14. Telegram From the Special Representative in Vietnam (Collins) to the Department of State 1

2663. 1. I met with General Ely on 8 January to review developments Vietnam during his absence.

2. I outlined developments in Vietnam as reported Washington in recent telegrams. I reported my conversations with Defense Minister Minh, and outlined proposals contained subsequent cable2 reference proposed new troop basis and phased reductions Vietnamese forces. General Ely indicated general agreement with new force proposals.

3. Ely then outlined highlights of Paris conference DullesMendesEden which Ely attended.3 He indicated that agreement had been reached that Ely and Collins should review situation Vietnam as of 15 January and report Paris and Washington on chances of success of Diem Government and possible alternatives.

4. My recollection of Paris telegram 2601 Department4 repeated Saigon 388, was that no date had been specified for such a reevaluation [Page 31] (subsequent rereading of Paris telegram 2601 confirms this). I told Ely that until clearcut acceptance by France of our minute of understanding on forces and training, and until we had negotiated definite agreement with Vietnamese Government on terms of US direct support, there was little solid basis for reevaluation of Vietnam situation.

5. Ely quoted from French minutes of DullesMendesEden meeting which indicated definite agreement among principals for reevaluation Vietnam situation some time in January. I replied that Diem Government was only now beginning to implement our seven point program, but that I was willing to meet with Ely for reevaluation at any time he chose. I said that I felt Diem was beginning to make progress on our programs and that only conclusion could reach now was that we would have to continue to support him until there was fair chance to learn results of these programs.

6. I then told Ely I was deeply concerned over delays of French Government, which seemed to have certain elements of deliberate foot dragging, in approving ElyCollins minute of understanding. I pointed out successive reasons for delays: First, the legal review as to whether minute violated Geneva accord, for which I could see no basis; second, that Mendes was skeptical of presenting our minute as a fait accompli to Vietnam Government, which neither I nor Ely had ever intended; third, when this was cleared up, possibly through my niact 2554,5 French Government, still without confirming approval of our minute, stated they were pouching comments to French Embassy, Washington (see Deptel 27466) which would further delay proceedings. I told Ely that I had proceeded with preliminary negotiations with Defense Minister Minh along lines we had agreed upon and intended to continue to press an agreement with Vietnamese Government according to our basis understanding as contained in ElyCollins minute. I pointed out that US law required certain stipulations before we could agree to direct aid.

7. Ely, in turn, stated there had evidently been a serious misunderstanding. He stated categorically that French Government had approved our minute of understanding and that he fully agreed I should proceed to negotiate directly with Vietnam Government.7 He stated that he would cable Paris at once advising French Government to confirm definitely its approval of ElyCollins minute.

[Page 32]

8. Ely then stated that French Government has decided to support FEC strength of 75,000 until 1 June 1955. Thereafter, depending on existing situation, government would determine residual strength of FEC or its complete phase out prior to Vietnamese elections scheduled for mid 1956. He indicated that present thinking of French Government was that the evacuation should be completed by time scheduled for elections. Final decision as to phase out would be made and announced about February, 1954 [1955].

9. Ely stated that rumors that he would be relieved were ill founded. However, he said that independence of three Associated States made his position as Commissioner General anomalous and might shortly force decision as to his status as Commissioner General. I said I hoped his position would not be changed as long as I remained in Vietnam.

10. All of the above, coupled with recent exchange of cables clearly outlining potential misunderstandings between Paris, Washington and Saigon points up question of my returning Washington for consultation as suggested in paragraph 6, my telegram 2455.8 Thus far Department has ignored this suggestion though desire for Department reaction was indicated in paragraph 7, my telegram 2460.9 Would appreciate if this matter would be brought personally to the attention of Secretary Dulles.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/1–1055. Top Secret; Priority. Repeated for information to Paris, Phnom Penh, and Vientiane and passed to the Department of Defense.
  2. Apparently the reference is to telegram 2676 from Saigon, January 10; see footnote 5, Document 12.
  3. The tripartite Ministerial meeting of December 18, 1954.
  4. Dated December 19, 1954; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xiii, Part 2, p. 2400.
  5. Document 3.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 10.
  7. This was not the understanding of the American Embassy in France which stated categorically that while the French approved the substance and general objective of the memorandum of understanding, they were not prepared to accept it as the basis for an approach to the Vietnamese Government. (Telegram 2901 from Paris, January 10; Department of State, Central Files, 751G.5/1–1055)
  8. Dated December 25, 1954; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xiii, Part 2, p. 2423.
  9. Dated December 27, 1954; for text, see ibid., p. 2428.