130. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State0

22. From Harriman. In hour’s talk with Souvanna this afternoon I went over points contained Deptel 141 but followed Brown’s admonitions [Page 287] in manner of approach. Souvanna said he suffering from ear infection in addition to continuing abscess.

I took occasion warn him about trusting Soviets and cited my personal experiences with Khrushchev perfidy in connection with pledges to other smaller countries which had tried cooperate with them. Souvanna explained he believed situation different in Laos where there no landed aristocracy and no proletariat. Moreover, he thought Communist aware West would not tolerate pro-Communist Laos any more than Soviet bloc prepared accept too pro-Western orientation. Therefore, they were willing for country to be neutral. He aware of problem of placing confidence in Communists and would not trust them or, for that matter, anyone else until he saw what happened. I expressed concern about PL dominance in future Lao Armed Forces, and Souvanna said he recognized problem which would be taken care of when armed forces reduced and excess arms locked up.

Turning to ICC, I told him we believed strong commission could be useful in Laos and could aid it to maintain independence and neutrality. Commission, however, would have be able carry out its mission effectively. Souvanna said he agreed completely with this point of view. He believed best way improving commission’s effectiveness would be for it to increase size of respective contingents in Laos and give them their own means of traveling about country—helicopters, light aircraft, et cetera. He did not believe commission teams should be stationed at given points in country, as had been case before, since country so big control points could be avoided. ICC should be located in Vientiane where it would be informed by Lao Government of foreign incursions. If it had proper transportation it could quickly investigate. Or, if it heard separately of incidents, it could inform government and obtain its permission to investigate them. Commission could not act independently lest this infringe on Lao sovereignty. This why French proposal unacceptable. He agreed, however, to oppose supervision of ICC by co-chairmen and thought co-chairmen’s role should be limited to convening new Geneva conference in event serious situation developed. He repeated ICC should supervise elections.

Souvanna asked whether US prepared support his candidacy for premiership. I told him I unable reply directly but could give him perhaps an impression of the things that would affect USG attitude. While we recognized importance his position and sympathized with his objectives, we were concerned at role of PL and of orientation of people he might have around him. Much would depend on type of men he would propose for government. In reply to my question, Souvanna said he had good men such as Quinim Pholsena, Sissamang Sisalemqak, Khamsouk Keoula and Pheng Phongsavan. He said Phoumi “very ambitious” and without popular support while his (Souvanna’s) nephew Somsanith [Page 288] “too Young and inexperienced.” He said there no difficulties between him and Phoumi and latter had always had high opinion of Souvanna, his former chief, and Souvanna had esteem for Phoumi. He asked what Phoumi had said about him during talks in US, and I replied that he had said nothing derogatory about Souvanna but had not concealed his distrust of PL. When I asked about Souphannouvong, Souvanna said quite possible he would not be in government. Souvanna continued believe that key Ministries such as Defense, Foreign Affairs and Interior could not be given to PL but shall be held by strong non-Communists.

When I told him US would be prepared continue aid a Laos which neutral, he said this aid would be welcome on condition people benefited directly and not [omission in text].

I told him there was one thing in particular which we would like to see and that was closer ties with Western friends, particularly UK and France, and less intimacy with northern neighbors. Prince laughed and said only way he could leave Laos was through Hanoi. When I remarked we concerned about DRV designs on Laos, Souvanna said he distrusted it completely but would probably accept certain technicians from it in public works field. When I expressed opinion that PL was a front for Viet Minh he replied they were not completely Communist but he didn’t fully trust them. That was why he kept them at a distance.

It was to combat PL in election that he had recently formed new political party and had asked UK and French to provide party with “certain means.” This help had been promised and similar aid from US would be welcome.

I told Souvanna Couve told me this morning agreement had been reached on continued French military presence and training role in Laos. Souvanna indicated this not quite true. Seno would have to have status changed. However, general provisions of 1954 Accords could be maintained with some modifications.

We talked some about his past contacts with US representatives in area, and he spoke favorably about Brown. I urged him see Brown, if occasion presented itself, or Trimble, and he said would be pleased see either one.

Question of food shortages in China and DRV arose, and I inquired whether areas under his control had similar problems. He replied affirmatively, and I suggested that he might wish to ask for help in this field. He indicated that he might consider doing so.

On the whole he was considerably more forthcoming than in earlier talks and made somewhat more sense in explaining his views. A disquieting feature was the four names he mentioned which I understand have been considered pretty close to PL.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/7–361. Secret; Limit Distribution. Also sent to Vientiane and repeated to Geneva for Fecon, Bangkok, London, Ottawa, Phnom Penh, and Saigon.
  2. In telegram 14, July 2, Harriman received instructions for his discussion with Souvanna Phouma. (Ibid., 751J.00/7–261) In addition, U. Alexis Johnson sent Harriman a memorandum on June 30, providing guidelines for the discussion and expressing concern that Souvanna’s actions belied his claim to neutrality. (Ibid., 751J.00/6–3061) In telegram 2 from Vientiane, repeated to Paris for Harriman, July 1, Brown suggested that, from his personal knowledge of Souvanna, Harriman should not confront him with open criticism. The approach should instead be in terms of U.S. willingness to cooperate if Souvanna was prepared to do certain things to show he was a genuine neutral. (Ibid., 751J.00/7–261)