180. Telegram From the Embassy in Italy to the Department of State0

882. From Harriman.

Pushkin had most of our delegation to dinner last night and took me upstairs to his study after dinner for two and one-half hours talk alone. He strongly claimed Soviets want truly neutral independent Laos and ready come to agreement with us not only to assure establishment Souvanna and neutral government but maintain after election. In reply my direct questions he said Soviets could and would control North Viet-Nam and continue support Souvanna against possible Pathet Lao political or military aggression. I asked “what kind of neutrality?”; he replied “your kind” and pointed to Finland. I asked how long, suggesting five years. He replied “longer.” Laos could be last country to succumb to Communism. I commented that Khrushchev had promised me and my guests in New York that US would be the last. He then amended his statement with a smile to “Laos should be next to last.”

He described role Soviets contemplate for co-chairmen. Soviets to police Communist bloc to assure adherence agreement, whereas British should police non-Communists. He was particularly suspicious of Thailand and South Viet-Nam. Co-chairmen, he said, should supplement ICC and could be really effective. He admitted terms Soviet draft would have to be altered to avoid our complaint co-chairmen could veto ICC action. He said Soviet objective was to make agreement so effective in Laos ICC would have as little to do after first period as in Cambodia. He said we had difficult friends, meaning Sarit and Diem not fully supported by people. I pointed to Soviet greater difficulty with Ulbricht and also North Viet-Nam, who wanted to use Laos as a corridor to penetrate South Viet-Nam and Thailand. He reiterated North Viet-Nam ready to live up to agreement with us if reached. Soviets could guarantee that. Also Pathet Lao. Pushkin offered to bring us together with Vongvichit to talk over Pathet Lao future policies if I wished to hear attitude at first hand. I said I might want to on my return.

I felt him out on why not settle hostilities between two Viet-Nams, accepting division with peaceful relations between them. He agreed this might be desirable but beyond his authority to discuss.

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He gave me Soviet version of history recent events Laos. There had been no Russian in Laos before October last year. “Military?”, I asked. He replied, no Russian “civilian or military.” When Thailand shut off supplies to Laos, Souvanna first asked Soviets for rice and sugar which were supplied. Military support came after Phoumi’s plans for coup threatened. Then Soviets gave highest priority to shipment and had hoped Souvanna could hold Vientiane against Phoumi. But, he claimed, Thai military personnel and our advisers prevented that. Thereafter, Soviet poured in military supplies. He did not deny Viet-Minh help. Phoumi’s forces were thus beaten. Now Soviets were serious in desiring peaceful solution. He fully accepted President Kennedy’s change in policy towards neutrals in general and Laos in particular.

I explained objective my talks with Souvanna was to reach understanding he could rely on West equally as Communist Bloc, no more, no less. Also understanding regarding integration military forces and liquidation private Pathet Lao forces. Pathet Lao as well as Phoumi would have to be absorbed into army loyal to neutral government of Souvanna. He accepted this as conforming to Soviet policy. I also explained unity government should have competent neutral personalities. He made no direct comment but offered no objection.

In reply to my question, he said Soviets wanted Laos settlement regardless of Berlin developments.1

I have told MacDonald and Roux regarding Pushkin proposal for role of co-chairmen.

Request no other discussion of this conversation with foreign governments at this time.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9–1361. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution; Noforn. Repeated to Geneva, Paris, London, Saigon, Bangkok, New Delhi, priority to Rangoon and Vientiane, and to Moscow. Harriman was en route to Burma for his discussion with Souvanna Phouma; see Document 184. The discussion he describes in this telegram took place in Geneva.
  2. In telegram 500 from Belgrade, “Personal and Eyes Only for Secretary,” September 18, Kennan commented that the Harriman-Pushkin talk was “gratifying evidence of genuine Soviet readiness to collaborate in finding a mutually tolerable solution to the Laos problem.” Kennan considered that a bilateral discussion was now established and his channel through the Soviet Ambassador in Belgrade was no longer necessary. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9–1861) Ambassador Thompson in Moscow commented, in telegram 951 from Moscow, September 19, that the Harriman-Pushkin exchange confirmed that the Soviets desired a settlement in Laos and were in a position to insist that the Chinese also go along with the agreement. (Ibid., 751J.00/9–1961)