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

1629. CINCPAC for POLAD. Last Friday2 following our meeting with the Internal [National?] Security Council, I mentioned to Prime Minister Huong that I would like to have a meeting with him, Deputy Prime Minister Vien and General Khanh to discuss questions which might arise during my visit to Washington. I told him I would like to bring Ambassador Johnson and General Westmoreland with me to such a meeting.

The meeting took place the morning of November 24 between 1030 and 1230. I explained that while I did not know the agenda of the coming discussions in Washington, I could well anticipate being asked a number of difficult questions. It would be very useful to me if they would indicate their judgment as to the appropriate answers.

For example, an early question will undoubtedly bear on the life expectancy of the Huong government. We Americans were all pulling for Huong and his cabinet and were watching with concern the harassing tactics of his detractors. Under the circumstances, could we look upon the Huong government as one likely to be with us for a considerable time?

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Huong replied in terms which he had used before in discussing the political situation. He recognizes that there are a number of small groups who are working in the interest of certain politicians to topple his government but he considers the groups do not represent any substantial segment of the population. He is particularly aware of the union of some of the Buddhist groups with such men as General Do Mau, Phan Huy Quat and Tran Van Do. Other ringleaders are politicians who have been disappointed in not being included in the cabinet. Huong considers them annoying in aggregate but not basically dangerous.

He is more concerned about the attitude of the High National Council and Chief of State Suu. The High National Council has been very unhelpful, particularly in its action in appointing an investigating committee to look into the background of cabinet members. Chief of State Suu, Huong says, is so kind hearted that he does not recognize the wickedness of men about him and is thus pliable to pressures. He has recently urged Huong not to go too hard on demonstrations who [which] might include innocent people. In spite of all adverse factors, Huong is confident that he and his ministers can hang on.

I then asked Khanh to comment upon the internal condition in the Army. Was he concerned about malcontents there? Khanh replied that, having been in politics for a year, certain members of the Army were finding it hard to break old habits but generally they were becoming better behaved. He pointed out that the officer corps was non-homogeneous in the sense that it came from many sources and included individuals of widely differing backgrounds. Hence it was not surprising to find numerous small groups of malcontents but there is nothing like a political faction. He did recognize, however, that some Dai Viet were still about but are presently lying low.

The next subject we discussed was the estimate of degree of deterioration which has taken place in the provinces in recent months and the danger of a sudden collapse. All three rejected strongly the latter possibility. They concede that the situation has worsened in some provinces but they expect no dramatic toboggan. Khanh remarked that the provincial front would hold and the Saigon front would hold, and so all that remained for concern was the “Washington front.”

I then asked whether they had any suggestions as to ways of improving the pacification program and turning the trend upward. Huong remarked that the real remedy was for the government to demonstrate will and capability to serve the public interest and to assure that U.S. aid reaches the people at the grassroots. Khanh discussed the probable need for more manpower both in the military services and in the police. In spite of slowness in reaching presently authorized strength levels, he is confident that even greater strengths [Page 947] could be attained. Both he and the Prime Minister commented that evidence of U.S. support would be an encouragement to the people and would facilitate recruiting. Huong also mentioned the need for a stronger radio station in Saigon comparable to that of Hanoi. Khanh had previously raised the matter with the U.S. Mission at a meeting with the old NSC.

The next subject discussed was the question of carrying the war into Laos or North Viet-Nam. I noted that General Khanh had raised the slogan “March North” some months before but that I had never understood what he exactly had in mind. Khanh explained that he never meant by “March North” a movement on the ground into North Viet-Nam. He never had any idea of occupying North Viet-Nam. He did have in mind reprisal bombing in compensation for Viet-Cong depredations in the South. He later added that continued infiltration probably offered a broader justification for action against the North than spectacular Viet-Cong attacks.

I advanced some of the usual arguments against this course of action pointing out that air attacks in Laos, while they might limit infiltration, would certainly not stop it. Attacks on the DRV would probably result in some hostile reaction in the form of a ground attack into the northern provinces of South Viet-Nam, of air attacks on northern centers or of heightened Viet-Cong terrorism. In the background, there would always be the possibility of ChiCom intervention in some form. I asked if the government was prepared to take these risks for the possible advantages which might accrue from offensive actions against Hanoi.

All three officials stoutly insisted that they would run the risk unhesitatingly. Vien stressed the stimulating effect upon the South Vietnamese people of seeing the enemy pay for his misdeeds and the favorable effect on the campaign against the Viet-Cong. Khanh rejected my suggestion that the Armed Forces might tend to neglect the anti-Viet-Cong campaign if they thought an easy formula for success could be found in air attacks. Although I pointed out that the destruction of North Viet-Nam would not necessarily conclude the guerrilla warfare in the South, both Khanh and Vien argued strongly that the discouraged Viet-Cong would soon fall apart if Hanoi were out of the picture.

Johnson asked whether attacks on compatriots in the North would not result in sharp criticism of the GVN and of the U.S. They conceded that there would be some complaints but thought they would not be significant.

At end, I summarized my understanding of their views as follows; and they agreed to its accuracy:

Huong believes his government can survive in spite of current attacks.
There has been deterioration in the situation during the last few months but there is no danger of a sudden debacle:
The in-country situation can be improved if the government shows that it is the servant of the people. Improvement will probably also require an increase in military and police manpower.
Military action against DRV is essential and worth the risks which it may entail. 3

3 At 4 p.m. on November 25, Johnson, at his request, met with Suu to discuss the situation in Saigon. Johnson stressed the need to support Huong, particularly in connection with Taylor’s return to Washington. Johnson concluded his report on the meeting: “Suu obviously got the message.” (Telegram 1635; ibid., Central Files, POL 15 VIET S; published in Declassified Documents, 1983, 001266)

  1. Source: Department of State, Saigon Embassy Files: Lot 68 F 8. Top Secret; Limdis. Drafted by Taylor on November 24. Repeated to CINCPAC.
  2. November 20.