233. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Southeast Asian Affairs (Young) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson1


  • The Cambodian Problem

There is attached for your approval a telegram to Ambassador McClintock2 which contains some levers I hope Nong Kimny and Khim Tit, the Cambodian Prime Minister, can use to settle the misunderstandings over U.S. aid procedures and dispel the wildly distorted allegations of U.S. pressures on Cambodia. These instructions are a companion piece to the proposed letter from the Secretary to Nong Kimny3 stating that our policy in Cambodia is designed only to help maintain Cambodian independence.

Following my visit to Phnom Penh, I have been thinking a lot about what courses of action the U.S. should adopt toward Cambodia. I conclude that we should continue our present policy. I was impressed by the number of Americans and Asians in Southeast Asia who advocated a policy of firmness, patience, and restraint. U Nu urged me to suggest that we not cut off aid to Cambodia and bide our time with the Prince …. The Thais, though they have been as much as if not more exasperated by the Prince than we have, also seemed to feel that for them as well as for us the policy of firm restraint would be the best in the long run. The principal American officers in Phnom Penh feel that if we play our hand right we will put an end to this present nonsense and stabilize U.S.-Cambodian relationships. General Lodoen felt very strongly that we should not write off Cambodia and disagreed with Admiral Stump’s views. In Saigon Reinhardt and those who have dealt with the Cambodians likewise suggested that we try to calm the troubled waters through diplomacy.

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The Prince is going through a difficult period for us similar to those he has previously traversed with his own people as well as the French. Judging by those who have dealt with the Cambodian picture for a number of years there is nothing new in this situation. We must also make some allowance for the fact that certain Indian and French elements are undoubtedly goading the Prince to extreme statements. Another important factor is that the Prince is not now officially in the government whereas many government elements are friendly to the U.S. These include the King and Queen, many top Government officials, provincial governors and local administrators, and the security forces. There is evidence of some recent dissatisfaction with Sihanouk on the part of some Cambodians.

Therefore, I would recommend to you and the Secretary the following courses of action:

First, we should try by diplomatic means and publicity to work out understanding with the Queen and the Cambodian Government regarding problems affecting U.S.-Cambodian relationships. The attached telegram and the Secretary’s letter would implement such a course of action in the first instance. Before taking any more drastic steps, we should try to strengthen the hand of Nong Kimny, the Prime Minister, and the Queen and give Sihanouk a face-saving retreat. In following this line as the first step we will of course be making clear to the Cambodians that the charges against the U.S. are totally false and must cease.
If the first course of action fails to produce satisfactory results in the next two or three weeks and if Sihanouk agitates the party congress next week against us to the extent that the present Government is changed, then we should instruct McClintock to make an official and strongly worded démarche to the Queen and the King to obtain an expression of Cambodian policy toward the U.S. and toward U.S. aid. Such a démarche would also seek to elicit a clear statement as to who in fact sets Cambodian policy toward the U.S. If the Queen’s response continues to emphasize friendship and cooperation with the U.S., then we should continue to seek ways in which our two governments can work together on concrete lines.
However, if the Queen’s response is weak or if the Prince continues his malicious diatribes against the U.S., then I suggest we recall McClintock for consultations and request ICA not to initiate any new programs. I would not at that stage cut off military aid to the security forces. Tapering off non-military assistance might have the effect of bringing the Cambodians around to a more cooperative frame of mind. If it did not, then we would be faced with a very significant decision as to whether to terminate aid to Cambodia.

I would also stress the factor of Asian opinion in this whole matter. There is more at stake for the U.S. than just our relations with the Cambodians. What we do there is being carefully watched in Asian capitals. If we can improve the situation, it will enhance our reputation and standing in Southeast Asia. If we act suddenly and [Page 513] drastically because of the Prince’s provocations and without going through an attempt to set the matter right, the U.S. will be criticized in Asia. If we did decide to end aid to Cambodia, I would strongly urge that we first explain to certain Asian governments, such as the Thai, the Burmese, and the Indians, that we had tried a series of steps to settle these problems amicably, but were reluctantly taking this ultimate action because we had no alternative in view of the antagonistic Cambodian attitude. I continue to believe we retain the initiative at the present time and can through careful diplomatic handling retrieve the situation. The friendliness of certain key elements such as the Queen and Cambodia’s basically anti-Communist attitude indicate that the Prince may be obliged to retire from the public scene while less impulsive leaders calm the atmosphere. On the other hand, we cannot discount the possibility that the Prince, using next week’s Sangkum Congress as a vehicle, will lead his people in a righteous crusade against the U.S. and adopt a neutralist stance of the anti-American and pro-Communist variety.

I therefore urge that we take advantage of the next few days by despatching the Secretary’s letter and the attached telegram to help forestall the latter trend.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751H.5–MSP/4–1456. Secret. As of April 1, PSA was abolished and replaced by the Office of Southeast Asian Affairs (SEA was headed by Young and was responsible for Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaya, Thailand, and Vietnam) and the Office of Southwest Pacific Affairs (SPA was headed by Bell and was responsible for Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Pacific Islands).
  2. Reference is to a draft of telegram 1051 to Phnom Penh, April 14, sent at 4:06 p.m., not found attached. In the telegram as sent, the Department addressed the dispute between the United States and Cambodia over aid. The Ambassador was authorized to release funds for USOM-approved portions of the Cambodian general budget and at the same time urge the Cambodian National Bank to unblock counterpart funds for Cambodia’s military expenditures. (Ibid., 611.51H/4–1256)
  3. The text was transmitted in Document 235.