9. Telegram From the Ambassador in France (Dillon) to the Department of State1

2866. We saw La Chambre today prior to his departure on holiday while Mendes is in Rome and Assembly in recess. Résumé his principal points follows:

He is greatly disappointed with results tripartite Ministerial conversations on Indochina December 18.2 He feels we avoided main issue and postponed decision again when we can no longer afford to do so. He cited understanding he reached with General Smith last September (when French originally agreed to support Diem) to effect that if Diem solution did not work “within reasonable time” we would try alternative.3 “Reasonable time” has long since expired and because of our procrastination in taking next step La Chambre thinks we may have exceeded time left to us to get on our feet and face Viet Minh.
Nevertheless he took satisfaction in indication at conversations that Secretary was prepared to consider alternate solution since time of grace to Diem has passed. He expressed hope Secretary would continue to place full authority in Collins and that Collins and Ely would now prepare precise recommendations for an alternate solution to submit to two governments.
La Chambre said that Ely has reported situation as being worse than ever and has virtually abandoned hope for Diem. We reminded him that Secretary had asked Mendes what other solution [Page 20] French had in mind and he had admitted there was none for moment. We stated that all alternates suggested to date had disadvantages equal to or greater than Diem. We reminded La Chambre that Ely and Collins had mandate as result of tripartite discussions to study question of timing and alternative solutions while at same time continuing their support of Diem Government. La Chambre agreed and stated that he hoped Generals would make profound study this time and would arrive at precise recommendations to their respective governments in time for their consideration at next high-level Indo-china review, now understood to be tentatively scheduled for late January. Note: Ely is proceeding to Saigon with such instructions and will doubtless approach Collins on matter immediately.
La Chambre suggested that in order to give Ely and Collins sufficient time to prepare positive suggestions, it may be necessary to request postponement of Indochina review planned for late January. We informed him that if this was French intention they should not delay in making request.
We asked latest French Government thinking on alternates to Diem. He replied that recent consultations with Ely, Mendes, Sainteny and fellow Cabinet members convinced him that only possible workable solution was to have Bao Dai return immediately under existing powers. We asked what effect this would have on Diem government. He replied that Bao Dai’s presence might not only help solve interminable conflicts between sects and government but could result in setting up workable government which, if not as “pure” as Diem government would at least accomplish something. When pressed for details La Chambre stated they were at present time thinking in terms of Tran Van Huu as Prime Minister with possibly Tam in Interior. Diem might take part in such government. They had definitely rejected the Buu Hoi formula. (See separate following telegram enlargement this point and our comments.4)
We asked results of discussions with Sainteny. He said Sainteny had made deep impression on government and parliamentarians who regard him as shrewd observer and one of Frenchmen who knows Vietnam best and is most qualified to analyze Vietnamese reactions and intentions. Sainteny’s primary concern now is with French business interests in north, which government is obliged to protect even though it has no illusions on Viet Minh sincerity. At present time French are studying possibility of grouping main French business interests like Charbonnages du Tonkin, Cotonneries de Nam Dinh, Cimenteries de Haiphong together in one organization to facilitate task of carrying on under Viet Minh.
He expressed concern with Department’s failure give them assurances that individuals and firms in north will not be regarded with prejudice by US for having continued in business under Communist regime. Repeated démarches to Department on subject have resulted, he said, in unsatisfactory reply given French Embassy Washington just prior to Secretary’s last trip to Paris which to effect that each case would be judged on merits. Government regarded this as indication future US findings will be adverse and intend to approach Department again in matter.
La Chambre reported that both Sainteny and Doctor Huard, Dean of Hanoi School of Medicine and one of most influential Frenchmen left in North Vietnam, respected equally by Vietnam and Viet Minh, have reported that communization of north is going down very badly. They report that while core of Viet Minh adhere strictly to classic USSR Communist pattern, lower echelons are less enthusiastic and sections of populace are beginning show signs hostility and resistance. La Chambre has taken heart at these reports and believes they support thesis that it is now all the more important that we gain time and before elections demonstrate to northern populace by means of strong effective government in south that life under non-Communist regime is better. He enlarged on this point as further argument for getting rid of Diem.
We asked what had been discussed during Mendes-FranceHammarskjold talks last week. La Chambre said Mendes had said nothing about them to him and it was generally understood they were confined to generalities.
We asked status of CollinsEly agreement for training Vietnamese Army. La Chambre confirmed telegram had been sent to French Embassy Washington yesterday instructing them approach Department on subject. He reported that difficulties arose, not from any substance but principally out of concern that agreement provided for enlargement American military mission in Saigon in contradiction Geneva accord. We reminded La Chambre of Secretary’s categorical statement during last tripartite conference, confirmed by Admiral Radford who was present, that US would not enlarge military mission. La Chambre also reiterated French view that agreement should not take form of Franco-US agreement but should rather be joint Franco-US “recommendation” to Vietnamese Government.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/1–655. Secret; Priority. Repeated to Phnom Penh and priority to Saigon and Vientiane.
  2. For a report on these discussions, see telegram 2601 from Paris, December 19, 1954, Foreign Relations, 1952–1954, vol. xiii, Part 2, p. 2400.
  3. For documentation on the French-U.S. talks, September 27–29, 1954, see ibid., pp. 2080 ff.
  4. Not found in Department of State files.