851g.00/11–148: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Caffery) to the Secretary of State


5657. Pignon1 informs us that conversations currently in progress with Bao Dai are not attempting to deal with technical details of solution Indo-China but are endeavoring to reach agreement on general principles which in future will govern Franco-Vietnam relations. He feels steady if not spectacular progress being made and if political situation in France does not deteriorate badly there is reasonable hope for successful outcome.

He does not know Bao Dai’s plans for returning Indo-China but thinks that if he does return it will be more from a “sense of duty” than for reasons personal power and prestige. He says Bao Dai has assured following at Hue and vicinity and “thousands but not millions” of adherents throughout Vietnam. While real extent his support cannot be determined until his return Pignon feels that given “enough in hand” Bao Dai could obtain popular support and over a period of time wean away large number of non-Communist nationals in ranks of Vietnam.

As to what constitutes “enough in hand” Pignon of opinion that this is not so much a question of a detailed formal treaty but rather an agreement in principle backed by full confidence on both sides in honest implementation. From Bao Dai’s point of view situation has improved recently by clear elimination possibility Communist participation in French Government and by resolution on Indo-China recently approved by National Council of RPF. While latter leaves much to be desired it is in general agreement with solution now being [Page 53] sought, permits hesitant UDSR and radicals to support government policy and largely eliminates threat of Gaullist government renouncing solution reached by present government. On other hand there remains for the French old problem Bao Dai’s ability to form government composed of truly nationalist personalities attracting popular support and capable and determined to govern.

While time element important and French seriously concerned lest further deterioration of situation in China make a solution in Indo-China doubtful if not impossible, Pignon considers it would be a disastrous tactical mistake to present Bao Dai with a time ultimatum. He feels however that Bao Dai well aware that if he is to return he cannot, indefinitely postpone his decision.

Pignon states French have been aware for some months that Viet-minh facing difficulties arising from differences of opinion in government, concern over continued existence and even stirrings of life in Xuan government and, most important, definite signs of disaffection in ranks of Vietminh troops who are beginning to become aware of possibility that Bao Dai may be able to achieve more towards realization their nationalist aspirations than Ho.

Pignon considers recent rumors of Ho stepping down and revamping his government (Embtel 5465, October 192) a trial balloon to feel out reaction in France and Indo-China. Same holds true of Danh, press conference (Embassy air gram 1222, October 292) which also intended to remind Socialists “who have been a little forgetful” of their advocacy of negotiations with Ho.

Regarding formal ratification Bay of Along agreements, Pignon of opinion that time is not ripe. He is convinced that if government can go to Assembly with a definite policy for Indo-China and with an agreement with Bao Dai there will be little difficulty in obtaining a positive approval by Assembly of Bay of Along agreement and enactment of legislation (such as change status Cochinchina) necessary for implementation agreement with Bao Dai. He does not foresee possibility of government voluntarily agreeing to Assembly debate on Indo-China under any other circumstances.

Department pass Saigon.3

  1. Léon Pignon succeeded Émile Bollaert as French High Commissioner in Indo-china on October 20 and arrived at Saigon on November 18.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Not printed.
  4. This was done the same day.