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

1870. CINCPAC for POLAD. Embtel 1869.2 Alex Johnson and I immediately saw Huong this morning while General Throckmorton and General Moore went to JGS to persuade military group to hold up on press conference scheduled for 0900.3

Briefly Prime Minister had no information beyond that he had been given when Khanh and the ten Young Turks called on him at 2:00 a.m. this morning to inform him of the action that had been taken and to ask that he remain as Prime Minister. He said that he was not asked to nor did he concur in dissolution of High National Council (although he told us he agreed that there were some problems with its composition) and told military delegation he would only remain if military did not constitute itself as a “state within a state,” if the authority of the state were respected by all, and if those arrested who were not Communists would be released in due course. He said the military group had told him that Chief of State had accepted what they had done but the officers asked that if Chief of State did resign Huong also take over Suu’s position in addition to remaining PM. Huong indicated his belief that although Chief of State was very weak and “soft” it was preferable that he remain but that if he did leave, Huong would be willing to accept the position if the military would truly support civilian government. He asked for our advice as to what he should do and that we should make clear to the military our view on [Page 1015] the proper role of the military with respect to a civilian government. In reply to my questions he said he was not really sure who controlled the military, he felt the “Young Turks” were loyal to him but he had a question about Khanh and agreed that Khanh was perhaps not in real control.

I said that I was not able to give him any advice until I had talked to the military group and had a better idea of what had happened. I would do this and get in touch with him later in the day. Meanwhile I observed that he seemed to have preserved his freedom of action and therefore was in a strong position to impose the conditions under which he would be willing to remain as Prime Minister. I also thought it important the government get out some statement later today.

Immediately upon our return from seeing Huong we met at the Embassy with Ky (VNAF), Thieu (IV Corps), Thi (I Corps), and Cang also accompanied by General Throckmorton, General Moore and General Rowland.4

Recalling my conversations with them immediately following my return from Washington on the importance of government stability I very forcefully expressed my disappointment in the action they had taken, made it clear they had jeopardized US support in everything they had been seeking and asked for their explanations.

Ky acting as spokesman gave long involved explanation revolving around point that action had been designed to remove disruptive elements in High National Council and allegedly strengthen unity. Only concrete point of complaint was the HNC had intervened in matter of officer retirements which designed to promote unity in armed forces. Took position that having taken action military now withdraw and return power to civilians, giving to Suu the legislative powers formerly exercised by HNC and especially the task of preparing for assembly elections. In response to my questions they alleged that Military Council was advisory only to General Khanh as C in C and that decisions were in fact taken by General Khanh.

I pointed out that they had in fact usurped power which had been transferred to HNC and government last August 27 and all the world would interpret action simply as military coup. They had destroyed charter and whole basis for orderly development of government started last August 27 and which had so greatly encouraged US and rest of world. If Huong and Suu remained in office under these conditions it would make a mockery of civilian government, it being obvious they remaining only at sufferance of military and at best were [Page 1016] military puppets subject to removal any time military displeased with them. Having now taken this action they had to accept responsibility and could not just wash their hands to [of] the affair and say it was up to the civilians to straighten it out. I strongly urged that they seek some way of walking [taking] back their statement of the dissolution of the High National Council and cancel press conference scheduled for this afternoon or if they unwilling to do this at least retain flexibility of action and not slam doors. If they did not make claim of having dissolved HNC perhaps some way might be worked out salvage the mess into which they have gotten themselves.

They seemed somewhat impressed and left to see Khanh.

I asked them to make an appointment for me with Khanh for 3 p.m. with whom they were lunching. Khanh called later and alleged inability to see me at that time because of press conference which he said had to take place. Thus I have not seen Khanh on this subject up to present moment.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 VIET S. Confidential; Immediate; Limdis. Repeated to CIA, the Department of Defense, the White House, London, Paris, Vientiane, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, and CINCPAC. Received at 9:20 a.m.
  2. Telegram 1869, December 20, 2 p.m., reported that a newly-formed Military Council had met late on December 19 and decided to dissolve the High National Council. Huang and Suu were informed about 2 a.m. on December 20, but Khanh, who had agreed to inform Taylor, failed to do so. (113id.)
  3. Reports on this meeting were transmitted in MACV 005, 200520Z, and 008, 200750Z. (Washington National Records Center, RG 319, HQDA Message Center, Reel 12056)
  4. The meeting took place from 12:09 to 1:25, and the Embassy transmitted a summary of it as an enclosure to airgram A–493, December 24. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S; published in Declassified Documents, 1978, 433D) For other descriptions of this meeting, see Taylor, Swords and Plowshares, pp. 330–331; Ky, Twenty Years, pp. 53–55; and Johnson, Right Hand of Power, pp. 418–419.