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

1008. President Diem today gave his complete concurrence to new U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and said he is looking forward to meeting and working with Gen. Harkins.

He said he had been worried about losing Gen. McGarr and hoped that he would remain, remarking that his advice and understanding of situation here were most valuable and appreciated. (I said I thought it likely that Gen. McGarr would continue here to perform MAAG functions.)

Diem said my letter of yesterday2 (which he had received upon return from field trip) had reassured him on several points; that it was very important not to give credibility to Viet Cong propaganda, nor his own people reason for thinking that the U.S. has taken over direction of the war effort. It was for this reason that he insisted on “civilian head” of U.S. mission. (I told him this was clearly understood.)

We did not directly discuss press announcement of new command. Believe, however, announcement should be in low key, giving name of new command and commander and general purpose, but otherwise appearing to indicate business as usual. We will devise text and check it with Thuan, if desired (and if he is available over Tet holidays).3

Diem was in optimistic and rather philosophical frame of mind, saying he felt that our “closer partnership” was working well, having good effect on SVN popular opinion as well as on morale and aggressiveness of Vietnamese Armed Forces. He then said he hoped our fellows would be on their good behavior vis-à-vis Vietnamese girls, who are “en principe, tres morales”. I did not pursue subject (not wishing to start a discussion on a Status of Forces Agreement).

See no obstacle to Gen. Harkins’ arrival here whenever desired, and we look forward to his coming.

Dept please repeat to CINCPAC as desired.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5/2-362. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. At the top, in Woodʼs handwriting, were the words: “Cot[trell]—good news.”
  2. Not found.
  3. In telegram 964 to Saigon, February 5, the Department of State concurred in the proposal to clear the announcement with Thuan and provided a draft text. (Department of State, Central Files, 751K.5/2-362) In telegram 1012 from Saigon, February 6, Nolting approved the proposed press announcement. (Ibid., 751K.58/2-662) Telegram 1018 from Saigon, February 7, indicated that the Vietnamese Government had also given its approval. (Ibid., 751K.58/2-762)