79. Memorandum From Robert H. Johnson of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0


  • The President’s Message to Sihanouk

I have just been informed that the draft message to Sihanouk1 which I sent you yesterday was cleared by Mr. McConaughy. However, Alexis Johnson and the Secretary decided to kill it on the grounds that it was “too fulsome”. The redrafting of the message is now entirely in Mr. Johnson’s hands.

The message seemed to me to strike very much the right kind of a balance. I believe that Mr. Johnson’s reaction is compounded from two elements:

His concern over the reaction of the Vietnamese and the Thais to too friendly a message.
A fear that a friendly message of this kind has too much the flavor of “turning the other cheek”. This objection is related to the one in a because he fears that we will suffer a “loss of face” if we make too friendly an approach after what Sihanouk has said about the U.S. (When I talked with him on Thursday evening, Mr. Johnson seemed particularly incensed at the attached report2 on a radio bulletin and periodical article which he viewed as a personal attack on the Secretary. I do not view it that seriously. I fear that we may be reacting in somewhat the manner that we criticize Sihanouk for reacting, although admittedly Cambodian press and radio are much more likely to reflect Sihanouk’s view than our press and radio, our Government’s view.)

I think it would be useful if you could have a further talk with Alexis Johnson, perhaps at the Planning Luncheon today. It seems to me that the following essential points should be made in the message:

That the President viewed his discussion in New York with Sihanouk3 as a turning of the page on the past [1–1/2 lines of source text not declassified].
That U.S. Government policy toward Sihanouk has not changed since the New York meeting.
That we genuinely accept Cambodia’s policy of neutrality.

I don’t know whether you will wish to talk to Mr. Johnson in terms of the State draft of which I sent you a bootleg copy yesterday. I would myself favor the FE draft without change. However, if it must be made somewhat cooler, a revision along the lines of the attached might do the job.4

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Cambodia, 11/1/61–11/7/61. Secret. A copy was sent to Rostow. Bundy doodled extensively on this memorandum.
  2. See footnote 1, Document 78.
  3. Not attached.
  4. See Document 74.
  5. No revised draft was attached, but the message was sent to Phnom Penh in telegram 413, November 7, for immediate transmission to Sihanouk. It reads as follows:

    “On the eighth anniversary of independence of Cambodia achieved under the leadership of Your Royal Highness, I extend congratulations to you and your people on behalf of the American people and government.

    “On such an historic occasion which symbolizes much to you and the Cambodian people, I wish to reaffirm our common dedication to freedom and to pay tribute to the spirit and the courage of those who won it and must maintain it.

    “Our recent discussions have given me confidence that the friendship which has existed between Cambodia and the United States is based upon firm and lasting foundations. Americans, therefore, are happy to join with Cambodia in celebrating this day of independence.” (Department of State, Central Files, 851H.47411/11–761)