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

2617. For the President.2 During the past week a great deal of effort was expended in trying to form a new government but, unfortunately, much of this effort came to naught. By mid-week, it appeared that Deputy Prime Minister Vien would be successful but, after completing his entire slate except for the Minister of Interior, he ultimately failed. While there are several versions as to the cause of his failure, it is reasonably clear that Vien and Khanh, supported probably by some of the other generals, could not reach agreement as to Vien’s power and authority as Prime Minister. Also, we understand that at some point Tri Quang and the Buddhist Institute leaders made it known that they would never go along with a Vien government.

Only this morning the Armed Forces Council announced that it had chosen Phan Khac Suu to stay on as Chief of State and had named Dr. Phan Huy Quat as Prime Minister. Quat is supposed to announce his government momentarily. We know Dr. Quat reasonably well from his previous tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Khanh Government. We think well of him as an individual but feel he will face monumental problems. As in the case of any Prime Minister, his relations with the armed forces and the Buddhist Institute will be critical. In many quarters, he is suspected of being pro-Institute since Tri Quang is known to have viewed him as Prime Ministerial timber. Regardless of whether he is Tri Quang’s candidate or not at the moment, in the short or long run the Institute leaders are likely to put demands upon him which he will find difficult to accept. Then the question will be whether Quat can retain the support of the military in resisting the Buddhists. In the meantime, we expect to do the best we can to develop effective working relations with his government and exploit on the governmental front the stimulus resulting from the air attacks against North Viet-Nam.

These air attacks have been greeted with enthusiasm by all of my military contacts and indeed all articulate, urban Vietnamese opinion appears to be favorable to them and to sense a turning point of some kind in the long war. Excitement generated by them has allowed our dependent evacuation to proceed with little public comment and a degree of public understanding. As of noon today, February 16, we have evacuated [Page 282] 1,456 of our total 1,610. We can easily complete the evacuation within the ten days which you authorized except for a few medical cases which cannot be moved and alien wives of U.S. Government personnel who have passport problems. The evacuation has gone very smoothly with minimum discomfort to the evacuees. We all are very grateful to you for having allowed us to follow this orderly pattern.

The week was not a satisfactory one from the point of view of military action. Although over 500 Viet Cong were killed and about 130 captured, government forces lost over 1,000 weapons. Many of those losses occurred in Binh Dinh Province where the security situation has been steadily deteriorating. The Viet Cong are consolidating their control in four districts of the province while government control is limited to the immediate vicinity of district capitals. The government has ordered reinforcements to the area and a major U.S. advisory effort is under way. The basic cause for the retrogression is the low density of available troops in a province which is both large and populous. We can hope to do little more than stabilize in Binh Dinh until additional military, paramilitary and police forces authorized for 1965 are in place.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Nodis.
  2. McGeorge Bundy forwarded this cable to President Johnson on February 16, noting in his covering memorandum that Taylor was “unenthusiastic about Quat” but “happy about air attacks” and “dependent removal.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President, McGeorge Bundy, Vol. VIII)