259. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to Vietnam (Martin) to the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Scowcroft)1

736. 1. This message confirms my rather elliptical telephone conversation of a few moments ago. Late last evening, President Huong said that he was concerned about the safety of former President Thieu. [Page 902]He appeared aware, in a general way, of the information we have had several times that elements in the VNAF extremely critical of Thieu and Khiem have said that they would not get out of the country alive. We are aware that they have been watching the plane that would normally be used for GVN VIP flights abroad.

2. He, therefore, asked our assistance in assisting Thieu to very quietly depart the country as soon as possible. I said I was certain we could arrange this.

3. Huong said that he was going to designate both Thieu and Khiem as Ambassadors at Large and send them to Taipei on the ostensible mission of expressing his personal condolences on the death of Chiang Kai-shek. I gather this has all been arranged with the Chinese.

4. President Huong was insistent that Thieu be out of the country before he made his final decision on the transference of power to Big Minh. Since we have a very great interest indeed in a smooth transition I took the liberty of agreeing to facilitate their departure.

5. I have arranged with Gen. Hunt in NKP to have their C–118 available here this evening. We will also arrange with the utmost discretion for a very quick loading and departure of Thieu and Khiem. We have given this some thought and we are certain that it can be done so quickly that the plane will be well out of range before there could be any interference with its departure. I have assumed from previous messages that we would do whatever we could to assist in the facilitating the transfer and also facilitating safe departure from the country of both Thieu and Khiem. Unless I hear from you to the contrary immediately, we will proceed along the lines I have described above. No additional action needed from you at this stage unless someone raises question about the plane through military channels, which I think is unlikely.2

6. We have succeeded in our gamble to provide a succession which will give the facade of the same legal transfer that occurred from Thieu to Huong. Big Minh has finally agreed to be present at transfer ceremony. I am sure now that the President will agree. We will have the appearance of a legal transfer which should add greatly to the preservation of stability in Saigon. The Chairman of the JGS, Gen. Vien, and Gen. Binh, the police chief, have both promised Big Minh to strictly preserve the capital from all disorder.

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7. My definite impression is that there will be no interference with our continuing air lift which will proceed full steam over the weekend. Hopefully the transfer ceremonies will take place tomorrow as I have requested and I will file another cable later in the day elaborating on the intricate maneuvers which have gone on to bring this about in a peaceful orderly way.

8. Events have validated what I have felt all along—that as long as progress could be made, we really could count on the DRV desire for a peaceful evolution insofar as the transfer of power under present circumstances are concerned to avoid massive attack on Saigon. I do hope that you can exercise massive restraint on our military friends, both in Washington and Hawaii, for the next 48 hours or so.

9. Warm regards.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Backchannel Messages, Box 3, Martin Channel, April 1975, Incoming (3). Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only; Flash. Sent with the instruction: “Delivery immediately.”
  2. In backchannel message 738 from Saigon, April 25, Martin wrote: “At 9:20 this evening a C–118, tail number 231, took off from Tan Son Nhut with former President Thieu and former Prime Minister Khiem aboard. They were headed for Taipei where Thieu’s brother is the GVN Ambassador. The operation went quite smoothly. I escorted them onto the plane and I think their absence will reduce the flap potential here somewhat.” (Ibid.)