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

6934. Ref: Saigon 6624.2

1.
I saw Thieu this morning (September 26) primarily to discuss with him our concern over the situation in the National Assembly with respect to the forthcoming vote on the validation of the Presidential elections. I told him that I had heard disturbing reports of division in the Assembly and mentioned that a number of Vietnamese had expressed concern to me and members of my staff over the possibility that the Assembly would vote against validation. I mentioned specifically the reports that the Democratic Alliance Bloc, which has been the government bloc in the Assembly and responsive to Ky, was split on this issue and might throw enough votes against validation to decide the issue.
2.
I emphasized to Thieu that he and Ky together have a great responsibility to be sure that the Assembly acts in a responsible manner. I reminded him that U.S. reaction to invalidation would be most adverse and could in fact create major difficulties for continued U.S. support for Viet-Nam.
3.
Thieu said that he was well aware of all of this and that he has been working on the problem and Ky has been working on it also. Thieu said that he saw Le Quang Liem of the Democratic Alliance Bloc yesterday and told him frankly that it is absolutely essential that the Assembly validate the elections. If it should fail to do so people would lose confidence in elections and indeed it would be uncertain whether elections would be held for a long time again. He said he emphasized to Liem that it was not a question of individuals but a question of preserving and continuing the progress that has been made here in the promotion of democratic institutions. Liem told Thieu that he believes the majority of the Assembly will vote for validation. Thieu emphasized a simple majority is not enough, there must be an impressive majority to affirm support of the elections. Thieu said that he was also going to talk to Security Minister General Linh Quang Vien later in the [Page 832]day to check up on all the National Assembly members and where they stood as individuals on the vote.
4.
Thieu said that he plans today to see Colonel Dam Van Quy of the DAB and Nguyen Thien Nhon, a PAC member and insider of Ky’s civilian entourage. He said that Quy and Nhon had both been reported to be active in stirring up the students to denounce the elections and he intends to warn them of the dangers of continuing such activities. He cited Le Phuoc Sang as possibly the prime troublemaker in the Democratic Alliance Bloc. Ky told Thieu that Sang was angry at him (Ky) for failing to support his Senatorial list during the election.
5.
Thieu repeated that he is keeping in close touch with Ky on this whole matter and he thinks that the vote will come out all right.3 The Movement for the Renaissance of the South (MRS) bloc has been against validation but has now switched their position and he believes that they will vote for validation. He also thinks the independents are going to be smart enough to understand that the issue is not one of individuals but of the fate of the nation. Also most encouraging is the report of the Central Election Council which has reported to the Special Committee of the National Assembly that none of the complaints filed with it have been substantiated. One important question not yet resolved however is the manner in which the Assembly will vote, that is by secret ballot, show of hands, or roll call. Thieu feels it most important that the vote be public so that each man will be publicly responsible for his vote.
6.
I turned then to the question of what progress he is making toward formation of the Cabinet. Thieu said that he still plans to announce his Cabinet shortly after the Senate is installed which he thinks will be October 5 or 6. He hopes by October 15 to have the new members working as a shadow Cabinet so that they can get familiar with their jobs and be ready to move into them by November 1.
7.
Thieu said that he was still working on the question of Prime Minister and that at present he had under consideration Nguyen Luu Vien, Tran Van Do, Nguyen Huu Hanh, and Nguyen Van Tuong of the [Page 833]SCA. However, Thieu said, Ky has indicated to him that as a matter of personal pride and prestige he would like very much to have Nguyen Van Loc appointed as Prime Minister and indicated that if this should not work out after three to six months Thieu could of course replace him. Thieu said that the Generals also would like to have him take Ky’s feeling in this matter into consideration. Thieu recognizes that Ky has been affected by being placed in position of No. 2 and giving in to him on the Loc appointment might help. Thieu said he recognizes also that it is essential that he have good relations with Ky, that they must work together and this might be beneficial in this regard.
8.
I emphasized my full agreement with him on how essential it is that he and Ky have a good working relationship. I said that I thought this more important even than the question of who was Prime Minister, that I felt they must have a workable relationship and if he felt that the Loc appointment was necessary in order for him to achieve this relationship then we would be sympathetic to his problem.
9.
Thieu said that he was giving it very serious thought. He said after all Loc is Southern, he is a Buddhist and though not an outstanding lawyer, he is honest, had presided skillfully over the People’s Army Council and should be able to work well with the National Assembly. Thieu recognized that if he makes such an appointment he runs the risk of being accused of giving in to Ky but I have a feeling that he will be willing to accept this if it will bring about an effective working relationship with Ky.
10.
Thieu thanked me for the draft platform memo which I had sent to him (reftel). He said he liked it and had sent it on to his “brain trust” asking them to incorporate the ideas into the draft of his own platform.
11.
Briefly at the end of our discussion I took up with Thieu the question of Communications and Transportation Minister Truong Van Thuan. I reviewed for him quickly the question of the Caribous for PA&E still on the ground in Bangkok, the possible purchase of the Caravelles for Air Viet-Nam, the granting of overflight rights to Air France between Phnom Penh and Shanghai and the squeeze that Thuan is trying to put on us in general in connection with Continental Air. I said that we considered the man corrupt and extremely unreliable to work with. Thieu appeared to agree fully. He said that there is no question Thuan is corrupt and he will be the first man in the present government to go.
Bunker
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 VIET S. Secret; Priority; Exdis. There is no indication on the telegram when it was received.
  2. In telegram 6624 from Saigon, September 22, Bunker reported on a meeting with Thieu on that date in which they discussed the selection of a Prime Minister and development of an action program for the new government, including various measures such as the enforcement of land reform. (Ibid.)
  3. In telegram 7060 from Saigon, September 27 (Bunker’s 22d weekly telegram to the President), Bunker reported that he had seen Ky later that day. The Prime Minister vowed to ensure that his DAB supporters would vote for validation of the elections. (Ibid., POL 27 VIET S) also reported in telegram 7051, September 27; ibid., POL 15–1 VIET S) Bunker’s weekly report is printed in full in Pike, The Bunker Papers, pp. 176–184. An INR memorandum entitled “Validation of the South Vietnamese Elections Likely But Impact Questionable,” September 27, suggested that the DAB’s opposition was due to “inadequate financial backing” from Ky and was a way for the Prime Minister to extract concessions from the President-elect for himself and members of the DAB. As a counter-measure, Thieu was attempting to bribe some of its membership. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 VIET S) On October 3 the Constituent Assembly voted 58 to 43 to validate the election results.