372. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Laos 1

188. Your 315.2

Agree with your analysis but have reservations re your suggestions. Initial impression Souvanna Cabinet is one of serious weakness and inexperience. Quinim is only identified leftist but we note Sisouman3 was captured by PL and returned after November 1957 Agreements. Prospects are Cabinet’s energies and time will be devoted to negotiating settlement with PL thus leaving PL in countryside to continue subversion unopposed. Although “legality” cabinet evidently accepted by most Lao leaders, latest info indicates it remains at mercy of Kong Le whose actions and words strike us as dangerously immature and irrational. Since his political thinking appears conditioned by his association with Bong’s sons, who considered leftist, [Page 807] situation in Vientiane hardly encouraging and appears basically unstable. Thus our first objective is to eliminate Kong Le from position of dominating government and to neutralize his influence.
Apart from international complications principal reason for withholding support of attack against Vientiane by Phoumi has been that Lao overwhelmingly appear desire bloodless solution and countercoup accompanied by bloodshed would thus appear unlikely to receive much support. Given this general attitude and with new government now invested constitutionally, it now question whether commanders outside Vientiane would follow Phoumi’s leadership in launching attack against capital. Thus it would appear that if Phoumi attempted countercoup and failed, he might be eliminated as force in Laos and Army seriously divided. Maintenance of Army as main bulwark against Communist takeover is a second major US objective.
Manifest US support of Phoumi also poses grave international and internal problems. Aside from immediate allies in Thailand and Viet-Nam, it doubtful major allies would follow. We certainly would be open to massive propaganda attack. Furthermore Phoumi’s return to power with US support in coup that resulted in bloodshed would seem short-term solution. Counterforces against Phoumi would likely build up and eventually overwhelm him and probably with him US influence in Laos.
Given these circumstances, our thinking is that Phoumi and Army outside Vientiane should be held together as counterpoise to situation in Vientiane. Phoumi’s position, in which he would probably be supported by field commanders, might be to recognize Souvanna Cabinet once it has shown itself free to act. Cabinet not free as long as Kong Le dominates city. Phoumi would therefore take position that before accepting government’s authority 2nd Parachute Battalion and Kong Le would have to return to its barracks outside Vientiane, a new military commander of Vientiane appointed, and given troops to maintain order and security in capital. This position we could support.
In view of extremely fluctuating situation and known distaste of King for becoming involved in political arena, we hesitate to involve President’s prestige. From past experience we gravely doubt King willing take any meaningful action. It would certainly be helpful however if you had opportunity of discussing situation with him, but hesitate asking you go to Luang Prabang in view uncertainties of weather at this time of year and need of your presence in Vientiane. Nevertheless, it would be undoubtedly helpful if he would bring his position to bear on eliminating Kong Le’s influence. It seems here King might be willing do this by expressing his view through General Ouan. This thought might be relayed to him via Khamphan Panya or other more reliable channel.
In light [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] Phoumi’s needs for provisioning army and in order maintain troops in being, we have authorized [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] limited financial support, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] This support has been linked with admonition not to unleash forces believed converging on Vientiane and reminder that any future support would have to be contingent on an agreed position, probably along lines set forth this message.

This message not addressed to longer-term question of our position vis-à-vis Souvanna Cabinet. Present thinking is that we should work with it, preserve our assets and countryside against day when action might have to be taken to prevent unacceptable developments. We also contemplate that Prince Souvanna himself would have to be brought to agree that solution along lines para 4 is only one which likely bring him into position of authority over Captain Kong Le, Vientiane, Laos and ANL.

[Numbered paragraph 8 (6½ lines of source text) not declassified]

For Unger: Please brief Thai judiciously on substance foregoing, after Ambassador Brown has had opportunity to react to this position.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/8–1760. Top Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Parsons and Chapman, cleared by Anderson and approved by Dillon. Also sent niact to Bangkok and repeated to Paris, Saigon, Phnom Penh, London, Canberra, and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. In telegram 315, August 17, Brown recommended that President Eisenhower send King Savang a private message which the King would then show to Phoumi and Souvanna. In the message, Eisenhower would urge compromise. (ibid.; included in the microfiche supplement)
  3. Tiao Sisouman, prospective Secretary of State for Social Welfare and Rural Affairs.