379. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Laos1

223. Your 3642 and 368.3 We agree with your statement of objectives although we would put reestablishment of broadly based pro-Western government as overriding objective. We have problem with your recommendations in that some appear amenable to early implementation while others are more difficult and probably require protracted negotiations such as you envisage. By presenting these recommendations as package we wonder whether we would not be preventing possible agreement on certain points because of fundamental disagreement on others. It appears that situation in Laos might be broken down under two headings: (1) security and (2) political. King himself has given cue by Palace Secretary’s remark to Zellweger that immediate problem is for military themselves to settle.


Security. As we see it, there are two problems under this heading: (a) Kong Le’s continued domination of Vientiane prolongs crisis and increases possibility of PL intervention; (b) preservation of Army in being by insuring its payment and supply is basic requirement. These two problems are urgent, concrete and if they can be solved promptly by Souvanna and Phoumi, this would be best solution. If they cannot be, appears to us only alternative is solution forced by Phoumi after establishing position of strength in Vientiane area. In view anticipated PL exploitation, solution cannot wait long if we are not to face yet bigger problem.

We do not at this moment discard first alternative because Souvanna and Ouan seem to have maneuvered Kong Le out of Vientiane and to have placed Ouan in position where he may have independent command of some rearmed troops and possibly police. If Souvanna and Phoumi could now quickly agree on temporary reorganization of General Staff, perhaps under General Ouan which would be responsible for two matters—reestablishment normal conditions in Vientiane and for provisioning troops in field—situation would be well in hand, as then joint request from SouvannaPhoumi for airlift or drop in Vientiane area could meet quick response. Reestablishment [Page 821] normal conditions in Vientiane would, of course, mean that General Staff would have at its command sufficient forces to check Kong Le in event he attempted new coup. First step in implementing this alternative would be dispatch Ouan or other acceptable emissary to Phoumi. If this cannot be done promptly, we would have to turn fully to second alternative. Second alternative involves recognition as stated your 368 that Souvanna cannot act beyond his military capabilities and cannot dismiss Kong Le by his sole fiat. This being case, we would need reduce time-span of what is really PhoumiKong Le deadlock by building up former as rapidly as possible. Then, if Kong Le did not capitulate to combination of Phoumi’s strength, SouvannaOuan persuasion and Lao aversion to fratricidal strife, it is still possible Kong Le’s troops would disintegrate before fighting started. This is not agreeable alternative, but we feel increasingly time is running out.


Political. Once limited agreement reached to cope with immediate problem of security, longer-term problem of political resolution of crisis would be posed. We agree it unwise for us to determine too precisely form of compromise. This is more difficult to tackle at moment (if two-stage approach not adopted), since it appears there is fundamental difference between Souvanna and Phoumi. Souvanna considers that he has been legally appointed by King and invested by Assembly while Phoumi considers that Souvanna government is illegal since it was formed under duress. We have seen no indication of possible compromise as yet. Your recommendation 4 that we recognize Souvanna as Premier-designate would in fact make us party to what we have said is internal Lao affair (your recommendation 1). However once security problem is overcome there are number of other avenues to political resolution. King could make some use of Somsanith or he could call for new provisional government under Kou or other elder with Phoumi and Souvanna included. Alternatively, Souvanna and Phoumi could take initiative and go to King in Luang Prabang to say they have been unable to find mutually satisfactory agreement and recommend to King he appoint respected Prime Minister who should form interim Cabinet. Cabinet’s mission would be to tranquillize spirits, investigate Kong Le coup to determine legitimate grievances within Army, seek to rectify these grievances, and at end of specified period, e.g., one to three months, return its mandate to Assembly with recommendation that regular government be established.

We rather inclined to agree with your recommendation that emissary from Embassy Bangkok should go to Phoumi once we have agreed on course of action. We do not see value from our viewpoint of Sarit emissary even for purpose proposed your message. Finally, in view of increasing conviction here that situation in areas readily subject to PL incursion must be deteriorating, we would be extremely [Page 822] loath to move in direction of denying Phoumi support, particularly after just having given him reason to expect support. We do not, incidentally, believe that it is his objective to divide country, although we agree he has had and probably still has ambition to dominate it. Present crisis is so serious, however, that we now regard this as lesser hazard.

We are encouraged by Souvanna’s attitude re payment of ANL (as reported your 367 just received)4 and consider it important that payment be made if possible by August 25 through temporary General Staff on basis outlined above.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/8–2260. Secret; Niact. Drafted by Parsons and Chapman and cleared with SEA and with Dillon in draft. Repeated to Bangkok, Saigon, London, Paris, and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. Document 377.
  3. In telegram 368, August 22, the Embassy in Vientiane noted that all Phoumi had offered so far was a private statement of loyalty to the King and “hope that he could work with Souvanna Phouma.” Phoumi continued to publicly oppose the Souvanna government. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/8–2260; included in the microfiche supplement)
  4. In telegram 367, August 22, the Embassy reported that Souvanna agreed that all Lao troops should be paid, thus keeping the issue out of the current political dispute. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/8–2260; included in the microfiche supplement)