341. Telegram From the Embassy in Vietnam to the Department of State 1

1103. CINCPAC for POLAD. Deptel 884.2 I am unable to predict new GVN’s reaction to specific Cambodian neutrality proposal. But when I saw General Minh and General Kim on Saturday, they asked the US to say what our attitude would be if it were definitely proven that Sihanouk was, in fact, in the ChiCom camp (see my 1093).3 They also asked specifically whether we would try and remove Sihanouk and put in a “nationalist” Chief of State. They also stressed the fact that if Cambodia were truly neutral, with the result that the frontier would be truly sealed off, the war against the Viet Cong would be immensely helped.

In view of this very forthright expression of their position, I wonder whether the Department wants me to go back to them at this time. Certainly, before I do so, I need further clarification. While I see the merit of some of the arguments advanced in Deptel 884, it seems to me that the instruction glosses over some fundamental points.

The basic point about the Cambodian proposal is that it is not aimed at Communist encroachment in Southeast Asia but rather at giving Sihanouk international assurances against encroachment by Vietnam and Thailand. (The United States is now also accused and, as I note that we are not prepared to participate in a conference so long as the Cambodian charges stand, it would not be surprising if Vietnam and Thailand should take a similar stance.)

Given the fact that Sihanouk’s proposal is clearly and openly aimed at his neighbors, it follows that he will not be satisfied unless we and the other Geneva powers give him some kind of assurance against what he seems to be really afraid of: Vietnamese and/or Thai aggression. Unfortunately, in Vietnamese eyes, this would appear to be siding with a country fully prepared to collaborate with the Communists against a country engaged in a bitter armed struggle against Communist aggression.

Moreover, if we fall in with Sihanouk’s proposal in the face of patent blackmail, we shall do ourselves incalculable damage in this country and, I should think, in other Far East countries which are [Page 655] stoutly anti-Communist. If we put Sihanouk in a position to involve us in consultations with Communist powers regarding alleged threats to Cambodian neutrality and territorial integrity on the part of anti-Communist countries in the area—and I do not think we could realistically expect to leave the conference table having conceded less than this—we shall undermine the confidence of the new Vietnamese leadership in the firmness of our purpose here and play into the hands of the advocates of neutralism for South Vietnam.

Finally, I think that rather than improving the chances of bilateral cooperation between Cambodia and Vietnam—which holds out our best chance for sealing the border—Sihanouk’s conference proposal would have the reverse effect. So long as Sihanouk thinks that there is a chance of sheltering under a big power umbrella and blackmailing us regularly, he is not likely to come to terms bilaterally with his neighbors. This may be, incidentally, one reason why he has deliberately failed to take advantage of the improved attitude of Vietnam toward Cambodia.

As for the ICC, given its composition and its dependence on Cambodian cooperation for its effectiveness, I do not think that we could realistically expect it to seal off the border. On past performance, Sihanouk would wish to use it only to verify Vietnamese encroachments and the Poles could be counted on to see that it was not used in such a way as to interfere seriously with Viet Cong activities.

I would appreciate the Department’s comments on the above. I realize the pressures that are on us to participate in the conference and the risk that, if we do not, Sihanouk may make further irrational moves, including calling in the Chinese Communists. The latter would evidently confront us with grave decisions. It is a risk, however, which seems to me worth taking rather than accepting the near certainty of a serious deterioration of our position in South Vietnam if we yield to Sihanouk’s blackmail. We are also under pressure from the GVN and we have an overriding interest in keeping their morale high in view of the major military effort we are rightly demanding of them.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27-13 CAMB. Secret; Immediate; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Bangkok, London, Paris, Vientiane, Ottawa, Phnom Penh, New Delhi, Moscow, and CINCPAC. Passed to the White House.
  2. In telegram 884, December 1, the Department of State instructed the Embassies in Saigon and Bangkok to convey to their host governments U.S. views on Sihanouk’s proposal for a conference on Cambodian neutrality. Generally the Department favored the proposal. (Ibid.)
  3. Document 334.