89. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Thailand 0

305. Sihanouk announced August 20 press conference he sending letters to Geneva powers (less Thailand) calling for conference guarantee neutrality and territorial integrity of Cambodia in same manner as recent action on Laos. Letter addressed August 20 to President1 being repeated to all addressees. Letter refers in general terms to threat hanging over nation for years from neighbors, leading him fear international conflict in near future. Although letter not specific on this point, probable that immediate cause for Sihanouk’s action is recent incidents on Cambodian-Thai border.2

Dept believes reply to Sihanouk’s letter should be made promptly in light anticipated fast actions by communists. This requires urgent coordination US position with that of friends among Geneva recipients.

Accordingly action addressees requested inquire host governments’ reaction to Sihanouk’s proposal. Embassies London, Paris and Ottawa should convey US view that such conference should be last resort, and that it unnecessarily complicates fairly simple situation by involvement too many parties. Laos situation was far different, involving major confrontation between non-communist world and bloc for [Page 199] purpose seeking solution that would save Laos from externally induced communist subversion and insurgency. Present situation is a bilateral problem Cambodia–Thailand and to lesser extent related to Viet-Nam. Sihanouk may also be seeking to arrange international protection against communist side as he is known to fear that things may go sour in Laos and/or Viet-Nam.

FYI. We are opposed to conference chiefly because it likely encourage extension of conference concept to South Viet-Nam. End FYI.

UK may be able sound out Soviet views on Sihanouk proposal in its role of Geneva co-chairman. Although at this point we fairly certain Hanoi and Peiping likely support Sihanouk proposal, we are not convinced USSR will do so.3

Embassies Rangoon, New Delhi, Vientiane, Bangkok and Saigon should exercise extreme caution and to extent feasible should avoid disclosing our present negative view re Sihanouk proposal. We do not wish Sihanouk to become aware of our views prematurely. We note Indian Ambassador at Phnom Penh displeased that Sihanouk move taken without consulting India (Phnom Penh’s 154).4 Embassies Rangoon and Vientiane could perhaps encourage neutral disapproval by mere inquiry whether such consultation took place.

We tend agree with UK FonOff position that main problem will be how respond to Sihanouk without arousing him (London 712).5 We wonder whether French who have considerable experience in dealing with Sihanouk may not be able help on this score and hope Paris can obtain Quai’s views earliest.

Sihanouk tends be extremely stubborn about his own proposals and reaction likely be exceptionally bad if bloc responsive to his proposal while non-communist nations oppose. However opposition for conference might be made more palatable if some alternative equally tempting to Sihanouk’s desires be center of world attention can be devised. Any suggestions for alternatives would be welcome. FYI. Dept hopes UNSYG may be willing intervene along lines Phnom Penh 1506 and will not be diverted from this by Sihanouk’s precipitate initiative. Fact US has suggested SYG intervention should not be revealed. End FYI.

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Another idea that has been advanced is that in response Sihanouk letter US offer make public declaration of its own intention to respect Cambodian neutrality and invite other countries to do the same. Such declaration probably extremely hard to sell to Thailand and SVN, but they might be persuaded if convinced this best way avoid international conference suggested by Sihanouk.

Request urgent comments.7

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751H.00/8–2262. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Arzac; cleared in draft by Harriman and Rice and in substance by Anderson; and approved by Cleveland. Also sent priority to London, Paris, Ottawa, New Delhi, Saigon, Vientiane, and Rangoon and repeated to Phnom Penh, Moscow, Canberra, USUN, and Warsaw.
  2. For text of the letter, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1962, pp. 1002–1003. President Kennedy’s answer, August 31, is printed ibid., pp. 1003–1004. Harriman and Carl Kaysen discussed the Sihanouk letter by phone on August 22 as follows:

    “Mr. Kaysen said he showed the President the message and told him that the Department thought that the conference would be a mistake.

    “Gov. Harriman said the Thais will not agree to a conference and the British are opposed to it.

    “Mr. Kaysen said maybe we should try another approach—agree with Sihanouk to be neutral.

    “Governor Harriman said Sihanouk wants guarantee from everybody. Does not know what he is really afraid of—hard to tell what he has in mind. I think I would sleep on this for awhile.” (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Telephone Conversations, June–Dec. 1962)

  3. Cambodia charged that Thailand had invaded and overflown Cambodian territory as part of a long campaign of harassment by its two neighbors using U.S.-supplied weapons. Cambodia also requested information on how the United States planned to halt the illegal use of its weapons. (Telegram 167 and 168 from Phnom Penh, both August 26; Department of State, Central Files, 651H.51K/8–2662)
  4. On August 25, Khrushchev sent a letter to Sihanouk agreeing to participate in an international conference to guarantee Cambodian territorial integrity and independence. It was released to the press on August 28. The translated text is in telegram 180 from Moscow, August 28. (Ibid., 651H.51K/8–2862)
  5. Dated August 23. (Ibid., 651 H.92/8–2362)
  6. Dated August 21. (Ibid., 751 H.00/8–2162)
  7. In telegram 150, August 21, the Embassy suggested urging U.N. Acting Secretary–General U Thant to make a specific proposal establishing a U.N. presence in Cambodia and Thailand, possibly an Eastern European neutral with staff and necessary facilities. (Ibid., 651H.92/8–2162)
  8. The Embassy in Bangkok reported that Thailand was opposed to the idea since it was tantamount to an admission that it had invaded Cambodia, which Thailand denied. (Telegram 336 from Bangkok, August 24; ibid., 751H.00/8–2462) The British Foreign Office was opposed to a conference, believed that the solution lay in Cambodia negotiating with Thailand and South Vietnam, but was prepared to guarantee Cambodia’s integrity. (Telegram 737 from London, August 23; ibid., 751H.00/8–2362) The French had the question under study. (Telegram 942 from Paris, August 23; ibid.) The Canadians received a similar letter and took a view of the conference similar to that of the United States. (Telegram 251 from Ottawa, August 25; ibid., 751H.00/8–2562) Souvanna Phouma believed that Sihanouk must be “given some satisfaction in his present difficult position.” (Telegram 287 from Vientiane, August 24; ibid., 751H.00/8–2462) South Vietnam planned to respond to Sihanouk’s letter in moderate terms with statements of respect for Cambodia’s neutrality and territorial integrity. (Telegram 205 from Saigon; August 27; ibid., 751J.00/8–2762)