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

718. Reference: Deptel 450.1

I have following comments on timely guidance contained reftel with respect position RLG should take in forthcoming negotiations with Souvanna and Souphanouvong:

Most important problem is obviously composition of govt which contains potentially explosive issue of Phoumi’s personal position. Basic principle with which PL will enter talks is that they should have absolute equality with RLG in number and importance portfolios. Basic principles with which Souvanna will negotiate are that Defense and Interior should be held by center group which should include his six principal companions in exile. Almost sine qua non in Phoumi’s eyes is that he should hold Defense or Interior (probably only former if police and or gendarm[rie remain in Defense) since army and police when organized are only real sources of physical power.
I think it can be taken for granted, short of convincing demonstration that U.S. is prepared to fight or remain in status quo if it is impossible obtain one of these positions for him, and possibly not even then, that Souvanna and PL will never agree to Phoumi’s holding either Defense or Interior. Therefore, if we wish an agreed government on national union, we will, despite our feeling that he should hold one of these posts (Embtel 5432 and Deptel 322),3 almost certainly, at some point, have to yield on this and advise Phoumi to do so. This is position taken in reference telegram.
We should be clear, however, as to risks involved in taking this position. Phoumi will certainly have to be forced into it and this will not leave him much stomach for hard bargaining with Souvanna on other points. (He said to me other day (Embtel 703)4 that fact Souvanna insisting on keeping Defense for himself and Interior for Pheng Phongsavan rendered negotiations fruitless.) Effect of US acquiescence in Phoumi’s accepting a position of lesser importance, indeed pressure on him to do so, will certainly lead him, and others in Laos and neighboring countries, to wonder as to reliability of US support and could lead to considerable [Page 515] demoralization among conservative leaders, army officers and officials, with consequent temptation to come to terms with what would appear to them to be the winning side. Phoumi might even regard this as last straw in long series of concessions US has forced him to make and, although we might feel we could live with total package Souvanna proposes, Phoumi might refuse to accept it and withdraw from political scene into exile or take the gamble of unsupported withdrawal to the south (Embtel 92).5 Another potential hazard in this connection, though I consider it unlikely, is that Phoumi might be able to induce King, who has final say in composition of new government, to refuse accept slate proposed by Souvanna. US would then be in invidious position of having to apply strong pressure not only to Phoumi but to King to force them to accept government which in their judgment likely soon come under Communist domination. Consequences of this in terms of demoralization conservative elements and adverse repercussions in neighboring countries would be obvious.
Therefore we should certainly not advise Phoumi to concede on Defense or Interior unless and until we are satisfied that proposed package is such that he in combination with others can have reasonable chance of keeping government from PL domination, and in which matters of elections and integration are satisfactorily dealt with.
CHMAAG, CAS COS, ARMA and Dir USIS feel that unless US willing support Phoumi as MinDef, or some alternative arrangement which Phoumi himself considers provides equal safeguards for conservative beachhead in Souvanna government, it must be prepared witness rapid disintegration and demoralization of RLG, FAL, bureaucracy, and of loose but so far durable support of other independent political leaders for present RLG as only acceptable alternative to XK regime headed by Souvanna and dominated by Pathet Lao and Vietminh. This demoralization of conservative and independent political elements and new power and psychological realities which would then prevail, namely crumbling of US position in Laos on the one hand, and on the other, the clear-cut political and military victory of the PL, with the Vietminh in immediate reserve, will result in inevitable communization of Laos. This result, with its dangerous consequences for US prestige in the rest of Southeast Asia, probably all of Asia, and the fact that communization of Laos will facilitate Viet Cong use of south Laos corridor into South Vietnam, leads them to conclusion that it better now accept risk of war in Laos, which is inherent in strong US support of Phoumi as MinDef than to accept communization of Laos which in their judgment will result in withdrawing US support from Phoumi on this issue.
Foregoing emphasizes importance of overall composition of new govt if we are to have chance of keeping it from being dominated by PL. Indeed best chance of persuading Phoumi and other leading conservatives to participate will lie in degree to which we hold to our positions that center must be representative, that PL must not hold major portfolios and that non-XK neutralists should be given significant posts. Person chosen as Secretary of State for Defense would be important. While I do not believe that US can or should take position of breaking off negotiations or obstructing formation of govt of national union on sole issue of Phoumi’s having Defense or Interior, we would be on sound ground in basing judgment of support or non-support on overall composition of government.
It seems to me that Information, Education and Cults are all more important Ministries than Justice. I agree that Phoumi [Phoui] should be included and will probably have to come in as RLG nominee.
Re numbered para 1 reftel and in particular statement that “whatever formula Lao agree upon we would wish see included as many non-XK neutrals as possible,” we should still advise Phoumi to enter negotiations this matter on basis position set forth numbered para 1(a) Embtel 543—i.e. that he should insist initially on 4–4 division of center group of eight and be prepared to fall back from this position to enlargement or other formula only in exchange for concessions from other side. Extent to which he should be prepared fall back should depend in final analysis on composition of entire “package” he would be able to work out with Souvanna, particularly matter of who gets what posts.
Re number para 5 Reftel, I believe Souphanouvong likely insist on dissolution Assembly with consequent constitutional requirement elections within 90 days. I do not see how Phoumi could yield on this point.
Re para 6, Vang Phao has already, at my insistence, given orders cease attacks on Xieng Khouang Ville, XK Ville-Khang Khay road, and the two roads leading east and south respectively from XK Ville within five kms of XK Ville. Sen, at my request, has asked Souvanna get PL stop harassing Meo positions. No results so far.
Re para 7 Reftel, I have already discussed substance of problem with Addis and believe he will be prepared cooperate fully along lines indicated.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/11–1661. Secret; Priority. Repeated priority to Geneva for Fecon and to London, Paris, Bangkok, and Saigon.
  2. Document 225.
  3. Dated October 3. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/10–361)
  4. See footnote 3, Document 203.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 227.
  6. Document 137.