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

1740. Codel Johnson. Vice President’s initial call on President Diem morning May 12.2

(This not cleared by Vice President.)

After opening visit with presentation to Diem of gift of American Heritage books, Vice President immediately moved into substantive purpose of visit. He told Diem his visit to Viet-Nam is expression of President Kennedy’s letter to President Diem (Department’s 13593). Vice President noted letter represents President’s thoughts on what might be done about situation in Viet-Nam and offers basis for what US role might be in cooperation with GVN. Vice President stressed that we could learn much from Diem’s experience and he had come to listen to his views as well as present President Kennedy’s.

Diem read letter and then proceeded outline situation in Viet-Nam both historic and present. He brought in particularly aspects of situation suggested by President Kennedy’s letter and noted that he had proposed 20,000 force increase and MAP support for full Civil Guard several years ago.

Vice President succeeded in getting Diem’s attention refocused on President Kennedy’s letter and asked Diem specifically whether he agreed to various proposals in letter. Following is Diem’s reaction point-by-point:

Agreed infuse into our actions high sense of urgency and dedication.
Pleased US has approved MAP support for 20,000 force increase but pointed to problem of paying local currency costs for this increase.
Agreed parallel political and economic action of equal importance with military measures but stated political and economic [Page 137] actions must be those appropriate to Viet-Nam as country which is underdeveloped and subject Communist subversion.
Agreed to increase in MAAG personnel.
Agreed MAAG support and advise self-defense corps.
Pleased MAP support for entire Civil Guard force of 68,000.
Likewise accepted offer material support for junk force.
Noted we prepared consider case for further increase in strength armed forces.
Agreed further urgent joint study on border control techniques.
Agreed consider establishment in SEA of research and development facility.
Agreed use military specialists to assist Vietnamese armed forces in health, welfare, and public works activities at village level. Stressed, however, importance of tact of foreign officials in working in this field.
Agreed renew border control negotiations with Cambodian Government. (However reference to previous efforts by GVN to obtain Cambodian agreement on joint border action and to Cambodian “aggressiveness in seizing at least six Vietnamese Islands” indicate continued GVN tendency place onus on Cambodian Government for lack results in border control field, without displaying awareness that GVN has taken no initiative in other fields such as settlement its financial debt to Cambodia which might put Cambodians in better frame of mind for negotiations.)
Agreed on desirability of using foreign non-American experts in counter-guerrilla field but stressed it would be up to initiative GVN to request these experts and they would have to work under its control.
Agreed to proposal for despatch US economic and fiscal experts to work out financial plan as basis for joint efforts. Demurred at first, however, about accepting experts from US Government on grounds they would lack impartiality and objectivity but Vice President pointed out would be necessary from our point of view to use US employed experts if we were to come up with plan which would be basis for official US action.
Agreed we should work together on longer range economic development program.

Vice President urged Diem to provide letter of reply to President Kennedy as early as possible. Diem said he would do so prior to Vice President’s return to Washington from trip.

Diem presented memo to Vice President on need for additional defense support aid.4 Memorandum points to increasing local currency costs especially in defense field and states increased aid needed in order close balance payments gap and maintain foreign exchange reserves at minimum level $200 million. Requests increase of about $30 million “above 1961 average level” (i.e., presumably for FY 1962). Also recommends that Buv American policy should not be [Page 138] applied to aid program for VietNam. Text memorandum being pouched.

Agreed at end conversation joint communiqué should be issued.5

Comment: While history negotiations with GVN shows frequent slippage on GVN side in maintaining relative schedule (e.g., in presenting counter-insurgency plan in February we proposed agreement on plan be reached within two weeks but took two and one-half months), we believe Diem will reply President Kennedy letter shortly. Meanwhile, joint communiqué today buttons up certain matters. Suggest immediate recruitment economic and financial experts (group should be small and good and headed by top-level, well-known figure) and team military specialists in civic action field, but neither body should be dispatched Viet-Nam prior receipt written reply President Kennedy’s letter. Believe it would be useful have GVN memo on need for increased defense support aid (transmitted separately) examined by economic and financial group.6

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5-MSP/5-1361. Secret; Priority. According to another copy, this telegram was drafted by Mendenhall and cleared with Nolting. (Washington National Records Center, RG 84, Saigon Embassy Files:FRC 66 A 878, 361.1) Also sent to CINCPAC for PolAd and repeated to Manila, Taipei, and Phnom Penh.
  2. The meeting began at 8 a.m. with Mendenhall, who characterized it as cordial, interpreting. (Department of State, Office of the Historian, Viet-Nam Interviews, December 27, 1983) A nine-point check list of things for the Vice President to do at the meeting is in Johnson Library, VP Security Files, Program for South Vietnam. In telegram 1724, May 12, dispatched immediately after this meeting, the Embassy in Saigon commented that the visit had already done a great deal to establish the basis for increased and successful joint efforts to be undertaken in mutual confidence. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100-JO/5-1261)
  3. Telegram 1359, May 9 (ibid., 751K.11/5-961), transmitted the text of the letter to Diem; see Document 48.
  4. Transmitted as an enclosure to despatch 519 from Saigon, May 16. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100-JO/5-1661)
  5. The Embassy in Saigon transmitted the draft of a communiqué in telegram 1731, May 12. (Ibid., 611.51K/5-1261) The draft had 13 agreed points, but the final communiqué had only 8. For its text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 1043-1045. Since telegram 1731 asked Washington to be ready to comment by telephone early Friday, May 13, presumably the changes were made at that time.
  6. An Embassy report on Johnson’s talk with Diem after dinner on May 12 was transmitted in telegram 1743 from Saigon, May 15. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.1100-JO/5-1561; see also Declassified Documents, 1981, p. 537) During this conversation, Diem said that he desired U.S. and/or SEATO combat troops in Viet-Nam only in case of overt aggression.