64. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

1803. Task Force VN. In full talk with Thuan May 26, he led off by saying President Diem would like for me to accompany him on tour of country in near future, which I accepted (dates not fixed).

[Page 163]

Thuan then said (Embtel 17942) Diem has carefully considered question introduction of US combat brigade as trainers, and had concluded that this would not be desirable at present time. Diem thought that an addition of up to one thousand MAAG personnel, over and above present number, would be desirable and could be accomplished through ICC decision. These, he believed, would suffice for training additional Army units. For training civil guard and self-defense corps, Diem felt that US military personnel in civilian clothes should be used. These would be over and above the number MAAG military personnel mentioned above.GVN envisaged direct training.

I told Thuan that we do not wish to proceed against his Government’s judgment in these matters and that I would wish to have General McGarr’s and Washington’s views before making any final comments; but that certain preliminary comments occurred to me: (1) an obvious relation exists between the number of US trainers needed and the number of Vietnamese forces to be trained, their time-phasing, etc., (2) another factor was how we should decide together to handle the whole ICC matter, especially Articles 16 and 17 of Geneva Accords; (3) another factor was whether or not training of civil guard and self-defense corps by US military personnel in civilian clothes was a good idea militarily or politically. I had some doubts on this in light Laotian experiences; (4) still another factor was whether it is a good tactic to argue for an ICC-approved increase in MAAG personnel when it is apparent that the final requirement is likely to exceed number which ICC will approve. To me, a more forthright approach to problem presented by ICC had considerable merit. In summary, I wondered whether the way proposed by Thuan of meeting the problem was adequate from the military point of view and whether it was good from the political point of view.

Thuan seemed interested in idea that Articles 16 and 17 of the Geneva Accords might be ignored, but worried that this might bring about the abrogation by the Commies of the entire Accords, and/or the withdrawal of the ICC. He said that the GVN felt that Geneva accords and ICC had certain deterrent value worth preserving. Thuan suggested as alternative position that we should work together to sound out opinion of our allies re denunciation of Articles 16 and 17, while at same time proceeding to build up numerical strength of MAAG under existing regulations. This matter was left inconclusive. [Page 164] We need Washington reactions to our Embtels 1752 and 1788.3

I then discussed Thuan’s trip to Washington, and asked him tell me the major things that would be taken up in President Diem’s letter to President Kennedy. He said letter had not yet taken final shape, but would include (a) a request for approval of GVN army build up to 100,000 over and above 170,000 already agreed, over two and one-half year period; (b) cost estimates in MAP and in local currency for a force of that size; (c) some suggestions re long-term economic plan for South VietNam. I told him that we had recently submitted comments to Washington on a possible build-up to 200,000 (increase by 30,000 over present-agreed force); that I did not know what our reaction would be to a larger figure, but that I was sure we would like to hear their considered views and their justification for such a force. My impression was that we were thinking in terms of a phased build-up to see if we went along what the ultimate requirement should be. Thuan said the figure for an additional 100,000 came to them from his generals, who had been asked to submit their estimates of what it would take to (a) guard against overt frontal attacks; (b) control borders; and (c) mount successful anti-guerilla operations.

I made clear to Thuan, pursuant Deptel 1433,4 that while our officials in Washington were anxious to hear President Diem’s views on matters raised by President Kennedy’s letter5 about Vice President’s talks, there would obviously be many matters including cost-sharing, to be worked out specifically and in detail after his return, which could not be done finally in Washington and could be better done here. In other words, final agreements should be negotiated out in Saigon. Thuan understood and readily agreed to this.

I then brought up subject which President Diem had discussed with me at length in Dalat6— namely, his hope that we could work out together a comprehensive, joint, long-range plan embracing measures in various fields. Diem had stressed the need to have such plans fit the local situation here, rather than having them “made in America”. I told Thuan I felt sure my Government would be [Page 165] interested in developing Diem’s thoughts along these lines; we did wish to help in ways which would fit local situation, and I personally thought a high-level joint planning group here would be most useful if GVN wished to suggest it. I said we had a number of ideas in several interrelated fields which could be discussed by such a group, and perhaps then referred to joint subcommittee for detailed study and eventual implementation. Thuan replied, while GVN limited re expert personnel, he felt something could and should be done along these lines. Mentioned fact that GVN would have “opposite numbers” for US financial and economic experts expected around June 17.7 He could not say who they would be at this point, but promised to have them ready. He mentioned fact that military planning already going forward in joint committee. I expressed our willingness to have, and my own personal availability to serve on, a joint steering committee if President Diem wished to set one up. (I did this not only because I think it would be best way to have our task force proposals studied systematically, but also to meet Diem’s earlier insistence that plans and actions here should have an indigenous character, in order to promote his basic aim of encouraging a counter-dynamic on the part of his people against the Communists. I hope he will follow up on this.)

In course of conversation, I asked Thuan to expedite giving us figures which Gardiner had requested some time ago re aid requirements, in order that these might be available for study by special Financial and Economic Mission. He said they were being worked up and he agreed to expedite.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5-MSP/5-2761. Confidential; Priority. Also sent to CINCPAC for PolAd and Vientiane and repeated to London, Ottawa, Paris, Geneva, New Delhi, Bangkok, and Phnom Penh.
  2. Telegram 1794, May 24, reported that Nolting discussed the introduction of fully equipped U.S. combat units as trainers for the Vietnamese Army with Thuan on May19 and on two subsequent occasions without result. (Ibid., 751K.5-MSP/5-2461)
  3. See footnote 2, Document 63.
  4. Telegram 1433, May 23, instructed the Embassy in Saigon to tell Thuan that U.S. agencies would listen sympathetically and give his views serious attention, but would not commit the United States prior to completion of the financial team’s study and until Nolting and Diem had reached agreement in Saigon. (Department of State, Central Files, 751.5-MSP/5-1361)
  5. See Document 48.
  6. Nolting recalled that Diem had invited him and his family to Dalat the weekend of May 20 21 to review all the things that had been discussed with the Vice President and to evolve a working plan for a cooperative effort. (Department of State, Office of the Historian, Viet-Nam Interviews, May 25, 1984) No other record of the discussion at Dalat has been found.
  7. Regarding the establishment of a special group of U.S. financial and economic experts (the Staley Group or Special Financial Group), see Document 72.