396.1 GE/5–954: Telegram

The United States Delegation to the Department of State


Secto 155. Repeated information priority Paris 228, priority London 142, priority Saigon 47, priority Tokyo 37. Tokyo for CINCFE. Reference: Tosec 104.1 Following are USDel comments French proposal as tabled at conference (Secto 1432 as revised by Secto 1523): [Page 740]

Proposal contains major elements contained in previous French drafts (Secto 1064 and Secto 1325) and comments already submitted (Secto 1106) remain valid.
Proposal continues differentiate between Vietnam one hand and Laos and Cambodia other, calling for evacuation of all regular and irregular Viet Minh forces from Laos and Cambodia, and disarming “all elements which do not belong either army or police forces” which on face of it would call for elimination all rebel forces of any character in Laos and Cambodia. We continue believe separation out of Laos and Cambodia issues is justified by facts of situation and is valid point.
Proposal contains important point hostilities should cease only after an agreement is reached which provides for (a) definition of assembly areas for regular units; (b) disarming of “elements not belonging either to the army or to police forces”; (c) release of POWs and civil internees, and (d) supervision under international commissions. Proposal thus has characteristics of armistice rather than simple cease-fire. But since assembly of troops and disarming of forces, according to proposal, will unavoidably follow rather than precede cessation of hostilities there is a major loophole here which could in effect make a simple cease-fire out of a paper armistice agreement.

Proposal contains new point, which has, however, been talked about by the French before, namely, that agreements “shall be guaranteed by the states participating in Geneva conference”. It is unclear whether this refers, as presumably it does, only to states participating in Indochina phase of conference. This part of proposal obviously requires clarification and careful consideration since it might amount, on our part, to undertaking some obligation for underwriting a settlement which at best will be highly unstable. The responsibilities of the “guarantors” are, however, probably purposely left vague, consisting as they do of “immediate consultation” for the “purpose of taking appropriate measures either individually or collectively”. It is probable that French set considerable store on an underwriting of settlement, particularly by the United States, and that United States response to this part of proposal will have an important bearing on how firm French will feel they can be in negotiating other conditions of an armistice.

It is possible that French view this provision as possible prelude to eventual UN membership and guarantees for the Associated States or that they are thinking of a link with possible collective action in Southeast Asia. This section, taken literally, could paradoxically require consultation between ourselves and the Communists in the event [Page 741] of Communist violation. The Communists might also, of course, attempt to steer such a provision in the direction of a Communist sponsored all Asian security pact.

Another new point is suggestion that assembly areas in Vietnam should be defined by the conference “on the basis of proposals by the Commanders-in-Chief”. This could be merely an indication of the obvious requirement for military staff work, or it could be an entering wedge for on-the-spot technical conversations between the combatants which might, under certain circumstances, substitute for formal agreements, and thus might circumvent the conference proceedings.
On the whole French proposal is amorphous, and as compared with earlier French drafts somewhat more sketchy and loose. We fully realize danger that under pressures which French will experience they will move rapidly in direction of making so little insistence on nature of supervision or controls they will in fact agree to a simple cease-fire. The French proposal is purely an outline, and a vague one at that. The French will be under severe temptation make no efforts to fill it in satisfactorily.
If at this point United States does not support French in negotiations there can be little doubt that French would rapidly agree to a cease-fire, and that in process there would be severe damage, not only to United States interests in Indochina, but also to our relations with French. If we do support French proposal we certainly run a major risk of becoming deeply involved in an unsatisfactory settlement, but we might be able strengthen French hand sufficiently so they will pursue negotiation of “an acceptable armistice agreement, including international controls” (NSC language) and come out with maximum salvage from Indochina situation, and without a radical dislocation of their relations with United States and of their world position.
We will probably be in better position win British and Australians and New Zealanders over to more active role in defense of Southeast Asia if at this stage we support French in these negotiations than if we keep hands off.
On balance, well realizing difficulties of situation and risks involved, we recommend that at this stage we give general support present French proposal in the negotiations, that we try strengthen French position by what we do here at Geneva and particularly by what we do at home, while continuing make it clear to French that our support is premised upon French not agreeing to cessation of hostilities without an acceptable armistice agreement.

  1. In telegram Tosec 104, May 8, the Department urgently requested the U.S. Delegation’s comments on telegram Secto 143, May 8. (396.1 GE/5–854)
  2. Dated May 8, p. 730.
  3. Dated May 8, not printed; for text of modifications, see footnote 1, ibid.
  4. Dated May 5, p. 694.
  5. Dated May 7, p. 714.
  6. Dated May 5, p. 696.