305. Telegram From the Secretary of State to the Embassy in Vietnam1

2901. There follows text note Deputy Under Secretary February 25 handed French Ambassador with copies given separately UK and Canadian Ambassadors.

Inform Vietnamese Government of contents, indicating Department imparted gist orally to Ambassador Chuong February 24. Tell Vietnamese we will request their formal agreement to TERM mission after suitable period elapsed for receipt comments from Canadian, UK, and French Governments.
You may also tell Vietnamese your discretion size of TERM will be approximately 350 U.S. military personnel and that we thinking of period of approximately twelve months for duration of TERM. This information also given to French, UK, Canadian Ambassadors who were told in addition that U.S. planning hire 1000 Filipinos and/or Japanese civilian technicians to assist TERM mission in recovery maintenance equipment. French, UK, Canadian Ambassadors also told we have under serious consideration explaining purposes and size TERM mission to Indian Chairman ICC Saigon although we cannot undertake ourselves comply with possible control measures international commission may wish apply since U.S. not bound provisions Armistice agreement.

Text of Note: “The Department of State informs the Embassy of the French Republic that the rapid withdrawal of French forces from Viet-Nam in recent months has created a situation of extraordinary concern to the Government of the United States with respect to the recovery, maintenance, and protection of Mutual Defense Assistance Program equipment in Viet-Nam. Under the Ely- Collins Minute of Understanding of December 1, 1954, the French Government has carried out obligations for the return of equipment no longer required for the purposes for which originally made available. While this task is well under way, it is not yet completed. Furthermore, vast amounts of equipment which are about to be or have already been turned over by the French forces in Viet-Nam are not now being adequately maintained and protected. Under these conditions, the Government of the United States is threatened by the possibility of losing tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment.

In view of these facts, the Government of the United States now feels itself obliged to dispatch to Viet-Nam, subject to Vietnamese agreement, and for a temporary period, a small number of additional United States military technical personnel whose sole function will be to supervise the recovery and maintenance of Mutual Defense Assistance Program equipment in Viet-Nam. This personnel will operate as a group known as the ‘Temporary Equipment Recovery Mission’ (TERM) and will not form an immediate part of the United States Military Advisory Aid Group in Viet-Nam.

The Government of the United States continues to depend upon the assistance of the French Government in completing the implementation of the ElyCollins Minute of Understanding of December 1, 1954. For this specific purpose, and subject to an agreement between France and Viet-Nam, the Government of the United States would appreciate it if the French Government would retain in Viet-Nam for another year approximately 1,000 French military personnel to continue to participate in the task of processing Mutual Defense Assistance Program equipment.

If the French Government can accede, subject to Vietnamese agreement, to the assignment of approximately 1,000 French military personnel in Viet-Nam for the aforementioned purpose, the Government of the United States would be prepared to ask the Vietnamese Government to request the French Government to retain a French Military Mission in Viet-Nam. This mission could include the French [Page 646] military personnel involved in equipment redistribution as well as that engaged in training the Vietnamese Air Force and Navy.

A reply on the part of the French Government to this note is requested on an urgent basis.”

Re last sentence penultimate paragraph Note, French Ambassador questioned whether French training and equipment groups should not be separate rather than included mission. We replied US support continued French training Vietnamese navy and air force not conditional French assignment 1,000 equipment personnel and that organization retained French military elements Viet-Nam matter for Franco-Vietnamese negotiations, but that we under impression Vietnamese might prefer having all retained French elements in single mission, eliminating former FEC. We told French Ambassador we feel continued residual French military presence Viet-Nam needed for three main purposes from US point of view: continued training Vietnamese air force and navy, equipment redistribution, and if possible, continued assumption Geneva responsibilities on shared basis with Vietnamese and some degree continued servicing ICC.
Both Canadian, UK Ambassadors raised question possible conflict US action on TERM with Article 16 Geneva Agreement.2 Murphy replied we consider contemplated mission vital to rescue our equipment and of non-military character although composed of military personnel because of impossibility, despite strong effort of US Government, to obtain on urgent basis civilian technicians capable performing this task. British Ambassador raised broader problem Geneva successor responsibilities and UK desire US explore possibilities with Diem soonest possible, and gave us copy Soviet comments to British re Chou En-lai Note. This will be subject subsequent message.
In explaining role, purpose, function TERM to Ambassadors Murphy stressed urgency problem deteriorating and unguarded equipment and concern Department if action not urgently taken along proposed lines highly embarrassing situation will arise for Department and Defense in relation Congress. Murphy also stressed our view TERM mission will not contribute growth military potential Viet-Nam but may have opposite effect since much excess equipment probably being outshipped. Emphasized US had clear title to property being returned by French under ElyCollins Minute of Understanding. Canadian and UK Ambassadors agreed this good point to make in defending proposed US action.
All addressees use above information answer any queries this subject if raised by Governments concerned.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.5/2–2556. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Kattenburg and cleared by Young and Murphy and with Defense. Repeated for information priority to Paris, London, and Ottawa; repeated for information to New Delhi, Vientiane, and CINCPAC.
  2. Article 16 prohibited the introduction of additional military personnel into Vietnam.