62. Telegram From the Embassy in Burma to the Department of State 0
245. Presented credentials General Ne Win 9:00 a.m. this morning (Monday). Highly pleased at frank nature our first conversation but equally concerned at content his remarks. Conversation easy and friendly and I found him quite likeable personally. Chief of Protocol and Cabinet Secretary remained throughout conversation which lasted thirty minutes.
After initial small talk about my previous service west and north of Burma’s borders, his apology for not receiving me sooner, the conveyance of Secretary’s and Harriman’s greetings, etc., etc., I asked if it would be appropriate to turn to substantive matters. Upon his request that I should always be frank and direct with him, I said wished to start with my last talk with President Kennedy before departure Washington. President had seemed very well informed re Burma and I would speak from notes I had made at that time.
President’s first thought had been that I should convey his desire to have opportunity meet Ne Win personally. I had felt from nature his remarks that President had received reports that the General’s last trip to Washington during the previous administration didn’t go very well and that he seemed eager erase any past misunderstandings.1 He had said he hoped that at some mutually convenient future time a meeting would be possible.
Ne Win said he greatly appreciated this thought from President. Said we need not be concerned over unfortunate events during his last visit as relations between nations should not be affected by such small [Page 137] matters, and there were indeed matters between us of more serious nature. He nevertheless related in some detail, obviously trying to give appearance of laughing them off, mishaps his last visit. It obvious mistakes on our part during that visit are still with us, despite his protestations to contrary, although as he himself said, and later proved, this not our greatest problem by any means.
[Here follows Byroade’s account of making the three points suggested and approved in the Attachment to Document 60.]
The General listened intently during above but asked no direct questions. Said he pleased at President’s interest in Burma. He said he thought the Kennedy administration had changed the US understanding of neutral nations and their problems. He supposed President might well be confused about what is happening in Burma. This would not seem unusual as he felt sure even many Burmese were not really aware of what he was trying to do. He hoped things would clear up in future and everyone would see that he on right path. Burma had a great desire to be left alone with her problems at the moment although he knew that no nation, as no individual, could really stand alone for very long. The story had proven however that Burma must beware of seeming friends who let her down.
I said if he were speaking of the US I must ask that he be more specific. I had found suspicions here and this was a cause of great personal concern to me. His reaction was immediate and he spoke with feeling, saying he would tell me of one of past grievances. He related the great sense of personal loss he had felt when he found that some of his closest friends in the officer corps had been subverted by us and were actually [garble—your?] agents. He did not mention names but it obvious when he spoke of one in particular he referring to Brig. Maung Maung now seconded as Ambassador to Israel.
I told Ne Win he would always get the truth from me. I could not comment on events in past of which he spoke as I did not as yet know. If what he said were true I could understand his feelings. I could only tell him that I was an old-timer at the diplomatic business; that nothing would happen in his country from American sources that I did not know about and personally approve; and that I would give him my word that he need have no concerns of this nature about the future.
Ne Win said he aware Kennedy was making progress in bringing total US Government and activities under control—even making progress over most difficult agency—but even though progress being made he had not been able fully succeed as yet (this in laughing vein as if he didn’t envy President his task). I replied that I knew for a fact that President had already succeeded. I recalled Ne Win’s remarks to Harriman 2 [Page 138] (he remembers this talk with pleasure) of steps he had taken to insure against corruption of too much power in hands one Cabinet member or individual. Said I not at liberty go into details but President’s methods somewhat like his own, and I could assure him President now fully and completely in control.
Ne Win reverted again to thought that he and Kennedy might meet. He said he hoped this could be possible. I should know however that he had been so involved in internal matters that he had not even been able to accept as yet three invitations in local area, i.e. India, Pakistan and Ceylon. He hoped to get these out of way as soon as possible but in any event these should precede any return to the US. He laughed heartily when I said I thought one idea Kennedy may have wished to get across was that he had managed to get rid of the fellows who were in control in Washington at the time of his last visit.
I told Ne Win if any suspicions arose in future I hoped he would discuss them both quickly and frankly with me personally. Said I hoped see him occasionally in any event, as I had feeling Washington had felt somewhat, cut off from him personally of late. Knew of course of great demands on him personally, particularly during present difficult period, and would be careful not to overdo privilege seeing him personally. He said would be great pleasure and we parted in mutual agreement we both would have had less troubled life had we stayed in the army.
Comment: It obvious the General’s suspicions real and are not going to be corrected either quickly or easily. While it disturbing find he feels as he does it nonetheless gratifying that he talked about it as he did. The DCM tells me that he has not done so before here locally and at least open grievances should be easier to deal with than secret ones. Hope Dept will understand my decision at this meeting avoid denials or belabor past. Have feeling had I done so would have lost credence with Ne Win personally even in process presenting credentials.3
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 BURMA-US. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution.↩
- The 1960 visit was described as a “fiasco” by Dexter. Ne Win felt he was not given proper honor upon his arrival, his wife was insulted while he was undergoing medical attention at Walter Reed Hospital, and no high-ranking Department of Defense officials saw him. (Memorandum from Dexter to Hilsman, October 11; ibid., EA/BUC Files: Lot 66 D 483, POL 15-1, Head of State, Exec. Branch (Ne Win))↩
- See Document 53.↩
Harriman informed Hilsman on October 8 that Byroade “very sensibly avoided engaging in an apology for or defense of past U.S. actions in Burma.” Harriman believed it would have been counterproductive and that it should not be attempted in future contacts. Hilsman sent Harriman’s advice to the Burma desk. (Memorandum from Harriman to Hilsman, October 8; Department of State, EA/BUC Files: Lot 66 D 483, POL 15–1, Head of State, Exec Branch (Ne Win))
On October 9, the Department commented on the “friendly and frank” tenor of the conversation: “His suspicions past US activities Burma are of course an old story which we recognize as important element our current problem establishing satisfactory relations with him. Believe you were wise not to attempt refute his accusations but to stress instead your assurances regarding future. Although Ne Win’s suspicions based on serious distortions of facts on past US relations with one of his associates, we have always believed no useful purpose would be served by debating subject with him. Our efforts must now concentrate on future actions to dispel to extent possible Ne Win’s lingering suspicions of US motives.” (Telegram 120; ibid., Central Files, POL 1 BURMA–US)↩