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

1219. Embtel 1210; Deptel 880.2 I called on Khanh today to find out his feeling about the charter and related matters. I led off with the same point as with Minh yesterday (Embtel 1210), to effect that we Americans had no candidates for the key positions in the govt but we did not wish to be surprised. Effective USG/GVN cooperation was indispensable to our common success and we did not wish to be [Page 844]presented with the fait accompli of a governmental slate containing key individuals with whom we would not work. Khanh agreed and stated that certainly the key positions should be discussed with us in advance.

I asked Khanh if he is satisfied with the charter. He stated that he had not studied it in detail and really had no qualified opinion. He repeated his complaint that he had never been consulted officially and never saw the final draft. He did concede that the meeting had taken place with Minh and Council representatives reported in Embtel 1199,3 but does not consider this constituted official consultation. When I asked him specifically about his views of the powers of the Chief of State and the position of the armed forces under the charter, he admitted he was satisfied on both counts. He also believes that the National Security Council arrangement is a good one although he would have preferred to have included the Minister of Interior in this membership. I gathered from his responses that he would not oppose the charter but probably would not display much public enthusiasm for it. However, he has agreed to take part in the press conference tomorrow at which the charter will be explained to the public.

We then discussed some of the leading candidates for the key positions in the govt. Khanh says that he favors Minh as Chief of State providing that he will retire from the army. Suu is a second possibility although, since Minh controls the majority of the Council, Minh should have no difficulty being selected provided he puts aside his uniform. One of the reasons that Khanh favors Minh, I gather, is that the assignment of Minh would occasion considerable embarrassment if he returned with his seniority to active duty in the army.

Khanh gave me every reason to believe that he is entirely satisfied for the moment to assume the position of Commander-in-Chief. He considers that he could not be Minister of Defense since he is a former President and head of state and by tradition barred from accepting any cabinet post. This is an odd position for him to take since if persisted in, it would appear to exclude Khanh from any future governmental post other than Chief of State.

I asked Khanh if he thought they could find a Minister of Defense with whom he could work harmoniously in his new assignment as Commander-in-Chief. He seemed unconcerned on this score and mentioned General Don as one individual who, in a civilian role, could fill the job.

With regard to the choice of Prime Minister and to other actions of the High National Council. Khanh gives the impression of assuming a laissez faire attitude. He agrees that the principal candidates appear to be Saigon Mayor Huong and his uncle, Minister of Interior Vien. He [Page 845]considers Huong a good man but of uncertain health. Uncle Vien would, of course, be a satisfactory choice to Khanh, but he tried to impress me with his detachment from these high personnel matters.

I urged on him need for taking a more active role in helping to get the strongest possible governmental line-up. The most promising slate appeared to me to be Minh as Chief of State, Vien as PriMin and Khanh as Commander-in-Chief. Khanh did not disagree with slate but showed no apparent feeling of responsibility to do anything about getting it adopted.

I then asked about the Dalat Generals whose new assignments were published in the morning papers. Khanh conceded that they were back in town, in fact working for him in the General Staff Hqs. where we were meeting. He verified their assignments as reported in Embtel 1210 but added that the announced assignments were largely “theoretical”, that in reality they were doing special studies for him at this time. [6–1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

[2 paragraphs (11–1/2 lines of source text) not declassified]

Incidentally, the morning paper also carried the news of the promotion of the Young Turks—Ky, Cang, Khanh, Thi. Presumably these promotions are to placate the Turks for the return of the Dalat Generals.

Taylor
  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 Bangkok, Vientiane, and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. Telegram 1210 from Saigon, October 21, reported a conversation between Minh and Taylor on that day during which Taylor stated that the United States had no preferred candidates, but did not want to be surprised by the new leadership, and Minh related that the Dalat Generals had resumed to Saigon with new assignments. (Ibid.) Telegram 880 to Saigon, of the same date, asked for clarification of Khanh’s role in the new government and for specific recommendations on the position the United States should take with regard to it. (Ibid.)
  3. Document 385.