332. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State1
Saigon, September 20, 1967, 1220Z.
6460. For the President from Bunker.
- The past week has been characterized by gradual relaxation of some of the post election tensions. The Central Election Council has been receiving the official tabulation of the voters for the Senate slates and examining complaints of irregularities in the recent elections. Little has been heard from the protesting Presidential candidates. Truong Dinh Dzu, the runner up, seems to have subsided, at least temporarily, achieving prominence chiefly through his sentencing to six months imprisonment and a substantial fine on two bad check charges and holding an unauthorized bank account (in the Bank of America in San Francisco).2 He has a month in which to appeal and he has, of course, denied the charges, but there are fairly substantial rumors that the government has considerable evidence of further irregular dealings on his part. When I talked to Thieu last Friday3 afternoon, he had been unaware of Dzu’s sentencing by the court Friday morning, and I cautioned him against the possibility of making Dzu appear a martyr at the present time before the Assembly had acted on validation of the election returns. Several reputable Saigon lawyers to whom we have spoken feel that substantial evidence exists that Dzu is guilty as charged, and one of them feels Dzu could have escaped with a fine had he appeared in court. While we had originally anticipated that there might be some outcry charging government “persecution” of Dzu, this has not happened. Dzu does not enjoy a very high personal reputation, and Phan Khac Suu, for example, told an Embassy officer September 18 that he considered Dzu guilty as charged.
- The relationship between Thieu and Ky seems to have been improved during the past week. A meeting of Thieu and Ky with the inner circle of Generals, including the four corps commanders, General [Page 815] Vien, Chief of the JGS, General Tri, Minister of Information, and General Thang took place on Monday, the 11th, and was devoted principally to a discussion of the formation of the new government and to possible assignments of Cabinet posts. No decisions were taken at this meeting. It was agreed that members would give further thought to the problem and meet again on Saturday, the 16th.
- We have had reports from four of the Generals who were present at the meeting on Saturday and these are in general agreement as to what transpired. All of them expressed satisfaction with the results of the discussions which had taken place. General Lam, I Corps Commander, and General Minh, IV Corps Commander, expressed themselves as being happy about the meeting and said that Thieu and Ky had been brought back closely together again, recognized the importance of their unity, and agreed to work as a team. General Khang, the III Corps Commander, expressed the view that while there is some understandable friction between the two, it has been exaggerated by their entourages while maneuvering for position. Although the main purpose of the meeting was to reach decisions on appointments for Prime Minister and Cabinet posts, it was agreed not to decide on the appointments of Prime Minister and the civilian Cabinet posts until after October 2, by which time the Assembly should have authenticated the election.
- Thieu outlined his views of the future government which he said he expects to be inaugurated on November 1. He proposed that Cabinet Ministers be appointed on the basis of honesty and ability rather than for political or religious affiliations. He believes that if Cabinet posts were to be divided among the Hoa Hao, Cao Dai, Dai Viets, Buddhists, and Catholics it would not only create disorder but would prove to be unworkable. This is in line with the view which Ky had earlier expressed to me, i.e., that individuals appointed to Cabinet posts on the basis of such affiliations would end up working for the interests of their own organizations rather than the country as a whole. Ambassador Bui Diem expressed a somewhat similar view to me in a conversation we had last Monday. He felt that because of the limited availability of men of outstanding ability and competence the first consideration in Cabinet appointments should be given to these qualities rather than to broadening the base of the government. I expressed the view to him, as I had already done to Thieu and Ky, that these were not necessarily exclusive considerations, and I felt that weight should be given to both in order to enlist the broadest possible support of the people.
- Thieu apparently did mention at the meeting the name of Truong Thai Ton, now a special assistant to Ky (with rank of Secretary of State) and formerly Minister of Economy and Finance, as a possibility [Page 816] for the post of Prime Minister. Ky apparently still leans toward Nguyen Van Loc. I believe that while neither would be ideal Ton would not be a considerably better appointment than Loc. It was pretty well agreed that since under the Constitution General Cao Van Vien cannot fill concurrently the posts of Minister of Defense and Chief of the JGS, he will continue as Chief of the Joint Staff. General Nguyen Van Vy will be appointed Minister of Defense and General Tri, presently Minister of Information, is slated to succeed General Vy as Chief of Staff of the JGS. I think General Vy will make an excellent Defense Minister, and General Tri will be in a more appropriate and congenial post than that of Minister of Information where he has not been a success. It was further agreed that only the Ministries of Defense, RD, and Security would be held by military appointees and that the other posts would go to civilians. Thieu and Ky agreed to prepare a list of joint recommendations for Cabinet Ministers by October 2.
- As evidence of a constructive attitude on the part of the military toward the new government is the fact that Gen Cao Van Vien, Chief of the JGS, is having copies of the Constitution printed together with explanatory notes for distribution to all of the armed forces so that there will be a widespread understanding of the Constitution and the obligations of citizens, including the military, toward it.
[Here follows discussion of Senatorial and House elections, pacification, economic matters, Chieu Hoi, and casualties.]
- Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Received at 10:46 a.m. and passed to the White House. Rostow forwarded the telegram to the President on September 20. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, 8 B (1) 6/67–11/67, Bunker’s Weekly Report to President) A notation on the covering note indicates that the President saw the telegram. The telegram is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 168–175.↩
- On September 15 the Saigon Criminal Court convicted Dzu for issuing a bad check and an illegal funds transfer, previous offenses that had been held in abeyance. See The New York Times, September 16, 1967.↩
- September 13.↩