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

726. Re Deptels 709, 710 and Embtel 722.1 Had 3/4 hour interview with Sihanouk this morning between meetings RKG Cabinet. After furnishing him farewell gift (Sears barbecue set acquired courtesy CINCPAC, which seemed appeal his love gadgetry) and thanking him for dinner for wife and self other evening, I said thought he would be interested in clippings I had received of May 27 article by Governor Harriman in NY Times Magazine and one by Lippmann carried Washington Post same day.2

Continued I had noted from his Battambang speeches, his toast to me June 3 and article Depeche May 25 that RKG disturbed reports that Khmer dissidents being encouraged subversive action against Cambodia. I authorized assure him that USG would strongly disapprove any such move. If he wished furnish me, or, after I had left, Chargé or my successor any evidence on which RKG concern based, it would immediately be communicated my government, which I felt sure would do everything it could to quash such activities.

Sihanouk replied he most grateful this assurance. RKG representative Saigon had reported plans for action by dissidents under leadership Son Ngoc Thanh and his brother and supported by elements within GVN. (He did not mention Sam Sary.) If Son Ngoc Thanh wished to replace him he should return to country and openly appeal to people but not try take over through clandestine means. Prince went on he had plenty of money to retire and live in exile if this desire Cambodian people. He not interested in power for power’s sake but only trying to work for his own country. All he wished was to be left alone and to live in peace and on good terms with neighbors, just as he now does with free world and Communist bloc. However, he could not help but have [Page 192] impression GVN trying to force him into arms of Commies, although he frankly mystified as to its motivation. He realized Diem did not like him but this did not stop him from wishing Diem success in campaign against VC. His greatest fear was of united, Commie-dominated Vietnam. He had, as I knew, advocated buffer zone Southeast Asia between East and West. He even more desirous maintenance buffer between his country and DRVN, represented by SVN. If Commies should overrun SEA he could assure me Cambodia would be last to fall. Cambodians have had their belly-full of Viet Minh and 98 percent Cambodian people anti-Communist. This did not mean Cambodia wishes to abandon neutrality which has served it well in past and should continue to do so in future. Furthermore, he felt that peaceful independent non-aligned Cambodia was of greater value to West than as a weak ally. Grasping throat, Sihanouk asserted that Commie domination Cambodia would mean its strangulation.

Continuing, Prince said that as he had publicly stated on various occasions, he will not break relations with GVN. Unlike situation with respect Thailand, there is mutually beneficial trade between SVN and Cambodia. Also latter dependent on Mekong lifeline. GVN representative Phnom Penh doing what he can to ameliorate relations but unfortunately has little or no influence his government. Sihanouk added flatteringly he wished GVN would appoint as representative here someone like me who possessed support his government.

Prince then turned to relations with Thailand and claimed no reason why countries should not get along well together. Former Thai Ambassador here had been washout (comment: I agree) while his predecessor, although seemingly friendly, had actually disliked this country (comment: probably true). Sihanouk admitted RKG also at fault in having previously maintained as Ambassador at Bangkok man who did not get along with RTG. But this all past history. Evidence RKG’s desire remove causes of friction between two countries found in its submission Preah Vihear case to ICJ and formal commitment to abide by court’s decision even though it should go against Cambodia. If, as he hoped, relations with Thailand are re-established, this must be done on firm basis, for no purpose would be served by agreement such as that reached at UN December 1960 which, within 10 days, had been broken by Thai press.

I interjected USG naturally desirous improvement relations between Cambodia and its neighbors and, referring his critical comments former Thai Ambassadors here, said seemed to me situation called for some one like Prince Wan. Sihanouk responded that he couldn’t agree more and that Wan or man of his caliber would be most welcome.

Sihanouk then referred briefly to Laos and asserted Phoumi’s intransigence and arrogance primarily responsible for present stalemate.

[Page 193]

I responded blame must also be shared by Souphannouvong and aggressive designs his Viet Minh supporters. I mentioned this connection captured VC document indicating DRVN and ChiComs contemplating creation satellite state comprising Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and Laos, which would provide CPR and DRVN with agricultural products. ([1 line of source text not declassified] it apparent it has not yet been brought to Sihanouk’s attention, since he expressed considerable interest and suggested it be given wide publicity.)

I next alluded Sihanouk’s remarks re Commie takeover of SEA and said I definitely did not share this view. It consensus recent Baguio meeting U.S. Chiefs of Mission, as well as Washington representatives who present, that both Soviet and ChiComs were weaker today than they had been some years ago, while on other hand, U.S. military strength markedly greater. While it true Soviet, and to a far lesser extent, ChiComs have made advances industrially, Communist system incapable solution food problem as clearly demonstrated famine in Red China and recent drastic increase meat prices Soviet Union. Danger as I saw it was that ChiComs in effort to divert attention their people from regime’s failure would feel forced to embark on aggressive ventures. These, however, would stem from weakness, not strength, as ChiComs lacked agricultural base to sustain such moves. Also would be faced with a determined and militarily powerful West.

Sihanouk said he fully shared my opinion that agriculture is Achilles heel Communist system. Commies seem unable comprehend that methods employed to develop industry are not efficacious re agriculture, and completely overlook fact, as borne out in U.S., and also Cambodia, that if farmers are to have incentive to produce they must work for themselves and on their own land rather than for state. Although acknowledging U.S. military strength he did not comment on my observations re relative power posture East and West but appeared impressed points I had made.

Prince then reverted to my statement at opening re strong U.S. disapproval action by Khmer dissidents, repeating it was most reassuring and stating he would immediately inform his Cabinet.

Interview terminated with expression personal regard and appreciation my work here, which Sihanouk claimed had contributed much to better understanding between U.S. and his own country and to bringing relations to high level existing today. They sounded nice.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 651H.51K/6–562. Secret; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Bangkok, Saigon, CINCPACPOLAD, and Vientiane.
  2. Telegram 709 is printed as Document 84. In telegram 710 to Phnom Penh, June 4, the Department approved the line proposed by Trimble in telegram 722 from Phnom Penh, June 4. In telegram 722, Trimble reported that in view of Sihanouk’s thinly-veiled accusations against Thailand and South Vietnam, he wished to “state categorically that the U.S. would strongly disapprove of any plot against Royal Government and that if RKG can provide me with evidence of plot, U.S. would take whatever step it could to squash such a move.” (Both in Department of State, Central Files, 651H.51K/6–462)
  3. The article in The New York Times Magazine was entitled, “What We Are Doing in Southeast Asia,” and provided background information and justification for the Kennedy administration’s policy in Southeast Asia. Walter Lippmann’s article was the text of his address before the American Law Institute in Washington on May 25. It was entitled, “Lippmann Tells How the West Gained the Edge,” published in The Washington Post.