Conference files, lot 60 D 627, CF 286
Smith–Robertson–Sarasin Meeting, Geneva, May 30, 10:20 a.m.: Memorandum of Conversation, by the Deputy United States Representative ( Robertson )1
- Ambassador Sarasin, Thai Delegation
- Walter Bedell Smith, U.S. Delegation
- Walter S. Robertson, U.S. Delegation
Ambassador Sarasin, just back from a week’s visit to Bangkok, came in to report the result of his conversations there with the Prime Minister and other government officials. He stated that decision had been made to proceed with the appeal to the United Nations without delay. The Thais felt that while the threat was not overt, it had actually increased since last June. He hoped we would give our unqualified support, and General Smith assured him that we would. He said he [Page 979] doubted what the attitude of India would be. Prince Wan was seeing Krishna Menon today and they hoped that India could be induced to accept a place on the Peace Observation Commission. If India accepted, Burma might be persuaded to accept too.
General Smith related his conversation with Menon regarding Thailand’s appeal to the Security Council. Menon’s first reaction was that it was just “American propaganda” and the appeal should not be made until the Geneva Conference had been given full opportunity to reach agreement. After General Smith emphasized the necessity of bringing the United Nations into the Indochina picture and the important role that India should play in such a situation, possibly as a member both of the Peace Observation Commission and of the International Control Commission to enforce the armistice, Menon’s attitude seemed to be somewhat modified.
Ambassador Sarasin reported that Thailand’s relations with Burma were very much improved, citing the evacuation of the KMT as being very helpful in improving relations. He related conversations which a representative of the Thai Government had with the Acting Foreign Minister of Burma on a recent visit to Rangoon. The Minister stated that Burma was opposed to communism but must appear to be neutral on account of its proximity to communist power. For this reason Burma could not afford to accept assistance from the western countries. If bad came to worse, however, Burma would throw in its lot against the communists.
With reference to the proposal to establish a fighter wing base in Thailand, Ambassador Sarasin reported the Prime Minister said it would be very difficult to explain a Spanish base agreement to his people at this time. He said, however, that his Government agreed in principle and that the base would be acceptable if established in any one of the three following conditions: (1) as a result of United Nations resolutions; (2) as the result of a decision by a collective security organization; (3) in connection with a mutual defense pact with the United States. While Thailand did not want to grant us a base along the lines of the Spanish agreement, it would welcome being furnished with a group of jet fighters for the training of its own pilots and to receive through MAAG the necessary assistance to enable them to establish a base of their own which would be available to us in case of need. The Thais’ main concern at the present was to build up its own military forces through MAAG. At present their military organization seemed to be bogged down in procedures and the Thais were confused about what America would or would not do. General Gillmore 2 stated that there was a 50% deficiency in non-commissioned and commissioned [Page 980] officers, that the Air Force while lacking in equipment was making progress, and that the Navy was “all right” for present purposes. He said, however, that Thailand’s economic situation had deteriorated so seriously that they would need economic assistance to help relieve the strain of building up its military strength. He cited, for instance, that although they had been furnished with planes it was necessary to use its slender foreign exchange balances to buy spare parts and fuel.
With some initial hesitation but with complete frankness, Ambassador Sarasin stated that General Gillmore, while evidently an able and efficient officer, was very blunt in his relations with the Thai Prime Minister and military officers and that some friction had developed. General Smith suggested that General Donovan might act as mediator to smooth things over. Ambassador Sarasin replied that it appeared the two did not get along very well. General Gillmore considered General Donovan a World War I officer and General Donovan considered General Gillmore to be a young man not mature in experience.
General Smith suggested that in view of the Thais’ confusion about what we were willing and able to do and our lack of knowledge of what the Thais themselves were willing to undertake, the best way to resolve the confusion would be for the Thai Chief of Staff and appropriate officers to come to Washington for a frank discussion with our Chiefs of Staff. He said that he would have to obtain authority from Washington for such a procedure, but he felt it could be done if the suggestion appealed to the Thais. Ambassador Sarasin thought it would be an excellent idea and would so report to his Government. General Smith emphasized that if the Thais came they should have clearly in mind beforehand what they are prepared to do and what economic assistance would be needed to carry out their desired program.
Ambassador Sarasin stated his Prime Minister was extremely upset by the five-power talks to take place in Washington on June 3. The Prime Minister felt that if Thailand, the first country to respond to Secretary Dulles’ appeal for a SEA collective security pact, was left out of the discussions now to take place, it would seem as if Washington was just taking Thailand for granted. The Prime Minister said it would be impossible to explain Thailand’s omission to the Thai people and he earnestly hoped Thailand could be included. General Smith explained that the five-power talks were a continuation of talks which had been going on between the five powers over a period of several years, that they did not represent a discussion by members of a collective security organization, and that none of the countries participating had yet made a definite decision to become parties to such a pact. He said that Great Britain, as has been generally publicized, was unwilling to join a SEA pact before the Geneva Conference had [Page 981] shown whether or not it was able to reach a satisfactory agreement, and that the Australians had been unwilling to take a position before the Australian elections. New Zealand, which at one time was very cold to the idea, was now showing indication of falling in line. In order to get going, it was necessary to fall back on an already existing agency. The purpose of the talks was to obtain the best military evaluation by the five powers of the situation in Indochina. General Smith hoped that such an evaluation would prove to all the participants the need for the pact. He stated that other interested governments would be kept informed as to the discussions and that at the appropriate time it was hoped to have a conference to include them all.
General Smith said it was necessary to get high level military talks started not only to determine an over-all strategic concept but also to impress the communists with allied unity. Ambassador Sarasin was persistent in his unhappiness about the situation. General Smith patiently emphasized that it would be impossible to get the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand to participate if other nations were included at this stage, that these were the facts and it would be helpful if he could use his good offices in making them clear to his Prime Minister.