The Ambassador in France (Bruce) to the Secretary of State
620. Couve de Murville1 yesterday asked Bohlen2 to come to see him in order to give him some further details concerning French thinking in regard to general situation in Indochina with particular reference to forthcoming requests from French Government for the views of and consultation with British and American Governments reported in Embassy’s 521, February 2 on this subject.3
Couve first said that he was speaking in personal capacity since there was governmental crisis and Mr. Schuman was ill. He said it seems to be the general consensus of French official opinion that the Russians would not have recognized Ho Chi Minh with all the possible consequences diplomatically and politically unless they intended to do what they could within limits to insure his success in Indochina, that this meant in all probability a considerable increase in military assistance to Ho via or by the Chinese Communists. Couve stated that if this should prove to be the case, it was possible that France would find it very difficult to continue to hold the fort in Indochina [Page 723]alone. It was, therefore, their view that the time had urgently come to regard the situation in Indochina not purely from point of view of France but from point of view of its relationship to the entire Asiatic and world situation in the struggle against Soviet Communism. It was with this in mind that French Government intended approaching British and US Governments with view to tripartite consultations and review of entire situation in respect of Indochina. He emphasized it was not a question of some limited aid in military equipment and matériel under MDA program but rather the larger aspects of the problem, political, economic and military, created by the new turn in the Indochinese situation. He said he would welcome any ideas that US Government might have as to best procedure in bringing about some such consultations before the official approach was made, whether in our view such consultations could best take place in Washington or elsewhere and in what form.
He was told that this informal inquiry would be transmitted to Washington and we would inform him of the reply. Bohlen told him that, of course, this was an extremely serious matter and one which would require the most careful consideration on part of US Government because of the far-reaching implications, not only on the situation in Indochina and also Southeast Asia but its effect upon the general strategy of the occidental powers in the present world situation.
This conversation with Couve de Murville, although informal and personal, as he was careful to characterize it, nevertheless, provides a measure of one type of French thinking in regard to the present situation in Indochina, namely, that the situation has ceased to be a matter of concern only or primarily to France but to the entire occidental camp; in particular, the US and UK. His hint of French difficulty in going it alone should, in our view, be regarded as primarily a means of impressing upon us the urgency of the situation in light of possible developments and probably as a means of stimulating increased US military and other assistance in Indochina. There have been no signs that French policy is in process of undergoing any change as result of Russian action although obviously it is clear that their margin is not great in Indochina and an all-out attack by the Chinese Communists or major assistance to Ho could well render their position untenable.
Since the French intend to make a definite official proposal for an exchange of views with the US and UK, if the Department has any views as to what type of approach or suggestion as to time or place of such consultation would be preferable from the French, we can informally pass them on to the Foreign Office.