746E.5/8–951: Telegram

The Ambassador in Ceylon (Satterthwaite) to the Secretary of State

top secret

91. My 533 May 121 reported suggestion of Home Min Sir Oliver Goonetilleke that US and Ceylon negot a defense agrmt.

My 551, May 161 reported that while not confirming Sir Oliver’s suggestion PriMin expressed alarm at inability Brit to strengthen forces at their naval and air bases there. It also expressed my view that PriMin wld welcome US assistance and might be willing make important concessions to obtain it.

My desp 935, May 181 reported conversation between Home Min and Asst Naval Attaché2 in which former expressed hope US and Ceylon cld agree to mutual defense program.

In course second conversation between these two on July 27 Sir Oliver said he wld like see US establish in Ceylon one or two bomber squadrons with supporting fighter craft and a small fleet of fast coastal patrol craft, possibly submarines together with island-wide radar coverage. ANA inquired whether he was speaking on behalf GOC. Sir Oliver replied that subj had been discussed in high govt circles. In reply to ANA’s question as to extent Ceylon wld go in granting concessions shld this proposal materialize Home Min indicated Ceylon wld entertain any reasonable request and that cost such program wld not be prohibitive for US since GOC wld assist in setting up air strips, coastal bases, bldgs etc., and furnish minor personnel for ground, yard and maintenance crews etc. Home Min also expressed belief Brit wld cooperate and that there wld be no trouble with India over program.

In view previous policy GOC and PriMin’s failure confirm Sir Oliver’s suggestion we were naturally skeptical re latter’s new suggestion. Aug 2 press however, reported PriMin as stating in house in reply to question from Commie MP whether other govts were consulted [Page 2038] in fixing size Ceylon’s Army that it was quite possible Ceylon might come to some terms with another country Ceylon’s defense.

I therefore reviewed above developments yesterday with Vaithianathan permanent see MEA. I said Sir Oliver’s latest suggestion and PriMin’s statement in House suggested important possibilities. My govt might indeed be interested. In view however, previous policy GOC as described by him to me and position he had taken on our request for a naval communications unit I hesitated report Sir Oliver’s latest suggestion to my govt unless there was reason believe it really had been considered by high govt circles and that Sir Oliver was not speaking for himself alone.

While somewhat cautious in his reply Vaithianathan indicated that this proposal had indeed been discussed in highest govt circles. PriMin has recently, he said, taken much less cautious position than previously on question external def and now seemed prepared face all repercussions. Any assistance US cld give he believed wld be welcome. It wld however, have be given in cooperation with UK. He wished make this latter point very clear. On receiving this assurance I said I wld sound out my govt.

I am sure Dept will agree that Ceylon is of such great strategic importance to defense non-Commie Asia that we shld give this latest suggestion careful consideration. Motive behind it may of course be mainly desire obtain mil and econ assistance without cost to Ceylon. Suggest may even have originated in Sir Oliver’s fertile brain as means taking pressure off GOC on Kem amendment. Nevertheless, we must in my opinion support govt which has recently lost voting strength no matter how unwise its actions may be on such matters as rubber exports to China and Kem amendment in view fact only alternative to present friendly govt is one of Marxist complexion.

Certainly Ceylon’s facilities wld be of greatest importance to UK and US in case world conflict and it is therefore also desirable retain present friendly feelings of majority Ceylonese people toward Western World. Therefore I trust Dept will take this tentative mil offer into consideration in connection with Kem amendment and find if possible some means avoiding punitive action until latest possible moment as urged in my 85, Aug. 8.3

Proposal also opens up possibility obtaining extensive communications facilities desired by USAF (Deptel 312, March 20).3

I will amplify by despatch but in meantime urge that interested Depts give serious consideration to suggestion we station air and naval forces in Ceylon in cooperation with Brit. Dept’s lack response to my [Page 2039] 533 and 551 may indicate US Govt uninterested. For this reason I feel it important have Dept’s views before taking up question with PriMin.

Please instruct.

Repeated info London 24.

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  4. Lt. Comdr. M. J. Williams, U.S.N.
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