27. Letter From the Chargé in France (Achilles) to the Counselor of the Department of State (MacArthur)1
Dear Doug: Thanks for your letter of January 202 about the continuing French desire to consider alternatives to Diem. We have never had the slightest doubt as to Washington’s position about this and have lost no opportunities to make it clear to the French.
There have of course been continuing signs of misunderstanding as to what the Secretary had actually agreed to at the December 18 meeting on Indochina. The French seized upon the Secretary’s agreement that Collins and Ely should be authorized to exchange views on possible alternatives to Diem and that they would be permitted to express their conclusions at the next joint go-around on Indochina. When various telegrams from the Department and Saigon began to indicate that General Collins had not been authorized to exchange such views with Ely, we thought it best to bring the matter to a head so that any misunderstanding could be cleared up promptly. That was the purpose of the Embassy’s most recent telegram on the subject (Embtel 30343).
The French position is that, as was agreed December 18, they be given a hearing. In accepting this principle we have warned them repeatedly that since our Embassy in Saigon has reported that Diem has now begun to show signs of improvement they should expect little or nothing from us on alternatives in the next go-around. We have reminded them that, as agreed, any suggestion for an alternative solution would only be considered if Diem continued to fail, which we now maintain is no longer the case. This was told Saint-Mleux most recently as reported in our telegram 3034.[Page 61]
I fear, however, that it will be impossible for us to dissuade Mendès through La Chambre, Cheysson or others from continuing to insist that any plan they may be concocting be given at least a hearing. They have been preparing to bring such a plan to the surface since December 18 and, we are told, their own analysis of the present situation does not permit them to accept our thesis that Diem’s improvement has completely obviated the need for a change of some description.
We shall continue to discourage them to the best of our ability and also seek to force any plan they have out into the open as you suggest. However, we do not believe that they have any definite one as yet. The La Chambre–Saint Mleux scheme for a coalition including Tran Van Huu, Tam and Quat reported in Embtel 2866 of January 64 and confirmed in Saigon 8275 is, we think a La Chambre–Saint Mleux trial balloon and may not have Ely’s approval. It certainly hasn’t Mendès—yet. Cheysson was definitely inclined to the Buu Hoi formula but is still groggy from the manner in which we slapped that down and hasn’t brought up anything new with us in recent weeks. Bill Gibson is taking him to lunch this week in an effort to smoke him out and will use the occasion to make it clear again that the French need not hold out any hopes for U.S. consideration of any alternative scheme.
As to what is really eating the French, I think it is a combination of factors whose relative importance is hard to evaluate. One is a sincere belief that Diem is personally incapable of doing the necessary job, has too many cards stacked against him and does not represent even the best available solution. We believe that Ely’s and Daridan’s reports are along this line. Another is the widespread opinion in Parliament and the press that the Diem formula was forced on the Government against its better judgment and accepted only in the general interests of Franco-American relations. Mendès wishes to be able to point to the fact that he has at least tried to get us to change. The extent to which less creditable motives such as jealousy of U.S. influence in Vietnam, the desire to replace “anti-French” Vietnamese by pro-French ones or more sinister thinking along “Sainteny” lines enters into the picture is hard to say.
We do not think the Department has been at all remiss about letting us know its feelings. We have become increasingly aware of the desire to avoid any serious consideration of alternatives from your recent telegrams and your letter seals it up. It also relieves our mind of the thought that there might be a misinterpretation in [Page 62] Washington of what the Secretary agreed to on December 18. Having your specific statement that we are unprepared to put forward any alternative solution ourselves or to consider any put forward by the French helps us considerably in our task of dealing with the French on the problem. I am sure we can help further in preparing for what is to come without in any way backing away from the understandings reached in the December 18 talks. The Department’s suggestion that the next go-around take place in Bangkok in conjunction with the Manila Pact meeting is, in my opinion, excellent, and our first approach to the Quai on it was well received. We note that Eden has already agreed to it and trust this will help persuade the French and permit us to confirm acceptance in a day or so.
Again thanks for your helpful letter.
Theodore C. Achilles