435. Memorandum of Conversation0
- Thai Foreign Minister’s Call on the President
- H.E. Thanat Khoman, Foreign Minister of Thailand
- H.E. Visutr Arthayukti, Ambassador of Thailand
- Lt. Gen. Wallop Rojanavisudh, Director, Joint Intelligence
- Mr. Anand Panyarachun, Secretary to the Foreign Minister
- The President of the United States
- The Secretary of State
- Mr. U. Alexis Johnson, Dpty Under Secretary for Pol. Affairs Ambassador Kenneth T. Young
- Mr. H. L. T. Koren, Director, Office of Southeast Asian Affairs
The President expressed appreciation to the Foreign Minister for making this trip to discuss our mutual problems. The President felt the visit had worked out well and the matter of one nation being able to block SEATO action had been taken care of to our two nations’ satisfaction. The Foreign Minister indicated agreement and expressed appreciation to the President for receiving him.
The President said he did not feel that his letter to the Foreign Minister1 should be released until we knew better the course of things in Laos. It might be interpreted as writing off Laos. The Foreign Minister said he thought there should be a reasonable interval; anyway, the Prime Minister would have to reply and then the two Governments could consult concerning the release. He then handed the President the Prime Minister’s letter2 which the President read and expressed his thanks for.
The President then stated to the Foreign Minister his policy on Laos and his reasons therefor. A solution under Souvanna Phouma was the only acceptable course. If his coalition government could not be organized, the cease-fire would be nibbled away and the country would become completely disrupted. Any intervention under a modified SEATO Plan 53 by the nations that might participate would be very hazardous. Most unsatisfactory for all would be a military victory by the Pathet Lao, and under present conditions they could win against the RLG very quickly. This would give them great prestige in Southeast Asia and have bad effects in Thailand. The President could not send U.S. forces just anywhere—he had to have very good reasons. He was not trying to press an unpleasant course of action on the Thai Government, but the British and French were supporting Souvanna and he urged that the Thais do likewise and see how the situation evolved.[Page 925]
The Foreign Minister said that Thailand was not supporting Phoumi as a distant relative of the Prime Minister but because of his strong anti-Communism. The President replied that Phoumi had no military force that could prevent the Communists from taking over if the current truce broke down. If open hostilities broke out the U.S. and Thailand would find it difficult to intervene alone in this land-locked terrain where our great strength in air and sea forces could not be used to best advantage.
The President emphasized he did not want Phoumi to throw in the sponge, but rather support Souvanna and participate in the government. He would hope the Prime Minister would try to persuade Phoumi not to quit but to cooperate in all our best interests. If he refused to participate it would throw the whole picture into imbalance. The Foreign Minister felt the need of safeguards under Souvanna and suggested getting the key posts of Defense and Interior into safe hands, not those of Souvanna Phouma, but perhaps Phoumi. The President agreed there were dangers in Souvanna but said we should put our faith in him.
Secretary Rusk referred to the Geneva agreements which called for the departure of foreign elements from Laos which would include the Viet Minh. The Foreign Minister said there were two categories of Viet Minh, the regular and the clandestine forces, and it would be hard to root out the latter. He added that he was not asking the U.S. to commit itself to war or the intervention of U.S. troops but he did feel other solutions should be tried such as Phoumi’s King’s Council idea. The President answered that we had been at this problem for eleven months now and had reached agreement on Souvanna. Perhaps it might have been possible six months ago to talk of the King solution but now it was much more difficult. Time was indeed running against us. The President reiterated the urgency of persuading Phoumi not to quit but to cooperate, and he hoped the Prime Minister would help. They should tell Phoumi that the U.S. was not unfriendly to him. We respected his character and if he left the chances of holding the line would become less and less.
The Foreign Minister said he would report all this to his Prime Minister and he was quite sure the latter would follow the President’s desires. The President’s views carried a great deal of weight in Thailand. He also expressed the hope that there would not be too long a delay in publishing the exchange of letters between the President and Prime Minister after the Prime Minister had sent his answer.
On behalf of their Majesties and the Thai Government, the Foreign Minister invited the President and Mrs. Kennedy to visit Thailand sometime in the near future. The President said they would be delighted to see Thailand. The Foreign Minister also expressed the hope that Mrs. Kennedy might be able to stop in Bangkok after visiting India. The President [Page 926] expressed thanks but explained Mrs. Kennedy’s trip was already too long and was being cut.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 792.13/3–562. Secret. Drafted by Koren and approved in S and the White House on March 15. The time of this meeting is taken from the President’s Appointment Book. (Kennedy Library)↩
- The text of the President’s letter is in telegram 1351 to Bangkok, March 8. In the letter, Kennedy expressed appreciation for Thanat’s visit and his expression of Thailand’s concerns. Kennedy noted that the Rusk–Thanat joint statement reflected his position as well as that of the United States. (Department of State, Central Files, 033.9211/3–862)↩
- See footnote 3, Document 433.↩
- See footnote 2, Document 405.↩