611.51/7–854: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in France 1

top secret

85. For Dillon, Aldrich and Johnson. I think it is probably true that if we had put together all of the bits of information given at various times and at various political and military levels at Paris, Geneva, Washington, Saigon and Hanoi, the result would have been a reasonably clear picture of French military intentions as now revealed. I have never harbored any thought of any willful concealment. Also I have always conceded that the French were clearly within their rights in making their own plans. I have repeatedly said at press conferences that we recognize that the French had the primary position in Indochina and that our role was that of a friendly observer who wanted to help if and when our help was wanted.

[Page 1310]

I do feel that there is a certain lack of any intimacy which is perhaps due to the fact that we have not in the past worked closely with the personalities of the present Government who have been plunged into an immense and engrossing task. In this respect they have our sympathy and I hope that you will try to remove any impression of carping criticism on our part.

We are quite prepared to agree that France has been overextended in relation to Indochina and we are not quarrelling with present French policy designed to limit its commitments more nearly within the bounds of its strength.

Our present intentions to leave representation at Geneva at the present level of Ambassador Johnson is primarily because we do not want to be the cause of any avoidable embarrassment by what might be a spectacular disassociation of the United States from France. Whatever France may be determined to do, we accept as within its prerogatives. We only regret that we cannot agree to associate ourselves in advance with an end result which we cannot foresee. Equally, we do not want to be in a position of seeming to obstruct an end result which from the French national standpoint seems imperative to its parliament and people.

Since starting to dictate this, I have received through Bonnet a message from Mendes-France strongly urging that either Bedell Smith or I should come back. This apparently based on my today’s press conference statement that neither of us had any present plans for returning.

I told Bonnet the substance of the preceding paragraphs to the effect that while we would be only too happy to contribute to a united front, we could not do so without knowing on what position that front was based. If there were a position which France was able to define and state that she would not accept anything else, then we would be able to judge whether or not that afforded the foundation for a united front. At the moment, it seems to me that there is less danger of doing irreparable injury to Franco-American relations if we avoid getting into a position at Geneva which might require a disassociation under spectacular conditions which would be deeply resented by the French as an effort on our part to block at the last minute a peace which they ardently desire.

We have not yet taken any irrevocable decision and even if no one from here comes over for the 12th, we would be standing by here under circumstances such that if developments at Geneva seem to indicate that our presence there would serve a really constructive purpose one or the other of us could get to Geneva overnight.

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Unless you perceive objection, I would like you to explain orally my position to Mendes-France, making clear that we are motivated by our estimate that in the end our presence at Geneva, even though initially it seemed an asset, might subsequently prove a liability to Franco-American relations.


Code Boom:—Please note

For London only

Please show Eden portion of this cable which follows first two paragraphs. Portion begins “We are quite prepared, etc.”2

  1. Drafted by the Secretary of State. Repeated to London as telegram 151 and to Geneva as telegram Tosec 526.
  2. A letter of July 9 from British Ambassador Makins to the Secretary of State read: “I have now had a further telegram from Anthony Eden saying that he is glad that your decision that neither you nor Bedell Smith should go to Geneva for the present is not final.” Makins’ letter indicated that Eden felt it was important that in the difficult “concluding stages of the negotiations we should go out of our way to show an united front to the Communists, and he very much hopes that it will be possible for either you or Bedell Smith to go to Geneva soon.” (Presidential correspondence, lot 66 D 204)