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

555. CINCPAC for POLAD. Following the meeting of the MRC on 25 August, the following proclamation was made:

“The MRC meeting on the morning of 25 August 1964 at the office of the ARVN Commander in Chief has resolved the following:

To revoke constitution of 16 August 1964.
To call an urgent meeting of the MRC to elect a new Chief of State.
Following the election of a new Chief of State, the MRC will be dissolved and will return the powers of leadership to the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam in order to oppose Communism, neutralism, colonialism and every form of treacherous dictatorship.
The new Chief of State will be entrusted with the responsibility of calling a national assembly in order to develop the national structure in going along with the aspirations of all the people in a position [Page 704] which will oppose Communism, neutralism, colonialism and each form of treacherous dictatorship and reconstruct the nation in democratic freedom.
In the meantime, the work of managing the nation will be carried out by the present government.

Saigon, 25 August 1964

Steering Committee of the MRC

I called on Khanh at 4:00 pm to obtain his interpretation of recent events to include the meaning of the very general language of the foregoing proclamation. He gave me the following information.

The new Chief of State will be elected by the MRC at a meeting in Saigon, 10:00 am, 26 August. All Generals, including the four Dalat Generals, have been invited to attend. Khanh asked me if I would pass the word to Minh that his presence would be appreciated in the interest of national unity. I agreed to do so.

Khanh explained that with the dissolution of the MRC there will be no political body above the president who will appoint the members of the executive, the key figures of the judiciary and the members of the national assembly. Although the exact composition of the assembly is still under study, Khanh is thinking in terms of 300 members representing the various political and religious groupings. He feels that it will take at least a couple of weeks to get the assembly going whereas he expects to round out the executive by the end of this week.

With regard to the executive, he intends to have a civilian vice president and Vu Van Mau is still the front running candidate. The heads of executive departments will be largely civilian; in fact, Khanh (who seems to have no doubt that he will be elected president a second time) intends to have only the Department of Defense headed by a military incumbent.

Khanh stressed that all of this arrangement was provisional and that, within a year, he hopes to have drawn up a permanent constitution and be in a position to hold general elections for a permanent assembly. For the next few days, the government will continue to function as at present.

We then discussed some of the factors which have been in the background of recent developments.

Khanh says that he had no particular trouble getting the Generals of the MRC to agree with this sweeping concession to Buddhist demand which results in the dissolution of the Council. (This easy acquiescence is hard to believe.) He anticipates some trouble with the Dai Viets but feels it will be manageable. He is particularly incensed against Deputy Premier Hoan who, in the midst of yesterday’s events, published a letter critical of Khanh.

[Page 705]

The master mind behind these incidents has been Buddhist leader, Tri Quang. His control of the student rioters was proved by the quickness with which order was restored in Saigon today after Khanh agreed to his demands. Tri Quang and his Buddhist colleagues have promised to endorse Khanh’s actions and to come out publicly for the first time against Communism.

Now the question is whether the Buddhists will keep their word and Khanh is clearly anxious. Khanh asked if I or other Embassy representatives could see Tri Quang and urge upon him the essentiality of living up to his part of the bargain. He described Tri Quang as a “type special”, more of a politician than a bonze for whose power he, Khanh was obvious respect.

I pressed Khanh hard on the question of whether this was going to be a Buddhist government or a national government, whether he would be Buddhist president or a national president. He fought back hard on both points insisting that he knew the importance of a national government and the impossibility of winning the war without broad national support.

I asked him whether he feared a Catholic reaction at this time and I received a negative reply. He would like to discuss his plans with the Catholic leaders but unfortunately Archbishop Binh is out of town and the new Papal Delegate, Palmas, has not yet presented his credentials. I expressed the view that in spite of these circumstances he should explain his position to the Catholics at an early date.

In closing, I asked Khanh how I should interpret these events to Washington where they were being watched with deep concern. He replied that today’s decision marked the withdrawal of the army from politics. Any other alternative would have resulted in the use of armed force against fellow citizens, a solution which he, Khanh found was intolerable. If the Buddhists make good on their word, the counterinsurgency program can proceed apace. If they do not, Khanh sees no military solution to bring the war against the Viet Cong to a successful conclusion.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15–1 VIET S. Secret; Flash; Limdis. Also sent to CIA, the Department of Defense, and the White House and repeated to CINCPAC. Received at 9:18 a.m.