Memorandum of Conversation, by the Ambassador in Siam (Stanton)
[Received March 22.]
M. Gilbert1 called and after some discussion regarding the Siamese political situation said that he had recently been approached by an emissary from the representative of the Viet Nam Government in Bangkok who propounded the following questions:
- Is Bao Dai2 the only channel through which the Viet Nam Government can carry on political discussions with the French Government?
- Would the High Commissioner, M. Bollaert, be prepared to modify the position taken by him in his speech given at Hadong on September 10, 1947?3
- Would the French object to the United States Embassy at Bangkok acting as an intermediary between the French and the Viet Nam. Government or Bao Dai?
M. Gilbert said he had transmitted these questions to his Government but thus far had received no reply. At the same time he had communicated them to the High Commissioner at Saigon. The latter had replied, in answer to the first question, that he was of the opinion that the present French Government was quite unwilling to authorize any discussions directly with Ho Chi Minh; secondly, he did not see how he could recede from the position taken by him last September; and, thirdly, he thought that the question of the United States Government acting as an intermediary was one for the French Government to decide.
M. Gilbert inquired whether we had been approached recently by the local representative of Viet Nam regarding the possibility of mediation by the United States Government. I replied in the negative but said that last year an approach had been made to the Embassy with the request that a Viet Nam petition be presented by the United States Government to the Security Council. I added that we did not undertake to forward this petition but I understood that it had been forwarded through the mail by Viet Nam representatives in Bangkok. M. Gilbert inquired whether the United States would be interested in mediating and added that it was his impression that the State Department would prefer not to be involved. I said that I did not know what the present thinking of the Department was on this subject but [Page 22] said that, as he knew, we were greatly concerned by the prolongation of hostilities in Indo-China and the serious effect which failure to bring about a settlement was having upon the economy of Indo-China. I added that we were most anxious to see a speedy settlement of the situation in the best interests of Indo-China and also of France.
My French colleague reviewed the situation in Indo-China in pessimistic terms. He said that the military campaigns had accomplished little of a lasting nature and that even the objectives which had been seized were gradually being vacated, and seemed to think that the strength of the Viet Nam forces had not been materially affected. He said that these campaigns were, of course, exceedingly costly and there was great wear and tear upon mobile equipment. He described trade and commerce as steadily diminishing and added that military operations had resulted in the loss of approximately one million tons of rice.
Turning to recent political developments, M. Gilbert said that hopes of reaching a satisfactory agreement with ex-Emperor Bao Dai were rapidly vanishing. Bao Dai, he said, was demanding more than Ho Chi Minh and in this connection recalled that shortly after he arrived in Bangkok (August, 1947) he had, through local Viet Nam representatives, received Ho Chi Minh’s demands for transmittal to the French Government. He said he learned lately that the French Cabinet had considered Ho’s proposals but were unwilling to enter into any negotiations with him. He said the present French Government was even less disposed to treat with “Ho, the Communist”. Gilbert said, however, that from a practical point of view he was convinced it would have been possible to reach an agreement with Ho who, after all, had a big following in Indo-China, on the basis of Ho’s proposals and that the French Government would have had to concede less than was now being demanded by Bao Dai. I asked him how he thought the present impasse could be resolved. He replied frankly that he did not know. He said some desultory discussions were being carried on with Bao Dai in Paris but he thought it unlikely either than [that] an agreement could be reached with Bao Dai, or, if reached, that Bao Dai had sufficient strength to implement it. He said that on the basis of his information he thought it unlikely that the members of the Viet Nam Government would be willing to place themselves under Bao Dai even in the event of the French conceding most of the demands being made by Bao Dai.
It was obvious that my French colleague was fully alive to the growing importance and necessity of bringing about termination of the present protracted and fruitless hostilities and effecting a peaceful settlement but it was equally obvious that he had little expectation that the French authorities could achieve such a settlement.
There was some discussion of the likelihood of this issue being [Page 23] raised in the United Nations. I told M. Gilbert that Dr. Thack,4 Under Secretary of the Viet Nam Government, was working busily on this possibility. Gilbert replied he was aware of Dr. Thack’s activities and of the fact that he was in India seeking to enlist the support of the Indian Government. I said I knew Dr. Thack had also discussed this possibility with the new Burmese Government, and the Burmese Government had shown such marked sympathy for the Viet Nam cause that I was reasonably certain Burma would raise this problem in the United Nations soon after she joined that Organization. M. Gilbert said he was quite prepared to believe what I had said since he had considerable information indicating that the Burmese were actually assisting the Viet Nam Government in various ways.
- Pierre-Eugène Gilbert, French Ambassador in Siam.↩
- Former Emperor of Annam, temporarily on a visit to Europe.↩
- High Commissioner Emile Bollaert offered a basis for negotiation to the Ho Chi Minh régime; for report, see telegram 290, September 11, 1947, noon, from Saigon, Foreign Relations, 1947, vol. vi, p. 134.↩
- Pham Ngoc Thach.↩