17. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Laos


  • The Secretary
  • J. Graham Parsons, Assistant Secretary for Far Eastern Affairs
  • Christian G. Chapman, Officer in Charge of Laos Affairs
  • His Excellency Mikhail A. Menshikov, Ambassador of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
  • Nikifor Levchenko, Second Secretary of the Soviet Embassy

The Secretary requested the Soviet Ambassador to come to the Department to discuss Laos. The Secretary introduced the topic by stating that Laos was one of the situations to which the new Administration had to turn its attention immediately after taking office. While obviously concerned that the fighting might spread and the activities of the various powers might lead to dangers which all wished to diminish, the Administration still thought that there were elements for a reasonable solution as we understood the long-range objectives of both sides. The Secretary made clear the desire of the new Administration to see Laos “independent, a genuine neutral unaligned in its international relations but free to exercise its sovereign right to manage its own affairs and provide for its national integrity.” The Secretary explained that he had called the Ambassador in because he wanted to let the Soviets know right away our reaction to two developments which had occurred over the weekend:

The King of Laos had issued a declaration1 insisting on the neutrality of his country and offering guarantees of this neutrality by inviting Southeast Asian countries to form a Commission to bear witness to the neutrality of Laos.
The Soviet Government had replied to the British by proposing that the Chairman of the ICC be approached to reactivate the ICC and a conference be called to work out a settlement.2

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The United States, the Secretary said, very much hoped that the Soviet Government would permit the Southeast Asian countries and the Royal Lao Government to work out together a solution thus minimizing controversy and permitting prompt implementation of a settlement. For its part, the United States is prepared to cooperate fully to help carry out the King’s proposal but does not believe that it would be helpful at the present stage of our relations to call an international conference. Such a conference would be public and would stimulate public debate and would not be as conducive to a settlement as a quieter approach. Therefore, we wanted the Soviets to know that we considered the King’s proposal a very useful basis for a genuinely neutral Laos which might take the country out of the area of sharp controversy from which a more dangerous situation could evolve. We considered the King’s proposal offered every guarantee of the neutrality of his country and the steps he proposed seemed constructive. We hoped therefore that the Soviets would also cooperate and let the three Southeast Asian countries, Burma, Malaya, and Cambodia, which have been named by the King, function and provide machinery satisfactory to both the Soviets and ourselves.

The Ambassador asked whether the Secretary would give him anything in writing. The Secretary answered that he would not but only wanted to give our reaction to the Soviets immediately, particularly as we were expecting a communication from them on the subject of the ICC. The Secretary repeated that it was President Kennedy’s desire to see Laos independent, neutral, and a threat to no one and that we were prepared to cooperate to this end.

The Ambassador remarked that this objective is what the Soviets had been seeking all the time; that they had considered a neutral Laos as the best solution ever since the 1954 conference. The Government of Souvanna Phouma, he continued, had tried to do something in this direction when General Phoumi, Prince Boun Oum, and their group threw him out. Somebody, he said, wanted to establish a pro-Western government, which was unfortunate. He was not instructed, but speaking personally, he still hoped that a conference would be held. Such a conference, he said, was a better approach, more objective and provided a solid foundation to a settlement. If one had been called two months ago, all would have been settled by now. Regarding the King’s declaration, he remarked that the King was “more or less captive of these rebels.”

The Secretary pointed out that what the King was seeking was not only the neutralization of his country but also a government of national union. The Secretary considered this move constructive. He recognized that we took different points of view regarding the legality of the Lao Government. We do not know, the Secretary said, what the possibilities [Page 58] are of broadening the Government but we understand that discussions are going on in Vientiane. It would be well, he said, to let this effort proceed. We think it has a fair chance of being successful. Furthermore, there is a keen interest among Southeast Asian countries to avoid creating a situation whereby peace would be disturbed. We were concerned over the possibilities that an international conference with maximum public attention and argumentation reaching back over many years would have an unsettling effect. Finally, the Secretary remarked that there was no guarantee a conference would produce a better settlement and possibly it might be worse than the one proposed by the King.

The Ambassador expressed the view publicity was not necessary and that the press could be kept out by the participants in a conference.

Again speaking personally, the Ambassador said that the establishment of an international body as proposed by the King was “one-sided.” He thought that many of the problems of today could be solved comparatively easily if they were not approached on a one-sided basis. The Congo and Laos were examples. Instead, an international conference comprising all interested countries could establish international machinery on a sound basis.

The Secretary answered that the problem is whether we cannot let these questions be taken over by peoples not directly involved in a world-wide relationship such as the Soviets and ourselves. The Secretary further specified that Laos is the country of the Lao. They want to be neutrals. They ask other countries whose neutrality is recognized to assist them in certifying their neutrality. If the Soviets and ourselves are in Laos, difficulties may arise.

Menshikov noted that China was there and that, unless all interested countries participated, Laos could only be considered half-neutral.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/2–2061. Confidential. Drafted by Chapman and approved in S on March 3. The conversation took place at the Department of State.
  2. Text of the statement, which was carefully coordinated with the U.S. Embassy, is in American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 991–992.
  3. The Soviet reply was an oral statement made by Georgi M. Pushkin, Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister, to British Ambassador in Moscow, Sir Frank Roberts, on February 18. Puskin also reacted negatively when Roberts raised the idea of a neutral nations commission. (Memorandum from Parsons to Rusk, February 20; Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/2–2061)