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

1231. CINCPAC for POLAD. Deptel 1247.2 I saw Diem at 5 PM for about an hour. Conversation was businesslike and Diem let me do most of talking. If he was irritated at my bluntness, he did not show it, and his manner at end of talk was if anything rather warmer than at beginning.

I first gave Diem paper based on reftel3 describing it, as suggested, as official Washington assessment which I thought he should see. He read it rather rapidly but made no comment.

I then turned to my belief that deliberate effort was being made by Nhus to sabotage agreement of June 16 and reasons therefor. I cited each of numbered points in Embtel 12244 except one relating to jubilee for Archbisop Thuc. Discussion had become slightly heated by time I reached this item, and I judged it would be more offensive than productive to raise it. Whether Thuan had already gone over these points I do not know; Diem dodged my question on this.

Diem stated flatly that GVN intended to honor agreement—and this was only immediate, positive outcome of discussion. He denied that Nhu was organizing Republican Youth protest against agreement. (On this, as on other points which he disputed, I urged him to make inquiries.)

On Gregory-Madame Nhu paper I gave him full story as we have it; I repeated what I had said to Thuan about it; and I read him Deptel 1255.5 He listened attentively but neither confirmed nor denied charge, nor did he say whether he proposed to do anything.

On Co Son Mon6 “Convention” he defended right of this sect to have such a meeting and state its views. I said point was whether meeting was subsidized by GVN, whether it was spontaneous, and [Page 412] what would be its effect on Buddhists. There was also question of tendentious reporting of meeting in Times of Vietnam. Diem tended to brush this off. He said GVN and local authorities regularly gave financial and other support to all factors of Buddhist movement. He did not reply on question of censoring newsreel.

I wound up this part of discussion by saying that available information had convinced me and my colleagues that a deliberate effort was afoot to destroy the agreement. I felt obliged to tell him that, if agreement did break down and demonstrations resumed, I thought my government would as matters stood put the blame on GVN. I reminded him that Buddhist leaders were still in Saigon waiting, as they said, for evidence of GVN good faith and specifically for release of persons arrested. Diem said they were being released as fast as they could be processed. However, if processing turned up dossier showing that individual was Communist, Diem indicated he would not be released. (He said that some youths had been found to be members of Communist youth organization.) He also implied that he had at least serious doubts about releasing people who had thrown rocks at police during riot last Sunday.7 (Buddhists are demanding that everyone picked up in this affair be freed.)

I concluded talk by going over very frankly my assessment of situation and what needed to be done (Embtel 1209)8 repeating points in paper I had given him, stressing serious loss of support for GVN at home and abroad. I said I hoped he would believe I was speaking as a friend but in any event I had to tell him that he was in a very grave position, in my opinion, and had to take drastic measures, going beyond religious questions, if confidence in his government was to be restored.

I ended by saying that situation seemed to me to be especially tragic because there had been undeniable progress on the military side and in the Strategic Hamlet Program and this progress had continued all during Buddhist affair. It nevertheless had to be recognized that latter could overturn everything that had been accomplished. Whatever he might think about situation, he must accept that he was under most virulent editorial attack in US and that political pressure on US Government was intense.

Diem did not dispute any of this. He simply said sadly that Buddhist affair had been blown up out of all proportion. What people should be worried about was situation in Laos.9 I said this might be [Page 413] the right judgment strategically but, as he knew, politics did not always follow strategy.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) S VIET. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limited Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC.
  2. Document 181.
  3. In telegram 1225 from Saigon, June 22, Trueheart reported that the paper which he prepared for Diem conformed to the instructions received in telegram 1247 to Saigon, with two omissions. Trueheart did not include a reference to Diem’s statement in his June 11 speech that “Buddhism can count on the Constitution, in other words, on me”, and he omitted the reference to the barricades in Saigon because they had been removed. Trueheart noted that the official English translation of Diem’s statement read: “Buddhism in Vietnam finds its fundamental safeguard in the Constitution, of which I personally am the guardian.” (Department of State, Central Files, SOC 15-1 S VIET)
  4. Document 184.
  5. See footnote 5, Document 184.
  6. A marginal notation on the source text at this point reads: “GVN subsidized sect, presumably Buddhist”.
  7. June 16.
  8. Document 130.
  9. A marginal note on the source text at this point, in an unknown hand, reads: “True enough.”