70. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

348. Eyes only Ambassador Lodge.

Following is result of highest level meeting today.2
It is clear that as a minimum we face a major problem with world, with US Congress and with American public which will require GVN to take actions to restore its image so that we may continue to support it. These actions include effective silencing and probably removal from country of Madame Nhu, releasing of bonzes, students, etc., along lines we have discussed.
What is not clear is whether these measures will suffice to restore sufficient confidence in the Diem Government within Viet-Nam to permit them to win the war.
Sense of meeting was that if the answer to this second question is that additional measures, such as departure of Nhu, are essential, and if we cannot obtain these additional measures after negotiating with Diem, then US faced with question whether to apply sanctions with all their risks rather than let situation get steadily worse.
At present there are two missing ingredients necessary to make a judgment. First is information on Vietnamese attitudes, and septel3 describes actions we are taking this regard in addition to those you already have underway.
The second missing ingredient is Diem’s attitude. You should initiate dialogue with Diem soonest. Purpose of this is not for showdown negotiations or ultimatum (since we not yet decided on ultimate sanctions to be used) but rather to afford you and us an opportunity to clarify present situation and assess future moves—e.g., to express clearly and authoritatively considerations US side and to ascertain Diem’s future plans and policies in the light these considerations. You must dispel any idea Diem may have gotten from recent press reports that everything is okay in US-GVN relations and make him understand that we are coming to a point where our sensitivity is as important as his, stressing that we have a common problem to work out to permit us to proceed together towards our joint objective of winning the war against the Viet Cong.
You should hit hard on consequences of now inevitable UN debate and difficulty US would have in supporting GVN there in present circumstances (you should, incidentally, make it absolutely clear that Madame Nhu’s presence at UN would be disaster.) Second, you should elaborate difficulties with US public opinion and Congress using Hilsman meeting with Far East Subcommittee4 and statements of Lausche and Church reported septels.5
You should also emphasize to Diem extreme time urgency—we have only ten days before UN debate for GVN to restore its image.
You should also emphasize that while the problem here and in UN created by GVN acts may or may not be aggravated by press distortions problem is big and real and only GVN acts can solve it.
At the outset you should stress the points that relate to the public opinion problem (para 2 above)—e.g., release of remaining students and bonzes, removal press censorship, restoration of pagodas, etc., as developed along lines generally agreed in our preceding exchanges, leaving to later discussions additional measures we may think necessary in light of results of assessment described para. 5 above and septel.
We have some doubts here about reliance upon [less than 1 line not declassified] to explain US position to Nhu and/or Diem. They can obviously be useful allies, but your own authoritative discussion of these issues seems to us indispensable.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET. Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Hilsman and cleared in draft with Bundy, Rusk, and Harriman. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD exclusive for Felt. A copy was also sent to the President at Hyannis Port. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cable 11) Also published in Declassified Documents, 1982, 592 B.
  2. See Document 66.
  3. Document 71.
  4. See Document 63.
  5. In telegram 341 to Saigon, September 6, the Department of State informed the Embassy that Senator Frank Lausche, Chairman of the Far Eastern Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee, publicly supported and concurred with the sentiments expressed in the President’s interview of September 2 that oppression of the Buddhists in Vietnam was not an answer to that country’s critical situation and grave problems. In telegram 356 to Saigon, September 7, the Department reported that Senator Frank Church had introduced a nonbinding sense of the Senate resolution calling for a cut-off of U.S. aid to South Vietnam unless the Diem government introduced drastic reforms. (Both in Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET) The text of the proposed Church resolution is in telegram 392 to Saigon, September 12. (Ibid., AID (US) S VIET)