28. Memorandum of a Conversation1


  • Vietnam


  • French
    • Ambassador Alphand
    • M. Pierre Pelen
  • U.S.
    • The Secretary
    • Mr. Richard H. Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary, EUR
    • Mr. Iohannes V. Imhof. WE

Ambassador Alphand called on the Secretary at 5:00 p.m. on August 30. One of the subjects discussed was:


The Secretary said that the press both here and in France was giving the impression that Ambassador Alphand had been summoned to this meeting because of General De Gaulle’s statement on Vietnam.2 The Secretary said that this was obviously not true and that it was desirable to correct this impression. Ambassador Alphand agreed. He said that while he had not seen the final version of the French statement on Vietnam right after it had been made, he had seen initial [Page 60] drafts two weeks ago while he was still in Paris. He said that in essence the statement reiterated the points which General De Gaulle had made in his meeting with the President in the spring of 1961.3 The French did not feel that a military solution could work.

The Secretary said that it was the other side which is seeking to impose a military solution. We did not seek South Vietnam as an ally and we would be perfectly happy if it were truly nonaligned as many other countries are. However, the facts of the situation were that Communist guerrillas supported from the North were seeking to subjugate the country. This we had to resist. Ambassador Alphand said that he appreciated this position. Certainly the French had no immediate solution to the problem. General de Gaulle’s statement was intended merely as a long term proposition, not as something that could be put into effect in the near future.

The Secretary noted that France had a delegation in Hanoi. He said he hoped the French would let us have some of the information which the French delegation developed there. Ambassador Alphand promised to look into this. He said that he had read an article in a recent USIA publication comparing the positions of Mao Tse Tung and Ho Chi Minh on the situation in Vietnam. Mao, according to this publication, was for the continuation and intensification of the war, while Ho was for peace. Ambassador Alphand said that the French agreed with this analysis and he suggested that it would be useful to compare notes on the respective positions of Mao and Ho.

The Secretary said the Soviets had recently created the impression in connection with Laos that they had not much influence in Southeast Asia. This might be true; on the other hand, it was also possible that the Soviets wanted us to believe that this was so. Ambassador Alphand was inclined to believe that the Soviets had in fact little influence in the area. On the other hand, Ho Chi Minh was basically anti-Chinese. A neutral solution for Vietnam was therefore possible and might be the best solution. The Secretary repeated that we had been drawn into the conflict because of Viet [Cong?] activity. There was as yet no indication that a truly neutral Vietnam was possible. A false neutrality would be most dangerous as it would have repercussions on Vietnam’s neighbors, especially on Indonesia.

Ambassador Alphand said the present situation was most difficult. He felt Diem was undesirable; however, there was nobody in sight to replace him. The Secretary said the main problem seemed to be Diem’s brother Nhu and he wondered whether the enticements of [Page 61] Paris could not be offered to him. Ambassador Alphand said that Nhu’s father was going to Paris, but there were no indications that Nhu himself planned to retire.

Ambassador Alphand, while admitting that the neutral solution was not as yet effective in Laos, said that at least it has stopped the war there. The Secretary said the situation in Laos was different. If every foreigner really left Laos it was quite possible that there could be no internal security problem and that the country would not create problems for any of its neighbors. The same was not necessarily true of a unified Vietnam. The Vietnamese are more active and ambitious and might create problems.

Ambassador Alphand said he planned to emphasize to the press that it was absurd to think that France was looking for an arrangement with Diem or was trying to extend her influence at the expense of the U.S. The Secretary suggested that the Ambassador might point out that De Gaulle’s declaration represented long-term views. Ambassador Alphand agreed.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 S VIET. Secret. Drafted by Imhof. The meeting was held at the Department of State.
  2. See footnote 7, Document 26.
  3. President Kennedy visited France May 31-June 2, 1961. Records of his conversations with President Charles De Gaulle are in Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 66 D 110, CF 1891.