Bidault–Eden–Smith Meeting, Geneva, May 20, Evening: The United States Delegation to the Department of State
Secto 271. Repeated information Paris 311, London 193, Saigon 101. Bidault, Eden and I this evening discussed tactics for tomorrow.
French outlined their thinking on discussion of Viet Minh Point 8 (a) and their Points 1 and 5.1 Viet Minh proposal provided for ceasefire based on agreements concluded between French and each of three countries, with cease-fire simultaneous throughout Indochina and regrouping in all three countries. This obviously impossible for French since Associated States were its allies and armistice could only be between France and Associated States on one hand and Viet Minh on other. Nevertheless this provision might be utilized to set up two or three committees to study conditions for cessation of hostilities in three countries. This would have advantages of maintaining position on separation, permitting us to go ahead on Laos and Cambodia, exploring possibilities of general cessation of hostilities and, if Communists refused, putting them in unfavorable light. It would have disadvantage when coupled with Points 1 and 5 of French plan2 of facilitating Viet Minh thesis re regrouping in Laos and Cambodia, of being distasteful to Associated States and, in event of cessation of hostilities, would make it more difficult to clean up South in event of armistice violations. It was unlikely Communists would agree to cease-fire [Page 874] in Laos and Cambodia on basis of troop withdrawal but West might propose progressive withdrawal.
Bidault was not optimistic about Associated States reaction to this gambit nor did he believe Communists would buy it. However, he felt he must push detailed analysis of Viet Minh proposal clear to bottom before drawing positive conclusions. He had no intention of accepting single military and political treatment for three countries.
I pointed out that Viet Minh proposal contained elements (8 b) such as prohibition on movement of troops or arms into Indochina which would destroy our position. We would comply while they would not. Any such agreement would be fatal unless there were really effective supervisory machinery. Bidault recognized impossibility of controlling Chinese frontier and Mekong.
It was agreed we would propose setting up three committees, one for each country, or two with Laos and Cambodia lumped in one. This would be discussed by 6 tomorrow and decision then made between two or three. I stressed importance of making very clear to Associated States that we were in no way receding from our stand on separation. If Associated States were in full agreement, France would propose setting up committees, otherwise either US or UK would do so. If Communists refused this, we would be prepared on Monday to begin discussion of military provisions of French and Viet Minh proposals with respect to Vietnam, reserving our position on others.