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

28090. Ref: State 2108352 and 210584.3

I had a meeting of approximately one hour with Prime Minister Ky the afternoon of June 14 and I expect to see General Thieu later this evening.
I told the Prime Minister I had three main questions that I wished to raise with him. I said that we had seen increasing signs of arbitrary censorship in the press and other restrictions which might limit the capabilities of candidates to express their views on an equitable basis during the election campaign. I recognized that there were genuine national security reasons for censorship in wartime, but in recent weeks the censorship had been far broader than this and appeared to be directed against the statements of candidates and other matters connected with the elections. I noted in particular that the chief of state’s own remarks on these subjects had even been censored out of the local press. I told Ky I thought it was vital that on this question, as on other matters related to the elections, an impression not be created that arbitrary and repressive measures were being used. I added that the foreign press was already becoming aware of this situation and that we had even had indications of concern from Congressmen and other circles in the U.S. I [Page 501] said I was sure that he would appreciate what a difficult situation would arise if these measures reached such proportions as to bring into question his government’s intentions regarding fair elections.
Ky acknowledged that there had been some overly enthusiastic steps taken by the censors but said that we had to understand that in this country the press, whether overt or clandestine, would engage in unlimited character assassination if they were not restrained and this would inevitably have an unstabilizing effect on the political situation. He said that it was not like the U.S. and we had to understand this. He then went on to say, however, that he realized censorship of matters relating to candidates and the elections campaign had to be fairly administered. He said that he already had someone from General Thieu’s press staff in the censorship office and it was his intention to have each of the candidates assign a representative to this office to make decisions regarding censorship. I also raised with Ky the reports we had had that requests for establishment of new newspapers by candidates were being refused. Ky said that he did indeed not intend to allow any more newspapers to be established, that this had been government policy for the last two years, noting that there were 27 already in Saigon and that there were plenty of opportunities for the candidates to use existing newspapers.
I then told Ky that I had also been greatly disturbed by other reports indicating that measures were being taken by his supporters to use questionable tactics and pressure to assure his election. He reiterated that the U.S., with all its investment here in men and money, could not tolerate the use of measures which would make a fair vote impossible. I cited specifically recent reports we had had that General Loan and his men were bringing pressure through police and military security circles to assure that the necessary vote was obtained for Ky’s ticket or to remove officials who did not cooperate. Ky did not deny specifically that General Loan had been engaged in such pressure but said he had cautioned Loan as a friend and loyal supporter.
I said that the third subject I wished to raise was a matter we had discussed before, namely, our deep concern for the unity of the armed forces and the stability of the country. I recalled his earlier statement to me and to Ambassador Bui Diem that he would discuss privately with General Thieu the matter of two military candidates and try to work out a satisfactory arrangement that would not risk splitting the armed forces. I observed that no such talk had apparently been held and that the problem seemed no nearer solution. I said both he and General Thieu had given assurances to the President at Guam that there would be no split in the military and both had renewed these assurances to me repeatedly since that time. It now appeared likely, however, that there would be in fact two military candidates and that despite [Page 502] General Vien’s statement that the armed forces would not take part in politics, the reality was that this situation would inevitably have a deep effect on military unity. I pointed out that inevitably there would be supporters for both him and Thieu within the ranks of the armed forces and that this could only have a divisive effect which would impede the vital war role that the Vietnamese armed forces must play. I underlined the extremely serious effect political squabbles among the military here would have on U.S. public opinion and support at a time when our losses were heavy and the outcome of the war was unsettled. I asked Ky what he planned to do about trying to resolve this problem with Thieu before it was too late.
Ky said that the matter was giving him some concern also. At his meeting with the four corps commanders and certain of the military members of the Directorate at Qui Nhon on June 12, the corps commanders reported that there was beginning to be political talk among the junior officers. He instructed them to tell the officers to keep clear of politics and get back to fighting the war and impressed upon them the necessity for not allowing the political campaign to split the army. I said that this was praiseworthy but did not resolve the problem. Ky then remarked that he had in fact been trying to arrange a private talk with Thieu, but the latter had not responded. He said he would try once again to arrange this as soon as possible and would sincerely try to work out a solution that was acceptable and that would avoid a serious split in the armed forces. I said I hoped he would succeed in this important effort and commented that there was surely a role for both of them in the future government of Viet-Nam. They had worked together closely and effectively for two years and should be able to continue to work for the good of the country.
In discussing this entire question of the elections and the government which would emerge from it, I told Ky of my strong conviction that the end result must be a strengthening of the country through a broadly-based government comprising unity of the military and cooperation between the civilian and military elements. I said I had been encouraged by the reports of the understanding reached between Ky and Huong regarding use of each other’s services, whichever one might win the election. I thought that was a vital principle which should be encouraged for all the candidates. I would also like to see a statement by all candidates that they would accept the verdict of the electorate and would support whatever government emerged as a result of fair and free elections. Ky confirmed that he had reached such an understanding with Huong and concluded with the statement that he understood that what was needed as the final result of the constitutional process was not a strong man but a strong regime.
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Received at 10:33 a.m. and passed to the White House. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. In telegram 210835 to Saigon, June 13, the Department informed Bunker of a conversation among Bundy, Habib, and Diem. Bunker was urged to arrange a substantive meeting between Thieu and Ky in order to resolve the problem of two military candidates. (Ibid.)
  3. Document 196.