84. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Hilsman) and Senator Frank Church1


  • Proposed Vietnam Aid Res.

After exchanging pleasantries, Senator Church asked Mr. Hilsman how soon he would be leaving on his trip. Mr. Hilsman replied that it would not be until Friday evening.2 He also said that he had talked with the President and that it was his understanding that he (RH) was to work with him and he asked for a number of copies of the proposed bill [resolution] for distribution to the Secretary of State, etc. to be sent to him as soon as possible. Senator Church said that he would be happy to do this.

Mr. Hilsman stated that he had two thoughts in mind. One was that they had better have a pretty careful explanation of its effect in Vietnam. The second was that the President wanted O’Brien and Dutton [Page 168] to work on this, too. Mr. Hilsman mentioned the fact that the one thing that would really “do us in” would be if the bill were to be defeated. Have to be sure that it is near unanimous.

Senator Church felt that first of all it should be introduced and then go on from the kind of support which develops after they know what it is all about. It seemed to him that there was good prospect of getting real support. This would be especially true if there were a keen feeling that it would be helpful to the President and not a bill designed just to be obstructional to the President. Felt that the way it should be worded would be to say that the continuation of our government to support a government in South Vietnam which persists in religious persecution offends the United States and can not be continued.

Mr. Hilsman said that Nolting and Maggie Higgins have insisted that there is no religious persecution. But, however, he said that he could assist Senator Church with the language.

Senator Church felt that there was a definite feeling in the world and around the Congress that there definitely was religious persecution. Mr. Hilsman assured him that the statement could be modified, for instance, by use of the wording “repression of Buddhists.”

Senator Church mentioned that he had sent a copy of the proposed resolution to the other senators and that an introductory statement was being prepared, a copy of which he would send to Mr. Hilsman.3

Senator Church thought that the situation would come up in the President’s press conference on Thursday.4 He thought that he ought not to undercut his own bargaining position the way he did yesterday.5 If he were to say that he understood this resolution relates to a continuation of religious repression, which if continued would make our position increasingly difficult, his bargaining lever would be kept available. It was Senator Church’s thought that the President should [Page 169] be fully informed along these lines. Mr. Hilsman stated that he was sure the President would be thoroughly briefed, but one couldn’t promise as to his actual words.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Hilsman Papers, Memoranda of Conversations. Drafted by Hilsman.
  2. September 13.
  3. In telegram 392 to Saigon, September 12, the Department sent the Embassy a copy of the text of the proposed Church resolution, which had 22 cosponsors, but which was lying “at desk” one week to obtain additional sponsors. The text reads: “Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that unless the Government of South Viet Nam abandons policies of repression against its own people and makes a determined and effective effort to regain their support, military and economic assistance to that government should not be continued.” (Department of State, Central Files, AID(US) S VIET)
  4. The question did arise at the President’s news conference of September 12. The President agreed with Senator Church’s view that the United States should continue to assist South Vietnam. He also indicated “our feeling that the assistance we give should be used in the most effective way possible.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 676)
  5. Apparent reference to the President’s interview on the “Huntley-Brinkley Report,” September 9; text of the interview is ibid., pp. 658-661. In it, the President indicated his belief that reduction in U.S. aid would not be helpful “at this time,” since it might affect the government structure in Vietnam.