208. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State1

1266. Department pass CINCPAC for Polad priority for information. Personal for Robertson, Felt and Steeves from Smith. Reference: Polad 45.2 Heartily concur spirit and general lines your message which brings fresh look at situation at most opportune time. Having become increasingly uncomfortable over apparent necessity continuing covert action contrary letter Geneva accord, had hoped that with formation stable new Phoui government opportunity would soon arise to clarify anomalous situation and “legalize” proposed Heintges program. Events on frontiers in past few weeks seemed to offer just opportunity which RLG needs to clarify its position re Geneva agreements. In requesting special powers from assembly Phoui put forth as primary argument national danger arising from Viet Minh incursions and declared inter alia “government will undertake serious effort to raise efficiency of army by granting it better training as well as improvement and unification its matériel.” Therefore I agree generally with your proposed approach and believe time has come for it so long as we keep in mind: (A) our allies’ reaction, (B) international repercussions proposed operation and (C) internal reactions of NLHX and Viet [Page 500] Minh. In sum gradual bringing US military MAAG into Laos must be carried out on strong legal basis, with broad agreement among free world powers and as smoothly and quietly as possible. These considerations condition the following proposed specific steps along your line of approach.

That I be authorized to suggest to Phoui he call in British, French, US Ambassadors to inform them RLG has decided to free itself unequivocally of any restrictions on Laos still imposed by Geneva agreements. Recent frontier incidents have brought into sharp focus untenable military posture of Laos. In its voluntary declaration at Geneva conference, reaffirmed in its letter of May 31, 1958 to ICC, Laos bound itself unilaterally to observe restrictive provisions of Geneva agreement until agreement on Viet Nam had been fulfilled. Hostilities have long ago ceased in Laos and the country unified under one sovereign government since November 1957 but there now seems no likelihood that unification of Viet Nam will occur in foreseeable future. Laos is thus placed in absurd position of remaining defenseless until solution is found to a foreign policy dispute to which it is not a party, for which it is not responsible and settlement of which it can neither influence nor hasten. Such a position is unbearable. No sovereign country can accept to bind itself indefinitely to position of not being able to defend its national territory. Therefore in view events past, Laos has now determined to denounce its unilateral declaration at Geneva and to recognize no longer any provision of Geneva agreements tending to restrict its sovereign right to undertake measures necessary to maintain adequate defense establishment. At same time Laos reaffirms emphatically its adherence to principles of UN Charter, its wholehearted adherence to peaceful policies and renews its assurances of having no aggressive intentions toward any of its neighbors.
Phoui would then request advice three Ambassadors on wording of RLG letter to co-chairmen along these lines and their suggestions as to best method of implementing RLG decision in such manner as to limit international repercussions to a minimum. We should then develop in our discussions with British and French a US position with respect Geneva accords along lines cited your paragraphs 3 and 5 and urge British and French support Lao position along lines your paragraphs 1a, b, c and 8 but with additional and, we think, even more cogent argument advanced by Phoui in his initial approach as outlined above.
Phoui would then write official letter to co-chairmen along lines RLG decided appropriate.
Phoui would then call in French and US Ambassadors and formally ask their governments to examine singly and jointly ways and means of stepping up their military assistance program.
In effect French and US Governments could then consult and upon RLG concurrence put immediately into effect Heintges plan overtly and legally.
I also heartily concur in playing these decisions in low key and in implementing decisions slowly. It may be hoped that new cabinet will be strongly pro-US and almost wholly responsive to our views. However, must point out that NLHX is on defensive and that new government with special powers may well deepen division within NLHX between moderate wing which believes in pursuing goals by legal means and extremist wing which believes military action required. If US build-up, particularly with military personnel, follows too swiftly RLG denunciation agreements, extremist NLHX wing might swing party to its views and persuade it to resort to insurgency. Too rapid development of an open uniformed MAAG might also be viewed by Viet Minh as threat necessitating counter actions along whole frontier. Result would be that new cabinet’s energies would be absorbed in security problem to detriment of positive development program. If I understand paragraph 8 your message correctly, however, you also are proposing implementation initial phases Heintges plan under cover until time propitious for gradual surfacing military MAAG. I concur in this view and believe should develop line followed by Deptel 771 paragraph 4 A.3
In past Phoui and Khamphan Panya have expressed desire see termination applicability all restrictive provisions of Geneva agreements and other leaders civilian and military have also indicated hope for increased and improved military assistance program. During his stay in Laos Heintges discussed his plan with responsible defense leaders and found unanimous approval among them. I therefore foresee no difficulties in obtaining RLG agreement to approach proposed above.
If Paris telegram 2566 to Department4 accurately reflects Quai d’Orsay views French Government may well agree to RLG position on Geneva agreements. Also fact RLG turns to France for such additional military aid as it willing to offer should help salve any negative French feelings at seeing US assume increased responsibilities for training ANL. To suggest RLG request exclusively US military assistance as per your paragraph 2 would seem to me create unnecessary friction with [Page 502] French who in view present commitments elsewhere may not be even willing undertake additional military training effort in Laos suggested by local FMM under Heintges plan.
If we can obtain British and Canadian acquiescence to RLG’s legal position on continued applicability Geneva agreements to Laos I cannot foresee their then putting forth serious objections to stepped-up military assistance program so long as introduction uniformed personnel not too massive or abrupt.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/1–2059. Secret; Priority; Limited Distribution. Received at 3:03 p.m.
  2. Document 206.
  3. Dated December 30. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/12–3058; included in the microfiche supplement)
  4. Telegram 2566, January 14, reported French Foreign Ministry arguments against reconvening the ICC in Laos and concluded: “Quai representative said Foreign Office believed any attempt force RLG accept new ICC could have dangerous internal consequences.” (Department of State, Central Files, 751G.00/1–1459)