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

708. Embtel 702.2 I saw President Diem this morning on question of Vietnamese newspaper article reported reftel, and subsequent article along same line in this morning’s issue of same paper (Thoi Bao). I told him that I had not come to push him on response to our proposals of November 17, although I hoped he would soon be in position to give me his views. I wished specifically to bring to his [Page 667]attention two articles appearing in one Vietnamese newspaper which were untrue in their implication and obviously damaging to our joint enterprise. Our one hour’s conversation was inconclusive, but rather revealing.

Diem said he had just read the articles in question. They did reflect, in his opinion, the latent feelings of most Vietnamese (and, he added most Asians) concerning fancied or real conditions attached to Western aid. He went on to say that, because of this fact, he had not told anyone except Thuan, Ngo Dinh Nhu and Vu Van Mau the content of our proposals of last week. He said he feared the reaction even among his own Cabinet members. I said I thought he misjudged their sentiments. Diem went on to say that newspaper articles in question were not inspired by government and could not have been based on knowledge of US proposals (except that obtained from US press), but that they expressed a point of view which he felt would be widespread if our proposals were known. He speculated that articles in part reaction to US press (mentioned in particular Rose’s story in Time and Elegant’s story in Newsweek), which he said indicated that US would have to “take charge” if Viet-Nam were to be saved. He mentioned in this connection, and read from, an article in Hong Kong Observer of November 8. I said I would not argue the point of whether or not Vietnamese articles in question were [garble], but that I wished to point out frankly that line taken in them had certain clear resemblances to what I had understood to be Mr. Ngo Dinh Nhu’s views expressed in recent conversation with correspondent of Christian Science Monitor. Beyond that, I wanted to make point that our difficult and complex problem of establishing a more effective joint partnership to win the war here could only be complicated, and perhaps be made impossible, by a continuation of emotional, incorrect, and damaging line in newspapers. Diem concurred in this, but insisted that misrepresentations of his government in our own press could not but provoke nationalistic rejoinders from newspapers in Vietnam. He did not offer, nor did I press him, to issue any countervailing release; but I believe our conversation may help dampen down this foolish and dangerous business.

Throughout this discussion, Diem continued to make references to the quid pro quo aspects of our proposals, claiming that they played right into the hands of the Communists. He argued that we are pressing him to give a monopoly on nationalism to the Communists. I told him that this was the exact opposite of our aim; that we were not seeking quid pro quo as such, but were definitely seeking a structure of government in Vietnam, under his leadership, which could bear the weight of increased US assistance and could channel that assistance effectively; and that we were definitely seeking a basis in US and world opinion to enable US to support his government [Page 668]even more heavily. He promised next week to sit down and systematically go over our proposals point by point and to give his considered reaction. I said it would be helpful if he could give his response in due course in written form for clarity and precision. Throughout, Diem stressed that any attempt to “broaden the government” and to “make it more popular” was putting the cart before the horse. Giving security to the people, he said, is the first essential of regaining popular support; it is Communist terror and propaganda which is destroying Vietnamese support of their government; the will exists but can only be demonstrated when the people are free to express it; no additions of “dissidents” to his government would alter this fact. Moreover, he had many independents in the government already, and had had for many years. He cited educators, doctors, and others in this regard.

Without prejudging outcome these negotiations, [I?] think we should be [doing?] some [garble] thinking whether we should not put major stress on efficiency in GVN rather than on more nebulous concept of “political reform”. [I?] think we can get a certain measure of improvement in GVN efficiency, which may open up possibility of political liberalization and broadening of political base, with all deliberate speed.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5/11-2561. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Bangkok, London, Paris, Vientiane, Phnom Penh, Geneva for FECON, and CINCPAC for PolAd.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 276.