396.1 BE/1–2754

No. 358
Memorandum by the Counselor of the Department of State (MacArthur) of a Luncheon Meeting, Berlin, January 26, 1954, 1 p.m.1

  • Participants: Secretary Dulles
  • M. Bidault
  • M. Eden
  • M. MacArthur

At luncheon on January 26th there was discussion among Secretary Dulles, Mr. Eden, and Mr. Bidault of the Soviet proposal for a five-power conference.2 M. Bidault said that despite serious problems with French public opinion he would stand absolutely firm in opposition to a five-power conference as proposed by the Soviets. He said, however, that if the Soviets subsequently came up with alternatives, particularly an alternative of calling such a conference for the sake of considering questions concerning Southeast Asia, the French would in all probability be obliged to accept.

Secretary Dulles said he understood that if the Soviets proposed a conference dealing with Indochina, the French might feel they had to accept. If, after weighing all aspects of such a possibility, the French decided such a conference was in their own best interest, the United States could not prevent them from accepting it. However, the Secretary said he did not see how a conference dealing with Indochina could be a five-power conference since he assumed that the Associated States would also participate.

M. Bidault said that if the Associated States participated in such a conference, the Vietminh would have to participate, and this would inflate the prestige of the Vietminh and give it the status of a government which was accepted at least as a de facto government. Therefore, M. Bidault had been toying with the idea of trying to get a proxy of some sort from the Associated States to represent them at the conference so that Ho Chi Minh would have no pretext for attending. M. Bidault indicated that he was still turning this possibility over in his mind and had made no decisions with respect to it.

The conversation then turned to the tactics to be followed by the three Western Powers in the meeting with Molotov about an hour later.

[Page 823]

Following the close of the quadripartite meeting this afternoon3 Secretary Dulles requested Mr. MacArthur to get word to the French that if they accepted a five-power conference on Southeast Asia and Indochina, they should bear in mind that the question of whether the United States could participate in such a conference was extremely dubious to say the least; furthermore, that if a conference on Indochina were held without the participation of the Associated States where France purported to speak for them, this would obviously be interpreted as indicating that the Associated States were not free and independent and that the French Declaration of July 34 was without real meaning. Finally, Mr. MacArthur should make clear to the French that if they got involved in negotiations and talks relating to a five-power conference, there might be an extremely adverse effect on the morale and will of the three Associated States and their peoples, who might somehow think France was in the process of negotiating their turn-over to Ho Chi Minh. Any such development which led to a deterioration of the military situation would be a cause for grave concern to the United States, which was pouring hundreds of millions of dollars of treasure and resources into the Indochinese war.

On the morning of January 27 Mr. MacArthur conveyed the foregoing to M. Roland de Margerie. M. de Margerie said he would pass the comments to M. Bidault at once. However, he could give the most firm and categoric assurances that M. Bidault did not have in mind side-tracking or by-passing the Associated States. He said M. Bidault was convinced the Associated States must participate in any negotiations relating to the future of Indochina. The question is whether they would prefer to participate directly, and thus enable Ho Chi Minh to appear at the conference table and have de facto recognition, or whether they would prefer to have France negotiating in their behalf, which would enable the exclusion of Ho from the conference table. Furthermore, M. de Margerie said M. Bidault had reached no firm decisions; that no negotiations of any kind had been decided upon; and that M. Bidault’s thinking is still hypothetical.

M. de Margerie then said Bidault was under violent attack in the French Parliament because of the developments in North Africa. Bidault’s Indochina policy, which involves remaining in Indochina and endeavoring to gain a position of greater strength from which future negotiations might be possible, was being strongly criticized. [Page 824] French parliamentarians were saying that if France had gotten out of Indochina last summer or autumn and had concentrated their strength in North Africa, Spain would not have dared to create the recent difficulties with respect to Morocco.5 De Margerie said these arguments made no sense at all, but nonetheless French North Africa was an highly emotional subject with the French and in their dismay at the recent developments instigated by Spain they were looking everywhere for someone to pin the blame on. In this case, they were trying to fix the blame on Bidault.

  1. Drafted on January 27. For a further report on this luncheon, see Dulte 6, Document 362.
  2. Regarding the Soviet proposal for a five-power conference, see Secto 17, Document 355.
  3. For a report on the second meeting of the Berlin Conference, see Secto 29, infra.
  4. The French Declaration of July 3, 1953, offered the three Associated States simultaneous but separate negotiations for a review of their status in the French Union.
  5. At the close of 1953 Spain had refused to recognize the new Sultan of Morocco who would normally have had religious and secular powers in Spanish Morocco as well as French Morocco.