751G.00/2–2250: Telegram

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


837. At the request of Parodi, I went over with Bohlen today to see him on the subject of Indochina.

[Page 740]

Parodi said he wished to emphasize the very major importance that the French Government attached to the memorandum submitted by Bonnet to the Secretary last night1 and to re-emphasize and expand what Couve de Murville said to Bohlen last week. He said first he wished to explain the reference which Bonnet made under instructions, although not in the memorandum, to the French intention to sound out Mao Tse-tung on the question of recognition. He said no decision in favor of recognition had been taken, but the French Government considered it wise to endeavor to ascertain what Mao’s intention might be in regard to Indochina and that possibility of such sounding had been opened up by an indirect inquiry from the Chinese Communists re possibility of importing rice from Indochina. As to substance of the memorandum, he said the French Government, after the meeting of the Cabinet and two meetings of the Defense Committee which he, Parodi, had attended, had come to the conclusion that they should set forth to the United States Government fully and frankly the extreme gravity of the situation in Indochina from French point of view as a result of recent developments and the expectation that at least increased military aid would be furnished to Ho Chi Minh from Communist China. He said the truth of the matter was that the effort in Indochina was such a drain on France that a long-term program of assistance was necessary and it was only from the United States that it could come. Otherwise, he said, it was very likely that France might be forced to reconsider her entire policy with the possible view to cutting her losses and withdrawing from Indochina. He twice repeated that as I knew from our previous conversations with the Foreign Office, no such possibility had even been considered by the French Government until the recent developments occurred. He said it was not the intention of the French Government to withdraw and actually at the moment the military situation was not too bad in Indochina, but looking into the future it was obvious to them that France could not continue indefinitely to bear this burden alone if the expected developments in regard to increased assistance to Ho Chi Minh came about. Parodi stated that in any event the French Government was confronted with necessity of reducing the present French forces in Indochina by at least 25,000 not only for budgetary reasons, but because additional men were urgently needed in connection with French national military program.

Parodi said the French fully realized that they were confronting the United States with issues of the highest policy and of the most fundamental nature and they were fully aware of the consequences that would flow from a French withdrawal from Indochina and the immediate effect upon the other countries of southeast Asia, even [Page 741] including India, and it was for these reasons that French Government had decided to place the question squarely before the United States.

He said that the full program of military assistance which French Government had in mind would be sent to the Embassy this afternoon.2 He explained that it had been divided into three sections: immediate, which would list requests which might be met from the $75 million allocated to the President for the Orient, and the other two categories for urgent but less immediate demands based on a long-term program.

Parodi referred to the Secretary’s reminder to Bonnet of the importance of a statement from the French Government that the March 8th agreements were evolutionary in character and said that in their view because of the weakness and fragility of the local governments in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, declarations of this kind would be more damaging than helpful; that it was the evolutionary process itself, rather than declarations in advance, which would help move these regimes towards greater self-government and stability, adding that it is the intention of the French Government to follow a completely evolutionary process in regard to these three governments, but they were doubtful as to the wisdom of a statement in advance.

I told Parodi that I thought it was very important for us to know very definitely what the intentions of the French Government in regard to remaining in Indochina were; that obviously our estimate of the French determination to keep on in Indochina would have a direct bearing upon our consideration of the possibility of American assistance. In this connection, since Parodi had referred to our action in Greece, we mentioned that American assistance would hardly have been given to Greece had we not had complete confidence that within limits the Greek Government was going to continue to fight; that obviously any program of external assistance was marginal in character and entirely dependent for its success upon the solidity of the base—in this case, the firmness of French policy and actions in Indochina.

Parodi said he was glad to have this observation, because they had been somewhat concerned re the best psychological method of presentation, to which I replied that it was not a question of psychology alone, it was a question of reality and steadiness of French purpose in Indochina that was at issue.

I asked him whether the political declaration to which Bonnet referred meant a tripartite declaration with England, or the United [Page 742] States alone, or US and French, to which he replied the latter in view of the time element. We emphasized to him our personal view that any such declaration could only be considered on a tripartite basis in view of the interests of Great Britain in the area and the impression of divergence between US and the British which any unilateral or even bilateral statement would create.

This telegram was delayed pending the expected receipt yesterday of the French requests which Parodi was taking in for final clearance to Schuman. These requests did not arrive yesterday and we were informed last evening that there may be some further delay. We are not sure whether this means that Schuman has somewhat different views on policy in Indochina than Parodi and Couve de Murville (since approach to us and subsequent developments have taken place in his absence). I am seeing him this afternoon and will be able to ascertain whether or not his views are in accordance with those expressed to us by Parodi.

  1. Reference is to the French aide-mémoire of February 16, not printed.
  2. The proposed program was submitted by the French on February 22 in the form of lists of military equipment desired. These lists, not printed, were transmitted by Mr. Bohlen to Assistant Secretary of State Perkins under a covering letter dated February 24. (751G.5 MAP/2–2450) This program was also submitted to the department of State by the French Embassy. French requirements were further defined in lists presented in Paris on March 22 and in Washington on March 31, neither printed. Documentation on the various French requests is located in file 751G.5 MAP.