73. Memorandum From the President’s Deputy Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Rostow) to President Kennedy0

I have just one suggestion with respect to the attached briefing paper for your visit with Sihanouk.1 That relates to the Cambodian-Vietnamese border problem. We are quite confident that Cambodia is being used as a safe haven for Viet Cong. The Cambodian army recently attacked a Viet Cong unit in the border area in an operation that received a good deal of publicity. There may have been another unpublicized fight since that time. The U.S. provided help in the first case in the form of intelligence on the location of the Viet Cong unit. (This is highly confidential information.) The Cambodians are, as the State paper indicates, very sensitive on this issue and reacted very strongly to a New York Times editorial which suggested that the recent attack by the Cambodian Army on the Viet Cong represented a welcome change in Cambodian policy.2

At least as much of the blame for bad Cambodian-Vietnamese relations rests with Diem as it does with Sihanouk. In a recent assessment our embassy in Saigon concluded that not much progress on the problem can be expected as long as Diem and Sihanouk are on the scene. However, last March there was a helpful meeting between Tho, the Vietnamese Vice President and Tioulong, the Cambodian Foreign Minister who are old personal friends. You might want to suggest in a rather gentle way that perhaps some improvement in relations between Cambodia and Viet-Nam could be achieved if there could be some continuing contact between appropriate high level officials of the two countries.

It is important to note a point made in the biographic material on Sihanouk—that he is highly susceptible to [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] protocol.3 He was reportedly extremely gratified, for example, when Ambassador Harriman made a special trip to Rome to see him during the early stages of the Geneva negotiations. Any special attention given him will, therefore, have a favorable effect.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cambodia, 9/24/61–10/23/61. Secret.
  2. Printed as Document 72.
  3. The New York Times, September 9, 1961.
  4. [text not declassified].