450. Telegram From Secretary of State Rusk to the Department of State0

Secto 17. Eyes only for Acting Secretary from Secretary. Following suggestions are based upon somewhat limited information available in [Page 957] Paris and presumably in Washington about actual situation in Plaine des Jarres and series of group and personal discussions with SEATO Foreign Ministers.

Souvanna Phouma is key to present situation in Laos. He is custodian of governmental legitimacy and has had public commitment from all signatories of Geneva agreements. It seems to me that we should take steps to encourage Souvanna Phouma to commit himself publicly to integrity of Geneva agreements and to insist that Pathet Lao and Viet-Minh (according to Kong Le) action against neutralist forces is direct violation those agreements. I would suggest therefore that Unger be directed to present issues to Souvanna Phouma in consultation with British and French colleagues Vientiane.
Further, there is one potential asset in Laos which we have never succeeded in mobilizing behind a genuinely independent and neutral country. This is the attitude of the King and the tradition of royalty in that country. The King must do something about the views he expressed to the President in Washington1 and risk the throne if he expects anyone else to risk anything for Laos. I would suggest therefore that Unger see the King and emphasize necessity for King to give full public support to Souvanna Phouma and the concept of an independent and neutral Laos and that he be prepared to take this issue to the country with a complete commitment of his own person and royal institutions at this juncture. It should be made obvious to him that there is no room in communism for royalty and that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by a maximum effort to insure the independence of his country.2
A further asset which should be pressed to the limit is Khrushchev’s own personal commitment to President Kennedy that an independent and neutral Laos is his own objective. Admitting there may be some limitations on Soviet ability to guarantee a particular result with Hanoi or Peiping, nevertheless we should press upon Khrushchev the fact that his own good faith is at stake and that we expect compliance with his solemn pledges on this subject. Lord Home has instructed British Ambassador Moscow to press this matter with Gromyko personally. I believe that it would not be wise for the President to press Khrushchev on Laos in a personal message until after the message which we were discussing just before I left Washington. If that message has not already gone, a direct and simple message on Laos might be included but I [Page 958] would not send a special message on Laos until that communication has gone forward.
I further believe we should give whatever practical assistance we can to Kong Le and the Meo and Phoumi forces in the general vicinity of Plaines des Jarres. This should be done with Souvanna Phouma’s knowledge. In fact, I can see some advantage in having Souvanna Phouma request the two co-chairmen to insure that the neutralist forces are adequately supplied with the resources needed to conform to the understandings of the Geneva agreements.
I do believe that it is important for us to try to achieve and maintain a situation in which any action which we might subsequently be forced to take would be in support of the Geneva agreements. I do not rule out the possibility that several signatories of the Geneva agreements might take military action to establish a position in Laos on the basis that such action is designed to permit the Geneva agreements to be executed as originally intended. Apart from maintaining general character of cease-fire line, it is not inconceivable to me that South Viet-Nam, Cambodia, Thailand, as well as the US and certain other Allies might occupy certain positions in Laos pending a determination as to whether or not the Geneva agreements are to be executed. However, from available information I would think it premature to move in the military field beyond supplies to Kong Le and Phoumi forces but this contingency might arise if Pathet Laos in fact attempt to press in the Plaines des Jarres.
I should like to re-emphasize the importance of Souvanna Phouma’s position and attitude. We would be in a very strong position in supporting him against treacherous Pathet Lao opposition to Geneva arrangements but would be in very difficult position were he to quit or equivocate on issues raised by recent events in Plaines des Jarres.
It is my impression that the United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand, and Philippines are seriously concerned and would support above program. Pakistan can be eliminated from any serious participation or attention to Laotian question. Thailand would hope that strong action would be taken to prevent Communist takeover of Laos but may be somewhat careful after disillusionment previous efforts on Laotian question. However, Thanat appears to have much more confidence in basic intentions of Souvanna Phouma than was confessed a year ago, but he is obviously worried about whether we shall march uphill and then down again as he felt we did earlier.
Looking ahead and not for immediate decision is question of possible military action in face of threatened takeover of Laos by Pathet Lao and Viet-Minh. After experience of past two years and extraordinary effort we have made to find peaceful solution with Khrushchev and through Geneva agreements, I do not believe we are obligated to [Page 959] attempt military action under conditions of greatest disadvantage by restricting our forces to landlocked area of Laos. I would urge serious contingency planning aimed at a clear warning to Hanoi that continued military action in Laos would lead to direct action against North Viet-Nam. Our reluctance to escalate should not require us to commit doughboys to a frustrating and unrewarding effort if we can shoot at the Viet-Minh from the air and sea at less cost to us and maximum cost to them. In other words it seems to me that Geneva agreements must succeed or we must take the handcuffs off ourselves in deciding what we think about the security of Southeast Asia.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 Laos. Secret; Operational Immediate; No Other Distribution.
  2. See Documents 444 and 445.
  3. In telegram 953 to Vientiane, April 10, the Department suggested that “another effort to engage King personally in present crisis would be in order.” If Unger was able to spare the time during the crisis, he was to seek an audience with Savang and persuade him to appeal to the contending factions and make a dramatic gesture, like a tour of the contested provinces or, at least, issue a public statement. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 27 Laos)