430. Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Department of State1

673. From Parsons.2

In reflecting on talks in Laos with King, Souvanna and numerous others including Diplomatic Corps, I am impressed with degree to which possibility of our salvaging situation in Laos depends upon three factors: [Page 909]
Acquiescence of Souvanna in our policy and actions at least until events frustrate or defeat him and he leaves office. At present we are acting on sufferance. For if Souvanna should request withdrawal of PEO or ask us desist support to Phoumi we would be hard-pressed to find a way to support Phoumi and anti-Communists in other regions.
Ability of anti-Communist elements to (A) regain control of RLG policy and action and (B) defeat greatly strengthened and now well-positioned PL. This involves preferably removal of Souvanna or at least surrounding and checkmating him as did Phoui and Savang in 1956–58.
Our capability to support anti-Communist elements without exposing ourselves to indictment in UN, splitting SEATO further on Laos and finding our Western allies, above all French and British, aligned against us.
Comments on foregoing three factors:

Up to time I left Washington I do not think we realized to what degree Souvanna has it in his power to place us in absolutely impossible situation. His policy, however mistaken, is to conciliate PL; our policy is to have Laos oppose PL. As head of legally invested royal government which we acknowledge, he can demand that we cease interfering in Laos by support to declared rebels and by seeking to act and to have these rebels act upon a policy contrary to that of RLG. He could easily be goaded into demanding that we remove PEO which would mean we coud not support regions I, II, III and IV, and since we would not wish to support region V our support to Laos would really be at an end. Souvanna, out of natural caution (or weakness) and because I think he really wishes Laos to have US support, has not reached this point and I am hopeful that he will not. Nevertheless, he is aware we oppose his policy and are seeking to frustrate it. He is most conscious of his legitimacy and it must be presumed that he considers we are acting improperly. (He remarked caustically about setting up of military base in Pakse “for purposes unknown;” see Vientiane telegram 7423 paragraph 13.) He sincerely believes that we and previous Lao governments were mistaken and unduly provocative in bringing in training personnel, etc.

In addition Souvanna feels he has some strong bargaining cards, namely anticipated Soviet aid offer. It is also consistent with his belief in need for policy of conciliation and infutility of military means to combat PL that he talks of cutting army and so reducing his support requirements (Vientiane telegram 742 paragraph 14). Souvanna also knows our Western allies are unenthusiastic over US policy and consider him Laos’ only hope at present. French could even be conniving with him against us and are no doubt balancing their loyalty to us against their desire again to play major role in Laos.


It is sad commentary that only dynamic factor in Laos at present is Kong Le. His cries for peace among Lao, no corruption and neutrality have appeal and he is local hero. Equally sad is probability few units of fragmented ANL have will to fight. Those tested (in Phoumi’s area) did not although better led they might. Most of my Lao contacts in Vientiane were doing little more than wring their hands. Inpeng said town was really under cover control of PL who steadily jailing or otherwise neutralizing once powerful Sananikones, Souvannavongs and other former pro-Western leaders.

In my view Department telegram 3844 proposals or approximation thereof is still soundest line for us to take despite probable loss of Vientiane for time at least. It would legitimize us and Phoumi, offer means to check or ultimately defeat Souvanna and it is less likely to trigger all-out PL armed offensive or to dissipate our remaining ANL and other assets by premature commitment.

Only other positive plan if such it be is that so euphorically disclosed to us by King (Vientiane’s 737 to Department).5 I doubt that either in its political or military aspects there would be properly coordinated nationwide action and there is here again serious risk of losing assets piecemeal. Yet declarations against RLG in region I, possibly elsewhere, plus desertion of three of four more Cabinet Ministers could cause Souvanna to give up. If this type of action comes before Souvanna’s asserted willingness to move to Luang Prabang is acted upon, it of course vitiates our hopes of restoring unity and legitimizing our position through Department telegram 384 line. On other hand, since if Souvanna resigns King could then pick another leader, unity and legitimacy of US action would ensue in this case too. In any event it is probably true that there is a growing disillusionment with Souvanna and fear of where situation is leading. Thus there is ground for welcoming and supporting any moves, even if imperfectly timed and executed, which fit pattern of King’s remarks to us.

Under present circumstances our capability to support anti-Communist elements without exposing ourselves to potentially disastrous international consequences is limited. As set forth Bangkok telegram 6686 we can establish guidelines but each proposal of support to Phoumi requires difficult ad hoc decision with result that for political reasons we must often do less than what is militarily desirable and even necessary. We are also handicapped by fact that under present circumstances we cannot carry Western allies along with us. British and French presented to us in Vientiane analysis their views why our policy of renewed hard line against PL could not succeed and proposed [Page 911] instead renewed effort help Souvanna without qualification (see Vientiane telegram 584.)7 Ambassador Addis, who believes strongly Souvanna is only hope for Laos, admitted he differed with Souvanna on key point in that he, Addis, recognized ultimate need to use force against estimated 500 hard core of PL. As Admiral Riley pointed out, this 500 will never be conveniently isolated but will operate with whole mass of PL adherents. This seems to me to illustrate lack of realism in approach of our Western allies.
Present denial of budgetary support is untenable for more than very brief period for number of obvious reasons (Bangkok telegram 667)8 unless we are to defeat by our own action our aims of supporting FAL, such as it is, and of preserving solid currency achieved through monetary reform. I greatly dislike prospect of having to pay all of troops in region V including second paras but if resumption budgetary support is deemed in our overall interest we should accept this. As I recall we paid two PL battalions in ANL after Vientiane agreements.
In light foregoing and associated telegrams, my conclusions therefore are:
We must find basis for resuming budgetary support, military and civil.
We must, if possible, remove Souvanna’s present capability to destroy our policy at any moment by requesting removel of PEO and cessation of aid to Phoumi.
We must remove ourselves from our present untenable and exposed position of giving support to group declared rebels by legal government, in which at any moment we may be hailed defenseless before UN.
We must reconcile ourselves to fact that only over long haul can we build up anti-Communist forces to the point where they will have any capacity to restore pre-August 9 status.

As preliminary steps I recommend:

We agree at once on rationale to explain our activities in support of Phoumi. (See Bangkok telegram 670.)9 Single newsman in Savannakhet or merely by direct questions elsewhere can precipitate revelation of our present highly inconsistent position.
We should improve our posture by seeking Souvanna’s acceptance of our support for Phoumi against PL, difficult as this is. Ambassador Brown might be instructed to stress to Souvanna that we are [Page 912] anxious to keep Phoumi’s forces in position to defend against the PL and that we believe this to be consistent with his own orders to his forces to resist PL attacks. We should say would like to give support through Vientiane but it is not possible with no supplies available there and supply system fragmented. We would insure that this support would not be used to attack the royal government, and would, of course, cease this support if there should be such an attack despite our efforts. Furthermore, we still believe that proposals made by Ambassador Brown (Department telegram 384) which envisaged Phoumi recognizing royal government and which Phoumi accepted unconditionally were best solution for unification of country. We would therefore urge him to give us prompt and favorable answer so that we could resume all our aid with greater hope of its being effective in strengthening country and giving him position of strength which he himself said he desired for his negotiations with PL.

I realize that there is risk that Souvanna will not go along with foregoing and might instead demand that we stop aid to Phoumi and other regions. However, he has power to do this anyway and with spate of current rumors about our support of Phoumi, plus prodding of newsmen (such as I experienced Friday), we could have request from Souvanna at any moment to cease and desist. Apart from this negative reason, it seems to me that there is good positive reason for taking risk of asking Souvanna because, if he consents, our strong support to all regions becomes possible and legitimate and will strengthen hands of those involved in movement revealed to us by King. Furthermore, we would no longer be liable to international censure through UN and would gain support in varying degrees of presently disapproving allies. Finally, if Souvanna refused to go along, we could make final last approach to King saying that RLG had asked us to stop support to regions to resist PL and that we looked to him as declared anti-Communist to ask us publicly to continue in this emergency.

Ambassador Brown concurs. Secretary Irwin and Admiral Riley have not had opportunity study this message yet.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/10–1660. Top Secret; Niact; Limit Distribution. Repeated niact to Vientiane, priority to Saigon, Paris, London, Canberra, and to CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. In telegram 839 from Bangkok, October 18, Irwin sent his own report. He stated that he agreed “with much of that Secretary Parsons said in Bangkok Embassy telegram 673,” but he wanted to complement it with his own thoughts and recommendations. (ibid., 751J.00/10–1860; included in the microfiche supplement)
  3. See footnote 2, Document 428.
  4. Document 421.
  5. Document 427.
  6. Document 429.
  7. This reference is in error; telgram 584, September 21, concerns an unrelated subject. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9–2160)
  8. Dated October 15. (ibid., 751J.00/10–1560; included in the microfiche supplement)
  9. In telegram 670, October 16, Parsons stated that the “only tenable line” to explain U.S. support of Phoumi was that the United States was supporting all the FAL against the Pathet Lao. Parsons warned of the danger of exposure if the press inquired whether the United States had received approval from the RLG for support of Phoumi. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/10–1660; included in the microfiche supplement)