197. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Battle) to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)0


  • Weekly Summary, Geneva Conference, September 25–October 1, 1961

1. Developments in Laos

Meeting of Three Princes. In response to United States pressure and Sarit’s counsel, Phoumi has apparently changed his previous attitude by undertaking to negotiate in good faith with the Pathet Lao (PL) and Souvanna. The three Princes are now to meet at Ban Hin Heup October 6. Phoumi will agree to Souvanna as Premier presumptive, but hopes discussions on the actual composition of the government can be conducted subsequently at Luang Prabang in a “free atmosphere”. The actual designation of Souvanna, according to Phoumi, will depend on reaching an agreement satisfactory to all three factions. Phoumi’s views on the importance of the individuals named to the center group are very close to our own. The latest cabinet formula, reportedly acceptable to the PL, would include only three non-Xieng Khouang neutrals with seven from the Souvanna group. Phoumi proposes, however, to request four portfolios for the non-Xieng Khouang neutrals, one of whom would be Phoui Sananikone. To secure the other side’s acceptance this may mean an expansion of the cabinet along the lines proposed to Souvanna by the British Ambassador.1
Souvanna addressed a letter to King Savang September 27 assuring him of his loyalty to the throne and the King’s person and defending his policy of “strict neutrality” as the only possible solution for Laos and in which he feels the United States now concurs.

2. Geneva

In view of the recently quickened tempo in negotiations and the forthcoming end of the monsoon rains, Ambassador Harriman stresses [Page 451] the urgency of an agreement among the three Princes on the formation of a new government which alone will enable the Conference to reach a settlement including plans for demobilization and integration of the three armed forces. The Chinese and Soviets, however, claim the Conference can complete its work on the basis of the Zurich communiqu[ even without a unified government.

At the September 26 restricted session, after six items were approved, the Chinese delegate criticized Western dilatoriness and placed the responsibility for the present Lao situation on the United States for having supported the overthrow of Souvanna’s government last year. These charges were refuted by Ambassador Harriman. At a meeting of the Co-Chairmen, Chinese and United States delegates, the decision was made to have preliminary informal discussions of four major issues: ICC powers and functions; ICC voting procedures; Laos-SEATO relationship; the French presence in Laos.2

3. Washington Planning on Laos3

Three alternative plans for a solution of the Lao problem are being developed here concurrently to provide (1) for the possible negotiation of bilateral understandings with the Soviets on matters of particular concern to us which would ultimately be acceptable to the other powers at the Geneva Conference; (2) for limited military holding actions primarily in Southern Laos designed to protect the flank of South Viet-Nam and (3) for actual military intervention and SEATO Plan Five Expanded. The latter two are being prepared in the event that negotiations for a peaceful settlement fail.

L.D. Battle4
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 10/61. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text.
  2. In discussing the composition of the prospective government with Souvanna Phouma, British Ambassador Addis concluded that Souvanna was motivated primarily by a desire to reward those followers who remained loyal to him and by a feeling that the United States was interfering in Laos’ internal affairs. Addis, on his own initiative, suggested that rather than limiting the Xieng Khouang group of Souvanna’s followers, 4 moderate members should be added to the government. The formula would then be 8 (Souvanna and his followers); 4 (Pathet Lao); 4 (Phoumi followers); and 4 (new moderates). Souvanna was prepared to consider the idea, especially if the King chose the new moderates. (Telegram 506 from Vientiane, September 23; Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/9–2361)
  3. As reported in the weekly evaluation, telegram 681 from Geneva, September 30. (Ibid., 751J.00/9–3061)
  4. See Document 196.
  5. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature. Melvin S. Manfull of S/S signed for Battle.