204. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, June 8, 19551


  • Meeting in the Secretary’s office on Vietnamese Elections, June 8


  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Bowie
  • Mr. Phleger
  • Mr. Sebald
  • Mr. Schwartz
  • Mr. Young

After the Secretary had read the NSC draft statement of policy2 and the briefing memorandum,3 the following points came up:

In connection with the application of the Manila Pact to Communist resumption of hostilities over the election issue, it was generally agreed that the U.S. could act alone if necessary after consulting its allies. As Mr. Bowie emphasized, it would be important to show cause that the Free Vietnamese and others had made every normal effort to carry through with elections and that the onus for the breakdown was on the Communists. Mr. Bowie stated that the important point is for the NSC to face up to the problem of what the United States will do if the Communists should react militarily. If the U.S. Government and the JCS agree to intervene on behalf of Free Viet-Nam in such circumstances, then we can go ahead with a strong position on elections. If, on the other hand, we are going to back away from such intervention, we should not encourage Diem to take an adamant position.
The Secretary felt that we needed flexibility in handling this whole matter in view of Diem’s position. Our position in effect was that we were telling Diem to do everything possible to frustrate the holding of elections by insisting on conditions which the Communists could not possibly accept, and then if the Communists attack we would indicate to Diem in advance that we would intervene on his side. This did not seem to be altogether a sound position, particularly if Diem had some different views.
The question of whether the elections provision is binding on Diem was discussed at length. Since he has accepted some of the benefits of the Geneva Accords, is he thereby morally or otherwise obligated to adhere to other provisions of the Geneva Accords? Mr. [Page 440] Phleger emphasized that, whether he is legally bound or not, the effect and intent of the Geneva Accords was to arrange for a political settlement by elections. If that settlement is frustrated in any way the United States and Free Viet-Nam will face great difficulty with the French and British.
Diem’s current position was also discussed: he is not bound by and must dissociate himself from the Geneva Accords, he must have an agreement with the French on the FEC first, and he has no mandate regarding elections until a National Assembly is formed. It was recognized that there is much force in his arguments and that he is in a strong position to make these claims. However, Mr. Sebald pointed out that Diem’s delays will provoke ICC or other intervention which could be dangerous. The question was raised as to how far the U.S. should or could go in compelling him to follow through in accordance with the Geneva Accords. Should we tell him that U.S. military intervention will not come if he does not follow the Geneva Accords. The Secretary put the matter this way: If Diem does not conform to the provisions of the Geneva Accords and if the Viet Minh invades Free Viet-Nam, would we or would we not consider the Viet Minh action a breach of the accords and would come to Diem’s aid or not by invoking the Manila Pact? If Diem does conform fully to the provisions of the Geneva Accords, consults with the Viet Minh, takes the desired position on the genuinely free elections and then the Viet Minh are so frustrated that they invade with force, we apparently would then consider that a breach of the Geneva Accords, and invoke the Manila Pact. The question was left for further consideration.
It was also recognized that the French, British and Indians would insist on a precise implementation of the Geneva Accords. They might also water down position on free elections.
Mr. Young pointed out that as far as we know Diem’s policy is not yet hardened. His attitude seems to divide into two main categories: (a) the general proposition of genuinely free elections which he probably accepts, although he fears the French, British and Indians will put tremendous pressure on him to compromise with the Viet Minh; and (b) the important questions of the basis and arrangements for consultations with the Viet Minh. It is this current aspect of the problem that appears to be giving Diem the most concern.
Mr. Young also pointed out that the Viet Minh might attempt to define the term “competent representative authorities of the two zones”, in the third sentence of para. 7 of the Geneva Declaration, as meaning the French High Command in the southern Zone.
Mr. Young showed the Secretary the joint statement issued by representatives of the Viet Minh and the French High Commands on May 17 (FBIS of June 7) which stated both parties believed in implementing [Page 441] scrupulously the clauses and provisions of the Geneva Accords dealing with consultations and elections.

  1. Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 66 D 70, Vietnam. Top Secret. Drafted by Young on June 10.
  2. Document 190.
  3. Supra.