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

23740. Ref: State 178636.2

The relative standings of Thieu and Ky within the military are not clear. They also appear to be subject to somewhat unpredictable change. The majority of the members of the Armed Forces Council seem to be carefully maintaining positions which will enable them to move in behind either Ky or Thieu when they judge the time is ripe and the outcome reasonably certain. This wait-and-see attitude is demonstrated by the apparent unwillingness of the Armed Forces Council to be committed. Neither do the military members of the Directorate wish to give the equivalent of a political endorsement, although they will eventually, though indirectly, probably take a position. The top officers do not want the lines clearly drawn because they want to avoid being divided into two opposing camps and because it seems inappropriate to act like a political nominating convention. They may be reluctant to make a choice which, if they guess wrong, could mortgage their futures or even end their military careers.
Even in the case of those senior officers who are pretty well identified as favoring Ky or Thieu, it would not be correct to say that at this time more than one or two are fully committed. General Cao Van Vien, for example, is believed to support Ky, but he probably still has a line out to Thieu and could switch to Thieu’s camp if it seemed wise.
There are those who say that Ky seems to have a better standing than Thieu. Ky’s probable supporters are said to include the Air Force and General Khang, Loan, Thang, Lam, Cao Van Vien, and Linh Quang Vien. [Page 342] Through the Air Force and Generals Khang and Loan, Ky can muster most if not all of the effective armed force in the Saigon area. This makes an armed coup against Ky rather unlikely and suggests that Thieu would have to reply on political maneuver.
The above does not take into consideration the possibility of a palace coup or some variant thereof. This possibility appears remote. Ky has assured me that this will not be done to Thieu and Thieu has given me comparable assurance.
Vietnamese politicians both in and out of the army are keenly conscious of our position and constantly seek to know our views on important questions. This is certainly true in the present case. It is possible that some individuals or factions might feel there was less chance of effective interference from us if they moved during the brief interim between my departure and Ambassador Bunker’s arrival. I think however that this would be only one of many considerations in their minds, and not a ruling one at that. As I indicated in an earlier message, such a move does not seem likely.
I believe there is a real advantage in the American Ambassador here at this time not knowing the possible candidates well. Vietnamese observers will more readily believe that the U.S. is impartial than would be the case if I were here. No matter how impartially I acted in fact there would be impressions caused by the well known friendships which I have made over the years.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Received at 5:29 a.m. and passed to the White House, DOD, and CIA at 6:20 a.m.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 138.