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

1637. CINCPAC for POLAD. Reference: Embtel 1601.2 Ministerial meeting under Crown Prince held March 24 on Phoui’s insistence and as he had previously promised Phoui saw me after meeting. He told me council had decided:

Not to accept French offer of 80 instructors;
Keep FMM but insist that role its members be limited to that of experts and technical advisors;
Seno be transferred to RLG.

He said he would prepare letter to French Ambassador containing these points.3

I said that Gassouin’s reply to Foreign Ministry note4 made proposals on Seno that were unacceptable. According to Phoui Gassouin [Page 515] proposed that base be managed by French military, fly two flags and that one Lao battalion be staged there, commanded by French officers and non-coms and trained by French instructors, but RLG would finance all costs of battalion. Furthermore to satisfy ANL needs French would turn over to ANL part of matériel on base. RLG perfectly prepared use base jointly, Phoui emphasized, but did not want maintain status quo because it considered that present status Seno represented “remainder of Geneva Agreement” and RLG determined do away altogether with any possible applicability of agreement in any respect.

I pointed out at some length that in my opinion it dangerous get French in uproar at this time, that their participation over next crucial six to nine months essential, that once ANL had been put back on its feet at end this period, RLG would probably be in better position take more longsighted view of situation if they so wished but that now it must face shortrun problems squarely because precipitation showdown with French now might well seriously upset all plans to strengthen ANL including ours. I expressed hope that in his letter Phoui might so word RLG’s position as to save French sensibilities and more specifically that Phoui might at least suggest FMM could perhaps still be so reorganized as to permit some of its personnel or their replacements to participate in training. In course discussion Phoui finally confidentially admitted that basic decision of RLG was to get rid of French military altogether, and that as he had told Minister Blakeney it was only my representations over the past several months that had prevented RLG from doing it already. However, he said he appreciated need to avoid hurting French feelings, especially at this time, and offered to show me his draft of letter before sending it to Gassouin, for my suggestions toward making its contents as palatable as possible to French.

I told Phoui I would appreciate such an opportunity to help prevent any avoidable misunderstanding or disagreement between RLG and France. I said that I did not question sovereign right of Laos to decide exact nature of its relations with France but if implementation of such a decision seemed likely to interfere with effectiveness or to limit extent of our aid to Laos under MSP I believed it my duty to invite this fact to his attention. I believed that from what I had already said to him consistently from date of my initial call on him as Foreign Minister he must know that I was personally firmly convinced, as was my government, that Laos can best be helped in foreseeable future by full cooperation with French. I told him that Ambassador Gassouin and General D’Arrivere, in my opinion had cooperated magnificently [Page 516] with me and Chief PEO in our attempts to bring about joint French-American assistance of type ANL needed and wanted and that I was still convinced that, for at least the six to nine months required for the basic training urgently needed by the ANL, it was essential for Laos and US to retain French cooperation and to have at least token French participation. French acceptance of US participation in military training would to my mind go far toward establishing in rest of free world legality of presence our military here. I wanted Prime Minister to have no doubt that action taken by RLG at this time which resulted in closing door on French participation with us in a joint ANL–US–French training program would create great difficulties in international field and might even prevent our being able to help them with training teams as we had hoped and prepared to do. Phoui said he understood and would keep matter in mind.

Re US participation Phoui said that he would send letter to me requesting US training assistance soon after he had sent letter to French which would be done before this weekend.

Comment: I am concerned by possible French reaction to flat rejection their offer of 80 instructors after they had been led to believe by informal initial Lao reaction problem was one of finances (Embtel 1578).5 I therefore think it all the more important that we respond to Khamphan Panya’s note along lines suggested in Embtel 15566 emphasizing formally our desire to cooperate with the French and importance we place on keeping French fully in training picture at least through nine months basic training period. If I can be authorized deliver note before Friday council meeting believe it may help soften Lao position and strengthen the chance of retaining French participation.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751S.5/5–2559. Secret; Niact. Repeated to Paris, Saigon, and CINCPAC. Received at 12:40 p.m.
  2. In telegram 1601, March 19, the Embassy reported that French General D’Arrivère told Heintges that he was going to Paris to fight for additional training personnel for the mission and assured Heintges that French and American instructors could work together in Laos. (ibid., 751J.5/3–1959)
  3. Phoui showed the Embassy a draft of the Lao letter in response to a March 10 offer by the French Government to provide 80 instructors and a new status for the Seno base. Smith reported in telegram 1657 from Vientiane, March 28, that the language was so polite as to be useless. Telegram 1657 also contains a translation of the Lao draft. (ibid., 751J.5/3–2859)
  4. The Royal Lao Government gave the French Government a note on February 26 requesting information on the training equipment it was prepared to offer Laos. (Telegram 1495 from Vientiane, February 26 and despatch 110 from Vientiane, March 6; ibid., 751J.5–MSP/2–2659 and 751J.5–MSP/3–659, respectively) The French reply is described in telegram 1074 to Vientiane, March 4. (ibid., 751J.5/3–459; included in the microfiche supplement)
  5. Dated March 15. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.5/3–1559; included in the microfiche supplement)
  6. In telegram 1556, March 11, Smith recommended acknowledging the February 26 Lao Government note to the United States (similar to the note to the French of the same date) by stating that the U.S. Government was prepared to send 105 officers and noncommissioned officers to Laos for 6 to 9 months as part of 12 mixed U.S.-French training teams. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.5/3–1159; included in the microfiche supplement) A translation of the Lao note was transmitted in telegram 1494 from Vientiane, February 26. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.5–MSP/2–2659)