237. Memorandum of a Conversation, Secretary of State Rusk’s Office, Department of State1

SUBJECT

  • Southeast Asia

PARTICIPANTS

  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Imhof, WE
  • Ambassador Alphand, French Embassy
  • Minister de Leusse, French Embassy
  • M. Roger Duzer, Counselor, French Embassy

Ambassador Alphand said that he now had a message from Couve de Murville in response to a number of points which the Secretary had raised with Alphand on July 1.2 Ambassador Alphand explained [Page 555]that the delay had been caused by Couve’s extremely busy schedule—he had been in Germany, in Sweden and he had chaired the WEU meeting in Paris. Ambassador Alphand then proceeded to read from penciled notes.

Ambassador Alphand said he could assure the Secretary the French Government was fully aware that the U.S. had no territorial ambitions in Southeast Asia. The Secretary said that not only do we have no territorial ambitions, we also have no ambition to regard Southeast Asia as our special sphere of influence.

Ambassador Alphand said that the French Government knows that U.S. actions in the area are not in any sense directed against France. To be sure, there had on occasions been some activities by certain U.S. services but the French Government knew that U.S. policy was not directed against France. By the same token, the French Government hoped that no one in the United States Government would consider that French policies were directed in any sense against U.S. interests.

Ambassador Alphand said that the fact remained that while we had similar objectives, there were serious differences with regard to Southeast Asia about the ways and means to get there. The French Government believed that the best way to stabilize the area was to make certain that there was no outside intervention, neither from the Chinese nor from the U.S.

Ambassador Alphand said that he recalled the Secretary’s statement on July 1 that we would quickly be back in the area militarily in case the stability of the area were threatened. Ambassador Alphand said that it seemed that this statement indicated that we did regard Southeast Asia as our special sphere of influence. The Secretary said that this interpretation was not correct. We have a commitment to ensure the freedom and the security of the area. We felt the countries had a right to expect outside help in case their security was threatened. Ambassador Alphand asked who would decide whether there was a renewal of aggression. He noted that in the case of the Austrian State Treaty, there was no provision for a unilateral decision that an aggression had occurred. The Secretary said that we considered the current situation in Southeast Asia as an aggression. If Hungary were to put armed bands into Austria, we would have to do something about it. Ambassador Alphand reverted to the question who would define whether an aggression had occurred. The Secretary pointed out that we have jointly registered our interest in the security of Southeast Asia in SEATO.

Ambassador Alphand, again reading from his notes, said that France agreed that the Chinese Communist regime had many bad qualities; on the other hand, the Chinese regime was aware of U.S. power and concerned about U.S. bases on the Asian mainland. The [Page 556]Secretary asked whether China understood why we were there. Ambassador Alphand said he felt certain that China did understand. The U.S. had said so directly. He assumed that we had also made the Chinese aware of our position in our direct discussions with them. He said in this situation the French Ambassador in Peiping could add little. Our statements would count far more heavily with the Chinese than anything the French might say.

Ambassador Alphand then came to what appears to have been the gist of his instructions. He said that there should be an understanding between France and the U.S. not only on objectives in Southeast Asia but also on the means to get there. Without such an understanding, French possibilities to be of help would be limited. As the French saw it, we had various options. We could extend the war. In this case, France could not play a useful role. We could look for a negotiated settlement. In this case, France could be of help. Ambassador Alphand referred in this connection to General De Gaulle’s recent statement to Mr. Ball3 that a vast negotiation, including China, the USSR, the UK, France and the U.S., would in itself help to stabilize the situation in Southeast Asia by slowing down Communist military actions. A French démarche to Peiping would be useful only at a later stage when an understanding had been reached on the course which we would adopt. An earlier démarche would simply jeopardize the usefulness of a later French intervention.

The Secretary asked whether Peiping knew that France disapproved of Chinese and North Vietnamese actions in Southeast Asia. Ambassador Alphand said Peiping was aware that France was opposed to outside intervention in the area and that it wants an agreement with international guarantees. Ambassador Alphand said that Chen Yi had given a bad speech on the occasion of Bastille Day, a speech which had not pleased the French at all. Nevertheless, Ambassador Alphand thought that there was no doubt in Chinese Government circles about French disapproval of outside interference in the area.

The Secretary asked Ambassador Alphand whether the French Government had given any indications as to the kind of agreement they expected to come out of such a conference. Ambassador Alphand said that he had nothing specific from Paris on this point but that the hope was that the Chinese will keep out of the area if the U.S. withdraws from Laos and Vietnam. The Secretary said that if that was what the Chinese desired, they could have it tomorrow if they themselves stopped interfering in the area. Ambassador Alphand said that the Chinese required guarantees. It was desirable that others also participated in extending these guarantees. The Secretary said that we [Page 557]had such an agreement in Laos and it had not worked. Ambassador Alphand said he had repeatedly discussed some of our earlier actions in Laos with the Secretary’s predecessors. The Secretary said he was specifically referring to the situation after the 1962 agreement. We had taken 600 men out of Laos. The other side had not adhered to the agreement. Ambassador Alphand suggested that the situation in Laos had disintegrated because of the war in Vietnam. He said it was necessary to solve the problem of the entire area. An attempt to solve Laos alone would be fruitless. The Secretary said that on the contrary, a solution of the Laotian problem could facilitate a solution in Vietnam, relieve pressures on Sihanouk, and lead to a stabilization of the situation in Southeast Asia. The Secretary noted that the agreement on Laos was self-contained and not dependent on the situation in South Vietnam. Ambassador Alphand said that the Secretary was right juridically; he believed, however, that a solution had to be found for the problem of the entire area. The Secretary said it seemed to him the question was not so much a new agreement but performance on existing agreements.

Ambassador Alphand recalled the Secretary’s remark to him on July 1 that while the Soviets had come to realize that aggression would involve the most serious risks for them, the Chinese apparently had not as yet come to realize this. Ambassador Alphand said once a negotiated settlement had been reached, it ought to be possible to make the Chinese understand that any infraction of the agreement would create the most serious risks for them. The U.S. could bring into play its overwhelming power in Southeast Asia. The threat of a nuclear war would have a most sobering and deterrent effect on the Chinese. The Secretary said that the Asians, including even Chiang Kai-shek, were strongly opposed to the employment of nuclear weapons in Asia. He wondered to what extent the Chinese Communists really felt themselves threatened. For instance, did they really think that they are facing a threat from South Vietnam? Ambassador Alphand said he did not know, but he thought that the Chinese were aware of the power position of the United States.

Ambassador Alphand said that under present circumstances, his government believed that it was better to await a later time for a French démarche in Peiping.

The Secretary asked whether the French Government supported Souvanna Phouma. Ambassador Alphand said that the French Government considered him the Prime Minister of Laos but hoped that he would not allow himself to be integrated among the Right. There should be three factions in Laos. The Secretary said that he did not wish to go into this in detail at this time but that the three factions were not necessarily a permanent ingredient of the accord on Laos.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversations: Lot 65 D 330. Secret. Drafted by Imhof and approved by Rusk on August 10. Copies were sent to FE, EUR, WE, the White House, and the Embassy in Paris.
  2. See Document 227.
  3. See Document 202.