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

804. Eyes only Secretary Rusk.

On Monday2 after the atomic energy lunch Thuan spoke to me about my day with Diem, inferring that he had been instrumental in arranging it. He said that Diem had had elaborate studies made about what steps they could take without our aid and all had concluded that without our aid they could not go on.
I told him that after a long and frustrating conversation in which not one single specific idea of mine had been accepted, I finally asked Diem if he could think of some one thing which was within the range of his possibilities, which he would be willing to do and which could reassure US public opinion. He had said nothing.
When Thuan asked what sort of thing I would want, I said that I could illustrate it by such things as liberating the prisoners (Buddhists and others); opening the schools; eliminating the discriminatory features of Decree Law No. 10; and concealing nothing from the UN Commission, so as to put Vietnam in a good light with regard to world opinion.
I said that the trouble between Vietnam and the United States was largely one of public relations. We are a government in which public opinion is extremely important. I realized that they were accustomed to an authoritarian government; still, two such different governments should be able to work together on specific matters.
I hoped that we could get this thing out of the papers for awhile, which is why I had advised that the Nhus disappear for awhile.
Thuan then said: Well, you don’t ask for much, I must say. He added: Of course, the President must save face.
I said that nobody, not even the Americans, likes to be put in the position of supporting totalitarian acts which are totally contrary to our way of thinking.
He asked me whether he could say to President that without some step by GVN he felt sure American attitude would harden. I said that I would rather say that without some step by GVN he could see no change in present American attitude.
The conversation ended with Thuan saying that my conversation with President Diem was “perhaps a beginning”.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 S VIET. Secret. Received at 9:06 a.m. and passed to the White House, CIA, and Office of the Secretary of Defense.
  2. October 28.