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

29258. Ref Saigon 29140.2

1.
I have just seen the Prime Minister and General Westmoreland has just talked with General Cao Van Vien. As a result of these two [Page 568]conversations, we have what appears to be a fairly reliable picture of the very interesting developments that have transpired in the last 48 hours.
2.
Ky said he wished to give me a very frank account of what had happened. He declared that for two days and two nights the 50 or 60 officers in the Armed Forces Council had tried to persuade Thieu to drop his candidacy and agree to become Defense Minister and Chief JGS if Ky’s ticket were elected. Ky said these sessions were extremely emotional with many of the Generals in tears, but with a deep common objective that the armed forces must find a way to unite and to avoid the divisions that were tearing them apart. Finally, at one o’clock this morning, Thieu agreed to this solution and it was left that the final arrangements would be worked out at a meeting this morning.
3.
At that meeting, Thieu said he had changed his mind and had decided that he would resign and run for President as a private citizen. Ky then declared that the armed forces cannot have two candidates, that military unity came above everything else, and that they had given an absolute commitment to this effect at Guam to President Johnson. He then told them that he would retire from the race and return to the air force. The other Generals said that Thieu alone could not win the election and that they must run together. Ky said he finally agreed to their pleas, but he laid down the conditions that he would have the right to name the Cabinet and to control the armed forces. These conditions were accepted by all concerned. Ky commented to me in this connection that with this agreement he (Ky) could now move ahead immediately to improve the morale and effectiveness of the forces.
4.
Vien confirmed Ky’s account in his conversation with Westmoreland. Vien said that the corps commanders had carried the debate as they had insisted that the armed forces could not be held together if there were two candidacies. The final decision was reached before lunch today among the top Generals, and [when] the division commanders were informed after lunch, the division commanders cheered. Vien agreed that it would now be both possible and desirable to step up military operations during the pre-election period and this would be helpful in keeping the military separated from the electoral process.
5.
Vien praised Ky’s behavior during the meetings and said that the solution could not have been reached if he had not done what he did. Ky told me that after the meeting General Vinh Loc, a very proud man, had said that he never used the word “admire,” but that he now wished to say that he admired what Ky had said and done. I told Ky that I also admired his attitude and congratulated him on what he had done.
6.
We have learned that in a backgrounder to a few foreign newsmen late this afternoon General Thang described the foregoing in very [Page 569]general terms, giving Ky full credit for the move to run as Vice President. Thang added that there was never any question of a caretaker government. He believes that Thieu and Ky will really work together again as they have in the past. Vien also told Westmoreland this. Thang added that the Generals are very happy at the solution and see an end to the danger of a military split. Thang expressed his admiration for Ky’s sacrifice and patriotism.
7.
In his conversation with me Ky said that the decision not to permit Big Minh to return before September 3 was final. He added that if Minh were admitted then other Generals such as Khanh and Thi would have to be let back. Thang confirmed this decision in his backgrounder.
8.
Comment: I believe Ky deserves full credit for his attitude and for his willingness to step aside in the face of Thieu’s intransigence. I’m sure that his standing among the military has been greatly enhanced.3
9.
There are certain obvious problems created by this compromise solution, but it should serve to end the growing tensions within the military and stabilize to some degree what was becoming a dangerously fluid situation. We will comment further on these matters tomorrow. It will now become the military versus the civilians and we are already giving thought as to how we should meet this problem and will be sending you our thoughts shortly.
Bunker
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S. Secret; Flash; Exdis. Received at 9:15 a.m. and repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD. Rostow sent the text of this telegram to the President at the LBJ Ranch as telegram CAP 67608, June 30, where it was received at 10:50 a.m. He prefaced the telegram with the observation: “Here is how they appear to have worked it out in their smoke-filled room.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Intelligence File, Vietnamese (South) Elections 1967) The Directorate announced publicly later that day that Thieu and Ky would run on the same ticket as Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, respectively. In telegram CAP 67621 to the President in Texas, June 30, Roche observed: “So far our luck is holding in Saigon but I would urge that we take out immediate coup insurance. Suggest that General Westmoreland inform ARVN that U.S. will block any coups.” A notation by Jones written on the telegram quotes the President’s directive: “pass on to Walt.” (Ibid.)
  2. In telegram 29410 from Saigon, June 30, Bunker made an initial report on the meeting of the Directorate that lasted until late evening on June 29 and resumed early the next morning. Thieu had been offered a position as Chief of the Joint General Staff and the Ministry of Defense. Ky was not prepared to step down. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S)
  3. In his next weekly cable to the President, telegram 305 from Saigon, July 5, Bunker continued to praise the Prime Minister’s selfless act for national unity: “Ky, of course, played an essential role in the final decision and I have commended him for his part in it. He was well ahead of the other candidates at the time, a lead enhanced by the proliferation of civilian candidates and Thieu’s own admission that he could not be elected. Consequently, Ky has made a very real sacrifice in the interests of unity of the armed forces and of the country. I have told him, however, that I feel certain that in the long run his stature and prestige will be increased by this patriotic action.” (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S) This telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 69–77.