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

684. When Alex Johnson and I called on General Khanh in Dalat this morning (August 31), we found him suffering from hemorrhoids, high blood pressure, and an obsession over the preponderant strength of the Dai Viet. As his doctor was prescribing for the first two ailments, we addressed ourselves to the third.

Khanh seems to have come to Dalat from the meetings in Saigon impressed with the lust for power of the Dai Viet and their determination to attain their objectives. In spite of the unanimous vote of the Generals at the meeting on August 27th urging Khanh to remain as head of government, he has no illusion over the long-term loyalties of the Dai Viet Generals. After his public denunciation of the party, he is sure they are out to get him.

He went over the usual list of those whom he considered to be Dai Viet and the available troop strength. He points out that much of this strength is in the Saigon area and hence it would be easy for them to stage a coup in the city. He has in mind in particular the Saigon Police of Colonel Ben, the Armor of Colonel Nghia, and the 7th Division of Colonel Ton.

Khanh is also aware of a possible coup from a group of unspecified young Generals and Colonels. He says that he is in contact with this group who are generally anti-Dai Viet. He apparently considers that they are basically for him but he states that he is urging them not to make any move since, from a national point of view, a new coup would be disastrous.

Meanwhile, mulling over such thoughts as these, Khanh has been doing nothing in Dalat other than receive medical treatment and enjoy the sunshine. He seems oblivious to the need for getting his government going again and for taking those preparatory measures necessary to offset any possible move by the Dai Viet.

In the subsequent discussion, Johnson and I took as our primary objective an effort to bestir Khanh to activity. First, we went over the list of his enemies and compared them to the strength which he claims for his cause. On the political side, he agreed that he had the support of the Buddhists, Catholics and the sects. He considers that he has the large majority of the Generals, to include all of the Corps Commanders, particularly the strategically located III Corps Commander in [Page 720] Saigon. Even a fragment of the Dai Viet favors him. Thus, by any method of evaluation, his potential strength well outweighs that of his Dai Viet enemies, although the latter have some advantages in the location of their troops.

Hence, we saw no reason for him to hide out in Dalat when so much work remains to be done in Saigon. We emphasized the evidence of lack of government activity in Saigon and the confusion of the public and the press. He fought back feebly saying that Khiem and/or Minh and perhaps FonMin Quat were working on the composition of the proposed Council of National Unity. We told him that we had seen no sign of such activity.

We also emphasized the bad effect of the Oanh interview which indicated that Oanh was really the head of the government for the next two months and that he, Khanh, was practically a mental case.2 He laughed this off as best he could but got the point that he needed to show himself at an early date in Saigon.

At this point he asked us what we recommended that he do. While admitting that as foreigners we could never be sure of our judgment, particularly with regard to timing, we made the following points: I urged him to return to Saigon quickly, at least for one day, there to convene his Cabinet, issue orders and be visibly active in directing the government. At the same time he might consider some statement to or appearance before the press.

Thereafter, if he felt he had to return to Dalat to continue his medical treatment, he might bring the triumvirate back with him and hold meetings with prospective members of the Council of National Unity in Dalat. I suggested that he consider including among these labor [garble—leader?] Buu who has impressed us all favorably.

Next, we talked to him about the need for preparing his fences against a possible coup. Why not call to Dalat the principal non-Dai Viet Generals and be sure they are ready to act if the Dai Viet move? Once all preparations are made to defend against a coup, Khanh should consider calling in General Khiem and ordering the replacement of the Dai Viet Generals whom he considers a threat to his government.

We assured him that further inactivity would be fatal, that his actions were being watched closely in Vietnam, in Washington and other capitals abroad to see whether he could really govern this country. If he can give such evidence, the US is still behind him. If we ever become convinced that he cannot lead his country to victory, he can no longer count upon us.

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Khanh inquired as to whether we had a substitute government if his failed. I assured him that we had no favorite and were not looking for a substitute at this time. He asked for the third or fourth time my opinion of General Minh. I repeated what I have usually said, namely that I have always been friendly with Minh but that I considered that he lacked leadership and was unwilling to work at any hard task. However, I would be inclined to let him remain in the Khanh government as Chief of State providing that his role as a dignified figurehead was clearly understood and agreed in advance.

I mentioned that in my meeting with Minh on Aug 283 he had admitted to an ambition to be either Chief of State or to head the army replacing General Khiem. Khanh does not like either alternative, stating that if he ever became head of a permanent government he would insist upon occupying concurrently the presidency and the Ministry of Defense. He reminded us that this is the way Diem had run things during his long presidency.

We ended on the note with which we had began—the need for activity, decisiveness and a display of initiative. All we got from Khanh was the statement that he would reflect on our suggestions. He says that he hopes to reappear in Saigon within a few days and to get things in order there by the end of the week.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 VIET S. Top Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Also sent to the Department of Defense, CIA, and the White House and repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD. Received at 10:38 a.m. According to another copy, this telegram was drafted by Taylor. (Ibid., Saigon Embassy Files: Lot 68 F 8)
  2. The interview has not been further identified.
  3. No record of a meeting between Taylor and Minh on August 28 has been found, nor does Taylor’s diary have an entry for one. (National Defense University, Taylor Papers, T–274–69) Regarding Taylor’s meeting with Minh on August 26, see Document 328.