Johnson–Chauvel Meeting, Geneva, June 18, Morning: The United States Delegation to the Department of State
Dulte 195. Repeated information Paris 455, Saigon 177. Paris eyes only Ambassador; Saigon eyes only Ambassador. Johnson saw Chauvel this morning and discussed with him conference situation in light Tedul 211.1 Johnson stated seemed to us that such fundamental [Page 1177] questions as composition, voting procedures and authority of international control commission should be dealt with in conference rather than by committee. If conference reached decision on fundamental principles, working out of details could be done by committee of experts of principally interested parties in same pattern as present Franco-Viet Minh military conversations.
Chauvel said this would be agreeable except that question of authority, which he termed “relationship between international commission and joint committees” could be dealt with by technical committee, thus implying France not prepared to maintain principle of subordination joint committees to international commission. As French have already circulated proposal contained Secto 4602 through secretariat, it was agreed we would make suggestion along foregoing lines at today’s restricted meeting. Chauvel said they did not yet have any further indication as to what attitude Chinese would take on French proposal entirely clear from conversation with Chauvel that his main interest is in keeping some conference activity of nine going and that if regardless of level representation we prepared continue some conference meetings would probably meet French point of view. Appears French proposal made on assumption that there would be complete recess of conference with departure of Smith and Eden.
Chauvel made reference to his conversation with Smith yesterday (Dulte 193—last paragraph),3 making inquiry as to exactly what we had in mind. Johnson in reply read to him paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 basic instructions (Tosec 138)4 stating that French willingness surrender even minimum enclave in north of Haiphong would so clearly contravene the principles which the US considered essential as to require our public dissociation with such a solution.
In reply to Chauvel’s questions, Johnson made it clear we were speaking only of public disassociation from such a settlement. The US had in the past and of course would continue working with and supporting France in every possible way and wherever we could. Chauvel indicated full understanding our position. He said they had come to conclusion that what he termed any “leopard spot” solution was entirely impracticable and unenforceable. From standpoint of future it would be much better to retain a reasonably defensible line in Vietnam behind which there would be no enclaves of Viet Minh and do all possible behind that line to build up effective Vietnamese Government and defense. They had no intention of “any immediate surrender [Page 1178] of Haiphong” which in any event must remain under their control for a considerable period for purely military reasons to effect evacuation of French Union Forces from the north. However, if, as appeared likely, choice was giving Viet Minh an enclave in south in exchange for French enclave in Haiphong, they thought it preferable to give up Haiphong. He said no French parliament would approve conditions which the US had laid down for its intervention, and French had no choice but made the best deal they could, obtaining as strong position as possible in south. Chauvel understood fully we would probably not be able to publicly associate ourselves with such a solution, but he hoped that when it came time to put it to the Vietnamese the US would consider it possible very discreetly to let the Vietnamese know that we considered it best that could be obtained under the circumstances and our public disassociation would not operate so as to encourage Vietnamese opposition. Johnson replied he did not see how it would be possible for us to do this, and in any event he would of course have to see what the solution was. Chauvel said that such a solution as partition should come as no surprise to the Vietnamese as Buu Loc had sometime ago indicated to DeJean there had been conversations between Vietnamese and Viet Minh in which Viet Minh had made it clear that only two alternatives were coalition government or partition. Chauvel said Ngo Dinh and Diem are very unrealistic, unreasonable, and would probably prove to be “difficulte”.
Chauvel said the line French had in mind had been made available to US defense representatives at some five-power talks, but was vague about time and place. He referred to it as “line of the chalk cliffs”, which he said was defensible position running from the sea across Vietnam and Laos to the Mekong. Understand this is a line roughly 19 parallel running from vicinity of Dong Hoi to Thakhek. Replying to query, Chauvel said French Union Forces removed from the north would be deployed along that line.
Chauvel said all indications were Mendes-France would succeeed in forming government next day or two and would probably himself assume Foreign Minister post. Said he had been in touch with Mendes-France and had sent emissary to Paris this morning to brief him on situation in Geneva. Chauvel said was anxious to show complete continuity of French effort here in Geneva and hoped there could be another restricted meeting tomorrow. Chauvel said, “Under-ground military talks” last night had been completely unproductive, Viet Minh obviously taking strong line in view of French Government situation.