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

2850. Reference: Deptels 1983,2 1961;3Embtels 2801,4 2802,5 2812/2818.6

As you surmise our joint proposal made principally to prevent formation govt composed solely of hotheads. From statements made by Phoumi in wake his electoral tactics, it seemed quite clear he was driving for straight CDNI/Army govt or to secure narrow majority in Assembly supplemented by as many weaker RPL members as he can persuade defect from Phoui/Souvanna in order form CDNI/Army dominated Cabinet. On basis close local observation I and my French and British colleagues strongly feel either these govts would be most dangerous externally and internally and would be unlikely provide free and frank cooperation with us to extent essential to U.S., Lao and free world interests. We therefore believe it most important in this eventuality that we be authorized to insist so far as Dept and FonOffs deem practicable with Phoumi and King himself that new govt must be based on reasonably proportional representation various conservative elements, pointing up (a) that broadly-based govt would give immeasurably better impression abroad and would provide wisdom and maturity in which “young” so conspicuously lacking; and (b) formation govt restricted to one conservative element and adoption by it [of] any unnecessarily provocative policies may well prevent positive SEATO protection as indicated last January.

Maneuvers last three days show that situation still too confused to assess actual strength various elements. I can however see ahead such difficulties in terms either effective coalition govt or effective single majority govt that will so directly and inescapably involve our interests that I am now inclined agree with Department it would probably be better not use threat withdraw aid at this time as originally suggested by my two colleagues but to withhold this weapon until more definite situation obviously vital to U.S. position arises as I have no doubt it will in near future. When it does, Army/CDNI will [Page 763] have to learn, as they have not yet learned, that they cannot act rashly without regard to U.S. and other friendly advice and at same time continue receive support they consider is our obvious duty and in our ofttimes interest to provide.

FYI. While I concurred fully, it was Addis who had been urging some such action all along and Falaize who took principal initiative in suggesting and drafting joint proposal. I therefore believe that even though we do not decide to go along with their suggestion of a joint warning re aid withdrawal at this time for this purpose, fact I was willing to join them in proposing a strong joint stand for deliberation by Dept and respective FonOffs may help considerably when and if time comes that we may wish have them join us in similar démarche on our initiative. In any event believe my position with them will have gone far to dispel any idea USG actually supporting Phoumi while pretending be neutral and favoring Govt of National Union and reasonable proportional representation. End FYI.

My thought and that of British Amb at least was that if RPL does have majority we could hope for real coalition and moderate policies on their part of type we had insisted they adopt throughout period Phoui’s leadership. On other hand if CDNI obtains majority we cannot expect such a truly proportional govt nor any real attention to advice of moderate and more experienced elements. However, if as seems possible Phoui becomes President of Assembly, might be that he could exercise some moderating influence from that position. Nevertheless my opinion that if Souvanna is to be PriMin in CDNI govt without Phoui representation bridge between two extremes will be too fragile and no such govt could hold together for long. It might hold together long enough however to serve Phoumi’s purpose of getting over period of reaction to fraudulent elections without arousing too much internal or external opposition. If Souvanna group splits off from other RPL for this purpose it might provide cushion for entry of a Phoumi govt in six months time without so much external and internal opposition. While on basis local experience for past two years, I still feel Phoui is only man of stature and experience likely provide moderate, truly cooperative middle of road leadership required to carry through our programs here most successfully, I feel King’s opposition and Phoumi’s Army back-up may in practice relegate Phoui to role Presidency of Assembly or even send him out of country. Nevertheless without Phoui as PriMin I believe our talks will become rapidly more and more difficult and that we must expect particular trouble in holding ground we have gained through monetary and fiscal reforms.

When as directed by ref Deptel 1983 I consulted today with British and French Ambs they informed me of preliminary reactions Paris and London which appear somewhat more positive than that of Dept. Addis’ and Falaize’s reactions to sanitized version Deptel 1983 summarized below:

Addis convinced formation new govt can and needs be beneficially influenced by us despite fact Assembly has “to be lived with and be considered legal”. He agreed probably impossible obtain cohesive National Union since leftist opposition eliminated from Assembly. However his opinion that majority within Assembly can just as well be produced from fusion some CDNI elements with RPL as by reverse procedure. He did not feel (ref para 5) that immediate emphasis should be placed on “effective govt” but rather on nature govt’s composition.
British Amb feels some form of démarche to King better than none and does not think such friendly advice would embitter RPL/CDNI relations further. While FonOff at moment apparently favors idea of “threat”, he admitted UK approach might be toned down in light Dept opposition. Remarked however that UK statement re elections he delivered to RLG leaders April 30 already contained implicit threat by mention possible serious consequences and difficulty in continuing support. He also thought it probable his authorized approach would differ somewhat from ours and might be stronger.
Falaize commented Dept had apparently transferred confidence from RPL to CDNI and deemed Phoumi formula quite acceptable if just superficially vested with legality, but he wondered why Dept felt simple majority formula would be more effective than broadly based Govt of National Union. Pointed out that in times serious danger such as that now confronting Laos democracies almost invariably resort to coalition type govt. He does not feel King’s “sensitivity” should be determining factor re démarche if three govts agree that such move warranted by gravity of situation. He also recommended that while withdrawal U.S. aid would be strongest and most effective single element in proposed action since we provide bulk financial support, threat withdrawal French, British and SYG support would also be acutely felt.

Both Addis and Falaize underscored that (1) we had not proposed new elections be held throughout country and (2) Dept appeared confuse parliamentary situation with formation of govt, i.e., that although we agree National Union of all Deputies in Assembly probably not feasible this no reason abandon effort secure broadly based coalition govt representing various political groups.

French Amb then informed me French Emb London had notified Quai of UK FonOff view expressed before our joint proposal that Phoumi would not be so sure of himself unless convinced that if situation worsened in Laos SEATO would intervene. UK FonOff had concluded that Phoumi must be made realize that SEATO apt move [Page 765] reluctantly if at all should deterioration be caused by provocative CDNI/Army policies and or by very composition of narrowly-based extreme right cabinet.

French Amb finally informed me he saw Souvanna yesterday and that in light CDNI’s endeavor obtain polit monopoly, Prince has decided rapidly form new party by night May 8 around himself with assistance Pheng Phongsavan and Tiao Souk. Falaize considered that this initiative could be useful in aligning consolidated opposition to CDNI/Army and would serve as additional argument in favor balanced participation all elements in next govt.

FYI. From today’s talk with Falaize Dept may be justified in feeling GOF going all out in effort maneuver Souvanna into Premiership. Falaize for first time expressed to me opinion that RPL no longer provides possible center of attraction to rally moderates and was almost openly pro-Souvanna at expense Phoui and other moderates. French Amb seems accept Souvanna’s estimated strength of as many as 18 to 20 Deputies whereas “Phoui would not have more than 6 to 8”. Our own info from RPL sources indicates RPL seems certain of at least 18 and may even secure majority 32 to 35 in Assembly. I am inclined consider this overoptimistic but it may still turn out that CDNI/Army does not have majority sufficient to form govt and that proportional representation in some form will thus be enforced on CDNI/Army despite their drive for exclusive control.
Finally Zellweger called on me and my two colleagues this morning to show us text message he directed by SYG to present personally to King with copy to RLG FonMin (translation of which follows septel).8 He indicated he would wait to know nature any démarche we may make before seeking audience but feels he must attempt present message no later than May 9. Zellweger informed me that after receiving text he had wired for authorization include specific mention of possible discontinuation UN aid in case our representations finally do include similar reference to U.S., French and British support and aid. I told him I thought it unlikely this would be done in our case at any rate from nature Dept’s preliminary comments and my present reassessment of need, but hoped be able inform him more definitely upon receipt my instructions.
Colleagues and I still hope for definitive instructions by Monday.9
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/5–760. Top Secret; Priority. Repeated to Paris and London. Received at 11:56 a.m.
  2. Document 342.
  3. Document 339.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 341.
  5. In telegram 2802, May 3, the Embassy summarized two communiqués issued by the CDNI; the first congratulated the Lao Government on holding free elections and the second announced the transformation of the CDNI into a full-fledged political party. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.2/5–360)
  6. Document 341.
  7. In telegram 2851 from Vientiane. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/5–760)
  8. May 9. Because of the 12-hour time difference between Washington and Vientiane, apparently Smith had not yet received telegram 1997, supra.