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

20059. 1. Immediately following meeting with Thieu reported septel, Ambassador and Bundy met with Ky. Bui Diem was also present.

2. Bundy began by giving Ky same assurances of USG position that he had given Thieu. Ky expressed agreement and hoped that we would continue to apply increasing pressures against the North as well as in the South.

3. Ky then discussed with Ambassador current episode of released American civilians claiming they had obtained release through bribery of special court. Ky noted that release had of course been his own personal decision based on representations by Ambassador. He said GVN had now clearly confirmed total absence of any bribery element, and that this had been made clear to Vietnamese people. Ky said that he had also explained situation to UPI representative responsible for story. Bui Diem noted that he had sent facts to Washington to assist in setting record straight at U.S. end.

4. Ky discussed Constitution and election prospects at length. He and Bui Diem thought Constitution would be completed by end of March and that final negotiation with Directorate would permit promulgation toward end of April. Ky noted that Assembly members appeared to desire five-month period before Presidential elections and then additional period before Assembly elections, to permit them to get organized better. He himself favored three-month schedule, with further interval of at least two months between Presidential and Assembly elections, latter being minimum time required to get mechanics worked out properly. With these factors, he himself now thought clearly in terms of aiming at September 11 anniversary date for Presidential elections (he laughingly noted this was his own lucky day), with Assembly elections to follow so that by the end of the year a full constitutional government would be established. If this could be accomplished, and if elections could be conducted as honestly as last year (point which Ambassador and Bundy had interjected), he thought it must have major effect in weakening any remaining VC appeal to South Vietnamese. GVN would have demonstrated it had best program.

5. Ky then said that key to situation remained elimination from SVN of all elements sent down by Hanoi. This could only be worked [Page 240] out with Hanoi (clear implication being that any direct dealing with NLF as such could only come thereafter, although he, like Thieu, explicitly endorsed both general reconciliation appeal and efforts to persuade middle and high-level VC to defect). Ky said that if Northern forces of all types were withdrawn, GVN would definitely be in shape to handle remaining NLF/VC terrorists and guerrilla problem. Ambassador and Bundy noted that getting Northerners of all sorts out was in large part a question of good intelligence information, and told Ky about extensive photographs of North Vietnamese military and other leaders in VC which MACV had just reported captured in Junction City Operation.2 It was noted that this material could also be put to excellent use underscoring again NVN role and control of VC.

6. Ambassador then asked Ky for his judgment as to validity of current intelligence estimates that VC remained capable of recruiting 7,000 men per month in the South. Ky responded that he thought VC might still be able to get these numbers, but that this was being done solely by force and intimidation and without any remaining affirmative appeal or conviction. In effect, recruits in the South were now simply terrorized into service, and results must become visible soon in terms of their performance. He also confirmed that recent recruits included substantial numbers of teenagers and even women. He (like Thieu) thought that VC was now under very heavy pressure indeed from casualties and general hardship, and he particularly noted serious morale impact of B–52 operations, of which he had just seen one vivid piece of evidence in the form of a poem captured with a medium-level NVA officer in Kon Tum, to effect that his condition was nearer death than life.

7. Finally, Ky referred to ARVN behavior, and said that he was directing increased use of summary discipline and even execution powers conferred by recent decree. He said these powers would be used against soldiers engaged in stealing or other crimes affecting the population.

8. In general, Ky appeared poised and self-assured, like Thieu.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Received at 9:19 a.m. and passed to the White House, DOD, and CIA at 9:50 a.m.
  2. Operation Junction City, begun on February 22, was a massive combined U.S.-ARVN assault against the Viet Cong stronghold in War Zone C northwest of Saigon in the area of Tay Ninh Province bordering Cambodia.