97. Message From the Ambassador in France (Bohlen) to the President1

We were informed this morning2 by the Quai d’Orsay at about same time that Deptel 47933 arrived that Khanh had taken up with French Charge a demand for a statement from De Gaulle about French position on neutrality (Embtel 4481).4 Since Khanh seems to have jumped the gun on us and in effect asked for what I was trying to obtain I wonder if we should not wait a day or so and assess French reaction before my seeking an interview with De Gaulle. However, on assumption that I will go through with this interview I would like to submit for your consideration the following suggestions in regard to the text of your message to De Gaulle. I assume this was designed to be presented in writing and we can of course add suitable salutation and closing.

I would suggest dropping paragraph four which as written seems to be our interpretation of French position. It is somewhat strong and I fear might produce an unnecessarily adverse reaction from De Gaulle. I would also eliminate last sentence of paragraph five since I think it extremely unwise to even hint to De Gaulle that “leading representatives of France” making statements about French policy which De Gaulle himself has initiated and which might lead him to the view that his position was being undercut by these “representatives”.

In place therefore of paragraphs four and five I would substitute the following:

“The difficulty is that the term neutralization is being understood by certain people in Vietnam as having immediate application and not as a long-term objective. These people consider that any advocacy of neutrality at the present time really is a pseudonym for eventual [Page 195]Communist take-over. This impression has stirred up sharp reaction among many elements in Vietnam, a reaction which we have done our best to moderate through our own diplomatic efforts”.

The Quai also informed us of a conversation that you had with Alphand (I assume during Defferre’s visit). I would appreciate anything that you could let us have on this conversation.5

I shall not request an interview with de Gaulle until I hear further from you.6

Bohlen7
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Transmitted as telegram 4486 from Paris, which is the source text. Passed to the White House on receipt in the Department of State.
  2. March 23.
  3. Document 96
  4. Khanh made this demand to Perruche on March 23, suggesting that the statement should make clear that even if future neutrality were desirable for Vietnam, the current struggle against the Viet Cong was the correct course. Should France do this, Khanh suggested that Vietnam could then remove economic restrictions on French imports and name a new Ambassador to Paris. Khanh added that the need for such a statement was both important and urgent; he had to have an answer by April 1. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 FR–VIET S)
  5. From 4:43 to 4:50 p.m., March 24, the President met with Gaston Defferre, Mayor of Marseilles. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) No record of this meeting has been found.
  6. Rusk called William Bundy on March 25 at 2:33 p.m., to discuss this cable. The transcript of their telephone conversation reads in part as follows:

    “The Sec asked him if he had seen Bohlen’s message and Bundy said he had. Sec said it was bad that Khanh went roaring in. Bundy said we should have warned Bohlen Bundy said we were in an awful box, and said he was inclined to agree that Bohlen should put off his call to De Gaulle for a day or two. Sec said it would be very unwise to go roaring in. Sec said perhaps he had better in effect say that he had been informed about Khanh’s action and that we think it would be very unwise for Khanh to go on down this road. We have been urging maximum restraint on him in this matter. We were concerned by the known fact that neutralization would create problems in Vietnam and go on from there. Sec said we should do something as a consequence of what Khanh has said rather than a parallel move. Bundy asked if we should let the French know we were coming, so to speak, and Sec said no but to go because Khanh did this and try to get the thing in order. Sec said it was a rough one and that this rather guarantees that we would fail with De Gaulle. Sec thought maybe we should wait a couple of days. Bundy said we were not under specific gun and Monday they agreed would be OK.” (Department of State, Rusk Files: Lot 72 D 192, Telephone Conversations)

  7. Telegram 4486 bears this typed signature.