337. Telegram From Secretary of State Rusk to the Department of State1

7466. Secto 38. Following were highlights of Secretaryʼs discussions with Thieu, Ky, and Do. (Third country assistance and Cambodia being covered septels.)2

In all conversations, Secretary stressed great importance of showing real progress in 1967 and demonstrating clearly that we were on right track. Not only would such progress avoid any political problems in U.S., but it was particularly vital to try to achieve successful conclusion of conflict while Communist China continued to be engaged in major power struggle. If Mao and his cohorts emerge on top in that struggle, dangerously militant policy might result, while victory for more pragmatic group tending to “peaceful coexistence” might create different dangers even including reconciliation between Peking and Moscow. These arguments seemed to impress GVN leaders, who concurred in sense of urgency.
ARVN pacification role. Both Thieu and Ky profess themselves completely in accord with devoting ARVN wholly to pacification. Both had just spoken top military leaders and corps commanders in this sense, and Thieu particularly stressed to Secretary that ARVN could and should regard clear and hold missions as real central job to be done in conflict and natural division of labor, with allied forces concentrated on search and destroy operations, which Thieu described as “really secondary.” Both further agreed with Secretaryʼs observations, based on several reports, that Hanoi believes true test of its success or failure will be fate of subversive infrastructure in South. Thieu indicated he and other leaders would personally undertake to “brainwash”officers still influenced by ideas of prestige and glamour (perhaps implying a considerable indoctrination along these lines was necessary).
Leadership changes. Ky referred to recent shakeup (Quang) as helpful, and said three to four corrupt province chief would be removed in near future, with full agreement of corps commanders. (Another symptom of the committee at the top.)
Future Popular Forces and Combat Youth. Thieu initiated long discussion of problems GVN would face at end of hostility. He said Popular [Page 926] Forces (which he still calls SDC) could not be maintained financially at adequate levels and also indicated that they were not too good at dealing with local population. Moreover, there were not enough PF to protect all the hamlets and recruiting for the PF was more difficult now. Hence, he thought it useful to develop something larger along the lines of the old Combat Youth—despite the Nhu label—i.e., giving arms to village inhabitants under 18 and over 45 to provide security now and to deal with future threats when major hostilities had ended. Ambassador Lodge commented that combined action teams in I Corps seemed to fit this general concept, and Thieu agreed. Nonetheless, he was apparently trying out a more far-reaching idea. (While his purpose can only be surmised, fact that he referred favorably at one other point to the old spirit in 1963 might indicate that he has a political design in mind as Nhu most certainly did at that period.)
Chieu Hoi. In response to Secretaryʼs question whether defections would increase in future, Thieu responded that if GVN had strong government and army by 1968, and controlled 60–70 percent of country, lower level VC might become discouraged on large scale. (Secretary noted this made major progress in 1967 all the more crucial.) As to specifics of Chieu Hoi program, Thieu expressed concern that 32,000 out of the 40,000 total Hoi Chanh to date had gone back to their villages and were now totally out of GVN control. He thought progress to date was still not major and would not be so long as defector motives were primarily hardship and difficulty rather than positive appeal of GVN. For future, he thought GVN must offer better assurance of appropriate jobs and must likewise find better ways to control Hoi Chanh and see that they did not revert to VC. Finally, he noted that heavy military pressure would have major effect in increasing defections.
On same topic, Ky made virtually same points. Secretary suggested one control method might be to have Hoi Chanh report once a month to some designated official to be sure what they were doing.
Reconciliation. Secretary stressed great importance of this, along side Chieu Hoi increase, as part of overall pressure on VC. He also mentioned recent Eastern European inquiries about amnesty program, suggesting that it took the place in their minds of dangerous coalition ideas. While Ky appeared to agree, specifics and timing of reconciliation plans were not discussed.
Post hostilities prospects. Thieu devoted substantial discussion to this topic. He thought (as did Ky) that Ho might maintain the hope of victory until 1968. After that, if the U.S. showed itself still determined, Hoʼs attitude might change. However, Ho would then act so as not to lose too much, simply fading away, asserting that infiltration had stopped, perhaps pulling out divisions, and thus trying to get the U.S. out. If the GVN was not then capable of coping with its affairs, there could be a subdued [Page 927] conflict for many years, with the DRV possibly sending back more subversives, or aiming at a coalition or a “pink” National Assembly. Thieu reverted to the need for adequate armed manpower to cope with this kind of situation, and said that GVN must never repeat 1954 error of immediate sharp reduction in military forces. At same time, they could not afford to maintain VNAF at full strength. Hence, he had thought of the idea of converting discharged veterans to civilian employment for the GVN, which would provide good lives for these men, while at the same time there would have to be enough armed strength to control the country. Secretary responded that there would almost certainly be a rather long period of transition after hostilities have ceased. While the U.S. would withdraw its forces if the Manila conditions were met, U.S. interest would most definitely go on toward effective reconstruction. He agreed with Thieu that there should be no sharp reduction in GVN forces until we were really convinced of Hanoiʼs attitude.
Constitutional timetable. Both Thieu and Ky agreed with Secretaryʼs stress on importance of smooth transition to new constitutional government. Thieu implied that Directorate still holding to Article 20 but hoped to persuade CA that amendment provisions would not have to be used “too much;” he said CA making sound progress and that form of government appeared virtually agreed. (Ky made same point, saying majority now clearly favored President/Prime Minister executive with strong powers along Korean model.) Thieu said CA and Directorate really had co-responsibility for constitution. He said at least 50 percent of CA were able men, with only few extremists. Government could work with them and, he concluded quite frankly, there was no intent to maintain military power. Secretary asked about local councils, and Thieu responded rather vaguely that Peoples Army Council should act soon on local elections. Ky said more specifically that constitution should be definitely completed by end of February, then elections within six months. He agreed fully on vital importance of big participation in elections.
In informal closing exchange, Ky remarked that constitution as such did not mean much to common people of SVN. However, he then agreed fully with Secretaryʼs observation that political process could play vital role, not only for GVN image in eyes of world but in bringing about cooperation among divergent SVN groups. In relaxed and frank way, Ky then stressed that most important single aspect would be selection of a single leader who would unify the nation.
Negotiating prospects. To Thieu inquiry whether there was any sign from Hanoi, Secretary responded that we had had no such indication, and specifically no indication on the point so stressed by Soviets and Eastern Europeans, of what would happen if we stopped the bombing. [Page 928] Secretary thought Kosygin declaration in Paris3 contained little new, but did note our relations with Soviets not really stymied by Viet-Nam issue (referring specifically to civil air and space agreements), and that he attached importance to Soviet reference to Geneva agreements in Bucharest Communique last July. We believed that Soviets and Eastern Europeans would accept return to Geneva agreements, but were immobilized, perhaps by concern for Peking, from bringing effective influence to bear on Hanoi.
Conversation with Ky touched specifically on the Christmas truce. Secretary noted we must be alert against betrayal, including possible use of truce period by other side for maneuver. He reiterated firm U.S. position on bombing cessation. Ky responded that much peace negotiating talk had been futile and that this was Communist game which could affect GVN morale badly. Hence, he had welcomed stand-firm declarations at Honolulu and Manila and appreciated Secretaryʼs attitude toward truce and bombing cessation.
Anti-American feeling. Both Thieu and Ky said they saw no significant signs of this, and specifically no belief that the U.S. had any selfish designs in SVN. Ky said that the majority of articulate Vietnamese understood why we were there, and that common people were deriving substantial economic benefits from U.S. presence. He said that of course there were some critics, but these same people were the first to protest when the U.S. moved its forces, for example out of the cities. In the countryside, he said U.S. personnel were well received and liked, and in general there was not the slightest resemblance between the U.S. position and that of the French.
Economic situation. This came up only with Ky. He said port problem should show improvement in 1967 with target of 2,000 tons per day (sic). Black market problem should be less because of recent strong measures. On piaster spending level, he said GVN would hold to 75 billion level, despite pressures from Ministries. Tax revenues were not as large as expected but were improving slowly; he had been startled to find many manufacturing concerns provided no records of their revenues, and he had introduced a new system to get such figures and to try to tax them at the source. At another point, Ky made general reference to rice price question, saying that key objective must be to prevent rice going to VC and Cambodia, and that rise in price, even if it caused loss and expense, would be worth it. (He did not indicate any specific plan of action on this point.)
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, ORG 7 S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Rusk was in Saigon on December 9–11, following visits to Tokyo (December 5–7) and Taipei (December 7–9). He then proceeded to Bangkok (December 11–12), New Delhi (December 12), and Tehran (December 12–13), prior to attending the NATO Ministerial Meeting in Paris December 13–16.
  2. Telegram 7467 from Bangkok, December 11. (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S)
  3. For text of the Joint Declaration of Kosygin and De Gaulle, issued at Paris on December 8, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1966, pp. 422–425.