445. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Laos


  • The United States:
    • The President
    • Leonard Unger, United States Ambassador to Laos
    • Angier Biddle Duke, US Chief of Protocol
    • Michael V. Forrestal, The White House
    • Alec G. Toumayan, Language Services, Department of State
  • Laos:
    • His Majesty Sri Savang Vatthana, King of Laos

After welcoming His Majesty, the President pointed out that it was very interesting for us to hear that he was going to Peiping. With the exception of the occasional talks at Warsaw, we have had no contact at all with the Chinese Communists in over fifteen years and we had found them to be very hard. The King replied that having known the Chinese for a great many years, the Lao understood their intentions well: the Chinese intended to re-establish their rule over entire Southeast Asia, and, to that end, all forms of action, depending upon the particular moment or circumstances, would be used by the Chinese. Ancient records showed that centuries ago the Kingdom of Laos and the Empire of Annam had been vassals of the Chinese. The use of the Communist ideology [Page 941] was only one instrument applied by the Chinese to penetrate Southeast Asia and to re-establish their rule there. The King added that the Chinese cannot accept the fact that the Lao would escape their influence and come under the influence of the West; they cannot even accept that they would come under the influence of the Russians. The King said that he himself is the object of a very active Chinese Communist propaganda campaign.

To a question of the President, the King replied that Chou En-lai had extended an invitation to him indicating that he would receive a royal welcome. The President pointed out that, perhaps, the situation to which the King alluded might occur, but the relations between China and the Soviet Union were very complex. China was so far from being a great military power that times could change and the Chinese would turn to the North rather than the South. It was our interest, therefore, to maintain the internal position of Laos, to support the Prime Minister and General Phoumi and to support the neutralist and conservative elements. The President assured the King that his personal prestige as King would be a powerful weapon for any government. The King indicated that he understood that the Chinese were also interested in the North because the only soils which would enable them to find a rational solution to their problem were in that direction. To the South, the soils were not of very great quality and what there are, are outside of Laos; to the North the soils are of a much richer quality. The Russians, however, were forewarned and had established not only agricultural colonies, but also armed colonies, and, as a result, the King did not think that the Chinese would reach their objectives there. There remained only a takeover, economic and cultural, and this was more than likely at present. Later, when the Chinese were sufficiently developed, they might then turn to the North. The King told the President that he was worried about the Chinese developing a network of roads to penetrate Laos. In particular, a road was being built which could be extended either to the Mekong River or to Luang Prabang. When an international reaction would set in, that is when the United States reacts against this so-called pacific penetration of the Chinese, a very delicate situation would be created.

With regard to the so-called National Union Government, the King said the difficulty was that this Government was the result of an international process and was not suitable to anyone in Laos. Neither the Pathet Lao, nor the rightist, nor neutralist faction accepted it; no one accepted it. Only last month the King had been told of measures that would be taken as early as October to bring about the overthrow of this Government. Responding to a question of the President as to how the Government could be made to last, the King indicated that a man of strong character was needed, but said that no such man existed at present. The President asked the King if Prince Souphanouvong was a true Communist, [Page 942] and the King answered that the Prince did not carry much weight with the Communists. For example, the King said when decisions were made in the Cabinet and all three of them (Souphanouvong, Phoumi and Souvanna) agreed to a decision, the next day Souphanouvong would come and say that he regretted very much but his party would not go along with the decision. This sort of thing happened every day. When a disagreement came near the bursting point, a decision would then be made to issue a joint release, but it would not be implemented. The King added that he regretted very much having to tell the President these truths about his country, but this was something that all Lao people knew.

To a question of the President as to what means might be used to overthrow the Government, the King replied that in the present situation an overthrow would bring about serious international reactions and that all of the Lao were aware of this. Both left and right wings constantly hampered the Prime Minister; it could truly be said that no decision of the Prime Minister was carried out. The Pathet Lao might agree one day, but the next day would go back on their agreement. They might decide that all roads would be open and all the country open, but the Prime Minister himself could not go where he pleased, and, at one time, his plane (a Russian-made plane, not even an American plane) had been prevented from landing and he had to turn back to Vientiane. The King pointed out that this partition was not affecting the population; the people kept seeing one another and trading with one another; the partition was between the political factions.

To a question of the President as to what measures could be taken by the United States to help, the King replied that it was difficult to recommend the support of one government or another government, but in view of the support given by some foreign countries to one or another faction, it would be very difficult to reach an agreement if no agreement were reached among these foreign countries. If all foreign troops were cleared from Laos, there would be no difficulty because one would simply call on public opinion to elicit the true sentiments of the people. There were 95% out of sympathy with the Communists. The King stressed the importance of the departure of all foreign troops; if this departure did not take place, then no solution was in sight. The President indicated that the ICC could play a large role in troop withdrawal. The President added that American troops had been withdrawn, but we knew that the Viet Minh were present. The ICC has not operated as well as it could have, partly because it has been bound by the rule of unanimity, and partly because India and Canada have not pushed as much as they could have. The King explained that in the Agreements, the concurrence of the Lao Government has to be asked and each time this concurrence was asked there was no agreement on giving it; therefore, they [Page 943] were in actual fact prisoner of the text and the ICC could not operate. The President asked Ambassador Unger if he had any comments on that particular point and suggested to the Ambassador that he speak to the King directly in French. Ambassador Unger explained to the King the meaning of the particular clause of the Geneva Agreement referring to the concurrence of the Lao Government. Ambassador Unger pointed out that the United States and other signatories understand that the RLG, when it signed the Geneva Accords in July, 1962, at that time gave its approval to investigations by the ICC of violations of the Accords. Therefore it is not necessary for the ICC to secure the accord of the RLG to undertake an investigation; all that is required is the working out of the requisite practical arrangements, which the RLG is pledged to facilitate.

The King pointed out that one could not talk of three parties in the government because in the neutralist faction only Prince Souvanna was a true neutralist. Other persons had been sent by the Pathet Lao to infiltrate the neutralist party and in actual fact there were only two parties. The President stated that it is his feeling that Chairman Khrushchev does not want the situation to change and does not want the Chinese to take over in Southeast Asia. The King concurred and indicated that Chairman Khrushchev had told him so himself. The President pointed out that the Polish were responsible to the Soviet Union and would be able to influence the ICC by carrying out instructions they receive from the Russians. The King agreed that all parties received instructions with respect to the carrying out of investigations, but with respect to the objectivity of those investigations, the instructions were to block them completely. The King recalled that he had told the President that the Lao and the Indo-Chinese problem were tied; as long as there was no solution to the problem of South Viet-Nam there would be no solution to Laos. Even if troops had been withdrawn from one city or another, the barrier would have still remained at the point where the supply roads were beginning to go to the South. The task of the ICC has been clearly complicated by the fact that its scope of action has been limited to such a few miles, thereby permitting troops to be easily withdrawn in the interval before the decision to carry an investigation and the actual investigation. The King said that the ICC had received an authorization to land at Kieng Khouang and Phong Saly, but not to go to Tchepone. (At this point Ambassador Unger noted that the RLG has in fact recently requested the ICC to make an investigation at Tchepone.) In conclusion the King remarked that he was trying to keep the Communists from taking over his country entirely; the Communists were already there but he was trying to prevent their complete takeover.

The President pointed out that there were three positive factors: (1) that 95% of the population was neither Communist nor sympathizers; [Page 944] (2) that the Soviet Union did not want Laos to fall under the Chinese orbit and that Chairman Khrushchev wants to maintain the situation as it is at present; and (3) that the United States has made a commitment, as it has also for South Korea and South Viet-Nam and even though the Chinese number 750 million people, this commitment of the United States constitutes an important element. Nevertheless, the situation is very dangerous. In concluding, the President stressed the fact that the Russians could play an active role in Laos.

The President then escorted the King into the Cabinet Room where the King’s Ministers were awaiting (the Prime Minister, Minister Phoumi Vongvichit, Minister Ngon Sananikone, Lao Ambassador to the United States Prince Khampan, Mr. Koren and Mr. Cross). The President expressed his thanks to the Ministers for having come with the King and indicated our concern for the success of the Geneva Agreements. The United States, he said, signed the Agreements in good faith and would endeavor to keep Laos neutral and independent because this was important, not only for peace in Asia, but for the peace of the entire world. If this effort failed, the efforts of all 14 signatories would then be reduced to nothing, Laos would not be neutral and independent and a very difficult situation would exist for the entire world. The President felt sure that the Royal Government and the people of Laos would strive toward the carrying out of the Geneva Agreements. The history of our century shows that whenever major powers have meddled in the affairs of small countries, such as in Serbia in 1914 and Korea in 1950, very dangerous situations have resulted. This is even truer in the nuclear age. The King responded by expressing his satisfaction and that of his Ministers for having received the hospitality of the President and the numerous attentions bestowed upon his party. They were deeply touched by the friendship of the United States for his small Kingdom. He wanted the President to be assured that they were taking back with them the impression that they had been understood by the President and by his government. The King assured the President that his efforts (the King’s) and the efforts of all who surround him would be exerted so that Laos would not become the cause of a conflict in their part of the world. They would avoid precipitate actions or other actions lacking in reflection that might lead to war. The Lao, the King said, were fully aware of the gravity of the present circumstances. Finally, he expressed the wish that the political parties in Laos would understand this concept of neutrality and unite their efforts to relieve the country from all forms of insecurity and trouble.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL Laos. Secret. Drafted by Toumayan and approved in the White House on March 3. The meeting, including the later discussion with the rest of the Lao party in the Cabinet Room of the White House, lasted until 5 p.m. (Kennedy Library, President’s Appointment Book)