164. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1
189491. Do not deliver to Ambassador Bunker before 7 A.M. Ref: Saigon’s 24952.2
Your comments reftel reflect fundamental point that also pre-occupies us in present unsettled political situation and especially in connection events you have just reported. This is basic requirement that unity of armed forces be preserved so that military effort not be jeopardized [Page 392]and so that orderly process of government not be upset. We cannot accept renewed squabbling among the generals with the undermining of support here which would inevitably follow.
Having said this, we of course recognize that actions taken by Ky-Thang group may have been only way to avoid immediate military split growing out of Ky-Thieu impasse and we heartily agree with desirability disengaging military from election process and politics in general. If your assessment of unfolding events encourages you to believe that in their unique Vietnamese way the military are prepared to move this way without nullifying their stabilizing role, then this is trend to be encouraged. (Even if this should be true, however, we cannot imagine that Ky, or Loan acting for him, will fail to exploit at least some of governmental-military machinery.)
Westmoreland’s visit to Thieu will no doubt convey to Thieu that US favors his not participating in elections and, by implication, that we favor Ky at least as between Thieu and Ky. Thieu’s attitude surely is key factor in keeping military together and therefore suggest you consider urging Ky to make contemplated announcement about military non-involvement in elections only after having informed Thieu, perhaps in person, and sought his concurrence or at least acquiescence in this. To extent possible would also seem wise for Ky and his group to contact in same manner other military not in his group.
Finally, several further questions:
- What relation might recent events have to Loan visit here? Was he bringing word of coming events to Bui Diem or did Ky wish to have him out of town in tricky period? We will be in touch with Diem to try to pick up any hints.
- Is there any possibility that Ky might team up with some respected civilian figure, such as Huong? We have some sympathy with Thieu’s observation (para 6 reftel) that civilian may have better chance achieving national unity and common purpose and consider that even if this is not in the cards a strong mixed civilian-military ticket would have great value.
- What is status of two announcements mentioned reftel? We have thus far (2:30 p.m. Washington time) picked up nothing on tickers or otherwise.
- Occurs to us it might be useful, if you concur, to have Gen. Westmoreland return to Thieu at appropriate time and underline what he has said (para 5 reftel) about Thieu role in making ARVN first-class force and make clear our readiness help out however useful.