751G.00/1–1552: Telegram

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


4203. Rptd info Saigon 268, London unn. Pass MSA. Griffin,1 accompanied by Emb officer, called on Min Assoc States Letourneau this morning. Conversation lasting better part of hour covered wide range questions, during which Min Letourneau emphasized his chief concern security French Union forces IC and gave no indication Fr Govt has in view any change in Fr policy or any new ideas about how to deal with IC problem.

In reply to Min’s query, Griffin said thing that struck him most in present IC situation, based to considerable extent on conversations with Fr officers in areas he had recently visited, was lack of interest on part Vietnamese Govt in Vietnamese people and gen apathy of people toward govt. Min agreed and said that despite Fr efforts give increasing independence to Vietnamese latter were incapable of independence. He said that if Fr withdrew tomorrow Vietminh wld be in control within 2 days. Min bemoaned lack of competent Vietnamese officials and said that almost anyone who might be appointed to important post wld within matter of months revert to same standards of official competence as that of present officials. Min was critical of Tran Van Huu’s lack of budget, his holding of four key ministerial posts and his gen inability to inspire popular support. He posed question to Griffin re desirability some kind of elected assembly and said that, [Page 17] while present perhaps not time for such action, it might be given serious consideration. He added that such assembly wld serve as check on Vietnamese Govt expenditures, which now subj only to Huu’s desires, but that assembly might create more difficulties. When Griffin referred to effectiveness of ex-governor Tri2 in reply to Min’s query re possible leadership, latter said that difficulty was that Tri was Tonkinese and wld not be effective in dealing with Cochin Chinese. He stressed traditional differences between Tonkin, Annam and Cochin China.

Min said Bao Dai was best hope but that he refused to take nec action and that Bao Dai’s chief interest now seemed to be his desire to come to France. He said that he hoped to have frank talk with Bao Dai after his arrival in IC next week, where he is proceeding at beginning of week, and said that with Griffin’s concurrence he wld like to pass onto Bao Dai substance of this conversation. Griffin agreed. Min said he expected have talk with Bao Dai’s chief of Cab De,3 whom he described as very capable and who is coming for De Lattre’s funeral ceremonies. He said that Huu had wanted to come but that this had been warded off.

Griffin explained that purpose of ECA program in Indochina had been polit in that it represented effort to build up popularity of govt, to gain public support for it and to convince people that govt had their interests at heart. Griffin said that progress [program] had not achieved its purpose because Vietnamese Govt had not utilized it effectively. Min said that Indochina problem was polit rather than milit and said that he hoped that something cld be done to improve situation.

Referring to milit situation Black River area, he said that situation was not as bad as Fr press had described it. He said that he had telephoned Fr newspapers last night to say that according official reports from Indochina Hoa Binh was not encircled and that Fr trucks still traveling along route. In answer query re French plane losses, he said 2 planes had recently been shot down and 8 returned with bullet holes. He dismissed as untrue report in yesterday’s New York Herald Tribune that Vietminh had radar-controlled anti-aircraft guns. Referring to SEA talks at Wash, he said that Juin appeared to be generally satis with results of talks but that feels Letourneau did not consider that any results cld be obtained from such talks unless they were on polit levels since milit talks always came to question of polit decision on important matters under discussion. There was agreement re importance IC to free world position in SEA and that problem was of common concern to UK, France and US. Letourneau said rather forcefully that if Commie planes appeared over Tonkin Fr wld immed [Page 18] appeal to UN on basis Chi intervention, altho he expressed some skepticism re possible UN reaction to such appeal.

There appeared to be gen agreement between Min and Griffin that present govt was not effective. Griffin pointed out that more effective govt might well be less loyal to Fr and thus create in relations with France more difficulties while gaining popular support in process. Letourneau agreed but did not elaborate. Gen impression gained from conversation is that Letourneau has no fixed plans or ideas about what he expects to do after arrival IC except that he apparently expects to have very frank talk with Bao Dai with view urging Bao Dai assert his authority more forcefully and effectively. There might be read into this implication that Huu may be replaced but Letourneau gave no indication of possible successor altho he did praise Security Min Tam.4

Throughout conversation Griffin, referring to desirability some step which wld have dramatic effect in rallying support to Vietnamese Govt, left opening for Min to make some suggestion. While latter agreed this desirable, he did not pursue subj and gave no indication Fr thinking along such line.

Griffin has seen tel and concurs.

  1. R. Allen Griffin, Director of the Far East Program Division, Economic Cooperation Administration, 1950–1951. As ECA Special Far East Representative, Griffin visited Indochina and other East Asian areas in late 1951, subsequently visiting Paris.
  2. Nguyen Huu Tri, former Governor of Northern Vietnam.
  3. Nguyen De, Chief of the Imperial Cabinet.
  4. Nguyen Van Tam. Vietnamese Minister of Security; Acting Governor of North Vietnam.