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

26231. Subject: Thieu-Ky. Ref: Saigon 26200.2

Since dispatch reftel we have been sorting out various reports of what has and has not transpired regarding Thieu’s candidacy. It is clear that he has made statements to his colleagues and to two or more journalists that he has decided to run, but he has not made a formal announcement of his candidacy. It is not clear when he may make such a declaration or perhaps even that he will make it, although most indications suggest that he will do so at some stage. It remains possible, however, that his present maneuvers are designed in the first instance to block Ky’s path and perhaps secondarily to lay groundwork for an alliance between himself and a civilian candidate.
Since Thieu’s actual intentions and Ky’s possible reactions are not now known, we are planning to take a number of soundings with persons close to both of them, making evident our grave concern at these most recent developments and the effect they may have on our position here and support back home for our effort in Viet-Nam.
I had made an appointment with Ky for Saturday morning3 to present Senator Case,4 but this was cancelled the same morning, and my office was informed that he would be out of town for the day. Following these initial soundings, I am planning to see both Thieu and Ky, either separately or together depending on what seems best at the time, to state our views very plainly regarding the unacceptability of [Page 439] personal political maneuvers which may split the armed forces beyond repair and further fragment the already divided and competing political groups in this country. I will make plain that we cannot have our enormous investment of men, money, and world prestige put into question by such personal rivalry.5
As a footnote to these events, a conversation with National Police Director Loan at mid-day Saturday is perhaps worth noting. It is being reported in greater detail through CAS channels. In brief, Loan said that, if Thieu announced his candidacy, Ky would withdraw, and he and the principal Generals in the Directorate (Thang, Tri, both Viens, and Khang of II Corps were mentioned) would resign on the grounds that Thieu could not win the race for the Presidency, and such a loss would be a serious and unacceptable loss of prestige for the armed forces. While Loan’s versions of events, both past and future, must always be taken with a large grain of salt and they are no doubt motivated by a desire to influence our own actions, it is possible that such threats might be contemplated by this group.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Received at 9:03 a.m. and passed to the White House, DOD, and CIA at 9:15 a.m. Rostow sent a copy of the telegram to the President, who saw it. On a covering memorandum for that copy, Rostow described the Thieu-Ky rift as “serious.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. LXXI, Memos (A))
  2. In telegram 26200 from Saigon, May 19, Bunker reported that Do told Calhoun that Thieu had definitely decided to become a Presidential candidate. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S)
  3. May 20.
  4. Senator Clifford P. Case (R–NJ).
  5. In telegram 198950 to Saigon, May 21, Rusk noted that he and the President wanted Bunker to make these points “forcefully” to Thieu and emphasize the promise about unity that he had made at Guam. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S) In turn, Bunker advised in telegram 26466 from Saigon, May 23, that if asked, the President should confirm to the press that he had heard of the rivalry but “express his confidence that they will continue to show the excellent spirit of unity which has prevailed in Vietnam over the past two years.” (Ibid.)