179. Memorandum for the Record1
I met with General Khanh from 1:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. July 17 in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria. As was previously the case in our meetings, we conversed in a mixture of French and English, with General Khanh talking primarily in French and with my interrupting to clarify points I did not fully understand.
After exchanging pleasantries, I referred to his previous conversation with Col. Jasper Wilson,2 which I said had been brought to the attention of the President, Secretary Rusk and Secretary McNamara. The President had asked that I meet with General Khanh to follow up on that conversation and no one else was privy to our conversation or to his previous conversation with Col. Wilson. General Khanh expressed much satisfaction and at my request went over the ground he had covered with Col. Wilson but in more detail.
He traced the Viet Cong movement in the South back to the “Movement Republicain de Cochine” (MRC) which he said was one of several political movements that originated in the South in the 1946 period, others being the “Movement Populaire de Cochine”, which was a French puppet that disappeared, the Dai Viet and the Viet Minh. The MRC was heavily composed of Cochinchinese, essentially non-Communist intellectuals such as Tho. It was subsequently suppressed by the French and its leaders imprisoned. They were released in 1954 and initially worked with Diem. However, to these Southerners the Tonkinese Diem was essentially a “foreigner” and they broke with Diem around 1957 to form what became the Viet Cong and the National Liberation Front.
While southern-born cadre trained in the North were infiltrated and some supplies, the movement was thus essentially Southern as opposed to Annamite or Tonkinese. However, various units were under varying degrees of Communist or Tonkinese control, depending on the type and number of cadre. However, Khanh said (it was not clear how much he [Page 498] was expressing his own opinion and how much that of “Mr. Out”)3 that there were no organized North Vietnamese forces introduced into South Viet-Nam until after the introduction of the Americans. Nevertheless, he agreed with my observation that, from what we now knew, the North began to move elements of the 325th Division toward the South before the introduction of the first American combat units into Danang in April 1965. We did not return to or further resolve this point.
He then recounted the history of his relationship with “Mr. Out” along the same lines as to Col. Wilson. He said that “Mr. Out” alleged that he was one of the three leaders of the NLF along with Nguyen Huu Tho and “Mr. In”. He said that on our list of NLF officers “Mr. In” was listed as Ho Thu, a Deputy Secretary-General (but of course that was not his real name) and, contrary to Col. Wilsonʼs understanding, he was not now living in Saigon but rather in Viet Cong-controlled area in South Viet-Nam.
In reply to my question as to how “Mr. Out” was able to maintain from Europe the communication necessary to be a leader of the NLF, Khanh said he was not familiar with the details but he knew that he exchanged communications in 48 hours, Khanh thought possibly through the NLF office in Prague and thence through Cambodia.
Khanh said “Mr. Out” said that some three weeks ago the CIA had attempted to establish contact with “Mr. Outʼs” “liaison officer” in Brussels but he had turned them down as he did not want to deal with the CIA.
Khanh said that, as a result of his talks with “Mr. Out”, Tho, “Mr. Out” and “Mr. In” now agreed on a program under which they would ask for the presence of American forces on the assumption that North Viet-Nam would not agree to accept any arrangement for an independent South Viet-Nam and would seek to continue its efforts to take it over. However, they would not want the presence of other foreign forces such as the Koreans, the Australians and the Philippines, as they desired to deal solely with the United States. They would also ask for continued American economic assistance.[Page 499]
Khanh said that he had not discussed how the Viet Cong forces would come over or how arrangements could be made, but he thought it important that we not talk in terms of “ralliement” but rather in terms of “conciliation.”
In reply to my observation that at some stage discussions of arrangements such as this would have inevitably to involve the GVN and how did Khanh foresee the possibility of working this out, Khanh said that it would be entirely impossible with Ky and the other Tonkinese now in the GVN. It would have to be a purely “Southern solution” by Southerners for Southerners. America should reach agreement with the NLF and then see that the kind of a government was installed in Saigon necessary to carry it out. In reply to my observation that, as Khanh knew, we did not have that kind of control over the political picture in Saigon, he observed that we had been very successful in bringing about a satisfactory solution in the Dominican Republic.
In reply to my question on how we could test the bona fides of “Mr. Out” he suggested that we might ask him to arrange the release of a few selected prisoners within an agreed period of time or ask for a stand-down in Viet Cong operations in a specified area for a specified period of time. In this connection, he said that “Mr. Out” had pointed out to him that the NLF had at one time prolonged a stand-down in operations for three days longer than Hanoi had announced they were going to be stood down in order to demonstrate, particularly to Rumania, the independence of the NLF from Hanoi. Khanh said that he was not clear whether this was at Tet or at Christmas, but he thought it might be interesting for us to look up the record and see whether in fact such an event had taken place.4
Khanh also said that Y Binh Aleo (a Vice Chairman of the NLF), whose real name he says is Y Bit, is the leader of the Montagnard element in the NLF and could probably bring along the Montagnards in any arrangement that was reached with the NLF. He said that, while, as I knew, the Montagnards did not like Vietnamese in general, they liked Tonkinese least of all and would prefer a southern government. Khanh said that as a political ploy he had in mind the pattern of Malaya, in which the British had, after careful arrangements, brought about the defection of the southern part of the country and the Malays from the rebels and left the Chinese element isolated in the North.
In reply to his question, I told Khanh that he could be assured that the President was, in principle, interested in vigorously pursuing the matter. I said that, while the complications and difficulties were obvious, I knew that the President was deeply interested in anything that could [Page 500] bring about an end to hostilities in at least part of the country or would in any way shorten the hostilities. I told him that an individual5 who enjoyed the Presidentʼs confidence and who could speak with authority was prepared immediately to go to Paris to make contact with “Mr. Out”. I said that the individual was a retired diplomat not now active in the government who spoke good French and who could visit Paris inconspicuously. I said that he was prepared to go at any time and urged Khanh immediately to go to Paris and arrange the contact between this individual and “Mr. Out”. I pointed out the importance of proceeding urgently with anything that could shorten hostilities by even a week or an hour. Khanh entirely agreed but said that the French had been very “sticky” about his visa and had given him a visa valid only for one exit and reentry. The French in Paris watched him very closely and, if he returned unexpectedly and applied for another visa to return to his daughter here, he was sure it would at the minimum attract much French attention and they might even refuse him a visa. He felt that attracting French attention in this situation was very dangerous and unwise. However, at my urging he promised to think it over and see whether he could not work out something that appeared practical and get in touch with me.
We also discussed how contact could be made in Paris between himself and the individual we had in mind. After dismissing several possibilities that did not seem practicable, we agreed that, subject to my consultations in Washington, I would see him again in New York before he left and arrange for him to meet the individual we had in mind so that they could directly work out their arrangements for meeting in Paris without the interposition of anyone else. Unless Khanh can leave earlier, he will in any event leave New York on July 28 with his daughter. He said that, as “Mr. Out” travels a great deal, it will probably take him a minimum of 3 and a maximum of 7 days to make contact with him after he returns to Paris.
During the course of our conversation, Khanh throughout and in many ways laid heavy stress on the fundamental differences and hostility between the Tonkinese, the Annamites and the Cochinchinese. He gave me illustrations. He said that while he was fighting in the North with the French he thought nothing of bombarding a village because he looked on the people of the North as being essentially “foreigners”. However, he had quite a different attitude when he was fighting in the [Page 501] South. He said the Tonkinese officers in the South Vietnamese forces have a similar attitude towards southerners; that is, they really look upon them as “foreigners” and have little care or concern as to what they do to the local population. He said that the Tonkinese are essentially warlike and their life revolves around making war. This applied to the Tonkinese officers in the South Vietnamese forces such as Ky and it would be a very serious problem for which he did not have the answer working out any arrangements such as we had discussed. As another example, he pointed out that, when General Cao was recently sent to the First Corps to put down the trouble in Hue and Danang, as a Catholic whose family had suffered at the hands of the Annamite Buddhists he had every reason to be very “rough”. However, he did not do so because he himself was an Annamite.
In discussing the dispositions of the regular North Vietnamese forces as opposed to the Viet Cong forces, Khanh said that, while he did not have exact and recent information, it was his general impression that the North Vietnamese forces were generally to be found roughly North of the line crossing the southern part of the Pleiku and the northern part of Darlac down to the South of Nhatrang. As far as military command was concerned, he had the impression that these forces, which were generally in the V Military Region, were commanded directly from Hanoi whereas the command line to the forces in the South ran through the NLF and COSVN. He did not think that there was much distinction between the NLF and the COSVN.
He stoutly protested that he was not seeking anything for himself in this but, if “we ever thought he could be of service” he would be willing to consider whatever we might propose. He accepted my replies to his queries to the effect that, after he had made contact between our representative and “Mr. Out”, the discussion should be entirely bilateral without his participation.
In reply to my query, he said that Le Van Hoach had been in touch with Huynh Tan Phat, Vice Chairman of the NLF, during the period that I was in Saigon. He said that Phat was not a Communist but that Hoach was entirely out of the question as any channel or contact because he was known to everyone as such a big gossip.
I pressed him hard on the identify of “Mr. Out” and at one time he seemed almost to the point of giving it to me, but said that he had “solemnly sworn” to “Mr. Out” that he would not disclose his identity until the meeting had been arranged. He said that we would of course then learn who he was but he doubted very much that we had much information with regard to him.
He expressed great fear of the French and what they might try to do to prevent any such arrangement as well as what they might try to do to him personally. He said the French were determined to make an arrangement [Page 502] that would be acceptable to the Chinese and wanted to see all of Viet-Nam under the control of the North.
I did not attempt to discuss with him where all of this would leave Annam or how it could be fitted into the picture. The strong implication is of course that the southerners do not care too much if they can make a deal that will take care of themselves.
Khanh agreed that he would say absolutely nothing to anyone concerning our meeting and I said it would be discussed only with Secretaries Rusk and McNamara at present.6
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 VIET/ELMTREE. Top Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by U. Alexis Johnson. In a July 20 letter to Bohlen, Johnson indicated that messages concerning the contact described in the memorandum printed here would be slugged “Elm Tree.” (Ibid.)↩
- No record of this conversation has been found; prior contacts in July between Khanh and the CIA regarding this subject are summarized in two memoranda, dated July 7 and 20, from [text not declassified] of CIA to William Bundy, who are identified in the memoranda by pseudonyms. (Central Intelligence Agency, DDO/EA Files, Job 78–000032R, Chipwood Memos-FE)↩
- “Mr. Out” was Le Van Truong. Le Van Truong identified himself at a meeting with Paul Sturm on July 27. The substance of the meeting was reported in Document 195, and the information on Le Van Truongʼs identify was reported in telegram 1523 from Paris, July 30. After serving in Vietnam as secretary general of the Movement Populaire Cochinchinois, established in 1946, Le Van Truong had lived mostly in France from 1947 to 1954 and then in Saigon from 1954 to 1963, when he left Vietnam. His overt political activity had principally taken the form of journalism. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27–14 VIET) In an August 11 memorandum for Sturm, U. Alexis Johnson noted that biographical information from CIA files, although very skimpy, generally “checks out with” Le Van Truongʼs story. (Ibid.) However, as Khanh saw the problem, it was a “problem of the South for the South”.↩
- In a July 20 memorandum, U. Alexis Johnson stated that no substantiation had been found for this claim. (Ibid., POL 27–14 VIET/ELMTREE)↩
- The reference is to Paul Sturm, who was “Y” in the XYZ negotiations (see Document 4) and is referred to as George in documents concerning his meetings with Khanh and Mr. Out during July 1966.↩
- In his July 20 memorandum (see footnote 4 above), a copy of which was sent to the President, U. Alexis Johnson outlined a scenario for his next meeting with Khanh, scheduled for July 23, and for Sturmʼs first two meetings (as yet unscheduled) with Mr. Out. He concluded that if the contact with Mr. Out turned out to have some substance, a minimum objective was to obtain the release of some American prisoners and the defection of some members of the NLF, but that “a broad political arrangement with the NLF, which requires a radical shift in the personnel and orientation of the GVN,” presented “probably insurmountable difficulties.”↩