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

221. Policy. This message represents our evaluation of present situation and concludes with our views as to courses of action open to US which would be designed meet in part Sihanouk’s desires without involving US in commitments we could not give nor in actions damaging to our relations with our Thai and South Vietnamese allies.

Sihanouk’s present insistent demands for “guarantees” of Cambodian neutrality and territorial integrity and his threat to ask for Soviet [Page 201] and Chinese Communist troops as last resort to protect Cambodian independence may be large-scale blackmail. Possibility always exists however, he may do just what he says in event “guarantees” or some kind of assurances affording partial, if not full, satisfaction his needs are not forthcoming. To the extent we ignore this possibility, we are heading on collision course leading to possible disaster.

I have been struck in my round of calls by seriousness with which Cambodian leaders view, or profess to view, situation. While their comments to me might be part of planned campaign put RKG position in most favorable light, there is no doubt of intensity their feeling and their apprehension present situation. Some of this apprehension could represent their concern Sihanouk’s course may be leading Cambodia toward Communist camp. Underlying it all, however, is same obsession with Cambodian survival as is clearly evidenced by Sihanouk himself. Prince Monireth, elder statesman Penn Nouth and Queen, like other top officials, have stressed Cambodian fears their neighbors, which include North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao as well as Thais and South Vietnamese. They all paint picture of small, weak and relatively defenseless Cambodia menaced by two powerful neighbors on each side with historical record of aggressive designs against Cambodia. Cambodians recall that almost 100 years ago they sought French protectorate to avoid being absorbed by Thais and Annamites and with withdrawal of French protection they now again consider themselves faced by same danger. They all make particular point of Dap Chhuon overthrow government and fact that GVN representative, who expelled for participating in plot, is now Cabinet minister in Saigon. Penn Nouth says RKG has in possession map showing Thai and GVN plans for partition Cambodian territory. Sihanouk and Cambodians are evidently not unaware of Thai and GVN complicity in Son Ngoc Thanh efforts in SVN and Thailand to spark movement to overthrow Sihanouk. All top officials emphasize that repeated border incidents, for which they accept no responsibility and ascribe all blame to their neighbors, have led to present situation and RKG cannot continue suffer this constant harassment. Penn Nouth warned that when Sihanouk says he may take a certain course, this is not bluff. He recalled Sihanouk’s warning re recognition Communist China and his extension of such recognition when SVN troops occupied border areas Stung Treng Province in 1958. Penn Nouth struck ominous note “I have worked many years with my Prince and I know him well”.

While picture of small, weak Cambodia without means of defense against organized aggression across border may be convincing one, less convincing is Cambodian unwillingness accept any responsibility for border incidents or for actions which have contributed to present situation. Sihanouk’s constant public attacks on Thai leaders and GVN, coupled with Cambodian press campaign along similar lines, RKG’s [Page 202] failure return GVN planes and crew of seized fishing vessel are examples of RKG intransigeance which has added fuel to flame. Sihanouk recognized Cambodia’s greatest weapon is publicity and plays it to the hilt.

While US economic and military aid are our best assets in present situation, developments in recent months have tended to make these assets less effective than previously. Private and public statements by Sihanouk and Minister Defense and Chief of Staff General Lon Nol indicates some dissatisfaction with volume and types US military aid. They compare small amount aid given Cambodia with that given Thais and GVN and add these neighbors use US material for aggression against Cambodia. General Lon Nol recently observed to Chief MAAG Cambodia was receiving negative response to its requests. He pointed to RKG request for military allowances in connection with proposed troop increase and to US rejection Cambodian appeal for international conference. Belief USG is taking steps in Bangkok and Saigon in effort explore means finding solution for difficulties will help US position in Cambodia to certain degree, but larger question of where Cambodia is heading and what we can do to prevent its sliding into Communist camp remains.

US interests are best served at this stage of developments in SEA, particularly in view of situation SVN and in light uncertainties re outcome, of efforts achieve settlement Laotian problem, by truly neutral, genuinely independent Cambodia. However, only development likely impress Sihanouk would be resounding US success in area, as nothing succeeds like success with him, and specter of possible Communist success in SEA, giving him impression Communism may be wave of future, evidently has major influence on his thinking. Combined US-SVN victory in SVN would contribute more than anything else to US influence with Sihanouk, but even that would probably not lead to any basic change in his policy. Since such victory not yet at hand, we must seek best course presently available.

Recommend we go ahead full speed on effort adapt Laos Accord current situation. While this in itself does not appear be enough meet needs present situation, it would provide framework within which we could move to approach basic question of “guarantees” or assurances for Cambodian independence. Additionally, believe only way in which assurances satisfactory to both Cambodians and Thais and GVN could be provided would be through some type observation or control group stationed in area and empowered to move freely along border area in event of incidents requiring investigation and action. We would hope this mechanism could be established under UN auspices, which should insure neutral or impartial, international composition of observation or control group, and which in effect is only mechanism offering real possibility of acceptance by those concerned. (Any suggestion of extension of [Page 203] ICC would again raise question of conference and problem of body to which reports would be made.)

Bangkok’s 4251 opens way to move in desirable direction. Such course should provide means of bringing stability to border areas and lessen tension which has risen to such dangerous peak.

Obviously, solution of type suggested, which gives Sihanouk good part of what he has been clamoring for, may reinforce his belief that public demands coupled with blackmailing tactics are way to get what he wants from us. Yet, in situation we now face, apparent US concessions to these demands may be price we have to pay to keep Cambodia truly neutral and deny its space to Communists. And, at this writing we cannot be completely certain that even this price will be enough.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751H.00/9–762. Secret; Priority. Repeated to Bangkok, Saigon, Vientiane, Paris, London, USUN, and CINCPACPOLAD. There is no time of transmission on the source text; the telegram was received on September 8 at 1:37 a.m.
  2. Telegram 425, September 6, transmitted the text of a note from Thailand to the U.N. Acting Secretary-General inviting him to send a U.N. representative to investigate Cambodian charges that Thailand was threatening Cambodian neutrality and independence. (Ibid., 751H.00/9–662)