The Consul General at Saigon (Abbott) to the Secretary of State
67. At suggestion Ambassador Jessup am furnishing brief summary most important points brought out in conversations he had with French and Vietnam officials.
Pignon stressed particularly strategic importance Vietnam in SEA and fact that French troops IC only military force of importance in entire area. French accordingly feel it is of interest to US and other western powers to assist France both militarily and politically. Pignon, General Carpentier,1 General Alessandri2 all stressed that task French troops to defend IC against international Communism as personified by Chinese Communist and not reconquest IC. No specific [Page 706]request for military assistance submitted but General Carpentier described his equipment particularly transport as dating from 1943 and 1944 practically worn out.
Political help desired is recognition Bao Dai and clear indication from US that aggression against IC will not be permitted. General Carpentier in private conversation emphasized that flower of French Army in IC instead of on Rhine and that losses are serious at current rate officer casualties equivalent to number graduated annually from St. Cyr. Mentioned growing dissatisfaction of French public opinion with cost in men and money of IC campaign and resentment of lack of understanding and sympathy for French sacrifices on part US.
In commenting on Ambassador Jessup’s exposé of American policy (largely based on Deptel 25 January 20) Pignon said ratification accords in process transfer Indochina affairs out of MOF supported by him and he believed in process of implementation. Announcement re evolutionary nature French policy IC would be difficult because of internal French political situation. Moreover he could see certain disadvantages such statement at this time. He feared it would bring forth new wave of demands from Vietnamese when what was needed was to get down to work and put present agreements into effect. He recognized frankly that further concessions would have to and should be made at some future date.
Carpentier announced that on February 15 Hatien and Rachgia provinces would be turned over to Vietnam Government for pacification in same manner Cambodian provinces turned over last fall. Admitted that these were the two areas where Vietminh strongest but said this would be all the better test of oft repeated Vietnam contention that only thing preventing pacification was continued presence French troops.
In final conversation with Pignon he stressed seriousness Chinese threat and his feeling there remained only few weeks and perhaps only days for western powers to coordinate policy if serious and perhaps disastrous developments to be avoided. This statement and tone it was made in was in sharp contrast to Pignon’s usual optimistic and unsensational manner.
Question of establishing Vietnam army and particularly supply of arms therefore figured prominently in conversations with Bao Dai Nguyen Phan Long3 and Governors Huu4 Giao5 and Tri.6 Fundamental problem is supply of officers and NCO’s. Vietnamese admitted they lack trained men but claim for political psychological reasons they hesitate accept French cadres. French unwilling to supply arms for new units unless certain percentage Foreign officers [Page 707]accepted for period till Vietnam cadres can be trained. One school in operation Hue and another opening Hanoi next month. Specific request for American arms and American military mission contained in long memo furnished Ambassador Jessup by Bao Dai the summary of which under preparation.7 Bao Dai did not insist on this point when Ambassador pointed out difficulties. Nguyen Phan Long spoke particularly of need for light arms for village militia in liberated areas as did Governor Tri.
Bao Dai claimed great bulk of non-Communist nationalists had decided in his favor but were waiting for ratification March 8 agreements international recognition and indication that he was strong enough to protect them from both Communist and French. Claims Ho Chi Minh bad received instructions to infiltrate his government at all costs and for this reason he must be extremely cautious in his dealings with resistance. Bao Dai made it clear that he would not deal with Ho Chi Minh or his Communist associates under any circumstances since he was aware of their complete subordination to Moscow from period when he was in close association with Ho immediately following his abdication (which he admitted was voluntary).
Both French and Vietnamese were highly optimistic regarding pacification of Cochinchina. (Nguyen Phan Long spoke of completion in six months.) Also agreed that expulsion Vietminh forces from Tonkin delta nearing completion but Governor Tri worried over relief and reconstruction problem devastated areas taken over (all agreed situation in north Annam bad). French blamed it on ineptitude Governor Giao. Latter blames refusal French to furnish him sufficient arms of good quality.
Reception of Ambassador Jessup extremely impressive and enthusiastic and believe visit has greatly boosted prestige Bao Dai.
Sent Department 67; Department pass Paris 33.
- Gen. Marcel Carpentier, Commander in Chief of French Forces in Indochina.↩
- Gen. Marcel Alessandri, Commander of French Forces in Tonkin.↩
- Prime Minister of Viet-Nam.↩
- Tran Van Huu, Governor of Cochin China.↩
- Phan Van Giao, Governor of Central Viet-Nam.↩
- Nguyen Huu Tri, Governor of Tonkin.↩
- See telegram 69 from Saigon, infra.↩