210. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
Saigon, June 20, 1967, 0830Z.
28409. Ref: Saigon 28218, State 212155.2
- At my invitation Thieu, Ky and General Vien came to my house for lunch June 19, together with Ambassador Locke and General Westmoreland. My purpose was to bring Thieu, Ky and Vien together in [Page 530]informal surroundings to discuss the question of unity of the armed forces and see whether it would be possible to get some agreement on their part to a public statement subscribed to by all three reaffirming Vien’s earlier announcement and containing specific instructions to the armed forces to refrain from involvement in the political situation. I proposed to suggest to them that such a statement be circulated to officers and ranks with specific instructions issued to corps commanders to see that the instructions were carried out.
- I also wanted to discuss with them certain matters related to the visit of Secretary McNamara and Under Secretary Katzenbach. The luncheon took place in an informal and cordial atmosphere with no evidence of strain between our Vietnamese participants.
- We informed them of Secretary McNamara’s wishes to make this a strictly working visit and to avoid ceremonial and protocolary affairs. General Westmoreland outlined plans which had been prepared for the Secretary’s field trips.
- We then got into the question of additional free world troops, a subject too much discussed in public by both Thieu and Ky, and made it very clear to them that it would not be possible for the President to accede to request for additional troops unless maximum use were made of available Vietnamese manpower. We found ready acceptance on their part of the fact that this would be necessary. General Westmoreland suggested as a measure preliminary to mobilization that the terms of those presently in service be extended and the age of induction reduced. There was agreement by the Vietnamese that this should be done. General Vien suggested that he issue orders for extension of service now without making any public announcement before the elections. There seemed to be general agreement that this would be a good procedure.
- On the subject of mobilization, Ky asserted that it was important that this should be done as soon as possible (after the elections) by the new government, that the number of Vietnamese troops should be substantially increased and that they certainly could not expect additional free world troops unless they made a greater effort themselves. He felt that mobilization would actually improve morale in the country and would make the people more determined to bring the war to a successful conclusion. Both Thieu and General Vien acquiesced in this view.
- We then entered into the question of the desirability of a joint statement of non-involvement of the armed forces in politics pointing out that two important principles were involved: (A) free, fair and honest elections, and (B) concentration of the armed forces on fighting the war. Both Thieu and Ky replied that General Vien had made such an announcement and that they had endorsed it frequently. I said that [Page 531]General Vien’s statement had been made some time ago and I felt that it needed to be reinforced and pointed out that rumors were already circulating casting doubt both on the possibility of free elections and the non-involvement of the military: it was not necessarily a fact that mattered so much as what people believed to be true. Consequently I felt it made sense to anticipate these rumors and what was likely to appear in the press. I pointed out that both honest elections and concentration by the military on the war effort had a direct bearing also on the manpower problems we had previously discussed; the free world could not be expected to furnish additional forces if the Vietnamese military was diverted from concentration on the war effort.
- Ky said that he would be willing to sign such an agreement. Thieu felt that it would be adequate if General Vien should reiterate his statement and instruct his troop information division to see that it was implemented. General Vien then suggested that since the Directorate was the government, it would be a good idea to have the Directorate issue such a statement. Ambassador Locke, General Westmoreland and I all felt this would be even better than having a statement signed by Thieu, Ky and Vien. Ky said that the matter could be taken up at a meeting of the Directorate later today. (Still later at General Vien’s reception celebrating Armed Forces Day, Ky told Ambassador Locke and me that he would host a dinner for his Generals and would bring up the matter there. Thieu, however, was rather noncommittal.)
- I do not know what the present odds are on having such a statement issued, but I think that in the light of our talk today if something is not forthcoming within a few days, I will at least be in a position to prod all three into taking some action.
- We had a general discussion also on other aspects of the war, methods to hold off infiltration, the effectiveness of the bombing and the great importance of the RD program. We made clear the great importance we attached to continued progress on both the military front and in revolutionary development during the election period. They agreed that efforts on these fronts should not be diminished by diversion of attention to the elections.
- Comment: In view of the friendly and informal atmosphere which prevailed throughout the meeting, the fact that everyone present participated freely in the discussions and that agreement had been reached on several important matters, Ambassador Locke, General Westmoreland and I felt that the luncheon had been very worthwhile and that we should repeat the practice at periodic intervals. While I do not expect any miracles to result, it is an opening wedge and I think further such meetings may prove useful.