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

678. Ref Deptels 618 and 619.2 I saw President Diem at 5 pm Nov 17 to convey President Kennedy’s decisions on Taylor report [Page 643]concerning SVN. President Diem had interrupted inspection trip in central Viet Nam to return to Saigon to receive me. Interview lasted two and one-half hours; was candid, direct, and fundamental.

I read from, and later expanded on, paper3 prepared from instructions reftels. Stressed theme of partnership requiring far-reaching and difficult measures on both sides. Left Diem to do some hard thinking of his own on required GVN actions, and did not at this stage present list of specifics with respect GVN reorganization.

I gave him detailed outline of proposed US actions contained paras 1, 5 and 6 of reftel4 and, for precision, left him paper containing full substance sub-paras H through J para 1, less FYI portion sub-para G.

I believe I made it unmistakably clear, and repeated the point several times, that US readiness to go ahead with proposed joint effort depends heavily on his coming up with proposed GVN actions in administrative, political and social fields which will be recognized as having real substance and meaning. I urged that he let me know as soon as possible his ideas on this point, as well as on our proposal as a whole.

Diem promised to do so and did not at this stage attempt to give a considered reaction to our proposal. As anticipated, his first question was re introduction US combat troops. I replied along lines para 4 reftel and pointed out that measures set out paras 1A, B and C would involve US uniformed military personnel in roles which could expose them to enemy action. In response to Diem’s question he [I?] said that in my personal opinion these personnel would be authorized to defend themselves if attacked. I pointed out that this was one reason why the decisions were very grave from US standpoint and why we needed substantial GVN response on actions it proposed to take.

Diem said that he presumed I realized that our proposals involved the question of the responsibility of the Government of Viet Nam. Viet Nam, he said, did not want to be a protectorate.

I said that this was well understood; we for our part did not wish to make it one. Diem also pointed out that GVN was constantly in process of making reforms but major action could not be taken without thorough consideration and without having always in mind that there was a war to be won. Object was to restore order, not to create disorder. I said I recognized that this was a delicate judgment; in my opinion, as a friend of his country and of him, his greater risk was to stand pat, or act too cautiously. It was my sincere belief that it would be possible for him to streamline his government [Page 644]and delegate authority to a greater extent and, in addition, to take into the government and into his confidence capable people who are now sitting on the sidelines. In past he had told me that he had tried latter without success but I believed that if he tried once again and offered real responsibility to people on sidelines at this critical juncture, it would have great quieting effect on whole country. The President did not respond directly on this point. He did expatiate at length on the difficulty of finding people willing to accept responsibility, on the shortage of trained and able people, on the effects on the people of 80 years of French colonial rule, and on the mentality and habits of the Vietnamese people-a theme on which he has often elaborated in the past.

On the whole, I am not discouraged at Diem’s reaction. In fact, he took our proposals rather better than I had expected. He has promised to call me as soon as he has been able to reflect upon our proposals and, until we have heard his considered reaction, I think it would be idle to speculate on outcome. He requested copy of paper from which I read and talked, which I am sending him. He said he would ask his Cabinet for ideas.

I urge that every possible effort be made to avoid leaks on nature of our proposals, particularly the “quid pro quo” aspects, in interest of getting result we desire.

Draft Diem-Kennedy letter not yet shown to Diem and will be modified accordance Deptel 635.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/11-1861. Top Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution. Repeated priority to Bangkok and CINCPAC for PolAd.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 257.
  3. No copy of this paper has been found.
  4. i.e., telegram 619.
  5. Dated November 17, it offered suggested changes in the third and fourth sentences of paragraph 2 and the first sentence of paragraph 11 of the draft letter. (Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/11-1761)