332. Memorandum of a Conversation, March 8, 19601


  • Record of Presentation by United Nations Secretary-General to the Secretary of State on Outline Plan for United Nations Technical Mission in Laos


  • Secretary-General Hammarskjold
  • Mr. Roberto Huertematte, Commissioner for Technical Assistance
  • Secretary of State Herter
  • Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge
  • Mr. James W. Riddleberger, Director, ICA
  • Assistant Secretary of State Francis O. Wilcox
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary of State John M. Steeves


A general statement describing the Secretary-General’s attitude towards his proposal for Laos may be in order. His enthusiasm for his plan was impressive. Although the Secretary-General deferred to Mr. Huertematte to discuss the details of the plan, Mr. Hammarskjold interrupted him on numerous occasions, pointing out details of the idea and clarifying aspects of the concept, which was ample proof of his personal attention and keen interest. The Secretary-General has taken his responsibility with respect to Laos very seriously and has developed a very keen personal interest in it.

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The key figure around which the Secretary-General is building his plan is King Sri Savang Vatthana. On a number of occasions he made specific reference to the importance of the King’s attitude, his role, his reaction and his assurances. He counts heavily on the King’s policy of neutrality and his adherence to the spirit of the Geneva Accords. His feeling of confidence extends from his visits with the King during the Secretary-General’s visit to Laos in November and subsequent messages which he has received from the King.

The Secretary-General has taken one step which in his view will add stature and prestige to the King in Asia and that is to arrange for a visit of King Savang to India. He asked Mr. Narasimhan to take the matter up with Nehru, which he did. A favorable response was received to his démarche, and the Secretary-General understands that King Savang has accepted Nehru’s invitation to visit India later this year. The Secretary-General commented in passing that he thought it would be good for Nehru too to have this contact with one who was facing a problem with the communists, to give him the other side of the picture which he was undoubtedly getting from the Chinese Communists.

Concept and Plans for the United Nations Technical Mission to Laos

Mr. Huertematte outlined the plan as it firms up in their thinking pursuant to the Tuomioja Report and Huertematte’s own observations and recommendations.

Both Mr. Hammarskjold and Mr. Huertematte spoke at considerable length with respect to the imperative need for what they called “integration” in Laos. One of the objectives of the United Nations mission will be to achieve this. Laos in their estimate suffers from a variety of divisions. The Government in Vientiane does not get across to the people. The various tribes do not communicate sufficiently with each other. The effort, therefore, would be to facilitate contact and interdependence. One of the techniques which would be used in encouraging more intertribal association directed toward the development of nationwide acquaintance and unity would be to encourage trade between the various peoples.

The United Nations mission would consist of approximately thirty people. This would staff the unit in the capital under the direction of the Secretary-General’s personal representative who would work as Technical Advisers to the various Ministries. It was pointed out that one of the key Ministries with which special efforts would be made would be the Ministry dealing with rural development, social and economic. Likewise, the Departments of Agriculture and Education. The Secretary-General said that in recruiting people from the specialized agencies of the United Nations, UNESCO for instance would be able and willing to cooperate with his personal representative in advising [Page 744] the Department of Education and he would likewise be likely to receive the same type of cooperation from WHO and FAO, although he had not had the enthusiastic response from the latter two offices which he had received from UNESCO. He was sure, however, that this would be forthcoming.

The rural segment of the team would consist of four groups or teams. These would be distributed strategically throughout Laos and would be comprised of experts to give advice in health, education, agriculture, economic development and local administration. By working with each other and the central representatives in Vientiane they would thus work for integration at the same time as they imparted their various skills to the local people. At this juncture, they implied mild criticism of the work that American-aided “six-man teams” were doing. They did not believe that they were very effective and that strictly community development was not contributing to the concept of developing more cohesion between the various peoples of Laos.

As we are, of course, aware the Secretary-General’s designee for the position of personal representative is Dr. Zellweger, of Switzerland. He pointed out that this gentleman had been chosen with great care and on the advice of some of his most trusted advisers.

Considerable attention during the conversation was given to the need for cooperation and coordination between ourselves and the United Nations mission. Secretary Herter assured the Secretary-General that we appreciated the deep interest which the Secretary-General was giving personally to this program and assured him that the Department would cooperate with him to ensure that confusion and friction would be minimized and that our efforts would be complementary. This could be achieved by appropriate liaison here as well as exchange of views at the planning and operational level in Laos. The Secretary-General pointed out that some had felt that it would be well for the United Nations to coordinate if not actually supervise all aid in the technical field to Laos, but there obviously would be a great deal of difference of opinion on this subject and at any rate the United Nations was not prepared to assume this magnitude of responsibility. He felt that ad hoc consultation and cooperation between well-meaning people was quite possible without treading on each other’s toes or duplicating effort.

Mr. Huertematte pointed out that during his visit to Laos in the process of his survey, he had received excellent cooperation from our Embassy ICA personnel and singled out Mr. Eisenberg as one individual who was doing a very good job and making the type of contribution in budget and fiscal administration, so much needed. Mr. Eisenberg had made a beginning in helping the Lao, for instance, to [Page 745] improve their taxation system. This was one type of effort which should be continued by advisers to help the Lao realize revenues which were not now coming into the national treasury.

The Secretary-General did not initiate any discussion of the United States participation in the military and police training, nor was there any discussion of the communist threat or the over-all security situation. The Secretary-General at one point drew attention to the fact that in all of the communist criticism emanating from North Vietnam, the King was never singled out for criticism. This could have been a slight hint on the part of the Secretary-General to the belief which we understand he entertains that a détente under certain circumstances is possible between Laos and its communist neighbors.

Mr. Huertematte is leaving on Sunday, March 13, for Bangkok and the ECAFE meeting and said that he might drop up to Vientiane again on this trip. He was rather anxious to compare views further with Departmental personnel on the United Nations plan, but it was concluded that this would have to wait until his return, some time in April.

While the Secretary-General’s presentation was enthusiastic and his reference to United States efforts was characteristically cordial in the broad sense, neither he nor Mr. Huertematte offered any opinion as to the value or effectiveness of the current United States program in Laos.

  1. Source: Department of State, PPS Files: Lot 67 D 548, Laos 1957–1961. Secret. Drafted by Steeves. The source text does not indicate where the conversation took place. On March 4, Dillon sent Herter a memorandum briefing him on possible expansion of U.N. economic and technical assistance to Laos and summarizing the report of the U.N. official, Sakari Tuomioja, on economic conditions in Laos. (ibid., Central Files, 851J.00/3–460)