220. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Rice) to the Secretary of State1
- Reports that Brother Nhu is Planning a Coup
We have four reports2 from Vietnamese Generals of a July 11 meeting of Nhu with officers of that rank. Two (or possibly three) of these reports indicate that Nhu may be planning a coup. We think it not unlikely, however, that Nhu is responding to reports of coup plotting among the Generals themselves, seeking to confuse and divide them, smoke out their intentions, and rally those which he can reach by such blandishments as “active” assignments. He may have [Page 489]had the additional intention of improving his personal position with the Generals against the possibility that they will successfully mount a coup.
The four reports are not wholly consistent with one another, but the following emerges from all four: (1) Nhu asked the Generals for their support; (2) Nhu criticized the government and/or his brothers during the meeting; (3) Nhu extended an olive branch to the Generals by being very cordial and by promising “active” assignments to all.
General Khanh reported Nhu asked for “personal support”; General Kim stated Nhu said he would not blame the Generals if they were thinking of a coup and that he would be with them; General Cao merely said that Nhu had asked for their cooperation in meeting the present crisis. One unnamed “general officer” who may or may not have attended the meeting reported that Nhu had spoken of a “lightning” coup with himself leading it. But a large meeting of this sort would not provide a suitably secure forum in which to make a serious proposal of this sort, and Nhu’s position on the Buddhist crisis is not one which would be most likely to appeal to dissatisfied officers.
Unless the Buddhist crisis deepens, the longer the various coup plots incubate, the less likelihood of anything hatching. We have not yet heard that any coup group has developed a well articulated plan with much chance of success, nor do the Generals appear to be united-and Nhu’s move is probably shrewdly intended, among other things, to prevent their uniting. However, this does not eliminate the possibility of a plan being suddenly attempted. We have heard of several, but the better a plan was the less likely we would be to learn of it in advance.
The joint Embassy/CAS evaluation of the four reports (Tab A), together with the reports themselves (Tabs B to E) are attached.
- Source: Department of State, Vietnam Working Group Files: Lot 67 D 54, POL 26 Coup Rumors. Secret. Drafted by Heavner and initialed by Rice. A note on the source text reads: “Secretary Saw”. Also sent to Ball, Harriman, and Johnson.↩
- These reports are identified and analyzed in Tab A below. The four reports were also attached to the source text, but not printed.↩
- [Tab A]↩
- Secret; No Foreign Dissem; No Dissem Abroad; Background Use Only.↩
- Dated July 12, not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 S VIET)↩
- Dated July 12, not printed.↩
- Not found.↩
- See footnote 2, Document 212.↩
- On July 15, an individual associated with the Tuyen group reportedly said that their coup would occur “soon”, but not before July 20. (CIA Information Report, TDCSDB-3/655,588, July 16; U.S. Army Military Historical Institute, Kraemer Papers, VN 61-63) According to another report, on July 16, General Duong Van Minh, Military Adviser to President Diem, lent weight to reports of the general military desire to remove President Diem and “advocated” a change of government in South Vietnam. (CIA Information Report TDCS DB-3/655,605, July 18; Ibid.)↩