304. Text of Telegram From the Ambassador to Vietnam (Lodge)1


I was received for almost an hour this morning by Pope Paul.

I found the Pope brilliant and extremely interested and concerned about Vietnam developments. He seems deeply to appreciate my calling on him.

The Pope told me he had received Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko on April 27 privately and informally. He had asked Gromyko [Page 646] about persecution of Catholics in the Soviet Union, particularly Georgia, Latvia, etc., and Gromyko had replied, predictably, that there was absolute religious freedom in the USSR.

The Pope told Gromyko there had been no “Latin” priest in Moscow since 1940 and asked about the possibilities of assigning one. Gromyko could not reply.

The Pope showed me a complete account in English of his conversation with Gromyko which he promised to send Ambassador Reinhardt.2

At the Pope’s request, I gave a full situation briefing on Vietnam in the light of the President’s April 22 press conference.3

The Pope was specially interested in the breakdown of political alignments, particularly in Buddhist support of Tri Quang.4 I gave my views, of which the Department has already been exhaustively informed. I explained that some of the program—military and revolutionary development—had begun to go quite well. This had impelled some politically ambitious men, headed by Tri Quang, and taking advantage of the relief of General Thi, to work for a change of government. The Communists, in turn, had taken advantage of this. We faced a situation at once dangerous and evolutionary. It was still true, I believed, that if the Vietnamese were given something first rate—land reform and education, for example—that they would fight to defend it. But stability, as we know it in the West, did not seem likely.

The Pope asked whether there was any possible productive demarche towards Hanoi which had not been made.

I said the U.S. Government had several open channels to Hanoi, particularly through the International Control Commission, which is in Hanoi every month.

To my surprise, the Pope was uninformed of the activities of the International Control Commission.

I stressed the importance of the International Control Commission channel, particularly through the Canadian representative. I said that in view of Canadian ICC member Seaborn’s intelligence and immense political sensitivity, I was confident Hanoi was accurately and fully informed of U.S. Government views and positions.

I said the problem is not lack of channels to Hanoi but simply Hanoi’s lack of desire for peace. The North Vietnamese believe they [Page 647] will win not due to American military weakness, but because Hanoi believes the U.S. Government lacks the will to win. Hanoi interprets appeals for peace as signs of weakness, largely due to the Oriental mentality with a Communist overlay. Thus, such appeals could actually lengthen the war.

The Pope seemed impressed and understanding that the real problem was a lack of Hanoi’s desire for peace rather than a lack of channels of communication.

The Pope was impressed by the thought that, should the U.S. withdraw, South Vietnam would fall into Communist hands, thus giving Hanoi a diplomatic and political victory which they could not have achieved by military means.

I said one form of a cease fire would be to abandon the bombing in North Vietnam in return for a cessation of ground aggression in the South. No honest or complete cease fire could be achieved unless accompanied by a verified withdrawal.

The Pope said he found this concept of a cease fire particularly interesting.

Following the Papal audience, I paid a brief and cordial courtesy call on Secretary of State Cicognani.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vatican, Vol. 1. Secret. The text of telegram 2696 from Rome was retyped in the White House for the President.
  2. No record of this discussion was found.
  3. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966, Book I, pp. 441-446.
  4. For documentation on the Buddhist anti-government protest in the spring of 1966 and the role of Tri Quang, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume IV.