396.1 GE/6–1954: Telegram

SmithMolotov Meeting, Geneva, June 18, Evening: The United States Delegation to the Department of State 1

top secret

Dulte 202. Repeated information Moscow 138. Moscow eyes only Ambassador. I saw Molotov at his villa yesterday evening at my request to inform him of my departure, and because I felt time had come to sound a note of warning. Talk lasted more than hour and a half. Molotov asked what I thought would be best thing to do with conference, to adjourn it temporarily or to keep it going. I replied as far as we concerned should be kept going while there was hope of reaching reasonable settlement, but that there was no use referring to “committees” matters of major policy which must be decided by conference as a whole. Before my departure I felt it would be desirable to exchange views, in order that mistakes of the past should not be repeated as the result of misunderstanding of our respective positions. With regard to Korean phase, I had only to say that in reserving our position re final Chinese proposal had not implied to exclude Communist China from future discussions on Korean question. As matter of fact, China was belligerent there against UN and for practical reasons would have to be party to settlement.

Regarding Indochinese phase Molotov said he had impression US avoided reaching solution and cited in this regard Robertson objection in yesterday’s restricted session to acceptance Chou’s proposal on Laos and Cambodia. I said that while proposal might be satisfactory in [Page 1190] some respects it made no mention of Viet Minh withdrawal or of adequate supervision. So long as regular Viet Minh forces remained in Laos and Cambodia we could not help but view situation in very serious light. Molotov cited Pham Van Dong’s remarks regarding withdrawal Viet Minh “volunteers” and emphasized importance of beginning direct negotiations regarding Laos and Cambodia of type now taking place regarding Vietnam. I regretted that I was not at all convinced that Pham Van Dong really meant what he said. His statements sounded well enough, but his written proposals did not bear them out.

I said I wanted to make our position on Laos and Cambodia entirely clear. In addition to regular Viet Minh forces in these countries, which I enumerated, there were some dissident elements in Laos and a much smaller number in Cambodia. If regular Viet Minh forces were withdrawn, elections could be held, with guarantees that individuals would not be discriminated against as regards their electoral rights for having supported either side. Dissidents would be able to vote for any candidates they choose, Communists included. However, while Viet Minh forces remained in these countries, there could be no peace nor could free elections be held.

In private conversations with Mr. Eden and others, Communist delegates, in particular Chou En-lai, had taken an apparently reasonable view on Laos and Cambodia, but that here again, when we came to the point of trying to get open agreement on specific points we were unable to do so. I specifically mentioned Chou En-lai’s statements to Eden in which he said that China would have no objections to recognizing the Kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia or to these states having forces and arms sufficient to maintain security, or their remaining in French Union so long as they were not used as military bases by the United States.2 We could not disagree with any of this, although if we kept out the Chinese would have to keep out, and these small states would have to be allowed to join with their neighbors in whatever regional security arrangements would best protect their integrity without constituting a threat to any one else. Chou En-lai might be anxious about possibility of US bases in Laos and Cambodia. We wanted on our part to be sure that these countries were not handed over to the Chinese. Molotov said that while he did not know about what attitude Chinese might have on other questions in future, he could assure me that Chinese attitude on this particular question was not at all unreasonable, and that there was nothing in it which would give rise to conflicts. He added, however, that if we continued to take a one-sided view and insist on one-sided solutions, he must “in all frankness say that this would not succeed”. There were, he said, some differences of view [Page 1191] between us on Laos and Cambodia, especially in regard to our refusal to recognize resistance movements; point he wanted to make, however, was that basis for reaching agreement was present and that agreement could be reached so long as neither side “adopted one-sided views or put forward extreme pretensions”. This, he said, could only lead to other side’s doing same.

Resistance movements existed, in Laos and Cambodia, Molotov asserted. About 50 percent of the territory of Laos was not under the control of official government. It was true that much smaller resistance movement existed in Cambodia. He said that in fact conditions in all three Indochinese countries were different—large resistance movement controlling three-quarters of territory in Vietnam, substantial movement in Laos controlling, as he had indicated, about half territory, and much smaller movement in Cambodia. I said, with regard to two latter countries, solution was simple. Withdraw invading Viet Minh forces and let dissident elements elect Communist representatives to general assemblies if they wished. But the elections must be actually “free”. Regarding Vietnam, I said we recognized relative strength of the Viet Minh but they were demanding too much. It seems Viet Minh demanded all Delta, including both Hanoi and Haiphong. The French were our allies, and we took grave view of this extreme pressure. Molotov said that if French were to have something in south and something in north, and probably in center as well, this would add up to three-fourths of country or better, which was wholly unreasonable. He said there was old Russian proverb that if you try to chase two rabbits at once you are apt to miss both of them, and added that in this case wanting something in north and in south was like chasing two rabbits. If French were to give way to Viet Minh in north, they would gain territory probably greater in extent in south in recompense. I said appearance of “partition” was repugnant to us, and that as far as proverb about rabbits went, I felt that Viet Minh were chasing two rabbits in wanting both Hanoi and Haiphong. Viet Minh demands for all the Delta, or efforts take it all by force prior to reaching political solution through elections, was serious matter in view of my government. Molotov disagreed, stating that present French position in area was due only to Viet Minh restraint, and that two cities did not even have normal communications between each other. In regard to US aversion to partition, he said that this problem could easily be solved by holding elections at once, which would decide “one way or the other”.

He repeated that important thing in reaching agreement on any of these questions relating to Indochina was to be realistic about actual facts, and to avoid putting out one-sided views or extreme pretensions. [Page 1192] If French were encouraged to disregard actual situation and to ask for too much, he said, one could only expect conflict to continue. (He made it clear that he considered US as party likely to do the encouraging.) I replied that US was not one of principals to Indochinese dispute and did not cast deciding vote, to which Molotov remarked “maybe so, but you have veto, that word I hear you use so often” and went on to say that among other delegations present at conference there seemed to be real willingness to reach agreement. Agreement had in fact he added very nearly been reached, although he hoped I would realize this was not information for publication. (This remark, obviously, referred to private French-Viet Minh military conversations which I have mentioned.) I said I must emphasize my government held serious views on issues involved in Indochina situation, more serious, perhaps, than did some of other governments represented at conference. I hoped he would give consideration to this, and assist in overcoming some of the deep-rooted suspicions of Asiatic participants, which became apparent every time we tried to reconcile formal proposals.

Comment: Throughout conversation Molotov maintained friendly and mild tone evident in all informal conversations. He is completely sure of himself and of his position. What he had to say regarding Delta, Laos and Cambodia confirms Communist intentions to play all the cards they hold. His avoidance of endorsing Chou’s remarks to Eden concerning Laos and Cambodia indicated that simple withdrawal of Viet Minh forces from these countries was not acceptable and that some form of de facto partition was intended in Laos, at least. His remarks seemed to indicate that Communists have eye on as much as half of country. This conversation, together with the inflexible position which Molotov took during his last conversation with me regarding the composition of a neutral nation or supervisory commission for Indochina, as well as his speech on Tuesday, June 8, and all subsequent speeches on the Communist side, which took firm positions on points the Communists know to be unacceptable to Eden, Bidault and me, are highly significant. The recent emphasis by all three Communist spokesmen that France should carry on direct political as well as direct military negotiations with Viet Minh show their interest in having a convenient way of holding out for greater gains in their direct negotiations with the French as well as within the framework of the conference.

Molotov in effect told France in his June 8 speech that her position and that of the government she was supporting in Indochina were hopeless and that she had best face up to facts and capitulate in direct negotiations with the Viet Minh. His speech, of course, was in large part intended to assist in the destruction of the French Government [Page 1193] for the implications that that would have on the European as well as on the Asiatic scene. Nevertheless, his harsh and even insulting language seemed to reflect the confident, nearly triumphant mood in which he has been lately. It would be misleading to ascribe the harder line which Molotov brought back with him from Moscow entirely to Soviet tactical considerations in regard to the French Government crisis. While the Soviets may think that the blocking of EDC through the destruction of the French Government would reduce future threats to them in Europe, the fact remains that the Indochina conflict potentially involves a much more immediate threat of general war.

It is probable that initial Soviet tactics were to forestall US intervention in the Delta by some kind of a compromise formula involving Hanoi and Haiphong if it appeared that such intervention were imminent. The recent raising of the ante in the negotiations here by the Communist side probably reflects an estimate on their part that our intervention is improbable and that they are safe to go ahead there, keeping, of course, a sharp eye out for indications of change in our attitude.

While the Communist position on Laos and Cambodia remains more flexible than their position in regard to the Delta, they will get all they can in Laos now. In the whole area the determining factor for the Communists will continue to be their estimate of the likelihood of US or joint intervention and nothing short of a conviction on their part that this intervention will take place will stop them from going ahead with their plans for taking all of it eventually, through military conquest, French capitulation, or infiltration.

Realize much of above is repetitious, but it will serve as final summary.

  1. Message transmitted in two sections.
  2. Conversation reported in telegram Secto 463, June 17, p. 1170.