15. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Laos0

841. Deptel 1181 to Bangkok 840 to Vientiane.1

This message prepared as circular but for present being sent only Vientiane and Bangkok2 describes plans intended bring critical situation [Page 51] Laos nearer solution. It supplies background and rationale for use as appropriate with government to which accredited in order provide it better understanding our concept of problem and intended courses of action. Special instructions to certain posts will follow.

(Begin FYI)

US wishes leave no stone unturned find peaceful solution and has therefore joined in attempt find conditions under which ICC might function. However rate progress current negotiations re ICC tends strengthen our fear that inherent limitations in ICC likely lead to abandonment this approach. To permit ICC operate effectively RLG would either have to make concessions unacceptable to it or impose restrictions which ICC would not accept. Negotiations may be spun out and valuable time lost. We therefore taking steps explore feasibility of a “neutral nations commission” centering around Cambodia and Burma with suitable flexibility for additions. This move based on assumption that while neutral and sometimes troublesome, Cambodia and Burma are anti-Communist domestically, are alive to Communist threat, desire a non-Communist Laos in their own self-interest and have themselves taken initiatives consistent with approach we have in mind. Moreover Soviet Bloc actively wooing them and would find it difficult completely rebuff their efforts on behalf of peace.
By taking initiative in proposing neutral nations commission of this character and by strengthening our bargaining position by actions set forth below we are acting in conformance with the guidance in the President’s inaugural address3 that while we do not fear to negotiate for genuine peace and understanding, we will not abandon our friends. While we would hope that Soviets will see in neutral nations suggestion and its most probable actions an indication of this willingness and determination and thus acquiesce we may at the proper stage have to set forth our objectives in clear terms by note or demarche so that Soviets may know what the alternative would be if they rebuff our obvious “olive branch” approach. Having taken positive step toward peaceful solution onus passes to the USSR for recalcitrance.
Because Soviets may feel time favors Pathet Lao, they will probably be reluctant acquiesce unless pressure brought to bear. We feel such pressure must be not only political in terms proposed commission, but also military, the latter in terms further advances of RLG, with recapture of Plaines des Jarres obviously important. In order to reassure our Asian Allies that SEATO has a capability to act we must respond without further delay to the RLG request that has been before the [Page 52] Council representatives for some time. We are therefore instructing Ambassador Johnson to vote in favor of the Australian proposal for a fact-finding commission composed of SEATO nations representatives resident in Vientiane.4 (We understand that U.K. may propose that the Committee of Security Experts function in this capacity which would in our opinion be better.) It is not considered that such action will affect the NNC proposal which could not be implemented fully for some time. The factfinding mission would become an NNC task when the latter group becomes operational. No further SEATO action is contemplated unless it is later determined that the NNC concept has proven ineffective. Should the above mentioned political (NNC) and military (RLG offensive) pressures fail to materialize, additional political and military pressures could be brought to bear by further SEATO action, the nature of which would depend upon developments, with SEATO expected to meet its responsibilities in full. END FYI

Presentation along following lines should be made to host government but only on receipt specific instructions which may include variations for individual cases. Circular telegram on Neutral Nations Commission will be helpful in supplying points for your demarche.5

A. The Legitimacy of RLG and its International Relations

Drawing on previous instructions including cirtels 878 and 10046 you should urge affirmative action in support RLG and at minimum an overt willingness work with it.

United States supports Royal Lao Government, of which Prince Boun Oum is Prime Minister. This is in keeping with policy we have consistently followed with each succeeding government in Laos formed pursuant to its constitutional processes and sanctioned by the King. There is no other government in Laos and to assume otherwise is a fiction, acceptance of which would make it impossible conduct business with this constitutional monarchy. If collectively or singly we are to use our influence and support to work toward a satisfactory solution of the current and historic ills of Laos, we can do so only in cooperation with duly constituted government. We share view of many of our friends re general desirability of having in Laos a government formed on as broad [Page 53] a base as possible, but some patience and time may be needed to persuade incompatible personalities to lay aside their differences in interests of independent Laos. There would be little profit in bringing about under pressure inclusion of incompatible elements in RLG if this would again lead to instability. Nevertheless despite obstacles we would be prepared to join effort to obtain more broadly based government committed to obtain genuine independence.

We conceive of Laos as a neutral state, unaligned in her international relations but determined to preserve her national integrity. In order to exist in this special status, enjoy independence and retain territorial integrity, some temporary international machinery to guard this neutrality will have to be devised. Neutralized status would envisage, except as provided by previous agreements, no foreign military bases, no foreign troops and no military alliances. (See Section E below) Status of Austria may serve as precedent. An underlying assumption is that it is in best interest of US and USSR avoid widespread hostilities in Laos.

Accordingly, the United States has suggested to RLG that neutrality of Laos be proclaimed and defined by a declaration which all interested governments would be invited to respect.

B. A Neutral Nations Commission

To assure establishment of such neutrality, it has been suggested that King and RLG invite certain neutral nations to form a commission formation of which would be reported to UN Security Council in some appropriate way. It was suggested that two of members of commission be Laos’ neighbors, Burma and Cambodia.

We consider first responsibility of commission would be to arrange for cessation of not only Soviet airlift, but all foreign military intervention in form of personnel, arms and equipment introduced in contravention of international agreements and inconsistent with status of Laos as neutral. Until such time as Commission has established a mechanism capable of effective supervision and surveillance of entire national area, we would urge RLG to take great care not to deny itself right to continued assistance from US and France.

As next task of Commission RLG might request its help to effect cessation of hostilities in all areas where armed conflict in progress.

Commission would be expected establish machinery for supervision under its auspices over military material and equipment required for defense and maintenance law and order. Such machinery would remain in place until RLG is satisfied it has worked out a peaceful solution of internal differences and established an integrated state with capability of maintaining internal security. FYI Terms of reference would be [Page 54] spelled out in RLG’s invitation. Text to be suggested to RLG will follow. End FYI.


Appropriate exposition should be made that SEATO and its individual members obviously prefer settle Lao crisis by peaceful means, and all feasible steps to reach this goal should be taken. SEATO has responsibility support integrity of Laos and security of Southeast Asia which outcome struggle in Laos will vitally affect. In view of SEATO undertakings, and more particularly US pledges under SEATO, violation of integrity of Laos cannot be allowed to take place with impunity. However US envisages that primary emphasis should be on peaceful solution as outlined above.

D. Economic Aid

United States will continue to extend economic aid to Laos under existing agreements with RLG. US would hope that other states interested in future welfare of Laos would also contribute according their individual capacities. US prepared examine with others the channeling of economic and technical aid through an international mechanism.

E. Military Training and Aid

We would expect RLG to insist that there be real evidence of effectiveness of control and supervision which would deny clandestine support before assistance from ourselves, French, and other anti-Communist sources would be subject to restriction.

Under neutral concept, US would be prepared to have military assistance screened by Commission. US would also be prepared to withdraw its training mission at such time as a competent neutral training mission, invited by the RLG and approved by Commission, was in place and able effectively to assume the mission of training RLG security forces.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/2–1061. Confidential; Limited Distribution. Drafted by Steeves; cleared by SEA, FE, L, IO, and by Nitze of Defense; and approved by Rusk. Also sent to Bangkok as telegram 1182.
  2. In this telegram, February 10, the Department of State instructed Brown to proceed to Vientiane from Bangkok as soon as possible and seek an appointment with Phoumi and Boun Oum and “make a preliminary and rather general exposition” of the neutralization concept in order to sound out their reactions. (Ibid.)
  3. It was sent as circular telegram 1190 on February 11. (Ibid., 751J.00/2–1161)
  4. For text, see Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, pp. 1–3.
  5. Text of the Australian draft proposal is in telegram 1350 from Bangkok, February 1. (Department of State, Central Files, 379/2–161)
  6. Circular telegram 1191, February 11, outlined in detail the concept for a Neutral Nations Commission. (Ibid., 751J.00/2–1161)
  7. In circular telegram 878, December 19, 1960, the Department provided guidance regarding U.S. attitudes to the Provisional Government of Laos of Prince Boum Oum and Phoumi Nosavan. In circular telegram 1004, January 12, the Department stated that the Boun Oum provisional government was fully legalized in accordance with the Lao Constitution and any claim by Souvanna Phouma that he headed a legal government was without foundation. (Ibid., 751J.02/12–1960 and 751J.02/1–1961)