1. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
2014. Crisis between government and military is deepening with General Khanh taking harder and more advanced positions amounting to insistence on formal military control of entire government structure.
Prime Minister sent his son Tran Van Dinh to see Johnson late yesterday evening to brief us on situation and express his deep concern, and Johnson also saw Minister of Interior Vien this morning. Both of us have asked to see the Prime Minister this afternoon.
Tran Van Dinh said the Prime Minister was persuaded that Khanh’s purpose in taking over was, together with Buddhists, lead country to a neutralist solution. Dinh indicated his father was thinking of the possibility of a “coup de force” by elements of the army against Khanh. Johnson discouraged such concept which would result in fratricidal strife between elements of the armed forces and stated it seemed to him problem of the government was to bring other generals around to point that they would tell Khanh that he was finished and in this way avoid possibility of strife between armed forces elements. During Johnson’s call on Vien this morning Vien said that he and Minister Oanh had spent New Year’s eve and part of New Year’s day at IV Corps with Khanh and number of other high officers. They had held no formal meeting, but Vien and Oanh during “interrupted discussions” with Khanh and others had learned enough of generals’ plans to alarm them.[Page 2]
What really concerned Vien, however, was that generals now appear to have gone beyond December 20 action2 and to want even more. Vien said that Khanh and number of other officers said they wanted to create new military body to be called “organ of control” (giam sat). This body, to be established at or above chief of state level, would give military control over civilian government. Khanh had made very clear that it was not to serve as government’s advisory organ for military affairs, but to have rather opposite function. Initially (New Year’s eve) military had said that body would have no civilian members; next morning, however, they intimated that they might envisage some civilian membership but it was clearly still to be under military control. Vien said military even possibly envisaged letting office of chief of state be merged with new organ, but said military would have authority. Vien said that in response to Khanh’s observation that this “would prevent coups”, he said government acceptance of this would be “the coup.”
In response to Johnson’s questions, Vien said that Khanh and Admiral Cang had argued most heatedly for new organ, with other generals appearing less enthusiastic. Vien said he had impression that Cang in particular was behind proposal.
Vien stated that he and Oanh had pointed out to military that neither chief of state nor Prime Minister could create such new body. Suggested that military wait two or three months for establishment of National Congress and then make their proposal to Congress. Khanh had rejected this, saying that military wanted to establish this new organism soon in order to “give maximum stability to government.” Admitted that government now in provisional status, but indicated that provisional status could last longer. Establishment of National Congress could wait for five or six months. Vien said that Khanh’s main concern now seemed to be to create organ of control, not to establish Congress. Vien said he considered matter “very serious.”
In reply to question, Vien said that during discussion of new organ there had been no allusion to US role; re issue between Ambassador and military,3 Vien said he had impression that this was on road to resolution.
Johnson asked whether Vien believed that new body would be intended by Khanh to lead towards negotiated solution possibly including neutralization. Vien replied in rather vague fashion, saying that he [Page 3] had impression from whisperings among Buddhists and others that Khanh might be thinking about neutralization. Noted particularly whisperings to effect that Khanh would not let himself be subjected to foreign (i.e., US) control. Also pointed to activities of Khanh’s brother-in-law Phan Quang Tuoc who, Vien said, had returned to Saigon around December 17 from trip to Hong Kong, Paris, and perhaps Germany. Vien observed that Tuoc had close liaison with Buddhist Institute.
Long exchange developed over what to do next. Vien said he knew of nothing in particular which US could do to assist government right now, but would let us know. Said he would see Prime Minister and Suu later to chart next steps. Vien thought Prime Minister and Suu would call in Khanh early next week in order to get clear statement on record of what Khanh wants. In response to Johnson’s suggestion, agreed it would be good idea to invite other generals also. He thought that Prime Minister and Suu would attempt at meeting to “confront generals with their responsibility”; would tell them to liberate prisoners and would tell them it was necessary to let HNC function, either under other name or with changed membership, would also indicate that government not prepared to accept military control organ. Johnson suggested it was desirable that issue be presented in clear manner and resolved as quickly as possible. From the hardening of the military position it no longer appeared that the passage of time was contributing toward finding a compromise solution. Suggested that if Khanh insisted on demand for control organ, Huong might say that in this event he would have no alternative but ask Suu to relieve Khanh in accordance with provisions of the charter. This would present other generals with clear issue of whether to support government or publicly to take position of insubordination. Johnson did not know how generals would react but issue would have been clearly posed. Vien said he thought Prime Minister’s position might be “more flexible”. Said government had no power to enforce decision to relieve Khanh. When Johnson noted that government could resign, and observed that he had impression most generals did not want this to happen, Vien said that Prime Minister did not want to give Khanh chance to take power by default by government resignation. Intimated government might prefer force military take over by coup d’etat. Later hinted, however, that government might retire if Khanh and generals did not agree to what Prime Minister and Suu would present to them at their meeting. Johnson said he thought that issue of new control organism was [Page 4] strong one for government. Vien agreed that issue had to be clearly presented, adding that in present situation it was impossible for government to operate and this was increasingly reflected in attitudes of provincial officials.4
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Repeated to the White House, DOD,CIA, CINCPAC for POLAD, Bangkok, and Vientiane.↩
- The dissolution of the High National Council.↩
- Taylor had expressed strong opposition to the dissolution of the High National Council in conversations with certain Vietnamese military leaders on December 20, 1964, and with Khanh on the following day. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. I, Documents 451 and 454.↩
- In telegram 1381 to Saigon, January 2, the Department of State noted its surprise that the crisis was deepening, since this contradicted certain recent intelligence reports. The Department observed further”: From this distance problem still seems to be to persuade more moderate generals such as Co, Dong, Thieu and Vien to take lead in pressing for a compromise with government. Realize generals have spent past several days in Vung Tau and may have been inaccessible; but we would be interested in results of any efforts Embassy and MACV officials are able to make to get in direct contact with moderate military elements. Object would be to attempt reverse process of consolidation of military behind Khanh’s idea of a military ‘organ of control.’” (Department of State, Central Files,POL 15 VIET S)↩