337. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

714. Deptel 567.2 Our info is that Khanh is usefully employing his time in Dalat taking actions which are necessary prerequisites to his return to Saigon and full assumption of govt direction. The three principal problems with which he is grappling are (a) security against a coup (with Dai Viets as principal suspects), (b) establishing some limits upon voracious Buddhist demands, and (c) the constant problem of “Big” Minh. In general, he seems to be proceeding along lines which [Page 728] Alex Johnson and I commended to him the other day. (See Embtel 684)3 He has called in and obtained pledges of allegiance from all his principal Generals.4 He met this afternoon with Tam Chau in Dalat in [and] has asked Khiem to speak to Big Minh and attempt to remove the latter from active opposition.

For these reasons and because we have several reports indicating that he plans to return to Saigon Sept 3, I do not consider it necessary or advisable at this stage to employ the President’s letter.5 Delivery of the letter would require another conspicuous trip by me to Dalat enhancing the impression already current here that we are dragging a reluctant Khanh back to his responsibilities against his own will. Also we like to withhold weight of a Presidential message for a verified emergency.

However, there is always the possibility that Khanh may lose his nerve or that something could go awry in his preparatory actions. Consequently I believe it important that I have at my disposal an authorized text of a Presidential letter which I could use tomorrow or later at my discretion if the situation warrants.

We have reviewed carefully the text which you proposed in reftel. We believe the first two paragraphs are an excellent presentation of the US position in seeking Khanh’s early return to leadership. We are doubtful that the third paragraph, which refers to joint planning, would be desirable to include at this time.

We would propose substituting for the third paragraph, if you agree: “I am impressed with the importance of the period between now and Oct 27 in determining the future of your country. From here, the problem appears to fall into two parts. The first is the need to establish means which will develop a national consensus concerning the form of a future and enduring governmental structure for the Republic of Vietnam. The second is the requirement to restore national morale and confidence by exhibiting tangible success against the Viet Cong. For the latter purpose, I would think that the vigorous prosecution of the pacification drive which has now begun in the area around Saigon would offer a readily available means for achieving this much needed success.”

I will take a reading tomorrow morning, Saigon time, concerning Khanh’s plans. If it appears desirable for me to use the President’s letter, tomorrow I would plan to fly up to Dalat mid-morning, since [Page 729] the weather closes in at this season later in the afternoon. It would be my hope to have the authorized text of the President’s letter, as amended by the foregoing suggestion, available to me at that time if that contingency arises.6

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15–1 VIET S. Secret; Flash; Exdis. Also sent to CIA, the Department of Defense, and the White House and repeated to CINCPAC. Received at 12:08 p.m.
  2. Document 334.
  3. Document 333.
  4. Westmoreland transmitted a brief account of this meeting, based on U.S. advisers’ reports, in MAC JOO 9139, September 2. (Washington National Records Center, RG 319, HQDA Message Center, Reel 11925) At Taylor’s suggestion, Westmoreland had also visited Khanh at Dalat on September 1 to encourage him. (MAC JOO 9095, September 1; Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File. Vol. XVII. Cables)
  5. Transmitted in Document 334.
  6. At 8:20 p.m., the Department of State transmitted the text of a new letter combining the first two paragraphs of the first draft (with only minor changes) and the third paragraph as quoted here. (Telegram 584 to Saigon; Department of State, Central Files, POL 15–1 VIET S) On September 5, Taylor reported that since Khanh had returned to Saigon of his own volition, the letter had not been used. (Telegram 757 from Saigon; ibid.)