324. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1
542. Khanh requested that Johnson, Manfull and I meet with him at 1 am this morning to inform us of his meeting with Buddhist del. Khanh said he was unable to meet with Buddhist del at Vung Tau and returned to Saigon. The Buddhist del, composed of Tam Chau, Thinh Minh, and Tri Quang, filed with him written prepared statement of their demands substance of which follows:
- The Aug 16 charter to be annulled or at the minimum its application immediately suspended.
- The charter to be replaced by provisional constitution drafted by “juridical authorities.”
- The MRC to elect the pres (under new provisional constitution) and then MRC to disband itself, the pres to form provisional govt from “patriotic and capable elements”.
- The pres to appoint committee to draft permanent constitution and electoral law to go into effect by Nov 1, 1965.
- The pres to call for national religious council that would include all religious groups.
- Council for press censorship to be formed of MinInfo and reps of the press.
- All those guilty of crimes to be severely punished.
- All Can Lao elements to be dismissed “even if wearing Dai Viet labels”.
Buddhist statement concluded by statement that if above demands not met Buddhists would embark on campaign of passive resistance “without collaborating with any other group”. In presenting statement, Buddhists asked Khanh to make proclamation accepting their demands which Buddhist leaders could refer to at demonstration At central market scheduled for 0800 Aug 25.[Page 702]
Khanh stated that he had informed Buddhists that he could not give them immediate answer. Subsequently he discussed matter with General Khiem. According to Khanh, Khiem said it was Khanh’s decision but suggested Khanh discuss problem with Americans, and if Americans agreed that Khanh should go along with Buddhist demands, then Khiem would support him. Khanh said he specifically requested Buddhists not publish their written statement. Khanh appeared disposed to accept Buddhist demands.
Khanh then requested my views as to how he should proceed. In response I stressed we were in no position give him any advice in any official capacity, but as interested third party could give him my tentative personal views. It was his responsibility to decide his course of action. On this basis I said I thought a mistake to give in to pressure from minority group on an issue of this importance, particularly to an ultimatum with short deadline. To do so may only create further demands. I suggested he inform Buddhist leadership that he would consider their demands carefully along with ideas and suggestions from other minority groups. I added that he could assure Buddhists that he was willing to sit down with them and attempt reconcile points of view over next few days but final decision must also accommodate legitimate aspirations and concerns of other groups. I said it appeared to me useful for him to emphasize throughout that charter was provisional in nature, was subject to modification or amendment with experience and not final definitive constitution. He should stress that in time of war it is essential that govt be formed quickly.
I informed Khanh that I intended to return Tam Chau’s call on Aug 25 and, without ref to current conversation, inform Chau that US was against shortsighted actions by any group which promoted disunity and divisions within the country.
Khanh emphasized throughout his fear of religious war or failing this extreme development, an extended conflict between Buddhist and Catholic groups which would inevitably sap the morale of armed forces. He also seemed attracted by possibility of eliminating the MRC from the picture. In reply to question, he said there would not be any ambiguity in identifying “Can Lao” elements, they being well known.
In conclusion Khanh said that he agreed with informal comments we had made and that he had in fact drafted his own proclamation along following lines, prior to seeing Buddhists, which was designed to assuage certain concerns of both students and Buddhists:
- He is now in process of consulting religious groups and politicians form govt of capable honest men.
- He intends to ease restrictions on censorship and to modify existing curfew (note: to meet student demands).
- He is willing to modify provisional charter as necessary (note: Khanh made point that this was to “modify” but not to “suspend” provisional charter as demanded by Buddhists).
- Crimes including terrorism will be quickly punished by military court (note: Khanh considers this another nod to the Buddhists).
- Recent incidents and demonstrations have destroyed public and private property and have killed innocent people. These activities must cease.
- Only VC and neutralists profit from activities which create disunity and divisive forces among the people.
- Current critical situation does not permit people to engage in activities which aid the VC and he appeals to patriotism of Vietnamese to rally behind govt.
In sum Khanh believed that such proclamation would meet certain concerns of students and some of the legitimate concerns of the Buddhists. However it was still clear that he found certain attractions in the Buddhist demands.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Cables, Vol. XVI. Secret; Priority; Limdis. Repeated to CINCPAC. Received at 7:38 p.m., August 24.↩