239. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Laos0

524. Embtel 789.1 Following are comments and instructions on points raised your 789 and related messages:

If Phoumi under circumstances you describe withdraws or threatens to withdraw from political scene entirely, we would make best [Page 532] deal we could with Souvanna on coalition government. Our final acceptance of Souvanna government would still be conditioned by its overall composition and we would expect certain members of the present RLG or non-Xieng Khouang elements (such as Phoui, Ngon Sananikone, Ouan Heuan, Oudom Souvannavong, Tiao Souk Bouavong and conceivably Nhouy Abhay) would be successful in making arrangements with Souvanna. We might even find, given opportunism most Lao politicians, that all we would lose would be Phoumi himself and his closest followers.
Agree that we should attempt forestall any unilateral move by Phoumi to move RLG to southern Laos; we cannot allow him involve us in military action contrary to US policy and decision. Request niact any intentions Phoumi’s part. Depending on circumstances we could withdraw all MAAG assistance, suspend air flights for his troops, cease delivery supplies to FAR, and hold back financial payments to RLG. Phoumi should be under no illusion that he can take us with him to south Laos.
Agree that Phoumi most likely to follow third course of obstruction and delay you describe since it gives him room for maneuver where he could avoid giving us clear-cut issue on which to act. Moreover as you point out Souvanna unlikely present package which we can accept enthusiastically; thus Phoumi would expect some uncertainty on our part which he could turn to his advantage.

Your most recent telegrams indicate we may need take positive steps very shortly in order break present impasse between Princes. We propose for your comment following course of action in case meetings fail materialize in next few days:

You would see Phoumi, and Boun Oum if necessary, point out meeting of Princes encountering constant delays over technicalities and you have been instructed by your government to explore possibilities of settlement with Souvanna directly. You would explain this would not mean that we any less desirous that three Princes actually meet and negotiate, but that we believe situation has reached stage where we must know what Souvanna is thinking.

In your conversations with Souvanna you would urge him to announce make-up of his government as rapidly as possible, submitting his proposal to King for approval. You would warn Souvanna that in urging him take this step you emphasize absolute necessity of naming a cabinet which will justify support which all friends of Laos are anxious and waiting to afford him. Souvanna must realize that US can continue assistance to Laos only on basis genuine neutrality of government and policy. You would not hesitate to make positive suggestions in order assist him in making decisions. From our standpoint, positive statement that he intended invite Phoui and others of similar persuasion to join his [Page 533] government would be indication that he intends maintain proper balance within it. It would obviously help if he could go as far as naming Phoumi to Vice-Premiership or some other reasonably responsible cabinet post in order solicit his cooperation and avoid his open opposition or attempt to launch separatist movement in south. If Souvanna can come forth with suitable package to which positive support can be given it would short circuit endless process of negotiation and we would then have proposition with which we could go to Phoumi and ask his cooperation.

If package Souvanna produces is acceptable to us or at least one which we feel offers real basis for discussion we would so inform Phoumi. If he then refuses negotiate further with Souvanna or if negotiations once commenced founder because Phoumi fails follow our guidance, you would be authorized inform Phoumi that we no longer able work with him.

Extent to which we would combine this ultimate move with suspension aid to RLG depends upon Phoumi’s reaction. In general we would prefer accomplish change without disrupting whole civil and military apparatus thus keeping useful principle that our assistance is to legal RLG rather than individual Lao. However this would be delicate, tactical matter which we would leave to your judgment. In any case to complete our break with Phoumi we would envisage immediate reassignment of your liaison officer with him.

If we break with Phoumi it probable we would have to negotiate directly with Souvanna ourselves but we would wish to leave room open if possible for another Lao political figure to speak for Vientiane elements. Our choice for this spokesman would be Phoui but bringing him in some formal way would involve serious procedural and constitutional problems which could complicate and delay settlement. Request your suggestions on how Phoui might be brought into picture.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/12–161. Secret; Niact. Drafted by Cross; cleared by Anderson, Cleveland, Steeves, in substance with McGhee, and in draft with Harriman; and approved by Rusk. Repeated to Paris, London, Geneva, Saigon, Bangkok, and CINCPAC POLAD. On November 29, W. Averell Harriman replaced Walter McConaughy as Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs and Walt Rostow became Chairman of the Policy Planning Council and Counselor of the Department of State. George Ball replaced Chester Bowles as Under Secretary of State. See vol. I, pp. 670671.
  2. In telegram 789, December 1, the Embassy reported that Phoumi had been “singularly unresponsive” to persuasion or veiled threats of withdrawal of U.S. support. Brown suggested that Phoumi had three courses of action: to withdraw from the political scene, to move south to Savannakhet with his followers and fight on, or to continue to obstruct negotiations for the coalition. The last course of action appeared most likely to the Embassy. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/12–161)