66. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Cambodia 0

726. Deliver soonest following message from President to Prince Sihanouk:

“February 20, 1961

Your Royal Highness:

The tragic crisis in Laos was among the major problems in foreign affairs to confront my Administration. In studying the various proposals advanced for resolving the problem we were particularly impressed by the series of valuable suggestions made by Your Royal Highness over the past several months. Therefore, I was very happy to receive your letter of January 281 giving your further thoughts on the points raised by President Eisenhower in his letter of January 16.2

Your proposal for an international conference on Laos engaged our serious attention as a constructive plan aimed at a peaceful settlement. From the tenor of your letter and from consultations between our Governments, I believe it correct to infer that you also shared our concern over the need for prompt action. However, while the conference was designed to resolve international antagonism over Laos, certain replies to your proposal did not foster confidence that this would be the objective of all prospective participants. Indeed, we could not ignore the possibility that a large international meeting at this time would increase international tensions, rather than reduce them, and thus seriously impede and delay effective measures to relieve the situation in Laos. Therefore, it appeared desirable to find a plan for the neutralization of Laos which offered the necessary assurances to all interested parties, [Page 146] including the Communist powers, which explicitly respected Lao sovereignty and integrity, and which would not become an occasion for intensifying international antagonisms.

Your proposal for a commission composed exclusively of neutral nations offered valuable guidance. We noted also that a similar proposal had been made by the Government of the Union of Burma, and this concept was an important feature of recent consultations with the Royal Government of Laos.

I believe the declaration made on February 19 by His Majesty King Savang Vatthana3 and the related actions of the Royal Lao Government contain the essential elements of your proposals. The United States strongly supports the Lao declaration. Recognition by other interested countries of the peaceful intent of this declaration and the need to support its aims; would in effect provide broad international sanction to the role of the Commission.

I earnestly hope you will find it possible to accept leadership of the Commission.4 In this respect, I do not regard lightly the burden of such a responsibility, particularly on a statesman who already carries the weight of a demanding political role at home. However, I believe that the success of any plan to neutralize Laos, indeed that the future of Southeast Asia, depend on the resolute and courageous action of the nations in Southeast Asia most directly concerned. Moreover, the assumption of such direct responsibility in carrying forward a solution based on Asian initiatives would appear to be in consonance with the expressed aspirations of these nations to resolve their problems in their own way. In this historic endeavor Your Royal Highness can count on the full and sympathetic support of the United States and, I am sure, of all nations interested in the cause of freedom and world peace.

Sincerely, John F. Kennedy

White House has no plans release text but has no objection should Sihanouk desire do so. In such case would appreciate 24 hours advance notice if possible to permit consideration simultaneous release here.

Observe Presidential Handling.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/2–2061. Confidential; Niact; Presidential Handling. Drafted by Askew and cleared in substance by Parsons and by Ralph A. Dungan of the White House.
  2. Text of the letter was transmitted in telegram 953 from Phnom Penh, January 28. In the letter, Sihanouk reiterated his earlier proposal to President Eisenhower in a January 1 letter for a Fourteen-Power conference and suggested that a neutral nations commission be established to bring about a cease-fire in Laos. (Ibid., 751J.00/1–2861) Sihanouk’s January 1 letter is in telegram 782 from Phnom Penh, January 3. (Ibid., 751J.00/1–361)
  3. In his January 16 response, Eisenhower assured Sihanouk that his proposal for the Fourteen-Power conference as well as his earlier idea of neutralization of Cambodia and Laos were receiving “serious study” in Washington. The “crux of the matter,” Eisenhower stated, was how to obtain “reliable assurance” against outside intervention directed against Laos. (Telegram 773 to Phnom Penh, January 17; ibid.)
  4. For text of Savang’s statement, which was carefully coordinated with the United States, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 991–992.
  5. On February 24, Sihanouk wrote President Kennedy and congratulated him on the U.S. decision to seek a neutral nations commission, but informed him that Cambodia must refuse to serve on any such commission. Sihanouk stated that a commission had to be recognized by both Lao governments, Boun Oum’s and Prince Souvanna Phouma’s, and repeated his conviction that the only solution would be a conference in which the two Lao factions met face-to-face along with the powers supporting them. (Translation of February 24 letter from Sihanouk to Kennedy, attached to a memorandum from Stoessel to Dungan, March 3; Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/1–361)