7510.5/3–1851: Telegram

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

top secret

5509. Embtel 538 [5380], Mar 14 and Deptel 4820 Mar 15 (rptd Saigon 354 and 1188).1 De Lattre came for lunch Mar 17 directly from Natl Def Comite mtg. In atmosphere of utmost cordiality during tea hour conversation De Lattre gave resume military situation (see Embtel 5504, Mar 17, rptd Saigon 360) and Vietnamese internal questions much along lines Saigon tels 1603 and 1604 Mar 11 (rptd Paris 683 and 684)2 and discussed these and other Indochina problems with considerable frankness.

De Lattre did not give account of Natl Def Comite mtg and did not state definitely he wld obtain reinforcements requested but did seem relatively optimistic his request wld be met at least in substantial part. Technical mtgs this subj begin tomorrow.
In reply direct question he made clear real problem in relation formation Vietnam Natl Army was that of cadres and officers, that US military aid supplies were arriving in sufficient quantities and at rate sufficiently rapid enable equipping these forces and that rate [Page 405] deliveries US military aid had no relation to any delay in formation Vietnam Natl Army.
He said he had had “a little hour” morning Mar 17 with General Eisenhower who had proved “most understanding” and had promised see him again.
De Lattre gave opening which enabled me to raise question US role in Indochina by referring to Blum’s remarks to him that Amers were young nation imbued with missionary zeal for accomplishment tasks facing them and that this was spirit in which they operated in Indochina. I took opportunity to emphasize that we were concerned only with assisting French effort Indochina and De Lattre quickly stated and then reiterated that there was no misunderstanding on his part but that he did sometimes have feeling STEM was perhaps a bit “missionary” in its zeal. He denied that there were any real “suspicions” US motives. We discussed this point at some length and while his suspicions may not have been altogether dispelled, at least he may have benefited by repetition of idea US has no aims in Indochina other than those apparent to all, that of assisting in meeting Commie aggression. When reference was made to Emb conversations with Pignon in Paris in May 1950 and to understanding reached at that time with respect STEM role Indochina, De Lattre good humoredly but pointedly remarked that he was not a “Pignon”. He then launched into eulogy of US representation in Indochina, naming Heath, General Brink, Gullion, Brady and Blancke with great warmth and said that he had told Fon Min Schuman since his return here of outstanding caliber of US reps Indochina.
He appeared relatively optimistic with respect to future military developments Indochina. An important problem was that of establishment political atmosphere which wld convince attentistes and non-Commie intellectuals in Viet Minh camp that Ho Chi-minh had no chance succeed. He believed that political atmosphere of success of this kind wld play great part in solving problem and by end of year might result in bringing attentistes and Viet Minh non-Commie elite, convinced of their security, over to Bao Dai.
He said Bao Dai’s health with recurrent attacks malaria made it impossible for him to stay Saigon or Hanoi and he had to remain therefore at Dalat. He made unmistakable his conviction that there was no alternative to Bao Dai, making point that it was not a Bao Dai “experiment” but a Bao Dai “solution”. He expressed hope and belief that Governor Tri cld be persuaded to accept post Def Min within next month or so but was not complimentary of Governor Giao. He said that post Chief of Staff was in itself relatively unimportant while post Def Min was essential one in creating Vietnam Natl Army.
I did not raise with him question his visit Washington.3

In summation, I wld say that De Lattre displayed all qualities for which he is famous, being both pointed in his remarks and exhibiting most friendly attitude toward US and its reps Indochina, repeatedly emphasizing his real friendship for latter and his appreciation their assistance and understanding his problems. He apparently expects [Page 406] decision to be made regarding his request for reinforcements by middle this week and says he may not be able stay Paris as long as he intended if decision reached in view anticipated Viet Minh offensive which might come almost any day in strength.

Pass Saigon. Sent Dept 5509, repeated info Saigon 361.

  1. For text, see footnote 1, p. 402.
  2. Neither printed, but see footnote 4, p. 392 and the first footnote 2, p. 401, respectively.
  3. General de Lattre de Tassigny did not visit Washington prior to returning to Indochina.