203. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Sebald) to the Secretary of State1


  • Briefing Paper on NSC 5519, “U.S. Policy on All-Viet-Nam Elections”2 up for Council Consideration on June 9.


The major points in the draft statement of U.S. policy (pages 1–3) are: (a) the necessity of having a strong Free Viet-Nam for any effective approach on the election problem; (b) the desirability of Free Viet-Nam beginning consultations with the Viet Minh in July, 1955, as provided for in the Geneva Accord (para. 5); (c) the importance of stressing adequate guarantees and supervisory powers to ensure free elections and to put the onus on the Communists for preventing free elections (paras. 6–8); and (d) forceful reaction by the Manila Pact powers, and if necessary by the U.S. alone, if the Communists renew hostilities over the issue of elections (para. 10). The first point, the subject of our entire present effort in Free Viet-Nam, is proceeding with some grounds for hope that Viet-Nam now can be adequately strengthened if Diem vigorously executes the whole reform program and consolidates national authority throughout Free Viet-Nam. The other three points may also face considerable difficulties.

The question of pre-electoral consultations with the Viet Minh is fast becoming a major political and diplomatic problem because Diem and his ministers have tentatively indicated their opposition to opening consultations on July 20, 1955. The French and the Viet Minh are insisting that consultations begin on that day. The Indians and the British will undoubtedly concur. While Diem’s position has not been finally fixed, our Embassy in Saigon has reported several times that Diem has three principal concerns:

Free Viet-Nam must dissociate itself completely from the Geneva Accord insofar as elections are concerned. Its position on consultations and elections will be taken not because of the Geneva Accord, which it did not sign, but on grounds of Vietnamese national interests and considerations.
Accordingly, Free Viet-Nam cannot even consider the question of consultations and elections until after a National Assembly has been elected and convoked, and has declared its views.
The status and responsibilities of the French Expeditionary Corps in Viet-Nam must be settled first, so that Free Viet-Nam can have unquestioned and complete sovereignty before adopting any public position on free elections.

The NSC statement of policy assumes that Diem would agree to consultations with the Viet Minh in July, 1955, and would agree to take the initiative with respect to the whole matter of free elections regardless of Vietnamese objections to the Geneva Accord and to formal discussions with their enemy, the Viet Minh. The draft statement of policy will remain valid only if Diem eventually agrees to some kind of discussions with the Viet Minh. On May 27 we instructed Reinhardt to discuss this whole matter with Diem pointing out the disadvantages of opposing talks and losing the initiative. We have not received Diem’s detailed views or intentions.

If Diem continues to oppose talks with the Viet Minh for the above stated three reasons, the U.S. will soon have to decide whether it should or could compel Diem to agree to talks beginning on July 20 rather than wait for the views of the National Assembly some time next fall. It may be that Diem is deliberately using the election issue to bargain with the French over the FEC and possibly with the U.S. over security guarantees for Viet-Nam. If we point out the difficulties for the U.S. in his opposition, particularly in terms of our military support, he may come around. However, he may insist on putting the issue to a National Assembly. This will be hard for us to counter. And the Assembly with widespread support may later oppose any talks with the Viet Minh on elections. Thus, the failure to hold consultations in July and the possible continued failure to meet Communist demands on elections may create a pretext for Communist subversive or overt military action either to frighten the people in South Viet-Nam or to attempt a forceful seizure of power. Politically, however, the initiative would pass to the Communists.

Regarding conditions for free elections, the Vietnamese, French, British, Canadians, Indians and others will agree in principle at least initially, although we have not heard formally from them. But, the difficulty to anticipate is the possible attempt of the French, British and Indians to water this position down if the Viet Minh makes seemingly plausible and moderate proposals, as intimated in the Viet Minh statement of June 6. Once consultations with the Viet Minh are started, it is probable Free Viet-Nam and also the United States will be under increasing pressure to accept a compromise with the Viet Minh. Therefore, it may become increasingly difficult to demonstrate, as called for in para. 7 of the NSC paper, that the failure to secure free elections is the fault of the Communists.

The JCS have proposed an amendment of para. 10,3 ostensibly to make it clearer that U.S. reaction to possible Communist reopening of hostilities should be taken under the Manila Pact. In fact, however, their proposed amendment deletes the recommendation that, provided Viet-Nam follows the recommended policy, the U.S., if necessary, be prepared to react alone to Communist renewal of hostilities if it proves impossible to gain concerted action from its major allies. We have no quarrel with the idea that action should be taken under the Manila Pact, and the original language was intended to provide that action be taken under the Manila Pact. But we think it important that the Council realize that we may face a situation in which we may not, initially at least, have support from our major allies and that the Council decide whether or not under those circumstances the U.S. should be prepared to act alone. Accordingly we recommend either that the original language be restored, or that the phrase “preferably in concert with the Manila Pact allies of the U.S., but if necessary alone” be added to the JCS language.


1. It is recommended that you support the approval of the draft statement of policy, but that you also point out:

Free Viet-Nam’s delay or rejection of consultations with the Viet Minh on July 20 will create real political difficulties and hold up the implementation of this policy;
it may be difficult to maneuver the Viet Minh into a position of rejection of the conditions of free elections;
in view of the importance to the security of Southeast Asia of preserving Free Viet-Nam, the original language of para. 10 should be retained, or the phrase “preferably in concert with Manila Pact allies of the U.S., but if necessary alone” should be added to the JCS language.

  1. Source: Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351, NSC 5519. Top Secret. Drafted by Young.
  2. Document 190.
  3. According to a memorandum from the JCS to the Secretary of Defense, May 25, transmitted to the NSC by Lay on June 2, the JCS recommended the following revision of paragraph 10 (the italics represent the additional language recommended by the JCS and the cancelled type the deletions proposed):

    “If pursuit of the above policy should result in a renewal of hostilities by the Communists, the U.S., in the light of the general circumstances then prevailing, should be prepared to oppose any Communist attack by immediately invoking the Manila Pact and taking vigorous action thereunder to repel the Communist military aggression. with U.S. armed forces, if necessary and feasible consulting the Congress in advance if the emergency permits preferably in concert with the Manila Pact allies of the U.S., but if necessary alone.” (Department of State, S/SNSC Files: Lot 63 D 351)