309. Memorandum of a Conversation, French Embassy, Karachi, March 7, 1956, 1:30 p.m.1

[Page 650]


  • United States
  • The Secretary
  • Mr. MacArthur
  • Mr. Robertson
  • Mr. Allen
  • Mr. Young
  • France
  • Foreign Minister, Mr. Pineau
  • Mr. Daridan
  • Mr. Roux
  • Mr. St. Mieux


  • Various Issues in Europe, North Africa, Middle East, and Far East

[Here follow Pineau’s remarks on Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.]

With respect to Vietnam, Mr. Pineau also regretted that there was no common policy. There is the impression, perhaps a wrong one, that Diem is being encouraged in an anti-French policy. This is highly embarrassing to France. He admitted that the French Government had perhaps been wrong in not proposing a different solution than the policy of backing Diem. He also said that the French Government had been wrong in not being frank enough with the U.S. and Diem even after they agreed to support Diem. The net result has left France in an inferior position vis-à-vis the U.S. in Vietnam. Now the situation is becoming critical. Diem has not established a national union which he should have. The Vietminh can bring about an extremely dangerous situation by subversion.

Then there is another difficult situation caused by Diem’s demand for the withdrawal of French troops. Although the Geneva Accords are contradictory, they do compel France to comply with such a demand. The French do not regret the withdrawal of French troops from Vietnam since they are needed in North Africa. However, the withdrawal does present the French with some difficult legal complications. If the troops are withdrawn that will mean abolition of the French High Command. Then it will be difficult for France to carry out its obligations under the Geneva Accords.

Another problem in Vietnam arises out of the presence of a considerable amount of American military matériel. Mr. Pineau supposed that most of this had been turned over to the Vietnamese as this was the American desire, but he did not know what the Vietnamese had done with it. In any event, he said that the U.S. ought to have control over this matériel and see to its upkeep. Unfortunately, the sending of U.S. military personnel seemed to be contrary to the Geneva Accords. That left only two ways of meeting the problem. The U.S. could send civilian personnel or Diem could ask to retain French military personnel to control this equipment.

[Page 651]

Mr. Pineau said that he had had a talk with Selwyn Lloyd who told him of the proposed meeting of the co-chairmen.2 Pineau remarked that such a meeting would be useful.

Mr. Pineau brought up the French mission in North Vietnam. He said that his government wished to maintain a cultural and economic mission there under Mr. Sainteney. By the same token, the Vietnamese want to establish a mission in Paris which, in fact, they already have there.

As to Communist China, Mr. Pineau stated that the position of the Socialist Party is to recognize the Communist regime. However, the present French Government have firmly decided against taking any action under present circumstances. France would have only a commercial mission in Peiping which would be limited to commercial matters and have no diplomatic status. If the Chinese Communists wanted to, they might send a small commercial mission to Paris. Mr. Pineau said that the question of trade with Communist China was in a different category than recognition.

[Here follow Dulles’ remarks on Europe, North Africa, and the Near East.]

Turning to the Far East, the Secretary said that he would see President Diem in Saigon to urge him to adopt a more conciliatory attitude towards the International Control Commission and to favor nationwide elections on the basis of genuinely free conditions. The Secretary thought that on a psychological basis, it would be wise for Diem to come out strongly in favor of free elections. The Secretary pointed out that there was no more than a remote likelihood that free elections would ever be accepted in North Vietnam. In any event, we should not press Diem to hold elections unless and until conditions existed which would insure that elections would in reality be free. Mr. Pineau indicated his full agreement.

Regarding U.S. military equipment in Vietnam covered by the ElyCollins Agreement, the Secretary explained that the United States attaches great importance to examining this equipment, determining its condition, and salvaging as much as possible. He said that it might amount to as much as five hundred million dollars’ worth of matériel, although this might be an exaggeration. The United States [Page 652] believed it would be consistent with the armistice to send 350 military personnel on a temporary basis in civilian clothes. They would work under Department of Defense. Their job would be to make an inventory of this equipment and save it from being exposed to the weather and other conditions. The Vietnamese have no facilities for controlling this equipment which they can use. Moreover, the United States is under some pressure to send the types of matériel which may already be in Vietnam. The Secretary also emphasized that the United States is entitled to do this under the agreement with the French. It seems consistent with the cease-fire accord so long as the United States is not adding to the fighting strength in Vietnam. The Secretary said he expected to discuss this with Nehru3 and hoped to satisfy him that it would be consistent with the armistice. Unless Nehru takes a strong stand, the Secretary indicated the United States would proceed with the recovery mission. He expressed the hope that the French would help us. However if Nehru should strongly oppose this project, then the United States would have to reconsider what line to take.

Concerning the training of Vietnamese forces, the Secretary told Mr. Pineau that the United States would consider it a contribution to the common cause if France would maintain training personnel for the Vietnamese air force and navy (220 and 70 men, respectively). French instructors are necessary in view of the severe limitation of approximately 342 American instructors. If the French trainers are removed and can not be replaced by Americans, there would be a serious loss in the Vietnamese military build-up.

Regarding the responsibilities for carrying out the armistice, the Secretary said that the cease-fire accords were loosely drawn and constitute an incoherent area. Vietnam has the right to request French withdrawal, but France and not Vietnam has the responsibility for executing the accord. Pineau replied that if the United States desires to have French military personnel remain in Vietnam, then Diem must request it from France since it is not up to the United States. The Secretary agreed. Mr. Pineau also pointed out the French view that there has developed in Vietnam an atmosphere so hostile to the French that it is almost impossible for them to stay on. As illustration he said that General Jacquot had been arrested and “nearly assassinated” in Saigon by a Vietnamese army patrol a few days ago. This underlined the necessity for Diem to request the French to stay and to make it possible.

Mr. Robertson explained that of some billion two hundred million worth of equipment, about five hundred million has been turned over to the Vietnamese. Much of it is lying out in open spaces. It [Page 653] includes quantities of spare parts needed by the Vietnamese. As a result of the sudden and rapid withdrawal of the French forces, this equipment had been turned over to the Vietnamese without inventory—nobody knows how much. In order to continue the ElyCollins Agreement, 1,000 French personnel would be needed in addition to 350 Americans. The job of recovery and control would probably take from 6 to 12 months.

[Here follow Dulles’ remarks on China.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199. Secret. Drafted by Young, Pineau and Dulles and their respective staffs were in Karachi for the second SEATO Council Meeting, March 6–8. This memorandum of conversation was distributed on March 8; a marginal note on the source text indicates that it was approved by Dulles.
  2. On February 25, the British Ambassador in Saigon handed an aide-mémoire to U.S. Embassy officials asking for U.S. views on an Indian proposal that the cochairmen of the Geneva Conference discuss the situation in Vietnam, as an alternative to the demand of the People’s Republic of China, supported by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Soviet Union, for reconvocation of the Geneva Conference. The British suggested that the mid-April 1956 visit of Soviet leaders to Great Britain would provide a convenient time for such a meeting. The Department of State was not opposed to such a meeting, which it considered “vastly preferable” to a conference. (Telegram 2914 from Saigon, February 27; ibid., Central Files, 751G.00/2–2456) Text of the U.K. aide-mémoire is ibid., 751G.00/2–2556.
  3. See Document 311.