60. Memorandum From the Department of State Executive Secretary (Read) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0


  • Proposed Policy Statements to General Ne Win of Burma by Ambassador Byroade

Enclosed is a memorandum recommending that Ambassador Byroade be authorized to make certain policy statements to General Ne Win in the President’s name. The statements are in the nature of reassurances, without specific commitments, that the United States would assist Burma in resisting foreign threats to its independence.

[Page 131]

Ambassador Byroade has an appointment with the President today at 4:30 p.m., and will wish to discuss this matter with the President.1

Grant G. Hilliker2



  • Assurances to General Ne Win of Burma

There have been some indications in recent months that General Ne Win may be becoming increasingly concerned over Burma’s vulnerability in the face of Communist China. To some extent his aloofness toward the United States and even his domestic policies (e.g. current negotiations with Burmese Communist insurgents) may be influenced by a desire to please Communist China or by behind-the-scenes Chinese pressure coupled with a belief that he could not rely on support from the United States. If so, he might adopt a somewhat more friendly posture toward the United States and a firmer stance against communism in Burma if he were given reassurance that the United States would be prepared effectively to help his country resist Chinese pressure or aggression.

Given Burma’s neutrality and the very limited degree of cooperation between the United States and Burma, there can be no question of a formal commitment to take any specific action to help Burma. Moreover, the Burmese themselves would not welcome any public indication that they were under a United States or SEATO “umbrella”. On the other hand, because of its geographical position between Thailand and the India–Pakistan sub-continent, Burma’s continuing independence and freedom from Chinese domination are of such importance to the United States that we could not stand idly by if the Chinese should move against [Page 132] it. While expending vast efforts to prevent Communist takeovers in Laos and Viet-Nam, the United States could not accept a Chinese end run into Burma.

In these circumstances, we believe it would be useful to have the United States concern for Burma’s independence clearly impressed upon General Ne Win. Ambassador Byroade will be proceeding to Rangoon shortly and the occasion of an early substantive talk with the General would be an appropriate occasion for this. We believe his remarks would carry additional weight if they could be presented as coming from the President.

We recommend that Ambassador Byroade be authorized to tell General Ne Win that the President wishes him to know the following:

The United States regards Burma’s continuing independence and freedom from foreign domination as vital to the security of Southeast and South Asia, where United States interests are deeply involved. Burma is no less important in this regard than other countries of Southeast Asia.
In view of Burma’s neutrality it would obviously be inappropriate for the United States to make a commitment to take any specific military measures in some undefined future contingency. Nevertheless there should be no doubt of the willingness of the United States to take all feasible measures to support Burmese resistance against foreign aggression, direct or indirect, or against other foreign threats to Burma’s independence.
United States concern for Burma is not diminished by that country’s neutral foreign policy, which we fully understand and respect. Nor is it affected by the form of internal organization adopted by the Burmese so long as the Government remains determined to maintain Burma’s independence and true neutrality.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, DEF 19 US–BURMA. Confidential. Drafted by Dexter and cleared by Harriman, Hilsman, and Hannah.
  2. No substantive record of the KennedyByroade conversation, which lasted from 5:12 to 5:30 p.m., has been found. (Kennedy Library, President’s Appointment Books) According to a September 11 memorandum from U. Alexis Johnson to Nitze, the President approved Byroade speaking to Ne Win along the last three paragraphs of the attached memorandum. (Department of State, Central Files, POL BURMA–US)
  3. Hilliker signed for Read above Read’s typed signature.
  4. Drafted by Hannah and Dexter and cleared by Byroade, Harriman, Rice, and Hilsman.