212. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, June 18, 19551


  • Tripartite Meeting on Indian Aide-Mémoire on Vietnamese Elections


  • Sir Robert Scott, British Embassy
  • Mr. M.G.L. Joy, British Embassy
  • M. Pierre Millet, French Embassy
  • M. Pierre Pelletier, French Embassy
  • Mr. William J. Sebald, FE
  • Mr. Kenneth T. Young, Jr., PSA
  • Mr. William R. Tyler, WE
  • Miss Patricia M. Byrne, PSA, Rapporteur

Sir Robert Scott summarized the British position as follows: His Government had always believed strongly that Diem should take some positive action with respect to the consultations on elections to be held in July 1956. Recently the United States had been opposed to pressing Diem, since he seemed not in the mood to move. This situation had been overtaken by the Indian aide-mémoire, which must be answered by the British whether or not Molotov raised it in San Francisco.

[Page 461]

Scott read Foreign Office comments on the Indian proposal: The Indian idea had the same disadvantage as the original French proposal, namely, the initiative was to be taken by the co-Chairmen. Britain did not want to get involved in joint action with the USSR, and did not wish to do anything which the United States would find unpalatable. Neither did they wish to suggest action by the supervisory powers, since Diem continued to regard the ICC with suspicion. The Indian aide-mémoire could not, however, be rejected without some alternative. Consequently, the British would like to reply that they were already making representations to Diem not inconsistent with the Indian aide-mémoire. The gist of these representations was contained in a paper given the Department by Joy of the British Embassy on June 13 (Annex 1). If the United States did not go along with the British proposal, the United Kingdom was inclined to favor unilateral representations to Diem on their part, rather than accede to the Indian plan. Joy added that the Canadians were in possession of the Indian aide-mémoire and opposed its contents.

M. Millet declared his Government agreed with the British proposal and had no reason to believe that Diem would be opposed. Roux of the Quai d’Orsay in a telephone conversation this morning had informed Millet that Chau, Diem’s special envoy to Paris, had seemed receptive and was on his way back to Saigon to determine Diem’s attitude toward the British proposition. M. Millet also stressed the French feeling that time was of the essence.

Mr. Sebald stated that the United States considered the Indian proposal too elaborate and undoubtedly unacceptable to Diem. The American position was generally that Diem should be encouraged to make a public declaration favoring genuinely free elections. We should not, however, press him to enter formal consultations against his will, but should at the same time point out the dangers inherent in a negative attitude toward them.

The United States understood that the Indians must be presented with an alternative, and therefore was in principle in favor of acting on the British suggestion. The United States was in complete agreement with the idea of Diem’s seizing the initiative, but considered his making specific proposals on the “time, place, and level of representation” could very well become a trap.

Mr. Young stated that the use of the words “time, place, and level of representation” seemed to imply direct bipartite discussions probably in the demilitarized zone from the first stage of consultations onward. It was quite likely that such consultations would lead to another Panmunjom,2 an eventuality which should be avoided. He [Page 462] suggested that, since the mechanics of consultations were not spelled out, it might be better for Diem and his allies if consultations were informal, indirect, and not public. Such an arrangement would not violate the spirit of the Geneva Agreements, inasmuch as consultations would in effect take place. Scott commented that this seemed not inconsistent with their proposal, which was in essence only that Diem should take some sort of initiative. Mr. Young also emphasized the need to assure the Vietnamese of Western support, since the Vietnamese looked on the elections with real apprehension.

Mr. Sebald also put forward the idea of exploring the British statement, in their proposed démarche to Diem, of their willingness to serve as the relay point for communications from Viet-Nam to the USSR to the Viet Minh. It might be possible first to develop an atmosphere of consultation, actually getting the parties together later. This was simply a method worth investigating, and not a fixed U.S. position. The British representatives gave their opinion that such a plan might work in the beginning, but not as a standing arrangement, since the distinction between the British acting as a Government, that is, an interested bystander, rather than as co-Chairman was a difficult one.

In response to an inquiry as to Indian views on elections in general, Mr. Young said that Krishna Menon desired an exact implementation of the Geneva Accords, and believed elections should be held regardless of the outcome.

It was the sense of the meeting that 1) the Indian proposal was unacceptable; 2) some reply must be made to New Delhi; 3) this reply should be that the British had already taken steps to urge Diem to begin consultations; 4) the words “time, place, and level of representation” might be going too far and therefore should be omitted from the suggested British démarche. (This was the opinion particularly of the United States representatives, but seemed to have the tacit agreement of the other participants.)

It was agreed that the results of the meeting should be communicated separately to the three Foreign Ministers, since instructions to the three parties from New York were not identical.

No action was taken on M. Millet’s reiterated suggestion that a tripartite working group on Vietnamese elections be reactivated in Paris or London, in view of the fact that the San Francisco discussions might make such a working group unnecessary. Mr. Sebald declared that the United States was basically opposed to tripartite talks which would appear as a Western “ganging-up” on the Vietnamese, but would go along with ad hoc discussions which would not aim to decide the destinies of smaller powers.

The meeting left vague the question of what the three States should say to Molotov at San Francisco. It is assumed that, should he [Page 463] raise the matter, replies would be made along the lines of the four agreed points outlined above.3

Annex 1


“Quite apart from the question on the line which might be taken during the preliminary electoral discussions scheduled to begin on July 20, it would be very much to the benefit of the international position of the Government of South Vietnam for Diem to take up a positive and forthcoming attitude towards the holding of these talks. In our view he would be well-advised to make specific proposals as to time and place and level of representation and to give full publicity to the fact that he has taken this initiative. In the matter of publicity Her Majesty’s Government and other friendly Governments would naturally be happy to assist. It is hoped that Diem will be able at a very early date to prepare such specific concrete proposals which could then, if he wished, be passed to Her Majesty’s Government, who would be happy to convey them to the Soviet Government (as the other co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference) for onward transmission to the Vietminh authorities.”

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 396.1–GE/6–1855. Secret. Drafted by Byrne.
  2. Reference is to the military armistice talks among the North Koreans, Chinese, and U.N. Command, which had begun in 1951 and were still ongoing.
  3. Sebald reported the results of this tripartite meeting to Dulles in a memorandum to the Secretary, June 18. (Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/6–1855)