Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., talks to reporters at Tokyo International Airport in November, 1965.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., talks to reporters at Tokyo International Airport in November, 1965. (Masahiko Nakamura / ©S&S)

TOKYO — Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) Tuesday expressed confidence that the Viet Cong could be beaten at the polls as well as on the battlefield.

"I am willing to see the Vietnamese given the right of self-determination," the youngest brother of the late president told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan.

"If the Viet Cong have the appeal they claim, then I, for one, am willing to see it put to a vote. The people want self-determination and I am willing to put it to a test. I am confident what the outcome will be."

Kennedy said such a vote might be held within a "judicious period" after cessation of hostilities in Vietnam.

The 33-year-old senator — elected in 1961 to fill the seat John F. Kennedy vacated to become president — is chairman of a subcommittee on refugees.

He said he visited Laos, the Republic of Vietnam and Thailand to see the situation firsthand, and commented he was encouraged by the attention given the refugee problem by U.S. military and volunteer aid agencies.

But, Kennedy added, the programs being carried out by Army, Navy and Marine benefactors should be more closely coordinated.

"There are 700,000-800,000 refugees in Vietnam," the senator said, "with a possible increase to 1 million by the end of the year."

Kennedy said his talks with officials in Vietnam had convinced him the military situation there had improved, "especially in the last four months."

"But I think we are in for a long, costly struggle in the terms of human life and material effort." the senator added.

Kennedy was asked his views on the current rash of draft card burnings. He replied:

"I think there are remedies, perhaps the Selective Service might reconsider their classifications. Little is served by negativism in matters to which the United States is deeply committed."

Kennedy said he had talked to U.S. servicemen about protests back home and found two schools of thought — soldiers who were concerned and could not understand, and "professionals who realize there is a job to be done and who aren't overly impressed with those who protest."

The senator praised servicemen in Vietnam and told newsmen "I think you can be proud you are Americans."

Kennedy and his wife, Joan, are to leave for the U.S. Wednesday.

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