221. Telegram From the Delegation to the Conference on Laos to the Department of State0

Confe 823. Eyes Only for the President and the Secretary from Harriman.

Agree with Department’s deep concern expressed in Deptel 421 to Vientiane.1 Reports of hostile activity close to Vientiane, enemy military movements generally, continued exploitation Xieng Khouang shelling, and warning in Souvanna’s latest message to Boun Oum, all give appearance of laying ground for holding RLG responsible for breakdown cease-fire and resumption hostilities. Throughout the reports of Phoumi’s private and public statements in recent weeks, one cannot fail to gain increasingly impression that he has little or no intention of negotiating in good faith. I am of course particularly impressed by his recent allegation to King and Phoui that I did not urge him to negotiate for coalition government.

I believe it is time for Ambassador Brown to use tough line which he was authorized to use shortly after I left Vientiane mid-September.2 I was already disturbed then that Phoumi had and would continue to fail to act in good faith. Phoumi, either from inertia or by adroit, deliberate action is leading US to war in Laos.

Indications here lead me to be convinced ChiComs will intervene if SEATO troops enter Laos. Chinese food situation will not affect ability for major military effort. After all, her industrial capacity is now vastly superior to 1950. Although negotiations here seem to give conclusive evidence of Soviet desire for peaceful settlement Laos, Soviets will support with most modern materiel needed any ChiCom engagement with US, regardless of Communist Party differences at Moscow meeting.

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It is fantastic that General Phoumi, who is entirely US creation, should be permitted to continue to dictate American policy. Time is running out fast.

Souvanna cannot be expected to turn from his Xieng Khouang supporters until there is reasonable evidence that we will support him if he turns our way. RLG must also show him their intention to support him and not undercut him again if coalition formed.

I recommend that Ambassador Brown be instructed to send at once competent Embassy officer to make contact with Souvanna in Xieng Khouang. The Russians don’t hesitate to send their Ambassador to Vientiane if it suits their purpose. The effect on Phoumi can only be added evidence of the seriousness of our intentions. Phoumi should now be told that we expect him to go to Plaine des Jarres for proposed meeting with Souvanna with or without Boun Oum. With the best of good will, there are difficult negotiations ahead among the Princes, both on composition of government and integration forces, but if Phoumi will engage in serious negotiations, present suspicions of bad faith on our part as well as Phoumi’s can be allayed and cease-fire thereby maintained.3

Bowles mentioned Harriman’s cable regarding Phoumi’s efforts to sabotage what is going on there. Bowles understands the President pushed this hard this afternoon with Alex, and Alex is seeing the Secretary at 7. Ball said he was going to be there. Bowles said he wanted to register his vote to be tough about this. We can’t let these fellows start a war. Ball agreed.” (Kennedy Library, Ball Papers, Cambodia)

There is no record of the President meeting with U. Alexis Johnson on November 6. (Ibid., President’s Appointment Book) Secretary Rusk met with Ball, Johnson, Cleveland, McConaughy, Cottrell, Hilsman, and Jordan at 7:05 p.m. to discuss Vietnam and Laos. At 8:36 p.m. all but Johnson and McConaughy left the meeting. There is no indication when these two men departed, nor has any other record been found of this meeting. (Johnson Library, Rusk Appointment Book)

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/11–661. Top Secret; Niact. Repeated priority to Vientiane eyes only for Ambassador Brown.
  2. In telegram 421, November 3, the Department informed Brown that it was “deeply disturbed” at the RLG’s decision not to meet Souvanna in Luang Prabang and instructed Brown to “continue to lose no opportunity bring home RLG importance of moving forward with constructive negotiations.” (Ibid., 751J.00/11–361)
  3. See footnote 2, Document 189.
  4. At 6:45 p.m., November 6, Bowles telephoned Ball to discuss Harriman’s telegram. The transcribed telephone conversation reads: