601.5151G/2–2452: Telegram

The Minister at Saigon (Heath) to the Department of State


1670. Rptd info Paris 587, Hanoi unn. At special briefing held evening Feb 22 at High Commissariat for me, Gen Brink1 and Tobler, acting director STEM, Gen Salan reviewed mil situation and Letourneau summarized over-all situation Assoc States. Salan’s comments being transmitted by despatch.2

Gist Letourneau’s remarks as fol:3

Death De Lattre had given rise to uneasiness, particularly among Viets regarding Fr plans and intentions. He had come to Assoc States to answer questions with view to allaying doubt as well as get firsthand knowledge present situation. He found mil situation still worrisome but presently in hand. He thanked US for aid which had helped bring this about.

Vital question was development Viets army regarding which there are two major problems: (1) source of funds and (2) senior and staff officers and specialists. He had told Viets Govt Fr willing initially shoulder major share Viets mil expenses but Viets Govt must rapidly assume increasing share burden. Viets obviously not anxious assume heavier financial responsibility. No difficulty getting sufficient Viets manpower for ranks and company grade officers but dearth qualified senior and staff officers and specialists serious Lacuna. Reluctance Viets have Fr officers provisionally fill post and their obsession with having Viets occupy all positions is major stumbling block. Fr Commander-in-Chief naturally cld not rely upon inexperienced and untried Viets. Gen Salan had expressed willingness give training to promising officers but Viets impatient to have their people in top brackets. On whole, Letourneau optimistic regarding Viets forces, but time of essence as northern Vietnam campaign proved evidence [Page 37] of increasing Chi training and material assistance, including heavier armaments.

Pacification cannot be accomplished by Fr without energetic cooperation Viets. Especially important, and presently lacking, is strong, efficient Viets admin and police machinery to take control in areas regained from VM and take advantage of population fatigue under VM exactions. This, of course, only one facet larger problem stimulation leadership and vigorousness Viets Govt.

Letourneau referred to strong sentiment in France, particularly in parliamentary circles, which questions policy sacrificing Fr manpower and wealth on country which manifests desire expell Fr. Asserted he told Bao Dai willingness France continue mil effort depends on (1) Viets Govt vigorously shouldering its polit, admin, and fin responsibilities and (2) abandoning present carping attitude of demanding ever more concessions.

Viets Govt shld devote efforts now expended on building up external prestige to improvement internal admin. Letourneau considers Fr Union formula valid and major revision inappropriate, altho minor adjustments might be negotiated discretely. He remarked France’s capabilities limited and that when exhausted, France’s “friends” wld have to come to rescue otherwise chaos wld ensue. He did not specify type of “rescue” envisioned.

He then made rather surprising statement on which I did not comment. He said even if peace were restored the “presence Francaise” in IC shld still be supported by its friends (US) for if Fr were eliminated results wld be anarchy.

No polit problem in Laos but in Cambodia elections had stimulated rising tide nationalistic tub-thumpings. He had reminded Cambodians that unless more realistic attitude adopted Cambodians inviting Communist takeover.

Comment: Main theme of Letourneau’s able presentation was that key to improvement of situation is Viets Govt facing up to its responsibilities. When I enquired in what way US might help in this respect, Letourneau made no specific suggestions but said that High Commissioner wld naturally keep in closest touch with me.

While Letourneau alluded to Fr weariness with Assoc States mil burden he in general reflected determination France stick to guns both with respect to VM and Viets demands for greater freedom. His reference to validity of Fr Union formula wld suggest he will not recommend significant additional concessions to Viets nationalistic aspirations.

  1. Brigadier General Francis G. Brink, Chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group at Saigon.
  2. Despatch 416 from Saigon, Feb. 26, p. 40.
  3. Despatch 429 from Saigon, Mar. 3, not printed, contains a memorandum of conversation supplementing the account contained in this telegram. (751G.00/3–352)