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

446. Policy. This is first of series of three telegrams representing Country Team views.

Present situation in Cambodia, product largely of deep-seated Cambodian fears of its neighbors, which, however illogical and unreasonable they may seem to us, are fact of life with which we must deal, is compound of several factors:

Sihanouk must feel deep sense frustration re his neutrality project, which has become long, drawn-out affair and not matter of relatively brief duration he may have anticipated at outset.
Series border incidents, culminating in recent attack on what RKG claims are Cambodian villages, have deepened Cambodian fears and increased Sihanouk’s sense of frustration. To [garble] it all he feels he is put in position of being unable protect his people and territory and thus suffers considerable loss of face. In last two incidents (that is, Koh Rokar and Ratanakiri villages) GVN has been slow to react and its replies have not offered any face-saving escape for Sihanouk.

Resentment against US for what RKG considers to be US failure control its allies has appreciably increased, and US has come more and more under fire here for actions its Thai and SVN allies, culminating in unfounded charge US pilots participated in attack on Ratanakiri villages (Embtel 430).1 If Sihanouk knew extent to which Embassies Saigon and Bangkok have gone in respective capitals in effort reduce tensions between Cambodia and its neighbors and to find solution for border problems, US position vis-á-vis Sihanouk and RKG would be improved. US has been hampered by inability to make known to Sihanouk and RKG these extraordinary efforts. (Obviously full story could not be passed on to him without imperilling our relations with Diem and Sarit.) All Sihanouk sees are results of what I have continually depicted in very general terms as US efforts exert its influence at Bangkok and Saigon with view to finding solution for border problems which would be acceptable to all concerned. Sihanouk knows we are doing something but he and other Cambodians wonder whether we have really done all we could. Seeds of suspicion are sown on every occasion when US personnel are reported to have been present at scene of operations involving alleged border incidents. For that reason baseless charge US involvement attacks on two villages [Page 216] finds all too ready acceptance here. We are handicapped, of course, by Sihanouk’s own practice of revealing in his press conferences matters which have been passed on to him in diplomatic channels and presumably on confidential basis.

End result of our failure reveal to him our efforts in Bangkok and Saigon and lack of success in preventing border incidents is increased criticism of US, which in their peculiar way Sihanouk and RKG use as means of pressure on US. Ambassador Kimny’s recent criticism in UN of US over-arming of its allies and latter’s use of US weapons against Cambodia is further example of this type criticism and pressure.

Sihanouk neutrality project results from his obsessive desire achieve security, and thus national survival. He considers his previous policies have not produced adequate assurances on this score; hence his willingness include in his proposal provision which could lead to withdrawal MAAG and end US military aid program. Such provision could be bargaining ploy designed to put pressure on US to maximum possible degree acceptance neutrality proposal and for increased military aid; simultaneously, and in event US favorable response not forthcoming, it could be bait for bloc to fill military aid gap left by US. But while Sihanouk speaks in press conference of willingness also give up economic aid, it is difficulties facing RKG, he really expects or desires end of US economic aid. [sic] (It is even more difficult believe—his public statements notwithstanding—that he looks forward to taking actions that could lead to closure of vital Mekong River trade route.) We note that there is little in pattern of bloc aid to Laos or our own aid program to Laos which would encourage him to think that bloc prepared to substitute for US as economic aid donor or that bloc would pick up tab on budgetary support FARK or that we will continue military aid if MAAG withdrawn.
It is difficult estimate exactly how much of his neutrality project he really expects to be accepted by Western powers. Sihanouk continues single out French as having done most among Western powers to assist in meeting his wishes. French have receded considerably from de Gaulle reply to Sihanouk’s original invitation for conference, in which there was implication France would be prepared give guarantees sought, and latest reports French views (Depcirtel 908)2 indicate that French are no more willing than we to accept “guarantees or equivalent”. French here seem, however, to be playing odd game, since we have had no indication they have communicated to Sihanouk or fully impressed upon him their present position on his proposal. Sihanouk’s statements and semi-official press comment have recently emphasized that revision of neutrality proposal to meet reticence of certain powers (evidently US) regarding guarantees [Page 217] question should now make it easy for them (i.e., US) sign Sihanouk’s draft. French here must be aware that latest revision of draft eliminating word “guarantees” retains “equivalent” provisions, yet they continue tell us, and also Sihanouk, that we should be able accept revised draft.
As straw in wind, Indian Ambassador tells me that Sihanouk recently commented to him that what he wanted was adequate assurances from Thais of their respect for Cambodian independence and territorial integrity and that Gussing’s mission would fail unless he was able to obtain such assurances.
Further factor to be borne in mind is continued delay in presentation of proposal, which suggests Sihanouk still undecided whether to take dangerous and probably irrevocable plunge. This may be attributable to his uncertainty about impact on SEA of widening Sino-Soviet rift and his doubts whether Soviets will be willing play along with him. Hence remote possibility exists that in context current world situation he might prefer shelve proposal at least temporarily rather than risk its rejection and more serious loss of face resulting therefrom.

We will discuss in separate message conclusions we believe should be drawn from above described situation.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751H.00/11–2062. Confidential. Repeated to Bangkok, Saigon, London, Paris, New Delhi, CINCPACPOLAD, and Vientiane.
  2. Dated November 18. (Ibid., 651H.51K/11–1862)
  3. Dated November 14. (Ibid., 651H.51K/11–1462)
  4. Document 96.