Memorandum of Conversation, by the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs (Butterworth)

Participants: Mr. Jean Daridan, Counselor of French Embassy
Mr. W. Walton Butterworth, Director, FE
Mr. Charles S. Reed II, Chief, SEA

Mr. Daridan called at his request to discuss problems raised by the projected return of Bao Dai to Indochina. He opened the conversation by saying that people in Paris, by that meaning French officials, appeared to have a different idea as to what the US might be willing to do to assist Bao Dai than that of the French Embassy in Washington. In this connection he said that a high American official, whom he preferred not to name, had so expressed himself as to lead the French officials to believe that the US might be disposed to give some backing to Bao Dai, possibly by furnishing military equipment. Mr. Daridan said that the foregoing conversation had been brought to the attention of the French Embassy in Washington with roughly the query why the Embassy had reported the improbability of the US giving any backing to Bao Dai, at least at this time. Following a general discussion of the situation not only in Indochina but also in the Far East as a whole, including an explanation of the capacity in which Bao Dai is returning to Indochina, Mr. Daridan posed the question whether the US would be prepared to assist Bao Dai if in the course of the coming months his cause showed some signs of success. I replied that I could not give an answer to such a hypothetical question and that we would have to be guided by circumstances existing at the time. I continued that the whole matter of assistance to Bao Dai or to anyone must be viewed in the light of what the Indochinese or any of the Far Eastern peoples did on their own behalf—that the US could not be expected to supply arms, for instance, if the peoples wanting the arms did not show a desire and willingness to use them against communist or unfriendly pressure. Mr. Daridan agreed that that was a reasonable position to take.

During the course of the conversation Mr. Daridan intimated that Bao Dai might be hesitating to return to Indochina and evidently hoped that the US would bring what pressure was possible on him to induce him to proceed with announced plans. I remarked that Bao Dai was thinking of his neck and Mr. Daridan was in agreement, and he also gave the impression that Bao Dai’s chances of success were not brilliant.

Mr. Daridan then brought up the matter of Mr. Schuman’s1 recent [Page 20] conversation with the Secretary and he said that he believed Mr. Schuman had discussed transferring two pursuit plane (King Cobra) squadrons from France to Indochina. He made available the text of a telegram addressed to Mr. Schuman in which the latter was urged to get the Department’s consent, at least tacit consent, to this transfer on the ground that the planes would be used to combat Mao Tse Tung’s communist forces when they reached the Tonkinese border and entered Indochina. As the planes had come from the US the French Government hoped to regularize such a transfer by securing the Department’s prior consent. I pointed out that the arrival of Mao at the Tonkinese border did not appear to be as imminent as the French Air Chief of Staff appeared to think, that experience in China had greatly discounted the use of this type of plane against ground operations in and over the terrain which had been encountered in China and which would be encountered in Tonkin, and that definitely I could not give any degree of consent to the proposed transfer. The whole matter, I concluded, must rest in abeyance and be considered only in the future in the light of actual developments.

[It was evident that Mr. Daridan was under instructions to sound out the Department as to the help Bao Dai might expect, that the opinion in Paris as to what help might be forthcoming was far different from that of the French Embassy at Washington, and that the question of the planes was a probable feeler in the direction of transferring American-provided military equipment in France to Indochina. Mr. Daridan was given no encouragement on either point.]2

  1. Robert Schuman, French Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  2. Brackets appear in the source text.