354. Memorandum of Telephone Conversation Between President Kennedy and Acting Secretary of State Ball0

The President asked what was the word from Laos. Ball said there is word in from Viet-Nam in which they indicate the FM is talking about going to SEATO and the UN. They have declared an emergency in the country. We have sent a wire back saying we think it would be unwise for SEATO; that it would be a disaster. It would stir things up until we know how things come out with the Soviet Union and we would very much discourage any appeal to the UN. The President asked if Souphanouvong had sent a message and Ball said he understood he sent a message from Paris.1 The President asked that this be checked out to see if it was released, what was said, and the response. He asked if there was any word from the Russians, and Ball replied not yet. The President asked what was the judgment of our experts.

Ball said Chip’s views are that it may well be they let the boys loose to see how serious the opposition would be, and since there was no difficulty that they may go on, but we will have to wait for response from Khrushchev. We have drafted a letter for the President to send to Khrushchev.2 Ball thinks the President should realize we think it amounts to a considerable commitment because if he calls our bluff—he wonders if we want to be put in a position of having some threat in the letter. We are in a position now where we hold small cards and having our bluff called would put us in a bad position. Ball thought the American people would understand we cannot prop up a country if they [Page 741] won’t fight themselves. It looks as though the whole retreat was contrived, as though Phoumi was willing to see it take place, scaring us and getting us involved. The very fact he was not there is possible he had a good idea of what was happening. He is in Vientiane now.

The President said we would get the blame. What are we to do so far as our background story. Ball replied our people were working it out and he is seeing people. The President asked should we get the leadership in and Ball said the Secretary would be back tonight. We might get something back from Moscow over the weekend. In the meantime the situation should be clearer over there. The President asked if there was any word from the British, and Ball replied not yet.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, Ball Papers, Laos. No classification marking. Transcribed in Ball’s office.
  2. Reference apparently should be to Souvanna Phouma who was in Paris.
  3. The draft letter, May 11, was written by Koren and sent to the White House on that date. In it, the President reminded Khrushchev of the Vienna understanding and the need for a cease-fire and stated that the recent Pathet Lao attacks on Nam Tha and Muong Sing were flagrant violations of the cease-fire. This aggression occurred, the letter continued, just when U.S. pressure on the RLG was working. Even Souvanna realized this, condemned the attacks, and asked the Pathet Lao to return to the areas they held on May 3. The letter contained a statement that if the attacks continued, the United States would be forced to honor its commitment to Laos, and informed Khrushchev that the United States was already taking certain precautionary military measures. The President added that he was prepared to make additional moves if necessary. (Department of State, Central Files, 751J.00/5–1162)