27. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
304. CINCPAC for POLAD. Called on Lalouette, the French Ambassador. He has been here five years; is intelligent; and has the reputation of sincerely favoring U.S. program here. He expressed himself as follows:
Diem has a steadfastness and determination which is rare in Asia and is valuable. In many ways he is the best Chief of State in Southeast Asia. His weakness is that he is not a political leader, cannot make speeches, cultivate the press, etc.
He is much better off with Nhu than without him. Nhu is efficient and intelligent. The war against the Viet Cong can be won with Diem administration in office.
The present situation is largely the work of the press, helped greatly by Vietnamese ineptness. In the days of French administration, suicides of Buddhists were very common and had no effect whatever on the population. They create much more excitement abroad than they do in Vietnam.
Things are now quieting down; Buddhists are being released. Decree Law No. 10 will be repealed. The pagodas will be repaired at government expense; a ceremony is planned to be held at the Xa Loi Pagoda.
Madame Nhu will soon go away for several months on a trip to India and the United States.
The Vietnamese officials have been waiting for a dialogue to begin with me which has not taken place. They are, therefore, fuming in on themselves, which is bad. My comment: This is not strictly true. In my conversations with both Diem and Nhu, I suggested a number of things which should be done.
There is still some danger of a violent uprising, but it is getting less.
He asked: What could be done to please U.S. I said: Get rid of the Nhus. He said: This is impossible, but it might be possible to bring in someone with titles of Prime Minister and reduce Nhu’s role.[Page 59]
In a year or two the guerrilla danger might be ended. The Viet Cong are very discouraged and morale is very low in North Vietnam, concerning which he said he was well informed inasmuch as the French have a mission there. When the guerrilla war is ended, it might be possible for the South Vietnamese, who would then be much stronger than the North Vietnamese, to propose trading some of their rice for North Vietnamese coal. This might lead towards a unified Vietnam with South Vietnam the dominant element. But all of this was remote.
When I left, he said: Let me say two things—first, try to calm American opinion and, second, no coupe.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET. Secret; Eyes Only; Limit Distribution. Received at 3:16 p.m. Repeated to CINCPAC and passed by the Department of State to the White House, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the CIA.↩