344. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

1107. For Harriman from Lodge. Embassy telegram 1103.2 The more I think about the proposed conference on Cambodia, as described [Page 662] in Dept’s telegrams, the more disastrous I think it would be to the war to help the Republic of Viet-Nam to win and then maintain its independence from Communist aggression. I say this for the following reasons:

It is inconceivable to me that a conference like this could do other than foment and encourage the neutralism which is always present in varying degrees here in South Viet-Nam. People here will say: “First there was Laos; now there is Cambodia; tomorrow it will be Viet-Nam.” Obviously, any encouragement of neutralism must impair the war effort.
If this conference is held, it will be impossible to avoid consideration of all the Southeast Asian questions, including particularly the unification of North and South Viet-Nam. I recognize the wise desire expressed in Deptel to limit conference scope but doubt whether it can be done. And this emphatically is not the time even to discuss the question of unifying North and South Viet-Nam. The present is the time to strengthen the anti-Communist free world character of South Viet-Nam and to seek to detach, as best we can, North Viet-Nam from Communist China—somewhat as Yugoslavia was detached from the Soviet Union. I admit that Yugoslavia was in a better position to be detached than North Viet-Nam is, but this is nonetheless the direction in which we ought to work now—if only as a preparatory stage to something else. It would be most imprudent to consider the unification of North and South Viet-Nam until South Viet-Nam is in a position of superior strength at the conference table and obviously this state of affairs is not now even in sight.
The French will be present at the Cambodian conference and this will naturally put them in a position to hamper all of our major policy objectives here which, without a conference, they could not do since they have put no money and no men into the game and are totally without chips. Why we should hand them this juicy favor by putting them into the game I do not see, particularly in light of the fact, as Dept recognized in Deptel 800,3 French and U.S. policy on divergent paths.
An agreement to protect South Viet-Nam’s neutralists from infiltration from Cambodia which was actually enforced by an efficacious border Patrol would have merit, but I have seen no serious [Page 663] suggestion that there is even a possibility of this. If there were a possibility of it, a conference would probably not be necessary to bring it about.
I am sure the ChiComs support conference as a step toward helping the Viet Cong in South Viet-Nam, even though I realize praiseworthy motives of conference advocates.
We should not go into a conference without being clear in our minds as to how we are most likely to come out of it. We should make up our minds what, as an absolute minimum, we must gain from the conference and what, as an absolute minimum, we must avoid. We should then see how many conferees we can count on. All these calculations should precede a decision.
Giving our opponents (i.e., ChiComs, et al) an opportunity to open up an attack on our ally (South Viet-Nam) does not seem like a good way to get on with the war.
I dislike differing with conference advocates in U.S. Govt for whom I have such a high regard and with whom I usually agree. I recognize there may be things I do not know. But the above is how it looks to me here in Saigon.
It looks as though we were at last getting into a good posture here to get some really solid success in the prosecution of the war. We and the Vietnamese have put both blood and treasure into it. Our joint effort here deserves every chance of success.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27-13 CAMB. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution.
  2. Document 341.
  3. In telegram 800 to Paris, November 15, the Department of State provided the following information:

    “It is quite clear French (De Gaulle) and US policy moving along divergent paths Viet-Nam. If French wish, at least initially, to neglect apparently considerable potential influence they might have with new GVN by non-recognition, that is regrettable. However, since present thrust of French advice to GVN likely to be in direction of neutral ‘solution’, we see no great loss in delay in resumption Franco-Vietnamese relations.” (Department of State, Central Files, POL 16 S VIET)