192. Editorial Note

At the 249th meeting of the National Security Council on May 19, according to the memorandum of discussion by Gleason, May 20, [Page 415] Dulles briefed the Council on his recent trip to Paris and Vienna. The following excerpt is that portion of the report which deals with Vietnam:

“Secretary Dulles’ second subject was his talks on Vietnam. These had been conducted directly with the French Premier, Faure, and had been of very great significance. Faure had started out with a statement that the French did not desire to become involved with serious differences with the United States on the issue of policy in South Vietnam, and accordingly, it was perhaps best for the French to withdraw entirely from this area, surrendering all their responsibilities to the United States. Secretary Dulles countered promptly by suggesting that the U.S. likewise did not want a falling-out with France on this issue, and accordingly, perhaps it would be best if the U.S. itself pulled out of Vietnam. This exchange, said Secretary Dulles, put an end once and for all to any more such dramatic gestures.

“Secretary Dulles expressed the view that the French were likely to continue to phase out their expeditionary forces from Vietnam. They would not pause when they reached the level of 75,000 men, as originally planned, but would continue to evacuate their forces until they reached perhaps the level of 50,000. At this point they would stabilize. The French were also planning to move most of their troops from the Saigon area to Cap Saint Jacques, though Secretary Dulles personally believed that it would be better if the troops from Saigon were sent to guard duty along the 17th parallel. Such a move, however, he thought unlikely.

“Secretary Humphrey inquired of Secretary Dulles whether the latter thought that Diem would prove strong enough to maintain control of the situation in South Vietnam. Secretary Dulles said that it seemed likely at the present time. Diem had just survived a very great crisis. He had demonstrated a local strength in Vietnam that many people had hitherto doubted he possessed. In the recent fighting both of the religious sects, the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao, had remained neutral, and Bao Dai’s effort to remove control of the army from Diem had utterly failed. On the other hand, Diem had not yet proved able or willing to form a coalition government. Secretary Dulles said that he had had quite a battle with the French on this issue, because they were so keen for such a coalition. He had argued with them that a coalition government as understood in the West was virtually impossible in this part of the world. In the Orient it was necessary to work through a single head of government rather than through a coalition in which various personal interests had to be submerged in a common loyalty. In illustration of this point, Secretary Dulles had cited Singhman [Syngman] Rhee in Korea and Ho Chi Minh in Indochina itself. Accordingly, Secretary Dulles had [Page 416] argued with the French against any effort to force these theories of a coalition on an unwilling Diem. To make matters worse, Secretary Dulles believed that one of the chief reasons for the French desire to establish a coalition government was the possibility that this would afford them the opportunity to bring into such a government some of their own stooges. At any rate, Secretary Dulles said, the French Government leaders in Paris seem willing at long last to get aboard the Diem bandwagon.

“While there was still much bitterness in Saigon against the United States, the prospects for Diem were definitely better, and the high-level Frenchmen were now more disposed to back him. In conclusion on this point, Secretary Dulles indicated that the French had kept urging us to take steps to make Diem do what we felt was necessary and desirable. Secretary Dulles had replied that such a course was impossible for us, and that if Diem were the kind of man who would do our bidding in this way, he would not be the kind of man who could do what was required to save the situation in Vietnam.” (Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, NSC Records)