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

Confe 866. From Harriman. Reference: Vientiane 718 to Dept Geneva 468.1

Supplementing the verbal comments I made to Steeves and Cross on telephone Friday,2 I want to state emphatically that in my judgment it would be unsound negotiating tactics and counter-productive for Phoumi to start his negotiations with Souvanna on the old and already rejected basis of (1) demanding Defense or Interior for himself, and (2) demanding half of center eight for non-Xieng Khouang neutrals. This would be interpreted by Souvanna and others to mean that US was not seriously attempting to come to agreement. A new negotiating position should be taken from which we can hope to obtain desirable results. Souvanna is determined to control both Defense and Interior, and will not give them up to Pathet Lao or Phoumi. He does not trust the Pathet Lao or Phoumi, who has made no effort to follow our advice to compose his differences with Souvanna and gain his confidence. Souvanna [Page 519] knows Phoumi as the man who was responsible for turning him out. We cannot successfully insist that he be in one of the two posts, capable of upsetting Souvanna’s government. Souvanna has been consistently insisting on including in govt six of his Xieng Khouang followers. He has made it clear that he wants these men in govt in whom he personally has confidence will continue to support him. He has suggested, however, additions cabinet which might give up to four places to non-Xieng Khouang neutrals. I suggest that this be made an area of trading, both in numbers and quality, as well as entire range of composition cabinet posts. Our only hope of successful neutrality and independence for Laos is in strengthening Souvanna against Pathet Lao, not attempting to undermine him. Incidentally, I believe that Phoumi is an inadequate instrument to further US policy in a government of national unity. If agreement is reached, we are out militarily, but can plan an important and perhaps decisive role politically and economically. In these areas Phoumi has little value. In addition to Souvanna, our relationship should perhaps be developed with Phoui and other political leaders.

I recognize difficulties of negotiating with Souvanna through Phoumi, and Ambassador Brown should give consideration to alternatives if Phoumi fails to battle for our objectives. In this complex situation, Ambassador Brown should be given considerable latitude in methods he uses to obtain President’s objectives. He can draw upon guidance given him in Deptel 450 to Vientiane.3 Risks of supporting a Souvanna govt are obvious but these risks can be reduced if we gain Souvanna’s confidence in our intention to support him provided he maintains independence from Commie domination. Then we would be in a better position to convince him of need to bring in right type of associates in various important positions.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/11–1961. Secret; Niact. Repeated niact to Vientiane and to Bangkok, London, Paris, and Saigon.
  2. Document 229.
  3. No other record of this telephone call on November 17 has been found.
  4. Document 225.