260. Telegram From the Acting Secretary of State to the President, at Prestwick, Scotland1

Developments re Laos.

Following is a summary of developments in the Laos situation since reftel: DTG 050501Z.2

A. Situation in Laos

There has been no significant change in the situation within Laos over past two days. Pathet Lao rebel forces in northeast Sam Neua province have concentrated and are advancing toward Sam Neua town in three columns, nearest of which is about 15 airline miles distant. Although there has been some contact between Royal Lao Armed Forces and enemy, no major engagements have as yet taken place.

Royal Lao Government remains determined to defend country and morale in Sam Neua town appears satisfactory despite shortages of food and clothing caused by influx of refugees from north. Lao government has formulated plans to strengthen civil authority [Page 603] throughout country as move to reassure population and organize more effective counteraction to Pathet Lao military and psychological offensive.

There still is no irrefutable physical evidence of direct foreign (i.e. North Vietnamese) intervention available to us; however, additional details on Pathet Lao military operations strengthen presumption of North Vietnamese direction, support and probable participation.

B. US Military Preparations

Pursuant to your authorization3 and pursuant to an existing Pacific Command contingency plan to ensure friendly control of Laos in the face of a communist insurgency, the following military actions have been taken:

Headquarters of a Joint Task Force under Marine command has been activated at Iwakuni, Japan. The planned Joint Task Force comprises essentially one Marine regimental landing team from Marine forces currently stationed in Okinawa; one composite Marine Air Group from the Marine Air Wing in Japan; and certain supporting Army and Air Force elements. The mission of these forces if employed will be: (a) to secure the airfield facilities at Vientiane and Seno, and key river crossings in the vicinity; (b) to free Laotian military forces to deal with the insurgency; and (c) to conduct such further operations as may be necessary to ensure friendly control of Laos. Two battalion landing teams of this regiment are prepared in Okinawa to board transport aircraft that are being held available in Japan for this purpose on a one hour alert. The third battalion has been ordered onto amphibious shipping and is being held at Okinawa. The helicopter carrier Thetis Bay has been loaded in Japan with helicopters and related equipment and is proceeding to Okinawa to be held there also pending further instructions.
Elements of the 7th Fleet are prepared to provide support to the operation as necessary: (a) One carrier task group (Lexington) is now operating in the South China Sea; (b) A second carrier task group (Shangri La) is off Taiwan; (c) A third carrier task group (Hancock) will arrive in the Philippine area early next week.
Any queries about the movements will be answered with the statement that the forces are to take part in a routine training exercise in the Okinawa area.

C. Department’s Press Statement

Department issued press statement on Laos September 54 (copy of which already forwarded you) with intent of clearly demonstrating serious view US takes of situation in Laos and US determination to support Lao Government. Occasion taken to review and emphasize [Page 604] strong circumstantial evidence of outside Communist direction and support of Pathet Lao actions. Statement received heavy play in Sunday newspapers.

D. Situation at United Nations

The UN Secretary-General has called meeting of Security Council on Laos for 3:00 P.M. Monday.5 Our consultations with other friendly Security Council members and the Secretary-General indicates preliminary favorable response to our proposal that Security Council send a three-nation, fact-finding mission to Laos under a procedure which would not be subject to Soviet veto. Consultations are continuing.6

E. SEATO Developments

Meeting of SEATO Council Representatives at Bangkok September 27 revealed that most members had not taken serious view developments in Laos. (However at that time SEATO governments had not had time to appraise August 30 attacks which opened present phase Laos crisis.) French disparaged US presentation of threatening military situation and expressed belief SEATO should take no action while UN moves underway. US representative agreed all available UN resources should be utilized and that recourse to SEATO military intervention should be considered as last resort, but emphasized SEATO must become alert now to possibility it may be put to crucial test. UK generally agreed SEATO must anticipate breakdown Lao Government. SEATO Secretary General Pote Sarasin (Thailand) felt it time to take firm stand which might serve as deterrent to the Communists. Next meeting of SEATO Council at Bangkok planned for September 15 or earlier. Meanwhile, we have succeeded in persuading Lao Government to delay its appeal to SEATO for assistance. We hope to stimulate SEATO toward making preparations 1) to ascertain facts of situation in Laos and 2) to act rapidly on possible subsequent appeal from Laos for military support.

F. Consultations with British and French

Under Secretary Murphy held trilateral consultations on Laos with British and French September 58 as planned. They were informed that CINCPAC is taking certain steps to prepare US forces and ready operational plans but that no actions would be taken before essential political decisions had been made. They were also advised that Lao [Page 605] Government has deferred its planned appeal to SEATO. Both French and British favored trying find solution through UN before invoking SEATO. French furthermore expressed concern at possibility that SEATO actions would include dispatching troops and emphasized belief Communists can raise stakes faster in the area than can we. Murphy assured French that for time being SEATO consideration of situation would be limited to subject of sending SEATO fact-finders, not troops, to Laos, and expressed opinion SEATO consideration of matter would not muddy waters if underway at same time UN studying matter. Murphy also expressed our concern that complete non-action by SEATO on a matter of intimate concern to it could vitiate organization.

G. Comments

In general I believe we are somewhat ahead of our major allies in this situation. French in particular seem to take less serious view of developments in Laos and to be especially fearful of any free world reaction that might provoke increased Communist intervention. British appear to be somewhat closer to our position but evidently also are staking hopes on tranquilization of situation via UN. I hope in our continuing consultations with our allies to develop greater identity of views. While also of belief we should push for UN action first as described above, I continue to believe we cannot place our entire reliance on UN, since the military situation could deteriorate rapidly.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9–659. Top Secret; Niact. Drafted by Askew; cleared with FE, IO, and SEA; and approved by Dillon. Passed to the Department of Defense exclusive for McElroy, Irwin, Knight, and Burke.
  2. Document 258.
  3. See footnote 6, Document 258.
  4. Text of the statement, Press Release No. 636, September 5, is printed in Department of State Bulletin, September 21, 1959, p. 414.
  5. September 7.
  6. Summarized in circular telegram 231, September 6. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9–659; included in the microfiche supplement)
  7. See Documents 38 ff.
  8. Memorandum of conversation, September 5. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9–559; included in the microfiche supplement)