121. Memorandum of a Converation, Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York, September 21, 1959, 10:30 a.m.1



  • US
    • The Secretary
    • Assistant Secretary Wilcox
    • Assistant Secretary Parsons
  • Cambodia
    • His Excellency M. Son Sann, Vice Premier and Foreign Minister
    • His Excellency Nong Kimny, Permanent Representative to the United Nations


  • U.S. Relations with Cambodia

The Cambodian Foreign Minister expressed his thanks for the understanding position taken by the United States with regard to the Cambodian policy of neutrality. Following long talks with Mr. Parsons this spring in Phnom Penh and many conversations since with Amb. Trimble and Secretary Seaton2 there were no more U.S.-Cambodian misunderstandings and the way was clear for further cooperation and for frank exploration of mutual problems of interest. Son Sann was grateful also for our moderating influence with Thailand and Vietnam. He expressed his thanks to the Secretary also for the most valuable program of aid to Cambodia and for our having sent Secretary Seaton out for the dedication of the Friendship Road. This was a fine road and most valuable for Cambodia’s future.

In this connection Son Sann said that he knew the Congress was reducing aid funds and emphasized Cambodia was making great efforts to deserve the aid offered by the United States. Following a two year program of economic development Cambodia was now embarked on a five-year plan following which it was hoped there could be a balanced budget. He hoped the United States could assist in bringing about the accomplishment of the plan by keeping up present [Page 334] aid levels. The sums involved were important to Cambodia but he hoped they were not large for the United States. If the plan were successfully carried out Cambodia would be much more self-sufficient and his government would ask for less aid thereafter which indeed was its desire.

The Secretary said he was glad that the Foreign Minister understood our difficulties with the volume of aid funds available. He said we would have to reexamine most carefully what was asked of us but the Minister could be sure that we would look at his proposals with the greatest sympathy.

The Foreign Minister said that he would like to use this opportunity to ask several questions. The Thai Foreign Minister had come to Phnom Penh not long ago with excellent results as regards improving Thai-Cambodian relations.3 He had also spoken of a sort of union of the South Eastern Asian community and had continued discussion of this at Saigon. The Foreign Minister wondered whether the Secretary thought well of the proposal. The Secretary said that he thought it a very interesting idea and that he had always thought well of developing economic cooperation on a regional basis. Son Sann went on to say that actually most of the economic cooperation in the region was under ECAFE as was for instance the program of development of the Mekong River. This proposal looked more to meetings of Ministers in different places for exchange of views on political and diplomatic questions. Mr. Parsons added that we understood this had developed as a purely Asian initiative and that in contrast to Europe where there had been many opportunities for greater regional exchanges of views and cooperation, in Southeast Asia this had been greatly limited in the past. Accordingly this idea had seemed like a very interesting one and one which should be carried forward by the countries of that area if they thought well of it.

The Secretary said that he wanted to take the opportunity to say that if Cambodia was interested in joining the IMF and the IBRD we would be glad to do anything we could to help. Son Sann explained that this year it would not be possible to take steps in this direction. He added there were two major policy considerations which preoccupied people in Cambodia at present. One was acceptance of the Cambodian neutrality policy and the second one was to make sure that the country could meet any obligations which it might take on in the international field. Cambodia would wish to be sure of being able to meet its obligations to the Bank and the Fund before joining. Reverting again to the question of contacts with Cambodia’s neighbors the Minister [Page 335] said that the Thai Foreign Minister had spoken about his idea to Prince Sihanouk and while the Prince was in favor of more contacts and had proved this by going to Saigon himself, nevertheless he thought it would be better to leave for the future any formalization of the contacts in meetings which might develop. It was his view that the situation was not yet ripe for Thanat Khoman’s proposal.

The Secretary then expressed his shock at the recent bombing attempt against the royal family and his gratification that the Queen had escaped. Son Sann expressed his appreciation and also mentioned how pleased the royal family had been to receive the President’s cable. Further careful investigation of the handwriting on the card (of an American named Baker) enclosed with the lethal package had proven that the rebel, Sam Sary, was responsible for the attempted assassination. Sam Sary who had been in Thailand had now crossed over to South Vietnam through Laos but without the knowledge or help of the Lao. President Diem was now more cooperative about these dissident Cambodians but it was possible there were still elements there sympathetic to Sam Sary’s efforts on a non-official basis. There was some thought that perhaps Sam Sary had gone on to Hong Kong and he hoped the United States would provide any information we have as we had been brought into this matter by the effort to fix responsibility on us. Mr. Parsons said that he did not recall any recent reports on Sam Sary’s whereabouts although we understood that he had been in Thailand and Vietnam different times.

  1. Source: Department of State, Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 64 D 199. Secret. Drafted by Parsons on September 21 and approved by Herter on September 24. The source text indicates the meeting took place in Suite 28–A. Both Herter and Son Sann were the heads of their countries’ delegations to the U.N. General Assembly.
  2. Secretary of the Interior Seaton represented the United States at the inauguration of the Khmer-American Friendship Highway, the major feature of the U.S. economic aid program to Cambodia which linked the interior of the country with the new port facilities at Sihanoukville (Kompon Son). A memorandum of conversation among Sihanouk and Seaton and other Embassy officials, July 21, is ibid., FE/SEA (Cambodia) Files: Lot 63 D 73, 2–B.1 Port Highway Inauguration, 1959. According to a memorandum from Dillon to the President, Seaton’s visit and “the Secretary’s bearing and personality evoked auspicious responses from the highest level of Cambodian officials.” (Memorandum from Dillon to Eisenhower, July 28; Eisenhower Library, Whitman File, Administrative Series, Dillon, C. Douglas)
  3. Information on Thanat Khoman’s official visit to Cambodia, June 11–13, is in despatch 76 from Phnom Penh, September 14. (Department of State, Central Files, 651H.92/9–1459)