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.