. He is thus seeking a more binding US commitment than he now thinks he has through SEATO. By the same token, I think a change in US policy vis-a-vis Laos, especially a SEATO decision to use force there if necessary to protect SVN and Thailand, would relieve the pressure for a bilateral treaty.

Nolting
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.51K7/10-161. Secret; Niact. Repeated to Bangkok, Vientiane, CINCPAC for PolAd, London, Paris, Geneva for FECON, Phnom Penh, Ottawa, and New Delhi. Also printed in Pentagon Papers: Gravel Edition, vol. II, pp. 649-650.
  2. Despatch 158 from Saigon, October 10. (Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5811/10-1061)
  3. A mutual defense treaty signed at Washington, December 2, 1954; for text, see 6 UST 433.
  4. October 3. No record of this meeting has been found.
  5. In telegram 368 to Saigon, October 1, the Department told Nolting that Diem could be informed that his request would be studied “promptly and sympathetically” but that Article 19 of the Geneva Accords was certainly one of the problems to be considered. The Department also told Nolting, for his own information, that it might be possible to strengthen the U.S. commitment to Viet-Nam under the SEATO umbrella, specifically under Article IV of the SEATO Treaty. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.51K7/10-161) For text of the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities in Vietnam, signed at Geneva on July 20, 1954, see Foreign Relations, 1952-1954, vol. XVI, p. 1505. For text of the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty, signed at Manila on September 8, 1954, see American Foreign Policy, 1950-1955: Basic Documents, vol. I, pp. 912-916.