247. Memorandum of a Conversation, Barringtonʼs Suite, Hotel Suisse, Geneva, July 22, 1962, 2:30 p.m.1


  • United States
    • W. Averell Harriman
    • William H. Sullivan
  • North Vietnam
    • Foreign Minister Ung van Kiem
    • Mr. Hoang Nguyen, Secy. Gen. of Delegation
    • Interpreter (name unknown)
  • Burma
    • Under Secy. for Foreign Affairs, James Barrington
    • Mr. Maung Muang Gyi, Foreign Office

During the course of a reception given by the Burmese on Saturday, July 21, Mr. Barrington asked Governor Harriman whether the latter would appreciate an opportunity to talk privately with the North Vietnamese. When the Governor indicated his willingness to do so, Barrington arranged a meeting for the following day in his room at the Hotel Suisse.

Governor Harriman opened the conversation by recalling that the wartime policies of President Roosevelt had envisaged independence for Vietnam through the mechanism of some sort of international machinery. President Roosevelt had not anticipated that the French would return to Indochina. He asked the Foreign Minister what would have happened in his country if President Rooseveltʼs policies had been carried out.

The Foreign Minister replied that he and his government were well aware of President Rooseveltʼs policies, and had been very surprised when the Americans acquiesced in the attempt of the French to reestablish their colonial control in Indochina. He felt that the following years were a great tragedy and had caused much suffering to the people of Vietnam.

[Here follow eight paragraphs on the situation in Laos.]

The Foreign Minister said he wished to turn from Laos to the question of Vietnam. He said that the Vietnamese people strongly resented American intervention in Vietnam. He said that the 1954 Agreements on Indochina had provided for the reunification of Vietnam through elections. If it had not been for the intervention of the US in 1956, that reunification would have been achieved, either by federation or by elections, which would have placed all of Vietnam under a single regime. US intervention had in recent years grown worse until it was now a fact that American forces were mercilessly killing Vietnamese citizens. While Governor Harriman spoke of President Kennedyʼs policy which respects neutrality, and the fact that it has produced an agreement on Laos, the Foreign Minister could not understand how President Kennedy could continue the policy of military intervention in Vietnam.

Governor Harriman said that he wished to reply very frankly to the statement which the Foreign Minister had just made. President Kennedy, before making a decision to send increased military assistance to South Vietnam in response to President Diemʼs request, had directed that a very careful study be made of the situation. From that [Page 545] study he was convinced, as the recent ICC report2 has later borne out, that the guerrilla activity and the killing in South Vietnam were directed from the North, and that the guerrillas were led, trained and supplied by the North. When President Kennedy sent the additional forces into South Vietnam, he made clear that they were there for the purposes of helping the Vietnamese to defend themselves against this aggression from the North. He also made clear that if that aggression stopped, there would be no need for continued presence of those American forces. Therefore, the way that peace could be brought to Vietnam would be for the North Vietnamese to cease their aggression against South Vietnam, and to stop the guerrilla activity. Then the status envisaged by the 1954 Agreements could be reestablished and the possibilities of dealing with other difficulties could be explored.

The Foreign Minister replied that the Americans did not seem to understand the situation in Vietnam. The history of South Vietnam has always been one of struggle. The forces who are fighting against the Diem regime are people from the South who take their weapons from those supplied by the Americans. There are no North Vietnamese airplanes, ships or motor vehicles which can bring guerrilla forces or weapons into Vietnam. This is a popular revolt against the Diem regime and American intervention is trying to suppress it. Governor Harriman, noting an impending appointment he had with Secretary Rusk, said that he did not believe it would be useful to argue the issue. He was thoroughly convinced, as were other objective observers, that the cause of the trouble in South Vietnam came from the North. The US military assistance to South Vietnam would continue so long as that aggression persisted. He wanted the Foreign Minister to understand that and to understand that the way to bring peace to Vietnam was for the North to cease its aggression.

Before departing, however, he wished to return to the first part of the conversation which he and the Foreign Minister had had concerning Laos. He felt that clear undertakings on the part of the US Government and on the part of the North Vietnamese to carry out scrupulously all the provisions of the Geneva Agreements on Laos would result in peace in Laos. He trusted that that would be done and that this sort of cooperation between the US and North Vietnam could make a great contribution toward the peace of Southeast Asia.

The Foreign Minister agreed with this statement and said he would remember the first part of the conversation that he and Governor Harriman had had this afternoon. He hoped, however, that Governor Harriman would not forget the second part of the conversation, and particularly what the Foreign Minister had had to say about American military intervention in Vietnam.

[Page 546]

On that note, the meeting broke up with mutual thanks to Mr. Barrington for providing an opportunity for these talks to have taken place.

  1. Source: Columbia University, Harriman Papers, Vietnam. Drafted by Sullivan and authorized by Harriman. The meeting was held in Barringtonʼs suite at the Hotel Suisse.
  2. See Document 208.