Conference files, lot 59 D 95, CF 114

United States Summary Minutes of a Meeting Between Representatives of the United States and France at the Department of State, June 17, 1952, 9:30 a.m.1

top secret
LET M–2a



  • Department of State
    • Mr. Allison FE
    • Minister Heath
    • Messrs. Martin2 S/MSA; Lacy PSA
    • Bonsal PSA
    • Byington WE
    • Stelle S/P
    • Knight WE
    • Gibson PSA
    • Hoey PSA
    • Price S/MSA
    • McBride WE
    • Beigel WE
    • Getz PSA
    • Van Hollen S/S–S
  • Department of Defense
    • Gen. Brink
    • Mr. Noyes
    • Col. Edwards
    • Major Mitchell
  • Department of the Treasury
    • Mr. Wood
  • Office of the Director for Mutual Security
    • Mr. Lincoln Gordon3
    • Mr. Paul
    • Mr. Dale
  • Mutual Security Agency
    • Mr. Lane
    • Mr. David Gordon
  • French
    • Mr. Letourneau
    • Ambassador Bonnet
    • Messrs. Daridan, Minister-Counselor, French Embassy Washington;
    • Tezenas du Montcel, General-Director Min. of Associated States
    • Raymond Offroy, Diplomatic Counselor
    • Pierre Millet, Counselor, French Embassy Washington
    • Schweitzer, Financial Attaché, French Embassy Washington
    • Col. de Brebisson, Chief of Mil. Cab. Min. of Associated States
    • Col. Mazeau, Dir. of Mil. Affairs, Min. of Associated States
    • Col. Brohon, Standing Group

Continuation of discussion of politico-military situation in Indochina

(For previous discussion see LET M–1)4

Modification of Existing Agreements—Mr. Allison opened the meeting by saying that there were still a few political items remaining from the previous day’s discussions about which the U.S. desired further clarification. For example, while the U.S. understood the difficulty of modifying the original agreement of March 8, it was not entirely clear whether the other agreements such as, for example, that providing for quadripartite control of the Bank of Issue and the Port of Saigon, could be modified by administrative action since they had not formally been ratified by the French Parliament. Mr. Letourneau affirmed that it was possible to modify these agreements in the course of normal work through re-interpretation and reiterated that the French were prepared to survey all problems needing modification. For this reason, it was unnecessary to have a general conference on these questions.

Public Relations—Mr. Allison said that the U.S. was also concerned about two problems relating to public relations. First, that although [Page 199] the French Government had done a great deal in Indochina of which it could be proud, not only in the military effort but in the effort to bring independence to those countries, it did not seem that these French efforts were sufficiently well known, either in the U.S. or in the countries of Asia and, perhaps, were not well known even to the people of Indochina. If possible, the U.S. would desire to have certain of its experts discuss with the French methods of bringing about a better understanding of the advances that have been made in Indochina.

Secondly, the U.S. is concerned with what seems to be a lack of understanding in France of the share of the Indochina burden borne by the U.S. The U.S. has supplied approximately one-third of the financial support for the effort in Indochina, and we feel that this American contribution could be better publicized in France. Mr. Letourneau agreed that some effort in the direction of better public relations could be made, both in Indochina and in Asia generally to indicate what the French had done for the Indochinese. However, he pointed out that we were dealing with Asiastic problems and so long as white armies remained in Asia, the people there would maintain that independence has not been achieved—Nehru, for example, prefers Asian Communists to white people who are not Communists. No matter how much progress we make in the war, there is no real hope of convincing Asian people that we are working for their independence.

We can also convince the people of France of the U.S. share of the Indochina burden, and this has already been done through the official speeches of Mr. Auriol and Mr. Pleven. Mr. Allison pointed out that since the French had made considerable advances beyond the March 8 Accord, it might be most helpful if the French Government would draw up a balance sheet showing what had been done and in what ways progress had been made. This would be most helpful, particularly when the war is over and the general accords, as well as the entire situation, would be reviewed since such a balance sheet would make clear the progress made during the war. He urged the French to consider the possibility of such a balance sheet because their case was a good one which could be dramatized more effectively and directed at those people who are still skeptical.

Ultimate Solution of the Indochina Question—Mr. Allison said that Mr. Letourneau, in his statement of the previous day, had expressed the view that there was no possibility of a military solution in Indochina until an ultimate Far Eastern settlement is reached sometime in the future. The U.S. was worried about the effect of this feeling on the people who were making the major effort in the area. In general, our own feeling is that perhaps the more that is done, the sooner we can strengthen the position of the Associated States. Mr. Allison also [Page 200] pointed out that Mr. Letourneau had mentioned that if advances were made and if there were indications that the forces in Indochina were winning too rapidly in the military field, the result might be that the Chinese Communists would enter the picture to redress the balance. He asked Mr. Letourneau to expand on this point so that we could know exactly what he had in mind.

Mr. Letourneau replied that he understood that the impression which he had left in the State Department the previous day was regarded as pessimistic, yet he, himself was not at all pessimistic. He had described the situation in those terms because he did not foresee any ultimate military solution since the problem itself was not purely a military one—that is it was not simply a question of two-to-five Viet Minh divisions against two-to-five Vietnamese and French divisions; rather it was a type of guerilla warfare which was both political and unmilitary in the regular sense of the term. When General De Lattre mentioned last year that he hoped that the war would be over in eighteen months or perhaps two years, he was sincerely hoping that, with the help of the Vietnamese Government and by the use of his expeditionary forces, he would be able to clear most of the main part of the Vietnamese territory of enemy forces and compel the Viet Minh elements to retire to high mountainous areas where there was little population. Then it would be possible to contain the Viet Minh forces in such an unfavorable area and await the time when there could be a larger solution to world problems through an agreement between the Free World and Communist areas—not only in Indochina—but elsewhere.

It would be useless to have French boys killed if there were no adequate administration ready to take charge of the provinces liberated from the Viet Minh. France has not and never will have sufficient troops to occupy the entire territory and, even if this were possible, these are independent countries. It would be a curious matter to grant them their independence and then occupy them completely. This is not a military problem alone but is actually half political and half military and, although we have made great progress in the past two years, thanks in a large part to U.S. aid, the Vietnamese soldiers themselves are the only ones who are able to pacify their country. Their progress to date has not been entirely satisfactory, but they are making a real effort and we are attempting to help them to increase their progress. That is what was meant by my statement yesterday and that is why it should be regarded as optimistic.

Mr. Allison said that he understood from Mr. Letourneau‘s comments of the previous day that there was no possibility of negotiation with Ho Chi Minh at the present time since Ho Chi Minh was not in a position to negotiate. Therefore, we assume that when Mr. Letourneau talked of negotiation, he was referring to an overall settlement [Page 201] rather than to a settlement limited to Indochina alone. Mr. Letourneau said that during a press conference in Saigon, he had been asked whether he would be willing to negotiate with Ho Chi Minh. He had answered that he would not negotiate unless Ho Chi Minh proposed some offer, in which case he would consult with the three governments and with the Free World to decide future courses of action. However, there is no possibility of the French engaging in such negotiation at the present time because in Asia nothing is secret and, if such negotiations were to be undertaken, the Vietnamese would lose all confidence in the French since they would be certain that the French planned to leave them to the mercy of Ho Chi Minh.

Rumors might exist outside Indochina regarding possible negotiations, but the French position remains the same as that stated by Mr. Pleven last year and which, it was understood, he had restated to President Truman during his visit to Washington. Mr. Pleven has told the Parliament that if there is a truce in Korea, we might hope that there would then be occasion for a general settlement in East Asia obtained through a general conference on East Asia problems, of which the Indochina question would be a part. Thus, to repeat, the only position which has been officially expressed by Mr. Pleven is that a settlement of the Indochina question might take place only through an international conference on East Asian problems after a truce in Korea. Furthermore, we are engaged in the same fight in Indochina, and you are giving us aid of such magnitude that it is absolutely impossible to think for one moment that such negotiations would be entered into without giving you advance notice.

Mr. Bonsal stated that he was not completely clear, from the conversations of the previous day, about the exact meaning of Mr. Letourneau‘s statement that if our side were unduly successful in fighting the Vietnamese, the result might be to cause an overt Communist aggression. Mr. Letourneau answered that he thought that the aim of the Soviets was to oblige the French to maintain a part of their forces away from Europe, and he thought it probable that, if a large part of the Viet Minh forces were destroyed, the Chinese would endeavor to reinforce them in order to force the French to continue their effort in that area. The primary task was to force the Viet Minh into the least advantageous areas, but in order to do so it was necessary to create a Vietnamese administration strong enough to control the territories taken from the Viet Minh. Although we have information that there are several Catholic zones now under control of the Viet Minh which it would be easy to occupy, we are not in a position to do so at the present time because there is no Vietnam administration which would be ready to pacify the country once the Viet Minh forces had been destroyed. That is why it is important to build up the National Armies so that if there is not a Chinese invasion it would be possible to force [Page 202] the Viet Minh elements to live harmlessly outside the rich provinces Mr. Letourneau, in response to another question from Mr. Bonsal, said that he did not think that an energetic prosecution of the war on our side would materially increase or decrease the danger of Chinese aggression.

Military Schools for Native Officers—Mr. Knight said that in describing the efforts to train Vietnamese commissioned and non-commissioned officers, Mr. Letourneau had indicated that we could not expect to see eight divisions ready until about the early part of 1955. He asked what plans the French Government had for accelerating the training of these officers, either by revising the training procedure, shortening the time of training or, perhaps, opening new schools. Mr. Letourneau replied that the primary problem was the lack of available officer candidates for training. Under present plans it was anticipated that 500 officers a year would be trained in order to meet the eight-division requirement by July 1954. Although only 400 per year were being trained at the present time, plans were to increase this number to 500, and even though a deficit would remain, the plan had been carefully worked out to take into account the number of students graduating from primary and secondary schools each year.

[Here follows a detailed discussion of the question of financial aid in support of the French effort in Indochina. Minister Letourneau inquired regarding the total amount of the supplementary assistance which the United States would be able to grant, the conditions under which such aid could be extended, and as to which part of the aid would apply to the 1952 budget and which to the 1953 budget.

[Lincoln Gordon, Assistant Director for Policy and Planning, Office of the Director for Mutual Security, described the elements of uncertainty affecting the availability of U.S. assistance, discussing requirements, resources, and legislative considerations. The amount, nature, and timing of the aid which the United States would be willing to extend, as indicated by Gordon, is summarized in telegram 7404 to Paris, June 17, infra.]

  1. This record of proceedings was circulated as document LET M–2a, June 20. Verbatim minutes are located in file 751G.00/6–2352. The meeting ran from 9:30 to 11:40 a.m. and from 2:45 to 3:55 p.m. For additional information on the proceedings, see telegram 7404 to Paris, June 17, infra, and telegram 2014 to Saigon, June 20, p. 204.
  2. Edwin M. Martin, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Mutual Security Affairs.
  3. Assistant Director for Policy and Planning, Office of the Director for Mutual Security.
  4. For revised minutes LET M–1a, see p. 189.