196. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

4. From Hilsman and Nolting to Trueheart. Thinking here is that unless GVN has in the meantime made further forthright efforts to meet tensions, domestic and international reactions to another Buddhist protest suicide or further bloodshed in connection with Buddhist demonstrations would compel us to make public statement disassociating ourselves from GVN policy vis-à-vis Buddhists. We fully aware likely impact such statement on GVN internal stability and strength, but see no alternative. US cannot take responsibility in any way for GVN religious discrimination, real or alleged.

You should seek appointment with Diem (or alternatively work through Thuan) for following purpose:

For you to decide whether to tell Diem that we may have to make public statement unless GVN makes forthright effort. You should however impress on him that it may be too late to forestall demonstrations and that you instructed suggest urgently that he should make speech which will, if possible, have dramatic impact to succeed in bridging gap of misunderstanding and of improving mutual good faith between GVN and Buddhists.

You should make clear that while you understand importance he attaches to working closely with members his own family and essential contribution which Nhu has made to Strategic Hamlet program, it is U.S. view that certain public statements from sources close to GVN (e.g. Times Viet-Nam story Embtel 6)2 or such other incidents as you may wish to mention have convinced U.S. press and Congress that persons close to President are seeking undermine June 16 agreement.

You should make clear to Diem that rightly or wrongly there is widespread belief in U.S. and in other countries that religious persecution does now exist in Viet-Nam and that both U.S. and GVN need dramatic and sincere public move by Diem to counteract this widely held opinion.

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We suggest you quietly provide Diem (perhaps through Thuan) a piece of paper containing statement or thoughts which Diem might wish consider incorporating in speech. We leave drafting this paper to you but it might contain:

some or all points your 1261;3
announcement GVN intention establish National Religious Council (Deptel 1196);4
invitation Buddhist leaders confer with him urgently;
announcement re appointment Buddhist Chaplains (Deptel 1196);
clear statement re freedom forthcoming national elections (including hint that Buddhists can seek election).

You should point out to Diem that, in giving this warning, we are acting to help him preserve his government. We do not believe GVN can survive prolongation of Buddhist crisis at same time it is engaged in life and death struggle with Viet Cong.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POLS VIET-US. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Wood and cleared by Hilsman and Nolting. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. According to telegram 6 from Saigon, July 1, the Times of Viet-Nam on July 1 carried a front-page article entitled “Mysterious Scotch Tape and End to Schizophrenia In Sight,” which noted that the 2-week deadline established by the Buddhist delegation for government compliance with the June 16 agreement had passed. The article stated that Saigon was calm, and unless there was some dramatic evidence of Buddhist dissatisfaction, such as another suicide, it was reasonable to assume that Buddhist claims had been satisfied. (Ibid., SOC 14-1 S VIET)
  3. Document 193.
  4. Document 159.