951.61/2–2552: Telegram

The Chargé in France (Bonsal) to the Department of State


5181. Rptd info Saigon 295, London unnumbered. This evening’s Paris-Presse on front page and Le Monde on back page carry account [Page 38] Letourneau press conference Saigon as reported by Associated Press, in which Letourneau quoted by Paris-Presse as saying “France wld not refuse to negotiate with Viet Minh but it will not take first step” and by Le Monde saying “France wld not refuse to talk with Viet Minh but wld take first step under no circumstances”.1

FonOff officials in charge Asian affairs are astonished that Letourneau wld make any such statement and point out, as does Le Monde in bracketed portion at end its story, that, if Letourneaus statements confirmed, they wld denote marked change in positions set forth by him upon arrival at Saigon that French Govt in event Korean armistice wld be disposed to seize occasion examine possibilities general settlement Far Eastern questions but there was no question negotiating with Ho Chi-minh.

One FonOff official says that Foreign Minister Schuman’s statement at Toulouse in January was subject considerable discussion in Council Ministers at that time during which it was made clear that Council Ministers opposed negotiations with Ho Chi-minh. This official also points out that Letourneau, if he made such statement, cld not have chosen worse moment when governmental and financial crises here accompanied by withdrawal from Hoa Binh. He points out that Hoa Binh evacuation may cause difficulties in National Assembly even though it was wise military move and in no sense disastrous defeat like Langson and Caobang. He adds that FonOff impression was that Letourneau was one of stoutest defenders of thesis France must and cld hold in IC and withdrawal out of question. This thesis, he says, is given added support by findings of recent National Assembly mission to IC and he hopes that comprehensive composition of this mission will enable its findings, which were generally optimistic regarding French ability hold in IC, assist in allaying any apprehension in National Assembly re Hoa Binh evacuation. He states that mission members were fully aware reason for original operation take Hoa Binh and that they were also aware that its seizure had not cut supply line from Chinese Communists to Viet Minh, which now maintained by army coolies not dependent on main routes.

FonOff also informs us Ministry Associated States completely in dark re statement attributed to Letourneau and that high-ranking Ministry Associated States official also expresses surprise re statement.

  1. In despatch 434 from Saigon, Mar. 6, not printed, the Legation transmitted translations of the official press release covering the press conference given by Associated States Minister Letourneau in Saigon on Feb. 25. (751G.00/3–652)