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

687. Re Deptels 618, 619 and Embtel 678.2 Saw Thuan November 20 on several matters, and in course conversation asked him what he could tell me re schedule of follow-up discussions with President Diem on recent démarche. This led to long, wide-ranging, and pessimistic account by Thuan of how things stand here. I do not take his pessimism too seriously-indeed it may be only bargaining tactic-and conversation gave me opportunity to clarify and put in proportion proposed “new partnership” envisaged in our position, and reasons for it.

Thuan said that Diem had not yet discussed fully with him U.S. proposals presented last Friday;3 but had given him impression of being “very sad and very disappointed”. Thuan said Diem had said he now hesitates to put proposals before even his Cabinet Ministers, fearing that they would be disappointed and lose heart. He had intended to discuss US proposals with both Cabinet and selected members of Assembly who had been consulted re advisability of US forces at time of Taylor Mission, but now thought contrast between his earlier question and US proposals too striking. Thuan conveyed impression that Diem is brooding [Page 650]over US proposals and has made no move yet to develop specific ideas on actions GVN expected to take. Thuan said President’s attitude seemed to be that US asking great concessions of GVN in realm its sovereignty, in exchange for little additional help; that this is great disappointment after discussions with General Taylor involving, in particular, concept of Delta Task Force; that Diem seemed to wonder whether US was getting ready to back out on Viet-Nam as, he suggested, we had done in Laos.

I told Thuan that if in fact President Diem had reacted in this manner after consideration our proposals, I wished to talk with him directly and soon. These are very serious matters to us as well as to GVN, and we cannot afford to have any misunderstandings, lack of clarity, or to deal at arms’ length. What I had proposed on President Kennedy’s instructions was a serious, difficult, and far-reaching set of proposals designed to reverse the trend and eventually to win the struggle in VietNam. I said I was sure he knew this, and he confirmed it. I told him that we on our side had to have a structure for improved performance on the part of GVN in several areas, in order to make far-reaching political decision involving substantial additional US effort, manpower, resources, and prestige. Furthermore, the United States had no idea whatsoever of wanting to make South Viet-Nam a US “protectorate” (Diem’s word); on contrary, if SVN could protect itself, nothing would please us more. The fact is that we are trying in a most difficult situation to develop means to help SVN protect itself, and measures we propose are very far-reaching indeed. I explained reasons why we considered introduction US combat forces, either in anti-guerrilla war or as garrison troops, unwise; and how we had searched for, and found, substantial measures to bolster GVN’s own effort in anti-subversion war, which would be effective if GVN reorganized itself to make them so. I also emphasized the seriousness of our proposal to bring international pressure, and effective pressure, on Communist bloc to discontinue infiltrations. I elaborated on benefits to SVN from multi-national participation in civilian effort re rehabilitation flooded provinces.

Thuan seemed to be torn between appreciation of soundness and significance of our proposals and the difficulties, political, psychological and administrative, which Diem faces. He said frankly that given the structure of Vietnamese society, the paucity of people willing to assume responsibility, the tendency to analyze and criticize rather than to act, he shared President’s fear that public acceptance of our proposals would disastrously weaken strong Diem leadership which he considers indispensable at this time. “Without his determined and active leadership, we would collapse.” On other hand, he recognized our needs in terms US and world opinion. He inquired most earnestly whether our proposals could not be done “in [Page 651]a practical manner”, meaning step-by-step, without publicity, and without requiring any over-all GVN acceptance. He pointed to present reorganization and strengthening GVN intelligence service as a case in point. He said Diem would do these things one by one on a practical basis if right men could be found, but he would not accept anything that looked to public as a sweeping reorganization under US pressure. I told him that essentially it is results, not appearances, that we are seeking; that if GVN would come up with specific suggestions for improvements we would try to meet them on the means; but that our experience to date had led us to conclusion that real measures of decentralization and delegation of authority, strengthening of personnel in administrative positions, and broadening popular appeal are urgently required.

Turning to military, Thuan asked what sort of “new terms of reference” for MAAG are envisaged. I said that as minimum Chief MAAG would have to have command authority for any US operational forces introduced, in addition to present advisory authority as maximum, and depending on GVN needs and wishes, he might have a role like that General Van Fleet in Greece. I described how Greece, nearly submerged by Communism, had been able to reserve the trend and win, making full use of US operational advice as well as material aid; and that Greece is now a fully independent member of world community. Thuan said that in military command structure, as in so many others, there is grave lack of competent people willing to discharge responsibility. I said we could help in this. He said he knew we could, but trouble was that none of their people, especially military, liked to have their incompetence exposed. I asked him whether he was telling me that introduction of US advisors for operations would bring about such resentment on part ARVN officer corps as to cause military coup d’etat. He said that was what he had in mind. I said I thought we could find a way; it would depend on how the matter was handled and the quality of the men we might contribute. I again urged Thuan to urge President Diem to come up with specific proposals. I said we are not inflexible, but determined this time to work out a new partnership which would give real results and win the struggle, now going badly. We do not wish to take over, but we had to be assured that additional US commitments, plus present large-scale aid, was going to have real results. Otherwise, I saw no way of winning.

I think my best tactic is to wait a few days for Diem’s response, I do not want to seem to be pressing him to buy our proposals, and I think Thuan will help.

Meanwhile I would appreciate prompt as possible clarification and elaboration on following (letters are keyed to sub-paragraphs numbered paragraph 1, Deptel 619): [Page 652]

(a) (b) (c). Would uniformed personnel referred to be armed and authorized at least to defend themselves? Any limitation on types of missions in which they could participate?

(a).
What is composition in terms numbers aircraft and personnel of “increased airlift”? How soon could they reach VietNam?
(b).
Does this pare refer to Jungle Jim unit already here, or is additional effort this area contemplated?
(c).
What types and numbers of small craft are contemplated and when could they arrive? Would such craft, manned partly or wholly by US uniformed personnel, carry out patrols in coastal and inland waterways?
(f).
What sort of “new terms of reference” are envisaged? It would plainly be necessary to broaden MAAG responsibility to include operational direction of US forces. Would this be accomplished by classified directive to Chief MAAG, or by openly establishing theater command?
(g).
Is it possible to be more specific regarding “increased economic aid as may be required”?
(i).
What are the areas other than military in which we would contemplate putting US administrators? Can we do this without publicity, insofar as possible?

Nolting
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 84, Saigon Embassy Files: FRC 66 A 878, 350 GVN. Secret; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Bangkok and to CINCPAC for PolAd.
  2. Telegrams 618 and 619 are not printed, but see footnote 2, Document 257. Telegram 678 is printed as Document 266.
  3. November 17.