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

1466. Reference Embassy telegram 1454.2 saw Diem 16th for hour and quarter to urge his acceptance agreed comprehensive Counter-Insurgency Plan (CIP). From my conversation 11th with Thuan (reftel) General McGarr and MAAG officers have come to basic oral agreement with Thuan and others on acceptance main military CIP suggestions which MAAG considers it can live with provided GVN follows through with proper implementation. However as GVN position on several other fundamental CIP suggestions was not yet clear, I decided to take up directly with Diem. Following summary conversation:

I opened conversation by stating expected go Bangkok end of month to see Secretary who would surely ask me full details re GVN reaction to CIP. Since it imperative we work out agreed plan in some detail and this will take time, I urged Diem to nominate competent military and civilian officials with power of decision to go over our plan with MAAG and embassy officers in order to come to agreement on plan and avoid any future misunderstanding. Since I will leave for Bangkok in about 10 days, I urged Diem nominate his [Page 48] officials soonest so that group can get together in hope that I would be in position to inform Secretary agreed plan worked out. Diem assured me would do this and reaffirmed it just before I left.

I stated I was pleased learn MAAG had come to basic agreement with GVN on military aspects CIP and that Thuan had assured me of GVN agreement on many other aspects. Nevertheless, there were still certain important CIP suggestions which should be discussed in detail. I then enumerated following points:

(1) We believe it important to attain further national unity that Diem make reasonable offer take one or two non-commie oppositionists into cabinet.

(2) I stated we still receiving allegations and rumors about Can Lao party secret activities which, whether true or not, are harmful to GVN. I again urged that party come out in open or dissolve itself and suggested might be worthwhile pass law or issue decree stating against law have any secret parties VietNam, pointing out this would help give legal basis act against various secret parties even covert communist-front organizations.

Diem interrupted me at this point to describe what he called favorable evolution among non-communist oppositionists which now taking place. He stated many of those who took part in coup see errors their ways and now realize if they had won they would have only assisted communist take-over. According Diem most oppositionists, whether those arrested because of coup or others, now in process changing their attitude and realize it in national interests they try to work more closely with GVN. For this reason too soon to make offer cabinet posts to oppositionists but, without making firm promise, he stated that if some non-commies could agree basic policy GVN he might take them into government after election.

He did not directly reply to my Can Lao suggestion but stated that more and more oppositionists and public in general coming to realize allegations and rumors re party are not true. I interjected these developments all more reason why Can Lao Party should come into open or dissolve and why he should seriously make reasonable offers non-communists enter Govt. Diem made no promises.

(3) I stated it’s absolutely fundamental for success CIP to have effective central intelligence organization. Diem agreed and stated he had finally decided to appoint Col. Y as head of Central Intelligence. He spoke highly of Y who has good combat record and has done very well in running re-education centers. I expressed hope he would take over duties soonest and Diem stated he now working out details.

(4) I pointed out one of most necessary parts of CIP is to have better RKG relations. I reminded him I had talked to Mau and Thuan twice and once to him about bad effects of anti-Sihanouk [Page 49] articles in Saigon Mai,3 adding that we convinced these articles probably sparked RKG tirade against alleged ill treatment Vietnamese-Khmers. Diem said he had sent word to editors of Saigon Mai point out harm they doing by publishing such articles, but editors replied someone had to answer continuing anti-GVN press campaign Phnom Penh. I replied while I realized GVN had maintained press truce for many months during which anti-GVN campaign continued Phnom Penh, it fundamental that GVN not permit mere press campaign prevent efforts establish better RKG relations.

I reminded Diem General McGarr convinced it would be almost impossible put down Viet Cong threat unless work out some border control arrangements. I then stated while we too deplored RKG tirade to UN, etc., GVN should use incident to point out RKG safety and welfare of population in Delta, including Vietnamese-Khmers, endangered by VC attacks and atrocities and therefore in interest of both countries work out border arrangement (Depcirtel 13704).

Diem went into his usual line re impossibility work out arrangement with Sihanouk, “who now considers himself world statesman”. He added certain ex-French colonialists, particularly French army captain Vietnamese origin (I think he said Huyen Dinh La), had been permitted by Sihanouk to come to Cambodia after November coup to try to stir up GVN opposition. Diem stated other unnamed French colonialists permitted to return Cambodia for same purpose and certain of them in touch with Hanoi. This proved Sihanouk did not wish good relations. Diem then said when Pinay5 here recently he had pointed this out to him and given details re VC sanctuary Cambodia and Pinay had taken matter up with Sihanouk urging it very much RKG interests prevent VC using its territory since if VC should take over SVN, RKG would be next target. After Sihanouk had put on tirade against GVN, particularly treatment Vietnamese Khmers, Pinay—according to Diem—told Sihanouk he was “spitting in his own soup” by not trying have better GVN relations. Incidentally he mentioned in passing Ho Thong Minh trying stir trouble by talking Gen. Lawton Collins. Diem then stated recently province chief Kien Tuong had informally met with opposite RKG province chief in effort collaborate. According Diem,RKG province chief shortly thereafter removed. I replied this unfortunate but matter cannot be arranged at local level as it must be worked out with Sihanouk. Diem said that Vice President Tho had informally been in contact with friends who were RKG ministers in effort to try to [Page 50] encourage negotiations. Diem added these efforts got nowhere because Sihanouk opposed. I again reiterated no matter RKG provocation it essential in fight against VC to have better relations. Diem made no promises.

(I took occasion discussion Saigon Mai articles to say I very concerned series of recent Saigon Mai articles stating “Americans” in touch with presidential candidate Truyen and while articles did not say official Americans they inferred as much. I stated such inference harmful all concerned and urged Diem use this false information as another lever to stop Saigon Mai anti-RKG attacks. Diem replied editors probably motivated by “evidence” Truyen and presidential candidate that have been showing local press consisting several pictures these two candidates at social gatherings with “Americans”. Diem deplored this harmful publicity and promised to try stop it.)

(5) I stated pleased note several press code bills before assembly and urged one be passed soonest. Diem promised to do this and asked whether I did not believe press here now more active in criticism, etc. Replied I pleased this development which very helpful.

(6) Stated I also pleased learn press would be permitted be present when ministers interrogated by assembly commissions (reftel) and urged press be encouraged publish details assembly debates, particularly when several bills being discussed on same subject. Diem replied press free to attend all assembly meetings but subjects so dry they have no public appeal. I agreed but urged press be encouraged give details so some of public would be better informed pros and cons important questions.

(7) I again urged he make modest payments to peasants called upon furnish labor, particularly those for instance who work on agrovilles but would not live there and would thus get no benefit from their labor. Diem replied peasants everywhere except those in Cochin-China area gladly contributed to community development. He added if he tried to tax them it would cause more disgruntlement. He argued even those who did not get into agrovilles received considerable benefits from establishment nearby markets, schools, hospitals and maternity wards. I stated that while this undoubtedly true, corvee labor was one of principal things used by communists to cause disgruntlement Delta.

(8) I then asked whether elections of youth to village councils proceeding and whether internal security councils at provincial and district levels being established. He replied he has given strict orders youth elections be fully democratic since this first step in electoral process to be implemented later on broader scale and therefore public must be assured these honest elections. He corrected me by saying his plan did not call for internal security councils at provincial and district level but would be purely provincial councils, not [Page 51] necessarily limited to internal security. He would not implement this part of reform until after election since he could be accused using councils to back his campaign. I stated CIP called for lower level internal security councils as well. He promised think this over.

(9) I asked when he would implement other reforms announced February 6th. He had same answer that to appoint ministers and others, including members national economic council, before elections could be used by opposition to say he appointing his supporters to help in campaign. He pointed out he desires Vice President Tho to take other functions but it would hurt his campaign with business community if he changed from national economy to some other ministry before elections.

(10) I then urged Diem to put into practice many psychological warfare suggestions in CIP, particularly those which would induce VC’s to desert. He said he doing this to certain extent but had to be careful because of VC reprisals against relatives. He added he nevertheless has chosen several ex-VC’s who will make public statements against VC’s just before elections.

Comments: Diem was most affable, exuded confidence and for first time expressed some gratitude our CIP efforts which he promised implement as best he could. Again before giving full green light believe we should await outcome detail discussion by GVN-US officials. In meantime MAAG quietly ordering some equipment for 20,000 increase (Embtel 14446).

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5-MSP/3-1661. Secret. Repeated to Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Vientiane, London, Paris for Nolting, and CINCPAC for PolAd.
  2. See footnote 5. Document 15.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 11.
  4. Circular telegram 1370 discussed reprisals against Khmers in South Vietnam. (Department of State, Central Files, 651H.51K/3-1061)
  5. Antoine Pinay, Independent Deputy in the French National Assembly.
  6. See footnote 4, Document 16.