352. Memorandum for the Record0


  • Presidential Conferences on Laos

4:30 p.m., Thursday, May 10, 1962

Present were: The President, Acting Secretary of State Ball, Assistant Secretary of State Harriman, General Taylor, General Decker, General Carter, Mr. Bohlen, Mr. Hilsman, Mr. Bundy, and Mr. Forrestal.

The President considered the memorandum dated May 10, 1962 with its attachments1 and received reports on the most recent developments from Secretary Ball, Secretary Harriman, and Mr. Hilsman.

There followed a general discussion during the course of which Mr. Bohlen made the point that it would not be wise to approach the Soviets again. He recalled that Ambassador Thompson had already approached Gromyko in Moscow,2 and that Harriman had spoken to Dobrynin in Washington.3 Further approaches, he thought, would not be productive.

Mr. Hilsman emphasized the need to take steps to indicate to the Communist side that we would not stand idly by in the face of probes such as Nam Tha. He suggested that the Communists were undoubtedly waiting to see what our reaction would be. The failure to react some way would be interpreted to mean that it was safe for the PL to press forward. He suggested that any move we make be tailored in such a fashion as not to provoke the Viet Minh or the Chinese into large-scale counter-action, but rather to suggest to them that we were prepared to resist encroachments beyond the cease-fire line.

The President observed that there was an unfortunate dearth of hard information on the situation and suggested that steps be taken to improve our intelligence from the field.

The President commented that the Secretaries of State and Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were out of the country and [Page 735] returning on Saturday.4 He said he wished to await their report before taking important decisions. He asked how long it would take for units of the 7th Fleet to reach the area. General Decker ascertained that it would require approximately 48 hours to bring the nearest units (2 attack aircraft carriers) to the vicinity of Bangkok.

The President decided that, purely as a preparatory move, appropriate units of the Fleet should be ordered to the Gulf of Siam. There would be no public announcement of this, and any further decisions would await the return of top government officials from the area.

The President directed that messages be sent explaining his orders on a confidential basis to the Ambassadors in Bangkok and Vientiane,5 the Secretaries of State and Defense, CINCPAC and General Lemnitzer. The President authorized the Department of State to inform the British in Washington on a confidential basis.

The meeting adjourned at 6 p.m.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Laos: General, 5/17/62–5/25/62. Top Secret. Prepared by Forrestal on May 23, apparently from notes he took at the meeting. According to Kennedy’s appointment book, this meeting at the White House did not begin until 5:05 p.m. and lasted until 6:11 p.m. In addition, it indicated that John McCone, rather than General Carter, attended. (Ibid., President’s Appointment Book)
  2. Document 351.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 347.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 346.
  5. May 12.
  6. The Department informed Ambassadors Brown and Young in telegram 982 to Vientiane, also sent to Bangkok as 1736, May 10. The brief telegram stated that the objective of the move was to influence re-establishment of an effective cease-fire and restore a situation in which a government of national union could be formed successfully. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/5–1062)