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

820. For Harriman. Deptel 871.2 I have not yet had opportunity to read subject GAO report, although I understand a draft of it has reached USOM. I would like, however, to make a preliminary comment based on contents reftel.

For many months this Mission has been reporting steady and encouraging progress in the slow and difficult counterinsurgency and pacification effort here. At the same time, we have pointed out that the general situation, though improving, is still fragile and subject to dangerous deterioration, physical and psychological. We are not out of the woods yet; the favorable trend is not irreversible. Any sign of weakening could well result in another attempt to overthrow the government. The predictable result of such an attempt—whether successful or not—would be, in my judgment, a bonanza for Hanoi. As it now stands, continued foreign press criticism of the GVN and US policy here, followed by the Mansfield report and signs of reluctance and [Page 162]disillusionment on the part of certain segments of US opinion, have without doubt encouraged coup plotting, have made the govt here tighten up rather than liberalize, and have encouraged the enemy. I do not think in these circumstances we can afford a public chastisement of the GVN (and/or our own policy) by a US agency. This is not said in an attempt to stifle criticism. It would, however, be totally incredible to the Vietnamese people (government and non-government, friendly and hostile) that the US could sustain a position with one hand and publicly slap it down with the other. They would certainly interpret this as foreshadowing change of US Govt policy here. In this connection, it seems to me pertinent to recall the first commandment of our task force instructions issued two years ago.3 To build confidence in US intentions to support this country through its duly-elected government, and to use that confidence to improve and underpin the entire situation. These basic instructions have not been changed to my knowledge. We have made, and continue to make, measurable progress under them. I have a strong feeling that publication of the GAO report as summarized and as suggested in reftel would gravely undermine this progress. I do not believe that its publication in any form would provide us leverage in negotiations with GVN.

It is, therefore, my strong recommendation that US Government consult with Congressional leaders with view to deferring publication of GAO report indefinitely. Executive branch should of course, undertake investigate and correct any specific deficiencies USOM operation brought out by report.

Nolting
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID(US) S VIET. Confidential; Limit Distribution.
  2. Telegram 871, a joint State/AID message to Saigon, March 15, informed the Embassy that a draft GAO report on Vietnam had been prepared, covering roughly 1958 to mid-1962, which was “severely critical of several AID operations,GVN shortcomings in mobilizing resources, and GVN personalities.” The report also “discloses course of several negotiations with GVN and impugns its good faith.”GAO reports were customarily printed in unclassified form, but the State Department indicated that it would attempt to have the criticisms of the South Vietnamese Government which were contained in the report classified. (Ibid.)
  3. An apparent reference to the instructions transmitted to the Embassy on May 20, 1961. For text, see Foreign Relations, 1961-1963, vol. I, Document 56.