396.1 GE/5–2054: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the United States Delegation 1

top secret

Tedul 110. Eyes only Ambassadors. Reference Secto 2612 and 265.3 In view of role which US may be called upon to play in Indochina, we have given much thought to Bao Dai’s offer to maintain contact with you. I believe this offer should be discreetly exploited. Moreover, because of delicacy and importance of contact, I believe it should be pursued directly between you and Bao Dai.

FYI I am aware of disabilities ascribed to Bao Dai and believe him to be an ally of uncertain value for the long push. If we are to take active part in Indochina war, we must work toward rapid establishment of authentic Vietnamese nationalist government. Our present thinking envisions as an important first step the creation of a provisional National Assembly having initially broad consultative, but more importantly constituent, powers. Besides symbolizing national independence, such assembly would furnish necessary safety valve and continuing source of new leadership. It would of course function haltingly at first and cause some trouble, but these hazards would have to be accepted and would be lessened by method of establishment suggested below.

During period in which assembly was being established, and coming to some measure of maturity and a more nearly representative government being set up, it would be necessary that Bao Dai continue to contribute whatever he represents of governmental legitimacy and unity. If there were no substantial change from performance he has been giving since 1949, we believe he could be largely neutralized if responsible Vietnamese, backed by France and US, found this to be necessary.

On other hand, it is possible Bao Dai is both sincere and accurate in his contention that French have prevented him from playing more effective part as Chief of State. Despite his known deficiencies, it may be that Bao Dai is a patriotic Vietnamese, and that under other auspices his patriotism might find more satisfactory expression. In any event, we do not seem to have on this side of the lines an immediately available substitute whose advent to power would not occasion more or less grave disturbance in some part of territory of Vietnam under nominal control of National Government.

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Accordingly, it would seem advisable not to attempt find substitute for Bao Dai, but to avail ourselves of what he has to offer, meanwhile remaining alert to minimize his power to do harm if he should evince tendency to revert to his old habits or to adopt new ones contrary to our interests.

As we now conceive it, the provisional legislative body mentioned above (whose initial membership could come from among local councillors elected in January 1953, representatives chosen by religious and political groups, and other persons selected as far as possible from elements which have stood aloof from politics since beginning of present hostilities) would have to grow into its job. At outset, it should have right to approve the government then existing or new one chosen by Bao Dai in consultation with French and ourselves, or it might elect an executive committee from its own membership from which part or all of the cabinet would be chosen. Assembly could thereafter have right to question ministers and probably vote budget, but its primary attention should be directed toward writing constitution, aided by French and American constitutional experts.

While we should under no circumstances commit ourselves irrevocably to Bao Dai nor indicate a fixed opinion in favor of any particular governmental reform, we must seek what good we can derive from his cooperation at least for the time being. Thus far the worst in his character seems to have been indulged, with results which are all too apparent. If he should now prove to have better stuff in him, we shall have gained useful ally. End FYI.

I hope you will take earliest occasion to renew personal contact with Bao Dai. Because of his oriental reticence, perhaps it would be advisable for you to talk with him only in presence of an interpreter of his choice. In this interview you should draw him out as far as possible on following lines (FYI portion this message may be useful to you in formulating questions, and was included for that purpose, but you will of course avoid indicating trend of our thought to Bao Dai):

What can be done quickly to rectify political situation in non-Communist Vietnam?
What kind of “concerted action” does he have in mind?
What kind of working relationship does he see between himself and US?
What would be French reaction to such a working relationship, and how does he envisage operation of a Franco-US–Vietnamese partnership?

This conversation should of course be purely exploratory. Its purpose is to afford us a better current appreciation of one who may of necessity play important part in Vietnam for some time to come. You should assure Bao Dai you are ready to communicate with him directly [Page 894] whenever he wishes. After interview, I would like you to make full report including your personal estimate of Bao Dai and of his probable utility in developing situation.

I know that you understand clearly the delicacy vis-à-vis Bidault and the French generally of our seeming to intervene in this regard. I leave tactics to your good judgment.

Request Delegation, Paris and Saigon comment on FYI section this message.

  1. Drafted by Sturm of FE/PSA and Gullion of S/P. Repeated to Paris as telegram 4225 and to Saigon as telegram 2385.
  2. Telegram Secto 261, May 20, contained a report of a conversation between Under Secretary Smith and Ngo Dinh Luyen on May 18. For memorandum of conversation, see p. 843.
  3. Dated May 20, p. 863.