332. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1
874. Following highlights from call on Hilsman by Tran Chanh Thanh, Vietnamese Ambassador to Tunisia and special representative to Kennedy funeral ceremonies:
- Assured Thanh that President Johnson not only supports Kennedy policies toward Viet-Nam, but participated in making them. Will therefore give full support to new government in effective conduct of war.
- Answering Thanh’s query re significance US withdrawal 1,000 men from Viet-Nam,2 Hilsman said withdrawal psychologically important in showing success, encouraging Vietnamese people by showing they can increasingly take over job, and deflating Communist propaganda about American objectives in Viet-Nam. To further query re withdrawal American forces by end 1965, Hilsman explained this means only training personnel since Vietnamese expected to be fully trained by then, and we shall keep in Viet-Nam whatever forces are needed for victory. Thanh said there had been erroneous interpretations of withdrawal announcements in Viet-Nam and suggested public clarification along these lines. Hilsman agreed we would find means following through on this suggestion (FYI we expect set up VOA interview with Hilsman), and proposed GVN also clarify matter publicly. GVN charge Rau (accompanying Thanh) also said that, in SVN [Page 641] withdrawal announcement was interpreted as intended to exert pressure on Diem Government and that we should remove this implication vis-a-vis new GVN. Hilsman agreed.
Thanh raised Cambodian-Vietnamese relations. Said GVN had halted one Khmer Serei station, but broadcasts continuing from units not yet located. Asked whether US would assist in locating if GVN requested, and Hilsman replied affirmatively. (Can Saigon confirm that one station eliminated?)
Hilsman affirmed following further points Department officers made to Thanh November 26:
- Sihanouk in mood which could lead to establishment Communist base in Cambodia. Important GVN not stand too much on dignity, but in its own interest seize ball and actively seek improve relations with RKG.
- GVN should avoid negative attitude on Sihanouk’s revived proposal for 14-nation conference to guarantee Cambodia’s neutrality,3 and instead seek turn proposal to its own advantage. GVN should tell RKG it prepared agree formal assurances of respect for Cambodian neutrality provided RKG prepared 1) settle all important outstanding issues between two countries and 2) agree to cooperate in sealing frontier against Viet Cong.
- Issues to be comprised in overall settlement should include 1) delimitation and demarcation of frontier, 2) mutual renunciation of territorial claims, 3) financial issues, including payment GVN debt to Cambodia. RKG demands re Cambodian minority in Viet-Nam could be properly ignored since they are Vietnamese citizens.
Hilsman strongly urged prompt GVN initiative for bilateral talks with RKG along above lines. Embassy Saigon should follow up.
Thanh said 14-nation conference should not be agreed to unless there was formal assurance it would not deal with Viet-Nam. We concurred.
He also said there should be virtually complete agreement on what conference to do, including text of any declaration or agreement, before conference convened. Otherwise Free World lends itself to Communist propaganda exploitation of conference forum, and gets whipsawed on substance. We also agreed this view.
- Hilsman urged continued stress on modified, improved strategic hamlet program by new government, thereby avoiding danger of slipping into purely conventional warfare approach in dealing with VC.
Thanh leaving Washington November 28 and returning Saigon, December 3.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 29. Secret. Drafted by Mendenhall and cleared by Hilsman. Repeated to Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Vientiane, London, Paris, and CINCPAC for POLAD.↩
- See Document 339.↩
- On November 26, the Cambodian Foreign Ministry transmitted to the Embassy in Phnom Penh a copy of its note of November 24 to the Geneva Conference Cochairmen, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, requesting a reconvening of the 14 Geneva Conference participants in Djarkarta, Bandung, or Rangoon to discuss measures to ensure an “internationally guaranteed and controlled neutralization of Cambodia.” Cambodia hoped that the United States would support the idea and warned that should the proposal fail, the situation in Cambodia could lead to international conflict and grave consequences. (Telegram 417 from Phnom Penh, November 26; Department of State, Central Files, POL 27-13 CAMB)↩