214. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State 1

1480. CINCPAC for POLAD.

Under released authority Deptels 1029 and 1039,2 called on Prime Minister morning February 24 to suggest RLG carry out four-step [Page 510] plan outlined Embtel 12663 by sending note to French and US Ambassadors prior to February 27 meeting of French Defense Committee informing each of them RLG desires to open confidential conversations with the Governments of France and of US and to reassess Lao defense posture and study its strengthening principally by improved training.
Phoui then informed me in strictest confidence that cabinet meeting February 21 presided by Crown Prince had reached firm decision re French Military Mission. After prolonged discussion Cabinet had decided that henceforth there was no longer reason for this mission in Laos. RLG would like obtain French agreement that FMM be dissolved but that in view friendly relations between two countries French would maintain military and civilian advisors in position where advisors are required. Cabinet had instructed Foreign Minister Khamphan Panya get in touch with Ambassdor Gassouin to arrive at new formula of aid. However Phoui was still hesitating since he wondering whether presentation RLG decision at this time might not under-cut French support useful and perhaps even temporarily essential to enable RLG to carry through under February 11 declaration.
I stated US would of course respect sovereign decisions Laos but in no way wishes be responsible or even possibly appear to be responsible for pushing French out of country. I pointed out again to Phoui that French could if they wished be very helpful in military training and at Seno as well as in medical and cultural fields. I told Phoui my personal reaction was that RLG’s approach should at least be gradual so that Laos might not endanger assets of French assistance and friendship. I suggested that perhaps he might wish first send suggested note to Gassouin and me prior 27th meeting in order to leave no doubt in French Ambassador’s mind about intention RLG to consult US as well as France re improving army training, and not time this appointment to talk with French Ambassador until middle next week so that he might at opening that conversation ascertain what proposals French prepared to make re their increased military and other aid before telling him anything of Lao negative decision. I urged that even then all care should be taken not to alienate French and decrease French interest and sympathy to extent greater than required to meet in long-run sovereign wishes of Laos and sovereign judgment as to its needs.
In response Phoui stated he sure French would not react by withdrawing all its military but would rather seek hang on. Phoui added if they did in fact withdraw, however, it probably would be best solution.
According Phoui Military Committee meeting February 25 under Crown Prince to discuss inter alia status of Seno which not broached at previous Cabinet meeting.
In closing conversation Phoui assured me that note along lines suggested would be sent French Ambassador afternoon February 25.
[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] report on Cabinet meeting February 21. Single subject discussed was delineation of interest countries area of responsibility in aiding Laos. Decisions were unanimous but limited to general principles along following lines: US should assume total responsibility for military; France, for cultural matters; and US and UK should arrive at understanding on police.

Comments: While from practical viewpoint assumption full responsibility by US to train ANL could simplify problem rapid effective training of ANL and lead quickly to establishment open MAAG our DOD desires, I am greatly concerned by this Lao decision, unexpected at this time. Unless decision kept really confidential (difficult if not impossible) and action taken under decision taken only in carefully modulated and timed stages, I fear following:

Rapid development recent events (February 11 and 174 statements; elimination FMM; arrival already contemplated US military) might be interpreted by friend and foe as manifestation US pressure on Laos;
French likely consider US has acted in bad faith—particularly after Daridan talks in Washington;
Laos would be subjected to heavy barrage Communist propaganda of new magnitude;
Decision might well provoke GOF to react sharply withdraw at least all its military, thereby requiring a more rapid US build-up, which in turn would increase reactions a, b, [c, d].

Recommendation (A): Therefore urgently request authorization to indicate to Phoui dangers to Laos and difficulties to US engendered by implementing this decision at this time, and repeat today’s advice to [Page 512] him rather to proceed along lines suggested paragraph 3, and to retain FMM at least until he knows plan crash training period completed some 9–12 months hence.

Comment: B: Decision is purely Lao. As Department aware we here have never missed any of our numerous opportunities to make clear to RLG that we hold French presence in Seno important and welcome the contribution FMM can make in ANL training if properly beefed up and willing to let US supplement where necessary. We have repeatedly seized opportunities to let French Ambassador and D’Arrivere know that we have continued steadfastly in this line.

Recommendation (B): I therefore recommend that I be authorized as soon as I receive note requesting US enter conversations with RLG to reassess Lao defense picture and study its strengthening principally by improved training, to go immediately to French Ambassador and reiterate our position as stressed by Robertson to Daridan and repeated by me in a session with Gassouin especially arranged for purpose last Monday February 16. I would then tell him that while I welcome the opportunity to help do something effective to expedite improvement ANL training, I wanted to do so only in closest cooperation with him and General D’Arrivere.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.5–MSP/2–2459. Secret; Niact; Limited Distribution. Repeated to Paris and CINCPAC.
  2. In these telegrams, February 20 and 23, the Department suggested that while it was not opposed to the Embassy’s idea of a conference in Vientiane among the ANL, the French Military Mission, and the PEO on Lao military problems and needs, it preferred to continue bilateral consultations with the French in Washington and Paris begun by Robertson and Daridan. (ibid., 751J.5–MSP/2–1959; both included in the mirofiche supplement)
  3. Document 208.
  4. On February 17, the official Lao Presse Bulletin clarified Lao defense policy in light of the declaration of February 11 by announcing that the government had no intention of allowing foreign troops to enter or be stationed in Laos, nor did it plan to increase the small number already in Laos. The government stated that Laos had no need for new bases and promised that it would never allow its territory to be used for aggression, and had no need at the present time to join a military alliance. (Telegram 1424 from Vientiane, February 18; Department of State, Central Files, 751J.5/2–1859; included in the microfiche supplement)
  5. The Department concurred in both these recommendations in telegram 1044 to Vientiane, February 24. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.5–MSP/2–2459)

    General D’Arrivère was the head of the French Military Mission in Laos.