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

598. CINCPAC for POLAD. Rome for Lodge. This cable summarizes the outcome of discussions Alex Johnson and I held morning and afternoon 28 August with Generals Khanh, Minh and others re current governmental crisis. A more detailed report will follow.2

General Khanh has publicly announced that he has submitted his resignation as head of government to the MRC (now abolished) but that he has received no reply. He will shortly announce that his resignation (which he now says was based on reasons of health) has been rejected (presumably by his colleagues of the military triumvirate), that Khanh will remain as Prime Minister but that he has been authorized a short period of rest and recuperation during which time Nguyen Xuan Oanh will sign papers in his name. However, it will be made clear that this is a continuation of the Khanh government which does not lapse during his short leave of absence.

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Khanh indicates that he really does not expect to be away any appreciable time although he looks badly in need of rest. I must say he will have little time for leisure if he stays on intended schedule.

The next step will be the formation of a new organ called tentatively the Committee of National Unity (CNU). As presently conceived, it would consist of representatives of the religious groups, the parties (if any representatives can be found after Khanh’s public denunciation of the Dai Viets) and Notables, with General Minh as Chairman representing the military. Just what role of the CNU would be is still under discussion. Among the powers which are being considered for attribution are those of approval of change from a ministerial to a presidential form of executive, approval of the President, recall of the President, advice to President and approval of certain of his acts, and establishment of the national assembly. Khanh wants at least two things from CNU-a semblance of national endorsement for his assumption of presidency and a dignified slot for Minh.

It is far from clear that Minh will be satisfied with this deal although Khanh had intimated that he expects no trouble. In our morning session, there seemed to be two problems: (1) to get Minh to give public support to Khanh and (2) to get Khanh to withdraw his resignation. We thought we had agreement on both counts before lunch although we suspected that Minh might impose the condition of his being retained as Chief of State. After lunch, Khanh led us to believe that the chairmanship of the CNU would satisfy Minh but when Johnson and I listened to some of the discussion among the officers conferring on the matter (Khanh, Minh, Khiem, Thieu, Co) we got clear impression that Minh is still resisting. If this point becomes a real stumbling block, I propose to urge Khanh to accept Minh as Chief of State for this period of provisional government.

Khanh hopes to get CNU going in a couple of days and realign his government on presidential lines in a couple of weeks. We think this very optimistic.

It is premature to consider any of the foregoing as final until officially announced by government here.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15–1 VIET S. Secret; Flash; Limdis. Also sent to the Department of Defense, CIA, and the White House and repeated to CINCPAC and Rome.
  2. Telegram 606 from Saigon, August 28, 11 p.m. (Ibid., POL 15 VIET S)