284. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

900. CINCPAC for POLAD. General Don and General Kim called at 3 o’clock. (They explained that General “Big” Minh was tied up in conference with V.P. Tho.) After my congratulations on their masterful performance and my offer of assistance they asked me if I had any questions.

I asked whether they were planning a statement which would absolve themselves from the assassination of Diem and Nhu. They had not thought of making statement, but obviously agreed that they should make it clear that they had offered Diem safe passage out of the country if he would resign; that they deeply deplored the assassination; that the assassination had not only not been in any way ordered by them but was contrary to their wishes and was, unfortunately, the kind of thing which will happen in a coup d’etat when order cannot be guaranteed everywhere. I am sure assassination was not at their direction. For your information, I believe this is the most that you can expect of them and that when they make a statement like this it ought to be welcomed in Washington. Burial and funeral of Diem and Nhu would be family matter. Bodies would be in vault in cemetery here and would be taken to family vault in Hue later.
I asked whether they had any ideas in mind concerning the relations between the United States and the Government of Vietnam. Don said, with a big grin, “Certainly and we would like to start getting milk and flour for free sale immediately and, of course, the restoration of economic aid.” (FYI, I hope that this can be done promptly.) Don said that for psychological reasons they planned to lift immediately restrictions on sale of milk in cafes, etc., which were recently instituted by Diem regime.
I then asked what kind of a government they planned to have—a military committee or successor government, or what. General Kim, who did most of the talking, said that three solutions had occurred to the group. The first was a straight out military junta, the second was a government with a military majority, and the third was a government in which the military had only a slight interest. And the third was the kind of government on which they decided. In this there was a military committee which was presided over by General Minh. [Page 547] Under this there was a Prime Minister and under him there was a Cabinet of some fifteen ministers, of which four or five would be military. Mr. Tho would be Prime Minister. When I asked why it would not be more astute for Mr. Tho to have the title of President rather than the title of Prime Minister inasmuch as his powers were going to be the same in either event and that it would make it look like less of an abrupt transition, they said that the title of President had been reserved for General Minh as President of the Military Committee, who would be a ceremonial head. They said they would be willing to call Mr. Tho President of the Council in the French style rather than Prime Minister. I did not see much advantage in that. They said this would be a provisional government which would last six months and even longer but certainly not two years. They would have a provisional constitution and the present constitution was suspended. They seemed to be completely decided that this was how they were going to do it.
I then asked them whether the Generals were going to stay united and win the war? This seemed to move them both. They said they had been divided a long time and knew from bitter experience what it costs to be divided. General “Big” Minh now is their leader. They would do everything possible to be united. The army needs a much more aggressive morale than it has. Even Nhu had said the Army did not have as much drive as it should have, and he was responsible for many of the troubles. They would bend over backwards to stay united. Don said that he was Vice President of the Committee and Khiem Second Vice President.
I asked about safe passage for the Nhu children and for the members of the family to exile. General Don said he would personally take it in charge. They planned to take the Nhu children in Vietnam, who were three in number, and who had been in Dalat when the coup occurred, and give them over to Madame Dung, the niece of Madame Nhu. They were now in Phan Pang. I suggested that when everything was ready and the children were all set to go that this be announced to the press. This struck them as a good idea, although they evidently had not thought about it at all.
I asked them about the people who had been arrested and the previous ministers—whether they would receive humane treatment. They said that no previous ministers had been arrested. In fact, they didn’t know that anybody of that rank had been arrested. I spoke about Mr. Thiep, who is well known in international parliamentary circles and who had been picked up last night, and whose wife was frantic. General Kim made a note of the name and said he would look into it. They would all get humane treatment.
I then asked about Tri Quang. They said of course he would be safe. As their group was completely committed to religious freedom, they would like to not have him just slip out of the Embassy quietly without some kind of ceremony for him. At the end of the meeting I took them down to the 2nd floor to see Tri Quang and after a long consultation it was decided that Tri Quang would walk quietly out of the building tomorrow and if they want to have a ceremony for him, they can have it somewhere else, not in front of the Embassy. Kim said they had in mind making Tri Quang a member of a council of wise men, which would advise Big Minh.
I asked about reprisals and purges and expressed the hope that there would be no wholesale purges but that reprehensible individuals would be dealt with as special cases. They said that, except for incompetents, they wanted everybody below the rank of minister to stay on and in fact they would like to have the Diem Cabinet, most of the Diem Cabinet, come back to their posts in order to assure continuity.
I asked about the lifting of curfew and restoration of dancing. They said dancing could be restored at once but they would keep curfew on for another two days. They said the United Nations Commission, together with Buu Hoi, was leaving today.
I said I much wanted an exit visa for Mrs. Gregory so that she could leave the country [1 line not declassified]. They said they would gladly provide it.
On the matter of censorship, General Kim said that at a press conference yesterday he said he wouldn’t be a demagogue and say there would be no censorship but there would be as little as possible and that he wanted to facilitate any difficulties and hoped they would all telephone him if anything went wrong. So far he had had no telephone calls. He also asked me to call him personally if I heard of difficulties on this score.
They said of course they would assume all international obligations and I said that I was sure recognition would not be long in coming.
Don asked me my opinion [garble—of?] Thuan of whose whereabouts he said he was ignorant. I praised him highly: character, intelligence, understanding of other countries.
He said Amb. Chuong wanted to come home and be part of the government, but they didn’t want Madame Chuong back in Vietnam.

They were extremely frank and forthcoming in all their answers and we did more business in fifteen minutes than we used to be able to do at the Palace in four hours. They expressed warm thanks to me for not thwarting, for not giving up Tri Quang, for my general attitude; and it was clear throughout that the withholding of commercial imports [Page 549] had a tremendous psychological effect. They said their coup was organized without a single piece of paper having been kept. All papers were burned; everything was memorized.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 26 S VIET Secret; Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to CINCPAC. Received at 8:06 a.m. and passed to the White House at 8:22 a.m. On another copy of this telegram, a note indicates that it was sent to the President at 10:30 a.m. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Vietnam Country Series, State Cables)