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

1084. CINCPAC for POLAD. Reference: Embassy’s telegram, 1083.2 Saw Thuan this morning re Buddhist problem. His assessment of situation is generally same as reftel. He says GVN is convinced NFLSV and VC are exploiting situation. President’s position is therefore very difficult. If he now makes concessions under pressure, it could simply whet appetites. Next demands, Thuan felt, could be of a sort designed to interfere with war effort, for example, a plea in name of peace that GVN treat with NFLSV.

On other hand, Thuan is fully aware of dangers of inaction. Problem is to find a solution acceptable to President and to Buddhists. Thuan pointed out again that lack of Buddhist hierarchy and authoritative spokesman compounded problem.

Thuan said he did not know Diem’s latest thinking but expected see him later today. I suggested possibility of high level commission, along lines reftel, and said that Vice President Tho might be good person to head it. Thuan was rather skeptical; he did not understand why a commission was any more likely to come up with a solution than the government. I said the idea was not so much to come up with an immediate solution as to establish a respectable forum in which Buddhists, whatever their standing, and others could be heard. Once tempers had cooled, the “solution” might be relatively simple. Thuan remained non-committal but I imagine that he will at least mention the idea to Diem. With regard to Tho, Thuan informed me that shortly [Page 340]after Hue incident Vice President had been asked by Ngo Trong Hieu to discuss problem with one of principal Saigon Buddhist leaders but latter had refused to call on him.

Thuan said Diem’s immediate problem was whether to receive delegation of four Buddhist leaders from Hue. While he did not know what decision would be, he thought tentatively that it might be a good idea for Diem to offer to meet again with Buddhists if latter would first agree among themselves as to who would be empowered to speak for them. I said Buddhists might have some difficulty in meeting this condition, but I saw no harm in trying. President’s expression of willingness to continue talking would, in any case, be good move.

I was mildly encouraged by this conversation, primarily because of indication that GVN is not apparently thinking of standing pat. Thuan promised let me know results his talk with President.

Separate report3 follows on demonstrations now in progress Hue and Danang.

Saigon quiet.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, SOC 14-1 S VIET. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to CINCPAC.
  2. Document 140.
  3. Document 142.