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

10. CINCPAC for POLAD. Deptel 4.2 Saw Thuan this morning before receipt reftel. I opened by asking him if he could report any progress on actions we had discussed (Embtels 1243 and 1261).3 He said he could not. He had seen Diem once since his return from Hue but said he did not know what decisions might have been taken.

I then had Thuan read Times of Vietnam article (Embtel 6)4 which he said he had not seen. I told him that following were significant points in my reading of article (text of which I am now cabling in full):

It was clear challenge (defi) to US, in particular our efforts to keep Madame Nhu quiet.
It contained veiled criticism of Vice President and his efforts in Buddhist affair and “end of schizophrenia” in headline could well refer to split views in GVN (Tho-Thuan vs Nhus).
There was obvious intent to denigrate Buddhists, especially in charges that Quang Duc drugged.
Article openly dared Buddhists to carry out further burnings immediately or by inaction admit that their claims have been satisfied.

Thuan accepted this interpretation of article. I then asked him if article reflected decisions taken at Hue. He said he did not know, but in response to further question said he was not in position to deny that article reflected government policy.

I told Thuan at end of conversation that I was beginning to feel helpless in this affair.5 Did the President not realize that another bonze burning would virtually force US Government to dissociate itself from GVN handling of Buddhist problem. He said Diem did not unless “you told him so yourself”. I asked for his suggestions as to what to do now, but he had none. I left with distinct impression that Thuan has again been cut out of the play, as he was prior to bonze burning incident.

This means that demarche prescribed reftel not likely be effective if made through Thuan. I frankly do not believe that it will have any positive effect on Diem either. I have already spoken in stronger terms to him (see particularly Embtel 1231).6 If I go in now and speak on instructions along lines Deptel 4, I believe there is very real risk that he will conclude that we are backing down. Note also that he was given, pursuant Deptel 1207,7 flat threat of dissociation if he did not promptly settle with Buddhists on five demands. Now he would be told that we may have to make public statement if in effect GVN does not make forthright effort to satisfy Buddhists that agreement will be carried out in good faith.

I am confident that Diem has already calculated that we may make public statement, and on basis present evidence he may well have discounted possibility.

I realize this is optional part of demarche but, without this threat, rest of demarche would, I believe, be sterile; it would irritate him to no purpose.

I appreciate fully problems involved in making definite threat to dissociate ourselves if there is further bloodshed or suicides-particularly when these may occur no matter what Diem does. I would in fact not recommend such a threat unless it has been definitely decided that we will be forced by domestic and international opinion to carry it out [Page 443]in any case. However, I repeat that, without such a threat, demarche to Diem along lines reftel and in context past approaches is much more likely to make him relax than to move. I would therefore appreciate reconsideration of instructions.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POLS VIET-US. Secret; Operational Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD. Received at 5:36 a.m.
  2. Document 196.
  3. Documents 189 and 193.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 196.
  5. A marginal notation on the source text at this point, in Wood’s hand, reads: “From Bill, this is serious.”
  6. Document 185.
  7. Document 167.