184. Telegram From the Embassy in Laos to the Department of State0

479. For President and Secretary from Harriman. USUN for Secretary. Other addressees for Ambassadors.

Except for Souvanna’s utterly unacceptable position on selection six or seven out of eight in center cabinet from his Xieng Khouang followers, talks with him on other points were on the whole more satisfactory than I expected.1 He is of course unduly confident of his own strength and capabilities, but took a realistic position on several subjects, particularly the problems of elections. He considers the Pathet Lao his opponents who must at all costs be beaten. He will select time most propitious after demobilization of surplus forces. He said only recourse was to fight if election lost to PL as he and his followers were unwilling see country go Communist. Although he realizes he must renounce SEATO protection, he volunteered statement that if Laos attacked from outside, such as North Vietnam, he would call on friendly countries for help as member of United Nations.

Other points were (1) he unqualifiedly accepted responsibility to close Laos as corridor for Viet Cong, (2) expressed loyalty to King—“without throne Laos could not exist”—but will not go LP until Princes agree on him as PriMin, (3) clearly understands need for integration, census and demobilization surplus forces to avoid private PL Army but believes details of demobilization can be better handled by new government. He said “decision of cabinet better than bilateral discussions,” meaning with Souphanouvong. Anyway detailed agreement would cause, he thinks, undue delay in formation new government which he considers should be agreed to earliest possible. He is fearful PL will gain under existing conditions. (4) His idea of size of army and police forces about the same as ours but he considers integration best carried out by individuals rather than units. He said, “We must not make same mistakes as in 1957.” (5) He understands need to demobilize forces before election and hopes to replace local PL administrators recently appointed before elections. (6) He talked sensibly about cooperation [Page 420] with other non-Communists to join in putting up only one candidate in each district to avoid split of votes against PL. (7) His tentative agreement with the PL for their positions in cabinet is on the whole as good as we could expect. Phoumi, however, cannot have Defense or Interior which he reserves for his own followers. (8) He appeared willing accept wording “with cooperation” rather than “with agreement” of government for investigations requested by ICC or individual member, but didn’t commit himself and wants to think it over. (9) He readily agreed to continuation of French military presence. Stated Souphanouvong also agreed as it was part of 1954 Accord. In fact, Souphanouvong had insisted on this being included in Zurich communique against Phoumi’s opposition. Details should be worked out between new government and French. (10) He agreed on the great importance of strict maintenance of the cease-fire by all concerned and assured me that general resumption of hostilities would never come from his side. It would however continue necessary police action to protect population in his areas against mining of roads and other types of guerrilla action. He asked me urge Vientiane to cease rousing Meo against Lao, to moderate Meo guerrilla action, and to stop parachuting men behind his lines. He had no objection to airdrop of supplies. I agreed with him it desirable hold down minor clashes because of danger they might develop into major ones, and said I believed I could assure him that Vientiane would not be responsible for any major resumption of hostilities.

Ambassador Brown agrees I could not have been more definite in telling him on several occasions that you could not support him unless he took three or four of his ministers from moderates outside Xieng Khouang. I told him four times that this was the crucial issue and twice that you could not support him if he did not accept outsiders proposed above, and this was the last word I left with him.

Fromer spoke to Pheng three times and once to Khamchan, emphasizing crucial nature U.S. condition on government center, and urged they make this clear to Souvanna.

Souvanna gave me impression he had made commitments in XK and kept saying question was difficult though he might accept one or two from Vientiane. He did agree on two occasions to consult his associates when he got back.

Typical of Souvanna and most disquieting was his press conference shortly after I had shown him my own noncommittal release. He gave press impression we had agreed on him as PriMin and definitely stated three foreign secretaries in Paris had agreed to accept him. At dinner after press conference, he volunteered to Brown that there may have been a mistake in translation to press but did not specify what this was.

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I have seen Addis, British Ambassador, on my arrival Vientiane and have suggested he get instructions with Washington [London?] approval to go soonest XK and repeat what I said to Souvanna and tell him that he will be responsible for collapse if he fails to agree our proposal on composition center. Addis may wish say this in presence Souvanna’s colleagues. I will address letter Addis quoting what I said to Souvanna for Addis to read to Souvanna and if necessary, his colleagues. Addis has agreed seek London’s instructions.

I will also advise Phoumi and King to insist on my proposed composition center of government.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9–1861. Secret; Niact. Repeated priority to Bangkok, niact to London and Paris, Phnom Penh, priority to Saigon, Geneva for Fecon, CINCPAC for POLAD, Moscow, New Delhi, and niact to USUN.
  2. Harriman arrived in Rangoon on September 14 and remained there until September 17. He held five formal meetings with Souvanna and at least four more informal discussions. These talks are reported on in detail in telegrams 244, 248, 249, 253, 256, 257, 258, and 259 from Rangoon, September 15–18, and telegram 478 from Vientiane, September 18. (Ibid., 751J.00/9–1561, 751J.00/9–1761, and 751J.00/9–1861) Harriman traveled to Vientiane on September 18.
  3. A long account of Harriman’s 2-hour discussion with King Savang at Luang Prabang at 11 a.m. on September 19 is in telegram 486 from Vientiane, September 20. (Ibid., 751J.00/9–2061) For Harriman’s discussion with Phoumi, see Document 185.