126. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (Nitze) to Secretary of Defense McNamara0


  • NSC Discussion on Laos

The State Department was unable to get a firm and precise statement from Phoumi of the type of coalition he would be prepared to accept. All that Phoumi and Sisouk would say was they thought the coalition should include all seven Laotian political parties, not just three, and thus get away from the Troika principle.1

I believe Phoumi is unwilling to be more precise because he first wants to know how much of a military commitment he can get from us. Phoumi has not been precise in stating what it is he wants in the way of a military commitment.2

As you remember, Phoumi said to you that his forces should be in much better shape by the end of July than they are now.

The main point to be decided this afternoon3 is what position the President take with Phoumi tomorrow.

State (see memo attached, particularly para 3 of Tab A4) will recommend that he tell Phoumi to stand firm and that if there is renewed military pressure we will take appropriate action.

If, as you indicated this morning, this is a stronger commitment than you wish to recommend, you may wish to suggest the following to the President:

[Page 274]

He tell Phoumi:

We all seem to be agreed that the present Western line at the Geneva Conference should continue to be firmly pursued;
The key to the political problem is, however, the formation of a coalition government which can have a reasonable prospect of maintaining an independent Laos;
We recognize the dangers in Souvanna Phouma’s present orientation. We want, however, to have one more try directly, and through the French, to get him to see the necessity of his following a non-Communist line if the independence of Laos is to be preserved;
We understand that Phoumi believes his military forces will be considerably stronger by the end of July than they are now;
We propose to follow a firm line in support of Laotian independence. We believe, however, that the time has not yet come to decide whether direct U.S. military support is wise or is required;
We urge the closest continuing consultation to find an independent future for Laos without the necessity for direct U.S. military intervention.

Paul H. Nitze5
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 6/27/61–6/30/61. Secret.
  2. General Phoumi, accompanied by General Ouane and Sisouk Na Champassak and the Lao Charge ad interim in Washington, met with U.S. officials at the Department of State in a meeting which lasted from 10 to 11:30 a.m. U. Alexis Johnson and Harriman headed the Department of State contingent which also included officials from FE and SEA. Nitze, along with other ISA officials, attended for Defense. Rostow represented the White House. An extensive account of the meeting is in a memorandum of conversation, June 29. (Ibid., Phoumi Visit, 6/29/61–6/30/61)
  3. During the afternoon of June 29, Phoumi had a 2-hour meeting with Chief of the Joint Staff Lieutenant General Wheeler and about a dozen other U.S. military officers. Anderson also attended the meeting and wrote a memorandum to McConaughy on June 29, highlighting the points of interest and providing notes paraphrasing the conversation. Anderson stated that Phoumi was aware of SEATO planning, continued to exaggerate the size of Viet Minh forces in Laos, was prepared to hold southern Laos with Nam Ca Dinh as the dividing line, and requested more rapid handling of his requests for U.S. logistical support. (Ibid.)
  4. At the NSC meeting; see Document 127.
  5. Document 125.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.