Memorandum of Conversation, by the Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs (MacArthur)

Participants: The French Ambassador
Mr. MacArthur, Chief, WE

Ambassador Bonnet asked me to lunch alone with him today “to renew contact” following my return to the Department for duty. After [Page 31] a general dissertation on internal political and economic conditions in France the Ambassador changed the subject to Indochina, stating that he would be glad to hear my views on the situation there.

I replied that having been in Belgium for the last nine months and only having returned to the Department laist week I was not conversant with the latest developments in Indochina, but that nonetheless I would be very glad to give him my personal views on this very critical subject and that I would speak with complete frankness. I said that my impression, after having been in Washington ten days, was that there is a strong current of informed American opinion which believes that the French have in general followed a policy of “too little and too late” in their dealings with the Indochinese Nationalists and that specifically such concessions as France finally made in the agreements of March 8, 1949 would probably not be enough to rally sufficient support for Bao-Dai to enable him to successfully oppose the efforts of the Ho Chi Minh faction from taking over the country. While this might well be true, I realized that given the circumstances the French Government would not reopen negotiations with Bao-Dai even if we pressed them to do so, and therefore I would not argue the merits or demerits of the March 8 Agreements. The point I did wish to make very strongly was that in my opinion if the French did not rapidly ratify the Agreements and then interpret and implement them in the most liberal manner possible the Bao-Dai solution was doomed to failure since at best his chances of success hardly appeared to be 50–50. The essential is, therefore, that the French move with all possible speed to ratify the March 8 agreements and then act in such a way that the Vietnam Nationalists may be persuaded that at last France is embarking on a more liberal policy which holds the possibility of further evolution.

I concluded by stating that I was concerned by the views held in certain French circles that the United States would pour all sorts of aid into Indochina at the last minute to prevent the country from being taken over by the Communists. This view, together with another idea held by certain French to the effect that possible future military aid under the Military Assistance Program if voted would enable France to try to seek a military solution against the Vietnam, was both dangerous and fallacious.

Ambassador Bonnet said that he was glad I had spoken to him so frankly. He thought I might be unduly concerned about the French dragging their feet on ratifying the March 8 agreements, since during his recent visit to Paris he had been told that the Government intended to move rapidly. He said that the successful conclusion of the debate on Cochin-China indicated that the French realized speed was essential.

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I asked him if he had any information on when the Assembly would vote on the March 8 Agreements. He replied in the negative but added that he would send a telegram to Paris reiterating the urgency of the matter and inquiring when Parliamentary action would be taken.

He concluded by saying that the United States and France had the same interest in seeing that Indochina was not taken over by the Communists; that the Bao-Dai solution was the only non-communist solution in sight; and that therefore when the Agreements were ratified he hoped not only that we would not criticize them “as this would cut the ground from under Bao-Dai’s feet” but that eventually we might “be able to do something” showing approval.

I replied that what we would or would not be able to do appeared to depend almost entirely on the speed with which the French acted and on their own efforts to strengthen Bao-Dai by a sincere, far-reaching and liberal interpretation of the March 8 Agreements.