WASHINGTON (Mar. 20)
Negotiations are now in progress for Israeli assistance involving “Nahal” instructors to serve in South Viet Nam, South Vietnamese Ambassador Vu Van Thai disclosed today in an interview here. Nahal is a part of the Israeli army whose members live and work in kibbutzim and other agricultural settlements.
The Ambassador visualized a formula for diplomatice contacts between South Viet Nam and Israel that would fall short of full recognition. At present, there are no regular diplomatic relations between the two governments. State Department sources predicted, meanwhile, that Saigon would, in the near future, establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel, The Arab states, according to the Ambassador, have threatened to recognize the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) if normal diplomatic relations are established between Saigon and Jerusalem.
Ambassador Thai said the idea for an active Israeli role in support of his nation was suggested by President Johnson at the recent Honolulu conference. Mr. Thai accompanied the President to Hawaii, then went with Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey to Viet Nam. In the course of the Honolulu talks, the Ambassador said, President Johnson named Israel among those nations he wished to assume expanded and meaningful roles in support of the Saigon regime.
Ambassador Thai stated that Vice-President Humphrey was enthusiastic about the idea of increased Israeli involvement, and that detailed negotiations were conducted with Israeli diplomats when Mr. Humphrey stopped in Bangkok. Israel maintains a diplomatic mission in Bangkok, but is not officially represented in Saigon.
Ambassador Thai recalled that he personally headed a South Vietnamese delegation that visited Israel in 1958. He said he was “deeply impressed” by the kibbutz movement, especially the Nahal defense communities of soldier-farmers, as ideal for South Viet Nam, He also wanted Israeli aid on irrigation problems. But Ngo Dinh Nhu, brother of the then president Ngo Dinh Diem, overruled the Vu Van Thai proposals because of fear of Arab reaction, said the Ambassador. “This made me very angry,” he added.
INITIATIVE BY JOHNSON AND HUMPHREY PLEASES SAIGON GOVERNMENT
The South Vietnamese diplomat said the present Saigon Government was pleased that negotiations have now been proceeding with Israel “at the initiative of President Johnson and Vice-President Humphrey, and with American help. ” He said that Israel, in 1964, gave Saigon $5, 000 worth of medical supplies, and provided some scholarships for study in Israel in technical, economic, and social development.
“But we do not have the people to send to Israel for training, ” he declared. “We are embattled and our needs are urgent. We need Israelis to come to Viet Nam — Nahal advisors, especially, because there are no better experts than Israelis to teach our people to build defense communities to develop the country, consolidate the people, and fight infiltration and attack. The defense kibbutz exactly meets our needs, with some adaptations, of course, to the national characteristics of our people. We would most warmly welcome help of the kind from Israelis who come to Viet Nam.”
He emphasized that direct involvement by Israeli Nahal advisors was a top priority matter; Medical and other forms of assistance by specialists would also be welcomed, he said; Saigon would be pleased if Israel sent medical teams, but he indicated that such aid from Israel was secondary in importance. He said he has heard from the Vietnamese charge d’affaires in Bangkok on the progress of the Israeli negotiations.
The reason that formal Israeli-South Vietnamese diplomatic relations have not yet been established arises from Arab threats to recognize the Communist-controlled National Liberation Front and “our own policy of avoiding entanglement in the racism and religious frictions of the Arabs and Israel, ” said the Ambassador. “We have enough religious problems within Viet Nam. ” He added that his country would also be willing to accept aid from Egypt or other Arab states, stating: “It is not our policy to become involved in racist differences elsewhere. But let me make clear that there is no unwillingness on our part to gratefully accept assistance from Israel. I am confident of a successful solution on cooperation with Israel, and pleased by America’s constructive help on this matter.”
One possible formula for diplomatic communications might be extension of the Israeli diplomatic functions in Bangkok to include Saigon, and a delegation of the Vietnamese Ambassador to Rome, for instance, to maintain liaison with Israel, he suggested. However, he stressed that South Viet Nam was eager for Israeli Nahal aid, and that a way could be found to solve the diplomatic problems.
United States officials said here that word has been received of considerable progress, and that “de jure” recognition is expected shortly. These officials placed great importance on the role Israel could play in sending Nahal advisors to South Viet Nam, and rendering other aid. They said the White House was closely following developments.