72. Paper Prepared in the Department of State0
BACKGROUND PAPER FOR PRESIDENT’S MEETING WITH PRINCE NORODOM SIHANOUK
New York, September 25, 1961
While Prince Sihanouk’s official purpose in coming to the U.S. is to attend the United Nations General Assembly, he is also greatly interested in meeting the President. The Prince is proud and emotional. He greatly enjoys playing an active personal role in world affairs, and is flattered by association with leaders of the great powers. He will probably be highly gratified with the President’s display of interest in exchanging views on world affairs and with the development of a personal relationship with the President. In view of the Prince’s unique power in Cambodia, the personal impressions which he carries from his meeting with the President could have a long-term beneficial effect on U.S. relations with Cambodia. (See Biographic Data Report attached.)1
It is suggested that early in the meeting the President extend to the Prince an oral invitation to visit the U.S. on a state visit early next year. Details of such a visit, on which White House agreement has already been given in principle, can be discussed later with Ambassador Trimble in Phnom Penh. In connection with this invitation, the President should be prepared to respond as appropriate to an invitation which the Prince is expected to make for the President to visit Cambodia.
Although Prince Sihanouk will probably be interested mainly in discussing world questions, it would be desirable for the President to mention, in complimentary terms, internal developments in Cambodia under the Prince’s leadership. Particularly praiseworthy are Sihanouk’s determination to safeguard Cambodia’s independence, his alertness against Communist subversion and his government’s attention to the educational needs of his country.
The following is background information on a few specific topics which may be or should be brought up during the conversation with the Prince.
Relations with the U.S. U.S.-Cambodian relations are currently good, having greatly improved since 1959, when Prince Sihanouk was [Page 159] convinced we were involved in a plot to overthrow him. We have constantly sought to assure him that we respect his government’s choice of neutrality. Our policy is based on a simple precept—to assist Cambodia to remain independent. This objective is always worth reiterating.
Economic assistance has been an important instrument in furthering this United States policy in Cambodia. The United States has been the chief source of outside assistance to Cambodia since independence, having provided both military and economic aid. The President may wish to remark that we continue to be interested in assisting Cambodia’s economic development and in helping to meet its security requirements.
- Laos. Prince Sihanouk originated the idea of the 14-Nation Conference on Laos, participated in the initial meetings and helped to arrange the meeting of the three Princes in Zurich. In his conversation with the Secretary on September 18,2 he stated that, if the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. agreed on withdrawal of foreign troops from Laos, Cambodia would consider acting with Burma to assist in supervising the troop withdrawal, provided the Lao had no objection. He has expressed serious doubts about the reliability of Souvanna Phouma and Ambassador Harriman’s effort to disengage Souvanna Phouma from the Communist bloc.
- Belgrade Neutralist Conference.3 Sihanouk took a moderate line at the Belgrade Conference, and stressed that the Conference should uphold principles rather than criticize particular nations. Since then, in his meeting with the Secretary, he has expressly indicated that he does not wish to be associated with any neutralist “bloc”. In his arrival statement, he pointedly remarked that he was not a “messenger” from the Conference and that Cambodians “do not regard ourselves as the conscience of the world”.
Cambodian Relations with Viet-Nam and Thailand. A major problem with implications for the stability of the entire SEA region is the ill feeling that characterizes relations between Cambodia and neighboring Thailand and Viet-Nam. While relations with Thailand have improved in the past year, relations with Viet-Nam have, if anything, deteriorated. Current irritants include Cambodian concern over treatment of the Khmer minority in South Viet-Nam, Vietnamese accusations that Cambodia has provided sanctuary for Viet Cong rebels from Viet-Nam, charges by the Government of Viet-Nam that the Cambodians are engaged in subversive activities against Viet-Nam, and unsettled financial issues resulting from the division of French Indochina into three independent states.[Page 160]
Any discussion of Cambodia’s relations with its neighbors approached with the utmost tact, since Sihanouk is highly emotional and sensitive on this subject. In view of the regional implications, however, it would be desirable for the President to mention U.S. concern over the poor relations between the various countries and to express confidence that neither Thailand nor Viet-Nam has aggressive designs against Cambodia, just as we have confidence that Cambodia has no designs against its neighbors. Hope should be expressed that the countries concerned will cooperate increasingly in the face of a common external Communist threat which transcends in importance their particular grievances.
- Berlin. While Prince Sihanouk has paid tribute to Khrushchev for his “sincere desire” to find a solution to the problem of Berlin, he nevertheless publicly calls for the “strict and sincere application of the self-determination principle for Berlin as well as all other conflicts”. At the recent Belgrade Conference, he reiterated his advocacy of self-determination as a basis for the solution of the Berlin and German problems. A solution should also envisage German reunification and neutralization, thus creating a neutral buffer between the opposing blocs analogous to the neutral buffer zone he has advocated in Southeast Asia.
- Soviet Nuclear Testing. Prince Sihanouk has refrained from public condemnation of the resumption of nuclear weapons testing by the Soviet Union and commented on the subject only casually at the Belgrade Conference (in a portion of his written speech not actually delivered). Nevertheless, he is presumably aware of and may have specifically sanctioned recent strongly worded expressions of criticism against the Soviet action that have appeared recently in the Cambodian press. It is likely that discussion of the U.S. position on this question will be useful and sympathetically received by the Prince.
- Source: Department of State, FE/SEA/Cambodia Files: Lot 65 D 55, 22.4 Sihanouk Visits, 1961–1962. Confidential. Drafted by Dexter and cleared by Cleveland, Anderson, Theodore J.C. Heavner of SEA, McConaughy, and Richard J. Gookin of the Under Secretary of State’s office. Sent to the White House under cover of a September 22 memorandum from Battle to Bundy.↩
- Not printed.↩
- The discussion was held during the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. (Ibid., Secretary’s Memoranda of Conversation: Lot 65 D 330)↩
- Held September 1–6.↩