138. Telegram From the Embassy in Cambodia to the Department of State0

526. Situation in Cambodia has now entered new stage following Sihanouk’s violent reaction US protest against Cambodian “celebrations” death Sarit and by implication President Kennedy, as well as his violent reaction to relatively minor UK representations on these “celebrations”. His reactions, mirrored in his Takeo speech December 12 (Embtels 492 and 497),1 and communiqué issued by his private secretariat [Page 289] (Embtel 517),2 indicate three possibilities for US-Cambodian relations, in which Sihanouk, in his present highly overwrought state of mind, is more likely to be in position decide outcome than is USG:

Sihanouk breaks relations and asks withdrawal US diplomatic representation. He seems to have reached stage where he is prepared cut all ties with West save that with France and range himself ever more closely with Communist bloc. Sihanouk has said it would be in interest of Americans and British to leave, and break with UK as well as with US could come at any moment. (UK Ambassador tells me that on instructions from Foreign Office he recently told SecState FonAffs SambathUK regretted “celebrations” as they made difficult UK efforts assist Cambodia by convening neutrality conference. This has merely added fuel to Sihanouk’s flame.) In this situation, dispatch our note recommended Embtel 5093 (even in watered-down version described below) could easily tip delicate balance on side complete break diplomatic relations. While at some point we should make clear record of US position, question now seems to be one of timing.
USG sends note in version Deptel 338,4 (which firmly but correctly states our position and which would probably make break in relations inevitable), and announces decision break relations and withdraw personnel. This could be followed later by white paper exposing Sihanouk’s statements regarding “celebrations” death of free world leaders. No grounds for expecting Sihanouk do anything helpful US interests for long time to come, if ever. His recent utterances reveal almost pathological hatred of US which leaves little hope for real improvement of relations as long as he is in control. He likely to turn increasingly to extreme left and pro-Communist elements whom [with?] possible introduction increasing number ChiCom advisers. Withdrawal US representatives will avoid inevitable unpleasantness as Sihanouk faces deteriorating economic situation and likelihood continued difficulties and acrimonious exchanges with Thais and SVN. Domestic developments, particularly economic difficulties ahead, will play major role in making Cambodians realize Sihanouk’s recent actions.
We reduce remaining Embassy and USIS staff to minimum possible with view to continuing diplomatic relations as long as possible in hope we can ride out storm until some sense of reality returns to Cambodian scene. While Sihanouk may make this impossible by himself breaking relations, we should do everything possible, provided situation does not put us in position where our national dignity would no longer permit continued diplomatic relations or where we encounter obstacles making continued functioning impossible, to keep foot in door and maintain contact with RKG and Cambodian people with hope long-range benefits. This would be in keeping with basic principle of not breaking contact whether friend or foe, and we should keep in mind Cambodia is not yet an iron curtain country. In order make clear our legal position re aid, we would send (not necessarily immediately) modified version of note which, while retaining all legal points pertaining aid agreements, would omit reference to unilateral setting of departure date for MAAG and USAID personnel and be slightly modified in other respects to remove elements likely irritate Sihanouk. Timing of note would be chosen with view minimizing reaction, and we would not publish unless our overriding interest caused us to—as in case RKG breaks relations in any case.

Country Team concurs my recommendation we follow third course as most conducive long-run interests of US. Presence US Embassy here, even reduced and relatively inactive for time being, would be visible reminder US interest Cambodia and potentiality US action in future. When present acute phase Sihanouk’s Americanophobia subsides, Embassy would seek reactivate contacts among friendly Cambodians, including those in armed forces. (No one [Note?] that in meeting today with Chief MAAG Taber, Lt. Colonel Us Say, Chief Cambodian military negotiator, exhibited extremely friendly attitude and, at close of meeting, expressed hope that friendships born of long association in past would remain in being.) If some change for better is to take place in Cambodia, it will have to come about through influence more moderate, thoughtful Cambodians whose material interests and basic political convictions have been violated by Sihanouk’s recent actions. As long as American presence remains in Cambodia, in however reduced form, these people may retain hope of bringing about changes in their and our interests. While we cannot be sure Sihanouk will not break relations, even if we do nothing provocative, he may still be enough interested in having conference convened for neutralization of Cambodia to refrain from doing anything further to exacerbate relations with US, although this is no longer certain (see septel this subject).5 (We note, incidentally, statements attributed to Secretary in item FEF 27 today’s USIA radio bulletin to effect US [Page 291] and Britain are both out of Cambodia leaving France as last Western nation represented here.)6

In this general connection our whole approach to question continued aid to Cambodia has heretofore been that we would consider continuation projects only upon specific RKG request. Language suggested in Deptel 338 (indicating we would be ready to consider projects which might be mutually acceptable) would not only undermine this position but might be trumpeted publicly by Sihanouk as proof US will do anything, accept any abuse, in order to keep aid program here to serve its own interests rather than those of Cambodia (Embtels 455 and 490).7 To surrender to Sihanouk’s month long public abuse of US and its aid programs by resuming aid on his terms and in absence clearly expressed RKG request would strengthen his position and be extremely damaging to those elements who might otherwise eventually seek to exert some moderating and controlling influence over his so far unchecked actions. Moreover, such action by US will tend to strengthen Sihanouk’s position as he pursues his objective of neutralizing SVN and Thailand. In light foregoing, even if we send note, we would recommend that final sentence new paragraph to be inserted after paragraph 6 in draft note (Deptel 338) be changed by substitution after “continuation” of “such projects as the Cambodian Government may request”.8

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) CAMB. Secret; Immediate. Passed to the White House and repeated to CINCPAC.
  2. Both dated December 13. (Ibid., POL 15–1 US/KENNEDY and POL CAMB–US)
  3. Dated December 16. (Ibid., POL 17 CAMB–UK)
  4. In telegram 509, December 14, the Embassy recommended sending a note to the Cambodian Government setting forth the legal U.S. position on the termination of aid and countering the false statements and implied threats in the Cambodian December 14 note on the termination of aid. This telegram contained a proposed draft of the U.S. note. (Ibid., AID (US) CAMB) The Cambodian note charged the United States with unilaterally instituting a series of cessations of U.S. aid programs even before the bilateral negotiations between the two governments on liquidation of the aid programs began on December 14. The text of the Cambodian note is in telegram 502 from Phnom Penh, December 14. (Ibid.)
  5. In telegram 338, December 15, the Department concurred in the dispatch of a note with some modifications, which it outlined. (Ibid.)
  6. Not further identified.
  7. Not further identified.
  8. Dated December 4 and 12. (Department of State, Central Files, AID (US) CAMB)
  9. In telegram 347 to Phnom Penh, December 17, the Department concurred with the recommendations in course no. 3. The Department suggested a gradual reduction of staff, expressed reservations about a note to Cambodia as suggested in telegram 509 from Phnom Penh (see footnote 3 above), and suggested that its delivery be postponed. The fact that Cambodia apparently desired the completion of repairs to the Khmer-American Friendship Highway indicated to the Department that “for the time being we should concentrate on avoiding any unnecessary irritation and on keeping the door open with our foot in it.” Finally, the Department agreed to the proposed word substitution, but, of course, not to delivery of the note. (Ibid.)