182. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State 1

In telegrams 18844 and 20306 to Paris, July 30 and August 2, the Department of State requested clarification and further exploration of a number of points raised in this telegram. Bohlen responded in telegrams 1535 and 1657, August 2 and 3, noting that further consultation with Sainteny would have to await his return to Paris in early September. (All in Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S)

1022. Ref: State 6653, June 15, 1966.2 The following is a summary of a long conversation I had this morning with Jean Sainteny.3 He asks of course that the information and the source be treated confidentially. I believe that Sainteny was very frank and spoke without inhibition, although of course it is always possible that he did not give me every detail of what the North Vietnamese said to him.

Sainteny saw no Russians during his overnight stop in Moscow, nor any Chinese at all during his stay in Peking. In regard to the latter capital Sainteny said that he had already sensed the Chinese were hostile to his trip to Hanoi and therefore for reasons of race he did not ask to see any Chinese.
While in Hanoi he delivered the innocuous letter from De Gaulle to Ho Chi Minh 4 and had several tete-a-tete conversations with Ho Chi Minh and several others with Ho Chi Minh and Pham Van Dong and other North Vietnamese officials. Sainteny said that he had come to the following conclusions in regard to the Vietnamese attitude:
That they were determined to fight to the bitter end in protection of North Vietnam. He said the country is mobilized, its population has never known anything but war and considered it on the whole to be not an abnormal state of affairs. In reply to my question, he made a distinction between defense of North Vietnam and the pursuit of the war in the South and said he found the North Vietnamese attitude somewhat different in regard to the war in the South.
That while they looked forward to the eventual reunification of the country, he said that all Vietnamese had spoken to him of the necessity of the creation of a government in the South which they maintain [Page 509] could be done by the inhabitants of the South itself following which, after an extended period probably five years or more, there could be negotiations as envisaged by the Geneva Accords of 1954. Sainteny said that he could not be absolutely sure but that he personally felt that the North Vietnamese were genuine in their view that there could be no military conquest or decision in South Vietnam but that the peaceful methods would be devised for the organization of a government. I pointed out to him that in effect it was largely because of the success initially of the Diem government that the North Vietnamese had organized in 1958 or 1959 the current Vietcong movement and assistance from the North. He did not disagree with this historical analysis but said that the Vietnamese had been very consistent in repeating this thesis to him. (I may add here that Sainteny is not naive in regard to the duplicities of the Oriental mind.)
He said that Ho Chi Minh and Pham Van Dong had indicated to him on a number of occasions that they would not totally reject the idea of some form of negotiation. He doubted however if they would ever come to a conference or that there would be any public negotiation. He felt that the only method would be a secret channel by an individual, not too well known, possibly here in Paris or in some other neutral capital. He said that Pham Van Dong had said to him in Ho Chi Minhʼs presence that the U.S. should stop the bombardment of North Vietnam, and that finally after some discussion Sainteny stated that if they were being realistic at all there would have to be some North Vietnamese quid pro quo. Pham Van Dong finally admitted that there would be some such reply from the North, which night take the form of a cessation of “infiltration.”

In regard to the prisoners of war, Sainteny said that Pham Van Dong had told him that the American prisoners were being well treated and would continue to be well treated. The night before American prisoners were paraded through the streets of Hanoi. He said he thought it was conceivable that Pham Van Dong had not known of the intention to parade them when he made this statement to him. He anticipates that some of these pilots will be tried by typical Vietnamese popular courts, sentenced, but the sentence would be commuted. He said he had argued at considerable length with North Vietnamese on the subject that these men were not criminals of war under the Geneva Convention but that they had merely repeated the statement that there was no declaration of war. (Sainteny seemed to be familiar with Article 2 of the Convention.)5 I told him that I thought any such action by the North Vietnamese would be very serious and the reaction in the U.S. extremely severe, and I could not say what reprisals we might undertake if any. Sainteny referred in this connection to the dikes in the North and said if these dikes were [Page 510] touched his estimate would be about a million people would be threatened with death.

Sainteny said that his strong conclusion from this trip was that the Chinese were the real benefactors from this war. He said there were four factors which he felt led to this conclusion:

There had been a certain loss of American prestige in the Orient because we appeared in popular eyes to be successfully resisted by a very small nation.
The longer the war continued the more Hanoi became a prisoner of Peking. He said that there were Chinese commissions, political and other advisers in Hanoi, and that the Chinese were handling the aid in a way to increase Hanoiʼs dependency on Peking. He said the Russians were virtually non-existent politically in Hanoi.
He felt that the war in its present dimensions, which he was convinced the Chinese would do everything to maintain, was essential to the Chinese as part of the justification for the very savage and severe purge which was being done to the bourgeoisie and intellectuals. He said the Chinese could point to the assistance of capitalist aggressors almost on the border of China as a need to tighten the turn of the vise.
The Vietnamese war is a distinct obstacle in Soviet-American relations.

In reply to my question, Sainteny said that of course he was not in any position to give advice to the U.S. Government but that his personal view was that we should seek through secret channels to get in touch with Hanoi and to suggest cessation of bombing in the North in return for some commitment to cease infiltration into the South. He seemed to think that such a case might be successful since he was convinced that Hanoi wished to find some means of bringing the war to an end although determined to resist attacks on North Vietnam indefinitely. He mentioned in this connection that Ho Chi Minh had twice been to Peking (he assumed to discuss with the Chinese either a search for settlement or an increase in Chinese aid). He believed that the Chinese had refused the first and had agreed to the second.

Finally, Sainteny said that he had seen De Gaulle yesterday and made a report to him and he did not anticipate any French move in this affair since there would not seem to be any prospects at the moment. In this connection, he said the rumor from Phnom Penh6 was quite without foundation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 VIET S. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to Saigon, Vientiane, Hong Kong, and Moscow. Rostow forwarded the text of telegram 1022 to the President on July 22 under cover of a memorandum stating that he agreed that “our best chance for making negotiating progress is through very secret talks with Hanoi.” (Johnson Library, National Security File, Memos to the President—Walt W. Rostow, vol. 9)
  2. Not printed. (Ibid., POL 27–7 VIET)
  3. Sainteny, a former French colonial official in Indochina who maintained close ties with Ho Chi Minh, visited Hanoi during July 1966 as President De Gaulleʼs personal emissary.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. For text of Article 2 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, August 12, 1949, see 6 UST (pt. 3) 3318.
  6. Not further identified.