23. Telegram From the Embassy in Thailand to the Department of State 0

1341. Saigon for Admiral Felt. On Monday morning, March 5, Admiral Felt and I called on PriMin Sarit. Other participants: Acting FonMin Bun Charoenchai, Minister Martin, CHJUSMAG Gen Johnson, Air Marshal Dawee, Generals Chalermchai and Ekasak.

I opened meeting referring to news of discussions Washington with Thanat,1 although PriMin said he put emphasis on basic understanding [Page 51] between two countries more than on public statements, Minister Bun said he felt proposed communiqué was in general “good”.2

Admiral Felt then spoke about continued importance of SEATO from military standpoint. He emphasized importance to Thailand of US military bases in member countries such as those in Philippines. PriMin replied that in his opinion SEATO has not been useful; people continually in doubt about its role. Felt urged usefulness SEATO not be judged on basis events in Laos; this should not be taken as indication our readiness take action help defend Thailand. According Sarit, people Thailand have come to believe SEATO used as mask to blind or deceive them. Felt replied this is political question but SEATO still has military role play, went on to describe usefulness of central military planning done Bangkok. PriMin said that only plans were being made but no action taken. Adm Felt also referred to his forthcoming appearance before congressional committees on MAP, emphasizing significance attached by these groups to collective security efforts.

In reply Adm Felt question about Laos situation PriMin explained in his opinion if we neglect Laos we are giving Vietnamese and Chinese an opportunity intervene in whole SEA, allowing them enter South Vietnam more easily; also, both northeast and north Thailand would be in danger.

Admiral Felt then said he had been instructed by Pres Kennedy deliver personal message to PriMin and he read from notes substantially text of message from Pres Kennedy transmitted Feb. 28.3 Concluded by asking for PriMin’s views on message. PriMin replied most important consideration is whether Souvanna Phouma truly neutral. Admiral Felt stressed it important to try to get Souvanna Phouma on our side and make sure he doesn’t go over to Commies. After further discussion of possible formulae for coalition, Adm Felt again emphasized importance of keeping Laotian Army intact, noting if Phoumi will cooperate with Souvanna Phouma, possibility of accomplishing this greatly increased.

Sarit said he felt little possibility Souphanouvong entering into any cooperative, reasonable coalition arrangement, but that other two (Phoumi, Souvanna) might be able to get together. Said he had secret report, unconfirmed, indicating Souvanna Phouma considering breaking with Pathet Lao. May be one reason for lessening intensity of fighting at Nam Tha. Sarit also went on to say radio monitors had heard orders [Page 52] being given in Chinese around Nam Tha. Added that Phoumi had personally informed him that firing orders were being given in French for enemy artillery batteries; I suggested perhaps French was being used as common language for Pathet Lao and Vietnamese.

Admiral Felt requested that all such intelligence on Chinese activities be relayed to US. PriMin mentioned CIA working closely with Thais, especially Gen Wallop. Felt then referred to problem of coordination of intelligence which has existed South Vietnam and made more difficult problem restoring security. Stated efforts must be made provide means to coordinate all intelligence gathered here in Thailand; intelligence and communications are two most important factors in combatting infiltrators and insurgents. Recommended center be established to coordinate all intelligence. PriMin said Thais paying especial attention to this and requested more assistance in communications. Suggested special network be established for intelligence and counterintelligence units.

Following reference by Gen Johnson to counter-insurgency plan developed in JUSMAG, Adm Felt assured PriMin such plans meant to be helpful and stimulate Thai thinking this field; were only recommendations and we were not trying interfere in Thailand’s affairs. Dawee said plans were earlier developed by Supreme Command on counter-insurgency and anti-guerrilla warfare. These plans now approved and were very close to US plan that has been subsequently submitted.

I added that efforts strengthen border police, to encourage community development and other civic action programs, tie into overall counter-subversion plan. PriMin replied he understands these programs but is worried about slowness of US action to implement them. Felt indicated he would study plans being submitted, based on his experience with South Vietnam.

Admiral Felt then expressed hope we could continue with SEATO exercises which had been proposed. Sarit replied Air Force reported that Air Cobra exercise not useful and that budget not sufficient for Thai Air Force to participate. He feels personally there are too many exercises, too many plans, not enough action (obvious reference to Laos). Felt replied Thai Air Force and US Air Force would have opportunity act together in Air Cobra in support troops, which would be very useful training for both sides. Said paper had been prepared proposing sharing of expenses of SEATO exercises and that he supported such sharing by member countries. Added he would look into question of changing to such procedure; in meantime hoped we could go on planning for Air Cobra. PriMin complained Thailand always required contribute here and there, giving as example Geneva Conference which, in his opinion, served no purpose, and which at first Thailand had refused attend but had attended on US insistence. Admiral Felt concluded by stating it was nevertheless [Page 53] important for military men have opportunity get together and operate together.

Comment: Sarit’s responses on Laos and SEATO maintained his previously stated positions but with less conviction. On latter appeared he did not wish pursue matter at length pending outcome Thanat’s discussions Washington. This also applied to Air Cobra.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 379/3–662. Secret; Priority. Repeated priority to Vientiane, Saigon, and CINCPAC for POLAD.
  2. See Documents 433435.
  3. Reference is to the joint statement by Thanat and Rusk, released on March 6. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1962, pp. 1091–1093.
  4. In this message, Felt was to inform Sarit “that the US will not allow itself to be driven into a war in Laos by Phoumi’s intransigence.” Phoumi should realize that any attempt to hold out against a negotiated agreement with Souvanna Phouma and the Pathet Lao in expectation of eventual U.S. intervention on his side could only end in “disaster.” (Telegram 1288 to Bangkok, February 28; Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/2–2862)