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

425. Policy Decision on US-Lao Relations.

After reviewing the very helpful and constructive reports and recommendations from the Parsons’ Mission, with special attention having been given to Bangkok’s 668, Parts I and II,2 6703 and 676,4 there are set forth for the coordination and guidance of our efforts in the current Laos crisis the following principles:

Recent history in the United Nations, highlighted by our experiences in the Congo, require that we adopt an over-all policy in Laos which will not put us in the position of precipitating action in the UN with the United States as a defendant. We must remember that while Souvanna Phouma might not take this action there are others who would if they saw in it an opportunity to place the United States in a disadvantageous light. Our actions further must ensure that we are placed in the best defensive position possible if in spite of all caution we are brought to the United Nations to give account.

For reasons of expediency, therefore, we accept the inevitable of working with Souvanna Phouma as the constitutional and legally installed Prime Minister. This is necessary to maintain the facade of legality so cogently set forth in Mr. Parsons’ report. This expedient may of course turn out to be a temporary one. Events could move in a direction yet unforeseen which would provide us with other alternatives than Souvanna Phouma.

While our course of action and desired conditions as set forth in Deptel 384 should be continued to be accepted as valid and basic goals, we obviously must accept certain inevitable slippage so far as the time factor is concerned. Flexibility will be required to meet exigencies as they progress.

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It is fully recognized that operating through Souvanna Phouma or any other Prime Minister who espouses his stance is an expensive cover. The cost is considered acceptable in order to buy time and continue to have the opportunity to build up anti-communist strength within the forces while, at the same time, organizing rather elaborate and carefully worked out systems of guidance and controls to those FAL forces whose support is imperative. One of the most expensive parts inherent in this position is that Kong Le and his troops will have to be paid inasmuch as they seem to be inseparable legally. Pay that has been arranged through advances from the National Bank of Laos must be redeemed by American dollars in any event.

The above expedient course of action will probably be acceptable to Phoumi as he is undoubtedly convinced that we intend to protect him and supply him, although this operation will of necessity have to be carried out under very strict control while maintaining military and political advice for him.

A reasonable assumption is that with the semblance of normalcy restored in our relations with the Prime Minister, he will then be no more decisive in the action available to him against us than he is against the Pathet Lao or anyone else with whom he finds himself in partial conflict. For his own purposes (and by character) Souvanna Phouma is not likely to abrogate our agreement with the RLG unilaterally or to take us to the United Nations even though he is aware of considerable irregularity and outflanking.

This line of action has the additional merit of consistency and continuity in the eyes of our allies, such as the British, French and Australians. This is important in gaining the maximum support from them. The break in the ranks as exhibited by the French in their recent advice to Souvanna Phouma in Vientiane is unfortunate. Nevertheless, the point is valid in maintaining the highest degree of solidarity possible.

Of great importance is the fact that this course of action keeps us in the act and maintains our legitimate presence in Laos. To impose rigid demands and to pull out if they are not met would at this juncture abdicate the field to the Russians. In our absence their intrusion into the vacuum would be greatly facilitated. In conformity with this concept and in keeping with the assumptions as set forth above, the following tasks seem appropriate:

Continue to press Souvanna Phouma to extricate himself from the influence of Kong Le. This to be done either by removal of the capital to the royal capital in Luang Prabang or to get Kong Le and his influence out of Vientiane.
If the Prime Minister will not take the necessary steps to disassociate himself from Kong Le’s baneful influence, to take whatever feasible steps present themselves to encourage his replacement in favor of another legally appointed Prime Minister.
To remove as much of the treasury from Vientiane as possible in order that all of the kip deposits are not in one area. If a treasury is established in Luang Prabang we at least have two sources from which to initiate payments.
Continue our efforts to control or neutralize Kong Le and as a minimum remove him from Vientiane.
Exert maximum pressure to slow down and if possible to sabotage current negotiations with the Pathet Lao to prevent Souvanna Phouma from conceding in unequal negotiations that which we try to protect in the strengthening of the anti-communist forces. In this connection Souvanna Phouma has put himself in a position with respect to these negotiations which we can discreetly exploit. He has set forth some rather difficult to accept demands. We should continue to pressure him to maintain these demands constantly reminding him that if he will but accept our cooperation we can provide him with the means to strengthen his position.
Phoumi should take action voluntarily to dissolve his so-called “Revolutionary Committee”. It serves no purpose in practice. Furthermore, it has the great disadvantage of making him legally a “rebel” and therefore, under a strict interpretation, if Souvanna Phouma so wishes, places him outside the boundaries of legitimate support.

Authorized action:

In conformity with the concepts above the temporary embargo resulting from the suspension of certain categories of aid to Laos should now be lifted. Longer delay involves us in the tortuous techniques of reauthorization if the resumption does not take place while it can be interpreted as a temporary suspension while certain irregularities were ironed out. While the expenditure of aid funds for projects concerning which we have any question can always be introduced, the continuance of total blockage to achieve concessions is rapidly reaching the point of diminishing returns.
Part and parcel of the lifting of the embargo must be the supply and pay for FAL elements such as Savannakhet as well as the maintenance of the strength of any other portions of the anti-communist FAL within the general concept of 384. We should accept the calculated risk involved in the maintenance of this strength but the rhythm and volume of supply and in some instances the techniques to be followed are all-important. In areas where we have to work tactfully with the Prime Minister to gain his acceptance, these activities must be kept within reasonable bounds. The control point for these activities must be Embassy Vientiane where the political delicacies can be assessed. Guidance on timing and magnitude must come from the Embassy. In carrying out CINCPAC’s responsibility in keeping with the general concept of 384 CINCPAC and Embassy will work closely together. Supplies not transiting Vientiane will always be checked for delivery [Page 918] with the Embassy before being outshipped from Bangkok. Matters requiring resolution by Washington which cannot be resolved in this fashion will be referred there for decision.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/10–1860. Top Secret; Priority. Drafted by Steeves, cleared with O’Donnell (DOD/ISA) in substance, and approved by Dillon. Repeated to Bangkok, Saigon, Phnom Penh, and CINCPAC. This cable was initially presented to Merchant in the form of a memorandum from Steeves, October 16. (ibid., 611.51J/10–1660; included in the microfiche supplement) There are some differences in language between the memorandum and the cable.
  2. Document 429; it was transmitted in two parts.
  3. See footnote 8, Document 430.
  4. In telegram 676, October 16, Parsons in Bangkok cited intelligence reports that Souvanna had ordered the FAL commander at Luang Prabang to attack the Pathet Lao and was sending a special emissary to meet with Phoumi. If this were true, Parsons suggested that Brown see Souvanna and try to get him to accept U.S. support for Phoumi. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/10–1860; included in the microfiche supplement)