July 15, 1954
From the Journal of Molotov: Secret Memorandum of Conversation at Dinner in Honor of French Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mendes-France
Mendes-France says that right now the French delegation is familiarizing itself with the changes made by the Soviet delegation and that apparently it will accordingly send its amended draft tomorrow. The draft of the Soviet delegation can serve as a basis, although a number of issues still [handwritten: need discussion]. It can already be said now that the changes by the Soviet delegation are essentially based on the principle of an equal approach to the situation in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, whereas the situation in these countries is different and requires a different approach.
Molotov notes that basic principles are described in the beginning and then the particulars of the situation in each country are examined in the draft sent to Mendes-France by the Soviet delegation.
Mendes-France suggest discussing the issue of elections and their timing. If a very close date is chosen to hold elections then it can turn out that the elections will be held in a situation when all the necessary conditions have not yet been established and they will not lead to a genuine solution of the issue of the unification of Vietnam. If, however, a date is established which is too distant this could cause legitimate discontent on the part of the population of Vietnam. Therefore it would be better to define the main principles at the Geneva Conference on which an exact date for the elections would be set.
Molotov notes that the Soviet delegation draft does not envision the setting of an exact date for the elections but identifies a time limit during which these elections are to be held.
Mendes-France says that is one and the same thing, for a time limit is for practical purposes usually a [one illegible word handwritten above] date. The decision of the Geneva Conference could indicate that the elections ought not be delayed without special reason and determine which bodies ought to be established, under what kind of monitoring the elections are to be held, and what conditions are needed for there to be a possibility of establishing this date.
Molotov says that time for the elections ought to be clearly established in the Geneva Conference declaration. With Vietnam divided into two parts, [its] people will expect a definite answer to the question of the country's unification from the Geneva Conference.
Mendes-France thinks that it is sufficient to indicate the desire to unify the country in the declaration and not to delay this unification. This is a complex and difficult issue which will be hard to solve in several days.
Molotov agrees that little time is actually left and notes that in the French draft declaration there is a reference to a document about a cease-fire in Indochina. However, the Soviet delegation has not received a draft of this document.
Mendes-France replies that right now the French delegation is working hard on a number of draft documents which it will present to the participants of the Geneva Conference in the very near future.
After dinner Mendes-France asked that the conversation continue one-on-one without any witnesses. Molotov agreed.
Mendes-France says that, in his opinion, the most difficult issues right now are those about determining the line of demarcation and organizing elections in Vietnam. In agreement with Eden [Translator's note: this phrase was inserted at the beginning of the sentence] he is proposing that work in Geneva be stepped up to establish the practice of tripartite meetings consisting of Molotov, Eden, and himself, Mendes-France, so that Eden can take charge of the coordination of the issues under discussion with the American delegation, Molotov—with the PRC and DRV delegations, and Mendes-France with the delegations of the Associated States of Indochina.
Molotov asks exactly what issues Mendes-France proposes to discuss in such tripartite meetings.
Mendes-France says that [Translator's note: An arrow indicates that Mendes-France's paragraph above is to be inserted at this point]. All issues concerning the establishment of peace in Vietnam ought to be discussed at such tripartite meetings. This would provide an opportunity to more easily find compromise solutions, make concessions on individual issues by compensating on others, etc.
Molotov asks whether it would be impossible [handwritten: proposes] also including Zhou Enlai among the participants of such unofficial meetings. Such a necessity might definitely arise during the discussion of some issues.
Mendes-France objects, for, in his opinion, [handwritten: there would be a risk that] the number of participants of the meetings [handwritten: would grow] to five [handwritten: one would have to invite the Americans, but] this would offend the DRV delegation and the delegations of the associated states.
Molotov agrees to hold unofficial meetings among the three.
Mendes-France offers to hold the first meeting tomorrow, 16 July, after lunch.
After this Mendes-France switches to the question of the organization of the elections. As regards Laos and Cambodia this question, in his opinion, is easily decided, for the domestic laws of these countries provide for holding general elections in the near future. [Faint hand-written sentence crossed out.]
Molotov says that in Laos and Cambodia a special situation [handwritten: has been created as a result of] the war, armed struggle, which has still not ended [handwritten: still going on], and therefore in the question of establishing a normal situation in these countries it would be more correct not to rely on the domestic laws of Laos and Cambodia, but on formulating [handwritten: a certain formulated] desire of the Geneva Conference which might facilitate the quickest possible establishment of a normal situation.
Mendes-France says that [one/we] ought not to confuse the situation in Laos and Cambodia [handwritten: differs from] the situation in Vietnam. There are uniform constitutional laws and government institutions in Laos and Cambodia which ought to be strengthened. The unrest which has taken place in these countries in recent years is mainly connected with events in Vietnam. Therefore after the solution of the Vietnamese problem they [handwritten: Laos and Cambodia] can independently conduct elections in accordance with their constitution[s]. Outside interference would infringe their sovereignty of these states and would hinder the creation of democratic procedures of these still young [handwritten: states] countries. The Geneva Conference could remark in its decision that it was noting that the elections in Laos and Cambodia should be held within certain periods in conformance with the local constitutional laws. A careful formulation ought [handwritten: needs] to be found with full respect [which does] [handwritten: not infringe] the sovereignty of these states.
Molotov agrees that no interference in the internal affairs of these states ought to take place. However, he says, the issue of holding elections in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia has been discussed for a number of weeks at the Geneva Conference and the participants of the Conference, in particular France, are probably interested in expressing their certain wishes to the governments of Laos and Cambodia.
Mendes-France repeats that [we] ought not confuse the situation in Laos and Cambodia. [It] [handwritten: differs from] the situation in Vietnam, where there are no uniform institutions or uniform legislation is lacking; rather there exist two state institutions and two [bodies of] legislation at the same time whereas Laos and Cambodia have their own constitutions and laws, which need to be strengthened.
Molotov says that actually it is not necessary to lump the situation in these two countries together; each has its own characteristics, its own specifics. [Translator's note: at this point in the transcript a single diagonal line is drawn from the word “specifics” back through the last two paragraphs to the word “that” at the beginning of Mendes-France's last statement. It is not clear whether this is intended as a deletion].
Mendes-France says that in Laos and Cambodia it is possible to hold elections before long, for the situation is not so convulsed; the opposition has the opportunity to exercise its rights, and life can soon return to normal limits. This is a comparatively simple issue. to set longer periods [handwritten: Longer periods] are necessary to hold prepare for elections in Vietnam. Before starting to hold elections it is necessary to conduct a number of complex operations. First of all In particular, the evacuation of the troops of both sides from zones which cross to the other side. We have talked about evacuating the delta, he said. It is possible that the proposed periods for evacuation [handwritten: in 3[] days] are too large. This question ought to be discussed more. However, months will be required for an evacuation. There are other steps: the relocation of the population which wants to resettle to another zone and the creation of a new civilian administration in regions which cross to the other side. It is also necessary to grant an opportunity to organize parties, to strengthen them, and to develop their propaganda. All this requires time and it is difficult to determine it right now. In addition, The international situation will [handwritten: also] have great psychological importance. If it improves, developments in Vietnam will proceed more quickly. If it worsens, then this will have an effect also complicate the situation in Vietnam. Therefore it is impossible right now to set an exact date time. If a very short time is set there is a risk that the elections will not bring a satisfactory resolution and the impression will be created among the population of Vietnam that we do not want to give them an opportunity to exercise their rights. In addition, nine countries are participating in the Geneva Conference and it is practically impossible to solve this complex issue about the periods for holding elections in Vietnam in the several days remaining. It would be realistic and reasonable not to try to set a mandatory time but to set conditions for setting a time for those who will be entrusted with setting such a time. The setting of the time can be entrusted, for example, to the two interested parties monitored by [pod kontrolem] the nine countries. Mendes-France amended and clarified: not “monitored by the nine” but under “specific international monitoring.”
Molotov says that if it is difficult to set a time for the elections right now then [we] might think about setting a time to solve this issue, that is, not set a time for the two sides to hold elections but a time by which they should set a date for elections.
Mendes-France says the he will think about this alternative, but at first glance it seems interesting to him. [Translator's note: The above sentence is circled in the transcript and an arrow indicates that it is to be moved to just before MendesFrance's next statement].
Molotov says that the best and most obvious solution to the issue would be to set a time limit for holding elections at the Geneva Conference and that [the conference] reserve for itself the right to return to this issue in order to find more flexible and acceptable forms. However [we] might also think about setting a time for the competent bodies of both sides to solve the issue of the date of the elections with instructions not to drag them out, although this would also be a more difficult way.
Mendes-France points on the map of Vietnam to the location of the line of demarcation at the 18th parallel proposed by the French delegation. The French delegation, he says, proceeded from a wish expressed by Pham Van Dong that the demarcation line be possibly shorter, follow traditional administrative boundaries, and take into consideration the distribution of the zones presently occupied by both sides. In the opinion of the French delegation, the border between the former states of Tonkin and Annam following the 18th parallel is such a natural boundary from the point of view of topography and the historical, racial, political, and religious boundary. The Democratic Republic of Vietnam proposed placing the line of demarcation at the 13th or 14th parallel, intending to keep for itself a zone which was under its control for the entire war, a narrow coastal strip between the 13th and 14th parallels and the 16th parallel, about 150 km long. When meeting with him, Mendes-France, Pham Van Dong agreed to move the line of demarcation to the 16th parallel, that is, he abandoned this region which the DRV had apparently been most interested in keeping. This concession, in the opinion of Mendes-France, corresponds to the concession of the Tonkin Delta by the French side. The French are to evacuate about 300,000 troops from the delta at the same time as the DRV is to evacuate about 30,000 men. Such concessions accord with the idea of an extensive regrouping of forces in Vietnam. The question before us is thus about locating the line of demarcation at the 18th or the 16th parallel. This region has always been a zone controlled by French authorities. France is interested in keeping the city of Hue, the political and spiritual capital of Annam, the bay and port of Tourane [Translator's note: present-day Da Nang] (Mendes-France stipulated that Tourane does not have value for France from the military point of view and the French government is ready to give a commitment not to use it as a naval base), and Route 9, the only route linking Laos and the sea. When he, Mendes-France, described these ideas to Pham Van Dong, Pham Van Dong replied that a special status [rezhim] might be provided for Route 9 and Hue. This readiness to immediately make an exception is, in Mendes-France's opinion, evidence that the 16th parallel line proposed by Pham Van Dong is somewhat unrealistic and inadvisable. [Translator's note: a single diagonal line was drawn through the previous two sentences and a forward slash was typed at both ends]. He, Mendes-France, will not be able to convince the French government of the need to reject the location of the line of demarcation at the 18th parallel and abandon Hue and Route 9. In addition, the location of the line of demarcation is a temporary measure and ought to be based on the actual state of affairs. French troops have always occupied the region located between the 16th and 17th parallels, and the DRV has no grounds to demand this region for itself.
Molotov says that, when regions being left by the DRV are compared with the northern part of Vietnam being left by the French, it evidently means that the DRV is also leaving [handwritten: to the French side] all of southern Vietnam, including Cochin. Pham Van Dong's concession is evidence of a desire to simplify the solution of the issue, for the line proposed by the DRV meets the interests of both sides. It needs to be taken into consideration that as few complications as possible arise in Vietnam after the cease-fire agreement is carried out. As everyone knows, in the zone between the 16th and 18th parallels the French authorities control only a small strip of land along the coast, behind which the entire area is in the hands of the DRV. It is also impossible to speak as though the French [handwritten: authorities] exercise full control over Route 9. It would be worth examining the question of the possibility of ensuring such conditions so that the French side can use Route 9 more freely than it has the opportunity to do right now. It would also be worth trying to find an agreement about the issue of Hue. The proposal of Pham Van Dong about locating the line of demarcation at the 16th parallel might serve as a basis for an agreement between the sides. In rejecting a demand to locate the line of demarcation at the 13th parallel, Pham Van Dong made a great step forward in trying to reach an agreement. One cannot fail to take into account that it was hard for the DRV to give up its own longtime region and to do this required great force of conviction.
Mendes-France replied says that if it is hard for the DRV to give up its own region in central Vietnam then it might have kept this region for itself on condition of appropriate compensation for France in the north. Another solution is, of course, possible: both sides remain in their places, but such solution might undermine the principle of an exchange of territory. He again repeated that the French government would never approve a concession on Hue and Route 9.
Molotov said that, in making a concession from the 13th to the 16th parallels, the DRV naturally ought to stop at such a line where there would be appropriate territorial compensation from the French side. As regards the use of Route 9, then an agreement might be found which is more in keeping with the interests of both sides.
Mendes-France repeated that he considers the concession of the delta as such compensation.
Molotov says that the concession of the delta, including Hanoi and Haiphong, is tied not only to the issue of the concession from the 13th to 16th parallels but is in keeping with the DRV concession of south Vietnam and also the concessions on a number of other issues. If it were possible to come to an agreement about the French giving up the delta, including Hanoi and Haiphong, then in the spirit of accommodation it would also be worth finding a solution for central Vietnam.
Mendes-France again repeated that he views giving up the delta as a very important concession which is not compensated by all the concessions made by the DRV in the southern part of Vietnam, and right now he does not see any concessions which the DRV might make in exchange for the French giving up Hue and Route 9.
Molotov says that he is ready to explain the point of view of Pham Van Dong about this issue again.
Mendes-France repeats that he cannot envision such a solution to the issue which would mean the French would give up Hue and Route 9. It would be easier for him to give up the region between the 16th and the 13th or 14th parallels to the DRV for suitable compensation in the north, for this would at least agree with the status quo in this region. If Pham Van Dong agrees to locate the line of demarcation at the 18th parallel, then Mendes-France could find compensation on other issues regarding a peaceful settlement in Vietnam.
Molotov says that he is ready meet with Mendes-France and Eden tomorrow, but if Mendes-France has questions right now, he can discuss them right now, [handwritten: that he can explain the point of view of Pham Van Dong about this issue again].
Mendes-France says that he would like [one handwritten word illegible] to discuss the issue of monitoring, but the French delegation has still not prepared its draft proposals. The work on this draft is proceeding well, and it is hoped that [handwritten: the draft] might be sent to the Soviet delegation tomorrow.
Molotov says that in the French draft declaration there is a reference to a cease-fire agreement; however the Soviet delegation has not yet received the draft of such an agreement.
Mendes-France says that the French delegation is working on a number of documents right now which it would submit to the other delegations for discussion in the near future. It is possible that not all the documents will be agreed upon and adopted by 20 July. It is important that a cease-fire agreement based on an agreement in principle about the most important remaining issues be concluded by 19 or 20 July. The other documents might be finished after 19 or 20 July. At this point he repeated that such a deadline had been set by Parliament; he would not be able to receive an extension and would not request one.
Molotov notes that much depends on the French delegation and, in particular, on how soon it submits its drafts for discussion.
At the conclusion of the conversation Molotov confirms that he is ready to meet with Eden and Mendes-France and stipulates that he is not authorized to speak on behalf of the DRV and PRC and can express only his own personal opinion, but when an agreement is reached at the tripartite meeting on any issues he will try to describe these ideas to the PRC and DRV delegations objectively and with maximum force of conviction.
The dinner and conversation lasted until 1:00 a.m.
The discussion between Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav M. Molotov and French Prime Minister Pierre Mendes-France begin with talk of the draft and revisions of the French delegation’s proposal for the Geneva Convention. Elections in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and the line of demarcation between North and South Vietnam are discussed as well.
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