82. Telegram From the Embassy in Cambodia to the Department of State0

490. Since late October–November low in Cambodian-Free World relations, phased return to normality has been taking place. This initially reflected in my meeting with Sihanouk December 5 (Embassy telegram 419),1 and followed by abatement of anti-U.S. press attacks. Recently we have seen mounting evidence that Cambodian sentiment taking somewhat more pronounced pro-Free World turn. Developments highlighted by discovery Communist plot, but other significant manifestations of new look are repeated conciliatory references to Diem and GVN and increasingly effusive public expressions of friendship toward U.S. and on somewhat less tangible level we note further sharp drop [rise?] in press criticism of Viet Minh, and fact that official rebuttals of SVN press [Page 180] allegations have perceptibly moderated in tone and appear designed mainly for record. (We now informed (Embassy telegram 485)2 that GVN Chargé Nhan and RKG Information Minister Chau Seng agreed to informal press truce at January 17 meeting.)

Change in atmosphere, while naturally welcome, obviously signifies no change in neutrality policy. Trend consistent with Sihanouk’s past record of alternating tacks to left and right, and appears mainly motivated by desire readjust balance after period of strained relations with West. At same time, there are elements in situation which appear offer possibility that trend can be kept moving for a while in favorable direction.

  • First, Sihanouk in recent speeches has hit hard and consistently at local Communists. Since Communist party (Pracheachon Group) will be only opposition to Sangkum in forthcoming spring elections (date not yet fixed), speeches are to large extent election tactic. But they also reflect Prince’s growing preoccupation with threat to national unity posed by Communists and by dissension within Sangkum promoted by Leftist Sangkum members. Communist inspired anonymous letters against his close collaborators in government and discovery of Communist plot have undoubtedly sharpened his concern over problem.
  • Second, Sihanouk’s softer line toward GVN, which apparently being reciprocated, should help reduce frictions between RKG and West. Prince’s reasons for new approach at present not entirely clear, but may stem from appreciation that U.S. seriously committed to prevention Communist take-over of SVN, recent slight improvement security situation there, and renewed awareness that Cambodia’s own interests best served by survival of GVN. Despite historic volatility of RKGGVN relations, revival of press truce, possibility of productive discussions on border control, and reports that GVN may soon be prepared undertake talks on Paris accords, hold out prospect of more peaceful co-existence and concurrent benefits for Free World.

Favorable trend may of course be interrupted or reversed at any time. Sihanouk has shown some signs that he may be entering another depressive stage, in which he capable of exploding over even minor issue, and Leftist press and advisers will certainly exploit every opportunity to trigger explosion. Accordingly, it highly important that every effort be made to avoid presenting them with exploitable opportunities. Urge, for example, that Thai and SVN press attacks against Cambodia subside or be toned down, that provocative actions and official statements be avoided, that Western press as a whole refrain from gloating over Sihanouk’s troubles with Communists and interpreting them as an indication of a change in policy, that SVN defoliation operations be conducted [Page 181] at sufficient distance from border as to insure against slightest possibility of spray entering Cambodia, that over-flights or flight along border construable as intrusions Cambodian territory be avoided.

More fundamental problem, however, which imposes severe limits on pro-Western trend, derives from Sihanouk’s apparently increasing conviction that Communism, particularly Chinese Communism, will inevitably dominate area. While he has made this point often in past, he emphasized it strongly in several recent speeches, and confided last week to Indian Ambassador opinion that U.S. and India fighting only “rear-guard action” against Communists. In knowledge of this, ex-Secretary Acheson took occasion of dinner conversation with Sihanouk to stress West’s tremendous economic and financial superiority over Bloc and steadily improving Western military posture. Also pointed out that Western productivity more than three times that of Bloc and that, Soviet claims notwithstanding, gap between two camps growing not narrowing, and over-all position of West steadily improving.

Given Sihanouk’s mercurial personality and policy fluctuations, we have no illusions about permanency present line. Nevertheless trend encouraging and its continuance worth fostering. Also find new climate pleasantly invigorating after last fall’s sticky weather.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751H.00/1–1962. Secret. Repeated to Saigon, Bangkok, Geneva, Vientiane, and CINCPACPOLAD.
  2. Trimble reported in telegram 419, December 6, that during their discussion Sihanouk was “relaxed and friendly” and “unusually moderate.” Trimble received the impression that Sihanouk wanted to resume relations with Thailand, but was reluctant to take the first step. Trimble predicted that the period of strain in U.S.-Cambodian relations was coming to an end. (Ibid., 751H.00/12–661)
  3. Dated January 18. (Ibid., 651H.51K/1–1862)