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

739. CINCPAC for POLAD. Alex Johnson and I called on General Khanh this morning to review with him the recent course of events in Dalat. Khanh had lost the bright look which he had when we last saw him in Dalat on Monday2 and seemed in face as tired as when he took off for his Dalat vacation. He had also lost his goatee, shaved, he explained vaguely, to mark end of a phase. He reported that in Dalat he had been seeing a constant stream of visitors, military and civilian, most of whom had come to urge his return to Saigon and assumption of full governmental powers. He confirmed that he had received written statements of fealty from all his principal Generals and that the Buddhists had pledged their support. Now he feels that he has a “carte blanche” to proceed with his plan for the reorganization of the government.

We asked him whether he had authorized Vice Premier Oanh’s statement in Hue on September 3 (see Embtel 730).3 He looked surprised [Page 730] and said he had no knowledge of it. When we showed him the text, he said he definitely had not authorized it and that it was entirely premature.

In the ensuing discussion, Khanh outlined his governmental plans in the following terms:

From now until about November 1st, the triumvirate of Khanh, Minh and Khiem will remain in existence. This morning, Khanh expects to offer Minh his old attributes of Chief of State less the title itself. Thus, he will be the front man in the interim government, receiving the credentials of Ambassadors and performing other ceremonial functions. Hopefully, he will do some useful work in the triumvirate in making preparations for the provisional government following November 1. Khanh will keep Oanh as his principal assistant in charge of civil affairs (although he is in a slow burn over Oanh’s intimation to the press on August 29 that Khanh was “fou” and over the indiscretion yesterday at Hue). Khanh, himself, will keep a personal eye on military activities and will guide the reorganization of the government.

In the latter field, the first requirement is putting together the National Front Committee (referred to in previous cable4 as the Committee for National Unity (CNU)) to be composed only of civilians with broad, national credentials. Concurrently with the formation of this committee, there will be appointed a small committee of legal experts to draw up a plan for the provisional government which will go into effect after November 1st. Khanh expects this government to resemble structurally the one which he had hoped to establish by the charter of August 16, i.e., a presidential system with separation of power between the three branches. The CNU will approve this governmental structure as well as the individual who will head the executive branch. Khanh is obviously not sure whether this will be he or some civilian. We gathered that he would be quite happy to bow out if he could do so gracefully.

Khanh expects to make a number of changes in his current interim government, generally in the direction of giving it a civilian aspect. All of its present military members, including Generals Khiem and Thieu, have submitted their resignations. He has not yet decided whether he can afford to accept them all, particularly that of Khiem, who is very useful to him in spite of his alleged Dai Viet association. I suggested he might consider keeping a few of his most useful military officials in a civilian status. He apparently intends to accept Thieu’s resignation at once. His Dai Viet enemy and late colleague, Dr. Hoan, he is asking to leave the country by Sunday. He hopes Vu Van Mau will return shortly and will accept a prominent position in the government.

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Khanh announced his intention to make the following military changes: General Duc, presently commanding IV Corps, to replace General Thieu (whether as Deputy Defense Minister, as Chief of Staff, or as both was not clear); General Go, former Deputy Commander of IV Corps, to assume that command; General Tri, Commanding III Corps, to be replaced by General not yet selected, because of intense hostility of the Buddhists; General Xung, Commanding I Corps, who has requested transfer.

General Khanh emphasized that General Tam, III Corps, who is responsible for the execution of Plan Hop Tac, remains in place. He confirmed his intention to transfer the 7th Division to the IV Corps and move the 25th Division south to the III Corps.

Always concerned about the ripple effect of government changes, we asked about Khanh’s intentions to change officials in the provinces. He assured us that he had no such intention. Furthermore. Hop Tac would go forward as planned.

General Khanh explained the disturbances in Hue and elsewhere as symptoms of a current anti-militarism complex which he feels bound to conciliate. He is determined to get the army out of government and out of politics. When I expressed concern over possible weakness, unreliability or trend toward neutralism on the part of an all-civilian government, he assured me that the army would always be vigilant and ready to intervene before any serious damage could result. He is deeply impressed with the essentiality of Buddhist support. He believes the principal bonzes are with him now and he hopes to retain their cooperation. They have agreed to appoint lay representatives to the Committee of National Unity although, because of their religious status, they will not participate in person

Khanh hopes to formalize and expand the present inter-faith committee for handling religious issues. This committee will represent Buddhists, Catholics, Cao Dai and Hoa Hao and will work in contact with but outside the government.

When we asked about the Dalat Generals, Khanh said that, according to his understanding, each had telegraphed the appropriate US university with regard to matriculation. He indicated that he might have second thoughts on General Don and retain him for possible use in a military assignment. He then asked for six additional spaces in US civilian schools for other Colonels and Generals. The individuals he has in mind apparently include certain officers to whom he wishes to give advance schooling in preparation for diplomatic assignments abroad. In other cases, he may have in mind simply getting dangerous characters out of the country for awhile. We promised to see what we could do about meeting this new request.

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We stressed the importance of careful public information preparations prior to making the governmental changes in offing and offered all US resources to assist. He seemed impressed with the consequences of neglecting such preparations in mid-August and may do better this time. He is transferring the unreliable Lt. Col. Thao from his present press assignment in Khanh’s office to the Psychological Warfare Branch.

Asked about his evaluation of the short-term future, Khanh indicated the expectation of the continuance of the present uneasy tranquillity but foresees much wrangling over the governmental questions which will arise in coming weeks. We are of the same opinion and doubt he can keep his present schedule based upon a new provisional government approved by the Committee of National Unity by November 1st.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Also sent to CIA, the Department of Defense, and the White House and repeated to CINCPAC.
  2. August 31; see Document 333.
  3. Dated September 3, telegram 730 reported on a visit to Hue by Minh and Oanh during which the latter stated that two decisions had been made: 1) the Military Revolutionary Committee had repealed the August 16 charter, and 2) a committee would be formed in the near future representing the whole country to choose the new Prime Minister and President. Once the committee was formed, the triumvirate would be dissolved. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)
  4. Document 332