76. Memorandum Prepared by the Ambassador to France (Bohlen)1
Ambassador Lodge had asked some time ago that we endeavor to obtain from General De Gaulle some clarifying statement in regard to French policy towards Viet-Nam. The Ambassador’s request, as I recall it, was based, at least in part, upon a desire to restrain the Viet-Namese from breaking with France on the assumption that France was about to recognize Viet Minh. It was also dictated by the bad effect France’s unclear position was having on Viet-Namese morale.
We gave this request of Ambassador Lodge the most careful consideration in Paris and came to the conclusion that any approach to General De Gaulle on this subject would be fruitless. We also noted and so reported to Saigon that there seemed to be no possibility of any French recognition of Hanoi. I feel very definitely that a request of General De Gaulle to clarify a statement which he had purposely left ambiguous would not only not produce the result desired, but also might offer the General an opportunity to restate his very generalized view of Viet-Nam; namely, that neutralization and unification, and similar vague terms were the only possible bases for a solution there. Furthermore, it would tend, I believe, to convince him that the United States was urgently in need of some French help in the Viet-Namese situation. We should always remember that De Gaulle has stated on a number of occasions directly to American officials, to President Kennedy in May of 1961, and to me, his belief that we could not succeed in the course that we are pursuing. It is also not clear exactly what type of clarification we desired. For all of these reasons, I thought at the time, and still do, that any approach to De Gaulle merely for clarification of French policy would be a very serious mistake and would most certainly not yield the result desired.
However, if, as I have reported from Paris, we are able, following Secretary McNamara’s visit to devise a course of action in Viet-Nam with a clear political objective, I believe then it would be worthwhile my going to see General De Gaulle to explain this policy and its [Page 141]objective to him and to request the cooperation of France in its achievement. This, of course, is dependent upon our ability to work out some form of coherent policy which I could take to De Gaulle.
On the other hand, if there are considerations of which I am not aware which would make it important, even with the certainty of a refusal, to have made an effort with De Gaulle. I am of course entirely prepared to do it.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Vietnam Country File, Vol. V. Confidential. Also published in Declassified Documents, 1976, 211H. Bohlen was in Washington for consultations. A note on the source text indicates that the President saw this memorandum and a covering note. The President met with Bohlen from 6:02 to 6:27 p.m. on March 12. Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No record of this meeting has been found.↩