173. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Laos1

1382. Embtels 19012 and 1925.3 Dept appreciates full reporting elections and reactions Lao leaders and others thereto; awaits your recommendations future U.S. courses of action. In meantime views Dept as follows:

Remains as true as always withdrawal U.S. aid from Laos would virtually guarantee swift submergence within Communist bloc; this would have critically serious repercussions elsewhere in SEA.
Equally true Souphanouvong and NLHX are instruments world Communism which would be prime beneficiary U. S. withdrawal.
Yet lamentable performance Lao conservatives, particularly in failing unite on restricted slate candidates has seriously impaired our capability defend continuance Lao program. Monetary reform is all more urgent necessity to help root out corruption.
Among difficult tasks ahead are (a) how to convince French in Laos base their actions on above truths (b) how to get Lao publicly brand NLHX as agents world Communism and unite in effective struggle defeat them.
Problem Lao leadership is critical. We agree present leaders have failed heed U.S. warnings adequately and elections on May 4 proved we were right and they were wrong as well as negligent, self-seeking or worse. We see little hope in trying to work through Katay, Souvanna or even Phoui and given current Congressional storm against aid abuses Laos it is question whether programs based on support of old leaders could win approval. Souvanna’s vain assurances Washington well remembered and he is discredited here.
Intensive search therefore required for “new faces” with whom people not disillusioned and who have energy and courage to carry struggle into remote villages and minority tribal areas. Preliminary thought here is that such persons as Col. Oudone Sananikone, Col. Ouane, Nouphat Sisouk and possibly Dr. Oudom might form nucleus of group with whom we could work. View of Crown Prince on this would be helpful; also whether he would consider cooperating such group and persuading them work with you.

Tasks of such group would include a) action in Assembly during impending government crisis; b) development of political action, propaganda and “aid to people” programs for period leading up to late 1959 elections (which for moment we assume will be held as Constitution requires).

On Assembly action we would like your views whether group acting under Savang’s guidance could organize out of Nationalist and Independent plus other non-Communist members new united party from which top three discredited leaders would be excluded at least as regards active participation. Party program would be built around anti-corruption and aid-to-people drive and would in foreign affairs espouse united, neutral, independent Laos. Cabinet would of course exclude NLHX; likewise desirable exclude such unreliable opportunists as Bong unless they are demonstrably committed as reformists.

We agree with Embtel 1901 that continuance present government in office would best serve Souphanouvong’s purpose and would render yet more grave present danger to Laos. We do not however see any great advantage to another KatayPhoui reconciliation and therefore our view that Souvanna should resign rests more on hope that new leadership could be thrust forward than that old leadership could be rehabilitated. Should not be overlooked that (a) French will never [Page 441] join with us in backing Katay and (b)Katay who has had almost unbroken record as political liability since mid–1956 has now been rebuffed even in Pakse supposed center of his power,. We also have grave doubts re Petsarath but recognize his views and attitude important factor in situation. It does not appear to us Sihanouk has anything to contribute to stability of Laos considering degree of Communist penetration already accomplished Cambodia.
While agreeing with Savang that May 4 vote was not indication Lao people want Communism it is not necessary for them to be Communists or to want Communism in order to get it. We can also see merit in statement which Crown Prince desires (Para 4, Embtel 1925) but such statement difficult for us at this juncture and perhaps not desirable until Lao have taken some concrete step under his leadership to show they will face up to what he calls completely new political situation. We would take same view of SEATO statement particularly if new group suggested para 5 above desired it. In other words burden of proof is on Lao first to show that conditions exist for our help to achieve their and our objective.
You authorized in your discretion discuss foregoing with Crown Prince.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/5–1358. Top Secret. Drafted by Parsons, cleared by Kocher and Robertson, and approved by Parsons. Repeated to CINCPAC for POLAD, Paris, London, Saigon, Bangkok, and Phnom Penh.
  2. See footnote 3, supra.
  3. In telegram 1925, May 13, Smith reported a 2-hour conversation with Crown Prince Savang on the morning of May 13. According to Smith, Savang believed that the vote in Laos was not a vote for Communism, but rather a vote against corruption and war. Savang asked for unequivocal statements from both the United States and SEATO that they would help Laos to maintain its independence against the Communist threat as a means of rallying anti-Communist elements in the country. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/5–1358; included in the microfiche supplement)