320. Memorandum of a Conversation Between the Desk Officer of the Vietnam Working Group (Furness) and the Vietnamese Charge (Rau)1
- Conversation on Political Situation in Viet-Nam
Mr. Rau asked me for lunch on August 21 and discussed various aspects of the political situation in Viet-Nam and a few other subjects.
Political Situation in Viet-Nam
We first discussed the recent elevation of General Khanh to the presidency of Viet-Nam. Rau indicated that he had gained the impression from conversations with other State Department officers that [Page 694] Khanh had actually consulted with the Embassy as to whether or not he should take the office of President. I indicated to Rau that it was my understanding that while Khanh had told Ambassador Taylor and others that he was planning to reorganize the government and might assume the office of Chief of State himself, I did not believe that he had ever told us that he was planning to take the office of President. I told him that Khanh had shown us his first draft of the new provisional constitution and that we had been able to make changes in it. Rau indicated that he believed that Khanh’s taking of the office of President created resentment among Vietnamese. Rau felt Khanh’s future depends on how effectively he operates in the future and only if he is able to win the cooperation of other political figures in Viet-Nam. Rau indicated that as far as he knew, the Vietnamese see no great distinction in the fact that Khanh calls himself “Chu-Tich” instead of “Tong-Thong” and that they were immediately reminded of the Diem regime when Khanh assumed the office of President.
Rau said he has received very little information from the Foreign Office (he says he gets monthly reports about two months late); I indicated that we would do our best to keep him informed of new developments. He asked if we had any information as to the composition of the new cabinet; I told him we did not know who was to be appointed to the new cabinet but that we did have an idea as to how it would be organized. I described the cabinet structure and Rau remarked that it was very much like the organization under Diem. I told Rau I understood that Khanh was considering appointing former Foreign Minister Vu Van Mau, now Ambassador to London, as Vice President and that this office would be, in effect, the executive of the government. I asked Rau whether he thought Mau would be a good appointee for this position. Rau said he thought Mau might do a good job but wondered if he would be willing to accept the position. Rau said Mau might feel he would not be given sufficient authority by President Khanh, given the experience of the previous Deputy Prime Ministers under Khanh. I asked Rau what other civilian might make a good Vice President if Mau did not accept, but Rau made no suggestion. Rau said he knew very little about Lt. General Tran Thien Khiem, except that he was apparently one of the few thoroughly “clean” senior officers. In response to a question, Rau said he believed Khiem had been given his extra star “to keep him happy”, but made no further comment. Rau described Do Mau as an intriguer and a danger.
Action Against North Viet-Nam
Rau indicated that he had learned through a friend who had just returned from Saigon that the Vietnamese populace had been greatly encouraged by the U.S. strike against North Vietnamese PT boat bases, but that our failure to follow-up on this action has caused a let-down. [Page 695] He said the lack of any response by the North Vietnamese and Chinese indicated we could have done considerably more. I said that I believed that our ordering the strikes was a new departure in our policy and that we had made it clear that our response was limited and related to the fact that the U.S. destroyers had been attacked by the North Vietnamese patrol craft and not related directly to the war in South Viet-Nam. Rau stated, however, that he believed it would be extremely difficult to win in South Viet-Nam without bringing the attack to North Viet-Nam. I said that while this question was continually being studied, Assistant Secretary Bundy and others had indicated we should concentrate on trying to win in South Viet-Nam but had not excluded the possibility of taking action against the North if Hanoi’s actions made this necessary. I said that I believed that we should try to make our counter-insurgency operations in the South more effective, and only if we found that this strategy failed, should we try further attacks against the North. I also pointed out the danger of escalation leading to land war with China and possibly nuclear war. Rau seemed disappointed and I had the impression that he believes there is not time left to concentrate only in operations in the South.
Activities of the Front
Rau said that he had learned that a film on the Liberation Front had been seized by Customs on the East Coast but that another copy of the film was circulating on the West Coast. Rau said he would like to view the film, and hopes we will impede its circulation. I said that I would attempt to find out about it. He also said that many Vietnamese who had left North Viet-Nam in the 1930’s, now living in the United States and in Paris, Cambodia and Thailand and elsewhere, looked to Ho Chi Minh for allegiance, though they were not Communists and that the Front would probably find a fertile field among these individuals. He gave me the name of a former ship’s cook who came to the United States in 1953 or 1954, who falls into this category and who is circulating Front literature from California. Rau said that about 100 people had left his own village in North Viet-Nam to go South in the 1930’s and that many of them look to Ho as the leader of the country even though they are living in the South.
I mentioned to Rau that we thought that the Front might try to capture prominent politicians living in exile and use them to try to attract allegiance of non-Communist Vietnamese. He thought that Tran Van Huu, Phan Van Giao and Nguyen Van Xuan were all has-beens and would not have much appeal. General Nguyen Van Hinh would probably not be interested as he has a high-ranking job in the French Armed Forces (Chief of Staff). Rau said we should watch particularly Nguyen Ngoc Bich and Nguyen Huu Chau.[Page 696]
Rau asked if we could provide him a copy of a report prepared by Professor Milton Sachs in 1949 entitled Political Alignments of Vietnamese Nationalists as well as any other information on current political parties in Viet-Nam. I said I would try to find the above report and see if I could work anything up on the political parties.
I have subsequently learned that Political Alignments of Vietnamese Nationalists is misleading and inaccurate and not for distribution outside the Department. I plan to inform Mr. Rau that it is out of print, but that I will try to find him information on current political groupings.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret. Drafted by Furness on August 25.↩