433. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Thailand’s Security and Developments in Southeast Asia


  • The Secretary
  • H.E. Thanat Khoman, Thai Foreign Minister1
  • H.E. Visutr Arthayukti, Thai Ambassador
  • Lt. Gen. Wallop Rojanavisudh, Director of Joint Intelligence
  • Mr. Anand Panyarachun, Secretary to the Foreign Minister
  • Mr. U. Alexis Johnson
  • Gov. W. Averell Harriman
  • Mr. Richard B. Peters
  • Ambassador Kenneth T. Young, Jr.
  • Mr. Henry L. T. Koren
  • Mr. Edward E. Masters

The Secretary opened the substantive discussion with the comment that the Seato Treaty forms an important basis for our security relations in Southeast Asia. We consider that the commitments under this Treaty are individual and rest on the United States; they are not just collective on the SEATO Organization. As one example of this the Secretary cited the situation in South Viet-Nam. One important basis through which our obligations in that country are met is the SEATO Treaty. In acting there we did not seek prior agreement of the other SEATO members, but merely informed them of our intentions. We believe the formulation we have suggested in our proposed joint statement2 may help meet Thailand’s security needs regarding direct Communist aggression. We also wish to discuss with the Foreign Minister here and through our Ambassador in Bangkok steps we can take in the social and economic fields to help Thailand resist Communist penetration.

The Foreign Minister said he did not believe the US and Thai Governments are very far apart regarding SEATO. He said Thailand still [Page 919] believes in the principle of collective security. However, its faith in the performance of the SEATO Organization has been shaken. The Thai Government cannot continue to delude the Thai people regarding the effectiveness of the SEATO Organization. His Government, the Foreign Minister said, had been informed that the United States wanted the SEATO Treaty to continue. The Thai are willing to agree to this although changes will be needed in the “understanding” of the Treaty rather than in the Treaty itself. Thailand believes the United States should agree that if the Treaty is to be the instrument for maintaining peace in the area, action under the Treaty should not be dependent upon the consent of all other members.

The Foreign Minister said that Thailand would actually prefer a bilateral treaty with the United States similar to that which the US has with The Philippines and several other Far Eastern countries. Such an agreement would eliminate the problem caused by the presence in SEATO of former colonial powers. These nations “tarnish the luster” of the Organization; they separate Thailand from other SEA nations and make regional cooperation in the area more difficult. However, the United States is apparently not willing to conclude a bilateral treaty; therefore, the Thai are willing to let the SEATO Treaty continue. The Secretary replied that a bilateral US-Thai treaty would create domestic problems for us. We already have a Senate-approved agreement linking us together, and the Congress would almost certainly question the need for a separate treaty.

The Secretary said that the matter of timing is an extremely important factor in the field of security. Northeast Thailand is a case in point. The United States certainly does not want to postpone meeting the problems of the area until they become too difficult. A later remedy would be far more difficult than preventive action now. We, therefore, need to look at what measures our two Governments can take to meet this situation. We also need to be certain that others understand our determination to protect our mutual interests; that they are aware that aggression will be met by prompt counter-measures.

Governor Harriman observed that the United States has, unfortunately, been slow in the past in some fields in its foreign assistance. He expressed the hope that we can now reach a firm understanding that the US will take prompt action on needed programs.

The Secretary mentioned the need for closer regional cooperation in SEA. If relations among nations in the area were so close that any threat to one caused a sharp reaction by the others, then this would be an impediment to aggressive action from the North. An association of countries in the area with strong support from the West could have some advantages. Thailand should not, however, interpret this as meaning that we are not interested in the present arrangement. We only hope that [Page 920] a way might eventually be found to move in the direction of regional cooperation without SEATO being a barrier.

The Foreign Minister mentioned that progress had already begun on a modest scale within the Association of Southeast Asia (ASA). The main problem is, however, that two of the three ASA members belong to SEATO. The recent military takeover in Burma might eventually help strengthen the organization since Ne Win has told Thailand that he is sympathetic to the need for non-military regional cooperation.

Regarding the security of Thailand, the Foreign Minister said his Government is fully prepared to do everything possible in the military and economic fields to ward off the Communist threat. The Prime Minister himself has been paying great attention to the Northeast recently and the Thai Government wants to push ahead as rapidly as possible with development of this area. The Foreign Minister said this is one reason why he was asked to discuss the three irrigation projects during his visit.

Ambassador Young said that he had been informed by AID earlier that day that AID would send several experts to Bangkok within the next week or so to study these irrigation projects.

The Foreign Minister gave the Secretary a copy of Prime Minister Sarit’s letter to President Kennedy.3 He said that the Prime Minister would like a US security assurance from the highest level of the United States Government. Such an assurance would have a strong impact in Thailand and is needed for internal purposes. These assurances from the President could be in the form of a letter or some similar vehicle. The main thing is that they could be published in Thailand. The Secretary replied that the United States would need to consider this carefully to see if the President would need to consult with anyone in the region or confer with other SEATO members.

The Secretary asked the Foreign Minister’s views on the reasons why the Vietnamese fight against the Communists while the Laotians show little willingness to defend themselves. The Foreign Minister replied that the Vietnamese are activists. Some Lao are willing to fight, as for example, the Pathet Lao, but most are more passive. Governor Harriman said that the Pathet Lao which fight are stiffened by the presence of the Viet-Minh. General Wallop commented that he believed Laotians are the same whether they are Pathet Lao or non-Pathet Lao; the essential factor is their leadership. The Lao basically are easygoing; everything [Page 921] depends on their leader who is a symbol for them. The Secretary said he did not believe the Laotians themselves would cause any particular trouble if we can get the foreigners, especially the Viet-Minh, out of Laos. The Foreign Minister said this might be true, but we must bear in mind that the Lao themselves are naive. This is shown by the fact that Katay, who was a member of the Lao delegation at the Bandung Conference, signed an agreement with Chou En-lai that China would not interfere in Laos.

The Foreign Minister reviewed his Government’s position that there are only two groups in Laos rather than three (that Souvanna and the Pathet Lao are one faction). He said that if the present Lao government is forced out, the experience of the Communist takeover in China could easily be repeated. The Foreign Minister also repeated his Government’s reservations on the ability of Souvanna Phouma.

Governor Harriman said the United States believes Kong Le and Souvanna can be separated from the. Pathet Lao. The Secretary observed that this depends partly on the ability to get the Viet-Minh out of Laos. Governor Harriman noted that the United States would not pull its forces out until the other side had done so.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 792.00/3–262. Secret Drafted by Masters and approved in Son March 15. The time of the meeting is taken from Rusk’s Appointment Book. (Johnson Library)
  2. Thanat visited Washington March 1–6 at Rusk’s suggestion; see Document 429. Just before this meeting with Rusk, Thanat met with Harriman to discuss West New Guinea and Laos. On Laos, Thanat denied that Thailand was trying to “cook up anything” with Phoumi, but Phoumi was difficult to influence. Harriman and Thanat disagreed on whether Souvanna represented a real neutral faction. Harriman warned that Phoumi was leading Laos toward disaster. (Department of State, Central Files, 611.92/3–262)
  3. The joint statement was released on March 6; for text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1962, pp. 1091–1093.
  4. In the letter, February 27, Sarit informed President Kennedy that despite serious misgivings, Thailand was “making genuine efforts to adjust” its views on Laos to those of the United States. Sarit also requested from Kennedy a unilateral or joint declaration with Thailand “that in the event of an armed attack or attacks by other means against Thailand, the United States will co-operate with this country in the defence of its freedom without waiting for a unanimous decision by the Council of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization.” (Department of State, FE/SEA/Thai Files: Lot 66 D 298, 16.1 US-Thai Relations)