217. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State1
1641. Department pass information CINCPAC for POLAD. Reference: Deptel 1030.2 I called on Crown Prince March 24 to deliver message authorized reference telegram substance of which already given February to Prime and Foreign Ministers in absence Crown Prince.
Following presentation text of message including reiteration guarantees previously made (Embtel 616 October 4, 1958)3 I expressed opinion that these assurances provided in event actual need essence of guarantee he sought. Crown Prince asked whether written statement would follow. I replied that message was intended as oral reply to his earlier oral inquiry.
Crown Prince said that he appreciated guarantee as given since it contained valuable indications for RLG, that he had no criticism of US policy and felt US was great friend of Laos. In this connection he wished reaffirm there would be no change in present Lao attitude to US. However, while he accepted message without recrimination he felt obliged frankly express his dissatisfaction with US unwillingness recognize Lao boundaries as presently delineated. This he said weakened Laos and left RLG in position not knowing whether it had full US support. He was of opinion Laos at present time did not have necessary or adequate guarantee with which to carry on its new bold and clear foreign policy and asked whether we realized chasm now existing between Laos and ChiComs and DRV. The RLG he stated had decided some time ago to abandon any form of neutrality in order mark its hostility to Communist world. “For a little country with no resources or strength this decision was an important act.” He was seriously concerned over the security of Laos and felt it his duty address himself to US for more clear cut assurances of support.
I repeated my opinion that while in each instance it would be up to the RLG to decide how best to meet threats from ChiComs or DRV the Department’s message clearly reiterated once again US intention to stand firmly behind its commitments in SEATO. As member SEATO if inviolability or independence of Laos threatened US would consult immediately on measures to be taken for common defense. Personally I felt a too precise or public guarantee might defeat joint Lao-US purposes and might invite attack for purpose engaging US [Page 518] forces or distracting world attention from other events such as Berlin issue. I pointed out that Crown Prince should realize US must also consider problems on world wide basis and make certain any guarantee would be helpful rather than harmful to both Laos and US in long run and in overall struggle against Communist aggression.
I then informed Crown Prince of April visit Assistant Secretary Robertson4 at which time if he wished he would have opportunity discussing guarantee and other matters of mutual interest. Such discussions with one of principal US policy formulators would, I felt, give Crown Prince additional sense reassurance. Crown Prince indicated he would be greatly pleased to meet with Assistant Secretary for whom had highest regard. I said I would plan talk to Assistant Secretary myself on matter at Manila. I then stressed Department’s interest with respect to Crown Prince’s idea of having Laos take initiative and lead in trying promote regional cooperation of a type which would make protection Laos already enjoys under SEATO even more effective and would stimulate mutually beneficial economic and social development. Crown Prince made no comment this statement.
Crown Prince then admitted that in fact Laos was not in agreement with any of its neighbors on border question but that it had no intention reviving such disputes at this time. SVN, Thailand and Burma were friends of Laos. Cambodia on other hand was trying to attract RLG into joining its neutral position but Lao people had matured through experience and had adopted definite stand this respect.
Once more I expressed to Crown Prince my personal conviction that should an attack from the north take place, RLG could be sure of US support appropriate to the particular threat through UN, bilaterally, or through SEATO but that precise guarantee of borders of type he had seemed desire presented certain problems that I hoped he would recognize. I would be glad to present to Department any suggestion Crown Prince had that might more precisely define the assurances he felt were necessary.
Comment: Despite reiterated assurances given during this audience and on several previous occasions Crown Prince obviously desirous elicit something in way of additional direct assurances from US. His present thinking on kind of promises he feels essential though still not clearly defined now appears to have reverted to earlier idea of “moral support” rather than specific border guarantee. Question as to what he really seeks was, however, somewhat clarified by Phoui’s statement to me March 24 (Embtel 1637)5 in which Prime Minister indicated Crown Prince not satisfied with repeated oral statements but [Page 519] rather anxious obtain written guarantee of US moral and material support. If written assurance of some nature could appropriately be provided on understanding not to be made public I believe it would be extremely helpful in easing CP’s and RLG’s concern. If Department determines that written guarantee can be furnished, my opinion not necessary await further elucidation from Crown Prince and personal delivery of such statement to him by Assistant Secretary Robertson on occasion his visit Laos next month would make it most effective. If written assurance deemed unwise am confident Robertson’s restatement and personal explanation significance our assurances should be most helpful in giving CP satisfaction.
In response CP stated that he would like US to assume clearly “position of a sure and loyal friend but not that of a protector” and not obliged to take action every time a few North Vietnamese or ChiComs penetrated Lao territory. RLG could always seek appropriate US “protection” as occasion and need arose and US could then decide what measures appropriate. “For me”, he emphasized, “major and crucial problem is that of Communism both external and internal. It is matter of life or death to Laos. Communist China alleges that Laos plans to attack it as pretext to dominate the country and has taken this stand merely because Laos has sought aid from West. Nevertheless Laos not asking now for precise guarantee of its borders.”
CP then said that he would refer the whole matter to RLG and that by time Assistant Secretary Robertson arrived he and government would have the details worked out as to exactly what type and measure of additional assurance if any they wished to secure. Nevertheless he felt US should appreciate that the steps in this connection being taken by Laos were in interests of its friends as well as its own. “What Laos would like is for the US to help it create a more definite climate of anti-Communism in the whole area; this is a common task and a question of principle in fight against Communism”. He pointed out that RLG has been actively endeavoring cut ties between NLHX elements and Communists and has consistently refused all Soviet bloc requests to establish diplomatic mission in Laos. Laos he admitted knew it could not get out of its difficulties without US help and in this connection it was vital for him and for RLG to give US a clear picture of what the Lao think and what they hoped to accomplish. “Whether US will help with guarantees or intervention in a specific case is a decision that US alone can make”.
I replied that I felt certain US would pay most sympathetic attention to Lao views and that we depended greatly on his and RLG’s interpretations of wishes and needs of Lao people. US intentions made quite plain through its military and economic assistance to Laos. US view was that ANL must be improved on urgent basis so that it could counter internal subversion and appropriately help discourage or repel [Page 520] any plan attack country. I said it was necessary for ANL not only to secure training but also to develop efficient communications and intelligence networks. We had repeatedly told RLG we were prepared provide military instruction most needed to supplement French efforts but RLG’s wishes must first be officially and formally though perhaps confidentially expressed. I suggested CP might wish to encourage positive action in this connection which I understand RLG now considering.
After expressing his agreement on urgency this matter and his full knowledge of it he stated it was RLG’s aim remove all idea of defeat from minds ANL and Lao people. This would require modifying military organization and was not diplomatic or political but a psychological and moral problem. RLG did not wish to hurt its “friends” yet to realize the above objective would find it difficult avoid doing so. In other words CP clearly implied he wanted see French completely out of ANL training.
I told CP I understood US prepared help in develoment ANL morale by providing 106 specially selected and trained experts to assist in military training who would work at regional headquarters and in field with ANL for six months on closest possible basis. These men were now ready to come to Laos provided formal request received from RLG followed by agreement after consultations among ANL, Heintges and General D’Arrivere.
CP quite properly made no comment possibility formal request for US assistance as council meeting was already scheduled for same afternoon to discuss or decide Lao position on subject.
In closing audience CP asked that I convey his best wishes for Secretary State’s full and prompt recovery.