Document 11. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State (1)

Saigon, February 3, 1965, 1 p.m.

2382. General Huynh Van Cao came to see Alex Johnson at his residence yesterday evening. During course two-hour conversation, Cao said that General Khanh plans to make heavy play this weekend to have himself selected as Chief of State and that Cao is now convinced that if Khanh is successful he plans to lead country toward negotiation with Liberation Front and a neutralist solution, Khanh envisaging himself as the "Sihanouk" of SVN.

Cao said that the script calls for a meeting on Thursday, February 4, of Khanh's nominees for the Military-Civilian Council to lay out his plans for the council and attempt to persuade many nominees who were still hesitant to serve. (He said Khanh has offered Le Van Hoach the presidency of the council.) Khanh has called a meeting of all members of the Armed Forces Council for 9:00 a.m. Friday, February 5 (Johnson noted this was same hour Khanh has given for appointment with Mac Bundy) at which he will seek to obtain AFC approval for him to assume position of Chief of State. Having obtained AFC approval, the military members of the Military-Civilian Council will, as soon as the council has formed itself and agreed to assume charter functions of former High National Council inform Military-Civilian Council of AFC decision and ask for council approval under terms of charter.

Cao said he is convinced Khanh is already in touch "with Communists", possibly through his brother-in-law Tuoc, and unless USG took firm stand he could well be successful in carrying out plan. He said that while Khanh no longer had any real support in AFC (Cao named Dong, Commander of Airborne; Tho, Commander of Armored; and Khang, Commander of Marines, as Khanh's only real support) and generals realized the dangers, Khanh would, as he has in the past, be able to carry the day in large meeting of AFC where there is no organized opposition and generals not categorically certain of USG position. Therefore if USG wanted to stop this development important its position be made discreetly known to generals.

Cao said his conviction that Khanh in alliance with Buddhists and plan to lead country to neutralism reinforced by long lecture which Khanh had Tuoc deliver to generals at Vung Tau this past Sunday morning. It came out during lecture that Tuoc had apparently visited some Eastern European states during his trip and burden of his remarks was that primary US interest and concern was in Europe, there was growing opposition in US to involvement in Vietnam, etc., so that likely US would withdraw shortly and thus Vietnamese must now move to stand on their own feet. In response to Johnson's question as to what would have been Khanh's attitude on January 27 coup if US had threatened to withdraw support, Cao said Khanh would have "welcomed" this as this would facilitate his plans for SVN.

Johnson made no commitments pointing out difficulties of USG intervening directly with generals and saying that generals having ostensibly supported moves Khanh had been making which have led to present situation, it was up to generals to seek to resolve them, not to seek to shift responsibility to others.

Cao has been accurate reporter in past, giving us through Westmoreland first definite information on January 27 coup and information he gave to Johnson on January 29 on withdrawal Buddhist Institute commitments has also now been confirmed by other sources (FVS-11286). (2) We are urgently seeking through selected other generals confirmation that AFC meeting called for Friday morning and anything that we can gather on their knowledge of Khanh's intentions.

Comments and recommendations follow.

Taylor


Footnotes:

(1) Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 15 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Repeated to the White House, CIA, DOD, and CINCPAC for McGeorge Bundy. Received in the Department of State at 2:58 a.m.

(2) The same as TDCS DB-315/00350-65, February 2, which reported the decisions and discussion at the Armed Forces Council meeting on January 31 as described by Brigadier General Pham Van Dong, Commander of the Capital Military District. (Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Vietnam, Vol. XXVII)

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