307. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
976. 1. Call on Pham Dang Lam, new Foreign Minister:
2. He expressed his great appreciation that the U.S. had been so prompt in extending recognition to the new Government of Viet-Nam. Out of our conversation emerged the following:
3. The government was going to step up the war effort in the military sense and also as regards a program of social justice. He stressed particularly lessening the burden of forced labor out in the countryside which had been much too heavy during the Diem regime; and consolidating and improving the strategic hamlets which were, by and large, unpopular because of the burdens that they imposed on the population, because they did not fulfill all of the needs of the true community, and because, in all too many cases, the individual did not think the hamlets increased his security against the Viet Cong.[Page 587]
4. Although I brought up the matter of exorbitant taxes and land ownership, he appeared to think they were not as important as the ones that he mentioned.
5. When he asked me my advice, I said I hoped that General Minh would be able to spend a few minutes from time to time in making the public feel that he had a warm approach to the public. This warmth had been very much lacking in the previous administration. I thought that if he would arrange to visit some of the pagodas, if only for twenty minutes, and shake hands and sign some autographs, it would fill a need which all people feel, regardless of race or geography, of being courted by political leaders. General Minh had great prestige and was a personable man, and I felt sure this would do a lot of good and would cost nothing. I also hoped that he would arrange to drop in in a helicopter on various units in the field, asking a few questions and then leave, and that this would also have a good result.
6. When he pressed me for more advice, I said that it was vitally important, now that the Buddhists were in the big majority in the government, to avoid any action which could possibly, by any stretch of the imagination, appear to be anti-Christian. Anything like this could be utterly disastrous to world opinion regarding Viet-Nam. He agreed emphatically.
7. I also thought they could do a much better job on press relations than had been done by the previous administration, and I made a few elementary suggestions on that subject.
8. I hoped Ngo Dinh Can would be treated with leniency. Lam seemed to think this would be the case and that he was really now in protective custody. I said if he were assassinated, it would be unspeakable and offered to fly him out of the country if GVN desired.
9. When I asked him whom I should call on, he said that as I had called on General Minh, General Don, and General Kim, I had really done enough. But then he reflected and said, although protocol does not call for it, he would be personally very happy if I were to call on General Dinh, and impress upon him the great importance of not having any police state methods of government, in particular, the most unfortunate practice which prevailed in the previous regime, of taking young girls out of the house in the middle of the night and off to some concentration camp. He was glad to see that General Dinh had made a declaration along these lines. He said that the “top” was all right, but the thing was to get the order carried out in the lower levels. He did not seem to think I needed to call on anybody else.
10. He said he had only accepted his crushing post which was so much beyond his powers because of his belief that he could count on U.S. help. I assured him that he could.[Page 588]
11. They had had high hopes about an accord with Cambodia and had even planned to open full-fledged Embassy there, but Sihanouk’s latest action had shelved all that and was most depressing.3