106. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State 1
4621. For Secretary from Ambassador. The following are some sidelights of the conversation with De Gaulle which I did not consider of sufficient importance to put into the main telegram to the President (Embtel 4615).2 One very noticeable feature was his obvious contemptuous dislike of the Vietnamese and their government. At one point after he had complained about the attitude towards France of successive Vietnamese governments, beginning with Diem and with particular reference to the Khanh government, I told him that I thought the statement that we were seeking would be a great step in the direction of improved Franco-Vietnamese relations, mentioning in this connection that while we had known about Khanh’s démarche to the French Chargé in Saigon3 we had not suggested it.
De Gaulle in answer said flatly that the attitude of any Vietnamese Government towards France was a matter of complete and utter indifference. He also throughout the conversation made disparaging references to the fighting ability, morale and general character of the Vietnamese people. Some time ago Pinay in private conversation with me had mentioned that while he was in the government he too had been struck by De Gaulle’s basic dislike of Vietnam and his unwillingness to hear any rational analysis of the situation there.
De Gaulle a number of times during the conversation referred to the fact that the request I was making did not render France’s task more easy. When I inquired as to exactly what he meant he made a vague reference to his previous statements at his press conferences about France’s views on the situation in the Orient. I surmise that what he had in mind is the general plan he had for the recognition of Communist China.
One thing that can be said in regard to this conversation is that it indeed “clarified” French policy in regard to Vietnam. De Gaulle was explicit in his statement that he felt that neutralization was the only course which the U.S. could follow and “the sooner the better” unless we were prepared to carry military operations to the North against Viet Minh and against China.[Page 221]
You will recall that Couve de Murville made a similar statement to me about a month ago (Embtel 3968)4 in regard to the possibility of extension of hostilities. I did not gather however from De Gaulle that he really seriously was recommending this course of action but merely that it was pointed out as clear and definite policy, presumably, to contrast with the uncertainties of our present course.
I can assure you that I used every argument that I could think of but avoided any threats or implied threats as to the future effect on relations with the U.S. since I was convinced that these would merely complicate matters without producing the slightest change in De Gaulle’s attitude.
My impression was that De Gaulle will probably say nothing on the subject of Vietnam for some time to come while he watches to see whether we are able with the Vietnamese to bring about an improvement in the situation or whether as he anticipates we will be headed towards a bigger crisis later on. I would certainly recommend against any further approach to De Gaulle on this subject and that we make every effort to keep the actual contents of this talk confidential.
I don’t quite know how this problem will be handled in Saigon since Lodge apparently had already informed Khanh of my proposed talk. I would suggest that a sanitized version of this conversation be transmitted to Khanh but I feel that anything like a full account of De Gaulle’s views should not be given to Vietnam.
You will undoubtedly wish to discuss this matter further with Couve de Murville in Manila5 but I would think with the realization in the back of your mind that Couve has no authority to make De Gaulle’s policy.