Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 324

The French Prime Minister ( Mendès-France ) to the Secretary of State 1

Dear Mr. Secretary: Following our frank and friendly conversation of last evening,2 I believe I understand fully the position of the United States with regard to the negotiations at Geneva concerning Indochina.

If I interpret your views correctly, you recognize fully the primary right of France, the Associated States of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, to decide the conditions for the settlement of a war in which they are the only belligerents on the non-Communist side. You wish to aid us through your good offices in obtaining a just and honorable settlement which will take into account the needs of the interested peoples. However, you are not prepared to participate with the Communist countries in any settlement which might appear to retain for them the benefits of aggression or the domination of non-willing peoples. In any case, if a settlement should be arrived at between the parties holding the primary responsibility, you would agree to indicate that you would comply with the principles which are contained in Article 2 (4) and (6) of the United Nations Charter and you would consider any violation of the settlement by the Communist regimes as being of grave concern.

It being your belief that the continuation of the war would involve a serious risk of an extension of the conflict, both as concerns the combat areas and the belligerent countries, the question of the participation of the United States would be guided by the terms defined in the fourth paragraph of the letter addressed on July [June] 16, 1954, by President Eisenhower to President Coty.3

You have indicated to me that you would fear, in the present state of negotiations, that the sending by the United States to Geneva of representatives chosen at a high level and bearing instructions from President Eisenhower to adhere to the principles noted above, could cause a situation capable of giving rise in France, under the most regrettable circumstances, to a feeling that our two countries are divided and that it might risk affecting seriously their good relations which are so important to the whole free world.

[Page 1366]

I have noted your hesitation to come to Geneva in the fear of having eventually to disassociate yourself from an agreement, or certain of its terms, which you might not be able to respect. This appears to me to be understandable, but in my opinion it does not respond to the situation. In effect, I have every reason to think that your absence would be precisely interpreted as demonstrating, before the fact, that you disapproved of the conference and of everything which might be accomplished. Not only would those who are against us find therein the confirmation of the ill will which they attribute to your government concerning the re-establishment of peace in Indochina; but many others would read in it a sure sign of a division of the western powers. Finally, the negotiations would thus be deprived of the element of balance indispensable to the seeking of a solution as recommended in the memorandum of June 30.4

I consider thus that such an absence would produce an effect diametrically opposed to the intentions which you have expressed and which I have cited above. In a situation as difficult as this only the unity of the western diplomatic front, supported by the immense potential which we have in common, can bring about the very military and strategic unity which we should seek eventually to establish in that part of the world.

It is in this spirit that the French Government envisages, aside from the assurances which the conference itself could furnish, the establishment of a collective guarantee by virtue of which the signatories would declare themselves prepared to intervene if, in Indochina, one of the three states was a victim of aggression.

I am fully conscious of the position of the government of the United States and I have noted with care the consequences which it might imply; but for the reasons which I have just enumerated, I have the profound conviction that the common interests of our two countries and of the three Associated States would be effectively defended only if you yourself, or the Under-Secretary should represent in person your government at Geneva.

If the situation should nevertheless evolve in a manner which would confirm your fears, I engage myself, on behalf of France, to make known publicly the conditions under which you have acceded to my request.

I do not wish to end this letter without telling you how much I have appreciated during the meeting, certainly fruitful for the future of Franco-American relations, the way in which you have been able to join firmness and sureness of your political views to a broad understanding of the positions of your friends.

  1. Unofficial translation of French text. Transmitted to the Department of State in telegram 179 from Paris, July 14. (751G.00/7–1454)
  2. For memorandum of conversation, July 13, see p. 1348.
  3. The text of President Eisenhower‘s letter to French President Coty, June 16, is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1954, pp. 583–584. The text of the fourth paragraph of the President’s letter is printed in volume xiii .
  4. Text of the U.S.-U.K. communication is in telegram 4853 to Paris. June 28, p. 1256. The communication was delivered to the French on June 30.