23. Letter From the Counselor of the Department of State (MacArthur) to the Chargé in France (Achilles)1
Dear Ted : I am writing you this brief personal note to let you know that a number of us here in the Department are very much concerned over the repeated French insistence that Joe Collins and General Ely discuss now and come up with a possible alternative to the Diem Government, should the latter fail. While it is perfectly true that at the December 18 meeting in Paris the Secretary did, as a result of strong insistency by Mendès-France, reluctantly agree that Joe Collins and General Ely were authorized to exchange views on possible alternatives to Diem on a most secret basis, the fact of the [Page 53] matter is that we have no alternative whatsoever to put forward, nor are we willing to consider alternative solutions at this juncture. At a time when Diem at long last appears to be moving ahead in the right direction and making some real progress with corresponding indications of substantial popular support, it would be madness and folly to get involved in an academic exercise where we would have no alternative to put forward and would be unwilling to agree to any alternative which the French might put forward. If the French have an alternative and wish Ely to put it forward, they are at liberty to do so; but it would be slapped down insofar as we are concerned.
With the above in mind, is it not possible for you to get hold of Guy La Chambre, Cheysson, and any others, and dissuade them from continuing to insist on a discussion of alternatives? If they are unwilling to be so persuaded, at least make them come out into the open. We are astonished that they could even think of suggesting Tran Van Huu as you reported Saint-Mleux recently did. I repeat, we are concerned about French insistence because we do not know what is really eating them and what ulterior motives some of them may have in insisting on this exercise at this time when real progress appears to be in the making by Diem.
I think we here in the Department, including myself, have been remiss in not making clearer to you in the light of the satisfactory evolution of events of the past several weeks, our feeling about this exercise so that you would be in a better position to deal with the French on it. I am sure that you will be able to handle this one adequately so that on the one hand it will not appear that the Secretary is in any way repudiating the December 18 talks, and on the other hand we do not become involved in an exercise which if it were leaked by the French could perhaps destroy Diem at the very moment that he seems to be moving ahead favorably.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/2–155. Personal and Secret. According to an attached memorandum from MacArthur to Collins, Young, and Tyler, February 1, the source text is a copy of the original sent to Achilles.↩