232. Telegram From the Embassy in Cambodia to the Department of State1

1289. Department pass CINCPAC 18, DOD, DEPTAR. As indicated Embtel 12692 I had an audience yesterday morning (2nd) with King and Queen. Young was present during interview which lasted two and one-half hours.3

I explained to Their Majesties there were some serious misconceptions with regard to application United States aid in Cambodia at present time. Under rubric of “Khmer mythology” could be placed spate of rumors United States was intending curtail or stop aid Cambodia because of its supposed vexation with Cambodian policy neutrality. In similar category were rumors US was pushing Cambodian neighbors to measures economic and psychological warfare against this kingdom because its neutralist policy. United States had neither remonstrated with Cambodia over its international policy nor had it urged Cambodians join SEATO alliance. We had made no threat of withdrawing aid. The one policy United States consistently followed with respect Cambodia was attempt help this kingdom retain its sovereign independence through program military and economic assistance.

I told King and Queen we were in paradoxical situation where Cambodian Government itself had decided accept counterpart riels for use its armed forces but suddenly, at insistence Governor National Bank had now decided not use such counterpart. Therefore, while public rumor had it United States was curtailing aid Cambodia, in actual fact it was Cambodian Government itself and its national bank which was refusing that aid.

Queen, who did all the talking for royal couple, said she clearly understood this point and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind in palace that United States was not seeking apply economic sanctions against Cambodia because of policy neutralism. But on technical question use counterpart funds Governor National Bank still insisted if he waited one or two more months American attitude would relent and Cambodia could look to receiving direct dollar grants. Unfortunately, attitude Governor National Bank had become known to opposition democratic party and issue had therefore been injected into domestic political scene.

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I told Their Majesties that on one point I could relieve their minds easily by saying we would not depart from principle paying local currency requirements both armed forces and economic aid programs from counterpart funds. In consequence, Governor National Bank could wait indefinitely before getting direct dollar grants. However, if by chance Governor had any valid economic arguments which would justify future granting dollar aid and not counterpart he could present these arguments to expert survey team which would come Cambodia in next few weeks. Queen said Sihanouk’s resignation had been due “press campaign” in American newspapers. Prince had finally come conclusion his presence as head government was damaging to Cambodia because he stood in way better relations with United States. He apparently felt convinced articles appearing in Time magazine New York Times and Christian Science Monitor reflected official opinion our government. Prince had been particularly impressed by press stories that he was running dictatorship and he felt only way he could clinch refutation this “unjustified” accusation was by stepping down from office. I asked King and Queen to convey personal message from me to Sihanouk by saying no one was more disappointed than I at his decision resign Prime Ministership. I requested Their Majesties likewise inform Prince he should not construe journalists’ reports his own statements as official United States opinion and so far as my government was concerned it had never expressed any view at all about Sihanouk’s policies. I said I hoped Prince would return office Prime Ministership when time suited him.

Queen finally said when new government is formed she would instruct that government take up Son Sann’s intransigence over release counterpart, with clear inference after decent period face-saving for Governor National Bank way would be made clear for unblocking counterpart pay for FARK’s expenses. At same time she made plea our system import programs through PL procedure be simplified and made more flexible and less time-consuming. She said her Ministers informed her that under our present system no one seems know from one month to six months how much is in counterpart pipeline at any given time or whether there will be sufficient counterpart cover military as well as economic aid expenditures.

On question improving relations between Cambodia and its neighbors as will be indicated in separate telegrams,4 Queen indicated her readiness accept United States mediation in dispute with Vietnam and said “I will gladly receive Marshal Phibul and discuss our past and present differences.”

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Queen on many occasions during this lengthy audience repeated gratitude felt by Cambodian Government and people for United States aid and constant desire royal family maintain and improve friendship which Cambodia held for United States. She requested sympathetic understanding Cambodian policy neutrality which was imposed on Cambodian Government because large majority Cambodians wanted that kind policy. With considerable ingenuity if not ingenuousness she advanced that by remaining neutral Cambodia prevented itself from becoming divided nation and thus required less American aid than other divided nations such as Vietnam.

Since this was occasion for royal letting down of hair I took opportunity to request King and Queen lift present ceiling imposed on MAAG personnel.5 I said it was injurious Cambodian interests fix rigid limitation on number MAAG officers and men when they were required for jobs needing additional personnel such tasks as preparing requisitions for spare parts or determining from technical point view requirements three branches Khmer Armed Forces. I recommended there be no ceiling at all, but that FARK itself by its requests to MAAG for logistical and other services should indicate after consultation with MAAG what number personnel was required for jobs on hand. If we needed fewer people for tasks which MAAG were given by FARK we would certainly be happy send surplus personnel home, but if we needed more people we should not have labor under rigid ceiling. Queen said she accepted this proposition and would give instructions new government when it is formed.

Young and I gained definite impression after face-saving period counterpart funds will be released and new government will be instructed cooperate closely with forthcoming United States survey team. Our impression was Queen is determined make every effort improve relations with neighbors and above all redress recent unfavorable impression which her son’s antics might have caused in United States. At same time she defended Prince Sihanouk and there was no hint of dissension between royal couple and Monseigneur. It was evident however that no matter who forms next government Queen is firmly set on policy retaining friendship and material assistance of United States.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.51H/4–356. Secret. Repeated to Saigon and Bangkok.
  2. Document 229.
  3. After attending the SEATO Council Meeting in Karachi, March 6–8, Young visited the countries of Southeast Asia including Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Burma.
  4. Apparent reference to telegrams 1307 and 1312 from Phnom Penh, both April 5, neither printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 651H.92/4–556 and 651H.51H/4–556, respectively)
  5. The ceiling on U.S. MAAG personnel in Cambodia was set at 31.