25. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State1


  • Call of the Ambassador of VietNam on Mr. Steeves


  • His Excellency Tran Van Chuong, Ambassador of VietNam
  • Mr. John M. Steeves, Acting Assistant Sec’y for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Mr. Chalmers B. Wood, Officer in Charge, VietNam Affairs
  • Mr. Samuel O. Ruff, Foreign Affairs Officer

Ambassador Chuong called on Mr. Steeves to inquire about the SEATO Meeting which he (Mr. Steeves) had attended and about the conversations which had taken place between the President and Mr. Macmillan on VietNam.2

Mr. Steeves replied that he was particularly happy to have the chance to explain to the Ambassador because the developments had a very vital bearing on his country’s interests. He said that in one conversation with our British colleagues we had tried to focus our attention on the larger issue of security in Southeast Asia as a whole. We had dramatized to them the fact that the place where more of our friends were being directly attacked and killed by the Communists was in VietNam. We informed them of the things we intended to do in VietNam, our plans for stepped-up assistance, etc. They were interested, sympathetic, and cooperative.

The Ambassador wanted to know if we had an understanding about what should be done.

Mr. Steeves in reply reviewed the SEATO Conference saying that the members faced up to the fact that they must assume their responsibilities. For example, M. Manach, the French representative, certainly left the meeting with a full understanding that responsibility lay with the SEATO process if there were no settlement. Thailand and the Philippines both felt content with the decisions.

Mr. Steeves then stated that we now have the problem of attempting to find a peaceful solution. Since we are afraid to attend an international conference while military activity continues, we [Page 65] have taken a firm stand that a cease-fire must be de facto in effect. As to the current situation, we are disturbed that one prong of the PL near Paksane is close to cutting Laos in two. On the other hand, two days ago the Government of Laos dropped paratroops at Muong Kassy.

The Ambassador then urged that it was necessary to keep on fighting and defending to the last moment; he was encouraged to see that our side had not stopped before the conference. He then addressed himself to an item from the press which he thought needed comment:

Chinese troops. He had been disturbed by editorials which cited the danger that Chinese troops would enter the conflict. He thought that the press misunderstood the fact that Red China, the USSR, the Pathet Lao, and the Viet-Minh were all fingers on the same hand. The Chinese do not have to send troops directly into Laos because Communist cadres have been trained in North VietNam for the last fifteen years. The enemy can inject this nucleus into Laos with no trouble at all because they speak the same language, have trained with the Pathet Lao, etc. He recalled that he had seen Souphanouvong in Hanoi in 1945 when he attended a meeting to help in the organization of Viet-Minh in Laos.

The Ambassador then urged the necessity of having more troops in VietNam; not American Marines, but Asiatics who know the terrain. He thought that the US understood the military situation very well but had hesitated for years on an increase in the Vietnamese army. He then asked for confirmation if it were correct that we had recently given his country an offer of help of $41 million, on condition that the Vietnamese make a counter effort which he said would involve 1,500 million piastres. Mr. Steeves confirmed this. The Ambassador closed with an eloquent plea for help of various kinds saying that his people were still ready and willing to fight to defend themselves. He said that his government was glad to make reforms such as land reforms, etc., but he was afraid that reforms would be ineffectual unless they were backed up in depth with means of resettlement, farm machinery, etc., intimating that the US could help along other lines.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751K.00/4-861. Confidential. Drafted by Ruff.
  2. British Prime Minister Macmillan paid an unofficial visit to the United States, April 4-8. In a meeting with the President on April 6 he discussed Vietnam briefly, in particular the number of civilians assassinated by the Viet Cong, and Vietnam was mentioned in passing in the joint statement issued on April 8. For text of the statement, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 545-546. A memorandum of the conversation, in which Steeves participated, between the President and the Prime Minister is in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 366, CF 1833.