249. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1

Bundy added the following handwritten end note: “We will discuss this general problem again on Tuesday at lunch.”

232. Deptel 253.2 Alex Johnson and I called on Khanh at Dalat at 1500, 27 July and discussed alone with him a wide range of topics. We were uncertain in what mood we would find him as we had reliable information that the previous day he had been grumbling about the uncertainties of US policy and his unwillingness to adjust himself to a puppet role.

On arriving we asked him about his day and a half of conferences which he was having with his senior Generals. The question elicited no immediate response other than that numerous subjects had been discussed. Some of the subjects came out in the subsequent discussion reported elsewhere in this message.

I opened the matter of a press release by him covering the US military personnel increase. He saw at once the advantage of his putting out such a release and accepted our text with one modification. He preferred to change reference to “advisors at the district level” to “advisors throughout the provinces” saying that the mention of the district suggested an undesirably deep US advisor penetration of the government structure. It was agreed that we would take the statement back to Saigon where we would be met by one of Khanh’s officers who would arrange for the immediate release. He understands the necessity to avoid public statements of ultimate end strengths and agrees to conform to our request for secrecy on this subject.

There was a short discussion of press leaks generated by the quick appearance in the press on July 23 of our joint conference arising from [Page 577]General Ky’s statement on penetrations of North Viet-Nam.3 Mr. Johnson told him that a Saigon US pressman had said that the leak was from the Vietnamese side. We agreed that, whoever the culprit, the incident is a reminder that there are unfriendly elements here and elsewhere anxious to drive a wedge between our two governments in general and between Khanh and Taylor in particular. We all agreed to be watchful in the future. Khanh made a note to investigate leak.

Khanh said press stories on alleged US correspondence with Peking through Ayub had been raised at Cabinet meeting. We replied that this is just type thing that hostile elements will use to create suspicion and distrust between us. Facts were exactly opposite from those in press stories. Facts were that we had asked certain countries having relations with Peking, particularly SEATO countries, to make clear to Peking (and where possible to Hanoi) that our commitment to SVN was firm, they should not make mistake of thinking we [would?] abandon SVN under any circumstances and it would be dangerous for Peking and Hanoi to make any assumption to contrary. Ayub had apparently made same representations to Peking and had a reply.4 This was far different from us entering into negotiations with Peking thru Pakistan. We had not and would not negotiate over SVN behind back GVN. It was essential Khanh be absolutely clear on this. We would expect the same from him. He expressed understanding and said we must appreciate Vietnamese sensitivities on this after their experience with French. He mentioned there were even rumors that because of Johnson’s previous background of negotiation with ChiComs, he had somehow been sent here to negotiate. Johnson replied that his previous experience of negotiating with ChiComs was just reason that he personally had no desire repeat experience.

We then invited Khanh to speak frankly about his views on US policy toward Vietnam-was he as unhappy about it as reported? He answered indirectly by explaining his views about the need for pressure on the North. He again spoke strongly about national warweariness and the need to bring hostilities to a prompt end. Once more it came out clearly that he is thinking about reprisal tit-for-tat bombing rather than a movement North with land forces or massive bombing to effect total destruction of Hanoi and all its works. He wants to do this reprisal bombing to encourage his people and to hasten Ho Chi Minh [Page 578]to conclude that the support of the VC should end. He recognizes that at some time he will need the cooperation of Ho Chi Minh to end the Viet Cong activities in the South.

This discussion opened the way for me to comment along the lines of Deptel 253. I observed that we have never had joint discussions up to now as to the forms of action that might be considered against the Laos Panhandle and NVN and the problems which might arise therefrom. The keen interest he is displaying in the subject suggests that it may be timely now to start a joint study or studies of possible initiatives which might be considered.

He did not jump at the proposal which plainly caught him unprepared but was pleased to receive it and asked to think it over for a few days. I stressed the need for any such planning to be kept within a very small group and he agreed at once. He mentioned himself, Khiem and Thieu (plus possibly a civilian) as the probable participants, at least at the outset. It was left that he would indicate to me when he wants to resume the discussion.

Among miscellaneous matters touched on were the following:

Our intention to have a MACV J–2 background briefing to acquaint press with latest estimate of increased VC strength.
My intention to visit IV Corps on July 29.
The recent outbreak of indiscipline in the Special Forces camp at Nha Trang and need to change the commanding officer.

At the end, Khanh again raised question of reorganization of government a la de Gaulle-Pompidou. He had no answer as to who could be civilian Pompidou. We replied that organization was secondary to personalities and most of what he had in mind could be accomplished in present organizational structure by giving more responsibility to vice ministers. Question was his having ministers in whom he had confidence.

We also said changes that seemed to be far-reaching could have demoralizing effect domestically and disturbing effect abroad. He agreed but did not seem to abandon idea. From discussion it appeared some way of disposing of Minh may be principal motivating force as well as Khanh’s desire avoid present burden of detail and responsibility.

Khanh also said they would shortly be ready with a decree declaring a national “state of emergency”. This would give them greater power to deal with a number of problems such as press, travel, etc. We urged there be good explanation and rationale to foreign and domestic press at time of issuance to avoid charges of dictatorship, etc. He agreed and said would consult with us before taking action. During course of discussion he said he had given up project of declaring “state [Page 579]of war” (see Embtel 184)5 as he recognized could not have this without “declaring war against someone”.

When we went to leave, Khanh seemed to be in very good spirits saying that his morale had received a lift from our discussion.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Top Secret; Flash. Repeated to CINCPAC, the White House, and McNamara. McGeorge Bundy sent a copy of this cable to the President under cover of a memorandum, July 27, which reads as follows:

    “We have just received this report of Max Taylor’s interview today with Khanh. Underneath is the outgoing which went to him after our Saturday meeting. The tickers are beginning to carry Khanh’s announcement of U.S. reinforcement, and for the moment Khanh’s positron seems somewhat strengthened. Nevertheless, the first paragraph of Taylor’s message shows that the underlying problem of Khanh’s mood persists.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File. Vol. XIV; regarding the Saturday meeting, see Document 246)

  2. Document 245.
  3. On July 23, Ky told news reporters that South Vietnamese planes had airdropped combat troops into North Vietnam for sabotage operations. (Telegram 172 from Saigon, July 22; Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  4. The representations made by Mohammed Ayub Khan, President of Pakistan, to the People’s Republic of China in May concerned primarily the withdrawal of Pathet Lao troops from the Plain of Jars.
  5. See footnote 2. Document 242.